Wellness Detective Work and Your Identity

Listen on the go!

Last week we talked all about visualization, weight loss, body image and I told you the reasons why my personal visualization is in a beach. Not any beach, but a very specific one due to the fact that it played such an important role in shaping my identity. As I promised last week I'm going to tell you all about it, not just for the sake of going down memory lane, but because it's a little exercise I want you to do too. In doing a little wellness detective work into the moments or places where your true identity was formed, lies a little gold mine that we seldom think about. It's something we simply title "nice childhood memories", and then we put it back in the shoe box with all the old photos and trinkets. Today I want you to dust off that box, leave it wide open until you find some very special tools that will help you find wellness today, wherever you're at in your life, and especially if you're currently going through any bouts of stress, anxiety or turmoil.

You know that our focus here at brownble is mostly on cooking, food and our relationship with food and our bodies, but you've also heard me say it countless times:

When our lives are calm and we reach that place of emotional wellness, all the pieces of our eating puzzle start coming together. We're able to make better choices at the table, and we're also able to set food aside and move on with a day that is filled with other experiences. 

So are you ready? Buckle up! While I tell you this story, I want you to try to dig deep into your own story, and find that moment or place in which you feel you were at your most authentic, your truest self, the place where you feel a big chunk of your identity was formed as a child or teen. Start looking for those moments. Today we're not focusing on the negative ones, I have those too and those certainly formed a ton of areas of my personality, but in most cases, these have been areas that I've had to work on and transform in order to be happy and calm, so today, we're going to the good stuff. Those moments in which you find a version of yourself that is powerful, strong, gentle, forgiving, playful, and if possible (and this is my favorite one) full of confidence. Trust me, if you dig in deep, you'll find a moment no matter how fleeting, in which you were that amazing person you sometimes wish you had next to you helping you out as an adult.

You've heard me tell you many times with body image issues that we should take our adult self to talk kindly to that young scarred child or teenager. Well today we're going to flip this like a Sunday morning blueberry pancake. We're on a mission to find your wiser child, so he or she can come to life once again in your current circumstances and fill you up with that childlike magic.

The beach

Just in case you know nothing about my personal story (which you can read more about here), I was raised by a single mom who was very sick all my life, in fact she was sick since she herself was 11 years old. This meant that with every passing year of her illness came more and more complications. Her disease had us going in and out of emergency rooms, she had to have back to back surgeries with very painful and long periods of recovery. It was scary for both of us, and emergencies seemed to occur whenever you least expected them to. Seriously, once a year long battle of recovery was brought on by a book that fell on her leg from very high up on a bookshelf. Her body was so fragile but her spirit and her desire to live a full life was incredible.

One day she sold our apartment and decided that we were going to use the money to buy a little house on the beach. We set out on a 3 and a half hour drive to a beach town in Venezuela where we lived, where a group of her friends had bought a house. 

One of the only two photos I have of the house. I had completely forgotten about the tons of hibiscus flowers my mom had planted along the driveway.

One of the only two photos I have of the house. I had completely forgotten about the tons of hibiscus flowers my mom had planted along the driveway.

We walked into a little white house with wire fencing all around it, huge palm trees in the front lawn, Japanese grass that pricked my little feet, and over 30 fruit trees in the backyard. It was nothing fancy, but it was so beautiful. The name of the house was a little omen as we would soon realize. It was called Port de Pau or Port of Peace.

I had never seen my mom's eyes so wide with excitement. As we walked in and saw the bedrooms my mom said this one is yours, and this one is mine. She walked out and bought the house.

No comparison shopping, no negotiations or trying to seem uninterested to see if they would lower the price. She bought the house and the owners gave us the keys leaving everything behind. From the chairs to their bathing suits, which was pretty funny.

This place is where my childhood began, even though I was already about 10 or 11 at the time. 

We never took a photo of the piece of wood that had the Words Port de Pau carved into it near our front door, but a friend of my mom's who was an artist drew this one weekend when he came to visit. It's the only little keepsake I have of the name.

We never took a photo of the piece of wood that had the Words Port de Pau carved into it near our front door, but a friend of my mom's who was an artist drew this one weekend when he came to visit. It's the only little keepsake I have of the name.

Life before Port de Pau included a mini adult version of me that was perfect in a crisis. I could react, call ambulances or the police or run out for help from age 5, and although I played and had friends and my mom was the best mother on the planet, what I call a magical mom, my childhood began with the giving of those keys.

Through years of accidents, hospital rooms, scary conversations of who would take care of me if my mom didn't make it, we had this place. In this place, for some magical reason, nothing ever happened. There was never an accident, a problem with my mom's meds, no ambulance sirens and no doctors. Ever. Ever. It was weird, but this was quite literally our port of peace. My mom could be a normal mom, and I could be a normal kid.

We would go almost every weekend even though it was a long drive, but we would get there and immediately start with all our traditions. 

Me and our rescued dog Cindy (and my mom in the back.

Me and our rescued dog Cindy (and my mom in the back.

Friday evenings were for cleaning up the house and taking all the patio furniture out (and the horrifying task of checking under the mattresses for little scorpions... and yes, we always found one), plus dinner and board games in the little den. 

Our kitchen table and me painting or doing homework or something. Yes, I had a Beverly Hills 90210 T-shirt on... yikes.... glad this is only a drawing and not an actual photo!

Our kitchen table and me painting or doing homework or something. Yes, I had a Beverly Hills 90210 T-shirt on... yikes.... glad this is only a drawing and not an actual photo!

Saturday mornings started with a huge breakfast on our big wooden table, then we would get all our stuff ready, prepare our picnic for the beach, mom would pack her watercolors and we would head out. All of these very special friends of hers who had also bought a house and had tons of kids and nephews and nieces would all be at the beach. Coming from such a tiny family, this was my first glimpse into what community was like. These people became our second family, they helped us through all the ugly stuff that would come in later years, and they were the craziest, funniest gang ever.

The year my mom organized a kite festival. At the peak of the day we counted 80 kites in the sky at one time. All organized by my mama, who is at the far left in the shirt with flowers.

The year my mom organized a kite festival. At the peak of the day we counted 80 kites in the sky at one time. All organized by my mama, who is at the far left in the shirt with flowers.

We would then come back home and have a late lunch or an early dinner together outside. I was always in charge of making the sauce for our barbecues (my secret recipe). We would eat, talk, laugh, and I always had the tradition of laying on the benches where we sat outside around the table and looking up at the sky through the trees. We had so many trees it looked like a little lace ceiling with this beautiful blue behind, or pink or orange if it was at sunset. To this day, this action of looking through the leaves of trees is my favorite thing to do to instantly relax and I learned it there.

We never took a photo of that tree lace, but my mom captured it one day when a whole flock of little parakeets showed up.

We never took a photo of that tree lace, but my mom captured it one day when a whole flock of little parakeets showed up.

Then came party time, my mom's friends would come over, we would sing, dance, play charades, perform silly little performance art pieces, and yes there was the year in which we created a full blown puppet theater for all the kids in the neighborhood. I of course would cook, yes, even at 10! I would make my famous homemade tart cherry jam with the cherries from our trees, then I would make little popovers and sell them to the spectators. I always made a killing.

Captive audience at the puppet theater.

Captive audience at the puppet theater.

5 minutes before this photo was taken someone was doing something hilarious with a broom and an Elvis song. My mom couldn't even catch her breath!

5 minutes before this photo was taken someone was doing something hilarious with a broom and an Elvis song. My mom couldn't even catch her breath!

Some days the plan was different. We would get in the car and play my mom's crazy "you choose" game. In which anyone in the car could say left or right and we would see where we ended up (which once included us being stuck in the sand and walking the rest of the way until we found someone to help us push the car). We went to rivers, lakes, reservoirs, dams, fishing villages, this beach where the sand was made up of millions of tiny little seashells, and we did so much exploring.

Some days, a friend and I would spend the entire afternoon climbing the trees in the garden. My mom would give us chores and we would have to pick all the fruit from the trees. 

My tree climbing friend and the year of the masks (my mother's doing... she bought hundreds so everyone in the neighborhood would have one).

My tree climbing friend and the year of the masks (my mother's doing... she bought hundreds so everyone in the neighborhood would have one).

Some afternoons we painted, some afternoons we had the keys to a house nearby that was the only one that had a swimming pool. It also happened to have a mango tree right over the swimming pool and the rest of the kids and I would see who could jump the highest to steal the mangoes and we ate them until we got a stomach ache.

It's where I learned to ride my bike, rather late but better late than never. It's where I learned how to drive a car. It's where I learned how to grow my own vegetables. It's where I fell in love with animals even more because besides our dog, cat and turtle (who would always come with us of course), my mom adopted two sheep (the first named Merlin but then we changed his name to Clyde when we rescued another sheep called Bonnie. Yes they were practically criminals, hence the names, but we loved 'em). It's where we rescued two ducks, and saw them have 5 baby ducklings from the moment of the first crack in the first egg in the little house we made for them. It's where I re-learned how to be a kid. It's also where I saw my mom be the happiest she'd ever been.

Adam and Eve, yup that's what we named them. This was pre-duck babies.

Adam and Eve, yup that's what we named them. This was pre-duck babies.

I could tell you countless stories. These don't even scratch the surface, but the reason I'm telling you  all this, is that in spite of having a whole bunch of childhood memories that created anxiety, fear, and a personality that was always ready to act and always under stress, I always had this place to go back to. 

Recently I've been going back to it more and more, because I started to realize that all the keys to solving the more uncomfortable puzzles already existed back then within me. That need to not be perfect, that playfulness and sense of adventure, all the hundreds of trees I climbed in spite of the fact that I have a terrible fear of heights. Impossible as it may seem if you would be able to see what our life was like, it was a place where I never felt unsafe, alone or responsible for my mom's safety. Whenever I go back there in my mind, often before going to sleep, I realize that it wasn't the place. It was that feeling of freedom and independence, that escape, and all of that was internal and there's somewhere within me where that still exists. 

No matter what your story is, or how many scary or difficult experiences you might have lived through, I want you to dig deep down. Go down that rabbit hole, and find that place, or those moments, even if they were short lived, and hold those as your truth. This special place formed my identity just as much as the scary stuff and it's there, whenever I need to reach for it. Filled with ideas of places, activities and a way of looking at things that I can always bring back to this adult version of me that sometimes needs it. 

I hope you find yours, and that you can find those little glimpses of that wiser you that is free of judgement, or perfectionism, or fear, or worry of what others think, free of stress and anxiety and full of childlike wonder and fun. Life is supposed to be fun. Get a pen and a piece of paper, your journal, anything, start writing. Start going down memory lane and find those moments and keep them handy, make that wise childlike part of you sit with you now and talk you though difficult moments. Use it to take it easier on yourself, to try to not be so perfect all the time, use it to calm down, ease your stress levels and use it to play. As often as possible.

Thanks for going down memory lane with me this week! I'll be back next week to tell you all about the Minnesota starvation experiment, which I know sounds awful, but you won't believe it when you hear about it. 'Til next week!