I am one of two children of a severely traumatized woman. I am also one of three children of a severely traumatized man. The broken pieces of my childhood are still just that: broken. I hold fragments of memories and partial truths to an enormous, confusing and painful jigsaw puzzle.
One of my dearest and most remarkable friends once told me how honored he was that I felt safe sharing pieces of my very hidden, grief-stricken and abusive past with him. As a child, from the outside my family appeared so attractive and almost perfect. He said, “I know for trauma, its effects are like being hit with a barbed arrow: it hurts going in, and it also does massive damage when it is taken out… but it still has to be pulled out.” He could not be more accurate with that truth.
Fairy Tales and Nightmares
By the laws of fairytales, chivalry, duty, loyalty, Hollywood romance and happily-ever-after endings, my parents should not have been together. I should not have been born.
My dad betrayed his wife and two kids to be with my mother and to father me. He was a brilliant star, handsome, athletic and charismatic, and still praised to this day by the National Guard as one of their firsts in accomplishments. As is typical with US culture, no one wastes words on his faults, no matter how damaging. His selfishness and inability to process his own trauma and rage left a sea of chaos, destruction, physical scars and mental anguish on four innocent children and the two women he could never love. But no matter, his image is still used as a prop each year to uphold ideas of achievement and greatness. In real life I know he was a human who suffered and was crushed by his own inability to heal. He is now in his 90s, estranged from all family. He is the epitome of one who failed as a husband, as a father, and as a man.
“You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.”
I was conceived during the winter holidays. I am conflicted when I imagine my parents together with their alluring charm and beauty, their wholesome exterior extolling health habits and shunning drugs and alcohol, all in their enviable bubble of conjured mirth.
They found a deep connection with each other during their temporary escape from their unhealed, traumatized lives. Their fantasies, ideals, lust and joy were about to wreak immeasurable pain and havoc on my father’s first family: his high school sweetheart, his 10 year-old daughter and his 12 year-old son.
My parents’ alluring, yet frightfully chaotic union would bear fruit. Nearly five decades ago, I was born into the arms of three violently starved and needy humans, all seeking to connect safely and unconditionally with my tiny infant body. My childhood memories are truly fragmented. But I do remember feeling a deep dread, while still in my mother’s womb, before I was even born. I can recall being met by the rapacious gluttony of two parents and my seven-year-old sibling. Each of them severely malnourished of unconditional love. All three snatching and clutching voraciously physically and energetically, guarding my newborn perfection, while greedily devouring the unconditional love and serenity of my tiny essence. They each sought unconsciously to swallow me whole, vain attempts to heal the depths of their own unhealed grief, misery and pain with the unsullied heartbeat, flesh and spirit of a newborn.
Happy Valentine’s Day
My parents wed on Valentine’s Day, supposedly the most romantic day of the year. Yet, when I dared to ask her, the date of their anniversary somehow always escaped my mother’s memory. She can be a very forgetful woman, always lacking in information or accuracy about past events. She’s lived her life in a state of perpetual spiritual bypass. I cannot blame her, as a survivor of severe childhood trauma and domestic abuse, those were the tools she had, forgetfulness and deceit. After all, she hasn’t lived in a culture that’s interested in her safety, her healing nor her mental sanity.
Their messy and volatile marriage lasted a brief three years. My mother would marry again… and again. I would learn in my 20s that this was an old pattern, and that she had married multiple times before I was born. My father would not marry again. Instead he would pass a decade with another woman possessing my mother’s first name, while attending to and complaining about her three “very bad” children. Later, he would abandon all of them as well, and pass the rest of his life in estrangement.
Eye of the Storm
I would grow up sibling-less, with a single mother, who was traumatized and abused and struggling desperately to keep it together. I was the baby of four siblings I’d never know. One sibling would disappear from home when I was five. One sibling I would never meet. One sibling would make a fleeting connection via email, spurred by the covid scare. I would develop a host of sophisticated coping mechanisms to survive the turbulence of my childhood. They were defenses and strategies that kept me safe and relatively sane in the storms of violence, instability, emotional neglect and isolation. I was a happy, well-behaved child, a stellar student, exemplar youth, who was also hiding deep depression and suicide ideation already at the age of 10.
So there you have it. The bits and pieces of my childhood story in a nutshell. Punctuated by home in more than 50 different places, 5 states, 10 cities, and 8 different schools all before the tender age of 17. I think it’s a natural and obvious consequence that I grew up hating holidays. I hate Christmas. I hate Valentine’s day. I hate birthdays. As a conscious product of generational trauma, I detest all of the addictive and destructive behaviors, and all of the mindless traditions used to numb and forget and douse with perfume all of the crap of a dysfunctional family, the abuse and neglect. I’m a warrior for eliminating this curse. In my family line the generational trauma stops with me.
“Imagine that the world had created a new ‘dream product’ to feed and immunize everyone born on earth. Imagine also that it was available everywhere, required no storage or delivery, and helped mothers plan their families and reduce the risk of cancer. Then imagine that the world refused to use it.”
It’s as if I arrived in this skinsuit on this planet with a bunch of physical problems just waiting for all the right conditions to manifest, and they did so quickly. My mother told me she never had an issue with insomnia, except during the time she was pregnant with me. She said, it was as if I never slept in the womb. (I wonder why?) As such, when I was born, I was exhausted, and slept so much, the nurses told her that if she didn’t force me to wake and drink the industrial formula, that I would die of malnutrition. She obliged their insistence. Add this to my father’s insistence that everyone don a mask and gloves, and not to physically touch me, lest they sully my perfection. And there you have it: the roots of my anxiety and restlessness and an my undeveloped and inadequate immune system. Not only was my immune system development botched, but also my gestational insomnia was resurrected. Thus began the long journey towards eventually taking charge of my health, and of a lifetime of low to nil quality sleep patterns, for which I still use my toolbox for natural remedy and recovery nearly every day.
I was that missing kid in class to whom everyone was instructed to write those get well letters. Before the age of 7 I was in and out of the hospital numerous times with immune complications, pneumonia, bronchitis, and allergic reactions to prescription drugs. The nurses knew me so well, I got the extra serving of green jello every evening at 7pm and I got to stay up late to watch tv a half hour later than all the other kids. I was one of their favorites. Meanwhile, my mother was overworked and stress because she always thought I was going to die.
Flu Shots, Antibiotics, Steroids
For more than two decades I was on the doctors’ lists for flu vaccine for risk of complications due to “compromised immunity” and chronic asthma. I routinely suffered from streptococcal pharyngitis and sinus infection four times every year, until it finally became evident that the strep and infections were adverse reactions to the annual flu vaccines. I was diagnosed each time during my yearly checkups as anemic, hypoglycemic, and asthmatic until I was 27.
But because of my compromised health at such a young age, and my mother’s worry, vigilance and pioneering spirit, in the 70s I was already a supplement-health food-smoothies-juicing junkie, living on a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet by the age of 7, decades before these alternative health choices would become mainstream.
With that diet, incredible discipline and diligence, and a passion for volleyball, I trained everyday as a teenager for the sport. During the school year I trained 4 hours a day. During the summer and weekends, I trained 8 hours every day. It was the perfect escape from my family’s disarray and dysfunction, and from the pain and confusion I felt from child abuse and neglect. I routinely pushed through my deficient supplies of oxygen and blood and lack of sleep. I practiced long hours indoors on courts, outdoors in the sand, and eventually I lead my varsity team through district finals my senior year in high school. But that, to my great disappointment, was as far as I would get.
When I arrived at university, something began to nag at my mind, when I met other kids, who also packed inhalers. Another important thought seed was planted in my mind, “Why is my life so physically hard? Why do I have to pay to breathe? How is that fair? How can this make sense?”
A few years later in 1997 I observed myself observing myself in a traffic accident. No, that’s not a typo. You read that correctly. It was a double out-of-body experience, an important one because this was when I really began paying attention to my out-of-body experiences. My beloved champagne-colored Nissan 280Z, a graduation present from one of my step fathers and the coolest car I would ever own, was crumpled into an accordion during a routine drive to work one ill-fated morning. I spent the next 12 months getting poked and prodded by various specialists in fancy doctor’s offices for my unexplainable symptoms. Needless to say, after months of being shuffled around and reading the same reports, “Healthy 22 year old female complaining of…” I began to suspect that either my doctors thought I was lying about my pain or they figured that my age and my appearance were indicators that I shouldn’t be complaining about anything.
And so my dreams of becoming a professional beach volleyball player officially ended, along with the belief that western medicine could be beneficial to me for anything other than emergency care. The seeds that had been planted earlier in life began to sprout, the out-of-body experiences, the visions, the prophetic dreams, the chance encounters. I began to search for other ways to heal through diet and nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine and other alternative methods for healing.
In Milano I was super lucky to be assigned a local doctor, who would support me in my determination to eliminate all use of over-the-counter drugs, prescription drugs, steroid inhalers, antibiotics, pain killers, and annual vaccines. I will not lie. In the year 2000 this was a long and lonely journey. It was a time when alternative healing and alternative eating ideas were still very much taboo, and when ideas of vegetarian, raw food, juicing and fasting were for the kooky people. Add to this, I was living in a traditional country, where pride in provincial attitudes prevailed, and where wines, meats and cheeses to this day offer exquisite and unmatched corporal pleasure and culinary delight.
During this period I also met and worked with many brilliant healers, energy workers, and alternative minds. For an intensive year I met and worked with a Network Spinal Analysis Chiropractic Doctor and another alternative Doctor of Internal Medicine. I also met my Tai Chi Chuan master and my guru of Pranayama, and another woman skilled in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Each of these guiding souls played key roles not only in my pathway to knowing the powers of my own body, but also in nudging me towards my life’s passion to share my healing with others.
Painful Process of Elimination
It was also during this period, and admittedly sometimes with great sadness, that I began eliminating cow dairy from my diet, and began to see improvements in my health. Bye bye mucous, abdominal cramping and constipation! I also began adopting many Traditional Chinese therapies. Eventually I cut sheep dairy from my diet (Pecorino Romano, Pecorino di Piacenza and Ricotta di Pecorino… Cannoli!). Those were a few of my favorite things! What a great sadness! And because I’m a glutton for punishment, in the summer of 2008, I eliminated fruits from my diet for a month. Actually my doctor of internal medicine recommended this diet, as I’d been consuming too much sugar and fruits were my lifelong, go-to fix. But that wasn’t the last of my torture, I moved to France and it was there that I finally eliminated goat dairy (Bûcheron, Crottin, Valençay) from my diet.
I’m not gonna lie. It was a torture to give up so many delicious gourmet foods! I had a tremendous passion for cooking and a food addiction that gave me so much pleasure and numbed so much pain. Yay dopamine! Add to that, I was living in the countries where these foods were locally sourced, made by artisans and with a penchant and devotion for slow food traditions.
But the urgency to change through the insistence of gastrointestinal discomfort, menstruation disorders and more than 20 years of incessant chronic illness overwhelmed my loved for mouth-watering artisan-made, traditional Mediterranean cuisine. I was in a lot of pain and at the end of my rope. I was willing to try anything to take charge of my health and to finally have a body that functioned without constant ache and dis-ease. As the years passed, I learned more about my unique biome and what works best for me for my diet and lifestyle.
“The journey in search of soul is difficult and even dangerous because it requires that we relinquish the certainty of what we think we know and what we have been taught for generations to believe. It means surrendering the desire to be in control and opening ourselves to a quest, a path of discovery. Many myths and fairy tales emphasize the need for surrender and trust in the strange non-rational guidance offered by animals or shamans on the quest. As the hero follows their guidance, so the hedge opens, the way unfolds. Following the guidance and wisdom of the instinct is the royal road into the realm of soul.”
In time my friends and family also began to notice their own signs of premature aging and ill-health. They also felt disillusioned by the response of their medical doctors. So they started asking me questions about my health choices. They began to notice my new life practices, and I happily shared my experiences, which at the time still seemed fringe and extreme.
So my journey at first it was very lonely, and at times rife with heartache and unexpected conflict. My now ex-husband, the man I was certain I would live with until a ripe old age, lost his ability to support all of my choices and changes. The more I grew to know myself, and understand my body, the less encouraging he became, until eventually he behaved as a saboteur, constantly doubting my choices and growth, tempting me with old habits, flavors and pleasures. The times I didn’t resist his temptations were followed by great bodily discomfort and skin flare ups.
My resolve was too strong, and in time my ex-husband ceased discouraging me, but our relationship turned. We had less in common, as he became entrenched in tradition. The joy and desire he felt for me eroded and my trust in him waned, and in time I learned to process the enormous grief and regret of divorce. … (to be continued)