All right brace yourself dear reader, I’m about to get into your face! Right now, what negative stories are you telling yourself about who you are or how the past tightly holds onto you? Are there any pessimistic thoughts that are really weighing you down? Is it at all possible these thoughts aren’t true? And more importantly, how are they keeping you from really experiencing everything good about the here and now? How willing are you to face them and lessen their grip on your happiness?
About 10 years ago, someone of a more gentle persuasion got into author Frank Ferrante’s face by asking him what he most wanted to do before he died, just the question he needed to contemplate.
It all started when he innocently walked “left instead of right” and took a spontaneous chance on a local New Age vegan cafe, forever changing his life. It might change your life as well, if you happen to pick up his newly released memoir on weight loss and recovery May I Be Frank: How I Changed My Ways, Lost 100 Pounds, and Found Love Again.
When asked the question of the day at the cafe, Frank answered truthfully by saying his greatest wish was to fall in love again. At the time he was a recovering alcoholic and addict with seventeen years sobriety, going to college in his 50s and raising a teenage son by himself. All amazing accomplishments!
Yet a troubled past and penchant for using food as a drug kept him tied to his unhappy false beliefs about himself and caused a whole lot of anger. He felt so alone, unlovable and lost …. until he literally got lost on the way to a video store. A happy accident by the name of Cafe Gratitude stood waiting with open arms and the rest is history (as documented by the award winning film “May I Be Frank”).
If you haven’t seen the documentary, I won’t spoil it for you. I’ll just mention that thanks to Frank’s willingness to be vulnerable and his deep need to not only help himself but others by sharing his story, the whole wide world has embraced him with all the love, acceptance and gratitude he could ever want (just take a look at his Facebook page to see what I mean). By doing the hard work of facing his addictions (especially to food), he ultimately lost 100 lbs and met the wonderful woman of his dreams after the film was completed!
I promise not to get into your face again, but I do strongly suggest you pick up this companion book to the film if you or anyone you love know what it’s like to fill up the emptiness inside with food, drugs or sex.
May I Be Frank is so much more than a weight loss story or even a memoir. It’s a guidebook on how to live a full life and come to terms with those things that haunt us (like a painful past or the false ideas we believe about ourselves and others). Really, it’s a book about love and a well written story you will love reading!
In the beginning of your book May I Be Frank: How I Changed My Ways, Lost 100 Pounds, and Found Love Again you described yourself as lonely, disconnected, lost and self-loathing before you began your transformation. You also said you were looking for external ways to fill the internal emptiness. I’m sure a lot of people, especially addicts, can relate to this. What led you to end up in this place and why were you feeling so empty inside?
Frank: These emotional and spiritual experiences are certainly not exclusive to addicts. It’s just one way it manifests. Addiction is just an indication I have found through my travels that a great many people feel this way, whether they are addicts or not.
Why was I feeling that way? I had reached a plateau, sort of an impasse in my life or a crossroads where I just felt stuck. Most of my life could be characterized as leapfrogging over addictions … transcending one addiction and transferring it to another.
One of the things that we say in the recovery world is that we shed our addictions in the order that they will kill us. Certainly that was my experience. The first thing I stopped using in 1977 was heroin. Shortly thereafter, I started using alcohol and cocaine. Then quit 10 years of that. Then I stopped smoking. Then there were those incredible weight gains.
It really is a spiritual journey, the journey inward. My internal landscape was being reflected and manifesting in my biology. People like to isolate the two because it’s comfortable to do that … “If I just diet and lose 20 lbs I’ll feel great”. Well, that’s not the way it works. You’ll feel great for a little while but eventually whatever it is that’s haunting you will surface again and manifest itself somehow through some behavior.
So the reason is I was at a point in my life where I was stuck. I was 300 pounds, I started isolating ( and I get so much of my juice from interacting with other human beings). I wasn’t doing anything that I needed to do to nurture or express myself and really to breathe into life. I was living in a very constrictive place. And I knew something had to shift or I was just going to fade away.
I could be dramatic and say I was going to die, that may or may not be true. But any addict can tell you there are worse things than dying and that is living in that level of misery. There is one thing, you know, like having a headache or having a bad day but to go to sleep and wake up with a sense of despair and hopelessness is a circle of hell that Dante didn’t talk about.
I hope that answers that question!
It does and it leads to my next question, what would you say to someone feeling like that right now who desperately wants to change but just doesn’t know how?
Frank: One of the places that I think people get stuck … I certainly did, is that I couldn’t see how. So since I couldn’t figure it out, as far as I was concerned that nullified the possibility of the solution.
The trick is to get to a place of surrender. I had to get to a place where I don’t know the answer and I had to call it in. And I never really use this kind of New Age language, I had a disdain for it but when I reflect on my experience I do believe that I called that energy in to help me get out of where I was and ascend.
In my case, it was stumbling into a raw food vegan restaurant which would not have been my choice. It really wasn’t! If I knew what that place was I would not have gone into it. It was because of my ignorance that I stumbled into consciousness.
I never really thought of it like that till just now, I stumbled into this place and started going there because it was bright and the people there were nice and kind and shiny. I felt seen. The odd thing is that when I was 300 pounds and big enough to eclipse the sun, I felt unseen.
I walked into this place and they were very kind, friendly and bright and I started to remember … I begin to feel the stirrings of idealism again. Idealism is that you don’t know how you are going to do something but you believe it can be done. There were just the stirrings of that, and this is in retrospect. I wasn’t thinking this at the time but there was something internally happening to me, or for me, or with me … that was calling me back to this space to enter into a conversation that I was not expecting and this conversation was going to be leading me to a greater awakening.
So are you saying that when you were younger you were idealistic?
Frank: I was very idealistic… a child of the 60s! I marched in the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement and all those things. In a lot of ways, a lot of things that happened in the 60s were misguided and also driven by adolescence and a degree of narcissism. Yet at the core of it was this belief that there was a unity and something greater than us, that we could change the world for the better. A lot of people went to the dark side. I did! And then we corrupted the message.
I think there is a resurgence of it because there are guys like me that survived the 60s and all the madness that came along with it. And now we are elders. Those of us that really have a true investment in leaving the place better than we found it, I think in some ways are banding together to act as elders. There are different messages but at the core they are in alignment whether they have to do with nutrition, medicine, philosophy, emotional maturity, or what have you.
Every culture throughout history has had elders to help usher in the next generation. We don’t really have that but I believe something like that is emerging globally. It’s emerging! There’s a vibration of consciousness that is yearning to express itself.
I can’t even belief I’m talking this way! I had no idea I’d be in this position, because of the film and the book, to be talking about these things because as far as I was concerned I was just a loser. I don’t have any property, or stocks or great accomplishments to my credit. I have a driver’s license, a degree in history and humanities and a long degree in drug addiction. That’s about it! And here I am talking to people about the mind, body, spirit connection to health and wellness! No one’s more surprised than me!
But all that has nothing to do with material goods and I think that is what we need to realize…
Frank: Yeah but you know how we measure things … we have these imaginary milestones in life “by this point this should be happening” and all of that. By worldly standards I would not exactly be considered a success.
And yet, what does that really mean? Even the concept of what that means is changing. Well I had to change it so I could live with myself (Franks laughs hardily as he says this).
It seems like there are a lot of broken people in the world. Do you think it goes back to what you were saying about how we don’t have elders to lead us and the fact that we judge ourselves by these certain standards of what we have or what we’ve accomplished, which doesn’t really mean anything in the end?
Frank: That brings me to the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross book On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss where she talks about the stages of grief. In the book (I haven’t read it in a very long time but it was powerful when I did) what I remember is her interviewing terminally ill patients and talking about what they regretted and were sad about. None of them said “Gee, I wish I would have worked harder” or “I wish I would have bought that stock”.
All of them essentially talked about relationships. They regretted not spending more time with their children, grandchildren, wives or their husbands. That’s what people really regretted. And yet while they were doing whatever it was they were doing, in their minds they were doing it for these people. The very thing these people would have preferred having they didn’t have, they forfeited.
In terms of elders, you know there is nobody saying anything original, in my opinion. Think about the Sumerians and then the Romans, the Greeks and then Shakespeare and all the literature in between. They were all saying the same thing. Always!
And yet what’s happening is that we are taking old messages and presenting it in the vernacular of the day. It sounds like brand new information. None of this stuff is brand new. What is says to me is that we haven’t gotten the message yet. That we haven’t really paid attention to what these people throughout the ages have been saying about the emotionally and spiritually advantageous way of treating each other as human beings and the world around us.
I’m not saying anything original. I’m reflecting my experience, what my perception of life is through my filters. I may have a unique way of delivering the message but it’s the same message.
What I don’t understand is why it seems like we have to suffer before we become wise. Why couldn’t we have figured out all of these things (that have been said over and over) without causing pain to others and ourselves?
Frank: We’re not that swift!
Really, life happens! The thing is that in the United States there is this perception that we are supposed to be happy. Happy is a by-product of right living.
And happiness doesn’t mean that we don’t have moments of darkness, the dark night of the soul; when someone we love dies or when someone we love leaves us or people that get sick, or children that get sick … all those things that a part of life that we try to avoid, the process of experience.
Grief is a very sacred thing. I don’t see grief as a negative. In other countries, for example, France or Italy … if a woman is widowed she wears black for x amount of time. That is so that society or the community around this individual knows what is going on and deals with them accordingly, with deference because they are going through something that requires the community to do something that is heart based.
Here it’s like “hey, you broke up two weeks ago, come on, get over it”. “The best way to get over somebody is to get under somebody”. These are very vulgar and crude ways of dealing with what I believe are the sacred human experiences that are a part of what it takes get from the cradle to grave.
Maybe that is the benefit of the New Age movement. I know you were hesitant to embrace it when you came into this experience but maybe that is our way of creating connection, having rituals and empathy for others. Would you agree?
Frank: I love rituals. First of all I love them because the Protestants hate them! I think rituals are designed to draw you into a particular vibration. So I have a great deal of reverence for rituals that are designed to bring you into a higher vibration. And that is lost or certainly obscured in our society.
Do you have any rituals that are important in your life?
Frank: Yes I do. I wake up in the morning and I thank god for another day. I tell my girlfriend I love her. Someone instructed me years ago when I was an arrogant ass to do something nice for someone every day and don’t get caught. I also go to Marianne Williams’ lectures religiously every Monday, partly because I enjoy the people that I know there and I think that she has a wonderful message. There are so many opportunities to do things that get you to shift into a better place.
So many people are prone to negative thoughts, it seems so prevalent. The thing about negative thinking like “I’m not good enough, skinny enough”, whatever, the interesting thing about those negative thoughts is that they generally don’t have an immediate discounter or deflection.
To be continued…..