#HumansOfHubud: Gabriella Luisa and her journey towards self-love
I pulled up to Peloton Supershop on Berawa and meet Gabriella Luisa for the first time. She was wearing a beautiful white playsuit and looked absolutely radiant. I thought it was apt that we were having lunch in a vegan cafe that doubled as an artisan bicycle shop, considering that Gabriella – a vegan bodybuilder – is a strong advocate of the fitness and vegan lifestyle.
So, I almost couldn’t believe it when I saw her transformation photos. It was jaw-dropping.
Gabriella struggled with her body image for a long time, until two life-changing events happened: 1) the passing of her father 2) a chance encounter with some vegans in Australia.
The result was an incredible transformation in mind, body and soul. She held second place in her first bikini contest ever and qualified for the British Bikini Finals. She is a personal trainer. She is the founder of a digital marketing agency that only works with clients fostering a plant-based lifestyle.
But more importantly, her greatest achievement was discovering self-love.
“Everything for me stems from self-love. Everything revolves around it. If we’re able to love ourselves then we’re able to love everyone else more. And the best way to do so is to first take care of our health.”
With regards to the passing of her father: “It gave me a completely new perspective on life and the world and how valuable time is. That if we don’t have our health, we have absolutely nothing. It became this primary importance to me to really take care of myself and also live life to the full”
When her father passed away two years ago, it was from an illness brought about by the effects of prolonged substance addiction. Before Gabriella was born, her father was a heroin addict.
“He was from a poor family and his mother couldn’t afford to raise him. He was put in a nunnery where he was mistreated” So when he escaped and ended up on the streets, he turned to two things – a small Italian gang and drugs.
Hearing her tell his story, I begin to understand what his addiction was truly about.
“It was kind of, to replace the love where he felt like he wasn’t loved… that was his life cycle”
Instead, it was about dealing with life and the condition of love.
In a TED talk titled Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong, the British journalist Johann Hari concluded that “addiction is not about the pleasurable effects of substances, it’s about the user’s inability to connect in healthy ways with other human beings”. In other words – ‘the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, “it’s connection.”
When Gabriella was born, her father had found his connection.
“My mom and dad had a cruise ship fling and I was the result of that… I think he was just crying out for something to save him… and I was like a cold wet fish slap in the face” Gabriella’s birth gave him the love and meaning he’d been missing.
He was an amazing dad… he held down a good job, fed us and put in so much effort with us… we had some amazing family times and he loved us unconditionally.”
Although he never touched heroin after the birth of Gabriella, he turned to prescription drugs for remedy. “The addiction had such a grip on him that he never could fully conquer it…
He always knew it was going to catch up to him.”
An important theme in developmental psychology is that relationships act as mirrors. Our actions are mirrors. And our sense of self is the sum of our actions internalized. Her father was her mirror.
“When I was watching my dad die, those last 4 weeks, looking into his eyes, I saw regret… He realized that he wasn’t going to walk his daughter down the aisle, to give her away or hold his grandchildren in his arms”.
Gabriella saw how precious life is and decided to invest in herself and her future because she believes it’s an act of self-love.
“My bank account is literally empty, I am literally living on the edge… (but I believe) the universe looks after you when you follow your heart and dreams and it’s a risk I’m prepared to take.”
More than anything, my dad taught me that everything has consequences. And consequences are the products of the choices you make”.
When her father made the decision to fight his addiction, she saw that it was possible to change anything. The work just had to be put in. It’s not going to just happen naturally and there’s no quick fix for it. It’s not easy. But the only question that matters is “What do you want more? What sacrifices are worth more?”
In bodybuilding, she adopts the same mentality. She knows the work needed to sculpt herself. It’s pure hard work – committing herself to hitting the gym twice a day, almost 7 days a week, for a full year now. She mirrored his strength to battle the addiction with her strength to overcome the challenges that life presented her. When he was diagnosed with the cirrhosis of the liver, he was due to have a liver transplant.
“We were supposed to give him a piece of ours. But he told me he wasn’t going to go through with it because he didn’t ever want us to have a dent in our health as a consequence of his poor life choices growing up.”
From previously lacking in self-love and doubting her self-worth, through her father’s eyes, she sees her value.
She now seeks to celebrate herself every day. And as she shows me pictures of her and her dad through the years, I grasp that it is about not squandering the sacrifice he’s made for her. Her father’s insurmountable love for her is mirrored by her insurmountable love for him.
“It’s an act of love every day. I do what I do because I love it.” Being a bodybuilder and sculpting her physical appearance was never about the way she looked. “I don’t mind what I look like because I’m still the same person.”
“In the end, some of your greatest pain becomes your greatest strength”
The very thing that took her away from Ubud two years ago – her father’s illness – became the exact same thing that brought her back. Instead of associating Ubud with the pain that she felt, she turned it into the strength she needed to move forward. After all,
Ubud gets its name from the Balinese word “ubad”, medicine.
“I think I always knew that if I needed to go somewhere… this was it”. There is something so beautiful in this circle of events.“It’s been everything I’ve expected and more. I’ve been here for 2 months and just extended my visa for another two.”
Outside the cafe, the rain was relentless. Lightning struck across the sky and we instinctively plugged our ears to prepare for the loud crack of the thunder. We were meant to leave and head off for our respective appointments.
Gabriella shows me the tattoo she has of her father’s birth date and the ring that contains a portion of her father’s ashes. Her father’s death has been the nadir of her life. But he is the reason she has become the person she is today. He is the source of her strength.
Her passion for her life – this life that she has dedicated herself to was so contagious. She had such a radiance talking about fitness and being a vegan, I wanted to hit the ground with some push ups and try my hand at being a vegan right there and then.
So I asked her, what’s her go-to recipe for a non-vegan like me that might want to have a crack at a vegan dish? “It’s a comfort food that you can actually download from my website: Chilli Non-Carne. high in protein and low in fats. super easy to make: garlic and onion, fry them up in coconut oil in a pot, some paprika, cumin and chili powder. 3 types of beans, can of tomato sauce, sweet corn, mushrooms, red pepper and simmer for 10 minutes.”
I went back to my friend’s villa and had a sneaky vanilla puff pastry and half a cup of sprite. I felt incredibly naughty for doing so. Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow.
Photo credits: Jess Dixon