Weekend Reading
February 23, 2020

It’s good to be back!

Two Fridays ago, on Valentine’s Day, I participated in an act of bhakti, or devotion, with some members of my yoga community. We made garlands of flowers with needle and thread, and we dressed the large figure of Ganesha who adorns our studio alter with the “jewelry.”

It was a beautiful night, a commemoration of love and spirit. For me, it was also a reminder that love is everywhere, all the time, if only we open up our hearts to it.

At first, this thought struck me in the context of Valentine’s Day, which was making me glum, Hallmark holiday or not. Rather than having me pretend that the day has no significance, this activity allowed me to reframe February 14th as a celebration of love in all of its many forms, rather than a romantic occasion.

Now more than a week has gone by, and I’m thinking about that night in a different context. I’m thinking about it because tomorrow, February 24th, is the start of NEDA week. I always commemorate this week on the blog, not because I think that celebration of recovery should be confined to seven predetermined days, but because it gives me a structured opportunity to reflect on my recovery each year, and I’m grateful for that prompt.

This is a photo of me with my, er, bracelet (I realized once it was made that it was too short to be a necklace, too long to be a regular bracelet, and I don’t think Ganesha wears chokers…so it became a double-wrap bracelet). My heart was light, and it shows.

This image captures the essence of my recovery. For me, recovery is about leaning into the belief that life is rich, abundant, and worth living. That things aren’t quite as scary or as dark as they seem. It’s about believing that, alongside the inevitable suffering that we all confront, there’s a lot of love and goodness and experience worth savoring. We can choose to hide in an effort to avoid pain and manage our fears. But if we do that—if we shut ourselves off to that part of life’s spectrum—we’ll also lose our connection to joy.

More than ten years into recovery, I’m still an amazingly fearful person. Sometimes it feels as though I’m afraid of everything: heights, open spaces, subway platforms, falls. I won’t even go into the list of health things that I fear (and often diagnose myself with in fits of insomnia and worry). I’m afraid of loss. I’m afraid of my mom getting older. I’m afraid of getting older, too. I’m afraid of succeeding and of not succeeding. I fear the vulnerability that comes with love, and I fear not loving or being loved.

It is what it is. I can choose to keep my world very small in an effort to manage these fears. Or, I can continue to throw myself out into the world, fearfully but willingly, trusting that a fully experienced life, with all of its risks and threats, is better than a meager one.

Recovery has not kept me safe from being hurt. If anything, suffering sometimes seems more ever-present than it used to because I’m living, not hiding. I’m tempted to say that recovery has made me braver, but I’m not even sure that’s true. I’m just a person who got sick and tired of not living, and I learned that being alive is sort of an all-or-nothing proposition: you can’t opt into the joys without facing the pains. If that’s how it works, I’ll take all of it.

My recovery is about choosing life and continuing to choose it even when I’m tempted to hide out again. It’s about having faith that there’s more beauty and laughter and delight in the world than I could ever imagine, and keeping myself open to the process of finding those things in my daily experience.

Sometimes I’m able to find them, sometimes I’m not. Depression doesn’t make it easy. But I always do find them, sooner or later, and with each year that passes I become better at seeing them. They’re usually right under my nose, tucked away in a passing conversation with a friend, in a routine hour on my yoga mat, or in eating something very delicious.

To anyone who’s caught up in the tension between love and fear: I see you. I know it’s not easy. But it’s so much better than the alternative.

In the next seven days, I’ll be celebrating my recovery and yours. I’ll also be celebrating and sending love to those who are thinking about recovery, fearing recovery, or struggling to maintain recovery. It takes as long as it takes. You’re doing the best that you can. You have my love and encouragement, even if we’ve never met.

Happy Sunday, friends. Here are some recipes and reads.

Recipes

I’ve never tried making homemade vegan pasta, but if there’s anyone that I trust to guide me, it’s Kimberly!

These orange glazed meatballs look like a perfect, versatile vegan protein!

I love the look of these abundant, plant-based Bibimbap bowls.

Next comfort food fix, coming up: Jasmine and Chris’ Big Mac fries.

A new “zebra” cake to add to my obsessive collection of cake bookmarks 😉

Reads

1. More evidence that the Mediterranean diet (in this case, lots of vegetables/fruits, nuts, and legumes, and limited red meat) may help to improve the gut microbiome.

2. Distressing new statistics on food and housing insecurity among college students.

3. A new study suggests that so-called “pro-inflammatory” foods may not be associated with symptomatology in inflammatory bowel disease patients. It’s just a study, but it did reverberate with my own observation that a) we don’t really have a consensus on what an anti-inflammatory diet is, and b) various iterations of this diet often don’t produce the results that patients want. It’s also been my experience that some of these diets require too much elimination to be enjoyable, which in my mind is also a limitation in healthfulness.

What I have observed to be very helpful in managing symptoms, both in the case of IBD and other autoimmune diseases, is stress reduction. So I was interested to read about this study on mindfulness practice and reduced inflammatory biomarkers in adults.

4. I was sorry to hear about the scrutiny that Ashley Judd recently endured on Twitter. But I was touched to see how people who live with chronic health conditions and have been on steroids themselves rallied around her.

5. Finally, this article (and its admirable subject, Birdgirl) was really heartening.

As I said, some eating disorder themed content is on the way this week, so there’ll be a short pause from recipes. Feel free to tune in and tune out as suits your needs and pleasure! If the topic does resonate, I’ll probably be posting a lot more about it on Instagram, and you’re welcome to join the dialog there. For now, wishing you all a peaceful start to the week.

xo

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    3 Comments
  1. Dear Gena, Thank you for this beautiful post! I love the new look of the blog and I adore the photo of you with your garland of roses for Ganesh! As you know I am a very big fan of “repurposing” anniversaries or holidays that may make us blue in a positive way. Valentine’s Day is an particular one for me, since it was the day I was given the diagnosis of MS 24 years ago now, and 12 years ago now that I chose to reinvent that anniversary by making it the official start of my whole food plant-based lifestyle. I love your thoughts on recovery, and I wish you a meaningful loving week devoted to that kind of healing–I know all of your readers will benefit. Much love to you, my dear!! xoxo

  2. Hi Gena, thank you for always so generously sharing your recovery journey. It’s such an important issue to address, especially in the vegan community and I am grateful for your measured and heart felt input.
    Thank you too for including me in the recipe round up. Really made my day.
    Hugs to you.

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