Living the WELL Life

If There’s One Thing I’ve Learned...It’s That You Can’t Avoid A Void. - by Jami Appenzeller

Monday, December 28, 2009

How do you make yourself whole and stay FIT on the inside? What’s deep, piercing, omnipresent, unshakable and invisible? Sadly, for many, the answer to this riddle is a hole in the heart.

I’m not talking about the physical muscle, full of veins and arteries which sustain us as humans, but rather the emotional tug, full of sorrow and confusion that often levels us. With the arrival of the fall season, the majority of us look forward to celebrating Thanksgiving and then riding that turkey-coma wave of glee towards December’s festive holidays. Of course, there will be glasses clinking, laughter over home-cooked meals and stories that get retold each year; but there will also be those of us who aren’t feeling that jolly. A lot of people are plagued with distress and remorse and some just drag around a despondent aura mourning relationships lost, words that somehow can’t be retracted (no matter how old they are) and cracks beyond repair in the family’s foundation. What to do? I sometimes wish that Whole Foods would have a dedicated aisle to making humans “whole” again. That way we could pick up a box of gluten-free “confidence” and a bag of fat-free “happiness” whenever we need them. It’s just not healthy to have unfinished business and aswe all get older, somehow it becomes more critical to heal and to mend those fissures or come to terms with depression triggers. In other words, fixing that hole in your heart becomes ultra time-sensitive. Turns out, looking the “beast” in the eye (whomever or what ever that demon is) and facing fears is the first step in attaining a new level of inner-peace and self-respect.

I have a story to share with you about two sisters who were estranged for more than 31 years. Yep, that’s my slightly older sis, Lori and me. As most of you know, I often use these first few pages to unabashedly reveal personal aspects of my life. The story that I am about to tell is beyond cathartic. Writing down a journey littered with angst and bewilderment ain’t easy, but as I type, a feeling of closure washes over me. I hope by glimpsing into the keyhole of my inner soul, you might find your own pathway to healing and serenity. Even if you don’t have a sister, I urge you to read on…

If you’re like most Americans, it’s all about covering up the pain, which often manifests in dangerous, toxic ways. Avoidance tactics and defense mechanisms become our “comfort zones” over time. Now, I don’t profess to be a world-renowned psychologist, but I do know that many of us develop eating issues (too much/not enough) or become obsessed with weight and turn into obsessivecompulsive gym junkies. I’ve been lucky to be able to avoid these, but easily could have turned into 100 percent junk-foodjunkie to lick my wounds throughout my life. Some develop depression or lash out at loved-ones. Many seek comfort in drugs and alcohol. Others become Type-A overachievers, always goinggoing- going like that iconic Energizer Bunny, never stopping to take a breath, working thirteen-hour days and burying themselves and their emotions in briefcases (Admittedly, this last category is the one into which I have fallen.)

I firmly believe that your identity – who you are on the inside and the uniqueness that you project to the world – is a very fragile thing. Sometimes your identity as a kid stays with you as an adult, meaning the baggage. Smudges and skeletons of the past can truly shape you. You choose to rise above it or you can spend your life treading murky waters looking for a life preserver. I say be your own life preserver!

When I was a little girl, my Dad always told me how I was, “One of the ones found under the cabbage patch!” When Mattel manufactured those had-to-have-one Cabbage Patch Dolls (years later), I thought for sure that the little blonde one was me! Good one Dad! It was around that same time that I remember being in the Girl Scouts with my older sister Lori and singing this little song:

“Everywhere we go-o People want to know-o Who we a-are And where we come from So we tell them We're from [name of town] Mighty, mighty [town] And if they can't hear us We sing a little louder”

We’d sing this together repeatedly until we were practically screaming. Ever wonder where you came from? And why you are the way you are today? Here’s my personal journey. Once upon a time, there was this happy-go-lucky, bright-eyed blonde, named Jaime. (Yes, my Hawaiian preschool teachers insisted that my own parents were spelling it wrong and modified it to JAMI). Born in Arizona, I moved to Georgia for a brief year, and then luckily, at the age of two, I was transplanted to Honolulu, Hawaii. Living there until the age of six, I recall joy in my life with my sister at my side, taking Hula lessons together, or sliding down our imaginative backyard “adventure jungle” on makeshift sleds (basically, a small grassy hill, since snow was not an option). These tobaggons were merely flattened out cardboard boxes...and man, did those suckers fly! Days with Lori were spent carving out banana trees into little forts. The trunks were so close together in a cluster, they were almost one; you could hollow them out and make little houses inside of them! Now I’m well aware that this all sounds very Disney-esk, but I tell you no lies, it truly was!

I remember walking to school barefoot (my afterschool playground was the beach) and also going to rock concerts, starring none other than Jimmy Page. I became known as "Beer Runner Girl" at the early age of six. Yes, I was the snarky little brat that ran brewskies back to the boys in the band between sets. Our neighbor, Harry (eighteen or so at the time), was a personal friend of the band (yeah Led Zeppelin). “Harry-boy,” as we called him, brought me and Sandy (his little sis) along with him to beach concerts! Little did I know how "lucky" we were back then! I recall actually being annoyed that we had to sit all night listening to excruciatingly loud, ear-drum busting beats, constantly being told when to run another beer up the stage steps! Ah, those were the good ol’ days!

Lori was always by my side during most of the escapades of my youth. Life was good, stable and normal. Just like any other average family, right? My Dad worked for Sperry Univac back then, but suddenly, we were relocated (once again). This time it was to the lovely town of New Britain, Pennsylvania. (What ever you do, don’t ask my Dad how this happened. He doesn't like to think he actually accepted a transfer OUT of Hawaii!) And this is where my "once upon a time" early beginnings take a life-altering turn.

We moved in, met the neighbors, started attending school and joined the local swimming team. Pennsylvania wasn’t quite Hawaii, but it turned out to be fine, at least for a while. After just a few years in our PA digs, my Mom began to suffer from an illness which removed her from our home for a little while. My father traveled extensively for work, for long stretches at a time. This circumstance prompted the hiring of many baby-sitters. I guess I considered all this to be still quite normal. But Lori was three years my senior, and she was wondering what the heck was going on in her life…in our lives. Our allegedly normal world appeared to be rapidly changing. There was talk of us transferring yet again, this time to England. Bloody England! At this juncture, remembrances start to get pretty fuzzy in my mind. Lori was more impacted by the changes. The collective stress my family was feeling at that time mushroomed, but my childhood innocence had masked what all these changes where leading up to. My mind sort of hops, skips and jumps to a year or so later. We did in fact move to England and nestled into a small flat until my Dad located our first real "home." Again, I vaguely recall feeling that safe, status quo normalcy. Well, I confess, maybe not totally typical anymore, but still quite content. I remember skipping to the local public pool to swim. I made friends quickly, and although I missed American candy more than anything else, I managed to find a McDonald’s (I know, I know) in a nearby town and good ‘ole Ronald gave me a sense of familiarity and comfort.

Through all of this change, I never realized just how much Lori was affected as she spiraled quickly into a shell. She slowly morphed towards a semi-crisis state-of-being; she was (and is) such an attractive girl, gifted with uber talent, and a natural athlete like no other. I suppose that everyone assumed that she’d surely make friends and mesh into the Brit culture, and she did for a while, but found herself hanging with a group of bad friends, she went toward them because she felt she “had no connection at home,” A year or two passed by and we “settled” into the American Community School, adjusting to the neighborhood and seasonal routines. But something was just off. I always knew it. I could detect it, but I had no clue what was truly wrong. I was terrified on the inside, but never showed it. I had no frame of reference. There was no Dr. Phil, no Google. No book called Feelings For Dummies. Was it me? Was it the strange culture and the influences of the kids in that foreign community invading my coveted, safe world, or were we just sort of outcasts by default? It was hard to tell. The lines were blurred. Perception and reality collided and swarmed around me like hungry summer gnats.

Through all of this change, I never realized just how much Lori was affected as she spiraled quickly into a shell. She slowly morphed towards a semi-crisis state-of-being; she was (and is) such an attractive girl, gifted with uber talent, and a natural athlete like no other. I suppose that everyone assumed that she’d surely make friends and mesh into the Brit culture, and she did for a while, but found herself hanging with a group of bad friends, she went toward them because she felt she “had no connection at home,” A year or two passed by and we “settled” into the American Community School, adjusting to the neighborhood and seasonal routines. But something was just off. I always knew it. I could detect it, but I had no clue what was truly wrong. I was terrified on the inside, but never showed it. I had no frame of reference. There was no Dr. Phil, no Google. No book called Feelings For Dummies. Was it me? Was it the strange culture and the influences of the kids in that foreign community invading my coveted, safe world, or were we just sort of outcasts by default? It was hard to tell. The lines were blurred. Perception and reality collided and swarmed around me like hungry summer gnats.

Fast-forward a bit more. Now, an undeniably rebellious Lori ran away from home at fifteen, I was twelve and she didn’t just go down the block. Truth be told, Lori’s new frustration was scary to me, and probably to her too. But I now realize she didn't really mean to act out, nor was she totally aware of her behavior. She was an angry and confused young girl. I seemed to be more busy and preoccupied. I’ve since concluded that this was (and quite frankly still IS) the way I sort of handle things. As a result, Lori and I were no longer chummy-chummy; but geez, she was all that I knew (I have no other siblings). She used to comb the knots out of my hair each morning, and sang me songs on her guitar. She taught me the ropes of being cool like the older kids. In a flash, she was gone. Thanks to my pony, Seagull, I kept myself busy (more on him later). Okay, maybe too busy (on purpose). In retrospect, I think I continued bopping along as if everything was fine, but deep down inside, I knew there was absolutely nothing ordinary about abruptly becoming an only child. I watched my mother try to coast through her life, joining cooking classes, playing bridge, attending craft fairs and blending in to the Brit culture as well as could be expected. But there was always this underlying pain that I had to witness all these years. My mother’s face spoke volumes, my father’s too, actually.

Lori ended up moving to San Francisco with friends. At that time we were still living in England. Over the next few years, I had very little contact with her, although she and my parents managed to come to an arrangement that kept them all in touch. I did miss her, more than I probably realized. A tsunami of unanswered questions enveloped me and haunted me each night. “How was she doing? How did she feel? Was she homesick, or more importantly to my youthful mind, did she miss me at all? I used to be her little buddy, her permanent sidekick! Where'd she go, and why? Oh man, maybe I caused this? Maybe I didn’t show her enough love and she just split. Am I ever going to see her again? What about her birthday? And mine!” I felt so lonesome and rejected, but genuinely worried about her potential loneliness more. I didn’t have the ability to wrap my head around where she was and how she might be living, so I simply chose to tuck those feelings away. This would surely leave a huge, permanent void…or so I thought.

An amalgamation of guilt, shame, and failure steadily hung around our family like the thick London fog. As I got a little older, I sensed it more and more and wished that I could wave a wand and fix it—mend my Mom's broken heart and help my Dad remember how to smile and laugh again. My father’s coping mechanism was to bury himself in work. He traveled extensively, so I didn't get to perform emotional temperature checks on him; and maybe that was a blessing because as it turns out, he was absolutely crushed and had to find a way to come to terms with the supposed "loss" of a daughter. Lori was too young to be on her own, but too headstrong to live at home (governed by Mom and Dad).

I remember growing up fearing doing anything to make anyone mad. Fear of losing anyone I was close to. So I stayed tight with my pets, and gathered as many as I could throughout the years. This has carried over to my adult life, and has most likely contributed greatly to my inability to give one hundred percent of my inner soul to someone.

I am not sure I have ever trusted anyone enough to do that, I found my pony (whom I previously mentioned) was the soul that I trusted most. He was safe. He was mine. I could control his destiny. He controlled mine. We were equal partners and there was no bad day with him in my life. This meant I knew I'd have him forever…or, so I thought. I replaced my passion and soul sharing from the human being kind to the equestrian kind. We were soul mates. Yes, tears are already pouring as I type. I swear, there are times that the the sun is shining on my face a certain way, the breeze passes by my cheek and I know that’s him giving me a kiss, reminding me that he is with me and everything will be okay. I have his beloved ashes in a gorgeous, handmade cherry wood box. I keep it at the foot of my bed; my understanding husband Lloyd very happily maneuvers his large muscular body around my precious box every morning and every night, crawling into bed.

The heart wrenching year that I lost my beloved Seagull (6 years ago this April), my life took another crazy twist. At that time, I had an epiphany. I realized that I had surrounded myself with negative people and negative circumstances that caused chaos around me. I had been sabotaging my own happiness! I was used to living in some sort of functional chaos as a child, so this helter-skelter state was familiar to me. I imported it into my adult life. Like a magazine subscription, I renewed it and kept renewing it because I liked the regularity of complexity, madness and turmoil showing up in my mail box each month. By the way, this was me trying to avoid a void.

To keep loved-ones from “running away,” I spent a great deal of time trying to fix them…trying to reverse adverse situations, work through ill-feelings, and figure out conundrums. It wasn’t until a very compassionate quasi-therapist friend told me that I had to stop trying to "fix" my family (namely my sister) and everyone’s damn pain. Convincing Lori to come back home was futile. Therefore, I was predisposed to bringing other wounded souls into my life. I was trying to make up for the regret and despair of never luring Lori back home. The professionals call this classic transference. I finally got it. What a freakin’ revelation! No one out there was my long lost sister. No one out there could bring me the joy that I was certain I’d find if and when my sister re-entered my life.

Well, Lori came to our home for a visit, this past June…and stayed longer than we’d expected! It was supposed to be a two-week visit, but has turned out to be a six-week wonderful, much needed, healing journey for our entire family. Much to my surprise, even though she came home for a few spotty visits over the years, this was the first time that I didn’t take off and stay away. Lori came home with an open heart, a mission for healing and talking openly and honestly, paving the way for forgiveness and closure, for everyone.

I finally did get that childlike joy and wonder back (as a middleaged woman). Although not for a second do I regret the rollercoaster ride that took place along my personal journey all these years. Lori and I have had almost parallel lives. Totally different yet so the same. We’ve both had the same relationship ups and downs, we both had relationship bummers nearly the same years and at the same times. We both live and die for our kids—the only difference is that her kids have tails (3 cats and 2 dogs) and mine don’t (3 kids and 2 step children), although as most of you know, I have a weakness for animals of all kinds! We have the same laugh, the same craving for morality and integrity in our lives. Our poor husbands, they have high standards to live up to—being committed to “broads” that crave nothing but perpetual realness and honesty. Her body is full of interesting tattoos, and me? Well, I only have one, in a strategically located place for only Lloyds eye’s only (grin). Much to our amazement, random folks have been stopping her left and right, asking if she is “Jami’s twin sister.” And my younger son Darion swears I “glow” when she is around me. It dawned on me that he is now the same age as I was when Lori left home. Darion is now one of the loves of her life, and visa-versa. When she comes to my house to visit for a few days they both play on the computer ‘til the wee hours of the night, go go-cart racing, and watch movies together over a big bowl of popcorn....It’s cute—sorta like Darion is picking up where Lori and I left off way back when…

Lori and I are still working out the pesky kinks in this newfound connection. We’re communicating calmly, in our polar-opposite perceptions of our childhood reflections and "where we came from.” (I’d like to say that wisdom has finally arrived, but I think we’re just too old and tired to go at it!) There are no “rights or wrongs”, just long talks and walks and private moments that are slowly fusing missing links and providing clarity. Even if we agree to disagree, we’re still talking, still laughing, still being well…sisters.

I grew up determined not to let my pain be the focus of my being, and truly cared more about how the others were feeling in the family. (Turns out, she too was the same way, but was simply too far away to show it, and too caught up in her own healing to present it.) I now know about myself that although I am painfully independent, and try to let others “in,” the only thing I really need to feel safe and secure is a home full of love (and Cliff Bars.) I don’t need to work for a secure company; I don’t need anyone to take care of me. I don’t need their money; (Well, maybe a little would be nice, LOL.) I don’t require much of their time. I just need to know that my home life will be the same when I walk through the front door each night. Welcoming Lloyd into my safe haven was easy to do because of the plethora of love I feel for him. Trusting him to keep my sanctuary the way I built it to be has been a separate challenge for me. But it’s been 3 ½ years now, and he has only added to the security that I started to create for my children. Yes, I am learning to slowly, but surely, let him completely “in.”

Lori, and her husband Reno, have traveled a similar journey. They too are just now learning to get past each others “baggage.” Each day they are finding new ways to help each other overcome their own fears and insecurities. Ironically, they are basically the very same fears and insecurities that I’ve had to deal with all these years. As I sit here and reflect on this new Sister Act, I acknowledge that I’m only now just getting to know and understand her. It’s like we both woke up and it feels good. No, let’s make that GREAT! We laugh when we notice that we wear the same style of jewelry, same toe rings, thumb rings, the same angels donning our family room walls. She might have a few more interesting piercings than I do though. We are about the same height, same build, similar body types, and same shaped eyes and face, depending on which pictures we look at. We’ve got the same damn acne scars, the same big toe. Up until about five years ago, ironically, we both finally got our S*@# together. Let me clarify – not Lori and I as sisters, but just as individuals. Lori took the road of hard knocks and I took the knocks of hard roads – turns out that if you work at it, both of these paths can intersect and lead to a place called harmony. Remember, no one even knew I even had a sister all these years. So, this reunion is a real head-trip. I could not avoid that void any longer. And, I don’t think she could either. She left me a sweet picture of the two of us, and a letter the day she departed. I am still trying to digest and take in her words, that for so many years she kept to herself. I had to find someway to let her know how much her visit meant to me. I came across the perfect book. Local authors Carol Saline and Sharon J. Wohlmuth collaborate on SISTERS (Running Press; October 2004; $29.95), a poignant collection of photographs and essays that revealed the intensity of this special bond. In no way could the authors have imagined the effect this book would have as women took it into their homes and their hearts.

Providing an outlet for all kinds of emotions that sisters had always felt but rarely expressed. SISTERS has sold more than a million copies. The book provides an emotional catalyst for women everywhere to reflect upon their own changing lives and the enduring bonds that sister’s share. I can’t wait for Lori to get it! What’s the point of my storytelling? If you don’t have a sister, why are you even reading this? And, what is life really about anyway? I am not usually overtly philosophical, but I do ponder this question often. For many, money and wealth is the focus. Honestly, I think money is just one big ugly chess game that I wish I didn't have to play. Riches come and go anyway. No matter which way you slice it either you have earned it and it’s 100 percent yours—or you have not earned it yourself; and it tends to disappear almost as if to say that you shouldn't have had it in the first place. The money game is an easy one for me. Follow your passions and earn your own honest money. In the end, you'll have what you deserve. For others, life is about winning friends and collecting lovers. Again these ties can become untied — they come and go as well. There simply is no way to control the actions of other individuals. All you can ever be sure of in a relationship is how you handle yourself and what you’re willing to contribute. Now, the concept of family is a whole other ballgame. This is the bucket that represents an unconditional bond or indescribable connection. Family ties provide a colorful framework throughout life, throughout decades, through candles being blown out and tempers being blown up — no matter what, they are there. They don’t come and go. Deep down, they are always truly there. It’s all a matter of perception, maturity and possibly timing. Sometimes people need to flee as a means to find themselves. Sometimes, they don’t return until they’re nice-n-ready.

When the front door opened back in June, I wanted to hug Lori when our eyes first met. Yet, there was a piece of me that felt a strong desire to run like hell, opting for the easy route of avoidance. My heart and my head were in a heated battle. I had to really remind myself to just "breathe" and roll with it. And I am so glad I did. I finally realized that although everything else in my life can come and go at any time, my sister will never be gone again. That chapter has closed. We have learned how important that connectivity is and how fast time goes by (especially as you get older) She and I have had little time together during this visit because my three kids gobble her up when ever she is around. So we'll be working on our relationship for many days to come and we’ll be taking it slowly. For now she is having a hard time leaving (tomorrow) because of this blatant love affair that has developed with my rug rats. Darion even told her last night, "You know how I love my mom so much, I'd NEVER, ever leave her? Well, if you were my mom, I'd feel the same way about you." She instantly teared up. Too cute, again.

My advice for anyone avoiding a sibling, or other family members, is to stop denying yourself the potential of a deep connection. Find that person, extend a sincere olive branch and then move onward with your life as a family. Forgiveness is contagious. I believe that it’s worth it, and will affect so many of your other loved ones around you. If you won’t do it for yourself, mend those rifts for your kids perhaps, or your parents. I couldn't have asked for anything richer than to watch my parents during the past five weeks. Lori’s visit has lifted their spirits and soothed their aching souls. They really do look HAPPY! I mean, truly, whole, complete and joyful. Wow. I think I'll ride this wave for a while. I hope to see many of you on that wave too! If you need a little encouragement, advice or just want to tell me your story, please email me! This subject is near and dear to my heart. I know that many of you can relate even though you may not have a sister. “Lori” represents many relationships that have been dismissed, brushed under the rug or ignored for too many years. Make this year - the year of the bigger person. It just may have to start with you!

Be encouraged to repair and mend those family fractures that can’t be ignored any longer. Life really is short. While this magazine is all about feeling FIT and eating right, I really do believe that good health starts with inner-peace. And this year, as the turkey gets proudly placed on the table and the joy of the holiday season sweeps us all up, think about repairing those holes. You might be surprised how much better that gravy tastes and how much more beautiful the snow angels look when people come together to work through the pain of the past.

All the best,


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