Autobiography of my hungers: Rigoberto González

“Like many Mexican children, I cleaned the piedritas out of the uncooked beans before they went into the pot – my meal-prep duty to help my overwhelmed mother as she spun around in the kitchen. The process was simple, but time-consuming: a pile of beans was placed at the edge of the table. I’d hold a bowl just below the edge to drop in the clean pieces, and I’d pick off the debris – dried-up seeds, miniature twigs, tiny stones – all the undesirable, inedible stowaways. These would be set aside in a pile of their own, to be tossed at the conclusion of the cleaning.

“I refused to dispense with my pile of detritus too soon since these were the fruits of my labor, the nuggets minded out of the sack. They were much more interesting than the beans which huddled in the bowl, boring as clones.”


Award winning author, poet, fiction writer, memoirist, editor, professor of English, and more, Rigoberto González, who identifies himself as a gay Chicano, delivers that compelling narrative in the opening chapter of his book, autobiography of my hungers. The chapter, “allegory,” could not be better titled, for it’s the peidritas, or stones, that are emblematic of Rigoberto: He sees himself as the “debris,” the “undesirable,” “the dried-up seed.” But he refuses to “dispense” with himself, to give in, to give up. Through breath-halting poetry and affecting prose, each vignette in this slim yet lasting memoir portrays Rigoberto’s tumultuous journey through his childhood and beyond. His literal hunger growing up poor morphs into other kinds of hungers – hunger for love, and a lover, for acceptance and recognition, for an attractive body, and a healthy body, for quiet comfort, and for sustained empathy and understanding. Along the way, though, Rigoberto fills the “uninhabited rooms” of his existence with refreshing self-awareness and enduring vision.

Autobiography of my hungers will leave you sated, yet craving more – more of Rigoberto’s “gallery of tiny gems, colorful and edible as gumdrops.”

 

 

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Medical Literary Messenger

I’m happy to share with you that my essay, “A Faded Scar with Palpable Edges,” is now available to read in The Medical Literary Messenger, a web-based journal associated with Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, and whose aim is “to promote humanism and the healing arts through prose, poetry, and photography.” The essay is about my struggle to overcome Anorexia Nervosa, an eating disorder affecting between one and five percent of female adolescents and young girls. The deeply contemplative and inspiring creative works published in the journal can’t help but make one pause to reflect on health, illness, and the human condition. So, while I hope you take a moment to read my essay, I also encourage you to read, and view, the other “voice[s] for the healing arts (Medical Literary Messenger).”

“A Faded Scar with Palpable Edges” was previously published in Humanthology, website devoted to real life chronicles connecting writers and readers to causes they embrace. Though I’m sad to share that Humanthology is no longer in publication, you can still access my essay, and others, on the website.

 

 

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Cranial Sacral Therapy

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Our bodies deserve to be treated with kindness. Right? If you are looking to do just that, whether you are living with post-traumatic stress disorder, a traumatic brain injury, chronic neck and back pain, migraines, or any other emotional or physical ailment, why not give cranial sacral therapy (CST) a try? Discovered in 1970 by osteopathic physician John E Upledger, CST is not as new-age as you might think.

I know, “cranial sacral” sounds nothing like new-age. You might cringe at the notion of someone messing with your neck and spinal column. But, with CST, there is no mess involved: back cracking, neck manipulation, muscle tugging. To help understand CST, I’ll interrupt here with a very brief lesson in Anatomy 101. More than most other parts of the body, the brain and spinal cord, which make up the central nervous system (CNS), influence the ability of the body to function properly. In turn, for the CNS to  function up to par, it relies heavily on a healthy craniosacral system: the membranes and fluid that surround, protect and nourish the brain, spinal cord, and the attached bones.

Since we endure stress every day – sitting at a desk for long hours, dragging a whining toddler through the grocery store, driving through bumper-to-bumper traffic – the body’s tissues tighten and create havoc in the craniosacral system. This can cause increased tension around the brain and spinal cord, interfering with the healthy functioning of the CNS, and even other systems it  interacts with.

With CST, the therapist uses her hands to evaluate the craniosacral system by gently feeling various parts of the body to assess for ease of motion, and for the flow of cerebrospinal fluid around the brain and spinal cord. Using soft-touch, she releases restrictions in the tissues, and mobilizes fluids around the spinal cord.

I’ve been curious about CST for a long time now, and, when I attended a workshop on CST at Vermont’s annual brain injury conference this past October, Kate Kennedy, the speaker, and veteran practitioner of the method, convinced me to consider it as an adjunct to alleviating my PTSD symptoms (hyper-vigilance, hyper-startle, nightmares) and a TBI (foggy-headedness, fatigue, poor concentration).

During the workshop, I learned, for CST to help heal our physical ailments, we need to let go of our emotions. Kate called them the “stuck places,” when she referred to the “emotions that take up space in our bodies” – in our muscles, tissues, bones. Vital to treating her clients, she asks them to talk about their individual traumas, as she feels for tight places, the places she senses being “over-charged.”  With the letting go of emotions, those tight areas also literarily let go.

Kate also reminded us that compensatory mechanisms influence the experience of the trauma. In other words, we possess layers upon layers of compensation before the trauma, and, for instance, how a migraine associated with a TBI heals depends a lot on what our past compensatory mechanisms were like. It’s not uncommon for people to hold onto the force of the injury – for example, neck tension.

The memory of trauma, pain, or any acute or chronic condition might very well be wrapped-up in your body. It’s true, our bodies hold our personal narratives. If we want to rid them of the upsetting narratives, or as Kate says, “The waste products of our central nervous system,” CST, with its gentle, listening approach can find those mucked-up places. I think of CST as empowering, as allowing you to gain access to your own body – the entire container of the self.

Are you ready to be empowered?

To find a CST therapist click here.

 

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Benefits of Gratitude

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Every year, on the last Thursday of November, American families, friends, neighbors, and the otherwise lonely, gather together to celebrate Thanksgiving. For many of us, this year will be no different, and we’ll engage in yet another gastronomic extravaganza. We’ll gnaw on spiced and tenderized turkey wings, eat forkfuls of oven-baked stuffing, scoopfuls of buttered mash potatoes, cleanse the palate with a slice or two of cranberry sauce, and slip into our sweatpants to make room for the must-have dessert: pumpkin pie. We will likely eat ourselves into a tryptophan daze.

Some of us may even dress up in native American costumes, or as Pilgrims, recalling what we learned in history class, how the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians indulged in a three-day affair of eating, fishing, and hunting in November 1621, celebrating what is acknowledged as the first Thanksgiving. In the winter of 1620, after much of the Pilgrim population was killed, the colonists requested help from the native Indians, who taught them how to hunt, fish and plant crops. In return, the Pilgrims invited the Wampanoag to feast on their bounty of ripe food to celebrate their first successful autumn harvest.

While the narrative of Thanksgiving is partly about how varying cultures and races can gather together and actually get along, the holiday is a time to reflect upon what we are thankful for – in other words, gratitude.

A few weeks ago, while engaging in meditation during a yoga class, the instructor spoke in a melodic chant, with the goal of centering our thoughts on self-appreciation and appreciation for others. She encouraged us to hold onto equanimity and to release ourselves from attachment and aversion, then asked us to imagine sharing that peace of mind with others – loved ones, friends, strangers, even those with whom we are experiencing a somewhat challenged relationship.

As I focused on my breath, filling my lungs with the sweetness of a Sunday morning, I thought about the once-upon-a-time gratitude journal in which I wrote daily statements of thanks each day. I couldn’t recall how long it had been since I had written in that journal. As the yoga instructor had encouraged, I carried my mindful practice into the rest of my day, also bringing with me the theme of gratitude. I told myself I would start a new gratitude journal, in which I would jot down brief observations, thoughts, anything that reminds me I have a lot to be grateful for: the hand-knit afghan my mother-in-law gave me, hot water, a refrigerator full of food, socks with no holes.

In my research about the benefits of gratitude, I learned that keeping a gratitude journal does more than remind me I have a lot to be thankful for. Studies have shown that gratitude improves our emotional, mental, and physical health. It makes us happier, helps us sleep better, inspires us to exercise more, keeps us connected, increases our social capital, makes us more productive and less envious, motivates us to make decisions.

If it’s that easy, writing in a gratitude journal five minutes each day as a means to improve our long-term well being, by more than ten percent researchers say, then I’m in, hook, line, and sinker. Are you? I can’t think of a better time than now, November, National Gratitude Month, to start penciling the page with, “I’m grateful for …”

“This a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before.” ~ Maya Angelou

 

 

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What is Orthorexia Nervosa?

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You’ve heard of Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia,  right? Anorexics restrict their eating whereas Bulimics go through cycles of binge eating followed by purging. But what is Orthorexia Nervosa? An eating disorder currently not recognized in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Orthorexia was first coined in 1996 by a physician who used it to describe patients who were overly concerned with their health. Orthorexia, which literally translates into “fixation on righteous eating,” begins with one’s attempt to eat healthy foods. But orthorexics then become obsessed with food quality and how much to eat. The more restrictive the diet, the greater one’s health suffers. Like anorexia and bulimia, there is no exact cause to orthorexia. Though the desire is to eat healthfully, there are other deeply rooted motivations, such as the hunger to be thin, the determination to be in control, and the need to improve self-esteem.

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Rachel Levine, a kindergarten teacher in Denver, Colorado, and an advocate for those suffering from eating disorders, has been in recovery from both orthorexia and anorexia for more than seven years. In the March 2015 issue of Self Magazine, she shares her raw story of how orthorexia “almost killed her,” starting from the very beginning, when her heart nearly stopped beating from nutritional deprivation. To learn more about how Rachel got her appetite for life back, I invite you to read her story, “What it’s Like to Care Too Much About Eating,” here.

 

 

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How to Write About Body Image

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If you had to write about your body, what would you say?

First, let me define body image: it’s how you think and feel about your body, it’s shape and size, how you see yourself in the mirror, how you feel in your body.

Writing about your own body might feel a lot like walking through town naked. But I’m not here to encourage you to strip on the page, though a certain amount of stripping is required in order for our readers to get to know us as real human beings. The more important question is, when writing about your own body, how do you avoid the pitfall of naval gazing? Through metaphor, imagery, the five senses. When writing the following piece, my aim was to do just that – become intimate with peaches – to smell, feel, taste, touch my way toward a more positive image of my body. I chose peaches because they are one of my favorite fruits, and it was a peach I last recall holding before an elderly driver ran into me at a farmers’ market several years ago. So I guess you could say I’m obsessed with peaches and what they, particularly the one I held at the market, mean to me: changes in the body,  acceptance, re-newal, survival. I wrote with those interpretations in mind when crafting the following narrative:

I gently roll a peach between my palms, its downy coat tickling my fingers. I study the curves and arcs of its plump body. I’m searching for the perfect peach: golden hued with no deformities. But I notice that it has  a soft spot with a purplish bruise, and place it back in the display. I stand among the peaches for another fifteen minutes, picking up a scarred one, a wrinkled one, then another with a slit in its skin. These damaged peaches must taste like wood, I think. I choose one more, and bring it close to my nose. I inhale, smelling earth. I’m tempted to buy it, but notice a blemish at the base, and motion to place it back among the ones that are disfigured. I pause, and tell myself to give this peach a chance. Maybe it will taste better than it appears. I buy it, and as I walk away from the farm stand, sink my teeth into it, its blushed skin forgiving. Pulp bursts with warm juice. I stop, swallow. Summertime trickles down my throat. Sweet. Perfect. 

Do you have a body image narrative to share? If not, I hope this post inspires you to strip, just a little.

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