Imperfect, Lovable Me

Have you ever wondered exactly what it is that your friends see in you? Let’s find out for sure, shall we? Hand your favorite friend a pen and a piece of paper and ask this person to paint your honest portrait using only descriptive words. But first, let me issue this disclaimer: neither Nadine Kerstan nor Artisan Nutrition may be held responsible for any hurt feelings, misunderstandings or fist fights that ensue between the parties should this exercise go terribly, terribly wrong.

My best friend, Christina, recently painted me in these eight words: thoughtful, kind, compassionate, intelligent, passionate, precise, perfectionist, foodie. This is the essence of who I am according to Christina. I admire her portrait of me because it is both loving and realistic. I particularly appreciate that she included the words compassionate and perfectionist because these personal qualities do live side by side within my psyche, yet they are not always at peace. In fact, if I am to be completely truthful, I’d have to admit that they are oftentimes at war. Sure, I have vast stores of compassion for my family, friends, neighbors, strangers and animals, but being a lifelong perfectionist means that sometimes I have a harder time extending that same tenderness toward myself.

It was almost one year ago at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s annual live conference that Geneen Roth, an inspirational speaker and gem of an author who tackles the subjects of eating and living well, gave a lecture that touched me very deeply. During her lecture she wondered how many people within earshot of her voice were really and truly lavishing themselves with exquisite kindness. Something about her choice of words resonated with me and set my brain wheels into motion. Am I lavishing exquisite kindness upon myself, I wondered? Is that even allowed, let alone recommended? Here was a head scratcher that would require some serious soul searching.

My dedicated and well-intended parents raised me to work hard (mostly in the academic arena) for the sole sake of hard work, and the holiness that resided in the exertion and suffering was itself the reward. The hard work was not attached to any specific, desired outcome that my parents had for me. It simply was a way of life for my family and it set me up for a tendency toward perfectionism that ate away, little by little, at my joie de vivre. Playing hard, nurturing comfort, or luxuriating in the simple good fortune that was ours was somehow out of the reach of my family. That type of ease and contentment was reserved for other people who had more money, fewer responsibilities and weren’t perpetually standing under a rain cloud. But still, I longed for the unattainable. I desperately craved sunshine, softness, air uncluttered and unsaturated with fear and worry. I would have benefitted deeply from being lavished with exquisite kindness but it hadn’t yet occurred to me to seek it within myself, and my Self had no idea at that point how to provide its own comfort.

Then, all of a sudden, I was an adult and I could choose my own fortune. What a gift, and at the same time, what a confusing prospect! So, what does a girl coming out of a long period of deprivation do? First she spends almost four months in Italy studying the language, soaking up the culture, eating insanely delicious food, enjoying Italian boyfriends and buying lots and lots of shoes. I still have many of them in my closet, by the way…the shoes, that is…not the Italian boyfriends. My husband won’t let me keep them in the house. I have them outside in the garage, instead. They really come in handy on Mondays when I come home with a big Farmigo order. They aim to please and won’t let me lift a single finger! Grazie, Gianluca, Marcello, Fabrizio. Really, you guys are just troppo gentile. But I digress. Now where was I? Oh, yes. I spent some time in Italy and when I came home, much less deprived than before, I headed almost immediately for Bliss NYC, a cushy day spa where I could relax and settle in to my new adult life. At Bliss, like any good spa, it is possible to spoil and pamper oneself for a tidy sum, and spoil myself I did, Gentle Reader. I had facials, massages, spent time over the next few summers in Europe. I worked at a responsible job and led a responsible life in between, but I was having some serious fun! I was making up for lost time and bestowing upon myself the kindness I believed I deserved. It wasn’t the deeper kind of self-love I needed, but it sufficed.

 There was just one teensy weensy problem which was the several thousand dollars’ worth of credit card debt that I somehow managed to rack up and was ever so slowly starting to pay down. I was all lit up inside, though, despite my debt because I was finally living the carefree life I desired. Around this time, the Universe sent me a gift…an adorable human gift whom I loved and married. This sweet man, without complaint, paid off my credit card debt and just asked me, pretty please, not to do that again. I couldn’t! Once we got married, it was time to get serious and start saving for a house and plan for a family. You parents out there will understand that once you are blessed with a child, life changes and your needs are no longer a top priority. You walk around like a loving, devoted zombie for a couple of years trying to figure out how you can cook, eat, clean the house and spend a bit of couple time with your spouse all during the hallowed two and a half hours each day known as Nap Time since that’s the only child-free time you ever have. When do you find time to develop a practice of relaxation and lavish yourself with exquisite kindness? The answer is plain and simple. You don’t. And if you’re anything like us, you decide to become loving and devoted zombies for a second time so that you can build your family.

My body, mind and spirit noticed the imbalanced nature of this lifestyle and it started to feel depleted. I was tired and wired, eating too much sugar and the perfectionist in me wanted to be supermom and super homemaker. The house was clean. I baked cakes and made homemade play dough. I looked slim, fit and relaxed (I think), but inside I was wiped out and my battery needed serious recharging. My solution, after several years without any break or relief, was to join a gym that had recently opened and take advantage of all the amenities it had to offer. It was a resort-like facility with free onsite childcare, saunas, a eucalyptus steam room and classes galore. It became my oasis…a haven where I could start to replenish and nurture myself. Soon I realized that I wanted to start eating the most gorgeous food the planet had to offer and thus a self-care routine began.

Seven years later I continue to work on cutting myself some slack. Christina is right. I am still a perfectionist, but that’s OK. I have learned to trust myself and tune into my own opinions, intuition and desires. I have become skilled at taking “expert” advice with a grain of salt and relying on my own gut instincts. I often feel surprise and delight at how brave I really am. I finally have the time to get to know myself, and becoming a health coach has provided me with the skills and desire to do so. I am enormously proud of the woman I’ve become and that pride and confidence has enabled me to lighten up a bit, feel genuine gratitude for my beautiful life and treat myself to the love I deserve. Fortunately I get tons of love from my family, but now I can also generate and sustain my very own brand of organic, local and artisanal self-love.

I’m a masterpiece in progress. I’ll be tinkering with this ridiculous, fun, fulfilling, crazy Nadine project for the rest of my life. It’s a labor of love and I can’t think of a person more deserving of exquisite kindness and attention. Although, come to think of it, there is just one other person out there equally deserving of tender loving care, and that, my friend, is you! So, find an extra pen and paper and while you’re waiting for your pal to render your portrait, create your own loving tribute to the characteristics that set you apart from a crowd. And when you’re all finished, send it to me because honestly, I can’t wait to read it!