In part 1, I spoke about my temple being broken, or seemingly broken (as I believe we are all made in God’s Divine Image). When I start reflecting on my years of struggling with food, I come back to Communion and the words our pastors say to us holding a usually glorious piece of glutenous bread before the congregation.
On the night in which he gave himself up for us,
he took bread, gave thanks to you, broke the bread,
gave it to his disciples, and said:
“Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you.
Do this in remembrance of me.”
-The Great Thanksgiving for World Communion Sunday by Nathan Decker
What does it mean to be broken and unable to consume what many Christians believe to be the sustenance of life? When your body cannot process or handle foods deemed vital by our society? Foods that break you and affect one’s quality of life? (Now this is a long post because identifying my food allergies has been a process that has spanned 3 decades, so be patient with me!)
I don’t remember a time before this past year when my body was truly happy with what I put in it. When I was a baby, my mom realized that something wasn’t quite right in terms of the foods I was eating so around the age of 2, I did something that is in vogue now: an elimination diet.
What my parents discovered is that wheat was my enemy, they put me on a gluten-free diet in the 1980s in the era before Whole Foods and the gluten-free slash allergen section. Despite their best efforts, a neighbor gave me a cookie once and I didn’t have the same reaction. My mom took me to the doctor and the doctor said I no longer had a food allergy. (Best science of the time, still the 1980s.)
Sometime around my teenage years, I start having issues again and this time, with a doctor’s blessing, I became lactose intolerant, but the lactaid pills never worked. (Don’t get me started on how that lactose-free milk tastes.)
As a baby I had colic and walking pneumonia. Growing up I got my yearly, bronchitis and sinus infections. Then in college I discovered a deep love for beer, pizza delivery, and continued my love affair with Tootsie Rolls. In fact, when I was sick with my quarterly sinus infection, I would buy Tootsie Rolls with my antibiotics and order a pizza in. It was also in college when amoxicillin stopped working and I became immune to it due to overprescription.
In high school I started taking medication to treat my growing anxiety. I was an emotional teenage girl, but I had bigger feelings than felt right. It helped immensely, but when went to college, I was bad about taking my medications and stopped. At one point, my health physically and mentally led to taking the spring semester off and going home my sophomore year to get healthy.
My temple aka body was broken on a few levels. We didn’t know what to do, year after year I saw my doctors and a few allergists, yet I was seemingly healthy when one looked at me. My temple was broken, broken for the world, and it would all come to a head the summer of 2007.
I had recently re-thrown out my back (more in the next post about this) and allergy season was in full swing. I woke up and it was hard to breath. I got one of my best friends to come get me and take me to the Emergency Room where I was diagnosed with walking pneumonia for the second time in my life. My anxiety was at an all time high, I had panic attacks while studying for, during, and after exams. It was at that moment, I felt irreparably broken. My mother flew to Pullman, Washington and drove me home.
Our pastor’s wife was a woman with food allergies and recommended a naturopath. As I sat in the office with my mom, we explained my history with food and the woman looked at us and said, food allergies never go away and you aren’t lactose intolerant, you are probably allergic to casein, the protein in milk (lactose is the sugar in milk). My mom despite her best efforts cried, yet it was the best thing that happened to me.
Even though I went back to an allergist in Eastern Washington, nothing showed up food wise, I still omitted gluten and dairy from my diet and something happened. My body lost inches, I was no longer always needing a nap, and I had only a few panic attacks my last year of college. For the first time in my life, food started making sense.
For over a decade I have lived with being a gluten and dairy-free person while it got hip. In many ways it has made my life easier. I usually can take gluten-free Communion, but it’s still a struggle (older thoughts on why all Communion should be GF). My last few years of seminary I started to see making foods that were good for me as a spiritual discipline linked to my justice work (a Lenten reflection I wrote at that time).
In May, I got glutened. You may be aware that it is really hard to reach perfection (especially if you rarely eat out), but this was a whole lot worse: I ate an entire cookie full of gluten goodness by mistake. My body revolted. I was so sick that I had to take sick days. I had flu like symptoms; my body was so inflamed I gained 10-15 pounds and looked pregnant. The anxiety came back with a vengeance, returning me to the state I was in before we discovered how I needed to eat. I knew something had to give, and I knew it even as I lay in bed fighting the anxiety and despair along with the bloating.
For almost five years I had been getting to know my body in new years through revamping the foods I consumed. I had been various levels of vegetarian for years before and discovered my body preferred the paleo diet. My body isn’t a big fan of a few other foods like corn and sugar, and my gluten allergy has been getting worse, but I pushed all of that away as it felt like too much to eliminate those foods. The moment of being glutened and feeling helpless was my wake up call.
A few months before my mom had sent me Dr. Kellyann’s Bone Broth Diet and I had started adding some hydrolyzed collagen into my diet, but hadn’t followed her diet. I rolled out of bed, grabbed the book and a highlighter, and read it in bed. She promised to make my broken temple whole again and I decided to give it a shot. I finally had the information I’ve needed my whole life about how I could eat, feel good, and be healthy. I could finally be in control of what I needed. For the first time in my life, I started to feel whole. I have been following this diet since last May.
The past few weeks I continue to reflection about how my struggle with food allergies has impacted my sense of embodiment from the broken temple analogy to Holy Communion. For years I simply could not trust or count on my body. “One body, broken for you” wasn’t available to me for many years and was yet another example of my body letting me down during a Holy Moment for many. (Most churches now offer a gluten-free option, although usually stale broken pieces, but something.)
In part 3, I will dive into the ways my temple has been broken through Bell’s Palsy and throwing out my back before I even left for college. Again, it will all be linked together in the final post. My story to embracing my embodiment is complex and has much context needed before.