My book of poetry, "Stripping- My fight to find Me" is a story of the triumph of the human spirit. It is a story of our deep need for connection and the infinite power of love to heal.

I am energy. I am infinity. But I am also a poet, author, artist. wife, mother, sleep doctor, and attachment and complex childhood trauma survivor. I healed only when I understood I was broken, not a victim. I learnt that everything I needed was within me. And that my inner life was the essence and driving force of my existence.

Where did Self Love Self Care First® come from?

I needed to find meaning in my suffering so I kept thinking, “What truth did I come out of this journey with? How can I share what I know in forms other than what I receive through my poetry? What is the most foundational and fundamental truth about human existence that I discovered to be true in my suffering? That is where SLSCF® comes from.

I discovered that if we do not know our truth, we cannot love ourselves. The pain and suffering of our lives, the false external messages about life, success and achievement that we receive, and the projections and imposed expectations of others we are subjected to, mangle our truth, distract us from our destined path, and cut deep into our body, mind, and soul. They cause us to not pay attention to ourselves, and to how we live our lives. These feelings and beliefs descend into our unconscious and become habitual patterns that hijack our lives.

SelfLoveSelfCareFirst® is the journey of truthful self-examination and acceptance of our truth. Only when we are ready to find value, love, and compassion for our true selves do we begin to live free.

This blog is a celebration of love, stillness, growth, joy, discovery, and the truth. The conversation is honest, the topics are varied, the perspectives are from many angles, but the common thread weaving the discussions together is Self Love Self Care First®.

You are not moving towards any light. There is no light out there. It is inside you. You must move inwards- not outwards to look for it. No one can guide you there. Only you can give yourself the permission to embark on this journey. Only you can reclaim yourself.

Your freedom is in your hands.


Sunday, November 24, 2019

Self Love Self Care First Instead of Stress and Pressure During the Holiday Season? Yes, it Can be Done. I'll Tell You How

It's Sunita here.

As I talk to my friends and patients these days, the conversation usually ends up about the upcoming holidays. Sadly, it seems that most people are already stressed out. But what is worse is that they seem resigned to the unfolding of events to come. Shopping lists, keeping the peace between feuding family members at holiday parties, conflict, obligatory events to attend, cleaning, cooking and millions of other commitments...

With all this preparation, how does one find the time, or frankly the motivation to practice Self Love Self Care First? 

By giving up the notion that we can make every one happy. 

And by curbing the need to be liked by others.

So I have no problem assuming the role of Grinch and pushing for a quieter and gentler on you season. I recommend simplifying, and cutting  down on every possible detail that you can this holiday season. Cross out activities that add nothing to your joy. Eliminate unnecessary gift buying. Shrink your Holiday Card List. Is your Holiday card a source of joy or stress?

Don't super load your social calendar at the busiest time of the year. Tell your friends and family who you don't often see that you will be free to visit them in the New Year. January and February are pretty open for most of us so they are a perfect time to schedule such get together's.

Reserve the end of the year holidays to spend with your special, and close connections. Nurture and celebrate the relationships that sustain and support you over the year at this time. Give yourself a break, and concentrate on putting your heart and efforts into rituals that give meaning to your values, and add value to your season. And make sure not to punish yourself by doing more than you have time, money and energy for.

No one will remember a gift you were hard pressed to buy for them. But they will remember the thoughtfulness of your consideration to spend quality time with them.

Start and end with this mantra- "I don't have to be Perfect. I just need to be Present." 

Planning to do as much as you can in advance will ensure that you don't have to deal with last minute dashes to a store in the brutal holiday traffic. Those trips can greatly reduce your life span by the stress and aggravation they induce.

As I look back at the many holidays I have put together for my family, one stands out as my children's favorite. And actually my husband's and mine as well. It was a year when we practically hid from the world from Christmas eve onward. For dinner, I defrosted a lasagna I had made a few weeks prior and we just sat around in our pajamas that evening listening to Christmas Carols. Appetizers were a simple, but mouthwatering assembly of cheeses, fruits and crackers. We felt deep peace and connection to each other. And because I was relaxed and happy, so was my family. We did not resurface for a good solid few days.

This may not be a realistic possibility for us each year but I'm certain that we can all trim the fat this year and plan to have a holiday of not only love and sharing, but of opportunities of reflection, relaxation and self care as well.

After all, we have the ability to make choices. What will you choose to do?

Wishing you a week of meaningful simplicity,

Sunday, November 17, 2019

We Must Give Men and Boys a License to Be Emotional Because It's a Matter of Life or Death

It's Sunita here.

I am the mother of two daughters. So most of my parent time is spent with them and their friends. And a majority of that time is spent talking about feelings, emotions and relationships. That is the world we inhabit. But I have started to  pick up a common thread in the conversations that my friends, family members and patients are having with their sons. Especially those who have teenage boys. What many of these boys are feeling and experiencing is not only deeply concerning, but troubling.

Our culture does not allow boys the opportunity of deeply engaging in openly emotional relationships with each other. There is a strong stereotype of boys being less emotional than girls. That is not true. It is almost impossible for young boys to express tenderness and vulnerability with each other without being labelled gay, girly or weak. This cultural taboo has resulted in a social isolation in boys that persists throughout their life as an edict of what it takes to be a man. 

The results are disastrous.

The American Psychological Association Guidelines for Psychological Practice for Boys and Men were issued in 2018. A first in the history of the APA.

Drawing on more than 40 years of research showing that traditional masculinity is psychologically harmful and that socializing boys to suppress their emotions causes damage that echoes both inwardly and outwardly...Men commit 90% of homicides in the US and represent 77% of homicide victims. They're the demographic group at risk of being victimized by violent crime. They are 3.5 times more likely than women to die by suicide and their life expectancy is 4.9 years shorter than women's. Boys are far more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder than girls, and they face harsher punishments in school- especially boys of color. Source, APA

NPR's Shankar Vedantam and his team bring their observations, questions and invitation for discussions to researchers and lonely men and boys in The Lonely American Man to gain insight into our cultural traditional definition and unspoken rules of masculinity. In this Hidden Brain podcast, they give a voice to the millions of middle aged and older men who suffer so deeply in isolation, at times resorting to desperate measures to combat their loneliness. They note that alcohol abuse, depression and withdrawal from social interactions, distractions like extreme exercise and overworking and a rise in suicide among baby boomers is just the tip of the iceberg of the American male's emotional deprivation. And to understand how things got so bad for these men, they explore what happens to young boys as they reach adolescence.

Dr. Niobe Way at NYU has been listening to boys for the last 3 decades and shares her thoughts and findings in her books and talks. She says, "Boys are amazing human beings of unbelievable emotional and social capacity. And we as a culture, completely try to zip it out of them...American masculinity and masculine norms and expectations make close friendships into a girly, gay thing rather than simply a human thing. So as boys grow older and enter manhood, they begin to be overwhelmed with this expectation that somehow they have to be on their own- they can't depend on others- they have to be fully independent- that somehow the desire for intimacy with other boys is problematic."

As a survivor of attachment and childhood trauma, I painfully, and clearly recognize this emotional isolation, disconnect, and dead end. I don't view this problem as a gender issue- but rather a human issue. But the reality is that large numbers of boys and men are suffering in silence due to the taboo of them publicly admitting to being lonely. This is because they are not granted the permission or freedom to experience emotions, vulnerability and the need for deep and intimate relationships.

We are wired as human beings to connect with others. When we are denied that connection, we die on the inside. And at times, on the outside as well. Death by suicide has risen among men between the ages of 50-54 by 50% even though the overall rate of suicide has gone down.

There are many reasons for the increasing social isolation of men. Social media use mimics connection, but is not even a faint substitute for the real thing. On the contrary, it can cause depression and heighten social isolation. Shrinking social circles are also a result of our culture's shift from participation in organized clubs and activities to disinterest in joining and ample availability of private entertainment. Robert D. Putnam explores this issue brilliantly, and poignantly in his book Bowling Alone.

Work and family now take up a majority of our time and energy. Many of us are raising our families in areas that are geographically far away from where we grew up. So we lack the built in connection and support that we had. There is also a stigma to being viewed alone or lonely in our society that plays a role in inhibiting men from seeking new friends, and pursuing deeper relationships with each other. Research shows that women in a relationship are the primary arrangers and coordinators of social activity of a family. If divorced, men greatly lose that interaction with friends and family after the event. That leaves them further isolated.

So what can we do about this? What guide can we use as we raise our sons, interact with our brothers, nephews, uncles, fathers and grandfathers, counsel our mentees and advise the young men who come in our path?

Start with this question which has been posed to participants by a study, now in it's second generation at Harvard University.

"Who would you call in the middle of the night if you were sick or afraid?"

If they can't answer this question immediately, with at least a few names, then there is some work to be done by them. Because the Harvard Study data collected since the late 1930's shows that men who had someone to turn to were happier in their lives and their marriage. Also seen were very strong connections of their answer to their physical health. People with warm and closer connections with others lived longer, developed chronic middle age disease less soon and had better health on average than people who did not have close relationships.

Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist and psychologist, who is the current Director of the Harvard Study, in a TED talk viewed by almost 30 million people reveals what the study has shown to be the recipe for happiness.

Relationships. Warm Connections. Friendships that allow sharing of our life and our vulnerability. Knowing that you can rely on someone.

Here are some things you can do to be part of the cultural change we must bring about. And some recommendations for you, if you are part of the epidemic of loneliness that we find ourselves in.

  • If you are a parent of a boy/boys, actively encourage, support and foster their friendships with other boys. We must start changing the culture from the ground up.
  • Examine your relationships if you are a man struggling with loneliness. 
  • If you have no close friends, then don't ignore this warning of your shrinking social world. 
  • Reject cultural stereotypes that falsely project self sufficiency and independence as the hallmarks of being a man. Reach out to others. Remember, they are probably feeling lonely too and are looking for connection. Just like you are.
  • Join a club or activity that interests you and make acquaintances. Then make efforts to deepen those surface relationships. Don't be afraid of rejection. You maybe pleasantly surprised at the response you get.
  • If you feel unable or incapable to do this on your own, get professional help. You may have underlying mental health issues that have contributed to your isolation and relationship barriers and failures. In that case, it is imperative that you seek treatment.
  • Reject the cultural taboos and projections of stereotypes of 'manliness'. 
  • Celebrate the sensitivity, creativity, warmth and kindness of the boys and men you know.
  • Stand up and speak out against comments that characterize such qualities and intimate relationships between males as gay or girly. 

They are human attributes of the highest form, and necessary for living a happy life. We must give our boys a license to be emotional because it is a matter of their life or death.

Wishing you a week of connection and vulnerability!
Be well Do well Live well


Sunday, November 10, 2019

Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Bruce D. Perry, Jello, Love and Childhood Trauma- They're Connected.

It's Sunita here.

"Children are much more sensitive to developmental trauma than adults." So said Dr. Bruce D. Perry on 6o Minutes with Oprah on March 11, 2018. Dr. Perry is a leading authority on the subject of the effect and the impact of trauma on children. The key to healing, he shares with Oprah, is through the creation of positive relationships.

Oprah goes on to offer her take on what heals, by singling out love as the ultimate healer. I happen to agree with her 100%. I am a survivor of attachment and childhood trauma. My healing came about through Intensive Short Term Dynamic Psychotherapy, ISTDP. But the bottom line is something much simpler. Love pulled me back from the 'land of the dead' that I inhabited due to my childhood traumas.

Oprah credits her grade 4 teacher Mrs. Duncan to being the person who gave her a sense of value and connection. That led Oprah to feel and believe that she mattered.

I look back and try to understand what happened to my brain as a result of the developmental trauma I suffered. One way to explain the deficient wiring of my brain is by likening it to Jello.

The dissolved gelatin is supposed to set over a couple of hours. For this, one must leave it undisturbed during this setting time. In case of a traumatized young brain, the gelatin never "sets" into jello form. So it is constantly exists as a "liquid". Being in "liquid" form leaves it vulnerable to even the slightest of stimuli. Or even to the perception of any threat. Fight, flight or freeze are the only 3 responses a traumatized child possess to threats.

Going back to the jello analogy, one can compare this response to stress to the unset liquid jello splashing or spilling when the container it's in is disturbed.

An infant/child who grows up in a loving and caring household, with no traumatic history would have a brain that is similar to the "set jello". It has a distinct form and takes the shape of the bowl that it is contained in. It is still soft and vulnerable to being damaged, just like a healthy brain may, after an incident of trauma, but it possess the ability to absorb some of the negative stimulus without "splashing or spilling". This is the same as having resilience as a child or adult. This resilience helps us weather the inevitable storms that come our way, as we journey through life.

The only way a damaged brain can be rewired is through love. That is the way this "gelatin can set".

I leave you with this poem of mine from 'Stripping - My Fight to Find Me. It is the last of the collection of 65 poems in this book and so appropriately, gives the key to how I healed.

Wishing you a week of feeling connected and valued,
Be well Do well Live well


Sunday, November 3, 2019

A Fall Heart Bliss That Serves As a Warm Hug

It's Sunita here.

I find Fall to be more of a pause than a transition. It signals 'gather and stop for a moment' to me. As the days become shorter, and the evenings become pronounced, my mind relaxes and I feel like I am in a throwback to the good old days. Time slows down for me and I relish the evenings as opportunities to think, plan and spend more time in my kitchen. And make soup.

Soup in Fall is different from any other time in the year. Autumn soups are rich, earthy, thick, full of flavor, and an occasion to use warm spices. I love to see pumpkins, gourds, parsnips, butternut squash, carrots, beets and all the glorious root vegetables of the season make their appearance in the produce section of my grocery store. There is something so reassuring and comforting about them.

Today, I share the basic recipe for our family's Fall Soup. It serves as a Warm Hug and when we all sit down together to enjoy it. And that is a pure Heart Bliss. 

You can substitute your favorite vegetables for what I've used and it will still be delicious. This recipe does not need 'exact and precise' measurements so play with what I have given you to make your soup reflect your taste.

I start by roasting the whole vegetables in an oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes. (Root vegetables are very tough to cut when uncooked and can pose a risk for injuring yourself with your knife.)
I then cut the softened vegetables on a wooden board. Large chunks will do.
I sprinkle 1/4 cup of good quality Olive Oil over them and sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
I return them to the oven to roast for another 15-30 minutes, depending on how much time I have that day.
The next step is to saute 2 large, roughly chopped white onions in another 1/4 cup of olive oil. If you intend to add fresh ginger to your soup, then now is the time to add it to the pot. If you are comfortable using a pressure cooker, then that will speed things up for you considerably. Otherwise a regular pot is fine.
Once the onions have become translucent, add all your roasted vegetables to the onions and let them cook together for 5 minutes. Add the dry or fresh herbs that you enjoy.
Remember, this is a soup that should 'feel' good to you so go along with what your family tastes are. I added parsley only.

Don't forget to stop to inhale the amazing aromas that are being released by fall's bounty in your kitchen.

I've been known to call (they tell me I'm "screaming") my kids into the kitchen, just to stand over the pot, close their eyes and smell the soothing whiffs of these gifts of the earth. It's soothing, and connects us to Pachamama and her generosity to us.

Now it's time to add a liquid to your soup makings. I added 4 cups of vegetable broth and 4 cups of 1% low fat milk. You can substitute with water, chicken broth, soy milk, almond milk, regular milk or any other type of broth.Remember, this is your warm hug so you get to choose the flavors and the base of your hug.

I used a pressure cooker at medium heat for 30 minutes to cook the vegetables and liquid together. After turning off the heat, I left the pot on the warm burner and did a few other tasks in the kitchen. That allowed the pressure in the pot to dissipate while the vegetables continued to cook.

Carefully and with a focus on safety, I disengaged the pressure cooker, only after verifying that all the steam had dissipated. I use a KitchenAid Hand Soup Blender to blend the vegetables. My soup is usually thick but this is a good time to add more liquid and adjust the blended mix consistency to your taste. Add more seasoning, salt and pepper if need be.

Serve with warm bread and butter. Or do what I did. Serve with croutons.

Here's how I make croutons at home.

Take whatever bread you enjoy. I had leftovers of a Sourdough- Rosemary loaf and a French Baguette from Whole Foods at home. Cube it and toss it in a large bowl- this is important because you want the bread to soak up the following. For 8 cups of bread cubes, 1/2 cup of olive oil, 1 tsp sea salt, 1 tsp paprika and 1 tsp dried parsley flakes. Add 3 cloves of crushed fresh garlic. Toss together like you are mixing a salad. Place the unbaked croutons in a single layer on a oven proof baking sheet covered with aluminum foil. They taste delicious, even at this stage, and I can never resist popping a few of them in my mouth as I slide the baking sheet into the oven. Keep them in for 10 minuets at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, then take the sheet out and flip them over for another 8 minutes in the oven. I use a broad rubber spatula to flip them and am never very exact about it. If a few don't turn over, don't fret, they will still taste incredible! Use oven mitts whenever handling hot dishes and working with an oven.

You can make the meal an occasion for remembrance by using special china. I happened to use the teacups that we received from Nathalie on the occasion of her wedding to my nephew Neville. It reminded us all of the caring details they put into designing our experience at their wedding in Scrub Island. It was an amazing one. We were flooded with the love we felt there, and the memories of wonderful time we spent with them and my family. It added an extra dimension to our warm hug that night as we enjoyed our Fall soup and reminisced.

I hope you experience Fall in the most wonderful way and have simple family rituals that bring you together and give you Heart Bliss!
Until next time, Be well, Do well Live well