Full disclosure and confession….
Two weeks ago, I applied to live in a hot dog (more on that later). My first real confession is that I’m drunk. And if I’m being truly honest, I’m not just drunk, I’m also high. But not from my usual prescription of perfectly chilled vodka martinis or my beloved frozen margaritas with an extra “floater of tequila” on top. Nope, I’m drunk from spending a week with my phone mostly off, daily (or almost daily) yoga, 8-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep, human connection, eye contact, service of others, walks in nature, creative dancing, mindful breathing, meditation and dare I say it, NO sugar and booze. I know, I know, the girl who has written two books about cocktails and hotdogs, respectfully, who once ran around a party wearing nothing but a piñata, lived mindfully for a whole week and has survived to write about it.
Let me rewind….
Seven years ago, I was 36 years old and per the suggestion of a friend (who had seen the light) I packed my bags and headed to the Berkshires (the gorgeous mountain range in Western Massachusetts not far from my country house) to a yoga and wellness center called Kripalu. The year leading up to my arrival at Kripalu was spent living what I thought was (as the cool kids these days say) “my best life.” That was the year I went on not one but FOUR glamorous vacations (places frequented by people like Gwyneth Paltrow) partied with rock stars of stage and kitchen, had the most success in business I’d ever had and guess what? I was absolutely miserable. Overwhelmed, tired, quick to anger, confused, blitzed out on a dark endless cocktail of fertility drugs and disappointment. Nothing I drank, ate or smoked that year was making me happy. So, I went online, pressed click and two and a half weeks later I checked into Kripalu for a Yoga/Juice cleanse. What I thought I needed to do, go to another extreme to make it all better.
Well, I lasted a total of 12 hours in the juice fast program until I defected during a morning break, headed straight for the front desk, demanding my money back. Instead, the patient woman at the front desk (mindfully) talked me into joining The Kripalu Approach to Diet: An Integrative Weight-Loss Program. Diet/Weight Loss?? I was 120 pounds; what would I do in a weight-loss program? But I played along (especially since getting my money back was not an option) and reluctantly walked down the hallway into a program already in progress.
It took about a whole 30 minutes for me to realize that there are no accidents in this world, and that I was exactly where the universe wanted me to be. A place with nothing to do and no place to go, so my only options were to listen and receive. Wow, what a new concept for me, this small Italian who was constantly talking and incessantly giving. I, along with a roomful of 20 total strangers from all walks of life, spent 5 long days together in our sweatpants gathered in a share circle, crying and laughing guided by a delightful force of nature named Aruni http://www.coacharuni.com who had the intelligent wit and lovableness (is that a word?) of Gilda Radner and the wisdom of a wise Guru who had seen things REAL things.
It was during that week that Aruni (among many great things) asked one pivotal question: “What is it that you do that you love so much that while you’re doing it, you lose track of time, remain totally focused while doing it and when finished…can say you are perfectly happy?” I had never really been asked that question and I’m not sure if it was the week of no sugar or the booze withdrawal, the crying or the afternoon yoga dancing but I left Kripalu with the tools I needed to navigate my darkness and the resolution that I would both bring a child into this world (no matter how many doctors told me NO or how hard it was going to be) and become a writer. How lucky I was to now know that a place like this existed, to be comforted by its sheer existence and knowledge that if I could just harness what I learned here, I would be further down the path to happiness than ever before. It seemed attainable. Hell, it seemed easy.
And then life went on…fast forward to 2019 and what I’m calling my Seven Year Itch.
The week prior to my most recent return to Kirpalu, I sent the following email:
Subject: NYC Caterer to the Stars and Author of Tiny Hot Dogs (available for pre-sale now;) seeks position driving the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile
I’m not kidding.
Sitting at my desk filling out the very detailed application (FYI you need a BA to drive a hot dog), I was convinced that this would be the answer for which I was searching. I guess you can say I was in a slump. My previous Kripalu glow had worn off. I was busier than I’d ever been before. I got some not so great health news. Mindfulness was replaced with obsessive social media checking (did they like that picture of my pizza slice that I posted three seconds ago?) Yoga and walking practice were replaced with Netflix, mozzarella sticks and my new favorite cocktail: tequila on the rocks. This hot dog driver position could be the answer to all of it, I thought. I could shrug all my work responsibilities, kidnap my daughter for a year, who is now almost 4 and joyfully and (heartbreakingly) growing up too fast. My husband, who’s been on the road for the past year, would not have to travel back and forth from NYC to the Hudson Valley where his new business is based and would be all mine. Just the three of us, living one life, in one place– albeit that place would be a large car shaped like a hot dog.
Maybe a revisit to Kripalu was in order before committing to life in the Weinermobile.
So, at 43, seven years later, I returned to Kripalu, back to the room with my Sherpa of divine wisdom, Aruni, to the same program that both saved me and changed me. Back on the floor in sweatpants with a new set of strangers to witness my tears, answer my call for help, encourage me to share and most importantly, just be present with me in this form of spiritual and, ok, yes, physical detox. I made a list of what had transpired since the last time I left the Utopian retreat and it was no small list.
In seven years, I had:
- 2 miscarriages
- became a mother via a surrogate
- published two books
- opened a food hall in the middle of Penn Station
- assisted my husband in opening a restaurant and a hotel
- maintained my 400+ parties-a-year plus catering business (thankfully with the help of my business partners Michele and Ryan)
- got sued
- lost my best friend to cancer
- lost my mentor to a public scandal
- gained 15 pounds
- AND grew grey hair in places I didn’t even know grey hair could grow
In taking stock, I granted myself permission to be tired, confused, exhausted and opened my heart and soul deeply to what Kripalu and the beautiful strangers had to offer me. Like before, I was confused about entering a new phase of my life, but with Aruni my Sherpa there to remind me that I had the tools to stop, to be present, to be mindful, I could do it…again. Enjoy today for what it is, not for the promise of what may or may not ever come. Easier said than done but hey I’m going to give it a try.
And while I have yet to hear back from the folks at Oscar Meyer, I’m trying my Kripalu tools and applying them to my crazy city/country life I lead; loving myself, my daughter and husband, this life, this career and these new gray hairs more deeply by being more present (down phone down), more mindful (no more Seamlees in front of a TV) and ever so grateful for this beautifully insane and perfectly imperfect life.
And if all else fails…look for us coming to your town….we’ll be the Italian family of three, driving a large hot dog.