Matters Of The Heart

   To fall in love is awfully simple, but to fall out of love is simply awful.

                                                                 Bess Myerson

 Especially if you are the one who wanted the relationship to last.

     This week is all about the heart, in all possible meanings of this word.  After eating two chocolate kisses (my usual after-lunch treat during work days), I suddenly felt very faint, and my heart started to race like crazy. My first thought was “you’re finally being punished for all the chocolate you consumed over the years”, and my second thought was “do not collapse and die at work”, do it anywhere else (which is kind of counter-productive as I work in a hospital, and, if to collapse anywhere, it’s better do it on a hospital floor, but the thing is, I work with these young residents every day, I know what they are “capable” of 🙂 ).

     So, off I went to see the cardiologist yet again (as I’ve had some heart issues for the past few years, but nothing was really found). After doing a quick EKG and a sono, the doctor decided I wasn’t going to immediately drop dead (and mind you, I was already making a mental list of all the people I was going to haunt from the other side 🙂 )   Instead, doctor strapped me to a Holter monitor. And for a whole day, I looked like aliens were trying to perform some experiments on me, I had tubes and wires coming from all the possible places and was trying to pretend really hard that a big box strapped on my pants is just some cool new player. When I went back to the doctor, and the monitor was read, I found out I have tachycardia and need to take a beta-blocker. And even though I’d rather hear “it’s all in my head”, I was glad I finally got some answers.

But as I sat there throughout the day listening to my heartbeat and watching the monitor, I kept thinking that my heart might be just really broken, it was racing and skipping the beats trying to escape all the past and possibly future heartaches it had to endure.

I’ve had my heart broken so many times during the lifetime that it’d seem I should’ve learned ages before, but, somehow, I was still managing to get into the same situation. And what would be an alternative? To me it was to shut everything off completely, not to feel, not to care, and not to love. A very bleak alternative if you ask me. Not something I can do for a long time. But as the last relationship ended, it also taught me some difficult yet necessary lessons, something my heart is desperately trying to remind me: you can’t shut your heart off completely, you need to keep it open so love, care, concern and devotion can get in, but you also need to protect your heart from all the negative influences and, if in need of mending, care for it like for a wounded child. Be gentle to you heart, it’s the organ of love! 🙂

Mending a broken heart is never easy, there is no quick way to stop yourself from hurting too much. To stop loving is not an option, not as a fast solution, and not if your love was genuine. But there is a way to get to the other side of pain, the only way is to go through it.

  • Go through your pain, not around it, feel the void, the devastation of your loss and the grief of no longer having that person around you. Don’t mask or avoid your true feelings, they will only come back to haunt you, allow yourself to be broken (more on melancholy days, read my post “Some Days Are Better Left Undone”). You will eventually emerge as a stronger person and ready to love again.
  • Detach yourself and embrace your independence. Detaching yourself physically and emotionally is the first step in working through the pain and eventually moving on. Yes, I know, easier said than done, guilty of it myself. You have to repeat over and over “I don’t need anybody or anything to make me happy, I’m my own entity, and I’m whole”. When the pangs of sadness and grief strike, it’s so hard to believe that you can survive without that person and feel whole again, but I’ve learned over and over again, that I really can. It is my job, with the help of the Higher Power, to be happy and feel alive again.
  • List your strengths and feed your ego.  Nothing will make you feel better than patting yourself on a back and tooting your own horn, just go for it, you totally deserve it!
  • Allow for some daydreaming and fantasizing. No grief would be a complete process if you don’t allow yourself to fantasize about the person you just lost and dream about all the “ifs” and “maybes”. Trying NOT to do it is as hard as not to think of “the pink elephant”, you’ll just end up completely lost in “the elephant world”. Fantasy during a loss is a natural process, it’s that much needed magical touch of some special powers that coping mechanism bring in to let us rest, even if for a brief moment, from all the pain we are experiencing from that loss.
  • Make a “good” and “bad” list. Point some activities that bring you more joy and more energy while allowing for some rest and recovery and avoid those activities that painfully remind you of the person no longer around you. Sometimes you’re just not sure  where it really belongs untill you’re actually faced with that activity, but some obvious ones, like constantly re-reading that person’s emails or texts trying to find some new meaning in now meaningless words, or checking their Facebook page only to find a picture of their new love interest should probably automatically lend on the “not-to-do” list.
  • Laugh if you want to and cry if you do. It’s not a coincidence that you feel much better right after a good cry. There are many physiological reasons why crying feels so liberating, it’s a great release of all that cooped up negative energy. Some research shows that emotional tears (comparing to simple irritation like while you cut an onion) produce tears full of toxic biochemical byproducts. Thus, shedding those tears, we also get rid of the toxins in the body and feel an immediate release. So, cry an afternoon away!
  • Find hope (also see my post “Flower Power”).  A lovely quote in the movie The Tale of Despereaux that is also very powerful: “there is one emotion that is stronger than fear, and that is forgiveness”. Forgiveness requires a release of all the negative memories and influences that the experience has caused you, it also requires a detachment from the emotional pain so you can move forward, but most importantly, forgiveness requires hope, a belief that an empty void will one day be filled with happiness again, and there are better things awaiting you, and you no longer need to hold on to any sad memories. Forgiveness is moving through and on.
  • And the most important: remember to love again 🙂 Once our hearts are bruised and burned from the relationship that just ended, we have only two options: either to close it off completely so no one will be able to get inside, or we can love again, just as deeply and intensely as we did before. I always seemed to choose the second option, and I still believe it’s the right one. Only this time it will be with some necessary modifications 🙂

The more you have loved and have allowed yourself to suffer because of your love, the more you will be able to allow your heart grow wider and deeper. When your love is truly giving and receiving, those whom you loved will not leave your heart even when they depart from you. The pain of rejection, absence, and death can become fruitful. Yes, as you love deeply the ground of your heart will be broken more and more, but you will rejoice in the abundance of the fruit it will bear.

                                           Henri Nouwen



What’s Cooking This Week

     While the heart medicine is working on a physical level, and a new insight and attitude (hopefully) are working on emotions, we still need to satisfy the body with the actual nourishment. I think it calls for some heart-healthy and also comforting dish. It’s time for borsch! Did you think I meant chicken soup? That’s good too, but I’m Russian, borsch is my ultimate comfort dish that just happens to be very nutrient dense of heart-healthy veggies like beets, carrots, peppers, tomatoes and cabbage. Many people don’t like beets, but I think this root veggie is very much misunderstood, it’s soft once cooked and oh so sweet in both taste and nature 🙂

     A traditional borsch recipe calls for either beef or veal base (sometimes fish), but for the sake of saving some time and calories, I often make “skinny” borsch, or “postniy” in Russian. You may, however, substitute chicken/beef/veggie broth for some water in the soup, I often just skip that part. If you like gaspacho, give borsch a try too, you may be pleasantly surprised.

“Skinny” Borsch

2 cups of white cabbage, shredded

3 large potatoes, cut

1 medium onion, chopped

2 large carrots, grated

1 medium beet, grated (if hard to grate, you may pre-boil it a bit)

1 medium bell pepper (red preferred), sliced or cut

15 oz tomatoes or 6 oz tomato paste (I prefer paste)

3 garlic cloves, crushed or thinly sliced

4-5 tbspoons of olive oil

salt, pepper, sugar, spices as preferred

fresh herbs

While water is boiling, in a separate pan add olive oil (you’ll need more than usual as this is becomes your “base” in the absence of meat broth) and saute lightly onion and garlic, then add grated beets, carrots and cut pepper, season lightly as desired (I usually add salt, pepper, dry oregano and a bit of lemon/pepper blend) and saute it all until half done. Stir in tomato paste or tomatoes, I also add a bit of sugar as I like it sweet rather than tart. Cook it all until just about done, then cover it and set it aside.

Once water is boiling, add cut potatoes, and a couple of minutes after that, add cabbage, season lightly with all the same spices and let it all cook till just about done. Add your sautéed veggie base to your soup and on a small flame bring it all to a boil stirring to incorporate all the ingredients. Taste and add more sugar and/or spices if desired. Cook the soup for another couple of minutes till it’s done but veggies are not very mushy. Remove from heat, cover and let it stand for at least 20-30 minutes. Garnish with fresh herbs.

And you MUST eat it with sour cream! Otherwise the Russian police will throw you in jail (and I hear it’s not pleasant there 🙂 )