ACTIVE LIVING, BEST SELF, HEALTH, NUTRITION

Whole 30 // My Journey to Food Freedom

11/27/2018

As of today, I have completed three (almost sequential) rounds of Whole30. If you aren’t familiar with the program, it is a self guided food program (or diet if you will) that focuses on eliminating negative inflammation prone foods in order for you to reset your body. During the 30 days, you are guided to focus on whole foods – this means unprocessed foods with no added sugars or preservatives. The program also has you eliminate other types of foods that are known to cause inflammation in the body or trigger hormonal reactions such as dairy, grains, legumes, and corn. Oh, and alcohol too. The basis of the program is to get you on a clean diet for 30 days allowing you to slay the “sugar dragon” and reset your hormones breaking any unhealthy psychological and physiological relationships with food therefore providing “food freedom”. After the 30 days you are able to slowly re-incorporate foods into your diet, while observing how they impact your body.

When I first heard of the Whole30 I was very skeptical. My sister had done it several times and had positive results in regards to weight loss and overall health, but to me, the diet seemed too limiting. I am already a gluten free vegetarian and I rely on food sources such as beans and rice, tofu, and legumes to hit my daily protein needs – so how would I survive if I cut those out? I basically told myself that I would never do Whole30, which pretty much guaranteed me that at some point in my life it would be done – because as soon as I say never, the universe laughs and says “we’ll see about that”.

My mother, who has struggled with weight as far back as I can remember, tried out the program about two years ago. The amazing thing is that she started it and just never stopped. She took the knowledge of how to eat and made a lifestyle change that, in my opinion, has given her life and her relationship with food a complete makeover. She looks fantastic and has such a different level of energy and positivity. I have been so proud to watch her through this journey. Her energy is contagious and she truly glows. I have been inspired witnessing her personal transformation.

Although it may not seem like it from an outside perspective, I have battled my weight since I was in late elementary school. I became a very chubby kid and did not look like most of my peers. Since then I’ve had a relatively unhealthy relationship with food and my body. I battled Bulimia in college and early adulthood, tried to lose weight through diet pills and restrictive eating, and have tried numerous fad diets – none of which helped me achieve a body I was proud of nor did it help me gain a positive relationship with food.  In fact, it did quite the opposite, which is part of why I didn’t want to go down the Whole30 rabbit hole. I did not trust it.

That said, my mom’s success with the program intrigued me. I honestly started researching Whole30 not because I had any intention to follow through with the program, but more so that I was worried about my mom. I was concerned that she was being too restrictive. I needed to understand the reasoning and the science behind it all.  So I started reading. I borrowed several Whole30 books from the library – starting with “It Starts with Food”, which was the first book written by the developers of the program Melissa and Dallas Hartwig. I highly recommend reading the book if you are interested in the program. It gave me a better understanding of the why. A lot of the food that was being cut, was going to be introduced back later and is only being cut for the first 30 days to help give each individual a baseline or blank slate in order to figure out what foods work for them and which do not.

Another huge focus was breaking the dysfunctional relationship with food. Again, I was skeptical that this could happen. I have always had a bad relationship with food.  And I mean always. I remember being in elementary school and licking slices of pizza so that I could guarantee myself a second (or third) slice before my siblings got to it, or finding mom’s hidden stash of sweet treats and going nuts eating all I could. I even remember finding a sour punch rope candy on the ground walking home from the school bus one day and eating it – and if my memory serves me correctly, it was already open! Ugh, that memory makes my heart and stomach hurt. Those particular memories aren’t even inclusive of the later years which involve heartbreaking stories of binging and purging.  

As I read, I started wondering if it was worth giving the program a try. At the time I was a vegetarian and I knew I would have to do something about the protein aspect of the diet. I decided that instead of making concessions to the program to fit around a vegetarian lifestyle (which they do allow), that I would choose to include fish and eggs in lieu of the tofu and legumes over the 30 days. The more I read, the more I felt up to the time limited challenge of the program.

I also deeply believe that psychologically I gave myself permission to succeed since my mom has succeeded.

I have always been concerned that I would end up battling my weight my entire life, just like my mother. I had dated someone who was very into fitness that had commented that they didn’t think they could marry me because my mother was a predictor of my future body shape. When I looked in the mirror, I saw her, not me – so there was no winning the battle. I honestly feel shame and guilt for carrying this fear around and extremely vulnerable expressing it on a public forum because it involves my mother and not just myself, but it is a big piece of my journey.  As I work through my feelings, I recognize that it has affected me far deeper than I ever perceived. Seeing my mom succeed and reshape her life has, in a way, given me the permission I needed to let go of this fear. Holding onto the belief that I was destined to struggle and never achieve my goals only held me back from achieving them.

After some prep work, a major food shopping spree, and an announcement to my family, I decided to start my Whole30 journey the day the kids went back to school. I filled the house with fresh fruits and veggies and created a general food plan for the first week to get me going.

Unfortunately, two days into the program I realized that the pickles I was munching on had added sugar! I could have let this be an excuse to stop the program altogether, but instead I just reset and went back to day one. I was not giving up.

The first week was exciting, but by week two I was already feeling challenged. We had visitors in town which meant eating out at restaurants and grabbing take out. This also meant having to forego my favorite foods in order to stay compliant with the program. I had to give myself several pep talks and force myself to just get through the moment. I realized that the desire for the foods dissipated very quickly, especially when I ate something that was Whole30 approved that I enjoyed. I just had to make sure that I was prepared and had food on hand that not only fit into the program, but that I liked and looked forward to eating.

I found that roasted veggies were my favorite by far. I would switch up the various veggies and seasonings and often throw a leaky egg on top and some fresh homemade guacamole on the side. I started to crave these meals and the other previously enticing foods did not seem as appealing. By week three I was getting bored though. I had not switched things up enough and I was ready for the program to be over. I was not seeing much change to my body and I was feeling grumpy and hungry. I was also PMSing, which caused me to crave sugar. On week three I overindulged on nuts and dried mango – which albeit Whole30 approved food, is not really Whole30 approved behavior, but it is part of the learning process. I forgave myself and moved past it, completing the program the following week.

I was proud of myself for following through with the program, but I was not in the right mindset for the slow reintegration of foods, but rather for a feast of Thai food and gluten free pizza.

I knew I had lost a bit of weight – 6 pounds that month – but I didn’t see enough of a change to feel like it was life changing and to be honest, I wanted the foods I wanted.

Funny enough though, without thinking about it I made myself a Whole30 compliant breakfast before having our Thai lunch, and then again the next day I stayed within the program’s guidelines for both breakfast and lunch before having my pizza for dinner.

By the end of my second non-compliant meal I was feeling satisfied, but ready to get back onto Whole30. The feeling actually surprised me as I had never anticipated wanting to do it ever again. Despite my desire to go for round 2, I knew my parents were coming into town and I did not want to be on the program during their visit and my all or nothing personality doesn’t really allow “cheating” on the program. I pulled out the calendar, and wouldn’t you know it – they flew into town late the evening of the 30th day! The universe was encouraging me to keep going – so I did. Round two was much easier. I also recognized that I had neglected various seasoning, such as curry, which opened up a whole world of flavors. I got a little more creative in my cooking – spiralizing squash and zucchini, using cauliflower rice, and incorporating Whole30 approved marinara sauce – while also falling into a routine of my favorite roasted vegetable plates.

I still struggled a bit around the time of my period, but never fell outside of the parameters and was able to use better self control in regards to the nuts (salty) and the dried mango (sweet) that I was craving. I also made sure to always have frozen grapes on hand so that I a handful here or there could satisfy my craving for sweet without spiking my blood sugar or breaking the caloric bank.

The end of round 2 arrived before I knew it and I never had the feeling that I was ready for it to be over. Although I thoroughly enjoyed eating out at my favorite Thai and Indian restaurants while my parents were in town, I continued to crave the structure of the program and contemplated a third round. I knew I had a friend’s wedding coming up at the end of November and there was no way I would want to be on the program at her wedding, so once again I pulled out the calendar to see what the completion date would be if I went for round 3. I couldn’t believe it – day 30 was the day before her wedding! Again the universe had aligned with my plans and encouraged me to succeed. I was all in once again for a third round.

This time, it was easy. Clean eating was now becoming a lifestyle. As long as I stayed prepared and one step ahead of the hurdles I was golden.  This meant traveling with Whole30 compliant foods and looking up menu options before arriving at restaurants so I knew and was excited about what I was going to order. The month flew by faster than I ever expected and I feel better than ever. I don’t crave sugars. I don’t feel controlled by food. And I never feel guilty for what I eat. Even if I eat larger portions than I feel like I need (like 2 full potatoes instead of one) because I’m hungry, there is no guilt. Zero. I know that I am giving my body what it needs.  

Now, I could still over do it on nuts if I allowed myself to, or dried fruit, or Lara bars, but I keep in mind that those are to be used sparingly and that the focus of the program is indeed food freedom.  So when I am craving one of the aforementioned items, I count to 5, drink some water, distract myself, and if that doesn’t work, then I just eat it, because that’s what I want and I am not about deprivation.

The program has worked tremendously for me and I am happier than ever when it comes to food.  Overall, I dropped about 10 pounds and now fit back into all my pants. I feel in control of the food I eat, but I still love and enjoy everything that I am eating – probably more so than before the program. Foods taste more alive – the fruit is sweeter and the vegetables more satisfying.

I also feel like I am a good role model for those around me, including my children. I am intentional and grateful for the food I eat. My confidence is higher and I feel no guilt or shame.

I highly recommend the program for anyone looking for food freedom, but know that if I would have quit after the first 30 days, that it would not have been as transformational for me.  Continuing on for an additional two rounds was important for the lifestyle shift to click – but I also believe giving myself the weekend off in between rounds was important. Additionally, I got lucky that the universe aligned with upcoming event dates, but the reality is that if I had wanted to use it as an excuse not to do the program I would have. I was ready for change and I embraced it – and I am so thankful that I did.

For me, it is not about the weight lost – although that is the organic coconut cream, date sweetened icing on top – it is about the true change in my relationship with food. That is the game changer. So now, the next phase of my personal transformation is incorporating the right level of fitness. I have found a program that seems to be working for me and I’m excited to see how it transpires, but more on that later! If you have any questions or comments about the Whole30, or my personal journey – feel free to comment or reach out. Want to learn more about what I eat or keep up with my journey, follow me on instagram (@thehourglassproject) for daily updates.

BEST SELF, MY TRUTH

Sigh…Here We Go Again

11/14/2018

Sometimes I wonder how many times I have to start and restart something before I either give it up or it sticks. I began this blog almost three years ago, and in that time I have announced a restart on two separate occasions, declaring that this time would be different.  This time I would do as I say and not as I’ve done and plan for posts, make the blog a priority, and write on a regular basis.  But alas, just like with my numerous work out plans or nutrition crazes, I have fallen flat of meeting my goal.  And not just fallen flat, but head first into a pile of mud, where I seem to have gotten myself stuck over the past three months.

So why is this?  Why can I not maintain a blog?

Is it because I am too busy?

Well, yes. I keep myself very busy – but I could absolutely carve out time to write if I really wanted to, right? I find time to create Pinterest boards, fill my Amazon and Wayfair carts up numerous times a week without actually checking out because I’m not really sure how I want to decorate our new home, and yes – there is even time for the occasional Netflix show. So, although time may be an excuse I use, it is certainly not the answer.

Is it because I find it challenging to be vulnerable?

Well…that’s tricky.  In the past I would have said no, but when I first started my page I did so without letting anyone really know. I was hoping to keep it out of my general circle, so thatI could be open in vulnerable.  When we moved to DC two years ago, I dusted off the blog and relaunched in a more open and raw way than ever before.  It was wonderful to have a bit of a barrier between myself and my readers – mainly the ones I would bump into day to day. I may get a few extra phone calls or texts after a particularly revealing article, but I didn’t have to have the awkward face to face with anyone wondering if they had read my latest post while waiting to pick up the kids from school.  Unfortunately, that barrier has been penetrated a bit as social media suggests friends and slowly my new DC friends and I have connected on various social media outlets, which means that when I do write – and announce a new post on social media – they may, or may not read what I’ve written.

And although I appreciate that they are taking the time to read my work and I would never not want them to read it – the level of vulnerability is higher and therefore makes me question what to write about.  Which leads into the next question.

Is it because I lack direction?

Hmmm. Yes? I think this plays a role. In addition to the aforementioned vulnerability issues, I’ve also noted in previous posts that I find it difficult to find my voice on the blog. There is a false sense of audience and I’m not sure what people want to read. On one hand I say that this is an outlet for me to write on, but there is also a piece of me that wants to write meaningful articles. And there is certainly this nagging feeling that I need to be an expert on something in order to write about it. I believe if I could create a better vision of what I want my blog to be, then I could be more successful writing in a way that is pleasing to others. When I go to my site now, I feel disappointed. I have a few articles I am really proud of, but in between those I fall short of my expectations.  However, I am not sure I can even clearly define my expectations.

I created the Hourglass Project as a way to chronicle my journey as I work to find balance in my life, but I’m not sure how to exactly translate that into articles. Do I start posting recipes of the food journey I’m on? Do I discuss the fitness activities that I’m engaged in? Do I simply rant and explore my feelings about being in my late 30’s but still being as lost as I was when I was 13? Perhaps I write about it all, because goodness knows that writing about nothing (which seems to be what I’ve been doing since August) is certainly not working, but the reality is that the articles that I love writing the most are those that are raw and vulnerable and help us connect as women – as people – as individuals. So right there, I need to find the balance.

And finally, my last self interrogative question…

Is it because I haven’t made it a piece of my lifestyle?

YES! This is definitely the biggest piece of the puzzle.  There are still mental objections, fears, vulnerabilities, and hurdles that I will have to tackle on a daily basis, but if I don’t sit down and write daily (write, not post)  – then I am not making it a habit in my life and therefor it is not a priority.  And if the blog is not a priority in my life, then a random Netflix movie will always win.

So right now I am staring at the white elephant in the room and challenging it to leave. I am not going to sit here and declare that I am starting anew yet again or that things are going to be different – because honestly that would be no different than every New Year’s resolution I have ever made.

No, what I am doing is creating an action plan.  YES! I am TAKING ACTION!

I am finally going to take the advice that I have given to all my friends and colleagues who have ever wanted to start a blog.  Here are the steps I am taking:

  1. I am coming up with an extensive lists of topics that I would like to write about. If you have any suggestions – please comment!  
  2. I am setting a recurrent time in my schedule to actively sit down (distraction free!) and work on the site. My current breakdown includes time for writing, editing and image gathering, posting and promotion.  
  3. I am setting up a Google Drive with a spreadsheet to help manage workflow and folders to hold various images and articles during development.
  4. I am creating an engagement calendar of when to post new articles and which topics may lend themselves best to those dates.
  5. Additionally, I am going to continue to explore my voice and try to envision what I’d like this site to be, although a work in progress is good enough for today!

If you are reading this, then I want to take a minute to say THANK YOU.  There are endless amounts of other activities that you could be engaged in rather than spending the time to read this article and I don’t take that for granted.  Thank you for continuing to read and therefor support me.  I truly appreciate it.

 

GRATITUDE, HAPPINESS, LIFE CHANGES, TIME FOR CHANGE

We’ve Moved!

08/17/2018

The last few years have brought on a lot of change.  At this point in my life three years ago I was celebrating the major milestone of both of our children entering into public education.  My son had entered Kindergarten and my daughter was in Pre-K at the same public elementary school only a mile down the road. As any dual working home knows, this is a huge financial milestone as it was the first time in our children’s lives that we weren’t paying the exorbitant day care costs for two children.  We were also settling into our home and community in new ways – investing more into the friendship with our neighbors and even making some much awaited upgrades to our home. But all this changed suddenly only a few months later when my husband found out that he was being transferred to DC.

Rather than fight it, we embraced the adventure.  We sold our house and most of the contents inside, packed up a 15 foot moving van, said goodbye to friends and family, and headed north to DC.  This was our first time since the age of 3 living outside of Florida.

Our family enjoyed the perks of DC and the change in environment, but we never saw it as a long term home for us – rather a springboard – and this was due to the fact that the cost of living was just so high.  Although we actually loved downsizing and not having a large yard to maintain, we did long for some outdoor space of our own – something we believed was simply impossible at our price point.

At the end of our first year, my husband was able to negotiate for remote work capabilities and we decided to stay in the general area.   We put a contract on a house in Chesapeake Beach, about 3 hours from DC. But when negotiations went sour he decided to leave the job, which meant releasing the contract for the house and staying put in DC – praying for the right job to come along.  

After a long summer of unemployment, my husband landed a new job with the Navy.  For the past year he has been happy with his new job, but we still questioned the viability of living long term in the District.  We began to explore the possibility of working remotely within a few hours of DC, but the more we looked the more overwhelmed we became trying to narrow down the best place to live.  We were not sure if we wanted a small home or large, beach house or farm, rural or suburban. As we began to asses our situation we came to the conclusion that we were not ready to buy outside of the DC area, but we still didn’t think it made sense to buy in the District – and we did not want to continue renting at the rate we were renting at.  We felt stuck between a rock and a hard place. We knew leaving the area meant relocating the kids to a new school and although we didn’t want to do this more times than needed, we also didn’t want to buy a home in a place we were not familiar with. So, after much debate we started seriously considering moving back to Florida temporarily to help us regenerate our savings. 

Neither one of us were interested in making Florida our permanent home though.  We have fallen in love with seasons and enjoy the driveability to the mountains or various surrounding states for a day trip. That said, it made sense financially, so in January we began to start the discussions around moving back for 1-3 years to help rebuild our next egg.  We pumped ourselves up about the decision and even told a few people that this was the current plan.

And then things changed yet again.

As I discussed in my previous post, we went through some serious loss beginning in January, but the one that changed our decision was the massacre at my high school.  I became extremely involved with the development of the Mobilizing MSD organization and the alumni support for March For Our Lives. I had connected and re-connected with so many MSD Alumni and felt enthralled and excited by the work we were doing in DC.  I was also head deep into planning the 2018 Murch Auction fundraiser event for the kids’ school. I was in my element – surrounded by friends, working feverously to make this world a better place. So, about midway through the month of March I turned to my husband one evening and asked if we could find a way to stay in DC.  He, of course, said yes.

Shortly after MFOL we started looking at our finances to figure out if we could afford to buy in the area.  My one request was that we had some sort of outside space, which in our budget looked like it limited us to a balcony.  My husband and I explored various options of larger one bedrooms with balconies or private entries and two bedrooms with one bath and a larger balcony.  The properties available at the time were minimal so we decided that if we needed to, we would simply resign a lease at our apartments and break it early if the right property became available.  But the morning of the Auction I saw a Redfin alert on my phone that two properties in the area were having open houses the following day.

The first property was a 1/1 with a balcony about 2 blocks from our current apartment at the time.  We were exploring the option of a one bedroom as a 1-3 year option with the ability to rent after a few years to help us save more money for a larger property before the kids hit middle school.  The second property was a 2/1.5 and at the high end of our budget, but it had a patio, which excited us because we did not know it even existed in our area.

We decided to go to both open houses.  

It was pretty obvious after visiting the 1/1 that it wasn’t the healthiest choice for our marriage to be cooped up in such tight quarters.  Additionally, the ninth floor balcony was very intimidating – to say the least. The second property however, seemed to check all the boxes.  It was 300 sq ft larger than our current apartment, but the layout was a split plan so it made it feel more like a home. The property had just been renovated and so the kitchen and bathrooms were modern and very functional.  It was only one block from our apartment, so it was close to the school and on the same block as the local park. AND – it had its own private use patio!

I ended up spending almost an hour and a half at open house because we got stuck in a downpour and had to wait until the rain let up to walk home.  As I was there I explored the space and imagined us in the home. I also witnessed many excited individuals tour the property as well and felt that there was a good possibility that we would not even be contenders for this space.  But we decided we had to try. So that evening, through a friends recommendation, we contacted a realtor from Compass Realty – Katrina Schymik Abjornson. We discussed our options with her and got an offer together with a personal letter to the seller.  And then we waited.

My husband and I had convinced ourselves that they would not accept our offer. We were sure that this property would go above asking price and perhaps even have a bidding war.  This was not something we were financially able to participate in as the property was already at the top of our budget.

Despite there being no surprise to the story now, when we got the call that they accepted our offer, we were truly in shock.  So much that we didn’t tell anyone besides our parents at first.  After having to walk away from our contract the previous year we progressed through this process with bated breath waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It never did.  Financing went well.  The inspection went well.  Our realtor was great and we made it to closing without any major hiccups.  

In fact, the only real trouble we faced was that my husband got really sick the week of closing and we were concerned that he wouldn’t physically be able to get to closing.  But alas, we made it – and the 2/1.5 condo with its own patio was ours. We were officially DC homeowners! Washingtonians.

That said, a sick husband meant that this girl did the majority of the moving solo.  I did have some help from his gracious Uncle who helped me move the major pieces of furniture – thank goodness – and my parents, who stayed with us the first week in our new home, helped me clean out the old apartment – which was much appreciated!  In the end, we got the job done and we are now pretty settled in our new space.

It feels nice to be planting roots and not questioning on a regular basis whether we are staying or going.  I have committed to being the HSA Co-President (our school’s version of the PTA) for the upcoming school year and look forward to our kids transitioning into the newly remodeled school this year!

We have already hosted several guests in our new space and look forward to continuing to host friends and family traveling to DC.  The patio has been such a blessing as it gives us all some private outdoor space by just opening our door. There is still some moving of furniture and adjusting of stuff that we will do as we figure out how to best utilize the space, but ultimately we are home – and it feels good.  

Here is a quick little peak at our space…Enjoy!

 

 

BEST SELF, LIFE CHANGES, MY TRUTH

The Past Six Months

08/03/2018

Each time I sit down to write it gives me anxiety.  The whole point of The Hourglass Project was to help me find balance – and this site was a personal retreat to help me in my journey and share my experiences with others.  But, when I see that the last time I wrote was in February, nearly 6 months ago, the anxiety creeps in.

Part of the emotion is tied to the feeling of letting myself down.  I had gotten into a good rhythm of writing more regularly after having retreated from writing for a while, and I felt good about my site and the process of writing.  That said, when chaos strikes I tend to pull back and disengage with social media and as a result I neglected my site.  This makes me sad, because this site is an outlet for me – a way to express myself – and to hopefully help others on the way.  But, the perfectionist in me tends to watch the days and weeks pass and almost feels a sense of defeat and rather than hunkering down and getting back to work, I wave the white flag of surrender and let the wave of introversion sweep over me.

Another part of the emotion is that sitting down to write also brings me right back to where I left off, in February, when my life seemed to take a nose dive and the feelings that come up can be overwhelming.

2018 had already started off on a sad note as shortly into the new year I received a phone call from a dear friend letting me know that one of our mutual friends had unexpectedly passed away.  This was an individual who was like a big brother to me throughout my early adulthood, and although we were not in touch on a regular basis, we popped in and out of each others lives throughout the years and always remained friends.

Within a matter of weeks, I learned, along with the rest of the world, that an active shooter had entered my old high school and killed 17 individuals, students & staff, including one of my old classmates.  This was the last thing I wrote about.

I dove head first into helping out with fundraising and coordinating alumni events around the nationwide marches for March For Our Lives.  I was working close to 20 hour days for a while simply because I couldn’t sleep due to the immense sadness and trauma I felt.  As an alumni, almost 20 years removed, I never in a million years would have anticipated having this kind of reaction, but once I became involved with the local DC area alumni, I knew I wasn’t alone.  I worked on designing logos, digital guidebooks for the march, planning fundraisers and MFOL rally points.  It became a full time job.

In addition to my desire for safer gun policies and safer schools for our children, one of the reason I became so fully vested in these efforts was to ward off the incredible devastation I felt – because within a week or so of the shooting, both of my dogs passed away.

My 15 year old golden retriever, Saydi, passed first, only 5 days after the massacre.  It was the most horrible, gut wrenching pain I’ve ever experienced.  It may sound silly to those who don’t have animals that they feel connected to, but for the last 15 years she had been my baby and I loved her dearly.

Upon returning home from the vets without Saydi, we heard a cry coming from down our hallway.  It was Kayla, my 17 year old cocker spaniel, laying in the last spot where Saydi had been – crying.  My heart shattered.  For the next few days Kayla would not eat.  She became weaker and weaker and her bones began to protrude.  I knew we didn’t have long with her, but I did everything in my power to keep her alive and comforted.  I slept on the couch with her on my chest each night, and tried various gourmet meals in order to get a few nibbles down.  Five days after Saydi left us, Kayla gave up and joined her sister.

If that wasn’t enough, we experienced the loss of two more lives in the months following.  One being my brother in law’s mother, who was more like an extension of our family and another my friend’s father. Witnessing the pain that my sister and brother in law were going through was agonizing.  I flew home to be with them and to help with the memorial, but the time with them was limited and there is only so much a person can do living out of state. By the time my friend’s dad died, I think I was completely numb and it saddens me to say that I wasn’t a good support for her.

I just can’t imagine losing a parent.  The most impactful loss I have experienced in my life is the loss of my dogs because they were a part of my daily life for 15 and 17 years.  Even writing this today, almost six months later, I have tears pouring down my face and I have to take several breaks in order to compose myself enough to keep writing.  The visceral pain is so strong.  There is not a day that goes by that I don’t miss or think of them.

And the pain deepens each time I think about those who lost their children or loved ones in the shooting, my brother in law’s family, my friend’s wife and daughter, and the families of the four loved ones I lost in the past two years to cancer or illness.  These are my dogs who lived very full lives and even outlived their life expectancies.  I cannot even imagine the pain that is felt for those who lost their loved ones prematurely.  This is why I haven’t written in sixth months.  This is why I have been unable to engage in a meaningful way on social media.  Because it hurts.  But I know I can’t live under a rock forever and that writing is cathartic, so I am ripping off the bandaid and writing today.

Today things seem to be turning a corner and life seems to be on an upswing.  We bought a condo in DC (more to come in my next entry) and spent a fantastic summer visiting friends and family.  Although we are still facing daily challenges – we have also embraced a lot of great opportunities and are trying to live life to the fullest.

Although this was hard to write – I am glad I did.  And I am glad to be back.  

MY TRUTH

#DouglasStrong // Eagles Soaring High

02/15/2018

My hands are shaking and my heart is racing as I attempt to get my thoughts typed out.  The tears are swelling and dropping heavily onto my laptop.  I don’t even know what to write.

All I know is that roughly 24 hours ago, an armed gunman entered my high school and killed, at this point in time, 17 individuals – a combination of students and teachers.  And when I say my high school, I will clarify that I’m 19 years removed.  I graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 1999, the same spring that the Columbine High School Massacre occured.  This mass school shooting shocked the nation and every school felt some sort of ripple effect.  Trench coats were banned and there was a higher awareness that school was not as safe as it seemed, but the threat we felt almost two decades ago pales in comparison to the current threat to students today.

In an ironic sequence of timing, I had been completing the book “A Mother’s Reckoning; Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy” by Sue Klebold, the mother of Columbine shooter Dylan Klebold.  I’m not sure exactly how it ended up in my list of books to read, but I had started the book on Tuesday of last week and slowly listened to the audio book chapter by chapter as she spoke of her experience of the event.  She disclosed details of a positive family life and her guilt and agony over her ignorance to Dylan’s depression and plans for the massacre.  I could identify greatly with her as a parent and suddenly as her story unfolded I could see, as a parent, how this truly could be anyone’s son.   I cannot do the book, or her story justice, by explaining it in my own words, but I do suggest that everyone read it – especially before making assumptions about the shooter, their upbringing, the ability to identify markers of intent, and so on. We think we know, but in reality, we don’t.

That said, I had spent the last week and half reminiscing about my high school, especially my senior year – the year in which the shooting occured.  Dylan and Eric, the gunmen, were my age and also senior’s in their own high school when the murders occurred. I visualized our hallways, classrooms and courtyards, and imagined what it would have been like if we had been attacked.  In between chapters I started researching school shootings and gun laws.  I was trying to wrap my head around the fact that Columbine hadn’t changed any laws and in fact it seemed to be getting easier to acquire guns and make modifications to said guns in order to make them automatic weapons.  This book was challenging to get through – and reading it as a parent had a stronger impact on me then it ever would have pre-kids.

I was in the last few chapters of the book yesterday as my phone started buzzing uncontrollably. Family and high school friends were reaching out to notify me of the current tragedy unfolding between the walls of our alma mater.  Children were being gunned down in the same school, where we grew into adults.  My head started spinning and I felt like I was in some sort of virtual reality.  How was it that I was literally reading a book about Columbine and visualizing a mass shooting (albeit circa ’99) all week and now it was actually occurring.  Did I put this into the universe?  Did I cause this?  I know, I know – this seems completely egocentric, but let me just tell you that I felt like I was in an episode of Black Mirror and it is the first time I truly started to question that maybe, as Elon Musk declares, we are indeed living in a virtual world.  I could not wrap my head around any of it.  In addition to the odd coincidence of reading this book, I have two hometowns – the one I grew up in pre-college (Coral Springs/Parkland) and the city I moved to for college and lived in until 2 years ago when we got transferred to DC (Orlando).  Within the last two years since moving away from Florida, both my hometowns have been hit with mass shootings (Pulse and Douglas HS). I was reeling.

As the story unfolded it turned out the gunman was a 19 year old former student of the high school.  All I could think about was the fact that Columbine happened while I was a senior at Stoneman Douglas high school 19 years ago. This was the same time this shooter was entering the world. We had his entire lifetime to figure things out – to make things better. But instead, things have simply gotten worse and the number of casualties from yesterday’s event were far greater than Columbine, which was the largest school shooting at the time.  How is this even possible?

I will say that one positive of social media, is that within hours Douglas alumnae from all over were reconnecting.  We are a relatively new school as it opened in 1990 in the new and growing town of Parkland, Florida and even though it is a large school it is a pretty tight knit community.  We were banning together talking about how to support our alma mater, work towards change, provide relief counseling and aid to the victims and families, and just using each other for support to mourn this unfathomable tragedy.

During the discussions online another classmate of mine brought up the fact that for the rest of our lives, everyone will know Stoneman Douglas High School – on an international level, because of this tragedy.  What was once a top rated school in a town ranked as one of the safest in America, will now forever be remembered for a school massacre.  But for me, I choose to remember Douglas for what it was for me.  A place of love and life.  Of self discovery and growth.  A place where I experienced love for the first time as well as heartache.  A haven for friendships that still thrive to this day.  This was our home for four years.  Not every moment was positive and I know that high school doesn’t feel safe (emotionally and physically) for everyone, but overall my experience was positive and it shaped me into the woman I am today.

I never realized there would be a day where I felt thankful that I made it out of those walls alive, but I would imagine it is on the minds of all the survivors in that school today. Our kids should not be fearful to walk into school and parents should not wonder if they will make it home alive.  If today’s kiss goodbye will be the last.

The amount of pain that is in my heart today cannot even compare with a fraction of what the affected families and friends are feeling.  But within days my life will return to normal and I will go through my day to day with only fleeting thoughts of the incident. And before long it won’t be on my mind much at all unless triggered by something.  This is not the case for any of the current students at Douglas.  Nor the families that lost loved ones. I’m not sure if anyone can truly say if this tragedy was  preventable, but it was certainly unnecessary and I truly believe we have to do everything in our power to reduce the chances that this will happen again in any other school – or any location for that matter.

The time is now.  While it is in our face and the energy and emotion is strong.  Before we accept this as the new normal.

Another alumnae in our support group said it very well.  Whether you believe the issue is about gun control, mental health, school security, or other issues, we can all agree that there is a problem.  So instead of fighting each other on who is correct on the root cause or which solution will actually fix the problem and remaining at status quo – let’s each work towards what we believe is the correct solution!

What’s the worst case scenario?

Maybe we will wake up one day to a world with better gun regulations that help slow down the process of acquiring firearms, creating better red flags for possible shooters trying to buy guns, a ban on bump stocks,  better access to mental health counseling and resources to help reduce the likelihood of the shootings in the first place, and better security within our schools.

Seems like a win-win-win to me.

Ready to take action?

One easy step you can take is to reach out to your representative!  You can use RESISTBOT (https://www.resist.bot) to easily phone, fax, or email your representatives.  Or text “resist” to 50409.

Want to DONATE to help support the victim’s families and those affected?  Click HERE to donate through the Broward Education Foundation.

Let’s not get stuck in the status quo.  It’s time for change.  Once an Eagle, always an Eagle.  It’s time to soar higher.  #eaglepride #douglasstrong