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Dear Cracker Barrel


A West Coast Girl Meets a Southern Dining Staple: A Love Story

by Darrah Belle


Thirty-something years ago, I was born in the San Fernando Valley suburb of Encino. Aside from moving to New England for two years in my early-twenties, I’ve lived in Los Angeles my whole life. Not unlike Sarah Jessica Parker’s rendition of a single New Yorker obsessed with her city, I’d take a baseball bat to anybody who had negative stuff to say about my hometown. That being said, I can and do deconstruct it quite frequently.

About eight years ago, I was hit with a flash fever of interest in the South, after writing a review of wine heiress Linda Mondavi’s Atlanta spa, 29 Spa at the Mansion on Peachtree. That flash fever spread and became a total-body obsession with all things Southern.

When I think of the South, I think of Cracker Barrel, a famous casual family restaurant with an adjoining “Old Country Store” not unlike the general stores you saw as a kid on “Little House on the Prairie,” where local folks got goods on a tab. Cracker Barrel is a place you might see Dixie Carter choosing an Easter dress for her grandchild.

When I think of the South, I also think of their famed southern hospitality, fanciful southern belles, and culture of kindness, shabby-chic décor, strong sense of patriotism, national pride, and stubborn streak. It is a vastly different place from anything I’ve known.

With eyes as wide—and molasses slow—as a Savannah, Georgia yawn I observe judgeless and from a distance, ways of life totally foreign from mine: hunting, fishing, wearing fur, barbecue and political conservatism. I appreciate that most men there who identify strongly with their masculinity are using their hands daily. Men drive trucks to haul stuff, not to raise the rims. Driving in Nashville, taking in the gorgeous Vanderbilt campus, you’ll see many references to a unified sense of Christian faith, something Los Angeles prides itself on not having.

The South is a hodgepodge of interesting people and things that leave me feeling all warm, buzzy, comforted, wholesome, quirky, and curious.

For the last couple years, I’ve visited at least two southern states each year. Last year, I visited San Antonio, Texas and Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee (Nashville has become an annual tradition). This year, I hope to visit North Carolina and South Carolina, having already enjoyed Nashville earlier this summer.

It’s hard to believe but I only just discovered Cracker Barrel in 2015. It was a fateful day, when my partner drove us into the parking lot one rainy night after a long travel day in Texas. I told him I’d wait in the car. It was late, plus I don’t like eating when I’m wet. He was adamant that I’d love the place.

Begrudgingly, I gathered my scarf and hat and coat and pride and lagged far behind in the giant parking lot until I reached the restaurant’s front porch. Outside most Cracker Barrel’s, visitors are greeted by two-dozen oversize wood rocking chairs that sit aside several small tables adorned with checkers games. Quaintly, the checkerboard is made of a rug!

I felt like I’d maybe fallen down a velvet-lined gingham-print rabbit hole. “WHAT!?” I exclaimed.

A smile stretched across his face.

Like Goldilocks, I began testing each rocking chair to find the one that was jusssst right. They even had tiny doll-size ones for toddlers that fit my little daughter perfectly! He had to drag me inside. When you enter Cracker Barrel, there is a ubiquitous sign in the foyer alluding to their welcome policy.


After paying $2M in 2006 to end a lawsuit, this sign and its message were added to every store and menu

A little history on Cracker Barrel: Founded in 1969 by Danny Evins, its first store was in Lebanon, Tennessee, which remains the company’s headquarters. Its name references old-time country stores where people played checkers atop barrels used to carry crackers and other wares. The chain’s stores were at first positioned near Interstate Highway exits in the Southeastern and Midwestern US, but it has expanded across the country. As of 2012, there are 639 stores in 43 states.

Controversies (why that sign exists): During the 1990s, the company was the subject of controversy for its official stance against gay and lesbian employees and for discriminatory practices against African American and female employees. A US Department of Justice investigation found that Cracker Barrel discriminated against minority customers; patrons complained of racially segregated seating and service quality. In an agreement with the USDOJ, Cracker Barrel has implemented non-discrimination policies and pledged to focus on improving minority representation and civic involvement, particularly in the black community.

In early 1991, an intra-company memo called for employees to be dismissed if they did not display “normal heterosexual values.” It was reversed two months later and in 2002 sexual orientation was added to the company’s sexual discrimination policy.

Reparations: The terms of the 2006 lawsuit included new equal opportunity training; the creation of a new system to log, investigate, and resolve complaints of discrimination; and the publicizing of its non-discrimination policies.

Since the early 2000s, Cracker Barrel has provided training and resources to minority employees. As of 2002, minorities made up 23 percent of the company’s employees, including over 11 percent of its management and executives.

The company has been praised for its gender diversity, particularly on its board of directors. Three of its 11 members are women. CEO, Sandra Cochran, is the second woman in Tennessee to hold that office in a publicly traded company.

Part of the reason I mention all of this is because I’ve been told more than a few times by Angelenos that Cracker Barrel is “racist.” That the South is “racist.” That me flirting with moving there = turning a blind eye to a checkered history much dirtier than the games innocently displayed outside their stores.


When I was younger, I was a militant vegetarian. A staunch feminist. A persuasive liberal. A “progressive.”

I considered myself “tolerant” and yet, I was quite intolerant of anybody who disagreed with me. I remember penning an essay in my psych class about how much I hated intolerance. My teacher noted my hypocrisy.

I bring this up because my own politics have changed since having a child and living a more “straight” life. I stopped being a cookie cutter pro-choice, pro-gay, anti-Republican feminist and I started thinking, policy by policy, situation by situation about the world as it presented itself to me. I stopped being predictable.

In this process, I’ve come to realize how truly intolerant I’ve been to people who live differently than me. While flaring up like a rash at protesters outside a gay and lesbian rally, I failed to see how I was part of the problem. I failed to see that I was the other side of that intolerant coin.

Now, I look at it like this. How can I ask conservatives to “accept” my life choices, if I don’t accept theirs? How can I ask people to stop trying to change me when I am trying to change them?

I have no idea how they were raised, what they believe and why, what a day in their life looks like, really, or why they are pro-Military, for example. Why they are pro-life, for example. Why their religion is so engrained in their culture and family and community, not unlike the way driving a luxury car in a designer dress to a movie premiere is a spiritual experience to an Angeleno.

I believed in my self-righteousness for so long that it blinded me.

What does this have to do with Cracker Barrel? While I can’t stand behind discrimination, obviously, what I can get behind is change. Transformation. What I can support is strong roots that allow the trees to sway. When I was a feminist, I wanted everything and everybody to change yesterday. After all, they had been wrong for so long! What I didn’t take into consideration was that everybody didn’t and couldn’t think like me. Whether age, geography, religion, nationality, life experience or simply different mindsets came into play, I wasn’t always going to win.

Something happened when I took a step back and began looking at life through a different lens. Yes, I can still be an activist. Yes, I can still protest, fundraise, spread awareness on social media, curate conversations, write blog posts, and engage friends and family in dialogue about politics and gender issues, but I don’t have to convince anybody of anything and I can keep my views to myself sometimes! I don’t have to “save” the world.

Another point to mention is that there is a reverence for others and their unique passageway through life that comes along with true tolerance. I actually learn so much more when I shut my mouth and listen.


Me and my sleepy angel outside Cracker Barrel

Visiting Iowa in 2011, I went to the Iowa State Fair where prized livestock are fawned over like satin gloves at Bloomies. Normally, I would never enter a gigantic room with caged animals I knew were about to die. It would be too much for me and I’d no doubt lecture whoever owned these animals and probably get kicked out.

That day, though, I decided to experience the Midwest as natives do. I watched these heaving, dehydrated, visibly exhausted and miserable pigs laid flat in small pens and I offered my love to the pigs without judgment of their owners. I recognized that I could not end animal slaughter that summer day in Iowa.

I spoke at length with a dairy farmer about her treatment of cows, unable to help myself from asking about the ethics of their entrapment. What I saw was that she was kinder to these animals that any vegan has ever been to me. These cows were harmonious. I wasn’t going to change her mind. She didn’t have to change mine. But she did open it.


For these reasons, I can eat at Cracker Barrel with a clean conscience. Because I respect the South. I don’t have to agree with everything that happens there to love it.

So, let’s get back to my first time at Cracker Barrel!

At each table, you can happily play peg solitaire. This particular peg solitaire board has a snarky rating system. So, while you await the complimentary cornbread and biscuits you find out whether:

  • One Peg = You’re a Genius
  • Two Pegs = You’re Pretty Smart
  • Three Pegs = You’re Just Average
  • Four Pegs or More = Just Plain Dumb



I NEVER get less than two pegs. I’ll settle for “pretty smart,” I guess. (Unless anybody knows how to WIN this game?)


Before getting wound up about losing, and just before my sweetie dials up a cheat sheet on his iPhone, the food comes!


As a pescetarian (I eat fish and the rest of me is a vegetarian, hence pescetarian!) my favorite pick off the Fancy Fixin’s menu is the Grilled Rainbow Trout. It comes with baby carrots and steak fries. I love getting the vegetarian vegetable soup first as an appetizer. If I haven’t stuffed my face with too many bottomless biscuits, then I can actually enjoy my meal.


Lemon Pepper Grilled Rainbow Trout–Off the Fancy Fixin’s Menu!

There’s a summer menu, that includes:


Campfire Grilled Chicken and Veggie Dinner with Baby Carrots, Potatoes & Corn on the Cob


Peach cobbler is my dessert of choice


Carrot cake is really scrumptious, too!

Cracker Barrel serves traditional Southern cuisine, ie: Comfort Food!


Their seasonal menu includes pumpkin spice pancakes!

On the way out, I perused the Old Country Store and picked out some cute eyelet dresses for Daisy, and snagged a few scented candles, cutesy signs and picked up a Blake Shelton CD. We returned two more times—that week.


So far, I’ve visited Cracker Barrel’s in: Texas, Arizona, Tennessee, Nevada, and Utah. What I love so much is that it is like being transported into a different era, a different time in space, a different stage is set and I am nowhere near Los Angeles. It’s not uncommon to hear guests speaking about God, about family, about tradition, about local gatherings, about church, about the Old Country Store and what’s in it that day, about their food (without mention of fat or calories).

It’s for those reasons and so many more, not the least of which are the local relics and old time black & white photos of the owner’s family pinned to the wall, that I enjoy being transported to an unfamiliar, yet achingly fulfilling locale. And I’ll never apologize for it. Not when it’s compared to Denny’s (seriously, people?) or when it’s called out on its past. (God knows, I have my own past.)


Having fun at Cracker Barrel!

Cracker Barrel is like that one friend who you just can’t get mad at. When you look at her all you see is her beauty and how fun she is, and all of the shit she did wrong before just melts away. Like that time in the Nashville location by the Opryland Hotel, when the woman bussing our table threw a handful of napkins in my face. I just smile to myself. Maybe she was having a bad day.

That’s how Cracker Barrel has taught me true tolerance. Through my stomach.


Darrah Le Montre is a writer and journalist and devoted mom. Her work has been published by Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, The Fix and nudie blog SuicideGirls.

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How Dealing With Change Changes As You Get Older

change-good-now-how-get-employeesChange is an inevitable part of life. We lose jobs, move away from our childhood home, break hearts, make new friends, break more hearts, graduate and flutter out of the nest. Sometimes, all by the time we’re in our late teens!

But how we treat ourselves and others changes as we shed old skin and adopt (hopefully!) better, more mature and more ethical life practices.

When I moved away from home the day I turned eighteen, I was completely gripped by the stronghold of a full-on methamphetamine addiction. My relationship with my parents was wrought with metaphorical termites, who had gnawed at the foundation for so long, it was collapsing before our eyes. And we were seemingly helpless to stop it. I was a scared, lost, confused, addicted teen and my folks were two survivors in their own rights, who had never put their own Humpty Dumpty’s back together again. They did their best, I guess, but never learned how to parent four children well enough so that they weren’t fleeing–first chance they got–at the sight of another, more promising structure.

The “more promising structure” was my then-boyfriend’s mother’s rented two-bedroom apartment in Canoga Park, California.

In fact, there my boyfriend stood, brown-skinned and stoned while I swirled like a whirling dervish, balmy, clammy, pupils dilated, mind racing, heart outpacing it, hopping up and down the stairs looking for a canister of protein powder. I was fixating on this food item that I most likely threw out with the hundred dollar bill my mom found in the junk pile of my bedroom. I had started packing at midnight and by 2 in the afternoon on the day of my birth plus 18 years, I was ready to conquer the world! If only I could find that fucking protein powder!

My mother spent the evening attempting to rile up my father enough to stop me (that was never going to happen—he wanted us kids to leave since we were young). So she cried. In that ugly tan leather chair with her legs swirled up on the ugly tan ottoman whose brass buttons left indents in your legs and she looked sick.

“Do you see what you’re doing to your mother?” My father asked, trying to sneak in one last jab before I left. One last trip to Guilt and Manipulation Island, where he owned a massive chunk of land.

“I’m not angry at what you’re doing,” my mother interjected. “I’m angry at how you’re doing it.”

aliceI’ve never fully understood what she meant but I’ve never forgotten her saying it.

Was there a kinder, more generous, more grateful way that I could’ve moved out of the house? Of course. Firstly, I could have done it on a day that wasn’t my birthday. If only for the cake alone!

But we make choices, often times, with the set of tools we have at the time we make the choice. Simple as that. And knowing that enables me to have compassion for people who wrong me and trespass my boundaries over and over again, like my parents have to this day.

Our choices affect our changes. My ability to handle change has improved so much since I was that little girl, aimless and scared to the bone. Even though I thought I knew everything back then (ha ha) I’ve had the good fortune of unlearning many lies and societal untruths. I’ve been able to discover for myself what feels right. What fits in the puzzle of my soul. By taking intentional and devoted time for myself, I’ve become a better version of myself, earned self-respect, healed wounds and even gained the respect of others, which means so much!

Before attending 12-step programs I crumbled in the face of uncertainty and drama. In fact, my life was wrought with drama.

Conflict was so difficult for me to confront that I would often times lie or disappear or accept other people’s versions of what I had done.

Other people’s realities became my reality because I wasn’t solid enough in my own life and I didn’t know what my truths were or how to express them.

It was fight or flight mode all the time. Unable to de-escalate a situation or even explain myself, I found myself turning mole hills into mountains. Minuscule interactions became fights. I heard myself lie more times than I’d like to admit. Situations were black or white. Relationships were on or off and my heart was open or closed.

Again, our choices affect our changes. I quit jobs without having another job to replace it. I slept with somebody without even discussing what our future would be. I gossiped relentlessly about people that I cared about. I would ask for advice when I knew the answer because I didn’t want to face my own inner truths. Despite making Cardinal Rules, I encroached on my own boundaries and did what I wanted even though the consequences brought shame and darkness into my life.

I lived a reckless and self sabotaging life and I left a whirlwind of wreckage in my wake. This is not a good way to collect people who care about you. In fact, people were somewhat disposable to me because I was somewhat disposable to myself.

I think the opposite of demons is grace. “There but for the grace of God go I.”

she+wears+her+demons+with+graceBecause my third-eye was not open and my spiritual practice was unclear, change affected me in a radical way. Especially when I wasn’t the one initiating the change! And because change was so scary, I often initiated change in a haphazard and clumsy way, negatively affecting those around me.

Without excuse, I admit, I’m a work in progress and it has taken me awhile to realize that I have value and others have value, whether they can help me or not. We are all intrinsically linked and it is important—now as much as ever—to remember that we are spiritual creatures here on this earth despite our skin color or our ability to understand our effect on other people.

Time is a great healer and it’s also a great truth teller, as Katy Perry might attest to.

When we get to know ourselves better and with the natural course of time, how we approach change (both self-engineered and not) changes.

When you’re younger, you burn bridges, break bonds and try to bury your past mistakes in favor of a more manicured version of reality.

But as you grow older you realize that life is a continuum. You *will* see people you have wronged. You can make amends. You can turn down the drama several notches and view change in a more positive light. You can cultivate change into a more positive experience, filled with hopefulness and faith.

If you’re lucky, towns are small, memories are short, and hearts are big. Keep the good people close and watch magic grow where once there was only ashes.

…Follow Your Bliss xoxo

“She Wears Her Demons with Grace” sketch by:

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Darrah Le Montre is a writer and journalist and devoted mom. Her work has been published by Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, The Fix and nudie blog SuicideGirls.

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FROZEN: A Story About Fertility

rena-strober-egg-789x526Guest writer Rena Strober on freezing her eggs and starting a conversation


[Editor’s note: With Nora Ephron-esque comedic flair, Rena Strober takes heart-wrenching choices and makes them funny! There are many ways to be a mother and various avenues into motherhood. This week, Strober lets us witness her unfolding journey. Enjoy!]

By Rena Strober

Another Mothers’ Day has come and gone. What did I get for this holiday celebrating motherhood? Nothing. It was just another day when I didn’t receive anything from my six frozen eggs, tucked comfortably in a fertility freezer in Encino. I don’t mean to sound needy, but I do check in on them from time to time, and I have made sure they’re sung to sleep to the Frozen soundtrack four times a week. And I do pay their rent! A little gratitude isn’t too much to ask for, is it?

Technically, I’m not a mother of children, but I like to consider myself a mother of other things: I mother my career, I mother a basil plant I recently bought at Trader Joe’s and I mother that spider I didn’t kill in my shower on Tuesday. Instead I let him remain on the empty bottle of body wash where I assume he was reading about the all-natural ingredients. Only a good mother would offer organic body wash. And his life.

But over the past few years, the pang of wanting to mother a child hits me multiple times a week. It hits me as I teach seven-year-old children to sing. It hits me at 4:54 AM when I’m up contemplating all my life’s choices. And it definitely hits me when my niece asks “Auntie Rena, why don’t you have kids?” (Why are kids so honest!?)

Two years ago, I had been sitting in LA traffic when NPR aired a show featuring a book about women in their 30s who were dating the wrong men and rushing motherhood before they were ready. I pulled my car over next to the La Brea Tar Pits and listened intently to every word. I was in my mid-30s; I always knew NPR was for liberals like me, but this time I felt like Terry Gross was talking directly to me.

A girl from my weekly Happy Hour group is the anesthesiologist for a well-known fertility doctor; after three $5 glasses of Chardonnay one night, she told me it was time. The next day I made an appointment with Dr. Boostenfar at HRC Fertility. Mostly because his name made me giggle, but I had also heard amazing things about him.

What’s worse than a first date from JDate? An initial evaluation with a fertility specialist. I bit my nails and picked my polish off because of nerves. What if I found out I can’t have kids, that my eggs are already fried and the only way to enjoy them is in a breakfast burrito? I feared that, although people assume I’m 27, my insides are truer to my real age. Which is, let’s just say, higher.

So I did what I could do: I made sure I looked extra young that day. On my way to the doctor, I listened to the Disney Pandora station and belted out “Part of Your World” (from “The Little Mermaid”) and “Chim Chimminy” (from “Mary Poppins”); I pulled my hair into a pony tail, put on an ironic hip t-shirt from Los Feliz and grabbed pink lip gloss from CVS. Maybe my outsides could trick my insides into looking younger too.

“Wow, you don’t look your age, Rena,” the doctor commented before the exam. “But let’s get in there and see how healthy you are and if you’re a candidate for egg freezing.”

I never thought I’d never find a position more uncomfortable than first date sex but then I had my first ultrasound…without the dinner and drinks. My robe was shapeless and opened in the front, my legs were spread in the most ungraceful position and this “nice doctor” was in no way looking for a “nice Jewish girl.”

After poking around a lot, Dr. B. spoke. “Oh, actually, you look your age on the inside.” What was he doing, counting the rings? Ok, this dose of reality – that although I could act and dress younger, my reproductive organs would tell their own story – shot me into panic mode. “I want to do this, and do this as soon as possible,” I realized. We scheduled my procedure for three weeks later.

The hardest thing to swallow about this whole process was the ”egg-surance” – the extraction and the storage is not cheap, and as an actor in LA, I didn’t have thousands of extra dollars sitting in a savings account. But I did have plenty of chutzpah.

The most expensive part of the process is paying for the medication: $4,000 for the hormones and shots. And so, I turned to the network of women I had collected over the years.

I put together an email telling my personal story of wanting to be a mother but not being in the right place in my life to do it. I spoke of egg freezing and how it has come so far. I then asked that if anyone had leftover fertility medication or knew anyone who had recently been through IVF and that I would trade a personal song and/or latte for whatever drugs they had.

What happened next was nothing short of a Hannukah miracle. The 25 emails turned into 50 which turned into 250, forwarded around the country. All of a sudden I was getting emails from strangers, women who connected to my story and wanted to help.

The next weekend I set out with a Starbucks card and and open heart and made my way around Los Angeles collecting needles, Follistum, Menopur and even alcohol pads. Each door I knocked on led to 20 minutes of honest chat with women about their fertility experiences. Some of these amazing women found success – we talked as a baby sat on the floor next to us. Others never got pregnant but were happy to share their leftover drugs with me. It was a beautiful, deep, feminine bond like none I’ve ever known.

Two weeks later I started with the shots; six days after that, I had six little eggs gently removed from my ovaries and placed in a freezer in Encino.

For the past two Mothers’ Days, as I ordered roses for my own mom, I sat and thought about my eggs– my tiny chances or ”Olafs,” as I like to call them – sitting in a freezer and waiting for the thaw.

Perhaps I’ll use them soon, or maybe they’ll remain frozen forever. But either way, I feel so good about my decision. And beyond my personal experience and because of it, I believe now more than ever that it’s time that fertility and the advances in modern reproductive science become part of our daily conversation. If nothing else, it brings women closer together and for that I am grateful.

This story first appeared at Grok Nation.
MG_7738Rena Strober is a native New Yorker currently living and working in Los Angeles. She made her Broadway debut in Les Miserables and went on to perform on and Off-Broadway for a decade. Some shows included Fiddler on the Roof, Beauty & The Beast, Reefer Madness, Bat Boy and more. She is currently recurring on Disney’s “Liv & Maddie” and has guest starred on “Shameless,” “The Big Bang Theory” and “Adult Swim.” Rena is also well known for her voice work on Disney’s “Penn Zero,” “Ever After High,” “Sailor Moon” and dozens of video games including Fire Emblem Fates, Republique and Zero Escape. When she’s not working as an actor, Rena teaches voice at the Academy of Music for the Blind and is their director of Outreach. Learn more about Rena at: Follow her on Twitter.

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You’re Only As Sick As Your Secrets


What Is Privacy In This No-Privacy New World?

By Darrah Le Montre

I grew up in a family that said, “I love you,” a lot. Everyday. I love you was a truth, an apology, an afterthought, a team drill and an aside. My idea of love was so skewed for so long. Despite being told I was loved, I was also yelled at, ridiculed, hit, neglected and my voice and needs were diminished.

There are many adages in program that help me. “Easy Does It”, “One Day At A Time,” “This Too Shall Pass,” but the one most reflective of my adolescent life and my years as an addict is this one: You’re Only As Sick As Your Secrets.

I grew up in a family that was hyper-private and there were many secrets. Because of the unhealthiness and addictions, the way our family presented itself to the public versus what was really going on in the inner dynamic were two very different things.

In my recovery from eating disorders and drug addiction, I came to know that we are only as sick as our secrets.

My older sister recently wrote to me out of the blue and asked me to limit what I write about her in my essays on this blog. Unfortunately, I’m only able to do that within the confines of what would put her in danger—as I won’t censor myself. I made that decision a long time ago.

As a result of her request, I have to walk the fine line of trying to make a compassionate decision toward her while also respecting my own needs (which were rarely acknowledged or met in my alcoholic home). I also have to be certain I’m not trying to control her or get back at her for things that happened when we were kids.

I am currently crafting a response back to let her know that part of my healing process is writing about my experience in our home. Now, this is from my point of view, obviously. As we all know, there is our perspective, the other person’s perspective and the truth. I don’t kid myself to think I remember things exactly as they were. Only as I am.

The letter from her got me thinking… while I don’t want her to have anxiety or uneasiness about what I write, I can’t make the promise that she wants. And I don’t feel it’s selfish, I feel it’s evolved. It’s a tough decision on my part.

Part of the reason I feel confidently about telling her ‘no’ is because of my own process of releasing my attachment to how I feel about how other people feel about me. Another slogan in program is “What other people think about you is none of your business.” I’ve intentionally surrendered so much around what I’m OK with people saying or knowing about me. In fact, I’d rather be the one to just lay down the cards and admit “these are the things I’ve done” and thus others don’t have the power over me to reveal seeming secrets. Fearlessness is a powerful tool. Being unafraid of judgment is dynamic.

In an effort to put my money where my mouth is… The two most embarrassing acts I did while in my speed addiction are: I went to the bathroom next to a tree at a public park during the middle of the day in plain view of passersby. 2) I changed my pad in the passenger seat of my then-boyfriend’s truck at a gas station in front of his cousin.

These memories make me feel a mixture of sheer horror and odd reverence. I was so fucked up I just didn’t give AF. I was also in a weird space of irreverence about the world. I was angsty and young (eighteen) and rebellious and pushing the limits on acceptable behavior.

But, I’d rather you hear it from me than an old drug buddy!

In a way, I feel lucky that I grew up in an era predating social media. The lessons my daughter will learn will be steeper in some ways because everything is recorded for a sick kind of humiliating and fraternal posterity now. There are no photos or videos or Snapchat’s of me pissing aside a tree. But, there are memories that grow fecund in the vacuum of our minds, and I suppose, sometimes that’s even more dangerous.

I know that my teenage and early-20s drug addiction and eating disorders were a result, in part, of my formative years and the home I grew up in. For better or for worse, my parent’s choices affected my three siblings and me. So did my choices. My behavior and repeated choice to use drugs and run around with shady people was difficult for my parents. I have compassion for them.

In a way, I wouldn’t mind if my mother wrote about what it was like to have a teenage drug addict living in her home. At least I would feel seen. I would feel she was processing through an important chapter in our shared lives. I would feel like it actually happened. But, she is still in her own addictions. And if she did write something, I fear it would be in spite and I would not be handled with kid gloves.

And, I guess that’s what we all want. To be treated with gentleness. So I will do the best I can with my sister, while still maintaining my boundaries. After all, I’ve learned to treat myself with the softness that I always wanted. And to allow people into my life who will treat me with fragility. Not because I’m weak. Because I’m strong enough to admit that I need love to be a verb and not just something you are told before bedtime.

…Follow Your Bliss xoxo

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RELATED: Saying Goodbye To My Eating Disorder

RELATED: This Is What Dating An Alcoholic Is Like

RELATED: From Sex Addict to Monogamous Mom: A love junkie finds true love


Darrah Le Montre is a writer and journalist and devoted mom. Her work has been published by Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, The Fix and nudie blog SuicideGirls.

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Saying Goodbye to My Eating Disorder


Written By: Darrah Belle

Edited By: Megan Granger

When I was eight or nine years old, my mother and older sister were cleaning out the refrigerator when Mom stumbled on a box of éclairs from a deli near our Tarzana house. She called out to me. I bounded into the kitchen and took note of her outstretched hands, the pink box resting atop her lily-white fingers. Those hands gave me everything I needed and many things I didn’t.

“These are old,” she said, in that critical but questioning tone she’d mastered. “Want any?”

The implication was that I should say no.

I said, “Sure!”

What happened next was something I’d never experienced before and certainly wouldn’t again in front of anybody. I started wolfing down the chocolate and cream and wet dough like a hungry savage beast. The more I ate, the less satisfied I felt and the more I sought to fill that insatiable void. My fingers were gooey, my mouth obscured by chocolate icing. I was in a zombielike trance, unaware of the peering eyes burning holes into my wild disembodied young self.

“Darrah!” my mother finally exclaimed. I froze. I looked up. The ultra-judgmental and shocked gazes of both my sister and my mother met my eyes. I snapped out of whatever ferocious haze I’d just been in and ran into my bedroom, mortified.

About a year later, I began acting. I begged my parents to let me act. In fact, I scribbled on a piece of paper, If I don’t act, I’ll die!!!!!!! and showed it to them. My mother hastily exclaimed, “Oh, god forbid! Bite your tongue. And stop being so dramatic! Go wash your hands for dinner.”

It always frustrated me when my parents told me I was too dramatic—both because being an actress seemed a fitting occupation for a drama queen and because it allowed them to take no responsibility when I had an emotional reaction to my father’s verbal abuse.

My Grandfather & I

My Grandfather & I

I began my short-lived acting career in regional musical theater at a dance studio in Encino. The studio offered a summer performing arts camp called “Paradise.” I snagged the role of Annie in Annie and Frenchie in Grease. (They changed her named to Bubbles to remove any allusion to French kissing. We were ten or eleven, after all. . . .)

I first felt the pressure to diet around that time. I was always about ten pounds overweight—not enough to be considered fat but enough to be seen as having “baby fat” or be called chubby. My mother and aunt were and are perpetually dieting. My mom is still complaining about her weight. She’s semiretired and has miraculously birthed four children from that body (which, at five foot five, has never weighed more than 140 pounds). There’s no use in arguing. She insists she’s fat.

My mother suggested I lose ten pounds before the play. I asked, “How?” She told me to eat mostly fruits and veggies and only what she gave me, nothing else, which meant no more of my favorite food pairing: potato salad and Cup O’ Noodles. I told her I didn’t want to do that.

“Well, you won’t lose weight then,” she said.

“I don’t want to lose weight,” I said.

It turned out that three hours of jazz, tap, and ballet, and voice lessons several times a week were enough to melt away those pesky pounds. But after the summer I regained them.

In grade school, I was sort of a latchkey kid. The youngest of four children, I was impossibly close to my mother. Unfortunately, she worked full-time out of the house to help pay the bills while my father worked at home, nonstop, and couldn’t stand us. He was irritable and angry most of the time and always seemed on the verge of a total breakdown.

I’ve always been forgetful. I repeatedly forgot my house key, and though my dad was often running work-related errands (he sold tropical fish and reptiles) he was more often home and didn’t want to deal with his kids. I can’t count how many times I played alone in the backyard for hours at the end of my fourth-grade school day. He wouldn’t answer the front door even if he was home. Sometimes he would stand at the screen door and chastise me for forgetting my key. “How many times have I told you to remember your key? Why is it so hard to take your key in the morning? Stay out there! You’ll learn!”

I’d jump on the swing that he’d put up between two trees. It slanted to the left when I kicked my legs out and sent me levitating over the barbeque, the crank on the grill hitting and bruising my bare legs. I figured he’d done that on purpose.

There was a hollow tree stump in our backyard that I used to pee in.

By seventh grade I was out of my awkward phase and dying to be popular. I woke up super early the first day of junior high school and foraged through Seventeen for tips on making new friends. I was destined to be popular. I had to be popular. I would be popular. By any means necessary.

Pippi Longstocking for Halloween

Pippi Longstocking for Halloween

Regardless, I was a total geek in seventh grade, and during the summer I did geeky things like ride my bike and play with the neighborhood kids.

When I hit thirteen, not unlike the girls in the movie Thirteen, I was suddenly confronted with boobs, attention, and opportunities—boys, sex, weed, backstabbing friends, and bat mitzvah season.

While it should have been fun and festive, bat mitzvah season ended up being a hypercompetitive stretch wherein girls trashed each other’s dresses and compared cleavage and period start dates.


I didn’t have good ways to process all the feelings I was having. My grandmother was dying of AIDS from a botched blood transfusion she’d received in 1982. My mother’s drinking problem had become obvious to even casual observers. My father threw outrageous public fits. My brothers, who served as occasional buffers to the madness, were soon graduating and moving out of the house. Sharing a room with my sister had become unbearable. Although claiming to be Christian, she was starting physical fights with me when no one was looking.

Me & My Oldest Brother.

Me & My Oldest Brother

At school there were girls who looked like gazelles. Impossibly tall and gaunt, those girls were my idols. I stopped eating anything but carrots and water in an effort to look like them—especially one gazelle named Mariana.

Carrots and water. Carrots and water. Carrots and water.

Worse yet, my parents knew about it. They mocked me. My father told me I was starting to look like a boy. I declined food. I skipped dinners. I packed paltry lunches. I was happy when my mother got drunk at restaurants, because she wouldn’t notice that I didn’t eat a thing.

When I was thirteen and a half, I got mono and then shingles. The doctor said my immune system was worn from stress (that is, if I was “telling the truth” about not kissing any boys). Algebra was the culprit. It’s true! Math gave me mono. But so did not eating enough for my immune system to battle the stress symptoms. I got skinnier than Mariana and the other gazelles.


My clavicles cut through my skin. My pajamas hung like drapery. That summer, I got my period. I felt older and more mature. I was ready to make my own decisions.

I studied Slim-Fast commercials and soon after began a modified Slim-Fast diet. I ate cereal for breakfast, a Slim-Fast shake for lunch, and an apple for a snack, and most nights I skipped dinner or else picked at the sides (rice, veggies).

Every dinner was a boxing match between my father and whomever he chose to spar with that evening. Most nights it was my brother, sometimes my mom. And while it was rarely me or my sister pinned to the ropes, I developed a raging stomach ache from eating anything with my father at a dinner table. Even the thought of it troubled me. Nobody wanted to sit next to him. He criticized everything—the way you ate, the way you breathed, the way you answered questions, the way you didn’t.

Watching the people you love cruelly ridiculed every day by the person who’s supposed to love them most does some really weird shit to your brain.

Despite my father’s overwhelming disciplinarian role, both my parents elevated my status in the home. Probably because I was the youngest and most free-spirited and vivacious, I was often in the spotlight. The paradox of being both silenced and put on a pedestal has haunted me since youth.

For example, after my father slapped me across the face in front of the neighbors one afternoon as punishment for ditching school, I told my mother that he was no longer in charge of disciplining me. If he hit me again I would leave the house. That was the last time he hit me. Unfortunately, he continued to attack my brothers so viciously that he once broke a guitar over my oldest brother’s head. We laugh about it now, our voices shaking with audacious disbelief.


Last Year of Junior High School – Made It Out Alive!

By high school, I had become quite shy. I was tiny and wore thrift-store clothes circa 1969. My mom ironed butterfly patches on my butterfly-collared brown long-sleeved shirts and tattered Levis. I was a total loner.

Oddly, my sister, who was a senior, reported one day that the quarterback of the football team wanted to meet me. I was ditching an elective and visiting her in her psych class. Unfortunately, this private conversation occurred within earshot of her classmates waiting for the bell to ring.

“No,” I said.

The idea of dating a football player was foreign and frightened me.

“Why?” she asked.

“I don’t want to,” I said.

The entire class scoffed.

Why on earth would a girl not want to date the QB of the football team at Chatsworth High School?

I flipped my waist-length dark red hair, put on my yellow-tinted sunglasses, and trotted out. My face was flushed; my hands were shaking. Despite feeling invisible, I was seen and heard by those around me, and that was scary as hell. I fantasized about disappearing.

The success I’d had with dieting through tenth and eleventh grade landed me in a doctor’s office more than once and finally earned me a diagnosis of anorexia.

The evening of the diagnosis, my father broke down my unlocked bedroom door and said that if I didn’t eat he would send me to a hospital and I wouldn’t graduate high school.

“Put a fork in your mouth and eat!” He screamed. “It’s easy!”

He told my mother he’d fixed me.

I felt cornered. I had no outlet for my anxiety, and my family was totally unequipped to deal with my special needs.

I began overeating and popping Vicodin with vodka and whisky chasers. My friends and boyfriends were using weed, speed, acid, mushrooms, and anything else that landed in front of them. I took a distinct liking to methamphetamine.

By twelfth grade, I was a full-fledged drug addict and the idea of skipping a meal was out of the question. I was doing dirty, shitty drugs of such a low quality that they made me eternally hungry. Plus, my anxiety was such that even when I wasn’t hungry, if I had any kind of interaction with my father, I’d binge afterward.

Binge-eating disorder is a lesser-known eating disorder that also happens to be the most common. BED is often accompanied by such deep feelings of shame and failure that even after seeking treatment, many people—especially those who feel they’ve failed at being anorexic—refuse to share that they’ve struggled with it.

I had BED for much longer than I had anorexia. I dabbled with self-induced vomiting (a symptom of bulimia), but it was always paired with bingeing and sometimes with excessive exercise.

I would look forward to binges, which entailed shoving mounds of food into my mouth so fast that sometimes I forgot to chew. A binge would involve a lot of different foods, even ones not normally eaten together, but mostly carbs. During a binge session—food crowded on countertops, empty wrappers littering the kitchen floor, the refrigerator door open in case I wanted to grab something else—I wouldn’t even know what exactly I was eating.


By my early twenties, binge-eating disorder was affecting my work, friendships, dating life, and self-esteem. I was silently suffering. Nobody knew what was going on. They just knew I wasn’t fat and I wasn’t skinny. I was sort of round again and seemed happy enough. My bones weren’t sticking out. I had a job I managed to get to relatively often, and although struggling with my sexuality and my family’s homophobia, I was putting that fork in my mouth, so my father could still take credit for curing my anorexia.

I was living on my own and had the privacy I needed to binge without having to hide it from family or roommates or a boyfriend or girlfriend.

The thought of going on a date totally freaked me out. What would I eat? How long would the date be? When could I go home and binge?

After work, I would rush home to binge. Frenziedly scarfing down cookies, I’d replay all the embarrassing or annoying or angering interactions of my workday. I didn’t have the tools to address them in real time.

Slowly, the sugar and adrenaline rush would fade. My fingers would stop shaking. My post-binge companions were gut-wrenching shame and a bunch of empty wrappers to count.

Even though I lived alone, I still hid food and the remnants of my binges as I had when I lived with my parents. I learned how to eat half a cake in such a way that you’d never know by looking at it. At least in my mind you wouldn’t know. I have no idea what it really looked like. My eyes morphed everything into something better or worse than it was. I had life dysmorphia.

I couldn’t be around a cake without itching to eat the whole thing. I couldn’t enter a grocery store without having an all-out panic attack. At parties, I’d proudly eat nothing and then race to 7-Eleven or CVS—my fav sources for throwaway food.

A typical binge might look like this:

One large bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos
Small bag of Cheetos from the display by the register
Twenty-ounce cup of hot cocoa from the machine
One pint of ice cream (flavor chosen spontaneously)
Two-liter bottle of Diet Coke
Snack bag of York Peppermint Patties
Two-pack of Hostess Cupcakes
Slice of cheese pizza

To maximize efficiency (get the stuff quicker to start the binge sooner), I’d mentally map out my shopping list before I hit the store. That also served to shorten the duration of the dirty shame I felt when the cashier inevitably eyed me with eerie knowingness.

The binge started the minute the car door slammed shut—one hand on the steering wheel in an honest attempt at safe driving, the other hand frantically ripping open the Doritos. Nacho cheese powder stained everything I touched.

I once bought a half gallon of ice cream and forgot to get a spoon. I ate it straight out of the container with my teeth.

I considered Overeaters Anonymous but thought they’d laugh at me. I wasn’t hundreds of pounds overweight; I was about twenty. But I was no less a food addict.


Desperate for a new beginning, I reached out for change. What finally helped me end the downward spiral? A book called It’s Not About Food nearly saved my life. So did finding therapists who specialized in disordered eating, and getting the fuck away from my family. I moved to Boston when I was twenty-one and stayed there for two years. When I moved back to California, I began attending twelve-step meetings. I also take a medication that helps with my depression and anxiety and with the part of my brain that makes me feel voraciously hungry when I’m not.

One night, when I was twenty-five, not long after I moved back from Boston, a spirit visited me. During my twenties, I often felt the presence of spirits or angels. This one lingered in the archway of my bedroom door. I somehow knew it was the spirit of my eating disorder. That may sound weird, but it was the information I was given right then by my higher power. I said thank you and good-bye. It became clear in that moment that my eating disorder had been a tool to get me through difficult periods when I’d had no other tools to employ. It had been the only constant in my life up to that point. She had also been a teacher.

On the Mend

On the Mend

I cried and felt the spirit linger a bit before saying good-bye back.

It hasn’t been easy for me, but I’ve been blessed in more ways than I can count. One of those blessings is my ability to maintain a positive attitude despite adversity.

This is what my eating disorder has taught me: if you can find a way not to judge your choices and to accept that you did the best you could with what you had at any given time, you’ll probably find a way to forgive yourself and, ultimately, be a lot happier! You will find the peace and clarity you need to smooth the rough spots and make your way into the light you deserve to bask in—radical self-love, I think it’s called.

…Follow Your Bliss xoxo

Know someone who is struggling with food addiction? Contact NEDA.

Did you find this post insightful or interesting? Have your own thoughts on Eating Disorders? Leave your comment below. Friend me on: Facebook & Twitter & Instagram

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Darrah Le Montre is a writer and journalist and devoted mom. Her work has been published by Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan and nudie blog SuicideGirls. Next week, her essay, “This Is What Dating An Alcoholic Is Like” will debut in the recovery blog The Fix.

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My Holy Tussle: Confessions of a Former Teenage Christian

Who knew choosing Christ could be so subversive?

Written By Darrah Le Montre

Edited by Megan Granger

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It all started right after Grandma died: The feelings for girls. The speedy thoughts I couldn’t control. The fear that I was gay. I got drunk for the first time. Girlfriends asked me to smoke weed with them and a group of boys they’d just met. I learned about oral sex from NWA. I got mono from not eating and worrying about algebra. I lost friends by being a doormat. I was bullied by mean girls who claimed to be my friends. I feared high school, which was looming. I lost my way.

But I also found something around that time, when my sister befriended a born-again Christian family who lived down the block. The Hayneses had two daughters, one my sister’s age. My sister would tell me bits and pieces about this foreign thing: religion.

Growing up in a Jewish household meant that we were expected to be proud of our Jewish heritage, we ate potato pancakes (or latkes) during the high holidays, and while we could date outside of our religion, we would be pressured to break it off sooner rather than later—to avoid hurt feelings, of course. We had no religious upbringing to speak of. My father was basically an atheist. My mother believed in God but attached no ideology to that belief. We were not mitzvahed.

One Saturday morning, with the smell of bacon wafting from the kitchen—I was a vegetarian by then—I hid in our shared room with my sister and watched cartoons on a tiny TV we had gotten for Hanukah. Suddenly, a Jesus cartoon came on. “What’s this?” we said aloud. We giggled uncomfortably. Then we found ourselves glued to the petal-pink TV in silence.

“Your food is ready!”

We kept watching, spellbound. During commercials, we put our heads down, feeling guilty. When the cartoon came back on, we affixed our eyes to the screen. We learned about the disciples, the money men, Jesus’ fury at corrupt religious leaders, Mary Magdalene, and the crucifixion. Another commercial.

My mother knocked on the door. “Food is ready!” she said. This time she was mad.

“OKAY!” we chimed.

“What are you watching?” she asked.

“Nothing!” we lied. Luckily, she didn’t open the door.

I can still remember the warm amber glow and canary-yellow aura surrounding the resurrected white Jesus; his outstretched arms; the clouds like a blanket around the Risen Son; his ascent into an animated blue sky that was bluer than I’d ever seen it in real life. Jesus’ warm love was emanating through the screen and into my heart. I was entranced by the vision and the idea of a man so loving and accepting.

By the end of the cartoon, we were basically born again.

Around that time, my sister had begun this bad habit of hitting me. And I had begun this bad habit of letting her.

An Amy Grant poster hung beside my bed. She had put it there. My personal space was diminishing.

My grandmother had been slowly dying for about ten years by the time my mother and aunt told me, while drunk, what was wrong with her. She had contracted HIV—which had then turned into AIDS—during her open-heart surgery. A triple bypass. The surgery was ultimately successful, but Grandma lost nearly all the blood in her body and they had to give her a transfusion. It was 1982. She was pumped full of infected blood.

When I learned the truth, I told my mom I was relieved.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because we finally know what’s wrong with Gramma,” I said.

“Oh, we always knew,” Mother replied.

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Family folklore has it that the doctor called my grandfather after the blood test results came in. He admitted it was his fault. Because of his surgical mistake, my sixty-two-year-old grandmother was HIV positive. The doctor cried into the phone. My grandfather consoled him and never sought damages.

I suffered anxiety from an early age and, later, OCD and eating disorders. My three siblings and I were not shielded from my grandmother’s illness. I was her favorite, and I held her hand while she writhed in pain. The cocktails in the early ’90s weren’t what they are now. We all prayed when my grandfather injected “blackie” into her IV. Our prayers were rarely answered.

I’ve never cried so hard as the evening I found out my grandmother had died. My siblings were playing video games. How could they? Grandma was dead. I had failed to save her. My mother was going crazy. My father became the sane one, which was a feat. I hid in my room writing letters to my grandmother, and one was read aloud when her ashes were scattered over the Pacific Ocean. I didn’t attend.

I did attend the memorial service. I was thirteen. I scanned the room frenetically and giggled nervously. I’d never been to a memorial, and seeing my family cry made me feel really confused. And the guy at the podium mispronouncing everything and getting names wrong made it all seem like a bad dress rehearsal for a play where people wanted to be sad. I never wanted to be sad. I just couldn’t get a handle on anything or anyone around me.

Before she died, I used to think that if only I would catch HIV—or if Papa, my grandfather, would—then Grandma wouldn’t feel so isolated by her illness.

Whenever we visited her in the hospital and passed the chapel, I would say a silent prayer. My parents dissuaded me from going in. It became understood that entering the chapel was taboo, as if doing so meant you were weak. You would basically be talking to something that didn’t really exist, so it would all be a waste of time and really quite embarrassing.

I wanted to go in.

They joked that my sister was probably in there. Praying. I knew she wasn’t. She was pretty angry by that time.

Sister was fifteen and a half and had a major chip on her shoulder when we moved to Chatsworth. We had high hopes that the new house would offer the family something that had died with my grandmother: unity. After the first walk-through of the two-story house on an idyllic cul-de-sac, my mother announced with a pouty lip, “I don’t like it.”

I tried to be good and small and get good grades. My sister and I shared the master bedroom, donated by our parents. I hid remnants of my existence in a shared wall-to-wall closet. My personal space was practically nonexistent. The master bedroom contained all things pale country pink, my least favorite color, while my Bob Marley CDs and Mickey Mouse duffel bag and decorative butterfly coffee mug sat on a shelf in the closet. If I dared put any of my things out, my sister would corner me, yelling, “Put it back in the closet!” Then she would tell me, in her best Marcia Brady voice, that I really should burn my CDs, because sinners sang those songs. I never did believe Marley was a sinner. Even as a Christian, I just couldn’t swallow that pill.

She got a job gift-wrapping at a local pharmacy gift shop. I visited her. She showed me Precious Moments porcelain figurines with a religious bent. She began collecting angels. After work, she’d go to church. My family was furious. I was caught in between.

One afternoon, I locked myself in my parents’ room and dialed a hotline for suicidal teenagers. I wasn’t suicidal, but I was growing increasingly fearful that I was gay. Puberty was in full swing and my persistent sexual thoughts about women had spilled over to include my best girlfriends. We would go swimming and they would notice me noticing them. The hotline operator was named Sarah. She assured me that I wasn’t gay, that it was totally normal. She said it happened to her, too, and that she was definitely straight. I repeated back what I’d heard. Maybe I would be like Sarah. Not like Darrah. I hung up and masturbated.

At school, I befriended the slutty girls and tried to help them. They showed me how to use tampons and smoke weed. I told them they had worth. They told me I was sweet. It was a practical arrangement.

I was valedictorian of my junior high school class. I wore what appeared to most to be a Russian wedding dress. Head-to-toe taupe lace and pearl drop earrings. Other girls’ parents told them they should be more like me. My mom went broke buying this two-piece outfit, an intricate bodice paired with matching ankle-length skirt. I never wore it again, and much later, finding it sheathed in a Jessica McClintock dress bag would inspire a mixture of embarrassment and pride. High school was in three months. I would inevitably go from newly minted popular girl who had swam with the sharks and earned lipstick-tinted chinks in my armor to being a small fish in what felt like a gigantic scary fishbowl.

Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 5.58.53 PMIn high school, I wore thrift store clothes. I begged my mom to take me to Salvation Army at 6 p.m. on work nights. She would complain loudly that she needed to make dinner for six people. But I would brush that off, because a part of me knew she was just happy we were spending time together—even if it wasn’t at Macy’s. The perfect complement to these new old digs? A King James Bible.

A teacher at my new school wore a necklace with a cross inside of a Jewish star. I once asked her what it meant. She told me she was a Jew for Jesus. My mother said she shouldn’t be talking about that at school. It felt wrong to me, too. Didn’t she know my parents wouldn’t approve of her religious choice? It was against the rules. You were either Jewish or Christian. You didn’t get to be both. It was greedy. At least, I couldn’t be both.

Another teacher, Mrs. D., was uncommonly funny and kind. She was easily sidetracked and ended up using more class time describing a Mexican folk-art mask hanging on the wall in Spanish class than teaching us how to conjugate verbs. She also saw me. After school one day, she handed me a small desk calendar with Bible quotes printed on each page. She prefaced the gift with an explanation that teachers in public school weren’t supposed to show favor to any religion or even discuss religion with students. I held the calendar tightly, with a broad smile that made my cheeks hurt.

The Jewish twins who’d had me over for Friday night Shabbat dinners a year before mocked me at school. Punk kids mocked me. My parents mocked me. “What, are you Christian now?” they asked. When I said yes, they pressed for answers.

“I found Jesus,” I explained simply. They laughed.

That Christmas, the two albums I listened to nonstop were Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band and the Time-Life Treasury of Christmas, which I saw on TV and begged my mom for. She bought it in four easy installments of $9.99.

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Surprisingly, we got a tree that year. My father insisted we call it a Hanukah bush. Underneath the greenery bedecked in blue and silver tinsel rested a wrapped present for me from my sister. Once I shook it, I instantly knew it was the same gift she’d gotten me three years in a row. Estée Lauder’s amber-hued Beautiful perfume. I hate surprises, so I played five questions (square or circle, liquid or solid, edible or not, etc.) before I shook it and belted out “BEAUTIFUL!” She was pissed and told on me, but her anger was quelled by my excitement.

Despite our rampant division, a favorite pastime of my family’s was to gather around our sixty-inch widescreen and watch a boxing match. I cried when Tyson lost his title. My mom held me.

By that time, I considered myself a Christian. Distinctive from most Christians, I was a Christian, meaning I was observant; I was choosing it, not just born into it. My parents had more choice labels for me: Jesus freak. Bible beater. Bible thumper. In the beginning, my chin would crumble when Dad passed me on the stairs and shot an epithet my way. The name-calling stopped when I starting wearing the names like badges of honor.

At school, I read my Bible and ministered to other students. I read books about abstinence and coached girlfriends who I knew were sexually active. When my dad wasn’t home, I hosted after-school conversations with boys in our driveway, encouraging them to practice abstinence until marriage. One day, my sister leaned out of our shared bedroom window and said, “Oh, shut the hell up already.” It was in that moment that I knew I had surpassed her in faith. Her jealousy had overcome her trust in the Lord. I had won at being a Christian . . . and I was even more alone than before.

I was sixteen. A rumor was flying around that a boy in drama class liked me. He was kind of cute but a geek and also alternative-looking, with long hair and a lanky gait. He was a senior and listened to Nine Inch Nails and Tori Amos. I was still into my previous boyfriend, a skater boy who smoked. Having a new crush was a welcome distraction. There was another rumor going around about that boy that proved to be true. He was bisexual.

My mother liked him but worried about AIDS. The picture of my grandmother dying was emblazoned on our psyches.

Her lips began to grow lesions. She bruised so easily. Her legs were so thin. Her skin was like sandwich paper. She was bedridden. She used dry shampoo. Her home grew dusty. She never ate out. She never went out. My grandfather was her nurse. She cursed at him from the bedroom, ordering him to feed her. Liquid into an IV. She died just after their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Alone in a hospice. Mother said the nurses gave her too much morphine. Probably on purpose.

DarrahViceDance90sMy new boyfriend—the bisexual—and I slept in separate rooms on prom night because it wasn’t proper to share a bed. I wore a corset, which he considered sexy. I just wanted to look skinny. I took laxatives that night, which made me feel bloated. I had begun taking diuretics, too. I was flailing without a church, and I was being bullied at home from nearly every corner. We dated for six months, which was epic for high school. When we broke up, my relationship with my mother suffered. Liking him had become our one commonality.

It was the end of junior year. Watching televangelists on Saturday night was perfectly fine with me. But my sister made fun of me. I had nowhere to turn. Heavenly Father felt far away suddenly, somehow. So, finally, I turned off the light.

Yes, I was disillusioned by this religion. But mostly, my sister, who claimed to be Christian, was hurting me, and my father was hurting me, and my mother was hurting me. So I turned off the light. It would make things easier, perhaps.

The poems I had begun to write with unparalleled enthusiasm—using ANGEL as an acronym, panegyrizing the Son—changed into feverish free verses about sadness and hypocrisy.

The spiritual ideology I clung to as a teen was what I desperately needed at that time for security and a foundation I had never been given. But my family ripped away my lifeline, and I was too weak and too young to claim it righteously any longer. It took a year and a half for me to stop believing I was going to hell. But hell found me.

I turned off the light and I found another religion: drugs.

“The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls.”

The same insecurities that had plagued me my whole life overtook me and I fell victim to the devil that is speed.

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There is no God. When I hear people say that, I flinch. Having my spiritual devotion and beliefs minimized, ridiculed, and mocked made me feel small. My voice was stolen. Because of the dark avenues I turned to in place of Christianity, I am reticent to ever snatch away anybody’s lifeline. The results can be personally catastrophic.

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I still struggle to remember I am not my roots. I am a flower grown from them.

It would be easy for me to blame my family for my self-harming choices. But now that I’m the mom of a young child, I can understand how difficult it must have been for them to see me date people they didn’t approve of or choose a spiritual practice they didn’t agree with.

However, after the healing practices I’ve dedicated myself to, coupled with the decade-plus of recovery I’ve invested in, I would never give myself up as easily as I did at sixteen. The self-work I’ve done, by the grace of my higher power, can’t be taken away by anybody.

And I’ll be damned if I ever sand away at my daughter’s choices and salvations. The stakes are simply too high.

Sometimes, it’s a matter of life and death.

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RELATED: This is What Dating an Alcoholic is Like

RELATED: How Relationships with Our Pet Friends Change After We Have a Baby

RELATED: From Sex Addict to Monogamous Mom: A love junkie finds true love


Darrah Le Montre is a writer and journalist and devoted mom. Her work has been published by Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan and nudie blog SuicideGirls. 

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Wanna Stress Less? Do This!


Tips to Help Fend off the Stress Monster and Be More Healthy!

By Christy Harden

The other day I spotted a coffee cup that read, “Stress is Caused by Giving a Fuck.” That’s one take, but I’ve got a different one: Stress is the result of holding expectations that are out of alignment with reality.

What happens when you expect the family to finally get along at the next holiday party and… they don’t? Stress. Or how about trying to get more work done than can be accomplished in a workday? Stress. What happens when we expect things to go well on a blind date and instead the night ends up awkward and strained? Stress.

Even Rachel Had Bad Dates

Even Rachel Had Bad Dates

What would happen if, instead of paying attention to expectations, we were simply open to experiencing what is actually occurring? I’ll tell you what: A lot less stress.

That doesn’t mean we don’t want things to go our way or that we stop trying to accomplish anything. Aim for the stars, absolutely! Follow your heart and live your dreams and also cultivate the awareness that in reality, things don’t always go as planned. Once you accept this, you will experience much less stress in your life.

The key? Realize expectations are only fantasies. An expectation is merely an expression of how you want things to go—just knowing that takes a lot of the kick out of dinner cancelations, rained-out games and vacation food poisoning.

In a traffic jam? Re-frame and replace the stressful, reality-fighting thought of “I have to get to work on time!” with “There’s nothing I can do about this. Next time I’ll leave earlier. Today I can enjoy this ride by talking with a friend/listening to some music/noticing this gorgeous scenery.”

Letting Go

Letting Go

Motivational comedian Kyle Cease sells shirts that say, “I HOPE I SCREW THIS UP!” Why? To remind him that what’s important is the authentic experience, enjoying the moment and responding to what’s actually happening rather than trying to stick with a pre-made plan that may no longer work for him or for the situation—or worse—trying to be perfect. How many times do we forget to enjoy what’s going on around us because we’re trying to say the right thing and appear this way or that in a play to get others’ (or even trickier: our own) approval? Living life from a point of in-the-moment authenticity can be an incredibly freeing paradigm shift.

Remember the old saying “live and let live”? There’s a lot of wisdom there. We can often dial down the stress in our lives simply by taking responsibility for our own thoughts and actions, letting others do their thing and realizing that getting what we want (our expectations), is not always on the agenda.

Awesome resource: Check out Byron Katie’s The Work at for a simple realigning process that questions thoughts and beliefs that deny reality.

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 12.42.47 PMGuest Blogger Christy Harden is a Certified Integrative Nutrition Coach, actor and SLP, Christy Harden passionately supports individuals in the discovery of their authentic voice on the journey to health and well-being. Former En*theos professor and author of Guided By Your Own Stars, Christy believes that true health unfolds in the sacred space of reconnection with authentic self, nature and community. Her second book, I Heart Raw is scheduled to be released soon. See or email her at:

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How Relationships with Our Pet Friends Change After We Have a Baby

by Darrah Le Montre

When the stork arrives, our furry friends get relegated to “pet” rather than “first born”

Stork carrying bebe

In 2008, I adopted a furry friend. An animal shelter employee and her girlfriend discovered him on a hike while he was on the prowl for food in a Burbank park. Folklore now has it that he ran away from an abusive home, and possibly survived on dead birds and trash for a few months. Nobody knows for certain.

I named him Oscar Wilde because I had just seen the movie Wilde with Jude Law. It had less to do with the actual author (I’ve read only famed bon mots) and more to do with the flair and panache I designated my new 1 ½ year-old poodle-terrier roommate had. He turned out to be a gender-indiscriminate leg-humper and so this bisexual tendency seemed fitting for his moniker.

At first, I was hesitant to adopt the boy. I was a lone-wolf writer/babysitter, struggling to make ends meet. Would he comply with my schedule? Would he bark while I was on a roll, writing my dating column? Would he need walks when I was at work and then piss on my beige carpet? I told my friend Angela (who introduced us) that I’d keep him for a weekend and see. The minute she left my apartment, I sat down at my card table desk and pretended to write. I wanted to see what he would do. He laid down at my feet and fell asleep. A partnership was born.


Oscar Wilde

Ozzie is now seven. He’s seen me move four times, date unavailable men, vomit on the bathroom floor after a particularly bad hang-over, cut my long hair off, meet my fiancé and finally, give birth to the love of my life: my daughter.

When it was just the two of us, we went everywhere together. I even took babysitting jobs discriminately, based upon who would allow him at their house. He had a permanent spot on my lap on car rides. The metallic smell of his breath comforted me. When he savagely devoured my spicy Thai food and subsequently bled from his butt, I followed him around with a rag and could care less about the carpet. When he had trouble sleeping, I had trouble sleeping. I once declined a trip to Australia because he would need to be boarded.

We made silly YouTube videos together.

We were inseparable.

At night before bed, I professed my love for him and begged him to sleep with me. He tolerated brief bouts of snuggling, and then settled on the floor by my feet.

In early 2013, I got pregnant. While I was expecting, he was still my bud, but my focus was on my health and wellness and that of my fetus. Daisy was a great little fetus, but nevertheless, I had work to do.

Still, up until the minute my fiancé Richard dropped Oscar off for a six-day boarding stint while I was recovering at the hospital, I was obsessed with my hypoallergenic B.F.F. Walking him was my main source of exercise while pregnant and we shared water glasses whenever Richard was out of the room.

Me & Oscar, during my maternity shoot, the day before I had my daughter!

Me & Oscar, during my maternity shoot, the day before I had my daughter!

Everything changed after I had my daughter.

We picked Oscar up on our way home from the hospital. He did his usual leap into my arms. This time, they were not outstretched. I was strategically placed in the backseat beside the car seat, to shield my tiny new 5 pound 11 ounce baby from his enthusiasm. Whereas, Oscar would usually occupy a space in my lap, and be adored from head to toe, instead, I pushed him away with a scowl.

At home, when Oscar would casually walk into the baby’s nursery, I would nag him to leave. I was paranoid about germs, and despite his innate gentleness with babies, which I’ve seen time and again, postpartum protectiveness was off the charts. Motherly instincts betrayed my “first born” son and his spot at #1 was instantly usurped by my little human. (Who looked so much like Richard, I was having “maternity issues”. I kept looking down at my C-section scar, joking to company, “I think I had her.”)

After awhile, Oscar learned to slink under Daisy’s crib and would stay there for hours while I rocked her or breastfed. He even slept there sometimes. He grew protective of her. He would nap at the foot of any chair where she and I were and stink-eye potential intruders that visited the nursery.

Hula Oscar!

Hula Oscar!

My family and friends teased me about how Oscar had been demoted. I felt awful. Here I was, trying to be a super mom, and somehow I felt like a failure. Having grown up with a brother that got lots of attention, Richard identified with Oscar and picked up the slack. I asked my babysitters to walk Ozzie while I was recovering from surgery. He dragged them back to the front door more often than not in the beginning. Once, while I was laying down, he jumped on my stomach (ouch!) so I began kicking him off the bed. Things had changed and I felt a pang of guilt every time I saw him moping around the house.

I asked around, and it seems, this is pretty commonplace with new parents of humans.

By now, things have settled into place a bit more. It’s been almost three years since reading the YES on the urine stick (about which Richard asked, “what was the question again?!”) Many of the puzzling and exhausting aspects of the first year are behind me. Daisy is two-years-old and enjoys Oscar. He’s also older now. I’m learning who he is in this incarnation. His spry days are behind him. His gait is slow. He has arthritis in his legs. He developed Addison’s disease, which is fairly common in aging dogs. He takes corticosteroids. His beautiful, marble-like brown eyes are now slightly cloudy with cataracts. The stories about him jumping up and knocking down my dinner tray and eating it real fast while I washed up for dinner are moot. He now lumbers up to the bed using a bench as a stool.

My doggie companion, who has seen me grow from a confused single girl in her twenties to an engaged mother in her thirties, has taught me so much. And I’ve submitted to his many lessons; to the love he’s given me; and to the changes in him that will no doubt break my heart one day. In the meantime, we adopted a terror of a redheaded girl terrier, who is one-year-old, and hyper as all get out. Menchies and Oscar bicker and hump and chase each other all day.

I was always hesitant to get another dog because Oscar and I were the Dynamic Duo. He is so human-like. When I say, “excuse me,” he moves out of the way. When I cry, he puts his paw on my arm. When I’m sick, he gets sick. (I’m serious. It’s weird.) But, now that I’ve got more distractions and commitments, this gift of a little manic canine Lucille Ball to his Desi Arnaz seems appropriate.

Menchies the Terror, Ahem, Terrier

To be clear, Menchies drives us batshit crazy, but Oscar seems to like her. She makes him feel youthful. And since he holds the keys to my youth… I figure it’s the least I can do.

Dedicated to my loyal Oscar. I hope I never take you for granted.


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RELATED: Asking for Help: Why Is It So Hard?

RELATED: From Sex Addict to Monogamous Mom: A love junkie finds true love


Darrah Le Montre is a writer and journalist and devoted mom. Her work has been published by Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan and nudie blog SuicideGirls. 





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Why You Need a Health Coach Now!

This week, returning guest blogger Jennifer Sawyer schools us on what a health coach is and why they just may be the genie you’ve been waiting for in your weight loss journey!

by Jennifer Sawyer


While it may seem as if modern society is overflowing with diet trends and hastily offered advice about nutrition, the truth is that we know more about these topics with each passing year. Certainly, there’s a great deal of debate surrounding individual foods or food groups. For example, some believe everybody would be better off going gluten free while others see this as a necessary step only for those with a gluten intolerance or sensitivity; there are always arguments over the pros and cons of regular dairy in a diet; and even professional nutritionists will disagree on occasion about how to incorporate healthy fats in a diet. Issues like these may cause disagreement, but don’t let that convince you that health and nutrition experts don’t know what they’re doing.

Unfortunately, we now live in a world where it’s easier to find processed foods and cheap junk items than natural ingredients and wholesome meals. For that reason, even those of us who feel fairly healthy and try to practice sound nutrition could stand to make a few changes. This is where a personal health coach can come in extraordinarily handy. If this idea appeals to you on any level, here are some specific benefits that coaching can offer:

For starters, a health coach provides individualized attention and accountability that you just can’t find on your own, or with any number of health and fitness apps. The important thing to realize is that using a health coach is not a sign that you can’t motivate yourself! Yes, there’s a certain sense of pride involved with going it alone. But really, even the most disciplined and focused individuals can benefit from training, scheduling, and general accountability. This is the sort of structure that you can gain working with a professional health coach, and it can absolutely help you to improve your nutrition habits, as well as your fitness. And that brings me to my next point…

health-coachIt’s not just about nutrition, at least if you go with a total health coach as opposed to strictly a nutritionist. A good professional health coach will develop a program designed to focus on your whole being, using nutrition strategies, exercise techniques, and even lifestyle changes to help you become the healthiest version of yourself. And again, this doesn’t mean you couldn’t do a perfectly adequate job on your own. But having an experienced professional develop a multi-faceted program designed to suit your body, emotions, and health needs is an unrivaled advantage.

If it feels like health and wellness are somewhat trendy in modern society, it’s largely due to the rise of professional health and nutrition coaches—and many of them started out just like you! Sometimes figuring out what works for you through your own health coach’s recommendations and a shifting approach over time can give you a true passion for the process. Many find that they feel so great after taking steps toward better overall health that they want to help others do the same, and thus new coaches are developed. This isn’t to say you have to ultimately become a health coach, but it’s a common benefit of the process.

By the way, many health coaches direct their clients to take regular health assessments at various intervals, to discover or confirm what may or may not be working. This type of accountability and one-on-one attention will make being conscious of your health, a more natural part of your regimen.

You can almost always do something to improve your total wellness, and it’s a lot easier and more effective when someone’s showing you the way!

sporty woman with scale, apple and measuring tapeJennifer Sawyer is a full-time student studying Public Health, and residing in Boston. She fills every free moment she has consuming coffee, writing to-do lists, and reading up on holistic health. Follow her on Twitter.

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Celebrity Astrologer and Author Neil D. Paris discusses his new book ‘Surfing Your Solar Cycles,’ Makes predictions about social change


In a Suicide Redhead exclusive, Sexy Brit Astrologer Neil decodes the Return of Saturn phenomena, gives tips on surviving the dreaded Mercury Retrograde, and reveals astrology-based essentials to pleasing your partner and living the life of your dreams!

Curious about angels? Karma? Soul mates? Even if you know nada about charts, signs or the stars, you will enjoy our chat.

DL: Tell me about your new book!

NP: It’s called Surfing Your Solar Cycles: A Lifetime Guide to Your Stars. And it’s just that — a guide you can keep for the rest of your life to work out the personal Cycles you move through every month of your life. Each sign of the zodiac is in a different cycle at any given moment. It reveals the themes of each Cycle, who you’re likely to meet, the issues you’ll face and a truckload of info on how you can navigate each in the best way possible. 12 Cycles in all, each covering a different area of our lives (relationship, family, self-sabotaging patterns, career, communication to name a few). Everyone from beginners, to professional astrologers can use it!

DL: Where are you living now/splitting your time between?

NP: I live in Running Springs, 6000 feet up a mountain with woods as far as the eye can see with a whole host of wildlife. It’s an oasis from hectic city life but when I need to pop into the big city (LA) it’s only an hour and a half away!

DL: How old are you (ballpark is fine)?

NP: 35 Earth Years, as for my real age, I lost count!

DL: Do you plan on doing a book tour or holding readings at bookstores or online?

NP: If you order my book by Dec 31, you’ll be entered into a draw for some cool goodies, including  a one-on-one with me, covering your entire Birth Chart and Life Blueprint.  You can order the book via where you’ll find links to online bookstores and all the info on the Contest.

Find me at and if you join me on Facebook you’ll receive a free copy of your birth Chart and some free lessons on how to interpret it, along with the Weekly Scopes that are posted each Monday on the themes for the week, for each sign.

DL: Let’s get into some of the juicy questions! Do you think a woman will win the presidential race in 2016?

NP: I have a sneaking feeling a woman could very likely win the presidential race because everyone is clamoring for the next great Change that will right the world. With Pluto now in Capricorn (Pluto representing the energy of total transformation and Capricorn being the sign relating the systems, structures, rules and governments of our world), we put the first black president in the white house. Not that that should be a big deal, but as a planet we are still coming out of the dark ages. Look around at World Government and the changes taking place. A first female president in the States doesn’t seem a huge leap from there. We’re going to see continued major social change within the governing bodies of our world and the way the entire subject of government is handled.

DL: Do romantic soul mates exist? If so, are they the same in every life?

NP: Ah, I talk about this in my new book! I love the topic of love, relationships and soul-contracts. Yes, romantic soul mates exist. But so too do Karma Mates, and a whole host of other contractual soul-agreements as it were, between people (for more, read Cycle 7 in the book – karma mates are the ones we have unfinished business with, who come wrapped up in a very attractive package so that we’ll be drawn in…otherwise we’d run a mile). Why do we have such a hard time with our families? Is it because we’re the closest to these people, therefore we see and discover the best and worst in them and ourselves by reflection? Or could it be that we have a history with these souls, so intense, with so much baggage to unpack, that we’re inevitably drawn back into each other’s lives in order to resolve the heavier ‘stuff’? Everyone has an opinion on the subject of course, but from what I’ve seen the past 19 years through the field of Astrology, both are true and inseparable.  Are soul-mates the same in every life? Where would the fun be in that, right?! We have many soul mates, many agreements. It is said, however, that we ‘travel in soul groups’, meaning those directly around us in our daily lives, are those we have traveled with for quite some time now (for better or worse!).

DL: How much do the stars really affect our day-to-day lives and impact our greater destiny?

NP: If you take the chart of someone with no knowledge of Astrology, and less conscious self-awareness, you’ll see them make choices from their lower side, the reptilian brain as it were, the ego. The part of us that lives in fear of annihilation (being wrong, losing, coming last etc.). They reflect their Astrological birth charts (their life blueprint for this lifetime) to the T because they are at the mercy of both this lower nature and also the prevailing energies or currents. If you take someone with knowledge of Astrology (which in itself breeds greater self-awareness), you’ll see someone who used to make those choices, but now they have elevated those choices to reflect a higher use of the choices inherent in our charts and lives (moving with energy or pushing against it, making choices that create more long term satisfaction compared to momentary satisfaction or ‘the quick fix’). Astrology affords us greater self awareness and thus, our choices reflect that. People are making choices every day without Astrology, and they’re fine. But just imagine the ride when you see just how free you are to make your own choices and thus to make ones that truly feed our souls, instead of the unstable and forever yearning part of our lower natures. You get to enjoy the scenery and avoid the uglier or more dangerous parts of town.

DL: Can we “spoil” our destiny/fate by using our free will against our designated path?

NP: You could try, but it wouldn’t feel good. We know deep down inside us what is right for us. When we veer from that path or the choices that lead to that destination, we feel it. That’s why many people feel crummy these days. They’re coming to the realization that the choices they are making aren’t feeding their souls. That’s a dilemma. “I’ve been doing this and never finding satisfaction. Do I want to change this, and experience the discomfort that it’s sure to bring up (after all discomfort can become habitual and familiar, therefore safe and comfortable on some level), or do I continue repeating my patterns hoping for a different result?” We can choose anything, but the strange and beautiful thing about astrology (the kind where you have your personal chart drawn up not just reading generic horoscopes) is that you’ll discover that the choices you’re looking at are still within a certain frequency range based on the blueprint you came into this lifetime with! Children come in knowing (or soon discover) whether they are creative or scientific. They are innately drawn to certain tastes. We do seem to set up certain challenges and situations for ourselves, so we can play with how we’ll react within them. Thus sometimes our greatest challenges and difficulties or areas of darkness can bring in the most light for ourselves. We get to choose how to react to each situation set before us. Life could really just be a symbolic dream where we learn lessons and help each other along the way.

DL: What are the best activities to partake in while Mercury is in Retrograde?

NP: Dig your head in the sand or stay home for three weeks. I’m kidding! Everyone gets bent out of shape about this phenomena. Google the term and you’ll find a whole host of opinions, stories, judgments. When a planet goes retrograde its energies are directed inwards instead of projected outwardly. Mercury is the planet associated with the mind. Thought. Thinking. Speaking. Writing. Communicating. Moving from A to B. Everything that begins with the letters ‘re’ are good for this period. Re-thinking. Re-viewing. Re-Doing. Re-establishing. Re-turning. Re-vamping. Re-using. Re-discovering. Re-Reading. A Mercury Retrograde is the best period to re-wire your brain. Retrain it to focus more on thoughts of what you’d like to create in life than on the problems that seemingly plague you from getting there. A shift of perspective can shift your entire life. That’s why we find the past pops up again during this period (or people from it). We get to re-live certain events with the hopes of  re-solving them and thus re-lieving the energetic connection to that particular pattern.

DL: Explain the “Return of Saturn” phenomena and how it can help us?

NP: It’s when Saturn returns to the position it was when you were born. In the chart, Saturn takes 29.5 years to move through your entire birth chart back to where it was at the moment of your birth. It’s specific to YOU as is everything in the birth chart. The Saturn Return is connected with “the big 3-0”. It’s when you become an adult. Astrologically, Saturn relates to our life lesson, areas we came in to work on, overcome fear in and to become good at. We have 29.5 years as Saturn moves through our charts, to work on something specific in our lives. Perhaps it’s our communication difficulties. Emotional openness. Honesty. Saying No. Your lesson is revealed via the placement of Saturn in your Chart. At the Saturn Return, Saturn returns to where it was when you were born, and fills out your report Card. How well are you doing in areas you came in to work on? Are you doing the work or being lazy? Are you still living in fear there? It’s usually a time that coincides with major life changes. Some get married, some get divorced. Some gain a new position, some lose the one they had. Kids are born. People relocate. We realize we’re growing up (or have to). It’s one of many astrological rites of passage that coincide with life’s many changes.  Look back to when you were 28-30 for the Saturn Return vibe making itself known. And if you’re not 30 yet, know you’re prepping for an exam so you may as well give it all you’ve got!

DL: What signs are most compatible, and should we judge compatibility based on our sun signs or other signs in our chart (like Moon or Venus)?

NP: Anyone can get along with everyone if we understand each other better. There are easier signs of compatibility based on the element of our sign. Fire (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius), Earth (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn), Air (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius) and Water (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces). Fire and water for example, mix to either create steam (meow) or boiling water (ouch), steam or…water extinguishes fire!  Earth and water can grow a garden or create a mudslide.  But that’s all too simplistic compared to our Chart. Other planets are important. Our Moon sign shows us what we need, especially in a relationship, to feel safe and secure. More people are becoming aware of their moon signs these days. It also reveals our needy inner child, so it’s worth knowing your own and those close to you. Compatibility can only be truly worked out when we look at the entire Chart. From what I’ve seen over the years, people with challenges between the Charts, seem to work better than those with too many easy aspects. Friction is our impetus to grow and evolve! 

DL: How much does our karma in past lives affect us in this one?

NP: Replace the word karma with ‘our past’ or ‘childhood’ and the answer is the same. Our pasts make us who we are, but sadly we let our past dictate who we are in our future decisions. That’s where we mess up. We have to go back to the past in  order to understand where we are now. History repeats, no?  Most people’s past lives look shockingly similar to the present one – unless we elect to make different choices. Makes sense, right? Our Chart reveals SO much info on our past life issues and legacy. The best way to predict the future is to look to the past..or create your future. You can only be truly free to live in the Present and create a better future if you can accept your painful past, and no longer need to play it out in the present, thus messing up whatever future you’re trying to create! Karma can simply be described as our past actions echoing in the present. It’s worth looking at how much you’re letting your past affect your life right here today. Our Birth Charts key us in directly – I’ve had clients tell me they learned more through one Reading then they did after years of therapy!

DL: Do we “choose” our families or have any say in our incarnation in each life?

NP: We set the whole thing up. Our parents are our incubators (literally and then symbolically). We come in sucking up all sorts of energies and information. This is right, this is wrong. Schools continue the programming of our consciousness. This is fact, this is truth. If you really want to know what lessons you came in to learn, look to your family dynamic, because chances are you’ve been playing out the lesson over and over again, whether with them or just in your own head. Or, with the new people in your life.  Sometimes the lesson is simply about waking up to your own ability to choose differently from your family. Take the best, leave the rest. For some, it’s learning to stand up for yourself or stand apart. To learn compassion. To see what NOT to do, even! Someone is always around you showing you how you could be if you let yourself slip into old or negative patterns. Everyone has something to teach us, even those family members you simply don’t ‘get’. Family is the cauldron where all of your karmic crap is bubbling. We design our incarnation, and then give yourself the free will to choose whatever we please and we can use our feelings to determine if we’re on the right track or not.

DL: Do you believe in angels?

NP: I believe we are each other’s angels, at least down here on Planet Earth anyway. But who’s to say there aren’t other types of angels. People in light bodies, less dense than ours. Perhaps we do have guides we can’t see, who work with us in our lives. I like that idea. But I think we’re mostly left to our own devices to make our own free will decisions while we’re on Earth.  Unless we ask for help (through prayer, meditation etc.), in which case perhaps we are helped out in ways we can’t understand. Miracles do happen. Speaking of Earth, the word itself is a lexigram of the word ‘heart’.  If we follow our hearts, I think we’ll always be guided the way any good old fashioned guardian angel would lead us.

DL: Can following astrology to a T negatively impact one’s life? Ie: Is there a time to sack everything we know in favor of what’s in our hearts?

NP: Astrology reveals the desires of the heart, so when you listen to your heart, you’re in tune with the universe. The two are inseparable. There’s no following Astrology to a T because it doesn’t come with a set of instructions. It reveals the patterns in your life, and gives you options. The best use of astrology is to understand yourself better and then from there, understand those around you better. And then to understand why certain events are happening to or around you. And how you can interact with your life to affect better change. My new book goes into more depth on this topic. I think people have a misguided belief that Astrology is something you follow. It’s not. It’s a tool to use to understand yourself and your life better and make better choices for yourself. 

DL: Can sexual orientation or proclivities be determined astrologically?

NP: Uranus is the planet related to ‘deviation from the norm’. You can see it show up in certain configurations reflecting homosexuality and so forth. Why? Perhaps because we still live in an era where a large chunk of people view anything outside of heterosexuality as ‘deviant’ and thus it’s still labeled so.

Personally, I think the subject is too broad.  Who you sleep with shouldn’t matter at all – but it still does to a lot of people on the planet fighting against equality! In time, all sexualities will be seen as variations, another color to add to life’s palate, or life would get pretty boring down here on planet earth, pretty quickly.  Venus is the planet relating to our ‘inner feminine’, the part of us that attracts what we desire. Mars is the male within us, the conquering assertive principle. Desire. Men and women have both, so each man has an inner goddess and each woman, an inner god. Yes, we can discover sexual proclivities via our Birth Charts, what we want in bed (or out of it), what we crave, whether our attractions are really healthy for us and so forth. Sexual orientation is trickier, that’s like trying to use a Birth Chart to determine if someone is a vegetarian or has dark hair. Astrology is universal so really it’s bigger than even these topics. But if you’re trying to see what turns someone on  then, yep, Astrology has a lot of answers for you! If you know someone’s Venus and Mars signs alone, you have a lot of information right at your fingertips…or other erogenous zones.

For Readings, Personalized Reports, Weekly Scopes and more, you can find Neil at and Facebook.

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