testimonial

#thisisnotavalentinespost #butitcouldbe

today was a bad day. and it isn't often I have a bad day. I can vividly remember…only two?

my therapist would probably disagree and say that I have bad days, I just choose not to acknowledge them. that I tuck the sad, bad and the ugly emotions away in my head somewhere and keep doing what I'm supposed to. keep feeling what I'm supposed to. because, for some reason, being a vulnerable human being with needs, wants and emotions feels like I'm letting someone down, falling short of expectation. God only knows whose.

…we're working on that.

but today, today was pretty bad.

it started when my alarm went off (yes, this is the start of a bad joke.) I rolled over, cranky and with sleep still in my eyes and thought, "I'm not ready for this day". not a great start. hungry from the night before - due to a packed work schedule and a poorly planned evening meal - I groggily stumbled into the kitchen where I was greeted with a cheerful, "good morning sleepyhead" by my beautiful very-much-a-morning-person boyfriend. I think I mumbled something back (at least I hope so) and started preparing breakfast, because, the day would get better after breakfast. only to realise 10 seconds later that I had to make my feta +  spinach omelette...without feta. it's worth mentioning that I knew we had used the last of it the day before - so this shouldn't have come as a surprise to me - but for some reason, being reminded of this fact in the dark hours of the morning was more than my mind was ready or able to handle. after assembling my spinach omelette (no feta, just to be clear.), complete with avocado toast, I stare at my plate only to mumble on of those four letter words I will advise my future children against adding to their vocabulary.

you see, ever since my brother died my grief has been eating away at me in the form of prescription strength acid reflux. It's something I've been working to manage (and have done reasonably well with…except when distracted by blinding hunger), but if I don't religiously take a probiotic at least 30 minutes before breakfast each morning I can pretty much bet on my stomach burning it's way through my body until I'm face down in a bottle of TUMS. big sigh. so, I pop a probiotic, leave my breakfast to get cold and crawl back into bed, because, I've only been up for 15 minutes and I already want this day to end.

at this point, I'm upset with the circumstances, but I'm more upset with my attitude and my start to the day because, I AM JOY. I can ooze happiness on command. why is this happening!? I set my alarm to go off in 30 minutes (who needs to shower anyway), hoping that I can wake up on a better side of the bed this time. after watching this all unfold my loving boyfriend comes in to cuddle me, untucking my face from the sheets to ask me what's wrong.

we both know what's wrong. instead of coping with my stress, grief and loss in healthy ways, I pretend it doesn't exist so I can be "normal" and bottle it up until one day - at the end of a long, taxing, in-demand week, the sadness just starts seeping out of my eyeballs, screaming for recognition. but, because he's the greatest, he asks anyway. and then proceeds to spend the next 10 minutes of his morning drying my tears and reassuring me that we, everything, will be okay.

after kissing his face and apologising for allowing my sadness to leave a mascara stain on his pillow, I decide to recommit to the day with a hot shower (and a cold breakfast). but, little did I know, I'd withstand a few more blows to the body before the day was done.

- I hadn't planned to use the phrase "what the hell!?" when delivering a presentation to the entire HR department of my workplace. gulp. my brain just sort of barfed and it happened.

- because it's Friday, and Friday is grocery day and I planned poorly for how much food we would need for the week, I didn't have lunch to pack or time to go grab lunch…until 3:30pm. that guy in the snickers commercials? yep. totally.

- I thought a quick workout might be a good pick-me-up until I got to the gym and realised I forgot my sneakers. ever seen someone deadlift in ballet flats? yeah. because, this day was not getting me down dammit! 

- after having gone almost 6 hours without food, I stopped to get a salad and kindly asked to have the standard goat cheese substituted with feta (because, as you know, I didn't get any earlier). ** side bar: I've been allergic to milk and have avoided dairy for over 10 years. my belly revolts at the first bite, so I simply stay away. unless, it's feta. feta is the exception. I don't understand it and don't want to. I just enjoy it. ** halfway into my otherwise delicious salad I realise that my requested substitution went unfulfilled. and thus began a very uncomfortable ride home...

at this point, I'm finally headed home and the end is in sight. I have exactly one hour and fifteen minutes before my sweet boyfriend (who at this point, had just texted me an uplifting, "I love you" because he knew I was fighting an uphill battle) gets home and we head to his parents for a family dinner (a family dinner the has been planned for at least 2 weeks. because, you know, schedules.) he walks in the door at 6:30pm only to find me back in bed (after having popped a few TUMS), trying to start this day over for the 3rd time. he takes one look at me and says, "hey. why don't you stay home? maybe journal a little and get some of those feelings out. you're hiding and it's eating at you. let it out." cue the tears. again. after a blubbering argument about not wanting to disappoint his parents, he smiles, assures me that's nonsense and tucks me back in with a kiss and his promise to be home soon.

I don't know what on earth I ever did to deserve this man. and despite just how bad this day was,

this man is completely and unconditionally good.

after seven months of suffering hard days, managing overwhelming sadness and learning how to pick up the pieces, he is always there. constant and unyielding. always.

and it's because of him that I can wake up every morning and face another day.

Patrick, I love you. #thisisnotavalentinespost #butitcouldbe

 

raising my middle finger to perfection, because I. am. worthy.

I've always been the good one.  the one who always did what she was told. 

the one who always followed the rules, got straight A's and was home by curfew. 

the one who always lived up to expectation. 

the one who always impressed, pleased and perfected. 

but I've recently come to learn, with the help of my therapist and Brene Brown, that perfection is a twenty-ton shield we carry around - that carry around - hoping it will protect us, when in actuality, it's the very thing that keeps our feet from ever leaving the ground and taking flight.

striving for "good" and "perfect" is all I've ever known. it's how I've defined myself for too long. always trying to disown the difficult and brush off the falls, as if it made me more worthy. as if the success of my person somehow rested in the weighted hands of my onlookers.

but as I grow, dragging my broken body; bloody and bruised, from a fall I'll never quite recover from, I'm realising this: the people in the stands - watching your and my life as if it's some Hunger Game - they don't mean shit. those people don't determine my worthiness. they never did. and I'm done hustling for something I deserved all along.

I am enough.

yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable. and sometimes, I might even get scared and break a little. but I am also, and equally, brave and worthy of love and belongingness. this process, of learning how to let go of who I think I'm supposed to be and embracing who I am through the uncomfortable vulnerability - it sucks, it's scary and sometimes it even hurts.

but I'm doing it. I'm choosing to surround myself with people who are able to bend with me, accepting my struggles and my strengths. I'm closing the door on the critics. I'm done wasting my time on winning over your worthiness - as if I ever could. I am willing to risk disappointing you, falling short and exposing myself emotionally.

because I'm committed to owning my story and learning to love myself in the process.

I'm showing up.

I'm being seen.

I'm sharing my feelings. even the not-so-pretty ones. 

I'm having the hard conversations.

because the pursuit of perfection has only effed me up this far, and because, I. AM. WORTHY.

Christmas is cancelled.

I did it. I started listening to Christmas music. and everything was beautiful until I started bawling in the middle of O' Holy Night. on an airplane. with nowhere to hide but the undersized antiseptic-smelling bathroom…and even then I would've had to climb my snotty nose over the happy home-for-Thanksgiving passengers between me and the aisle.

so then, naturally, I got mad. because, dammit! that's a great Christmas song and the only tissues I have at 37,000 feet are my sleeves but now, for some reason - unbeknownst to me - I can't listen to it without remembering my dead brother. and that he's never coming back. never. not for Christmas, not for any Christmas to come. not for my wedding, not for what would've been his. not for the birth of his nieces of nephews. not for the discussion about what to do with our ageing parents. it will all happen without him.

and I can't quite wrap my head around that. because he's always been there. ever since, well, ever. every memory I have includes his freckled face. our family unit, my sense of self, my life in its entirety - I defined it all with him in mind. he was always a part of the equation, my equation.

 

Christmas, five years ago. I got on a plane headed for California so he wouldn't have to celebrate his 1st Christmas in rehab alone. he was angry and ashamed. but we were together and together we had hope.

Christmas Eve, four years ago. Kevin had just gotten out of rehab, again. and asked that I take him Christmas shopping. 1 hour before the stores were closing. so that everyone had a gift from him. I tried telling him that he was the only gift anybody wanted needed, but he insisted. and so we went. less than 24 hours out of rehab, with only pennies to scrape together, he made sure everyone had a gift with his name on it. 

Christmas, last year. we were all trying to pretend the holiday was perfect. going through the motions as though Kevin hadn't just been released from the hospital the day before from another overdose. I specifically remember saying, "welcome to my crazy, dysfunctional family"...

what I wouldn't give to have that crazy family back again for one more dysfunctional Christmas this year.

this year, this year we're cancelling Christmas. There will be no mashed potatoes (not even the mashed cauliflower ones I try to pass off as "just as good"), there will be no stuffing, no pumpkin pie or roasted brussel sprouts. because, who wants to sit at a table with an empty chair? who wants to pretend we don't go around the table saying what we're thankful for each year, because this year, thankful is not a word that readily comes to mind?  we all only really have one thing on our wish list. knowing full well that it won't be sitting under the tree that will stay in storage this year. not on this side of heaven anyway.

but as I sit here typing this (still on flight 802), thinking on Thanksgiving tomorrow, I have to remember that even though this may not be The Best Time Of Year for me, it is for him. I imagine Jesus throws a damn good Christmas party. his pain, suffering and insecurities have been wiped clean. he found whatever it was he had been searching for and the heavy weight of his guilt and shame have been unloaded. he's free.

and for that, I can never be more Thankful.

"and mannnnyyyyy moreeeee"

you know that part in the birthday song, when someone always sings, "and mannnnnyyyy moreeeee" at the end? I always thought it was tacky - an unnecessary attention-seeking addition to a classic. but now, as I'm celebrating my first "never any more", I can't help but wish I had sang it to you more often. I would always go back and be that tacky person singing that tacky addition if I had the chance. November 10th has always meant breakfast in bed, binge watching home videos as per your request and tuna noodle casserole or chicken and waffles for dinner (gag. but you don't get to argue with the birthday boy). and, of course, pumpkin pie for dessert.

this year, there was no breakfast in bed. there were only the memories as I woke up missing you. there was no warm body to hold, hug or slather with birthday kisses. the happiness was replaced with nostalgia and the gifts were replaced by tears. I've never had to celebrate a memory before. it feels empty. but I will always celebrate. because, despite the fact that you're not here, Kev, this day will always belong to you. it will always be a day to remember all of your happy memories, your wide-eyes as you opened your gifts and the pure bliss written on your face as you enjoyed that first bite of pumpkin pie smothered in whipped cream.

today, I baked you a cake. it's a pumpkin protein cake that actually turned out better than expected. you probably would have hated it, given that it was "healthy" and all. but, I added chocolate chips, just for you. you're not here to eat it, so, Patrick's stuck eating the rest (although, he's not arguing).

today, I spent a lot of time remembering.

I remember you, as a tiny little guy with big chubby cheeks and that beautiful bowl cut. you were always laughing. always running around. always happy to put up with my big-sister bossiness. I remember family vacations at the beach - you running toward the waves only to turn around before ever reaching the surf, screaming all the way back to dry sand. you were always the happiest, despite what life (or what I) threw at you.

I remember always having you as my shadow...and loving every second of it. you made me a "mom" at the age of two and a half and I couldn't have been happier. you were my biggest fan, and I'll never find another quite as forgiving and unforgettable as you. thanks for being my No.1 fan Kevster. I'll spend the rest of my life as yours.

I remember always being the very best friends. I'm sure mom can remember a few arguments, but I remember the fun and mutual trouble we got into far outweighing any sibling rivalry. I remember our blanket forts, chocolate milk creations and dress up dates. I even remember being grounded and communicating through the air vents in our rooms…because 10 minutes without each other was pure boredom. you were the best friend a big sister could ever have asked for.

I remember all the times we spied on mom and dad, together. got into trouble together. dressed up for halloween together. drove to school together. went Christmas shopping together. went running together (although, that may have been against your will. I remember some negotiating on that one.) I miss being together with you.

I remember your "big brother" attitude. telling me when a skirt was too short. berating me for trying to microwave a metal bowl (although, in my defence, it had a rubber bottom), or giving me a stern talking too about being too picky when it came to men. Patrick thanks you for that - otherwise, I might never have given him the chance to steal my heart. I remember, even through the awkward years, you always being someone I could trust and confide in.

Most of all, I remembered how much I miss you. every day. I remembered how much of you I carry with me everywhere I go. how hollow and broken I feel without you and how warm and happy to always made me feel. how vital you were to my every breath and how excruciating it is to do life without you. I will always hold on to these memories Kev. forever and always. You were, and always will be, so much more than just a brother.

Happy Birthday baby brother. you'd be 24 today. and I wish more than anything you were here to celebrate along with me, but for now, I'll remember. remember and celebrate by watching home videos with a bowl of cereal in-hand. because, you'd have it no other way. I love you KJ.

there is no greater agony.

everyone's laughing. we're sitting in a bar in downtown Baltimore; drinking, carrying on, enjoying a carefree Sunday afternoon. we're happy. I'm, happy. until that second someone makes an off-the-cuff drug reference, or nonchalantly mentions their "addiction" to something trivial. it happens all the time…a TV show, a food item, anything really. the conversation continues to flow fluidly, and I'm stuck in that second. that excruciatingly long dragged-on second. I can feel my face start to flush, I grow quiet and I even think about halting the conversation in it's tracks with an insensitive comment about my deceased, drug addicted brother. sometimes I think I'd just like to see their faces. I'd like to identify some sort of hurt in their expression so that maybe, maybe next time they think twice before making reference to something so seemingly inconsequential yet devastating hurtful. and other times, I'm just selfishly angry that they reminded me of a pain I try to hard to forget for a few moments each day. but then I remember that their discomfort, that squirm in your seat sensation, will last only a second - a minute at most - and mine, mine will last forever. my hurt is something that I carry with me, pushing it away - covering it up - pretending as though it isn't crawling up my throat for recognition - forever. and so, I swallow my sadness, chalk it up to a personal win that I was able to save face and not breakdown at a table full of friends and almost strangers. I just won a battle that they know nothing about. and that, that's grief.

I've learned that it never ends. it changes. it's not a place to stay, it's a passage. and it's most certainly not a sign of weakness or lack of faith, but merely the price of love. and while death may sting, the hardest part is waking up day after day and carrying the untold story inside of you. forgetting for a few mind numbing hours only to be reminded, with some menial joke or comment, the agony it is to bear his story, your pain. I can't imagine a day when it won't affect me the way it does now, but perhaps, with time I won't wince and cringe, but use it as an opportunity to throw up a prayer. with time.

but that's the nature of the storm. it refines you. the person you are when you're thrown in is not the same person you are when you walk out.

Jesus replied, "you don't understand now what I am doing, but someday you will." John 13:7

grief is an irrational #*%$!

 

today, I am thankful for:

being able to drive with the windows down. 

washing my hair, finally. 

setting a bench press PR. 

peach baked oatmeal for dinner. because, I felt like it. 

there it is. a glimpse into my gratitude journal. and while some of those things may seem menial to you, believe it or not, I haven't washed my hair since Saturday. and I'm writing this on Tuesday.

because, life is a bitch. despite the fact that I know my life is beautiful, I now have to make an intentional effort to remind myself of the bright spots; the tiny wins. like a child, I'm reduced to outlining daily positives. because these days, it all gets drowned out by the darkness far too easily. 17 weeks ago my brother lost his battle with addiction. died. alone. in a cold hotel room. without a "goodbye" or an "I love you", and ever since, my world has been an unpredictable hurricane of emotions.

some days, it's easier to drown out the noise. distraction, obligation, entertainment, they all help me to pretend my life is normal; unchanged from that day. but then there are those days. days that feel endlessly dark. days spent swarmed by a cocktail of unwanted emotions. fear. anxiety. anger. sadness. angst. and others that I've never felt before and would've been happy never having known.

I like to think I'm getting over it, those initial feelings, and that I'm healing. but, every bad day reminds me of just how devastated my heart really is.  sometimes there's an obvious trigger, a special date, a memory, or a few minutes spent looking at old photographs. but then other times the trauma strikes without warning. one minute I have myself (seemingly) together and the next minute...I'm a sloppy wet mess, curled into a ball in a dark room because the world just seems to be too much. the grief is like a disease that has spread to every part of my body, infecting every corner of my life.

some days I'm able to recognise and appreciate that he's no longer suffering. that addiction no longer has chains wrapped around his soul, cutting off his very will to give sobriety another try. I will forever be thankful that his dark days are over. But what about my selfish soul? How do I get over the fact that my mom has lost a child and will mourn forever? or the fact that my dad has lost his only son and along with that, the Cascio name? or that my future children will never know the "fun uncle" we always joked he would be, living in our basement and feeding them junk food. or that the world will never know him as the genuinely sensitive person he was, but merely another statistic of a devastating epidemic.

the answers to those questions escape me. but, I'm doing it. getting by day by day, highlight the good bits like a middle school librarian. surviving some days requires a three hour nap and a stern talking to, but I'm doing it. because, I refuse to let the drug that took his life, also take mine. He would've hated seeing the darkness seep into my life. He would have stood in opposition at the very thought.

trust this my fellow grief-stricken friends, the waves will lessen in size and intensity as days pass and the memories remain. and so, until then, hold tight to the blessings. find the light in the darkness. and be forever grateful that you had something so undeniably special that saying goodbye feels like the worst possible thing ever.

 

Eat Well. Live Well. Be Well.

running from pain + my crockpot meltdown.

those of you who have been following Big Hips Little Hips know that it used to be a place that helped make us all healthier by way of nutrition and exercise advice. "eat this, not that. be physically active, or else…", but these days, it's really just serving as my grief journal. it's what I need at this season in my life. and while the most recent posts aren't discussing workout strategies or nutrient content, I do hope that it makes me - and you - healthier in some regard. that being said, if reading about my morose grief story isn't what you're here for, I completely understand. please check back later.  as for the rest of you, read on...

 

step 1. add chicken breast, chicken stock, diced tomatoes, cayenne pepper, cumin, salt and pepper to the crockpot. set to LOW for 3 hours.

step 2. remove chicken from crockpot and set aside. add brown rice and black beans. cook on HIGH for 30-45 minutes, or until rice is fluffy.

step 3. place the chicken breast back into the crockpot and serve when ready, topped with avocado or shredded cheese.

 

it sounded like a delicious, fairly simple recipe. who doesn't love a crockpot chicken burrito!? never having tried it before, we decided to add it to our Sunday kitchen prep ritual. it was a busy weekend - a grocery store tour, a wedding, dinner with friends, a work project, blah blah blah. and I was already sort of freaking out  about getting it all done and not having a second to relax, recompose, and reset for the week ahead.

I'm an introvert. big crowds of people don't do it for me, and regardless of how "chill" a hangout may be, I'm not completely at ease unless I'm curled up at home with big fuzzy socks on and a good book in hand.

but back to Sunday. step 1 is done. the chicken is in the crockpot and the work project begins. approximately 5 hours later (2 hours too late if you're doing the math) we're headed out the door to meet up with friends for dinner (running 5 minutes late because, well, something about a shirt and being too matchy-matchy).

needless to say - we're running out of the door at exactly 5:07pm. down the first flight of stairs when I'm prompted with, "wait. what about the crockpot? will it be okay while we're gone?" shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit. I was supposed to take the chicken out 2 HOURS AGO. and now everything is ruined. I mean, life might as well be over. the worst thing that ever could have happened, happened. I forgot about the chicken in the crockpot. if judging my by reaction, you would've thought the world really was coming to an end. I huffed, puffed, pouted and almost cried. over a stupid crockpot!

later that evening: "so, maybe we should talk about the real reason why you were upset earlier. I know it wasn't the crockpot." bless his heart. he knows exactly how to tread around my vulnerable heart.

I hide my pain. I run from it. because why would anyone want to put their vulnerability - their weakness - their flaws - their open wounds on display? I know I certainly don't. because, well because, ew. it feels icky and uncomfortable. like wearing pants that are a size too tight, cutting into your sides with your belly rolling over. and a wool sweater that rubs against your skin the wrong way in all the wrong places. nobody wants to put that on display for everyone to see.

but, what if we were able to take ease the pain? to soothe the discomfort and unload the guilt. if sharing, if opening your heart and your soul up to someone - anyone - would take away some of the darkness, would you?

yesterday, I spoke with a man who lost his mother to substance abuse at much too young an age. today, I met a woman by happenstance who tragically lost her husband only 7 months ago. and while our conversations were much too short, void of many details, just knowing that someone out there knew my pain, and that they're still surviving - standing tall despite the massive hole in their hearts, it was almost comforting. and it got me thinking…what if we sat with our pain instead of running from it? what if we let it bulldoze us over, knowing that there were others who could help us back up, teach us how to walk again, and start over on new legs?

running from pain will only take you so far. one day, your legs will give out, your lungs will fail, or maybe you'll have a melt down over a missed crockpot opportunity. but, I don't think peace is found there. so, here's to trying something different. something uncomfortable and icky. I'm sitting with my pain. no more running.

 

Eat well. Live well. Be well. 

hurting with hope still hurts.

why? what was the purpose? where is redemption? 

over the past three months, thoughts like these play through my head like a broken cassette tape.

I believe, undoubtedly, that we are - each and every one - designed for a unique custom-built purpose. There are things that God intends for each of us to do that no one else has been chosen for; words we are called to speak, distinct - one of a kind - marks that we are to leave on the universe.

But then, what was his mark? How could someone do all they were called to do, say every word they were meant to say and be all who they were designed to be in a shortened life? why did he only get 23 years? and what about those of us who live to be a hundred? why? how could his words, his actions and his mark possibly be done? finished? sure, his life story will be passed on, touching the people who hear. But why is that life worth more than his? why wasn't he given a second chance? why were his efforts not enough?

I don't know. but what I do know is that I should care for those people, the ones who are touched and affected. love them and be thankful, that his story changed theirs. that's what Jesus would want. sorry guys, I'm not there. I truly hope to God that someday I am. maybe it's too soon, too raw. maybe right now I'm too hardened. but I can't love those faceless people more than I love my baby brother.

and with the help of Levi Lusko, author of Through The Eyes Of A Lion: Facing Impossible Pain Finding Incredible Power, I know that God doesn't expect me to be happy about what has been torn from my hands. I'm waiting for my trash to turn into triumph. But let me tell you, some days the trash just feels like it's piling up and triumph has forgotten to stop at my door.

when your heart is broken, you don't know where to go. colours lose their brightness, and the world seems so gray. the ground is unsteady, and food tastes like ash. your stomach flutters in a free fall that doesn't stop. your fists ball up, but there's nothing to fight. a screaming, heaving, sinking panic rises in  your chest. it can't be outrun, won't be shut down and refuses to be put out. 

and the only thing left is to stand where you are, accept the shock and the loss and cling to the promise of resurrection like a drowning man holds onto a wood plank in the middle of a shipwreck. and, in order to keep from going completely insane; drowning in the depression and anxiety that is grief, hold onto this:

hurting with hope still hurts. 

I will never get over it. there will be something missing forever, for the rest of my life. but,

"what the thief has stolen will be restored sevenfold" Proverbs 6:31

so, for all who are suffering, hurting, weary and bone tired, take heart. because taking something is an action. it's a choice. it's your choice. but losing, happens on its own. and your heart will get lost if you let it.

because when you have hope, gale-force winds can blow and tsunami waves can smash into the hull of your life, but you are buoyed with the belief that the best is yet to come, that brighter days are ahead, that not all is lost, even as storms rage. 

Take heart. Proverbs 16:33

Eat well. Live well. Be well. 

move, you are not a tree.

if you don't like where you are, move. you are not a tree.  - Jim Rohn

- have you ever been so deliriously happy that you pinch yourself to make sure your blood is still circulating?

I have.

- have you ever been so paralysed with grief and fear that you start to question everything you've ever known?

I have.

if life's an ocean, I've been trapped in the surf, trying to find which way is up between being tossed into the sand and broken shells pieces with each capsizing wave.

if you've ever lost a piece of yourself, then you know, suddenly all of the other parts feel…unbalanced, like they're suddenly not quite enough, despite the fact that everything worked perfectly fine before. but before is gone and after brings something quite different to the surface.

recently, thanks to the love and support of my beautiful boyfriend, I've been asking myself some hard questions in order to get that balance back. Together, we've decided to make our lives - and our life together - more purposeful. because, when faced with a loss so great, you have to ask yourself who you are when you wake up every morning, change needs to happen. sorrow can only drag you down for so long before you start to suffocate. anxiety and fear can only steal so many days from you before you have too few left. and as Patrick continues to remind me, again and again, there is no victory in letting the same drug that killed my brother take my life as well. 

so I've been challenged. questioning who I am, what I want my mission to be and how my life's actions can honor my brothers life. and for the past three months, every single one of those answers has been followed up with a "but…", "what if…", or "I'm afraid of…"

not anymore. after weeks - months - of helping me sort through the waves, Patrick finally looked at me and said, "Nicole, I know what I want for you. but you need to know what you want. If you could make your decision without fear, what would you do? What does your life look like?" 

yes, he is the best thing God has ever given me (in addition to parents who are always on my team, and a brother who will always be looking out for me) and he's helping me make my - and our - dreams come true by leading by example. I have been blessed with the amazing opportunity to support him in what he loves. Next week, Patrick takes a big step toward making his career dreams come true, and I couldn't be more proud of, or amazed by him. but enough bragging about the boyfriend.

what are you afraid of? are you living the life you want to lead? is this how your story ends? because, when it comes to making big changes, I've recently learned, that growth only begins when you want something more than you fear it. "It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan" - Eleanor Roosevelt.

Eat well. Live well. Be well. 

I'm [not really all that] fine.

oh my gosh. how are you!?

it's a normal, every-day kind of question. a question I've asked myself hundreds - probably thousands - of times. a social etiquette. a modern day, 'how do you do?' and yet, recently, it's a question I've not been able to find an appropriate response to.

my answers used to be of the, "great!", "good.", "amazing. how are you?" variety. but now, now I settle for "okay, thanks." or even worse, "fine.", because pretending to be more than just surviving seems like a lie. even "fine" seems like a stretch some days. but I am. I'm fine. I'm getting by. I'm staying afloat. the water may be up to my top lip, but I'm still breathing. I. am. fine.

at least that's what I tell myself.

until,

- I go to send Kevin a text message - something hysterical or even just completely stupid, only to realise there will never be an answer on the other end. 

- I'm required to document all of my household members (current and past) and have to list my 23 year old brother as if he's still here because, "dead" or "overdosed" isn't a drop-down option. 

- I have to keep myself from calling just to hear the sound of his all-too-short voicemail. 

- a bout of laughter turns into an ocean of tears on the shoulder of a boyfriend who was just trying to be a bright spot in my day. 

- I realise he will always be #3 on my speed dial because, I'll never be able to erase his name. 

- I think about a holiday or family birthday and no longer want to be a part of that sad, lonely table. 

- the simplest things feel like the biggest chores because so much of my energy is already expended on holding it together. if it wasn't for the love of a certain someone, I'd be perfectly content eating rice cakes and peanut butter for every meal. 

- I hear someone nonchalantly reference being addicted to something, or make an off-the-cuf drug reference. because, I'm sure they have no idea. 

- I visit my parents - grandparents - and realise just how fine we're all pretending to be. and just how not fine everybody actually is. 

- I have to drive past the place where he died, trying to stay within the painted yellow lines, pretending as though his cold body wasn't just vacating one of the now-empty rooms. 

- I think about all the times Kevin tried to get help - tried to beat his battle with addiction - only to fail. because, somehow that just doesn't seem fair. to have wanted - and worked for - something with such devotion, only to fall down and never, ever get up. 

- I think about being the only child. left. 

- I see a photo of us and remember him asking, "Nik. why do you always have to take a picture of us?" because this Kev. this. 

but I'm fine. or at least, I will be.

 

 

the absolute worst 35 days of my life.

the past 35 days have been the absolute worst thirty-five days of my life. some have been devastating, others, empty and lackluster. some have been quite lovely and yet, I can't seem to find any joy in the hours that consume them. some days fly by with a numbness attached, while others are full of emotions - the kind you never want or hope to feel. the past 35 days have been the absolute worst thirty-five days of my life. my eyes have never been more sore or swollen from tears. my stomach has never been more disinterested or in such turmoil. my sleep has never been less satisfying. and the only answer anyone has for me is, grief. it's a small word, but it's quite possibly the most vile and unwelcome word I've ever experienced.

I'm told that grief looks different for every person, and so, this is only just my story. I can't speak for you, or for anyone else involved in the cautionary tale that is now my life. I'm not telling you this so that you can better understand me, I don't need you to. and I'm not telling you this so you can look upon me with sympathy or sadness. I need that even less. I'm telling you this because maybe, just maybe (although I hope and pray it's untrue), one day you will find yourself grieving for one reason or another and you will remember that you are not alone. despite everything you may be feeling, or not feeling, you are not alone.

exactly thirty-five days ago, on my twenty-sixth birthday, my 23 year old brother died from a heroin overdose. it was the best day until it was the absolute worst day. people say that life goes on, and yet, for me, I'm still stuck on the end of a horrific phone call I received just thirty-five days ago.

 

18 things I wish someone had told me about grief: 

1. grief doesn't come in stages. it's not sculpted into 5 neat little steps. grief happens when and how it wants to without a single regard for your self preservation or emotional existence.

2. time doesn't heal all wounds. some wounds - deep, graphic, and terrifying in nature - are never meant to heal. I think we simply absorb the pain and they carve us into different people.

3. grief ebbs and flows. grief can sometimes be calm. and it can sometimes be overwhelming. and despite just how good of a swimmer you are, some days you just may get swallowed up.

4. you'll never know what hurts worse - the shock of what happened, or the sadness for things that never will.

5. grief is a lonely road. despite just how marvellous and brilliantly supportive the people around you are - being there, listening - you will be forced to walk down your own path, at your own pace with your raw rounds and your gaping heart, your bitterness, anger, denial and fear. but you'll find your own peace…hopefully. in your own time.

6. you can't control it. there are days when the last thing you want to do is acknowledge another tear, or withstand another painful rationalisation, but all you can do is let yourself feel it when it comes, and let it go when you can.

7. sometimes it's okay if the only thing you did was breathe today.

8. friends will want to console. family will want to regret and rehash. and you'll want to do nothing but sleep. for hours, for days, for months. and when that happens, say *#%$ it all and just sleep.

9. the world doesn't stop for your grief. "life goes on", they say. but for you, it doesn't. you'll pretend it does, because it has to. bills need to be paid, so you'll go to work. errands need to be run, so you'll go through the motions. people need to be acknowledged, so you'll paste on a smile and nod. but don't for one second think, that life will ever just go on the way that it was before.

10. people will ask you if you're okay. over and over and over again. there's no socially acceptable answer to this question. trust me, I've tried.

11. hold tight to the people who know to say, "no your not" when you claim you're okay. those people are a healing balm to your soul and the only comfort you'll find in this messy dark hole.

12. grief is like a heavy fog. and sometimes that fog will cloud everything else. and all we can do is be patient.

13. remind yourself that, "I will be okay. maybe just not today." often.

14. grief has physical symptoms. constant nausea, heartburn that was never there before, headaches, pains, etc.. I've read that when you stopped feeling so worked up, your body will too. but, I haven't yet been able to see if that's true.

15. grief extends beyond the today. you will grieve for the past, the present and the future. the things that will never happen again and for the things that will just never happen.

16. there will always be regrets. no matter how much, or how little time you had, you will always want more.

17. grief can make you question your faith. your life. your purpose. and your goals. and that's not always a bad thing.

18. grief can look however the hell you need it to. this is your hurt, your pain and your loss. and no one else can tell you how that should look. grieve as you need to, when you need to, and however you need to.

 

how lucky I am to have loved something so much that makes saying goodbye so hard. 

eat well. live well. be well. 

 

I wear a size 6 and I couldn't care less.

awhile ago I decided to go through my closet and get rid of everything that a. no longer fits, or b. I no longer wear. because, you know, my mother raised me to be one of those good-steward kind-of people. thanks mom. what I intended to be some brief menial task ended up being a rather emotionally taxing chore. by the time I had waded through my denim and corduroy collection I was feeling like a hormonal adolescent teen. I was that girl laying on the floor, trying to wiggle my size 6 ass into pants that no longer fit over my thighs. I was tempted to keep a few pair that I could [barely] button, but if you can't sit down in them…or form complete sentences…okay, or breathe, what's the point? what the heck!? have I recently put on an obscene amount of weight? no. did all of my clothes shrink multiple sizes due to a laundry catastrophe? nope. I had just never gotten rid of my clothes from when I was a sickly size 00 because some little monster inside my head kept feeding my thoughts that maybe someday I'd get back into those clothes. I'm not proud of it.

don't get me wrong - on most days, I like what I see when I look in the mirror. I love what my quads and glutes can do for me and I wouldn't have it any other way. but somewhere deep inside, a small part of me still associated that smaller size with success. with beauty. with perfection. despite years of education and healthy living, some part of my brain is still that sick, skinny little girl who wants to be accepted for her XS size.

so I got mad about it for awhile. and then I grabbed a bag, dumped all those 0's, 2's and XS's, gave them away and got over it. Because:

1. Size means absolutely nothing to me. 

2. This booty can deadlift 205# and I wouldn't trade that for the world.

I am not committed to some arbitrary number written on the back of my jeans. I am, however, committed to feeling good about my body regardless of what I'm wearing or what size it may be.

Exercise changes your body. Muscles grow, measurements change, and if you're doing it right, you get stronger, and probably leaner too. Yep, my butt got bigger. But you know what? So did my lifts, my body-image and my confidence. All that is worth so much more than a pair of jeans. Muscular quads? own them. because that is super sexy. a toned tush? rock it. because your body can do things that no number on a tag will ever do for you. the sizes in your closet mean absolutely nothing.

 

Approximately 91% of women in America are unhappy with their bodies and resort to extreme dieting or other unhealthy methods to achieve their ideal body shape.

Only 5% of women naturally possess the body type often portrayed by women in the media.

81% of ten year olds are afraid of being fat. 

Who are we serving? What are we dedicating our time to? And who is watching us? How do you want your children to feel about their bodies when they look in the mirror? Learn to celebrate your body for what it can do. Be comfortable in your own skin and remember that comparison is the thief of joy. Be compassionate with yourself and recognise that a body you respect is one you will take care of.

Your body is amazing. Respect it. Fuel it. and be proud of what it can do.

Eat well. Live well. Be well. 

The Diary of a Girl on Bedrest, almost concluded.

Dear Diary,  I did it. I broke out of bed and adventured into the great big world…okay, just the back porch, but STILL! It felt badass. You know, because I was supposed to be in bed and I wasn't. sigh. let's face it, that's about the extent of my rebellious behavior. But hey! I'm hoping my 'perfect patient' routine will allow me to get back on both legs sooner rather than later. Anyway…the days of being stuck under the covers are dwindling, thank goodness. I'm pretty sure I'll leave a permanent butt print in this mattress. Too much? Nah. The best thing that happened today - I managed to shave my legs. I feel like a whole new person. #daymade 

Pain: not as bad as it once was Mood: euphoric (that might be the drugs) Countdown: 7 days left! 

 

Dear Diary, 

Nothing exciting happened today, as evidenced by the morose photograph. I have yet to sleep through the night and I'm not quite sure why, although I have a few theories. One. My body says, "I didn't do anything all day and now you want me to sleep!? No thanks." Come to think of it, that's the only theory I have. My restless nights also give me the perfect excuse to take 3 or 4 naps throughout a day. So, there's that. I'm starting to worry that when I break out of here I'll have a hard time breaking my napping habit. And unless you're one of those fortunate souls who works at Google, napping on the job is looked down upon…maybe also kindergarten teachers. Do they get to nap? 

5 DAYS! But I'm going to be honest with you, I'm a little fearful that I'm building this countdown up in my head only to go to the doctors and have him say, "things are healing nicely. you're no longer restricted to bed rest buuuuut use your crutches for the next 6-8 weeks and sit down, elevate and ice whenever possible to avoid inflammation." Tell me, how is that any better than my current predicament!? I guess that means I could crutch around the neighborhood if I wanted to. That's what a real fitness advocate would do. More on that point - I've had multiple people ask me if I'm curling dumbbells in bed. The answer: heck no! My body said "rest" and I shut out that voice. Then my body screamed for "REST" and I still ignored the nagging. Finally, my body said, "screw you! I'm dropping down right here because I need REST dammit!" So…I'm listening this time and using these moments to give my body exactly what it needs - time off from exercise for rehabilitation. 

Pain: minimal Mood: sardonic Countdown: 5 days 

Dear Diary, 

I'm getting tired of taking pictures of myself so I'm sure that means you're beyond tired of seeing them. I tried to mix things up by taking half of a picture this morning. Notice the bedhead. Mornings are the worst for me, which is a new feeling because, I consider myself to be a morning person. But, for a second, in the few moments between sleeping and waking I'm so lost in my dream state that I completely forget about my mobility situation. Then, I wake up, yawn, stretch and go to swing my legs out of bed when I remember….oh, right. I can't do that. First of all, these hips don't currently swing…not that they ever did but, you get the idea. Second, what's the point of getting out of bed only to get back in? There's only one acceptable answer to that question: Breakfast. Because despite my lack of physical activity my body still wants to eat. All. The. Time. I justify this by telling myself that healing burns a lot of calories. Just go with it. 

Yesterday I almost felt like a real person! I spent my afternoon outside; under the sun, enjoyed dinner from the grill, and decorated Easter eggs with a couple of my favorite people. It was probably the most fun I've had in…well, 15 days. I hadn't dyed eggs in years, so the experience was an uplifting one. I'm just as creatively brilliant as I was when I was in the 5th grade. 

Pain: Nope. I currently have none. Mood: Groggy (but it's only 8am) Countdown: 3 days

Eat well. Live well. Be well. 

The Diary of a Girl on Bedrest continued...

Dear Diary,

It's day 8. I think I've gained 10 pounds already and I'm only being a little bit funny. So much for my 'get shredded for summer' plan. Despite my undefined waistline, my outlook is still reasonably sunny, all things considered. and I think that's, in part, due to all the visitors and friends I've had checking in on me. I haven't had much time to myself to whip out my violin and wallow (I'm pretty sure this has been arranged by my overprotective, super thoughtful yet slightly smothering family members - LOVE YOU ALL!) Mark my words - I will make it outside this week. This girl needs to feel the sun!! I'm suffering from a self-diagnosed severe Vitamin D deficiency. 

Pain: manageable. Mood: lukewarm with moments of malaise. Countdown: 9 more days, fingers crossed!

Dear Diary, 

Today was so lovely that I almost forgot that my life has been reduced to binge reading and sitting on ice (try icing a hip…kinaesthetically it just doesn't work!) I had a fabulous lunch date with some of my favorite girlfriends and their handsome little men. Rice + Noodles delivered to my front door. What more can a girl ask for!? Tomorrow I can go back to hating the fact that I'm reduced to hopping around on sticks but today, today was fantastic. Drumroll please….7 days left of this sleep all day, stay up all night business. Lord willing. 

Pain: I chose not to take my medication…just to see, and well, I asked for it. Mood: Content. Countdown: 7 days.

///////////////////////

Do know that beneath all the sarcastic humor rests a girl who feels very, very blessed. I may be temporarily restricted but I am well aware that in the grand scheme of things this is nothing but a blip on the radar. I like to complain a little and tease you with self-depreciating blog posts, but rest assured, I am spoiled silly. I genuinely hope that the people in your lives are as selflessly brilliant as the people in mine because they are pretty darn awesome. I am uplifted, cared for and loved more than I deserve. They have hearts of pure gold. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Eat well. Live well. Be well. 

The Diary of a Girl on Bedrest:

As I sit here [in bed] my dad looks over and asks, "so what's on the agenda for the day Cole?" "Oh…you know…I'm quite a busy girl. A little of this and a little of that. I'll probably read until the words get blurry, watch an episode of something that's not worth my time, hobble to the fridge to find whatever I can fit into my pockets and sports bra (what else is a girl to do when her hands are tied!?), and maybe drown myself in a morose blog post. An eventful day." We speak fluent sarcasm in my family.

Somewhere along the line, in the moments between waking up and taking a nap, I decided to keep an electronic journal of my bed rest adventures. It might bore you to tears, maybe it'll offer a few laughs, but more importantly it will give me something to look forward to as the days continue to tick by in bed. And because I am a millennial living in a "selfie generation" whereby those of us, ages 18-33 are "turning away from played-out institutions in American life and turning to a future in which individuals are free to form new communities and new ways of navigating a world that is as uncertain as it is untapped" I decided to include picture posts…of, well, me. It won't be as cool as this guys selfie time-lapse, after hiking 1,700 miles and losing 90 pounds, but I'm at a bit of a disadvantage where breathtaking scenery is concerned.

 

So without further ado...

Dear Diary, 

It's day 4 of my bed rest restriction. I'm still sane and only slightly antsy. This morning I was allowed to leave confinement (hallelujah) in order to go to a doctors appointment where I learned that I'll be limited to crutches for at least the next 6 weeks. I'm not usually one for profanity, but there were a few unattractive words floating around inside my head. In other news, the doc gave me some stronger painkillers (bless that man). I'm back in bed. My ass hurts already so I can't imagine how it'll feel two weeks from now but bar the screaming hip pain, the experience is tolerable. Also, my hair needs washed but I have yet to figure that one out on one leg and crutches…I'll keep you posted. 4.3.2014.

Dear Diary, 

I've made it to day 6. Not quite a week since the race and yet I'm starting to forget what life was like before this bed. My view from here tells me it's gorgeous outside, which makes this even worse. I hate every runner that passes by until I realise how ridiculously unfair that is and get over it. I only woke up once last night thanks to my new pain meds, so there's something to be thankful for. Also, I still have both legs. So there's that. In other news, my hair is clean and smells fairly of coconut which improves my outlook significantly. I'm also coming to terms with the fact that I am the worst patient ever. I much prefer taking care of others than being taken care of. My independence has taken a beating, but alas, perhaps my humility will learn a thing or two. 4.5.2014.

To be continued...

Eat well. Live well. Be well.  

A Half Marathon Account: Breaking Down In Front Of 10,000 People

Today has pretty much been the worst day ever. It all started at 4 am when my alarm went off. I should've pressed snooze and gone back to sleep, but that's not at all what happened. I rolled out of bed, got dressed in my running garb, grabbed a protein shake and a banana and spent a few minutes foam rolling because things weren't feeling quite up to par. For the past week I had been feeling twinges of a reoccurring IT band injury. Like a distant relative, it flares up from time to time and forces me to take a few weeks off from the things I love most.

I'm usually a pretty good listener. If my body is telling me something, I've learned to heed the warning. BUT this time I pushed that voice to the back of my brain because I had been training for the Philly LOVE half marathon since January. Need I remind you what the weather has been like this winter!? Freaking cold. Wet. Icy. Miserable. But, despite the inclimate conditions I didn't miss a run. Every Saturday for the past three months, I've woken up at 5am to run a track workout. Willingly. Call me crazy, but I was committed to not only running this race, but running it faster than I ran my last (and first) half marathon back in the fall.

Back to today - I arrive in Philadelphia promptly at 6:45am with a little over an hour until the start of the race. 10,000 people are gathered together in front of the Rocky Steps at the Museum of Art. We should be all 'Eye Of The Tiger' but in reality we're huddling together under trash bags trying to defrost our toes which have already gone numb. Great start.

Look how excited I'm pretending to be! This was the first (and only) photo of my selfie challenge. It was my mission to take as many selfies with as many handsome men as possible - like this girl…but, well, keep reading...

8am rolls around and we start stripping off layers (because it's going to warm up, right!? that's runner rule No. 1) and find ourselves at the starting line. annnnd off we go! Mile number 1 is great. 2 is even better. I'm running around City Hall with 9,999 other people. How cool!? 3…4…5. It's pouring. My skin is soaked, I only have feeling in my little toe on my right foot, my hands are stuck in "the claw" position, and my hip is screaming. I'm in pain. But runners push through pain all the time. I'm pretty positive it's a thing.

Mile 6. I'm pretty sure there's a grand total of one hill in Philadelphia, and yes, we had to climb it. As I attack the incline I'm weighing the pros and cons of slowing my pace. I'm on track for my sub 2 hour finish but is it worth all this pain? The voice of reason (also known as my mother) pops into my head, don't push yourself too hard. you don't want to get hurt, only to be counteracted by my coaches insight, you can push through one race. take some time off to rest and recover afterwards. Coach wins (sorry Mom). I push hard for the next two miles only to limp my way across mile marker 8. Pain. Excruciating pain. and I still have 5 more miles to go. My body is begging me to stop but my mind is justifying the devastation, refusing to fall short of expectation.

At mile 9 my leg gives out because I've rubbed my body raw. I ignored all the warning signs and pushed right through into the danger zone. I stop and stretch only to hobble a few more feet. Stop. Stretch. Hobble. At mile 10 I admit defeat and limp my way off the side of the road. I'm done. My goal passes me by, literally. I see the other runners who will clock a sub 2 hour finish carry on ahead of me and there's absolutely nothing I can do about it.

I'm cold. I'm wet. I'm hurting and I'm still 3.1 miles from the finish line. I can tell by the severity of my pain that I've incurred some long-term damage. And for what? I have absolutely nothing to show for it. After the 14th person asks if I'm okay I lose it, crying in front of 10,000 people, because no, I am so not okay. For just a second I was thankful for the rain, disguising my tears of disappointment and agonising discomfort.

By the grace of God I hobble over the finish line. 20 minutes slower than what I wanted (but still faster than my last half marathon time). And the fun is just beginning. As adrenaline fades and body temperature drops, I am reduced to a sloppy, snotty, shivering mess. And I'm not being cute. At one point I remember being cuddled on a hotel bed, wrapped in a comforter to abate the shakes, needing someone else to untie my soggy sneakers while I took a blow dryer to my fingers. I lead a glamorous life.

Flash forward one long car ride and a few hours later and I had to crawl into my house. On hands and knee (yes, just one). It's far from my proudest moment but talk about learning a hard lesson. My self inflicted expectations, fear of failure and stubborn competitive streak landed me with a visit to urgent care. Like I said, worst. day. ever. Mom I'm sorry, you were right. 

Do as I say and not as I do and listen to your body. Take care of it. You only get one.

PS. It wasn't all bad. We did start happy.

Eat well. Live well. Be well. 

 

Don't Break My Heart.

I've thought about writing this post for a long while, and every time I sat down to compose a draft I decided against it for a myriad of reasons. However, due to the uproar resulting from the latest Biggest Loser finale, I can't help but feel led to share a bit of my story with you in hopes that it might resonate with some, or even just one, and help you on your journey to true health and happiness. I'm a little hesitant to rip my chest open and lay it all on the floor, but here goes…be gentle. I think I'm a pretty normal girl. Whatever that means. I pride myself on being good at a lot of things, while not excellent at any one thing in particular. To look at my life now, I like to think I have a pretty good grasp on the concept of moderation. I'm active whenever I can be. I enjoy the sense of accomplishment and strength I get from finishing a workout but I also appreciate my rest days. My diet is squeaky clean most of the time, but there are those days when I treat myself to a big bowl of popcorn or enjoy a "cheat" meal. I'm healthy.

I. am. healthy. To you, that might not seem like such a big deal. But to me? That's not something I've always been able to say with truth and confidence. Three years ago I was a far cry from where I am today. I was consumed with anxiety. Anxiety about working out. When can I get my run in? I need to go to the gym twice today. Exercise first, everything else can come later. Anxiety about eating. I'm hungry but I've already eaten too much. I can't go out with friends, they'll expect me to get food. It sounds sad, and compulsive, but those were the thoughts swirling around in my head for a few years of my life. I became obsessed. By nature, I'm more than a little bit of a perfectionist. And while that allows me to be successful in many aspects, at times it also handicaps my ability to be flexible and forgiving. And when you can't learn to forgive yourself, the only option is to exert such strict control that you never provide yourself with the opportunity to mess up. I was unhappy. Mentally destroyed if I didn't get at least 5 miles in on the treadmill every day. I was overexercised and under fed, starving myself with fewer than 1,000 calories a day. At 5'9.5'', 111lbs with a BMI of 16.2, I was severely underweight.

You can calculate your BMI here.

"Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels?" - You've all heard that before, right? Well, let me tell you, nothing could be farther from the truth. While I was looking for satisfaction in all the wrong places, my body wasn't getting the nutrients it needed to survive, let alone flourish. I constantly felt faint, lightheaded and exhausted. My body stopped functioning like it should. I was forced to sleep with a pillow between my knees because my bones hurt so badly. Hugs from family members would result in long, heated discussions about underfeeding and bony bodies. My friends were constantly asking me if I was sick or unwell. And the worst part? Those comments only fuelled my disillusioned ideals. I remember looking in the mirror and still finding things to improve upon, happy that I could slide myself into my size 00 jeans. But I was exercising and eating fruits and vegetables every day, so technically I was "healthy", right?. At least that was the story I told if anyone asked. But I had lost all sense of reality somewhere along my quest for control.

Did I have an eating disorder? I would tell you no. Did I struggle with disordered eating? Yes. Is there a difference? I'm not sure. Why did I do it? Sometimes I'm not even sure I can answer that question. I just took something so good, health, and turned it into an unfortunate extreme. What made me change my behavior? There wasn't one particular moment in time when I had an epiphany and decided to take my life back an ironic catchphrase for someone who thought she had such unyielding control over her life to begin with, but at some point, with the help of my family and friends (who supported me at every size) I thought, Nicole, this is ridiculous. Your life is currently defined by a piece of exercise equipment and the size of your pants. This doesn't feel good anymore. Become someone you're proud of. I've always known that, outside of my relationship with Jesus Christ, perfection is unattainable. But choosing to relinquish that control wasn't and still isn't easy.

As I look at Rachel Frederickson, the winner of this years Biggest Loser I see my former self. A girl so wrapped up in the control and illusion of her self worth that while winning the competition she lost so much of herself (weight excluded). I am certainly in no place to judge Rachel or anyone else, and I ask that you don't either, because that doesn't help her, you or me.

I'm not proud of those selfish years, but I am proud of where I am now. Are there days I'm not happy with what I see staring back at me in the mirror? Of course. But there are more days when I look at my reflection, both literally and figuratively, and think, damn, I'm pretty freaking amazing. I know now that my self worth has absolutely nothing to do with the number on the scale or the size written on the back of my jeans. I've learned to love my body. I love what it can do. I love how I feel and I love that I've given up on finding perfect. Outside of Jesus, it doesn't work.

I have this one body and I'm going to feed it and train it for a life worth living. Because I promise you,

strong feels so much better than skinny ever felt.

Eat well. Live well. Be well. 

Testimonial - Amanda, age 30

I have been utilizing emPpower Training System's nutrition Program for about two months.   I have never tried any "fad" diets in the past but have done calorie counting.  However, I did not focus on quality of food - only not going over my set calorie count for the day (so I could have fast food all day if I wanted so long as I didn't go over 1,700 calories).   This eventually got old and I obviously wasn't focusing on putting healthy food into my body. The emPower nutrition program taught me 1) what foods are actually healthy (I was surprised to learn some things I thought were good for me really weren't) 2) how to fit these foods into my day and 3) how to fit these foods into my day knowing that I am a very picky eater.

What is nice about the program is that Nicole works with you to determine what you like and don't like.  She then creates meals based on this with different "substitutions" so you don't feel like you are eating the same thing all the time.  You can of course try different spices and cooking things different ways to really give yourself variety!

Another great benefit of the program is the support you receive.  Nicole makes herself available to answer questions and encourage you when you struggle.  She gives you tips to help set yourself up for success such as preparing your lunches for the week ahead of time and keeping emergency stashes of protein powder in your desk at work.

The nutrition program is a tool that you need to use correctly in order to see results - I can testify to that.  When I follow the nutrition program, I see results - pounds drop instantly and I feel energetic. When I don't follow the plan, the weight loss suddenly comes to a stand still and I feel sluggish.

Truthfully, I never thought it was possible for me to be a healthy eater.  I am not going to pretend that I'm there yet - I still have a long way to go! But I am leaps and bounds from where I was before I started the nutrition program.  I'm getting closer to being that healthy eater each day, and I owe that to Nicole and emPower!  I would highly recommend this program to anyone struggling with nutrition.

 - Amanda, age 30

Testimonial - Maryann, age 65

I am a 65-year-old woman, 6’ 1” tall and I used to weigh 350 pounds. I had arthritis, diabetes and 2 knee replacements.  I was housebound for many years due to my health problems and physical limitations. In June of 2009 Nicole told me she could help me lose weight and have a healthier and happier lifestyle. I was skeptical. I had tried to lose weight so many times before, and now with my physical limitations I thought it was hopeless.  However, I said that I would attempt to do what Nicole recommended.  Nicole designed a menu with healthy food selections and geared an exercise routine to my physical ability.  Slowly, the weight started to drop off.  It was not easy to start the routine but I persevered and soon it became easier and easier to do.  In 6 months time I lost 50 pounds and after 1 year I had lost 75 pounds. I was seeing results and I was keeping the weight off.  I was feeling more energized and healthier and I was looking considerably better. I was once again able to get out of the house and do things that I had not done in so long. I was even starting to drive the car again!

To date, I have lost 105 pounds and have been able to maintain my weight for the past four years. I was a size 4x and am now happy at a size 18, which I had always dreamed of being but had no hope of ever reaching. With Nicole’s guidance and encouragement (and some hard work on my part) I have reached my goal and surpassed my expectations. Now the lessons and guidelines Nicole gave me have become routine and I follow them all the time. Thank you Nicole for helping me to live again.

- Maryann, age 65