Karen’s Story: I Turned My Back on Hunger

The day I took a tour of the organic food store, the broken record in my head was chanting, “You don’t need this; why are you here. You don’t need this; why are you here.” I had been shopping at the same organic food store for 30 years and the last thing I needed was somebody telling me what to eat and where to find it in that store. Plus, it was a 35-minute drive and I was tired. 

I was born tired. Fatigue is my middle name. I was so tired my mother checked on me all the time just to be sure I was still alive; no kidding. I was so tired I never wanted to get out of bed. Bed was my only friend. Our family narrative reinforced my location. When my sister was five, she was dying. The story that took root was that our mother cured her with holy water. To this day I live on the sidelines of the family miracle. What better place to be than bed?

Fatigue followed me to school. I couldn’t stay awake in class and by the time I got to high school the fatigue was joined by depression. I was constipated too. People need to get over disliking that word. Constipated. Constipated. Constipated! It’s a very serious health problem -– a form of malnutrition —  and people don’t take it seriously enough. My mother of the holy water raised me on junk food and laxatives: frosted flakes for breakfast, cream cheese and jelly for lunch and ex-lax for dessert.

My father was a more loving person, that is, when he was sober. But Miller time was frequently and he got nasty when he got drunk. I just can’t rat on my father, but I grew up in a house with guns and alcohol and it’s not a good combination.

When I was old enough to start taking care of myself, I read Adele Davis. I learned about how to eat to get your bowel to do what it’s supposed to do, move. It took five years, but eventually my digestion righted itself. At 28 I married a man who was all about juicing, 25 years before anybody heard of juicing. Our marriage was about chasing health. We even had our honeymoon at a health institute. Then I became a vegetarian. Except for the fallout from the tempeh turkey at Thanksgiving, I was doing pretty well for a while until life as I knew it stopped. I was diagnosed with stage 3 chronic Lyme disease. By that point, I was single again; the marriage based on chasing health didn’t work out so well.

I was back in bed, with no energy for life beyond dragging myself to work each day. Even after I was supposedly cured of the Lyme disease, I felt like I was dying. I even called a friend to come be with me so I wouldn’t have to die alone. Deemed cured, no one could figure out why I was dead tired all the time. One doctor gave me some supplements, and that actually helped a little so maybe the problem was some kind of malnutrition.

Fast forward to the day I didn’t feel like going to the tour of the organic food store and went anyway. The people running the program were from Suppers. One of them said, “You have to come to Suppers, you’ll fit right in.” What were they running, an infirmary? Me? Fit right in? So I went, and I’ve been going every week for three years. I can’t tell you exactly why this worked for me, but I know I feel better when I eat real food and avoid most grains and sugars. The thought that how I feel is data was revelatory. It was like opening a treasure trove of information about myself, learning to read my mood swings and fatigue in terms of my blood sugar or reactions to foods. 

It became so important to me to attend these meetings, I made employment decisions based on making Suppers a priority in my life — “Don’t let work get in the way of Suppers” became my new motto. I needed the regular exposure, the recipes, and the people who come together for a common purpose. It’s like therapy, or better since I end up with new friends and cooking skills. I’ve become a more confident cook, and I’ve shared parts of myself that my friends outside Suppers have never met. Nobody would look at me now and guess I had ever experienced debilitating fatigue. I never did get a diagnosis. Personally, I think there was magic in the meatloaf, which is as good an explanation as any other. And the way I feel now when I get a shot of wheat grass juice, it’s like tissue regeneration. I’ve also found a group of people who give me a cozy family feeling that has to be feeding me somehow too as it stands in stark contrast to the feeling of my family home growing up. 

I want you to know that I would not let Suppers use my story unless they included this final point. There are 35 or so Suppers meetings every month with nearly as many people volunteering their time to make the program happen for us. You couldn’t pay people to do what these facilitators do for free out of love for people and passion for good food. The best things in life really are free. After years of unsuccessful doctoring, I got my life back without ever getting a diagnosis. And it happened because somebody taught me how to listen to my body. Thanks, Dor.

There are many forms of malnutrition, some we can’t even name. But that day I didn’t want to go on a tour of a store I’d been shopping at for 30 years, I turned my back on hunger in all its forms.

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