Monday, May 2, 2011

A Journey Through Darkness

(1984) "Well, we could put her in dance class, Bill. Perhaps that would keep her out of trouble?" I pulled the covers up around my face as the breeze from my window made a soft whistling sound. The breeze was cold. The type of cold that only carried itself on an ocean breeze. I could almost taste the salt on my lips as it brushed them.

"She's no athlete, Almine. Hell, why not? Put her in ballet. We've already got a teenager on our hands to deal with at the moment." I could feel my stomach clench. As if I had been punched.

"If I had a dime for every time that child scaled the back fence..." my mother's voice trailed off. "I can't keep replacing it, Bill. Its getting too expensive. Higher and higher, thicker and thicker. Its like she doesn't want to be kept inside of it. I'm concerned this is a preview of things to come for her."

"We have bigger issues on our plate right now," my father replied. "We need to get Brent glasses, and take him for another eye exam. Monique's rebelling every which way, and I blame us for all of it. I was too hard on her. Shit, she's just a kid. The oldest always gets it the roughest. Damn it, I wish I could've done things differently..." the voices trailed off as the wind picked up outside. The branches began to make a screaming sound as they scratched the window. My eyelids began to feel heavy as tears streamed down my face. Then...nothing...just blackness...

My parents put me in dance when I was very young. I loved it, but also felt like I needed something else.

(1991) "You know, you're just like you're sister, Almine," my high school P.E. teacher looked at me, narrowing her eyes. "I don't know what to do with you. Just like I didn't know what to do with her." She stormed off, leaving me alone in the locker room. I didn't understand what she meant, but I didn't feel good about it.

That night, as I sat by the fire doing my homework I asked my mom "Mom, do you think I can do things?" She looked up from the scrapbook that she was putting together for my sister's birthday. "What kind of things, honey?" "Ummm...I don't know. I want to do sports." "Well, you do cheerlead. Do you not like that?" she asked in her thick South African accent. "I like to make people happy, and get them to cheer for one another, but I want to do something else." "What are you interested in?" she asked. "I tried to lift some weights at school today, but the boys said that girls weren't allowed in the weight room." There was a long pause, and an uncomfortable silence.

"Sweetheart, you know your Oma was very strict with me. Private schools, tea at 4 pm, that sort of thing. I grew up in a world of lace and dolls. I've always known that you wouldn't be drawn to that, but I've been unsure as to how I can support you best. I don't know anything about weight rooms. This is something you should take up with your father, okay?" she let out a nervous sigh, and went back to her myriad tubes of colored glue and glitter.

The next morning, as I was getting ready for school I found my dad in the kitchen. "Hey dad, I was thinking..." My mom came in and swiftly moved to fix his tie. My father's unruly tie was about as irritating to my mother as a painting askew on a wall. "Hmmm???," he murmured. "Weights. I'm interested in the weight room at school," I said nervously. He grabbed his glass of juice in the right hand, his briefcase in the left, and exited the kitchen. My mom just looked at me, shrugged her shoulders and said "Honey, do you want to take a scone and some rose petal jelly with you to school?" I always thought it was sweet when my mom said "Scon." Anytime she heard the pronunciation of the word "scone" as "scone" you could see her wince.

As I watched the clock tick towards 11am I swallowed hard. P.E. I couldn't stand it. I felt awkward, always being barked at by the P.E. teacher and sport coaches out on the field. I looked at them with amusing disdain. They were barking orders at me? Am I supposed to be inspired by them? I watched them, as they talked amongst themselves, drinking milkshakes with their huge stomachs...a pinnacle of fitness and health? I was no one's dummy. I could see a person who didn't walk their talk then, and I can see it to this day. I felt no need to perform for them, or anyone. I didn't want to play for their team. I felt no allegiance to them and their early retirement. I wondered where I could be inspired?

"MOVE, Barton!" I heard accompanied by a whistle. "No!" I shouted back. The footsteps circling around the track fell silent. I realized an instant audience was born. My peers were watching me with round eyes and amazement. "What did you say to me?" the coach walked towards me with menacing eyes. She realized that the pressure was on. This was the moment she'd been waiting for. The moment she, once again, got to resurrect herself as authority figure. I could smell her hot breath, reeking of cheap fast food, as she got in my face. Her breath rapidly escalating with each passing second. "You heard me," I retorted. "I said NO!" "Who do you think you are?" she shot back. "Someone special?" "In fact, who do ALL of you think you are?" she said rotating around so that she got a glimpse of every student watching. "You're not special. You're not unique. In fact, I can't even figure out why I bother teaching teenagers." I stormed off. "Get back here, Barton!" I could hear snickers from my classmates, and her screeching in the distance. I kept walking. I walked from my high school down to the ocean at "Nye Beach." There I sat in my P.E. uniform and cried until my eyes stung. After an hour of sitting there, I couldn't tell if my eyes hurt from the salt of my own tears, or the salty air. I shivered a deep shiver. I realized it had been misting. My hair and skin were wet.

Newport, OR., where I grew up

(1992) As soon as I saw the sign I knew I wanted to be a part of it. "SURF CLUB" it read. I felt like jumping for joy! Finally, something that sounded interesting to me. I was getting more restless with each passing quarter. I couldn't put my finger on it, but could feel a need to move in a different way. I wasn't sure what that meant, but maybe the surf club was the answer. I inquired about it from a teacher. She looked me straight in the eye and said "Oh honey, girls don't join that club," and walked off. I began to ask around in school. I was directed to one of the junior boys, who was a member. I said "Hey, I'd like to be a part of the surf club." "Do you know how to surf?" he raised his eyebrow. "Well, no, but I'm eager to learn. I won't get in the way of you guys out there. I'm a quick learner," I was hopeful. This was it. I could feel a wave of excitement. "Don't bother," he said as he walked down the hall. That day, I felt a deep sense of sadness. A part of me began to leave my social peers emotionally. I felt bewildered, as to how there were very few opportunities for the things I was most interested in. I formed a plan. A plan to leave my school to find those opportunities. I wasn't sure where to look, or where to go, but I was determined to get out of Newport.

Surfing, OR. Coast, 2009

I began to work very hard. I took three 4-credit community college classes at the "Oregon Coast Community College" in the evenings, each quarter, to work towards early graduation. In 10 months I earned all the necessary credits to graduate from high school a full year early. I was so happy! I was managing both my high school classes, and my college classes in the evenings. I found my high school class homework dull and lifeless compared to the classes I was taking with the adults in the evening. I reveled in the adult discussions that were brought to each college class, filled with the life experience of those in their 30's and 40's. I loved the rich, creative environment and the stories that were shared by the returning adult students.

Finally, the day came. I received my OCCC transcripts with a 3.8 GPA, and a few credits over what was required for me to graduate early. I had my parent's reluctant approval to head to college one full year early. As I proudly walked down the hall towards the main office of my high school, transcripts in hand, a teacher stopped me in the hall. "Barton! Just what do you think you're doing?" he barked. "Actually, I'm really excited to show you this," I said pulling out my college transcripts. "Look what I've been doing in the evenings," I pointed to the paper excitedly. I was so proud to show one of my teachers all of my hard work. "Just what do you think you're doing? You think you're above your classmates? You think you're ready to leave this nest? I don't think you are, Barton. In fact, I don't think you'll amount to anything. You heard me. Anything!"

He turned on his heels, and stomped down the hall. I felt my knees buckle, as I steadied myself to sit on a bench. My eyes felt hot, brimming with tears." My transcript papers fell out of the folder, to the floor, like feathers.

(2000) I could hear her high-heels against the linoleum floor. They were coming towards the treatment room I was in. As the door opened I looked up. "Ms. Barton?" the doctor inquired. "Yes, that's me," I said softly. I'd like to go over your lab test results with you, if you're ready?" "I am," I said calmly. "Frankly, Ms. Barton, I'm a bit puzzled by some of your numbers. I don't see this thing often. Are you a vegetarian?" "Yes. Actually, I'm a vegan," I stated. "For how long have you been eating this way?" she asked. "I've been a vegetarian for 10 years, a vegan for 5 of those years. Why? Is something wrong?" I knew I felt "off," but didn't anticipate anything being wrong with my health overall since I pretty much lived off of salad, fruits, brown rice, beans and tofu. That was healthy, right? What could she possibly have to say to me that I wasn't already doing? "Ms. Barton, I'm not quite sure how to word this, so I'm just going to come out and say it. Your body is in the "red zone." What I mean by this is that everything is too low on your blood panel. "But, how can this be?" I inquried. "I eat all organic. I get check-ups regularly. I even have a naturopathic physician oversee my diet and menu plans, so I make sure I get what I need nutritionally speaking." I was dumbfounded. I was a member of the "Portland Vegan Society."

Sure, I was a bit overweight for my norm, but I had just gone through a divorce, was "couch surfing" from house-to-house, & starting graduate school. Okay, so maybe I had been stress eating a little bit, eating more than I really needed, but unhealthy? No. Not possible. "Ms. Barton, may I inquire about your monthly cycle?" "Its great," I said with a shakey voice. I haven't had one for four years. I'm loving not having any cramps, back pain, or PMS. Its like menopause without the hot flashes," I said jokingly. She looked back at me unamused. "Ms. Barton, what I'm about to share with you may sound bizarre, but I need you to hear me." Her voice got low, and she pulled out my blood panel notes. "You are in serious danger of doing damage to certain vital organs if you keep this up." "Keep what up?" I replied with indignation. Saving the animals? Doing good for the world? She didn't know what she was talking about. She was just jealous I didn't have a period. Maybe she was tired of her own menstrual cramps, and projecting on me that I should have them. Who did she think she was anyway? What do doctors know about nutrition? What a bitch.

As silence permeated the room, she said "Can I walk you through what I'm seeing here?" "Fine," I groaned. "But, I need to leave within 20 minutes for a class, so can we please just do this?" "Yes, certainly," she said firmly. "Do you see this number here? It indicates that your cholesterol is so low that you're endocrine system is beginning to go on strike. You're making barely the amount of hormones that we would need to even see a low-end number. This has taken a great toll on your body. I'm concerned certain gynecological processes maybe heading for the point of no return."

205 lbs., vegan, achy joints, migraine headaches, in this picture I had had no monthly cycle for 4 years. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Obesity 1 week after this photo was taken.

"In addition, you're not getting enough protein. Not even by a long shot. This has caused a 'neuro-endocrine response' that has triggered your body into retaining adipose tissue. It believes its starving. Your BMI test indicates you would be in the bracket, for your height and age, in a state of obesity. I realize how strange it must sound, to hear me using the term 'obese' when you eat nothing but 'rabbit food,' but truely, that's what has happened." I grabbed my coat with fury. "Thank you for your time, Dr. As I said, I have a class to get to." With the slam of the treatment room door, and a flushed face I drove off.

(2002) "You know I love you, I'm just not attracted to a woman, well, of your 'body type,' shall we say?" I couldn't believe what I was hearing! What? What did that mean, "body type?" "But, but...I love you so much," I said stuttering, tears streaming down my eyes. "Almine, I want to break up. I feel as if there will be someone out there...(long pause)...more attractive. I'm looking for someone shorter, and skinnier." I felt like I was floating out of my body, watching the scene below me. I was mortified, angry, devastated, embarrassed. I felt as if my world was crashing down around me.

Several months later I found out his new "shorter, skinnier" girlfriend was pregnant with his child. She was still married at the time to her husband of many years. I walked through a maze of hell, day in and day out, as I watched them together in our tiny graduate school program. They would flaunt their new-found status as "couple" together overtly. I was confused as to the level of pain they were willing to cause, not only to themselves, but to each other. She was my study partner in school. He and I had traveled to foreign lands together, had amazing journeys in primitive places, some which, doubtful, had ever been seen by anyone but the indigenous natives. I barely got through that year in school emotionally intact.

Still maintaining 205 lbs. 1 year later. stressed, short of breath, feeling more tired and achy by the week.

Medical programs are intimate. Draping, body-parts, palpation, practicing point location on the body. Its what any medical professional has to go through. I felt emotionally vulnerable and exposed, half-naked next to them for hours on end. So, I ate more to cope with my pain. There was nowhere I could run or hide. I had to hold my head up, and deal. Eating was the only coping mechanism I had. I justified my oversize portions because they were "healthy foods." Still sticking to the cheap bags of brown rice, and gallon buckets of tofu, I would eat two bowls, instead of one. I ate myself through graduate school until I reached 205 lbs.

A Time Of Darkness For Me, Emotional Eating, Energy at Zero, Felt Like I was barely Getting Through Each Day

A week after graduation I woke up to a reflection in the mirror. She looked tired. Her joints ached. She had dark circles under her eyes. She went back to sleep, and slept almost 2 full days straight. She woke up, ate something, and slept for another 24 hrs.

This picture was taken in 2005. I began to feel my soul stir from something deep within myself...

During that sleep, she felt her soul stir. Inside the darkness of that dreamlike cocoon her wings began to feel themselves. Her heart rested. Upon daylight a new creature was born. What had happened during that sleep I may never know. What I do know is this: a new woman emerged. A woman with hope in her heart, and determination in her mind. She has never looked back. Her wings turn different colors every year. The hues stay the same, but the iridescence becomes more brilliant.

I began to feel happy again, 2008

It has been said that a stained glass window only shows its brilliant colors when light is shown through it. We are all like this. The dark moments of our lives are really the greatest gifts. If we can take them, and use them as fuel for our journey, perhaps, we too can shine like the glass in the most beautiful of cathedral windows.

Sierra & I ;-} Sierra was the dearest companion I had for 9 years. She started my journey into camping with her, hiking, and generally being more active. She helped me find my sense of self, alone, in the wilderness. I began to feel unafraid being alone, in the dark, in the woods with her by my side. She allowed me to find a place of fearlessness in the natural world. Sierra passed Jan. 2010. Her passing broke my heart open. So open that it allowed for further journeys along the trails where her ashes are spread.

A lighthouse fulfills its purpose only when its light brings home the weariest of sailors. Until then, it continues to penetrate the darkness, ever constant, maintaining vigilance, providing a beacon of hope to all who see it.

Ice Climbing, Ouray, Co., 2011

My only wish in writing this post is that it may provide some shred of hope for the forlorn, the tired, the grief-stricken. May it provide a ray of light for young women everywhere who long to find their passion, who feel isolated, or not heard.

"Smith Rock State Park," Terrebonne, OR., 2010

I offer to you, snapshots of my life, that they may provide fuel for your journey. That you may provide fuel for others.


  1. Congratulations Almine on overcoming the "darkness". Thanks for sharing your story. I loved it!

  2. You ROCK Almine!!! Thank you for your story . . I know I have mine! And this made me choke up thinking of all the pain and how you overcame it. I COMPLETELY get it and am so proud of you. :-)

  3. Almine- I can sooo relate to ALL of this..thanks for sharing Queen Kung Fu Kitty :)

  4. Good job, Almine! Your energy is inspirational!

  5. I want to start by saying that I am so blessed to know you and have life experiences with you Almine! It was hard for me not to cry reading this because I know exactly, who and what, you are talking about and what you've been through. I have grown up with you in Newport High as well as in adulthood. Part of me wants to blast some of these peeps, but I understand (as well as you do) that these are "wisdom building opportunities." O.K., so I can't help myself! How is it that Ms. "Life" had no life?...communications skills?....Come on! I mean, we were teenagers! She should have been an mentor, an inspiration... Or at the very least, an adequate teacher! I won't comment about the other "counselor" from our high school! I remember your grad college years (post divorce)! And I am glad that we were able to dance it out! Our outlet was dance at that time, and it served you well. Most of all, I am so happy that you have found your real passion in climbing! You've ALWAYS been a climber since you could walk....So, strap on your climbing boots and bellydance with me! I love you sister!!!..

  6. Thanks for your feedback, everybody. Typically my blog takes a "How To" or informative type of format (sports nutrition, exercise, wellness topics, etc.). This month, though, in honor of mentoring the start of the "FOOTZONE" Learn To Run program, here in Bend, I wanted to give all the new runners/speed walkers hope that they CAN do their first 5k. ;)

  7. Almine,
    I remembered that you had a blog and read your inspirational life stories. Thank you for sharing! You are an inspiration to people of all ages and a role model to younger kids. Wow! I'm so happy for you, that you have overcome these challenges in your life and you are healthy, vital and beautiful goddess!
    Much Love,

  8. Amazing! So happy you emerged from your cocoon and are now enjoying life!

  9. Thank you so much for writing this story. I cried, smiled and cheered for you. You are an inspiration.