(taken from 2011 newsletter)
We all have them and we all try to break them whether we want to or have to. It takes a lot of strength, courage and commitment to stop the madness. Things that are hard to come by.
So, speaking about breaking habits, I was recently faced with one of the hardest habits to break for emotional reasons and also health reasons. It was a habit that not only affected me on a very deep emotional level, but also my 2 1/2 year old son, Hunter.
When Hunter was born he had feeding problems. Imagine that. The universe has a way of giving us obstacles that we are equipped to handle (and sometimes not), yet they challenge the core of our beings—a chef with a masters in nutrition with a son who is born with feeding problems. How ironic!
Anyway, when I say feeding problems, I mean that it took Hunter an hour to drink 3 ounces when he was born (I couldn’t breast feed for medical reasons). For those of you who don’t have kids, that is crazy! As it turned out, he had a condition called “facial” hypotonia (low tone) that created these problems. Needless to say he was in therapy to learn how to suck and swallow (and eventually eat) for almost a year. So I had a kid who had problems feeding. Thus, I couldn’t nourish him in one of the ways I know best—through food.
On top of that, I had serious post partum. So, connecting with him was virtually impossible. It was not until he was almost 2 that I realized that I had a second son who needed the same kind of love that my oldest had since birth. I know that I was the best mom I could possibly be through all of it (and I do know that where I couldn’t give my husband took over) but when I look back my heart aches and I feel sick to my stomach. My point in telling you all of this is that the bottle was central to his comfort, not only from a feeding standpoint but also from a nurturing standpoint. Might I add that due to the hypotonia he had speech delay—he couldn’t communicate with words until he was just over 2. The bottle also soothed his frustration.
Over the past year and a half I have tried on several occasions to break this bottle habit. His nourishment was 50% liquid and 50% food and I knew that all of his nourishment needed to come from food. But each time I tried to remove the bottle I eventually gave in. In retrospect, it was me who wasn’t ready. Each and every day this pulled at my heartstrings.
For me, breaking this habit became a have to. Hunter was recently diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, alopecia areata—he is losing his hair. So how does the bottle have any connection to alopecia?
• It prevented him from getting the right kind of (and enough) nutrition and nourishment through food for he was always dosed up on rice milk, goat’s milk or cow’s milk; it’s food that is central to healing
AND, this is the big one and the hardest one for me to share:
• It acted as a barrier between mother and child. In other words, the bottle was Hunter’s “surrogate” mother and prevented me from having to truly take responsibility for nourishing and nurturing my child in all the ways that he wanted and needed (and that I wanted and needed). It was my crutch.
So, back to the alopecia. Once Hunter was diagnosed I called my trusted friend and colleague, integrative pediatrician, Dr. Stephen Cowan (might I add in tears). The conventional doctor put Hunter on cortisone—something I agreed to for the short term. Stephen has a very unique approach to medicine — he looks at a “case” from a conventional medical perspective but also a lifestyle, emotional and spiritual point of view. First thing he said was, “Stef, he has to come off the bottle. He needs to get proper nourishment from food and from YOU if his hair is to grow back.” I felt like my heart was in my throat. This was the BIG “HAVE TO” for me.
So, I made the decision that on April 14th I would take the bottle away cold turkey. Let me start by saying that I have never had back problems in my life yet I awoke on April 14th with extreme lower back pain that wrapped around into my pelvic area (like couldn’t breathe pain). Weird huh? I could barely move. Anyway, I tucked the trusted bottles away in the back of a cabinet in preparation for what was to come.
Right before dinner, as was typical, Hunter asked for his bottle. I often indulged him but this time I said, “No more bottle,” in a calm and steady manner. He persisted and I persisted. I felt like I was in a bullfight. He refused to eat dinner. He threw several tantrums—screaming, tears, pulling me towards the cabinet where the bottles once lived, opening the fridge and more. This went on until bedtime when the hatchet dropped.
The boys start their bedtime ritual at 7pm. I went into Hunter’s bedroom with him and as always, we snuggled in bed to read. Though this time he was not calm. The bullfight continued. This went on for three hours. Hysterical crying, tears, pulling me, hitting me, kicking me. It was horrible. I was in the room with an addict withdrawing from a drug. After we had gone from bed, to floor, to door (he tried to escape several times) and back again, we ended up on the floor where Hunter collapsed in my arms with tears streaming down his face and fell asleep.
I then collapsed in my husband’s arms crying. It was also withdrawal for me. This continued for two more nights, though each night getting a little easier. He also awoke in the middle of the night asking for the bottle and when he didn’t get it he refused to sleep, meaning that I didn’t sleep—he spent hours screaming. The great news is that the bad habit was finally broken after about two weeks.
Now, as Hunter continues to build his database of food likes and dislikes, I watch each day in amazement for I never saw this child really eat and enjoy food. I get so “verklempt” thinking about it.
So now he is getting the proper nourishment and nurturing from food, but also from me. And I can rest easy each day and night knowing that I no longer need a crutch when mothering Hunter (except for the TV!). Although he will live forever with alopecia, I am in the process of learning what I can do to help him manage the condition through food. And, we shaved his head so his hair loss is not so obvious. And if I must say so myself, he is pretty darn cute! The story continues to unfold.
Breaking bad habits is hard to do and is laced with so much emotion. Don’t wait until the have to. Do it at the want to! Not that one is easier than the other in terms of withdrawal, but at least at the want to you don’t feel like you are racing against the clock.