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  • Writer's pictureAlyssa Luboff, Ph.D.

You may think from the title that this post is about being selfish or taking advantage of people. It’s actually about learning to love more. And it’s not written for sadists or manipulators; it is for caretakers and co-dependent types. We each have different styles of loving, and with them, comes different healing work to do. This work is for those who love so deeply, so selflessly, at times, it seems, that they cannot bear the thought of hurting those they love the most.

A few years ago, a loved one began to suffer from constant suicidal ideation. They had struggled in the past, but no one in their life was prepared for this storm. What do you say to someone who cannot sleep at night because they want to kill themselves? How do you live your own life when you are up so many nights trying to calm their fears, trying to keep them safe?

I would never forgive myself if anything happened to them. That is what I remember saying to myself over and again. I wanted desperately for them to be well. I tried reasoning with them – meditation, essential oils, energy healing, medications, more therapy – everything, anything to get them better. When that didn’t work, I lowered my expectations. I’d do everything, anything, just to keep them alive.

One night, we were sitting in their dark room together. Their thoughts swirled around us like a cyclone, damning the world, shuttering out all hope, pulling us both down together. Then for a moment, I stopped. I felt myself as if standing outside that room, looking down on the two of us. What more do I need to do to love them? What more can I do to help them? The answer that came back shocked me.

You must forgive yourself now if anything does happen to them. Know that you have done your best. You have loved them fully. You have tried everything. You are not responsible if they kill themselves.

This was a terrifying thought. If I let go of my ardent wish for them not to die, how would I make sure that they stayed alive? How would I watch over them? How would I be there every moment making sure that they were still here?

I had been reading the Buddhist masters who say that love is releasing our attachments. If those words sound simple, it’s much more complicated than that. And I’m the type who’d much rather hold on to an attachment than risk letting go of what is true connection, just love. But I could agree in that moment that love, at the very least, means seeing past our fears.

If I couldn’t bear the thought of anything happening to them, was I truly selfless? Or was I only trying to protect myself from pain? Was the fear the voice of my own self, my own ego afraid of being destroyed? Was it just my own inner child remembering the feeling of being alone? Of my world shattering to pieces? And, if so, was it really true? Were there really thoughts, feelings, so terrible that they could annihilate me?

And so, I decided to be brave. I forgive myself if they die. I have done – I am continuing to do – everything I can.

That is when the magic happened. As I said those words to myself, our conversation changed. The room grew lighter. With my own fear out of the way, I could show up for them. I could listen even more deeply than I did before. I had no more stakes in the direction we took. I could just follow them where they needed to go. And soon, they calmed down and went peacefully to sleep.

I can’t say that I’m a master at this. If you’re a co-dependent like me, you know that it comes up in every kind of relationship – with co-workers, students, friends, lovers…and managing it is a lifelong work in progress. Moreover, it will always be my conscious choice to err on the side of loving too much. I will always give more rather than risk not giving enough.

Sometimes we love so much, we cannot bear the thought of hurting those we love. But, actually, we love even more when we learn to stand that thought. It’s when we stand right here – naked, vulnerable, our true selves – ready to love the world as it is. And ready to become who we are in the making.

Please visit to read more articles written by Alyssa Luboff, Ph.D.

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  • Writer's pictureAnitra Carol Smith

I wanted to live. But clumps were stockpiling in my blood and getting ready to stop my heart like a head-on collision. The email from Dr. Antons said: “You have no alternatives left except a drastic change in your lifestyle. I recommend that you become vegan.”

Become that weirdass shit, a vegan? I’d have to turn my back on my French roast chicken rubbed with cayenne and salt and stuffed with fresh thyme. And no more crunching into squares of Tillamook extra-sharp cheddar on Wheat Thins. Goodbye to my childhood soul food: graham crackers dipped in milk.

I couldn’t do it.

But I had to. Fortunately, I had my friend, Marge, owner of a business dedicated to helping people learn how to eat plants. She gave me a hug and bought me a cookbook called, “Vegan Baking.” I tried out the cornbread. It tasted suspiciously good.

As the months passed, even though I was no longer eating animals, I didn’t think much about them. Then, cats started wanting to curl up in my lap. Dogs began pushing their head under my hand for a scratch. My husband suggested that maybe I didn’t smell like a predator anymore.

But after I’d been vegan for a couple of years, things started falling apart. Back in my meaty days, I loved being in the kitchen, loved the sizzle of bacon and the smell of prime rib roasting in the oven. Even though now my meals were healthy and plant-powered, I found myself thinking: “I’ve slurried up a clutch of veggies and grains and spices, but it’s not that different from the last slurry of veggies, grains and spices.” Sometimes I felt like I was eating compost.

On a trip to Portland, my husband and I heard about a vegan restaurant called Blossoming Lotus. I felt wary. It sounded like a place where your cupcake has wheatgrass in it. But we went.

Because we got there during Happy Hour, we made a dinner out of the small plates: Thai BBQ soy curl wraps with sweet ginger dressing, polenta artichoke fritters to dip into lemon ranch sauce, creamy pesto and white bean dip with blue corn tortilla chips and basil oil with scallions, plus roasted beet and curried cashew salad.

My husband and I looked at each other over our forks and I said it out loud: “Who knew that vegan food could taste like this?” At that moment, I saw the path forward.

We bought Blossoming Lotus’s cookbook, “Vegan Fusion,” which led us to other cookbooks from restaurants with inspired vegan chefs, like Veganopolis, and Candle 79. And I have new friends in the kitchen: Mirin, a sweet Japanese cooking wine that chefs sprinkle in to add the secret “wow” factor to a dish. Pimienton, a smoked paprika well-known to Mexican cooks. Amchur and sumac from the Middle East. Plus I discovered Indian curries, Moroccan tagines, Spanish tapas. And I’m circling back to some much-loved cookbooks like Alice Waters’s “In the Green Kitchen” because now I know how to veganize beauties like saffron rice and Irish soda bread.

After I was converted by Blossoming Lotus, I noticed one day that whenever meat doesn’t shoulder its way into a meal, I’m more aware of all the other flavors. Six or eight tastes may jostle each other, meld with each other. It fascinates me to watch which ones can be friends, which fight. Some, like lemon zest, are your high school class president: it can get along with just about anybody. Grate it into hot oatmeal with pears, scrape it over your couscous salad, brighten an eggplant casserole with it just before serving. Other flavors like cloves are your persnickety Aunt Prudence who loves you but turns up her nose at the rest of the world.

And being vegan is not just about avoiding unhappy heart events. Even more, it’s about pleasure. Soon the boundaries start to blur. You lean your hips against the sink as you press a dripping peach into your mouth. You gather armloads of fresh basil for your pesto, but get waylaid by the scent and sluice off your clothes onto the kitchen floor, rubbing basil all over your body.

But I’m getting distracted.

Not everything I’ve cooked has turned out well. I’m trying to forget, for example, spending three hours stuffing pasilla peppers. They were so drab they made turnips seem like a hot date. But then, just often enough, along comes grilled portobellos and red onions marinated in a fresh oregano and chive sauce, or oven-roasted French fries with garlic ketchup, or beet Reuben spilling its homemade thousand-island dressing over the sides of a hot sesame bun.

And all the time, those inspired vegan chefs in Hawaii, in Portland, New York, San Francisco are my silent partners, putting edible plants together in ways no one has tried before. It’s something to live by and I’m hungry for more.

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  • David Hart, Ph.D.

Let me tell you one of my favorite stories. When I was a child, my grandmother proudly and confidently asserted that I would be the first person in my family to attend college. In an effort to prepare and inspire me, she would drive me around the campus of the University of California, Irvine – in a 1984 bronze Buick Regal – and educate me on what makes a college a college and a university a university and that if I wanted to impress people in life, I should attend the latter. To the mind of a 10-year-old boy, her proclamations were taken as fact. Indeed, I grew up to be the first person in my family to attend and graduate from a 4-year university. Sadly, the person I wanted most to attend my graduation was not present on that special day. After eight years of battle, my beloved grandmother passed away from Alzheimer’s disease three months prior to graduation. But the story doesn’t end there.

Post-graduation I traveled to Europe on a four-week backpacking trip with one of my best friends. We traversed the continent by foot and train meeting fast friends along the way. The experience was glorious and while the grief of my grandmother’s transition was palpable, I could feel her cheerful presence every step of the way.

On the day before our planned return to the United States, we were walking down Paris’ famed Champs Elysees when a woman tapped me on my shoulder and asked if I spoke English. She had four tickets to sell – tickets to see my favorite pop star Madonna in concert. Truth be told, I had unsuccessfully attempted to obtain tickets to her show in Los Angeles the following September. Could this be real? How could it be that I randomly stumbled upon the perfect number of tickets to see a pop icon perform in one of the most romantic cities in the world?

To this day, I am positively convinced that the perfect timing of the experience was not random at all. I trust and believe that tickets to the concert were the ultimate graduation gift from a proud grandmother on the other side of the veil. What a story, huh?! And yes, it’s a true!

I wonder how you feel after reading this short narrative about an experience I had nearly twenty years ago. There’s a neurobiological effect of storytelling that can in some ways trick us to have emotional experiences, depending on the type of story we tell. Stories about heroism and resilience increases the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain, a chemical that regulates motivation, focus, and memory. Stories about love, relationships, and community stimulate production of oxytocin, which is the same hormone that endears parents to their children and is the physiological foundation for empathy and relational attachment. In combination, this cocktail of neurological chemicals can fuel creativity, enhance memory, strengthen resolve, identify purpose, and fuel resiliency.

Had I chosen to reference a story that was inherently negative, you might imagine experiencing feelings that followed suit. For instance, the television news media generally shares information that would likely be described as terrible by the vast majority. Negative news affects our brains by causing an influx of the stress hormone cortisol and flushing our system with adrenaline. In combination, these neurochemicals are intended to activate our fight, flight, and freeze response. Living in a constant state of stress not only affects us somatically, including increased headaches, forgetfulness, fatigue, and exacerbating chronic health conditions, it also impacts our mood and behavior, which can manifest as irritability, anger, anxiety, depression, fear, and intolerance.

As we move into a new year together and take stock of the threats to our physical, political, cultural, and spiritual bodies, I advocate storytelling: the telling of personal and historical accounts of resilience, finding purpose, experiencing joy, overcoming obstacles, finding solutions, loving each other especially our neighbors, finding common ground, and above all, hope. It wouldn’t hurt to turn off the television news, too.

The New York Times recently published an opinion article written by Toby Levy, a Holocaust survivor who lives in Brooklyn. I encourage you to read her submission as well and seek out her lectures as a volunteer docent at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Ms. Levy tells the story of her father building a 4 foot by 5 foot room in the barn of a neighbor and friend who agreed to hide the entire family, including her parents, aunt, uncle, grandmother, and three siblings. They survived two years there while most of the Jews from their town did not. Against the odds, her family, through faith and the courage of others, survived.

Ms. Levy shares the miracle of her life by telling a story of resilience. Even in the midst of the pandemic, she’s resolved to adapt to the challenges we all face together. In closing, Ms. Levy writes, “I am already thinking, planning where I am going first, what I will do first, when this ends.” She has a choice. And so do we. I encourage us all to follow her lead by sharing our own stories of resolve as we write the next chapter in the books of our lives.

For those readers who experience hopelessness, excessive anger, thoughts of suicide/homicide, and have a difficult time managing your day-to-day tasks, please reach out for support. Help is available at

Dr. David Hart is a counselor, educator, advocate, and writer from Long Beach, CA. You can reach him at

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