February 2016 - Vitanova

Chasing the American Dream – A Story of Rebirth

Chip DeClue had pursued and won the American Dream, with a long-time executive position at a major rental-car company, a beautiful wife, and two daughters—yet he still felt unhappy. He lacked a sense of security and peace. When he learned to pursue his calling, instead, security, health, and happiness followed. 

I came of age in the 80s. My friends and I all knew we would be CEOs one day. I met the woman of my dreams, a wonderful, preppy woman with similar aspirations, and told her when I proposed that I would really have to be married to my job for the next several years so I could make partner. I worked 80 hours a week for a while, then “took it easy” working 70 hours a week at my next job. My life was measured by my financial success.

And I had the success—but my life was all about my work. I was obsessed with driving performance; I looked at the people in my life and evaluated what extrinsic value they provided. This came to define not just my work relationships but also my home life. I expected my wife, Karla, to perform a certain way, and I looked at my daughters through the same lens. Karla told me one night that our daughters actually dreaded when I came home because the fun would stop and everyone would have to get in line.

By most measures, I was successful. I had a beautiful family who had fun. We took great vacations, lived in a nice house, and had a membership at the country club. But I didn’t have security or happiness. Everyone in my life was a constant disappointment to me, including myself. In fact, the more money I made, the less secure I felt, like everything could come tumbling down at any moment. And it did.

In the 2008–2009 recession, I saw my income, which was based on commissions, drop so steeply that the company told me they’d front me 40% of my old pay on the condition that I would pay it back when I started making money again. Karla and I had to very suddenly learn how to live on a budget.

In this time of steep financial decline, we started looking at how to establish new priorities. We started going to church for the first time since high school, and I read a book called Halftime: Moving from Success to Significance by Bob P. Buford. The idea of moving into the second half of my life and defining it by my significance to the world spoke powerfully to me, as did the message of selflessness and service I was learning through my faith. I wanted to change internally and make a difference in the world.

I decided to reorient myself toward putting others first and asking not what they could do for me, but what I could do for them, in every area of my life. I went from being someone who put the process before the people, who rode my employees hard so they’d produce, to wanting to invest in people’s lives—and everything changed. My employees, whom I’d pressured so hard, performed better because I was managing them by putting them first instead of managing through fear. My marriage developed new meaning and intimacy. My daughters and I became closer. And I found my own heart healing because I was serving others.

As I reoriented myself in my relationships, I also reconsidered my activities. It started when I was practicing Guitar Hero because my daughter and I played it together. I looked down at the little plastic guitar and its multicolored buttons and I thought, “Chip, you have an American Standard in your basement. What is wrong with this picture?” I put that Guitar Hero controller down and never picked it back up. Instead, I started playing my old guitar again—not because it would give me peace (though it did) but because I could use it to help other people. Now, I play at church.

I had always rewarded myself for hard work with activities that entertained me, but as I considered moving from success to significance, I wanted my activities to help other people or improve my relationships. The things that emerged as a waste of time, like the country club membership and my video games, got kicked out of my life. The Red Wings season tickets I’d used to get away from my family with the guys became my way to get one-on-one time with my daughters. And I started volunteering with the middle-school youth group.

Karla and I also looked at our physical health. We don’t see becoming healthy as a goal unto itself, but as a means to an end. That end is being able to help others. We envisioned our perfect life ten years from now and knew that if we wanted to serve others effectively, we had to be healthy. It’s an interesting truth that to serve others, you have to take care of your own needs or your needs will consume you. We committed to follow a book called The Plan by Lyn-Genet Recitas this January to get our eating habits on track and are recommitting to yoga. Cooking and exercising together is an amazing way to stay motivated and strengthen our marriage. And we already feel healthier.

If there’s one word I can emphasize, it’s intention: Being intentional and purposeful with my time and resources has made my life meaningful. I set my intention every day with meditation, prayer, and nutritional supplements. I listen for what my purpose is, where I can best serve the world, and what makes me tick. And in this halftime of my life, I am going to create a second half that allows me to be involved with and passionate about the people I’m serving for the rest of my life.

Turning Adversity Into Inspiration -Jennifer’s Story

Jennifer Babcock Bernardo spent two years subjecting her body to medical interventions that didn’t help her psoriasis. When she chose to pursue plant-based interventions instead, her life was transformed. 

Between high school and college, I found out that I had psoriasis. It was a very irritating case, linked with arthritis, and it felt like I saw every doctor under the sun in an attempt to find the right treatment. They treated me with the best medical intervention they could come up with, cortisone injections, but it felt like they were only treating the symptoms. I would go in, get dozens of little doses of cortisone injected into my scalp and all over my body, and experience two weeks of improvement. Then my symptoms would return worse than before.

I felt like I looked like a monster. I didn’t want to leave my house, and I stopped going to school. I couldn’t deal with how they were treating me—I felt like a monkey, a test subject. And I was dealing with all of this for something that did not work for my body.

I finally reached the point of pulling away from all the doctors and Western medicine. I decided not to put my body through more until I had figured out what I truly needed. I started changing the way I approached my disease; I began eating better and looking into alternative medicines and treatments. One night, I met with a woman who knew about the healing properties of botanicals and herbs. She talked me through the function of herbs and their interactions with each other. We then put them into a big pot to stew all night. The next morning, I ended up with a little jar of a disgusting salve. I began using the salve, and it immediately improved my skin and the way I felt. And it was not with cortisone needles or chemicals. My healing was created from the goodness of the earth.

After that day, I took the wisdom shared with me and I started refining it. Over the past eight years, I’ve worked with the recipe to make jars of salve that are better with each batch and have researched the ingredients to make it as effective as possible. I started giving away my salve to people with health issues similar to mine. Like me, they saw improvements and wanted more. It even helped them with other ailments besides psoriasis.

I started making bigger batches and kept refining the recipe to where it is today. Now, I have a business license. I sell to places around the state of California, bulk customers, and people around the country. When I faced my illness and embraced a new approach to medicine, I found not only my own healing through botanicals but I also became an entrepreneur determined to help others access inner healing from that which comes from the earth.

I’m continually amazed at what herbs and botanicals can do for us. I think that much of what Western medicine has done has gotten away from the healing of plant derivatives. Of course, even Western medicine has derived some things from plants, but their cures are removed from the source. True botanical cures are all organic and in nature.

Embracing the healing power of the earth has involved not just my salve, but how I approach everything I put in and on my body. I start every day by drinking an all-organic, vegan, plant-based smoothie product with banana and almond milk. Then I take my shower, which has become very ritualized for me. It’s not about comfort so much as letting it take care of me. I sense the water, pay attention to it, and acknowledge it against my skin. Then I apply my balms to the areas of my body that are still affected, even though my condition has nearly eliminated.

Throughout the day, I’m conscious of what my family puts into their bodies, as well. I didn’t used to think that way; I didn’t realize there was such a strong connection between the foods I put into my body and what was happening on my skin. I used to put so much junk in my mouth. Now, I’m so careful to choose foods, herbs, and teas that will support my family’s wellness, including that of my two-year-old daughter.

Jennifer’s balms are only available in certain states. They can be viewed at http://www.babsbalms.com/

A Passion for the Plants – A Conversation with Bonnie Dahan

Bonnie Dahan is a woman who knows that being connected to the earth is essential to not only survival but also to living the best life possible. She creates her rituals through being keenly aware of every part the earth, the soil, and the plants play in our healing and health and vitality. 

You know, I think that my life connection to the earth is one that—let me just put it this way—I believe it’s from the inside out. I’ve always believed in the healing power of plants, it was just an innate knowing that connected me to a natural way of life before it was hip and cool to be a part of that bandwagon that the world has joined (thankfully). It even goes back to when I had my children and leading a natural lifestyle back then. I made all of their baby food—and that was long before Cuisinarts were available! I made it with an old food mill. It was an instinct to hug the earth in every possible way. As the years went by and I began to study organic gardening, and became an organic gardener, I realized that in a very commonsense, basic way, when you touch the soil, when you plant seeds, when you see what rebirth is really all about, what the earth can give us, what the potential is in those seeds—it’s almost as if when you plant a seed, there’s a higher civilization going on underground that we’re unaware of and that we ignore until we see sprouts coming up and we begin to care for those sprouts and nurture them. But inherent in that underground civilization is every possible kind of healing, so I think it really connected the dots for me when I became a gardener.

When I fell in love with plants and the earth and the beauty of them, that led me to a study in herbalism both in Western medicine and a little bit in Eastern medicine. When I say healing, I don’t only mean medicinal healing. I believe that plants have a healing that’s possible with their beauty, with their scent, and of course with their medicinal benefits. I took a class once from a fabulous chef and healer who taught Chinese herbal healing. I learned a little bit about botanicals from that culture. Then, I dabbled a little bit in Ayurveda. All of that learning came together in the realization that we have the possibility—when we respect the earth and the bounty that it can produce for us in every possible way—to be our own advocates. Our own advocates to create a lifestyle of healing pretty much every moment of the day. In fact, I’m sitting here looking out on beautiful redwoods, and there’s a pot of flowers on my desk, and I’m drinking green tea, and thinking about all of the possible ways that we create a living—more than a lifestyle, a living. A way of living that nurtures us, heals us, and allows us to connect to all the possibilities that nature brings us. So if that is true, why on earth would we harm nature? Why on earth would we trespass on all this potential? That’s my way of coming to whatever you want to call it, environmentalism, ecological responsibility….

I also learned firsthand about the benefit of plants being able to heal when I was traveling and became ill. An incredibly wise woman who I could not speak a word to handed me a steaming glass of tea and indicated that I should drink it. I was in terrible pain. So I drank this potion, this remedy, this concoction, and literally within 20 minutes, I was pain free. That was a Moroccan herb, which I now actually cook with. It’s a form of thyme, and it really has wonderful healing powers. So, in every possible way, I look for enhancement from nature, enhancement from the possibility of botanicals.

Now, I’ve begun a pretty deep study of the benefits of plant oils and essences and essential oils, and they are remarkable. So, like I said, you go back to the seed, you go back to the soil, and you go back to the responsibility we have of preserving that and surrounding ourselves with them—all of the healing, all of the beauty, and all of the nurturing that the earth has for us.

And it’s really important as well to not have them filled with poison and pesticides and growth hormones and genetically modified, and destroy large fields of indigenous plants.

That’s why the organic gardening was such an important piece for me. Learning how to build healthy soil. It all begins with the soil, obviously. And why on earth would you harm this living organism that can produce so much health by putting poison in it and toxicity in it? It’s absolutely key not to do that. Fortunately, there is a consciousness around that idea that is beginning to take hold. I wouldn’t say it’s prevalent, yet, but people are beginning to gravitate toward that way of thinking. There’s so much more education that’s needed, and experience needed, too. When people experience, when they taste something that’s organic or feel the effects of it in their body, then they will learn.

Years ago, I started a business that was committed to preserving the resources that allow us to create beauty in our home with home décor— handmade furniture, wall art, all kinds of items for the home—because I believed two things: I believed that we have this responsibility to preserve resources and not cut down trees—and with no responsibility—and at the same time, I wanted to preserve the art of indigenous cultures around the world. I wanted to bring them into this century and make them available to folks because I believe in the touch of the human hand, whether it is in craft or art or design or whether it’s in the farmers’ hands who sow the seeds and nurture the plants that connect us all in a universal way.

Now that I’ve sold the business, I have devoted myself to offering my expertise that I’ve acquired over the years in business to folks I know, to nurturing their businesses and helping them grow and bringing them to market in a way that celebrates them and celebrates their products and their positioning and their point of view and their vision.

Now, I’m working with companies that I feel connected to that share my views.

By the way, that business was absolutely committed to everything we’re talking about, not destroying resources, and yet celebrating their beauty and creating a home that’s filled with handmade objects and beautiful pieces from around the world. Like I said, I believe that there is something about the touch of the human hand when we create something. And that goes all the way back to the farmers that you’re talking about with Vitanova and how they grew these indigenous plants, and they’ve grown them for centuries—there’s something in that beautiful heritage that connects us.

Taking Charge of My Life – Sandi’s Story of Rebirth

Sandi Pearce’s life had been marked by medical problems; she had been bitten by a tick and stung by a scorpion, and she was afflicted by Lyme disease, multiple allergies, and chemical sensitivities. Her life was defined by her sickness. When she was in tachycardia in 2006, the ER doctor had to stop and restart her heart. Sandi knew it was time to stop life as she knew it and start living a new, healthy life.

I met Marie on the very first day of work back in 1999. We were in the same orientation class. It was obvious from the start that we had a lot in common. I was already struggling with some sort of illness, and I didn’t know what was wrong. Marie suggested her doctor to me. I blew it off. “Yeah, yeah. I have plenty of doctors.” She just gently said, “You’ll come to me when you’re ready.” She left it at that and didn’t say another word.

Six months later, I was even sicker. It was then that I remembered what Marie had told me when we first met. I went to Marie, sort of sheepishly, and asked, “Could you please give me the name of your doctor?” She never said a word about our prior conversation. She just gave me the number and said I would love this man and he would heal me. I made an appointment to see him (a naturopath and osteopath) right away. And after he tested me and listened to my symptoms, everything Marie had said that she thought was going on with me was correct. I was allergic to sugar, dairy, soy—a long list of different foods—and they were making me extremely sick. When the doctor told me all that I was allergic to or sensitive to, I thought: 1) I need to tell Marie she was right, and 2) I would have to make some really drastic changes, quickly. I cried. I didn’t want to give up every yummy, wonderful thing I loved, which were all processed and full of gluten and a ton of carbs, and yuck. But, I quit everything the doctor wanted me to quit to calm my system down and get healthier.

I immediately lost 20 pounds in the first two months, and I’d never had that much energy. I was strictly sugar-free for two years after that. I’ve been gluten free for 17 years since—except for a few mistakes—mostly sugar free, soy free, corn free, all these different foods “free,” and I always feel better if I stick to that regimen.

The life I was living back then was basically not in concert with who I felt I was, if that makes sense. Inside, I was this really healthy person, but I wasn’t living that on the outside. Sick meant that I had no energy, no desire to do anything. Once I changed my life and started living and eating healthier, everything changed. It was remarkable. My energy level, my excitement for life—everything. It was so pivotal in my life.

After going to Marie’s doctor, I found a new path, even if I didn’t have a true diagnosis for the allergies at the time. Being on that path gave me new energy and excitement. Bringing that into the rest of my life was surprisingly easy—easier than for other people because I had no choice. It was change or die.  Other people can say, “I don’t think I should eat pizza so often, but it’s hard to change.” But I had to say, “I can’t ever eat pizza again or I’ll get really sick.” I parlayed that into getting healthy in general. I started running again. I learned kickboxing. I quit smoking and cut back on alcohol. Because I felt so good, it was much easier to stay on that course. Like anyone else, I backtracked a few times, but overall I’ve stayed the course.

I now know that my multiple allergies are from chronic Lyme disease, which wasn’t diagnosed for many years after the tick bite, and also coincided with becoming really ill. It created permanent allergies, multiple chemical sensitivities, and pain that persist to this day. The bacteria even invaded my brain, causing permanent lesions.

My morning ritual is a series of things I need to do for my dogs, but I also take supplements in the morning, too. My favorite ritual is my afternoon ritual, though. I walk my dogs for a full hour every afternoon, and that’s the cornerstone of my exercise routine. Even if I don’t have time for anything else, the dogs have to be walked, and it’s my time to just be present with the dogs. It’s amazing how easy it is to see the world around you if you watch it from a dog’s eyes. It is what keeps me going. We charge through the open space and cruise around. I have three 100-lb dogs, and I also walk my parents’ little dog.

My supplements and vitamins are also a huge ritual to me. Genetic testing showed my body doesn’t make certain key enzymes for processing B12 and folate, so supplementing active enzymes is vital for me to stay alive and healthy. Folate and B12 are key because they provide the body with much of its energy. I did some research and discovered how many things are synergistically complete if they are taken together—or also messed up if they are taken together! For example, most vitamins or supplements should not be taken with vitamin D, so I take that alone. I make sure that I take certain vitamins together to give me the best bang for my buck.

One of the things I now say is, “I affirm that this is how my life will be now.” I stick to that and believe in that. Making my vitamins part of a morning ritual is one of the best things I’ve discovered. I link everything together. When I take my vitamins, my affirmations are playing in my mind. “This is helping my body. This is making me stronger. This is giving me the energy that I need.” Making that mind-body connection is so important.

Then, on October 16, 2006, my heart became erratic when I was out to lunch with a friend. I was in tachycardia and my heart rate was above 200 bpm. When my friend and I arrived at the hospital 15 minutes later, my heart rate was still 186 bpm, and the doctor couldn’t get it back to normal with any of his usual methods, so he had to give me a drug to stop my heart and restart it. After my heart was back to a normal rhythm and my doctor was about to release me, he said, “Sandi, whatever it is you’re doing to cause this much stress in your life, you need to stop it immediately. I looked at him and thought, “Okay, this is it. My life has to change.” It was even more pivotal in my rebirth, and changed me forever. From then on, I was working out much harder—three hours a day in that first year—and even more committed to living a life filled with things that are good for me. I quit smoking that day after leaving the hospital. I knew my job was killing me slowly (or quickly), and I turned in my notice two weeks later. Everything from then on has led me to where I am now—far healthier 17 years later than I was then.

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