Cleaning the Slate

This post was original published on my blog, Without Envy, January 19, 2011

Franca and I are not fanatics about health — well, our children might say we are and maybe it’s true, though we also believe that everything is better in moderation, including wellness dogmas — but we do eat well, exercise regularly and generally follow the kind of active, wholesome lifestyle that promotes youth, not aging. With this past year taking a toll on us on so many levels, in the days following our one year anniversary of living with diabetes we took advantage of this emotive milestone to do something about whatever remained of the unfavorable, pent-up feelings not successfully accepted, purged, exorcised or written off in the long months prior. There was, despite these efforts, the toxic residual of dark thought still polluting our minds and weighing our bodies down. I saw it when I looked in the mirror and felt it when I tightened my belt.

I didn’t know it then, but Eastern tradition has a word for this. It’s called amma. In English, we know it only as a mucus and while we don’t for the most part imagine it anywhere other than running from the nose, it’s everywhere in the body. The ears, the lungs, joints, the gut, the genitals. Our bodies make about a quart of it everyday in protecting these and other vital systems from such noxious intruders as pesticides, processed foods, medications, household cleaners and, according to believers of amma, negative emotions. Over time, the mucus builds up like plaque and leads to a feeling of lifeless and heaviness in the body and mind.

The solution to ridding ourselves of this unwelcome load, practitioners of this holistic movement say, is through treatments of a less conventional, more whole-person approach, such as nutrition, yoga, meditation, and fitness, all of which aid in this process of natural detoxification. One of the champions of this philosophy, Dr. Alejandro Junger, cardiologist and author of the book Clean, describes the goal as this: “the vibrant well-being and longevity that are your birthright.”

I had no idea if this was possible but I did like the idea of purging myself of the burden of what I could only imagine were the enduring spoors of every tear, every worry, every heartbreaking element of this new reality. The clarity and lightness I hoped to re-discover was just too much to pass up. Franca agreed and we borrowed Junger’s book from the library and, minus the supplements, adopted his nutritional cleanse program to help get us there.

The plan was simple: eliminate a number of foods from our diet — dairy, wheat, caffeine, alcohol, to name a few of my personal obstacles — and consume only liquid meals (smoothies, juices, soups) for breakfast and dinner; then allow at least 12 hours between dinner and breakfast to give the body time to digest the food and move on to the Great Toxic Dump.

We followed the program for two weeks — the full plan calls for three (everything in moderation, remember) — and to bring the kids into it and make it a bit more fun, we measured our success through the Ninentdo Wii Fit. By the two week’s end, we had shed a collective twenty pounds, most of which I can honestly say seemed to come not from fat but from somewhere deeper inside our bodies, giving some weight to the mucoid plaque theory. My Wii fit age dropped to 27 (I’m nearly twenty years plus that in non-Wii years, but in the interest of full disclosure, when we started I measured 31 Wii-years old, so not that great of a change. Franca’s age didn’t change at all, she held pretty much at 30). So it appeared from those reckonings alone to be a phenomenal success. But the real test however was not how I looked but how I felt and the clean did make me feel younger, healthier and more energetic, especially at night when before I looked ready for bed as soon as I’d polished off dinner, I now looked forward to a game of chess against Lia or even yoga with my wife.

As for the emotions? I won’t pretend to think that the anxiety I’d felt over the past year was suddenly and entirely eradicated with this cleanse. It wasn’t. After all, we’re talking about diabetes, an incurable illness requiring constant maintenance. Even with acceptance, each and every day adds some degree of grief, angst, and frustration to the volume of toxins for which mucus must keep up its insurgent-war against. What the clean did for me though is highlight the fact that you are what you eat, but you don’t have to be what you think.


Inspiration: For When You Need It Most

A Moveable FeastI don’t even own this book, but for some reason it is always there on my mind or in the back of my mind or otherwise someplace near to it. When I check it out of the library, I usually keep it through the maximum amount of renewals (9 I think) and thumb through it almost daily, reading bits and pieces of it here and there, discovering something new every time, and not just about Paris, or Hem, or that era, but amount myself and how I choose to view the world. Having written that just now, it sounds heavy, I know, but trust me it’s not. It’s actually quite simple and down-to-earth.

I can’t remember what drew me to A Moveable Feast the first time I read it—it was probably at my wife’s suggestion, but I do know it was on my writing desk the day my daughter was diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder, type 1 diabetes. Obviously there was no connection to Hemingway’s Paris and this affair—we live in the American south and there was no drinking, no horse racing, no boxing or famous people involved—but I found nonetheless something buoyant about the writing itself that helped me come to grips with this, our own life-changing event.

Shortly after the diagnosis, I began writing a blog—feel free to follow this link to visit it, it’s called Without Envy—and what Hemingway’s writing of Paris, and his other, fictional work, too, of course, but Paris was real, what it taught me was to identify the emotion, find it in whatever action or person that gave it to you and write it down in such a way that it’s honest and clear so that if any one else reads it they will see and experience the same emotion too. It set a perfect example for a father who was facing what is and will probably be one of the saddest, most painful situations in his life, if only because of how unprepared and little I knew about it. For as Hemingway once wrote himself: The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places —A Farewell to Arms, so too had the world, it seemed, broken me and those I loved, but through writing about it I felt stronger. You can’t ask much more from a book or its author.