The Healing by Saeeda Hafiz
July 17, 2018 / By Stephen at Parallax
The Healing: One Woman’s Journey from Poverty to Inner Riches by Saeeda Hafiz was released on August 17th, 2018.
Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 2, “Cooking with Gia”:
When I signed up for my first cooking class, I was simply doing something that I’d perceived would move me more into the middle class. I didn’t realize that I would be challenged to bring together all my different flavors into a healthier and more self-caring version of myself.
I wanted to learn more about this holistic health lifestyle. Holistic Wellness regularly sent newsletters to my home. One day I received a personalized letter from Gia that seemed to speak directly to my need to rebuild my shaky foundation, and I immediately called her to schedule an an in-home consultation. She came to my house in the way I imagined doctors made house calls in the 1950s. But she didn’t look like a physician; she wore loose-fitting natural fabrics with a kind of comfortable, elegant, chic. She moved in her clothes as if in an easy flow with nature.
After our initial greetings, she examined my whole life and my surroundings. I had never received this kind of attention from anyone. She made me feel like everything in my life mattered, and that all the events in my life, good and bad, had contributed to who I was. I felt like I mattered. I must admit, it was a new feeling.
Gia pulled out her client notebook and glanced at the intake form. I fixed on her fingernails. They were short and manicured, but not polished. They were not like the nails I saw on the professional women in the corporate world, which were lengthened with gel, silk, or acrylic, and polished flawlessly. Gia’s hands looked strong, natural, and yet beautiful. As she talked, I listened raptly.
“Saeeda, the basis of holistic health is to have our internal world be at peace with our external world.” She went on to ask me about my sleep, my menstrual cycle, my significant other, family, and friends. Yes, Gia was like a doctor who made house calls. But she also went a little deeper, like a psychologist, a clergyman, and a friend. Nothing was off limits.
She explained that outside things affect how we express peace and harmony, or dis-ease and dis-harmony. Holistic health looks at the whole picture, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually—not to mention financially. She talked about being at peace with it all.
After Gia took inventory regarding how I viewed my life, we visited my kitchen. Opening up the cupboard door revealed two boxes of Cracklin’ Oat Bran and some tomato sauce (the other four boxes and extra jars of these items were in the freezer, since I stockpiled two-for-one coupons just like my mother.) I had bowtie pasta noodles, herbal teas, orange juice, milk, bread, ketchup and very few fresh fruits and vegetables—one onion, several stalks of celery, a carrot, and a few apples. I also had the remains of my bulk cooking ingredients from the class—brown rice, lentils, steel cut oats, barley, and shiitake mushrooms.
I handed the Cracklin’ Oat Bran box to Gia and she showed me how the cereal contained multiple forms of sugar products, all of them refined. We examined most of the food items in my cabinets, refrigerator, and freezer. I was amazed that so many items were loaded with sugar: my dry cereal, tomato sauce, ketchup, and even my bread. Not only did sugar appear in everything, it was listed under different aliases such as cane sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, sucrose, maltodextrose, and high fructose corn syrup.
Gia departed, leaving me with lots of information and recipes to make. I thought long and hard about what she had suggested. I could slowly phase out these old food items or give them all away and start fresh with better quality foods. She encouraged me to cook more and share meals with others. I was committed to following her instructions, even if I didn’t like to cook that much. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was about to embark upon was a radical detox, long before the word was fashionable: no processed food, no sugar, and only whole-food meals.
I learned later that my regular consumption of refined sugar (both the known and unknown) affected my pancreas, my insulin levels, and my liver, which stored excess sugar as fat. Sugar made me feel tired and grumpy, especially during my premenstrual time. But mostly I felt spaced out and numb.
When I stopped consuming sugar, I experienced a chemical withdrawal similar to my Uncle Paul’s heroin withdrawal. I became depressed, yet I was no longer fuzzy. I was less irritable and fatigued. I was in the process of sobering up. Even though it was challenging, I knew it was the right thing for my body and my mind.
The detox reminded me of the time when I went through the entire fourth grade without knowing something was wrong with my eyesight. By fifth grade, I’d had my eyes tested and, lo and behold, I needed glasses! With glasses, I could see much better. I didn’t like everything I saw at school or in my neighborhood or at home, but at least everything was clearer. The three-day detox had a similar effect. I didn’t like what I saw, but the picture was clear.
At Gia’s advising, I made a broth called Sweet Veggie Drink. It nourishes the pancreas and helps eliminate processed sugar cravings. I wanted to add a kind of sweetness to my body, not in a quick or processed way, but rather in a way that lingered. This was how I was starting to feel about life. Since I was no longer numbed by the wrong kind of sweetness, I sensed that I wanted to taste a richer and fuller life. I didn’t want instant gratification anymore. I wanted a delicious life, where my inside environment was at peace with my outside environment.
So I took inventory of my life, from what was in my cupboards to what was in my heart, and I found flavors that were sour, pungent, and bitter.
I stood in the kitchen, chopping vegetables for the next day’s soup while my dinner for the night was heating up.
Dinners at my house felt more elaborate than I had been used to. This was ironic since I didn’t really like cooking that much, but I wanted the effects of good eating and couldn’t get this quality in restaurants. During the week, I used at least fifteen different kinds of vegetables, three to four different kinds of whole grains, two to three different kinds of beans, fruits, and seeds. I am allergic to most nuts and fish; otherwise, I would have used them, too.
I often started dinner with a raw veggie salad, and then moved on to a soup. The main entrée was a combination of whole grains, beans, tofu or tempeh, and steamed greens like collards, kale, or chard. Desserts were wholesome too: gourmet baked apples, pear tart, or carob cake with a raspberry jam sauce.
Compared to what I used to eat, dinners were packed with lots of nutrients and lower in calories, even though I was eating more in terms of quantity and variety. After a meal, I would often felt lighter, calmer, and clearer—like I was ready to take flight somewhere.
One day, months after my public bus meltdown, I was enjoying my dinner, reading my Yoga Journal magazine, and relaxing into the evening while a new soup was cooking. When the soup was done, I started to clean up the kitchen. Without warning, another memory surfaced.
I’m twelve and babysitting a neighborhood girl named Kelly. She is seven and sleeping over at my house. We are eating popcorn and watching tv movies. She and I lie across the living room sofa bed, laughing and joking around. I’m proud of myself, earning my own money and doing a good job at it. Money—one less thing I have to ask my parents for.
Kelly and I become sleepy and decide to go to bed. I tuck her in ﬁrst and then I slip under the covers, too. We talk softly for a while and start to doze off. Suddenly, a thunderous rumble shakes the ceiling. My dad is beating my mom up, again. I feel Kelly wince, and I start to sweat, not knowing what damage would appear: broken lamps, dislodged furniture, or bruises and broken spirits.
Unable to do anything, my babysitting confidence crumbles. I think, “I’m the sitter. I’m supposed to protect her from danger. I studied for two summers to get my childcare certificates. I passed all the drills. I’ve proven that I’m responsible, and now, in my care, I expose her to violence.
We lay there frozen and, just like a bad thunderstorm, the rumbling, screaming and crying magically stops. I feel insecure. I shake with anger. I’m furious at my parents, particularly my dad.
I’m embarrassed, ashamed, and tired, so tired. This happens all too often and I don’t understand why my parents fight. Why can’t they just grow up and act like adults?
I was totally blindsided by yet another memory resurfacing. I had tried so hard to move on. I believed my mom and mentors who said that once I had earned my college degree, got a “good” job, and started making more money, I would only go forward and never look back. I foolishly believed there was a pot of gold waiting for me at the end of the rainbow.
Instead, I found myself in the kitchen, feeling suppressed anger surfacing. It literally made my skin itch. I was itching to talk with my mom about my new insight into experiencing what she might have been feeling all these years and how she had seen her way through. I needed to call my mom and tell her what was happening to me. Surely she would understand, having been the victim. Besides, I wasn’t necessarily angry with her and I felt that having a frank conversation would bring us closer to each other. Perhaps we could become allies because now, as an adult, I understood so much better the brutality my mother lived through. And now I could help her see how the past was starting to affect me, too.
I didn’t know this at the time, but my flashbacks—being right back in a situation without warning all over again, feeling every sensation, hearing every sound, remembering every odor—were signs of PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder.
I exhaled and dialed the number, thinking, “Whew, I don’t have to hold on to this anymore. I don’t have to keep these shameful secrets.” Surely my mom would guide me through it with her healing words of wisdom.
She picked up on the third ring.
“Ma, I called to talk to you about a few things going on with me. I started to remember some of the fights that happened in our family.”
“Why are you tryin’ to drive a wedge between us?” I looked at the phone, confused.
“Ma, I’m only bringing this up because I thought it would bring us closer together.”
“Why can’t we just continue with the way things are? Girl, leave well enough alone.”
“I can’t just continue.” I tell her. “I feel too much pain and anger. I want to heal from all the fighting.”
“Nothing is wrong with us. You’re the one that needs help.”
“Fine. Let’s go to therapy together.”
“I’m not goin’. You need the help.”
We exchanged a few closing remarks and then hung up. I looked at the phone with steely eyes and my heart hardened. I felt unseen, and then I felt an invisible protective shield go up around me, like Wonder Woman getting into her invisible jet. Like a powerless kid, I told myself, I need superpowers to protect myself from rejection and vulnerability.
The soup had cooled; now just slightly warm, it was ready to go into the fridge. I opened the refrigerator door, and the cool air refreshed me and the blink of the light snapped me back into my newer self. It was clear. I wasn’t going to pretend or hide from my past anymore. This new me didn’t want to numb myself again, just so I could pretend that my old life didn’t happen while trying to live in this new one.
Besides, I had been there all those years for my mother, playing the role of the one-dimensional “good” girl. I knew that if I continued to play this role for her I would be rejecting dimensions of myself. My new holistic health lifestyle demanded that I become more of who I really am: not just good, but authentic.
In my new way of being, I wanted my mom to acknowledge my newfound ways, ways that were putting me on the path to healing my past and creating my future wellness. As corny as it sounds, eating a whole foods, plant-based diet in a holistic health fashion made me feel more whole. It gave me fortitude to confront my past and the people in it. I didn’t really know how or why it was working, but it was. So I set out to discover more, a life beyond just aspiring to be middle class. Instead, I looked toward a way of living that asked me to trust myself and to trust life.
The Healing: One Woman’s Journey from Poverty to Inner Riches by Saeeda Hafiz is now available.