Embodied Heart

Piece by Piece

I’m a they in two ways! I have dissociative identity disorder and am a sexual abuse trauma survivor. I’m also now much more fully aware of my gender identity, which is nonbinary. I’m not sure exactly where in the nonbinary category to place myself yet, so I’m working with the general label for now. I’m planning to spend time this summer adapting my online presence to better reflect who I am; part of this journey will most likely be launching a new blog*.

Before I process what’s coming up for me in living as a nonbinary person, I want to make sure to state that dissociative identity disorder and being nonbinary are in no way inherently related; lots of individuals fit one but not both descriptors. I have had awareness of being DID for much longer than I’ve had awareness of being nonbinary; I remember telling people repeatedly after learning that I was DID that I couldn’t even conceptualize my sexual orientation or gender identity because the entire core of who I am as a person was fragmented. I came into awareness of being a collective and it has taken me a quite a long time of internal work and processing to feel comfortable assigning labels to who I (as a whole being) am. I’ve settled (for now) on describing myself as a asexual panromantic nonbinary person.

I am having feelings of sadness and grief come up with coming out as nonbinary that I can’t completely articulate; I feel really hyper-exposed and like people are seeing into me and are seeing more fully who I am. I am working with a young girl part of me that is highly feminine and trying to share with her that what we are doing is to create a representation of us as a whole entity rather than just having an identity that highlights only certain parts. Asexual panromantic enby doesn’t fit every part of me equally, but it fits the collective me. I feel like I’m losing something as well as gaining something; I’m losing the “showing only” and gaining the “showing all.” It feels scary and like I want to cry because I’m being reborn/re-molded and there is a nakedness to it. Someone with whom I shared that I am nonbinary told me I don’t seem like someone who cares what people think of me, but, in reality, I’m acutely aware of the consequences of showing up only to be told that certain parts of who I am are not real, don’t exist or are un-loveable. For instance, I’ve consciously been this collective for over a decade and only now is it becoming outwardly visible; I don’t look “normal” anymore.

Choosing my own name feels so powerful, so declarative, and yet little me just wants to smile, look pretty and be a “good girl” so that maybe someone will care about her. Empowerment, bursting out, feels like a shattering too. But what’s breaking needs to break. The allure of stay quiet, be hidden and head-down no one will notice me denies me the very community, connection and hope that I so desperately need. I want people who interact with me who perceive my oddity to embrace, in some small way, their own. I am a shame-eater, someone whose purpose in life is to collect the buried, pockmarked and discarded shells of self and mosaic them into a vibrant creation. I keep thinking I’ve arrived at my destination, that the final piece has been laid and I get to enjoy my creation, only to discover more frames to be filled. I know only the why of my existence. Who I am to become and where it will take me are open spaces.

*My relative lack of technical skills led me to unintentionally purchase an entirely new website and domain. I own this blog as well for some time to come so I have plenty of time to see if I want to move posts or merge the two sites.

A brown-tinted photograph of jars of grains and nuts with the article title above.
Embodied Heart

Old-Fashioned Cooking: Building Healthy Habits from Scratch

What is it about being handed a bag of fried food through my car window that sets off my taste buds, only to leave me in a heap of discomfort and disgust afterwards? After binge watching shows about addiction (my TV viewing is an issue for another day!), I started to conceptualize my eating habits as being, in part, location-driven. Specifically, where I choose to obtain food, rather than simply what I choose to eat, influences the quality of my diet. Over the last few years, I slowly began to go to fast food restaurants and convenience food stores on a regular basis, rather than to cook my own food. Last fall, this tipped into what I can only describe as eating junk food, by which I mean ultra-processed foods, as my primary source of nourishment.

This year, I’ve made a commitment to eating only natural, homemade foods as much as I possibly can. Rather than wax poetic about how much cheaper homemade food can be, which may not be the case for everyone, I wanted to share both how I look at homemade food as well as some outcomes of this change that I’m noticing that are affecting me not only physically but also mentally, socially and even spiritually.

Before noting the positive changes cooking from home have brought to me, I want to check in with my privilege in this area. I have the time, money, physical and mental capacity and access to fresh ingredients necessary for these adaptations. Food, diet and, by extension, cooking, have been fraught with disordered eating patterns for me for most of my life. I’ve benefited from both mental health therapy and formal education to a point where I feel more able to set intentions and follow through on them in relation to these topics while managing my guilt and anxiety; not everyone is at that place. So, to whatever extent you read through and consider what I’ve shared below, please hold a lot of space for compassion and care for yourself if you find yourself triggered by my discussion. Feel free to leave it as it is if it doesn’t speak to you and to take only what you find beneficial.

What’s Homemade?

Before I talk about why making homemade food a priority has been valuable to me, I want to share how I define it. This article includes a chart that breaks down the different levels of processing quite effectively. Basically, I am limiting myself to foods that are only unprocessed or minimally processed as much as I possibly can. For several years, almost all the foods I’ve bought at the store had “5 or fewer” ingredients, but I was still purchasing items like dried fruit, canned sauces and breads. I now buy fresh fruits, vegetables, raw meat and nuts, eggs, and grains like uncooked rice, whole grain flour and rolled oats. The few moderately processed items on my menu include dairy products, 88% dark chocolate, and almond milk. One of my major goals for the year is to learn how to make my own pasta, right now, I do purchase whole grain versions. The most processed food I am still including is organic marshmallows, which I keep locked in a container that only opens every few days (yes, I have tried to break (unsuccessfully) into it!).*

I am also eating a set amount of foods in each macro category (protein, carbs, etc.) with specific limits on added fats and sugars. This works well because I rarely crave raw sugar or a tablespoon of oil, so the work in which I would have to engage to make a dessert helps me to limit my consumption of these foods. When the number of calories to which I limited myself (2000/day) leaves me hungry, I have an extra serving of fruit or another handful of nuts, instead of a snack made of refined foods.

What I’ve come to view for myself as genuinely addictive are ultra-processed foods, which are foods that have artificial ingredients added and which tend to contain large quantities of fats, salts and/or sugars. I am adopting the idea that I cannot have a small amount of these even occasionally and still maintain healthy eating behaviors, not because they are so horrible for my body in limited amounts, but because I cannot rein myself back in once I start. For instance, I was eating very healthy a few years ago. I started dating someone who ate poorly, copied her behaviors and, almost three years later, still have not been able to “get it together.” I’ve found myself driving past fast food places with a yearning I thought only those who crave substances like alcohol would feel. That’s why the idea that the location from which I procure my food matters just as much as what I eat hits home for me. With this understanding in mind, let’s discuss some positive aspects of traditional homemade meals.

Observed Benefits of Homemade Food

1.     Ability to customize meals for food intolerances/allergies

I have a sensitivity to foods in the allium family (garlic, onions, leeks, shallots, chives, etc). which borders on a full-blown allergy. This means that nearly every savory dish I eat that is commercially prepared, as well as pre-packaged dishes, makes me ill. Preparing my own food from scratch enables me to adjust what I’m eating to my specific dietary needs. If you’ve dealt with any kind of specialized diet, you know how frequently food you are told won’t have any problematic ingredients in it actually ends up causing you issues because the base or sauce contains the triggering item.

2.     Greater variety of foods including fresh ingredients

When I go out to eat often or buy prepared meals, my diet becomes distilled into three food items over time: (fried) chicken, pizza, and nachos. I can go weeks eating a rotation of those three foods. When I’m cooking for myself, I am more able to plan out ingredients and to find new combinations that I enjoy. I also find myself eating more foods in season. Consuming a larger mix of flavors and textures also seems to decrease my food cravings.

3.     Potentially lower exposure to toxins that cause food-born illnesses

As I fell the whole way off any sort of healthy diet last year, I started to have intestinal distress and IBS symptoms on a regular basis. Some of it was due to my food intolerances, but I also suspect that I was getting sick at times from poor sanitation control. Often, when someone says they have the stomach flu, the cause is someone in the food processing chain not washing their hands fully and passing on fecal germs such as E. coli or the Norovirus, or food being contaminated by fecal matter from field or animals, as in the case of Salmonella. These issues aren’t fully corrected by cooking one’s own meals, but I think there could be less opportunity for contamination as long as you follow proper food preparation procedures.

4.     Social connections around shared creations

For me, food is a cultural and social tool that communicates on my behalf to others and which I receive as a gift from them. I get a weird self-consciousness about sharing food I’ve made with others; there is an intimacy established by doing so that it takes me some time to navigate. For example, I tend to bring pre-packaged foods to gatherings until I feel that I’ve built up sufficient trust to share something I’ve made from scratch. In part, this is due to the fact that I cook intuitively and rarely follow a set recipe. This typically works out fine but there have been some “interesting” dishes. On the flip side, it brings me immense joy when my chosen ingredients come together and enable my creativity to shine through. Making all my foods from scratch has forced me out of my comfort zone in this area and helped me be more willing to take culinary risks. In addition, knowing someone else has taken my diet into consideration and created dishes that I can enjoy without hesitation deepens my sense of trust and connection to that person.

5.     Deeper sensory experiences mediated by slow living

Thus far, my greatest source of pride in home-cooking has been that I learned how to bake sourdough grain products, including pancakes, wraps and a variety of breads, using a starter I originally purchased from King Arthur. Nothing smells better, in my opinion, than freshly baked bread, and I feel soothed through this change in my behavior. I’ve managed to slow down my pace of living in a way that compliments my desire to cook my own meals and which has let me appreciate the experience of both eating and cooking on a physical level. Instead of scarfing down meals in my car and spending my time wrangling wasteful food packaging, I enjoy the array of colorful items I get to add to my fridge after a grocery haul and the plating of entrees it may take me an hour or more to create. (Side note: In order to adjust my lifestyle, I’ve been working less and therefore bringing in less money. I am happy to report I’ve saved at least $200/month by making my own foods!).

As I write this reflection, I feel gratitude as much or more than I feel pride. Yes, I’ve made choices that have led me to be able to slow down, but I was also privileged to have this type of lifestyle within my range of options. I’m not trying to convince you to live this way if it is different than your current approach; I am only offering for you to consider, if you are interested, what is realistically within your range of options and to be kind to yourself if your options are limited. We’ve evolved for millions of years as a species to endure both feast and famine. Now most of us in the industrialized world face a different landscape—a feast of addictive junk food is readily in abundance and the fresh and healing foods to which our ancestors grew accustomed are out of reach at times. I don’t pretend to have big answers on how to rectify the situation, but I hope, with deep appreciation for the opportunity to do so, to bring joy to myself and those with whom I interact through my striving to make dishes I create rather than simply consume.

* I’ve linked to a few products in this post that I’ve really enjoyed using; I am not an affiliate of these companies and am not getting paid to promote them.

 

A tree without leaves to the right of a snowy path.
Embodied Heart

On (and Off) the Surface

Cross-posted on my SageWoman blog.

Many trauma survivors are familiar with the concept of grounding. From a psychological perspective, it involves (re)connecting with one’s body and (re)turning to the present moment. As of late, I’ve found myself encountering it in a new and visceral way.

I experienced the coldest weather of my life thus far in recent weeks, with wind chills approaching -50 Fahrenheit. The ground was already coated in several inches of snow, which became “extra” frozen in these temperatures. Every step meant sinking into crunch, almost as if the snow had been freeze-dried. There was no moment to pause as I scuttled along with my dog for his bathroom breaks. My breathing itself had to be filtered through a cloth mask, lest I frostbite my lungs. Earth was there in sharpness and fury, present to me but without comfort. I found myself feeling oxygen-starved as I inhaled parched, brittle air. The ground crystallized itself inaccessible.

In less than a week, the temperatures soared upwards and all the snow melted. I suddenly felt held and met by the soggy grip of the muddy, raw-exposed grass. Air and land poured moisture in abundance. My breath met and melded with the fog that extended in every direction. All was soft and settled in respite. My dog and I meandered slowly, sipping in the warmth and the smells the hints of green engendered.

At the back of my mind, a simple fact lingered. Four feet below the surface, give or take some inches, it’s 50 degrees Fahrenheit. All year round. There’s liquid water mixed with soil, clay, rock and sand. Chaotic shifts, heart of winter to mild spring in a week, are happening above, but, at the right depth, there’s balance. In parallel, the sun is always shining if one’s high enough in the sky and over the right location.

I am running to rest and resting to run, but when am I pausing? Where is my depth or height at which stability and brightness come through? To what roots and risings am I entwined? Part of my experience of PTSD has gotten mixed up with the actual meteorological conditions, so my anxiety breaks loose any time there is a major shift or a threat of bad weather. I am not always capable of digging deeply enough or soaring above to meet a moment of simple being amidst the chaos, but I am now fitted with an image of it that I hope will be a returning, a reconnection. Always, somewhere not surface, Earth is sun-kissed rocky warmth.

Embodied Heart

In Flux

I shaved my head! It was an impulsive action spurred on mostly by a need to follow through on the idea once it popped into my head (honestly, this is how I’ve made most of my boldest moves in life). It coincided with a decision to be a bit more public about my abuse story in another forum. Since that time, I’ve found it harder to concentrate and settle myself into deeper reflections in writing. The sharing and the shedding took a lot out of me, and I feel in the in-between of something. What the something is, I’m not quite sure.

Most of the feedback about my new look has been positive and I feel incredibly comfortable, actually more like myself, in how I’m styling my clothing and inhabiting my body. There is a looseness, though, to my sense of self. Something between possibility and loss that moves every time I think I’ve glimpsed it. My sexual orientation has been fluid for many years. I believed that my gender identity was very defined as a woman but now I’m not quite as certain. I don’t know if this is what is bubbling up or if there is another aspect of who I am that is disconnecting from a rigidity I didn’t know I possessed.

My nature is to want answers, to problem-solve, to analyze, and to arrive at an end point from which I can make decisions. Living in the in-between disquiets my energy and drains my spiritual focus. I’ve always been here, really, given that I have dissociative identity disorder, but I come across to most people as a highly driven, consistent and deliberate person. My physical appearance, with a buzzed haircut, is a better representation of the off-from-center way I see myself, but it hasn’t quelled the inner turmoil of struggling to definitively commit to one way of being in the world. Perhaps I don’t need to commit, perhaps being in flux is who I am.

If you care to share, I would be interested in hearing ways in which you’ve felt in-between two or more ways of existing. To what extent do you pressure yourself or yield to pressure from others in order to decide who you are? Have there been specific acts of self-expression, like my shaving my head, that destabilized rather than solidified your sense of self?

Embodied Heart

Visibility as a Trauma Survivor

It has been very difficult for me to write here for several weeks. The reason, ironically, was because of opening up about my trauma experiences. I related parts of my story in a public forum outside of my blog and have been struggling with processing the experience. It was the first time I shared something that might been easily accessed by people/family from my culture of origin. I didn’t name names but I went into enough detail for individuals to identify themselves. I walked one step more fully into the spotlight and have been greeted by increased flashbacks and overwhelming anxiety.

I nearly perfected the art of invisibility when I was younger. I was the sort of girl who no one noticed nor remembered. I barely spoke outside of my house and obeyed adult instruction without question. I play-acted normality. I wasn’t bullied but I also wasn’t included in anyone’s close circle of friends for most of my childhood and adolescence. Through my actions, I hid in plain sight.

Being victimized by abusive parents at a young age meant that the shadows and edges of rooms were the only places I felt safe. The less I was noticed, the less likely I was to be harmed, as I surmised it. The problem with this approach to the world is that it leads to a life lived in isolation, fear and shame.

I elevated hiding to an art form by finding ways to be unseen while being noticed, namely, by dissociating internally. It’s cat and mouse but I so desperately want to be caught—I want someone to prove themselves capable of witnessing and supporting who I am behind the adult personas I’ve crafted to survive in the world. I periodically attempt to show my hidden forms only to collapse mentally under the weight of the fog I conjure daily in order to not spend my time clawing at the walls in sheer terror. I try to fix into a frame but instead kaleidoscope the closer anyone gets to my complexity.

I recently shaved off all my hair. It was a dramatic change and one that people have readily noticed. I absolutely love the result in terms of how it suits my appearance and am getting used to the glances and weird responses of others. I did it for the express purpose of making myself more visible. I’m outwardly singular now, someone likely to be labeled as “that bald woman” rather than forgotten. My physical form feels solidified even if my internal being remains in flux. I’m hoping to coax myself, from the outside in, to welcome being seen and to believe that some eyes hold genuine kindness.

I knew that in writing about my culture of origin, I would be tempted to retreat immediately and to add another layer of adulting in order to conceal myself where I felt exposed. I also recognized that this behavior runs counter to the deeper truth of who I am as a person. I hid out of necessity when I was younger, unconsciously biding my time. As I make myself visible, those whose determination it was to keep me in the perpetual darkness of moonless night will falter. I’m finding my power and, through it, I’m toes first stepping into the dawnlight.