Becoming a Coach, Part 2: Surgery, Clarity, and Rice Bowls

Welcome to Part 2 of the story on how I became a Health Coach.

Dear Reader, you've stuck it out after our first date, and I'm glad to see you again. Hang in there for a fantastic time-saver recipe for Peanut Butter Brown RIce Bowls at the end of this post. In the meantime, back to our tale of the broken girl with a whole lot to learn...

Months into epidurals and physical therapy, and being “disabled” according to my doctors and the state of California; I missed being at work, I yearned to be productive, as I simply felt a desire to keep busy and contribute. I took online classes from bed, and read health books looking for answers. Thank the technology gods for the iPad. Something was happening to me, not just physically, but I slowly realized that I was very very very broken on a much deeper level.

The obligatory "before" photo. This is also before I owned mascara... circa 2009.

The obligatory "before" photo. This is also before I owned mascara... circa 2009.

I realized that I had literally made myself sick to serve my career. I had spent a decade doing everything I could to be a “successful” theatre and film director, sacrificing my health for work was nothing new.  I started as an intern at the highly acclaimed Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, got promoted and coordinated their professional acting school for a few years while freelance directing and teaching acting, working countless hours, and doing everything I could to nail the next job. I eventually felt like I hit a ceiling (like everyone does in their late 20’s, right? Ugh, totally) and decided it was time to go back to school. Not surprisingly, while in grad school I gained almost 40 lbs. Stress, food intolerances, poor “convenient” diet choices, and misdiagnosis had all contributed to the weight gain. My second year of school I was diagnosed with a completely bizarre genetic autoimmune disorder that I once saw on the TV show House, MD. After years of digestive upset, I was finally on the right medicine, and I decided to try going gluten free to help with the inflammation. Now this was before the gluten free “craze” so it wasn’t a cake walk (pun absolutely intended)… But with exercise and hard diet work I lost those “pesky” 40 lbs., and directed some more obscure German expressionism drama while doing so.

By my late twenties, I had directed at least 50 plays, some film/video shorts, and taught/worked with at least a thousand actors and other brilliant artists. When I started having joint and back pain towards the end of grad school, I decided to go the responsible “sit at a desk” route and went into film development. But there was a lurking issue that I desperately tried to ignore; I wasn’t creating anymore, and I had begun to silently mourn for my old craft, accepting that because of chronic pain, I had to say “goodbye” to a part of me that was as powerful and important as a once strong limb. I was no longer being creative. I was extremely productive, I was enjoying working very hard, and I loved learning about the film industry finally on the inside. Fast forward to being stuck in bed with my stupid spine, I reflected on the past few years, and it crossed my mind that I was completely miserable. Months on “disability,” a few epidurals later and slowly becoming a spine disease poster child, I had none of the things I had cherished before: I couldn’t sit in a theatre seat, a desk chair, and I couldn’t exactly direct from a bed. But I could learn how to heal, and I could fight for me. Not for my “career” or that thing that everyone thinks you’re supposed to become/do/have/belong to, it was time to learn how to really fight for what matters: my health, my life.

I put myself on an anti-inflammatory diet, and I did my “exercises” every day. I walked. I couldn’t stand still, bend, lift anything or sit, but I could walk, and I did so all over my beautiful Los Angeles neighborhood. I had never seen some of the magical things in my little nook of LA; plants, aromatic scents, farmers markets, so many birds, the beautiful view fed my healing as much as the pills and procedures. I tried to reconnect with friends I hadn’t talked to in years because of my ridiculous work schedule. I started to feed my body whole, real foods and I fed my soul for the first time in a very long time.

They found more things wrong. The epidurals didn’t stick (#punintended).

Who has freckles, two thumbs and loves morphine?           This lady. July, 2013.

Who has freckles, two thumbs and loves morphine?           This lady. July, 2013.

But I was stronger from PT. So Spine Doc removed the disc; I had surgery on July 2nd, 2013. Spine Doc decided that I needed a fusion of my L4/L5 vertebrae, but he wasn’t sure if he was going to do it or not, because I had a unique case. I’m not a doctor, but I guess having a herniated desiccated disc in a 31-year old female is rare and super precarious, in 70 year olds, you just kinda let them “go” or fuse ‘em. I had also developed peripheral neuropathy and my right lower leg was no longer reliable, but it sure was numb. I kissed my beautiful nude peep-toe patent leather heels from Nordstrom’s goodbye…

I was wheeled into surgery, and Spine Doc still didn’t know if he was going to pin me; I played it cool, suspense dissipates when fun iv drugs are involved. When he decided to not put in pins, it meant that rehab would be even more important so that the joint would immobilize and the bones would fuse naturally. It was tough. Really tough. There was so much inflammation in my spine that it felt like I was being pulled in half when I tried to get into bed. Those first few weeks every time my mother and boyfriend helped me into and out of bed I screamed, I had never made that noise in my life it; was as if all the broken bits in my heart and my body needed to be expelled and I couldn’t stop my pain from escaping. My poor neighbors… I went from greeting and getting Fritos for my college A-list action hero celebrity crush to doing laps around my kitchen table with my walker in the timespan of a season change.

But then wonderful things slowly happened. I encountered such kindness during that time in friends who visited and brought food, my home-care physical therapist who patiently taught me how to descend and ascend stairs in my building, my family, my boyfriend going above and beyond the call of duty. I felt pure abundant gratitude in every moment. I started to regain my ability to walk with confidence and could (holy crap) actually sit for about 5 minutes, and I felt the desire to create a dish that was healthful, nourishing, and satisfying to feed my body as it healed. I was limited in my movement, but I still felt the responsibility and need to take care of myself, and fight for my health. My vertical time was precious. Thus became the glory that is known as Peanut Butter Rice.

2 Minute “I’m standing up between Star Trek Episodes” Rice Bowl

Core Ingredients:

-3/4 Cup Cooked Brown Rice, warm

-1-2 Tbs. Nut Butter (Peanut, almond, cashew)

-1-2 tsp. Tamari, gluten free soy sauce, or coconut aminos

-1 tsp. ground ginger

-1 tsp. granulated garlic

Topping Options:

Brown rice bowls are a quick, nourishing meal.

Brown rice bowls are a quick, nourishing meal.

-Shredded carrots

-Handfuls arugula or chopped spinach greens

-Pickled ginger

-Sliced radish

-Sliced green onion

-Seaweed salad, or dried seaweed

-Fermented vegetables, such as Kimchi

-1 Tbs. flaxseed oil

In a bowl, add nut butter, tamari, and spices to warm brown rice. Stir well enough. You might want to adjust amounts to taste. To have a well-balanced snack, add vegetables, and/or a probiotic-rich food such as Kimchi. Greens will slightly wilt when mixed with warm rice. Recipe is for one, as this can be used as a solid snack, or the base of a larger meal. If using as the base of a meal, multiply for proper serving amount.

Even a wiggly child could make this; it’s the same principle as building an ice cream sundae at a sundae bar. And its real food nourishment propelled my healing into high gear. I thrived on the warmth of the rice paired with the phytonutrients of local green arugula, was grounded in the healthy fats of nut butter and flax seed oil, and loved the heat of LA-made kimchi from our Farmer’s Market. A quick fix to reconnect with hearty nourishing food.

I wasn’t out of the woods yet. Spine Doc still felt there might be a need for a second surgery and he threatened to do a full fusion should I not be able to maintain enough strength to mobilize the vertebrae. I lived in constant fear of falling, and had to wear a torso brace for months. I had about two shirts that fit over the brace, and I think everyone who came to visit me thought I must have been hitting the donuts real hard considering the size of that thing. This was a transformational time; while incredibly difficult, I was given the gift of clarity in those months of pain. Dear Reader, check back for Part 3, where I really kick it into gear, start my business and you and I start dating for serious. You’ll never believe how it turns out in the end!

If you haven’t yet, “follow” me on the Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for more recipes, health and nutrition tips, and encouragement. I broke so you don’t have to…



Alyson Roux4 Comments