Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve accomplishments and intentions

After reading one of Cheryl Richardson's books some years ago, one of my groups adopted her idea of giving up resolutions and instead listing accomplishments. Each person lists 25 things or more that she is happy to have done, accomplished, experienced during the year and shares them with the group. Then we spend some time thinking about what we would like on next year's list. They aren't commitments or a to do list. More of a dream list. Next year, I'd love to have done, accomplished, experienced XXX.

The group finds this very satisifying as we get to hear from each person all of her pride and joy in the year past and celebrate it with her. And we get to share our desires for the months ahead.

I'm preparing the same exercises for tonight's New Year's Eve ritual here at the retreat. We'll have our usual circle at 7 and read our writing, then a break for snacks and cider, then a sacred circle of completion and beginnings. I've been here to do this three times before and it's lovely. What's even more delicious is that our retreat still has three days to go, time for those desires to be thoroughly contemplated, not just mentioned in passing.

Here's to healthy bodies, minds, and spirits in the New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Old sugar memories die hard

This week I'm on retreat at Aldermarsh, a retreat center on Whidbey Island north of Seattle. I've been coming here for 8 years. I calculated that this is my 15th retreat here. It is a beautiful place, both the interior spaces and the environs. And the owner is very particular about what kind of events and retreats occur here. She is sensitive to creative and spiritual energies, and that's good news for us as over the last 20 years, this place has become a repository of calm and intuition, imagination and self-expression.

In the first years I came here, the retreats were led by Christina Baldwin, a great writing teacher. The food was catered by the amazing Chef Patti and in addition to succulent meals, there were wonderful desserts. What's more, there were always bountiful chocolates in circle. When I started organizing the retreats, we kept the sweets tradition going, vying with each other for the most delectable gourmet chocolate bars for circle. We began cooking our own meals but bought desserts, especially my favorite caramel banana pie, from Chef Patti.

Now much has changed. Chef Patti went back to school and stopped catering. And I gave up sugar. Since I organize the retreat, I ask that those wanting sweet snacks to keep them to themselves. Occasionally a sorbet will show up in summer but people are respectful. Everyone who comes is a friend and they respect my struggle and my commitment.

But yesterday, in Lind's drugstore where I went to buy index cards for work on the timeframe of my novel, I went by the huge display of gourmet chocolate bars: at least 40 kinds, several of them favorites. And I felt a deep longing. Not for the chocolate itself. If I were going to indulge, it would be caramel banana pie. But for the heedlessness with which I used to eat. Never worrying about the weight or the sugar or the fat, except perhaps in some deeply hidden part of me. Just eating what I wanted whenever I wanted it. I miss that heedlessness sometimes.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

sugar-free holidays

My no-sugar excursion into family Christmas was successful. I was part of the meal planning (we stay pretty simple these days): hearty soups the two evening meals, on my own for one breakfast--I ate a bagel with creamcheese. That was a big treat. Christmas brunch was pancakes and I ate several with a no-sugar jam and no butter. That felt okay. I also ate some scrambled eggs and chicken sausage so I didn't get that carb overload feeling.

There were cookies around and some chocolate and a warm blackberry pie with my favorite kind of ice cream last night. But it wasn't a big deal to just not take any (I didn't even have to say no) and those who ate some were done in a few minutes. I had two bowls of soup and was plenty satisified. None of it seemed worth it to me although I'm sure it would have been delicious.

But I had only to think of what I'd fall back into if I gave myself permission to eat sweets again. I'm not far enough away to trust myself to only eat a little or only eat some once. I don't know if the sugar dependence has the same forever shelf-life as I believe alcohol does so that if I ate some, I'd go back to craving and wanting, but I do know that what has kept me sugar-free since Feb 14 has been my commitment to myself to not eat any. And once I loosen that commitment, I don't know what would happen and I don't think I want to find out.

I'm home. Glad to see my kitties, glad to be alone for a bit. Headed off on a writing retreat tomorrow for the next 9 days. Hurray!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holiday expectations

At the AA meeting I went to Monday, the usual crowd of 35-40 women was done to 12. Not surprising with all the things there are to do at the holidays: decorating, gift-buying-wrapping-mailing-delivering, special foods to shop for and cook, parties, concerts, recitals, relatives visiting. A lot of crazy-making behaviors. Not so good for those of us who are addicted to expectations and our need to fill them.

When I was newly sober, there was a lot of frank talk about the holidays at meetings. How they were a time of excess: excess drinking, eating, spending--even for non-addicts. How it was so easy for us addicts to fall into that excess since we were by nature excessive consumers. (It's not surprising that more people go into recovery after the holidays than any other time of year.)

How there was a kind of frenzy that took over the culture, a frenzy fueled by the desire to achieve some mythical joy amd fulfillment through spending and consuming. Seduced by the romance of a past that never existed, we think we can create or re-create a happy childhood by doing more and more.

Christmas was, the old-timers said, an excellent time to keep it simple, to realize that Christmas was just another 24 hours, that not drinking (or eating sugar) is the real priority, along with kindness and gentleness to self and others.

Over these years of sobriety, my family's Christmas rituals and consumption have simplified considerably. We buy less, give less to each other and more to charity, eat less, drink not at all. In a way the holidays seem less special, less extraordinary because we don't have big expectations. In another way, they are much sweeter.

Have a wonderful holiday! Jill 

Monday, December 20, 2010

The post-birthday blues

Saturday morning I had breakfast with a very close friend and a lovely conversation that was deep and intimate, the way it always is when we are together. Then we went to a class we're taking on Creative Aging. That too was the most satisfying it's been and I went home happy.

But not for long.

I got home and the apartment was empty and I didn't have any work to ground me or give me structure and I flailed for a bit and then started watching TV and eating. It was very much like the old drinking days. A lone Saturday afternoon with no plans, a big letdown after the very socially engaged Friday and Friday night and Saturday morning and early afternoon. I was alone with me and I wasn't good company.

I feel this way often after a vacation. I'm glad to be home, glad to see my cats, but I feel at loose ends, especially if the vacation time has been joyous and intense. I want more of that kind of high. And the two days of birthday celebration had been a high.

I ate off and on for six hours. I didn't binge on sugar, didn't have any, but of course, there are plenty of things to overeat. The next day I felt lousy and it was good to work out.

I know there is something deep here that needs to shift, some way of being that I can't sit through or be with, that I run from through distractions, TV and eating or work. Saturday afternoon I so wanted ice cream, several gallons, and no one watching. I had the latter, not the former.

I can feel myself really close to knowing something, close to shifting. And yet...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Now I'm 64

Today at lunch, my Writing Friday pals sang the Beatles tune to me--well, the first few lines. That's all any of us could remember. It was enough to provoke hilarity and the laughter was just what I needed. It matched the lovely sunshine that seemed a gift just for me.

I got up early to take my older body to the gym. My buddy and I have a pact to go no fewer than three times a week to work out and to get that in this week it meant going at the crack of dawn. But we went and I had a good workout. One of my friends remarked at lunch that regular exercise is a key to healthy aging. I hope so. I've been a regular exerciser since 1980, never going more than two weeks without a good workout, and most often not more than 3 days. I'm not buff by any means but I want to be ambulatory at 80 and 90, if I should live that long.

But while 60 may be the new 50, I've still lived a long time already. Not only 64 years but 21 years of sobriety. When I was at the end of my drinking, I was pretty close to death. I wasn't dying yet physically of the disease but my psyche was weeks away from the end. I couldn't do it anymore: I couldn't stay drunk enough and I couldn't get sober, and I was so tired of pretending to be okay. The depression was deepening, the nausea was unrelenting, and my brain was full of an inky sludge that thickened with each glass of bourbon. Suicide was looking like a real possibility.

Then I got honest with my doctor and I went to treatment and my whole life changed.

This is not only my 65th Christmas (although I was only a few days old for the first one), it is also my 22nd Christmas sober. I'm so grateful for these sober decades, for this sober life, for being awake in it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

When is older really older?

This Friday my personal odometer clicks over another year: 64. Since I've been sober, every year has been better than the last. There have been plenty of ups and downs but no major upheavals, and all the smaller changes I've been able to handle with grace. I've watched the years accumulate but without giving them much thought, just glad to be alive and to be sober in that life.

This time feels different somehow. In truth, I don't feel older, neither physically or emotionally than 2 weeks ago or yesterday. But I'm suddenly acutely aware of the time passing, of the mortality waiting around the corner. Perhaps not of the next block or the one after that but of a block not too far off.

I'm coming up on the age when people retire, when they sail off into the sunset with their long-term partner or their new lover. I'm coming up on the age when friends and acquaintances (or perhaps myself) will fall sick and they won't all recover. I'm coming up on the age when what's behind me is far longer than what's ahead.

I feel thoughtful, reflective, sobered by the realization that it won't go on forever. And I feel this in some deeper part of myself, not just the logical, intellectual understanding that we dismiss and go on as if we have all the time in the world. But in the knowing it's true.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


For a long time, I've known that I'm somebody who needs a lot of alone time. Maybe it's because I'm a caretaker by nature and hypervigilant, so when I'm with others, I'm paying attention to them and figuring out what they need and how I can make that happen. I don't know if that's just part of my nature or part of my upbringing.

When I first got sober, I really avoided solitude. In those last years, I'd become an apartment drinker, a loner with the bottle. I'd grown tired of hiding how much I was drinking, pretending to be sober when I wasn't, pretending to drink very little. It was just easier to be home with my bottles of wine and my TV and drink and sleep. I could do that for days on end and while I knew there was something not right about that, I needed it.

But sober, I was afraid to be in my apartment alone. I needed to get out, to be with others, to hide nothing. I went to lots and lots of meetings, often two a day and three a day on the weekend. I went to the movies, I shopped, I ate out in places that had no liquor license. It took about 5 years to be okay with being with me again. And once I was, it was a source of solace from a too busy life to have a day at home all by myself.

This weekend I've had lovely solitude. I have gone to the gym with my buddy Melanie each morning. But other than that, I've been at home. Yesterday I worked on a big project for a client. Today I worked in the morning, decluttered my bathroom this afternoon, and then did collage cards for each of the members of my creativity group, which meets tomorrow. I've taken care of odds and ends around the house, taking advantage of a rainless hour to get rid of the dead plants on my porch and the recycling that had accumulated on the terrace. I've had one of my favorite kinds of days: doing whatever occurs to me next.

And I've been alone. Well, not strictly speaking. Reinie and Frannie and Nellie have kept me good company all day. But I feel recharged for the social week ahead as friends gather for holiday parties and birthday celebrations. Glad to have had a good dose of solitude this weekend.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Needing things to be dependable

Sometimes my childhood experiences and the way they have formed me sneak up on me. Today was one of those days. Last night my computer monitor was doing some weird stuff and this morning it just decided to give me big trouble, staying lit only a few seconds before fading to black. It was annoying but it didn't stop me from writing in my journal, getting breakfast, taking a shower, getting ready for a day of writing with friends. And I have a great computer guy, perhaps the best PC guy in Portland, and I was sure he'd know what to do. It would mean a drive out to his place but I could fit that into my day.

Well, it wasn't that simple. When we talked on the phone at 9, he said he had no idea what was wrong but come on out so I unplugged everything and took both monitor and the tower to the car. My friends arrived, we had circle, they settled in to write and I drove to David's.

Of course, both the monitor and the computer performed beautifully there in his shop. Murphy's Law, or one of its variations, isn't it? I came on home, plugged it all back together and the monitor immediately didn't work. I called David who said it had to be in my environment so I spent time unplugging all the devices and plugging everything somewhere else and it just kept malfunctioning. Long story short, the monitor isn't working, the warranty has lapsed, and I need a new one. But it took most of the day to figure that out, a day I wanted to spend in another way. And the problem won't be solved now until Monday.

No big deal, right? I've got a laptop, I can sort out a way to do the work I need to do this weekend. It isn't a catastrophe. It's a mechanical glitch. And on the surface, I was okay, but underneath I was anxious. When my computer doesn't work or my phone doesn't work or the power is out or my car is in the shop, I don't feel right. I can talk myself into flexibility and I can pretend that I don't care but I do. I want to control my environment, I need things to be dependable and when they aren't, I don't like it.

I had several impulses to eat around this, to soothe myself. I knew enough not to try to talk myself out of the feelings of anxiety and disruption. It never helps to tell myself I shouldn't feel a certain way. But I didn't find a good soothing solution. I didn't eat but I didn't know how else to take care of myself.

I feel some better knowing that I just need to replace the monitor and that that can happen easily Monday morning and things will go back to being okay. But I'd like to develop more ease when things don't seem so dependable.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The three parts of the serenity prayer

Over the last several days, I've had a couple of conversations about acceptance. It's such a key concept in the 12-step programs. "Acceptance is the key to all my problems." But a single focus on acceptance of what is, of what we cannot change, can leave us feeling impotent and depressed. We forget that accepting the things we cannot change is only 1/3 of the serenity prayer, not the whole idea.

It's a good first step, just like the first step of the 12 steps. But it's only the first step.

What is equally important is figuring out what we can change, and what we want. Those of us in recovery are pretty clear about what we don't want (what it was like). We aren't so clear on what we do want and that seems an important piece to me of sobriety, whatever we're recovering from.

What kind of relationships do we want with friends and family? What kind of work do we want to do to contribute to the well-being of the world? How do we want to express our creativity? How do we want to relate to our Higher Power?

These are things we can change. It may not be easy, it may take substantial time. But if we get stuck at acceptance, we run the risk of falling into resignation ("nothing I can do") instead of moving forward into change.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Travelling with the Good Girl in Chicago

I just got back from my last Hazelden Women Healing Conference. There are 4 each year and I was honored to be a part of the speaker team in 2010. Each trip has been a mini-vacation for me: a nice hotel, a lot of leisure, a chance to meet and know very interesting women, who are doing really great work for women in recovery. I can't express how fortunate I feel to have been part of this.

This last trip was bittersweet and a bit more difficult. First, it was the last time we would all be together, at least in this way, and perhaps forever. Each of the other retreats, there's always been a "next time." Second, my two sisters came along on this weekend and so I felt very divided about where to spend my time.

Typically I have had dinner with the conference friends, breakfast on my own, lots of alone time during the day and quiet evenings of conversation. This time, there was a lot of sightseeing (quite wonderful) and two groups of people to eat with at each meal. My sisters weren't all that interested in getting to know my conference friends, whom they'd never see again; they were interested in a sisters' weekend. My conference friends wanted as much of our last time to be together as possible. So I found myself caught up in trying to please everybody and me too. More boundary issues and great opportunities to practice.

My sister Kerry is a great role model for me in asking for what she wants. She's really clear and direct and I so appreciate that about her. And it helped me be direct too. So I had dinner with conference friends Thursday and Friday night and spent Saturday day with them, spent Friday day and Saturday night with my sisters. Because I didn't get much alone time, I was glad to have taken an earlier flight home so I've had today to myself.

Of course, I realize it isn't my job to make or keep anybody happy. It's my job to be clear in my communication and ask for what I want. But old Good Girl habits die hard.

Friday, December 3, 2010

You're never too old to have poor boundaries

This week has been a week of interesting revelations. I was talking to my spiritual director on Wednesday about how I'd gotten into a jackpot around my schedule yet again. I keep talking about how I am going to organize my week so that I have some days free of appointments to work or to write or do art, confining social events and errands and those pesky meetings with the eye doctor or the financial advisor to one day a week. And it never happens.

My schedule is mine. No one else puts those appointments in my date book, no one else says, "Yes, that would be fine," when somebody wants a coaching session on an already crowded day or a lunch date in a week of big projects.

I was complaining of this to Anna, and she said. "Jill, that's an aspect of poor boundaries." And a huge lightbulb went off for me. I don't like to say no. I don't want people not to like me. I want to be accommodating. It feels selfish to not be. And that aspect of the Good Girl is often more important than taking care of myself.

Anna recommended that I establish a calendar policy in writing. That way I wouldn't be making decisions each time someone calls, but rather I'll have a freely chosen policy to refer myself to. A way to remind myself that this is what I want and need and this is what I can have.

So I'm going to spend time on the airplane home on Sunday doing several things: writing a wish list for my upcoming birthday and Christmas, considering my intentions and goals for 2011, and writing a calendar policy.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Holiday parties and no dessert

I hosted a birthday party for old friends tonight. Someone else brought the requested dessert. The four-minute rule definitely applied but even though they ate quickly, I was uncomfortable. However, I just let myself feel that and watch myself feel that and I was okay. After they left and I was finishing the dishes, I fixed myself a bowl of fresh pineapple. But it wasn't what I wanted of course.

This isn't the first holiday season I've been off sugar. There have been holidays in the past when I've been dieting or have given up sugar for 3 months or until the New Year. But this is the first year that I've had the commitment to stay off it. And that meant something tonight and I hope it will continue to mean something.

In several ways, I am more nervous around sugar than I am around alcohol. Some of it is long abstinence from alcohol. This is my 22nd holiday season with no booze. It's familiar now; the decision not to drink has happened hundreds, maybe thousands of times now.

But sugar abstinence is infinitely newer, less solid. And that isn't the only thing. If I took a drink or asked for one, I think my friends would be shocked, horrified and they would do everything they could to talk me out of it (tell me to go to a meeting, call my sponsor, rethink it all). Even the non-alcoholics know how dangerous alcohol is for someone like me.

But with sugar, I don't think anyone would think much of it. They might be surprised or just assume that I had it handled or had changed my mind about the parameters of my commitment. As a culture, we are coming to understand alcoholism a little better. But sugar addiction is less understood, even scoffed at in some circles.

What this means to me is that it a lonelier place, staying off sugar, than staying off alcohol. And that's what I was feeling tonight. Lonely in my commitment.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


I'm taking a 9-month course called Aging as Creative Catalyst and our assignment this month is to watch for places that need winnowing. This harvest image of throwing grain up into the air and letting the chaff blow away while the useable kernels fall to the ground and remain is an interesting one.

It fits my impulse to declutter, winnowing my possessions down to those I love and use, those that are most meaningful. Some time back, I wrote about clearing out all my craft supplies, discarding and giving away all those possible projects and skills I could learn. All the "maybe someday's." It felt good to create more space for what I already love. And I've been making great progress on my novel since then.

I'm also seeing how this can apply to relationships. My beloved Wednesday Women's group talked last summer about restful relationships and letting go of those that weren't. I made some progress then, in two relationships in particular. It wasn't easy to do. I tried to be graceful and I'm not sure I succeeded but it has been quieter and more peaceful in my heart since I let those two people go.

I can see that more of this lies ahead. More of recognizing energy that doesn't work for me, optional relationships that don't bring me joy, unbalanced relationships where I'm giving too much or receiving too little (or the reverse), relationships with fuzzy boundaries that don't work any more. Relationships that served a good purpose for a long time and now don't. Or relationships that have changed, where an old caring remains but a current intensity doesn't exist.

The good girl in me is a bit frightened by this, frightened by the possibility that people will be hurt, will take it wrong, that I am somehow responsible for them too. Maybe the good girl needs winnowing out as well.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Just desserts

I went to a Thanksgiving potluck yesterday. It was a wonderful event. Good food, good company. Often this particular event has a big turnout and I have found that overwhelming. When I get overwhelmed, I retreat to doing: dishes, clean up. It's a way to stay active and work off  my anxiety. I'm trying to learn to do things differently so I really worked at sitting still, listening to others, participating in the conversation, even when it's just small talk, which is hard for me.

I ate a decent lunch so I wouldn't overeat at dinner and I didn't. I also didn't eat what didn't appeal to me, sticking mostly to the traditionals of turkey, potatoes, gravy (and some wonderful roasted brussel sprouts). I didn't get too full, I didn't feel physically uncomfortable. I wasn't tempted by the wine, though in my well-practiced way, I was conscious that there were a lot of bottles opened and consumed.

And I did my best to just be okay with the fact that there were appealing desserts. A pumpkin cake with whipped cream (I used to swear I could eat dog biscuits if they had whipped cream) looked especially wonderful. And from all the enjoyment around me it probably was. I had a few aching moments of wanting to be someone who could take or leave it, could just eat a piece and not want more, just eat a piece and not go to the Plaid Pantry for three pints of Ben & Jerry's afterwards. And then of course, I realized that if I could take it or leave it, I wouldn't be aching. I'd just not care.

In the end, I ate a few slices of fresh pear provided by a kind soul and let the dessert go. But when I got home, I had trouble not eating. I didn't have any sweets here but I had crackers and a part of a banana and some yogurt and some almonds. I wasn't hungry but I felt some sort of restlessness that I couldn't just sit with.

That's the practice that's up next. Sitting with those feelings. And I feel weary just thinking about it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Passing on a prayer

In the midst of the emotional turmoil I've been in these last few days, a dear friend sent this lovely poem/prayer: I am so grateful for thoughtful, articulate writers:

Gentle me, Holy One, into an unclenched moment,
a deep breath, a letting go of heavy experiences.
Of shriveling anxieties, of dead certainties,
that, softened by the silence,
surrounded by light
and open to mystery,
I may be found by wholeness,
Upheld by the unfathomable,
entranced by the simple
and filled with the joy that is You.

Ted Loder from Life Prayers

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tempted to slide

I spent last night and this morning with members of my family. It was my nephew's 19th birthday and we all went out to dinner. I ordered wisely: salad and a pasta dish that seemed pretty simple (chicken,noodles, broth). But then Miles got a celebratory apple crisp that looked so fabulous and I was so tempted to have a bite. I love fruit crisps with vanilla ice cream and I had such a longing.

Then this morning, I ordered wisely again. But there was a lot of talk about apple pie (my sister makes fabulous pie) and there's been a bumper crop of apples on her trees and she'd so be happy to make one and freeze it for me, and I almost asked if she would, thinking that would be a safe exception to no dessert. And yet I could tell by how I felt, that sense of furtivity again, and I didn't ask.

I can feel creeping up on me a dangerous time coming. Not only is it the holidays but it's been 9 months and I don't usually last past this with abstinence from sugar. I get tired of being good, tired of doing the right thing, wanting to rebel.

I get a longing to be a normal person, a normal eater, someone who can eat dessert once in a while. Hell, even have a drink once in a while. I know the longing will pass but it feels hard right now.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The inner brat

For some months now, my spiritual director has been encouraging me to get in touch with my inner brat. In her wisdom and experience, Anna can see all the anger that I've stored up.

I grew up a chronic good girl, frightened of the emotional repercussions of my feelings. Like many of us, I stuffed those feelings down with food, then alcohol, then food again.  Now 9 months off sugar and increasingly unwilling to eat over what I feel, I'm facing some parts of myself perhaps for the first time.

There have been some big repercussions to what I thought was a simple email of frustration sent out to a group last Saturday night. I was feeling particularly peevish--tired and on day 4 of a bad cold. And as you may remember, I'd been anxious for days about the retreat I was starting. I hadn't wanted an apology from the email sender, just an acknowledgement that I was irritated. Instead I got a response from a third party with a reminder about compassion and forgiveness and all of us doing the best we can. I then got angry at that and spoke that anger.

Efforts to be heard have not been satisfactory for either of us, and now I'm faced with a very hurt friend and a seemingly big mess to clean up. I'd been so proud of myself for speaking up, for saying what I was feeling, what I was perceiving. I'm not naive enough to think there are no consequences, that I have no responsibility for what I say. But how much responsibility do I have for how it lands?

I'm not holding my respondent responsible for how her lessons landed with  me. They made me angry and I said so. But that just occasioned more lessons, more analysis, more explanations. Now I feel mired again in this dance of correctness, of mediation, of working it out in some loving and forgiving way.

I don't want to be forgiven. I don't want to forgive. I don't think the circumstances warrant any of that. I just wanted to be heard and acknowledged. It seemed so simple. Apparently not.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Spiritual correctness and permission to get angry

I've found myself in two awkward positions over the last couple of days. One, I'm spending a week with 6 other women, writers and artists, at a creative retreat. Sounds great, doesn't it? Well, one of the women is annoying the hell out of me. I've known her a while, avoided her, and hoped for the best when I learned she was going to be here. But I just don't like her. I know what she triggers me and mirrors in me, in all that pop psychology stuff. I know she's doing the best she can. But the best she can do strikes me as mean and petty and judgemental, and that makes me want to be those things too. I don't want to be around her. I don't want to pray for her or forgive her or any of that crap at the moment.

The second incidence involves technology. Far too often for my comfort, I receive group mailings where all the addresses are highly visible. In other words, the sender did not use the anonymous BCC recipient line. I think by now everyone should know that's how email addresses became spam-sending addresses. I know it's why this morning in my junk mail, my email address was selling photos of hot underage girls and my clients might well be receiving those emails from my address, much to my chagrin.

I spoke my mind about this when I got the most recent of these emails from a volunteer group that is easily the most consistent offender of my correspondents. I had already asked the sender, perhaps twice over the last year, to remove me from her list. To no avail. Or maybe this was another list she picked up. I can't know.

An hour later, the volunteer group organizer's (not the message sender) sent a long email encouraging people to use the BCC line, because it was important to "some" people, and reminding all of us to be compassionate and generous and understand that people make mistakes and were doing the best they could. This further pissed me off. I felt taken to task in front of the group, chastised for my lack of spiritual correctness.

When is it okay to be angry with someone? When is it okay to express that anger with that someone? When is it okay to acknowledge that sometimes people aren't doing the best they can, that they're lazy or inconsiderate or, yes, angry? 

I live mostly in Buddhist and 12-step circles and I've been noticing that it's not okay to find people's behavior unacceptable. That some kind of forgiveness is always needed, some kind of acknowledgement that we have to just live with the way things are. I think that may well be responsible for some of the huge mess we are in.

I don't think most of us do the best we can on most days. I think we do what we can or what we're willing to do, but not the best. And that includes me. And I'm not always sure what the best thing to do is. So I sit back and let the woman run roughshod over the energy here and I speak my mind about what is angering me. And that maybe that's being compassionate with myself.

If anybody has a good reference for a teaching on spiritual correctness, I'd love to have it. Thanks for listening.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


I don't think "furtivity" is a word but it is a condition of those of us who are in recovery from anything addictive. Being furtive about our substances of choice, hiding, sneaking, not sharing, are a part of the deal for many of us. We are ashamed of our need and at the same time desperate to fill it.

Last night, three of us drove into town to get stuff that none of us had thought to bring (a sponge, butter, chicken soup for those three of us suffering with the crud that's going around). I went because I needed some vitamins and hadn't wanted to stop on my way out of town. But once I got into the Safeway and went my own way from the other two, I was struck wtih that old furtive feeling. In my past, and pretty recent past, I'd have cruised the candy aisle and made a beeline for the self-checkout stations, my debit card ready so that my transaction would be speedy and unnoticed. I would also have purchased only things I could jam in my pockets or stuff in my purse.

I realized I didn't need to do that. There wasn't anything I was going to buy that I was ashamed of. I could just relax and get what I needed and walk boldly and proudly toward the cash registers.

I felt a version of the same thing this morning. My laptop has crashed and I hoped I'd be able to fix it by connecting with better wifi than we have here at the house. No such luck but the coffee shop I tried was right across from a grocery and I had that same feeling of furtivity. Old, old triggers.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Controlling my way to the beach

I don't think of myself as a control freak or somebody who always needs to have her own way. But over the past few days, I've come up against some discomfort that sure looks like a control issue.

I'm headed off to the beach with a group of other women writers. I'm pretty used to organizing events like this but I'm not organizing this one. I'd love to be the kind of flexible person who says, yippee, it's not mine to take care of. Instead, I've been fretting about getting the details of who's cooking when and when we can check in, and I didn't get that information until yesterday. This made me anxious (until I got it).

Second, I've been to this house before and stayed in a room that really suited me. It was one of the nicer rooms of the 6 bedrooms and hadn't been chosen by anyone when I got there. Well, I want that room again. I want it because it's nice but even more I want it because it's familar. Mostly I want it because then I will know where I'll be and what it will look.

I think that's at the crux of all of this. My growing-up home was emotionally unpredictable. I couldn't control any of that, but I could control where I was and what I was doing and when I could plan things out in detail, I felt like I had some power over what happened. I think it's those old anxieties that get triggered in these situations. It's the not knowing, that's the issue. And it's a form of vulnerability I'm reluctant to share with anyone.

My spiritual director suggested I practice going with the flow over the next week. It astounded me how much resistance came up at the mere suggestion of that. Lots to consider here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The sugar report nearly 9 months in

A friend was asking me if I had found it easy to give up sugar. From this place, nearly 9 months on the path, I would see yes. That it has been relatively easy. The first few weeks were tough but once I had decided on a way to be abstinent, it became much easier.

One of the problems I had with Overeaters Anonymous was trying to work the 12 steps on food, where abstinence isn't possible. There are loose and rigid programs in OA but I couldn't make either of them work for me. I didn't feel a need to go through the whole 12-step program again and I found the meetings of little support for my struggle.

Then more than a year ago, I got willing to abstain from ice cream. I went on eating--and overeating--all kinds of sweets but I abstained from ice cream. Five months later, I was willing to go the next step. I talked about giving up sugar but to be abstinent from sugar seemed very complicated. I'd done it years ago and found myself fretting about every salad dressing and sauce and soup and cracker, because small amounts of sugar are almost ubiquitous in our foods. And then there was the whole problem of certain "sugary" vegetables like peas and carrots and don't even start me on fruits. Suddenly I was back in a land of restriction that I just knew wouldn't work for me.

It took me a couple of weeks to sort out what might work and for me it's been abstaining from dessert, or anything that parades as dessert, including breakfast sweets like pancakes, waffles, and sweet rolls. Having an abstinence plan has made a huge difference. I don't have to make decisions. I just don't do it. Simple is working.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Life arrived in search of me.

(I'm taking a 9-month inquiry into Aging as Creative Catalyst. The following poem is my response to one of our assignments. It was written while I was on retreat.)

Life arrived in search of me.

It knew I had been long asleep, long afraid, ensnared by the bottle, enmeshed in love that was not love, only habit and desire.

Life asked me to breathe, breathe and turn, turn in a new direction.

I did not recognize life when it came in search of me. I thought it was death--and it was: death of my old life, death of my old way of being.

It has taken me a long time to accept all of life's invitation. Or rather I have used these years of my second life to accept more and more of it.

The sleeping time seemed real when I lived it. I have clear memories, some even of happiness, of deep feelings, of love and sorrow. And there was so much thought, so much analysis, so much doubt, but all of it glazed over by wine, by fear.

What is arriving in search of me now? What will call me deeper into my true nature?

For some other part of life is calling me now in the murmur of the wind in the aspen tree, the serenade of the crickets, the insistent bellowing of the tiny frog in the hydrangea. Something beckons me in the golds and greens mirrored in the pond. Something lies waiting in my need to sit with myself.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Backsliding but not quite

I've been back from retreat two weeks now. Two very busy weeks of work. I was away in mid-September for a few days, on retreat in October. I'm off to the beach on Nov 13 for a week of writing on my novel. This is my old pattern still in place. It has not seemed a bad pattern. I would work really hard for 6 or 7 weeks, including most weekends, and then take a week off to write. Having a week's vacation every 2 months seemed great. And it still seems great. However...

It means that I don't take much time off during a week. Between all the body and soul maintenance work (gym, therapist, massage, health appointments, grocery shopping, laundry, cat and car care), occasional social events, and work, my weeks go by in a blur. There isn't any of that spacious time for rest and reflection.

And most of my vacations are spent writing and doing art. It's a different pace and a lot more fun than some of my editing projects, but I'm realizing it keeps me productive most all the time. And that isn't a balanced life. Not the kind of balance I want.

I'm seeing how easy it has been to fall back into the routine. To promise myself time off in a week or two and just keep doing what I'm doing. Wonder how I can shift this knowing into a different way of being?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

What I think I know now—Part 2

The second full day of the retreat was very similar to the first. I sat all morning and watched the trees and the light, the birds and the bugs, the colors and the shadows. I let my thoughts drift on through. I let the muddy water of my thoughts clear and settle. I felt clearer and calmer than I had in a long, long time. And yet I did not have a string of brilliant ideas, a sense of “yes, that’s it! That’s exactly what I’ll do.”

I left the retreat center about 9:30 and got home a couple of hours later. I dealt with the two immediate emails that I’d promised to address with a tight deadline, deleted many of the rest. Slowly unpacked and put things away. Spent a lot of time petting Frannie and Nellie.

Then I went to see my spiritual director. I did not know what I would say to her when I got there but I could begin to feel, now that I was out of the direct experience, that something extraordinary had happened to me. Usually, Anna and I talk back and forth. She asks questions, she makes suggestions, and I respond. This time I talked for the whole hour. I do not remember all, or even very much, of what I said. But here is what I seem to have decided in those many quiet hours of the retreat while I was doing nothing and not thinking.

• I really truly do not want to be in a hurry any more. I want my life to be spacious. I want to do all things with attention, with care. I want to be in the moment and notice the moments instead of waking up on the first of each month and saying, Where did October go? Where did November go? Where did 2010 go? I want to know where the time goes.

• I want to answer the four questions that Wayne Muller posits in his brilliant book, How Then Shall We Live. Who am I? What do I love? How do I live knowing I will die? What is the gift I have to give to the family and community in my life?

• I want to work less. I want concerns about money and funding the future to play a much smaller role in the decisions I make.

• I want to write more and do more art. Every day when I can. Every week without fail.

• I want to find a good place to give the gifts I have and know that that is enough.

• I want rest, contemplation, silence to have a real place in my life, not so I can do more but so I can be more connected to myself and to Spirit.

• I want to love more deeply and trust without reservation.

It seems amazing to me now that so much came from doing so little.

Friday, October 29, 2010

What I think I know now—Part 1

There were no big “Aha’s” during the recent retreat though I was certainly open for one to come along. I had gone with one intention: to connect more deeply. If that happened, I would get what I came for. In the back of my mind, of course, there were other desires: to learn the nature of my Higher Power, to have a tangible connection with whoever or whatever that is. To learn if my life direction needs to shift. To understand myself better. To have all manner of things made clear and definite. Forever and ever. Amen.

When I first got sober, I let the AA group and its program be my Higher Power for a long time. What we could do together, I could not do alone: stay sober and change my life. Then I began to explore Buddhism, and its wonderful moral and ethical teachings seemed a good fit for my values and beliefs as I moved into long-term sobriety and a more conscious spirituality. And it still does.

Both Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama have urged Westerners like me to return to the religions of our upbringing, but Christianity as an institution is not for me. I saw that very clearly in the Catholic services at the retreat and at the Presbyterian memorial service I attended last week in the church of my adolescence.

Yet I cannot seem to make a full-on commitment to Buddhism or, rather, to a Buddhist community or teacher, one of the essential principles. (I started to write “hard as I’ve tried” but the truth is I haven’t tried that hard.) I do meditate, and I belonged to a sangha for a while but it was rather conveniently far away and I stopped going when the weather got bad or I was out of town. The truth is AA seems a sufficient community for me to belong to. I support it with time and money. I offer my services freely. I believe in it. I do not seem to need another church.

At the same time, I need—and want—a Higher Power beyond the group. Buddhism’s idea of the Universal Mind, the Great Whatever, is too vague for me, too impersonal, while Christianity’s God the Father in his wrath and judgment and focus on sin does not speak to me. I am looking for a Mother/Father God, an androgynous god, an entwined spirit of loving kindness and gentle strength. I want to be part of that, now and when I die. And while I did not find it while I was on retreat, my longing for it became clear.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Retreating from food

The Trappist Abbey was the perfect place to forget about food. When I’ve been on Buddhist retreats, the food is simple but wonderful. The breakfast oatmeal is perfectly cooked as are the hard-boiled eggs. There are raisins, three kinds of sugar (brown, raw, honey), dried fruits, fresh fruits, four kinds of milk. Lunch is a stir-fry of fresh vegetables and a protein-rich grain cooked just right. Several good sauces have been lovingly prepared. Dinner is a big vegetable stew or soup with grated cheese to sprinkle on top. Someone works to keep freshly brewed herbal and black tea always available. We all look forward to the meals, eaten in silence but enjoyed in community.

Here’s the menu at the Abbey on Tuesday:

Breakfast (same each day): orange juice, milk, tea and coffee, little boxes of Total, Cheerios, Rice Krispies, Raisin Bran, overripe bananas, wheat bread, commercial peanut butter.

Lunch: Steamed yellow squash, green peppers stuffed with a tasteless undercooked rice and onion gruel, covered with unidentifiable cheese. White cabbage with bottled dressing. Wheat bread, commercial peanut butter.

Dinner: See lunch.

As you know, I’d been to the Abbey on day retreats years before. I knew the food was marginal, the kind of food that gives vegetarianism a bad name. And Monday’s supper was not very good. But Tuesday it was a time of surrender. I ate peanut butter and bread for breakfast, I ate peanut butter and bread for lunch. Miracle of miracles, I found some processed cheese slices in the fridge in the kitchen off the dining hall and made myself a bread, butter, and cheese sandwich for supper. I found apples in that fridge too and I ate some of those.

I stopped thinking about food as enjoyment, as treat, as salvation. Maybe that’s the point of what they serve.
But curiously, I also found myself not thinking about food. I had brought snack bars with me and I didn’t need them. I didn’t need food to slow down or de-stress or reward myself for a hard day or make a boring or difficult task palatable. I only needed it to not be hungry.

PS. I did stop for bacon, eggs, and hash browns in the first town I came to after I left the Abbey.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Doing nothing, doing everything

At the retreat, I fell into a rhythm. I’d sleep until it was light, get dressed, go over and make a cup of tea and come back and write in my daily journal until I was done. I usually limit my writing time in the morning as I have a date to go the gym with my buddy or need to get to work. To have two hours to reflect and write each day was a gift. Midway in my writing, I’d go over and get some breakfast, then write some more.

By then, the sun was full up warming the dew on the grass and I’d take my creative journal and a book and pen and head out for the morning. I’m not sure why I carried the journal and book. I didn’t open them. I sat and did nothing. I thought about things but I let the thoughts come and go. I didn’t try to solve any problems or sort anything out or make a mental list. I guess I had the journal there in case I had some brilliant insight but I wrote nothing down.

I watched the light dance in the trees as the sun moved across the sky to the south. I watched the shadows change on the water. I watched the dew dry. From time to time, I heard a leaf hit the path or the pine needles. A few late bees came by to see what I was up to. Occasionally another retreatant would walk along the path or take a seat nearby. Sometimes we would acknowledge each other and sometimes not. I sank deeper and deeper into the calm.

After the 12:30 service and lunch, I sat again outside for an hour or so, then went into my room and took up a seat in the rocker and meditated. Then out I went again, reading a page or two, thinking and not thinking. In the crisp cool of the shade and the Indian summer warmth of the sun, I moved around the pond, trying out all the seats, a bit like Goldilocks, except that each one was just right. A swarm of ladybugs awoke and filled the air, their tiny red and orange bodies on the screens of my room and occasionally on me.

After vespers and dinner, I sat in the rocker and watched the light change. Tuesday night, I had one rough patch. A deep sense of homesickness came over me as the moon came up. I felt alone, lonely. I missed Frannie and Nellie and Reinie, the three felines who share my life. I missed the deep connections I have with friends and family. And then that passed and I watched the night come on and sank deeper into the quiet.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Permission to do nothing

In my room at the retreat, there were four pieces of paper when I arrived. An envelope for a donation. I set it aside as I had written a check when I first arrived. There was a schedule of the services, meals, prayer times, a little bit about the Abbey and the life there. There was a map of the many acres with hiking trails and old roads and ideas for walks. And there was a goldenrod sheet of suggestions for a successful retreat.

At the heart of the suggestions was quietude. Just being so that God could find us, God could plug into us, and not the other way around. You may have come with problems to solve, it said. Just rest and be and the answers will come. You may have come to find something. Just rest and be and it will arrive.

In so many ways, this page seemed written for me. This desire to do little, this desire to wait and be spoken to. This desire to rest easy and see what might happen. I have been on perhaps a half-dozen Buddhist retreats. All lovely and soothing. But I had always wanted to get somewhere. To deepen my practice, be a better Buddhist, improve somehow. I had come with problems to solve and with each meditation when it didn’t feel solved, I felt frustrated. Each time I meditated and fell asleep, I felt unworthy. I was longing then too but figured I had to do something with the longing, not just wait.

When my spiritual director spoke of her retreat during seminary, of doing relatively nothing, the idea both frightened me and called to me. And I knew, in that moment, that it was something I wanted and needed to do. That I needed to let go of my identity as an overachiever, as the one in charge, in control, and responsible for the universe, if only for a few days. To see what that was like. To learn by not doing. To see what contemplation and rest could do for me.

And here in these suggestions was all the permission I needed.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Stoned on silence

I left the retreat center at 9:45 this morning. The first few miles of countryside were lovely and peaceful and with no one behind me, I felt okay driving slowly, taking my time. Then the town appeared and the traffic and the four-lane highway of commercial and industrial businesses and I felt lost and weird and a bit dizzy by it all. Maybe old people don't drive so slowly because they can't feel the speed but because they can and they're in no hurry to get the trip over with. I felt that way this morning, in no hurry to get the trip over with.

I hadn't been to the Trappist Abbey for 6 or 7 years and it was as lovely as I'd remembered. My room was D-1 (there are 5 guest houses each with a room lower and upper with a bath at the midway landing. I had the lower with corner windows out onto the large duck pond and no other buildings in sight although they're connected by a maze of stairways that would have pleased M C Escher. I carried in my bags, went to park my car in the lower lot, and then came back and immediately sat down by the pond. I was in no hurry to pack and get organized. In fact, I was prepared to be in no hurry at all.

I spent all of Monday afternoon and evening doing nothing but sitting by the pond. I'd move position to get a different angle or to find a little more sun or a little more shade. I sat just watching and filling my eyes with the beauty for 2 and 1/2 hours. Then I went to Vespers and listened to the lovely voices of the monks chanting their prayers and psalms. In all the times I had been there, I had never ventured into the chapel (plain on the outside, extraordinarily beautiful on the inside--white and wood and glass with a vaulted ceiling and simple decor). I ate dinner in silence with others.

Then I spent another hour in my room, in the rocker, watching the light fade over the water and watching the moon come on full and begin her dance across the sky.

Compline at 7:30--lullabies as the monks sing themselves to rest. Service in the near dark. Magical.
I read then for an hour but spent as much time gazing off into the distance as reading.

Those of you who know me as a get-it-done kind of person may find this as amazing as I did.

I'm unsure as to what all has shifted inside me, much I think, but for now, this is how I got started.  More tomorrow...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Preparing for a silent retreat

Tomorrow I leave about noon to go out to the Trappist Abbey in the wine country southwest of Portland. The Abbey is on a lovely 800 acres in rolling hills. I used to go there for a day retreat every few months and then somehow that slipped out of my calendar. Now I'm scheduled for three days of quiet, rest, reflection, and not much else.

Last Wednesday I spent my session with Anna, my spiritual director, talking about guidelines and parameters for these three days. At first I felt a lot of trepidation. Would I go crazy (and I don't mean in a cute way) if I had nothing to do for three days but be with myself? Would the restlessness, the boredom, the lack of connection through email, drive me around the bend? What if I failed at doing nothing (even I could hear that old black and white thinking?). I realized how easy it would be to set myself up to fail, as if this were some kind of contest, not simply an opportunity to rest and reflect. I had to laugh at my extreme thinking.

Anna helped me set an intention: to seek deeper connection. With that in mind I've chosen some books, my journal, and my watercolors. I had, in true addict fashion, picked six books for the three days. And now I'm down to three: Wayne Muller's Having, Being, Doing Enough; Mark Nepo's Facing the Lion, Being the Lion, and John Fox's Finding What You Didn't Lose. I'm also taking a journal and my watercolors and a sketch book.

Anna's advise rang true: "If it helps you connect more deeply, do it. If it takes you out of connection, set it aside and go back to being."

So that's my goal. I'll be back on Thursday and will report in.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A memorial service

This afternoon I attended the memorial service for the brother of an old friend. Susan and I have known each other since high school and reconnected about a decade ago with great success. I met her brother several times but in the 1960s and so didn't really know him. But I know Susan and Larry's wife was a student of mine for a while. So I wanted to support them.

As an interesting coincidence, the service was held in the Presbyterian church where I went as a teenager. I was quite into church in high school and was a youth minister and preached a sermon from that very pulpit. I had not been back in that church since 1970.

I long ago gave up any Christian affiliation, though I appreciate that it is a belief system that works for many people, and I have a great deal of respect for the teachngs of the historical Jesus. Since I got sober, my own leanings have been Buddhist and shamanic in a mixture that works for me.

I was curious how I would feel in that church and at a service there. The actual physical structure was vaguely familiar (clearly renovated not too long ago) but the evangelical spin on the service from the female associate pastor was, for me, really offensive. She seemed to assume that everyone there was deeply Christian or wanted to be and the service seemed more about Christ than it did about Larry. I was grateful for the poem that Larry's wife, Andrea, read and the poem that Susan's husband, Doug, read. His daughter also told a couple of great stories about her dad, which gave me some insight into him.

I do not remember the Presbyterian ministers I knew years ago as so fervent in their desire to bring people into the fold. As Larry was 11 years sober when he died, there were many AA members. I wonder if the minister thought we needed saving. Of all the people I know, AA members are some of the most in tune with a higher power. I'm so glad the program stipulates that we can believe in the God of our understanding, not the baroque version of the afterlife that that minister wanted to paint for us.

Monday, October 11, 2010


I attended a wonderful workshop on Saturday on generosity and giving. A real opportunity to sit in circle with women, listen to some interesting readings, and then discuss what is and isn't generosity. We were encouraged, if we chose, to adopt a week-long practice of 5 unplanned/spontaneous acts of generosity each day.

That sounded pretty easy to me but after today, I'm not so sure. One, you have to pay attention. You have to watch for ways to give or it's not spontaneous. I could sit down and write five cards to friends. That would be a generous thing to do but it's not spontaneous, it's not watching for opportunities.

Yesterday I was more attuned. I met with two strangers to discuss a course we're taking (I was chosen to be in their group) and I sat back and let it be what it was going to be without controlling it as I probably would have. Then I stopped to listen to a young Palestinian who wanted me to convince the management of a local food chain not to carry Israeli produce. I wasn't sure how I felt about his request, but it seemed generous to let him make it. Before Saturday's workshop, I wouldn't have given him my time and attention.

But after that I came home and I worked and was by myself. And most of today I was by myself. I did practice generosity with myself. I told a client I couldn't take her rush project, which would have made me crazy. I gave myself some good breaks, and got some good rest. But I can see that I need to get out in the world to practice being generous.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Is one step at a time a half-measure?

I'm getting myself ready to take the plunge. Changing my eating in front of the TV habit. I've already confessed my abuse of low-sugar snack bars (3-4 at a time means I'm looking for a sugar low) and cheetos (hey, they aren't dessert!) to my wonderful counselor Anna. So the first step is to stop buying those things. If they aren't here, I can't eat them and no one I know has ever served me either item--ever, so I'm unlikely to run into them out in the world.

My internal debate centers around whether I can continue to eat my dinner in front of the TV and then not eat again as a step in the right direction. Or whether I need to stop eating in front of the TV period. Nada! Nothing! Sometimes easing my way into changes is helpful. About four months before I gave up sugar and desserts, I gave up ice cream,the worst offender. I consoled myself with candy and cookies and cake and pudding and pie but no ice cream. And then I was ready to just stop.

Now I'm getting ready to confront the restlessness of my evenings and eating a lot more than I need. I'm not going to give up my TV, as some people have suggested. I watch about 2 hours in an evening and that doesn't seem excessive to me. What is excessive is the jumping up and getting something to eat every 20 minutes (if I'm lucky it's only 20 minutes)!

In the AA Big Book, there's a famous line: "Half-measures availed us nothing." And I've been thinking about that. What is a step in the right direction? And what is a half-measure? I guess I'll know if the step takes me down the right path or back down the wrong one!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A poem about eating

The poem below was written by my friend and wondrous poet Eileen Elliott in response to my post on eating and TV. Enjoy!


the act of eating is a holy rite
pure in its routine, unacknowledged ordinariness

this miracle of taking in potato
or broccoli
and converting it to poetry
or a clean sink
or weeded garden
goes unnoticed
crowded out by more robust occurences
easily seen, brazen events:
sun breaking through clouds
sizzling orange of Monarch wing
splash of trout in glittering stream

amazing, nonetheless
if only through a pause of fork
a contemplation of possibilities
between bites of holy provision

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The next hurdle

Much as I don't want to admit it, my next hurdle in the food and overeeating conversation is clear to me. I wish it weren't clear because then I wouldn't have to do anything about it. I could pretend to be in the dark, but I'm not so good at pretending anymore. So I just have to face it and decide if I want to do anything about it.

I'm talking about the intimate connection between watching TV (in my case Netflix) and eating. This habit has been going on for several decades, probably since I started living alone in the late 70s. I was used to eating with others and so to create an "other," I'd get absorbed in a book and then eventually in a TV show or an old movie or a video or a DVD or now Netflix.

I eat mindlessly, getting up every so often to get another piece of fruit, a snack bar, a sugar-free popsicle, a handful of crackers, a piece of cheese, a piece of toast. I'm not hungry but I'm needing. What exactly I'm needing I don't know. I don't know how much is habit, kneejerk-so-many-minutes-have-gone-by-get-up habit or ingrained programming from the old days of TV and commercials every 7 minutes and getting up to avoid the boredom of the commercials.

The pattern is very similar to the way I drank. Finish the glass, stop the video, get another glass.

I don't savor the food, I don't even taste it, but I have huge resistance to giving this up.

(To be continued)

Friday, October 1, 2010

A thoughtful reading

The thoughtful essay below is from one of my favorite web sites I liked this so much I wanted to share it with you. Jill

When we listen from our heart, the logical grid of our brain tends to soften and melt.

Most of us were born and raised in cultures that value the head over the heart and, as a result, we place our own hearts below our heads in a sort of inner hierarchy of which we may not be conscious. What this means is that we tend to listen and respond from the neck up, often leaving the rest of our bodies with little or no say in most matters. This is a physical habit, which sometimes feels as ingrained as the way we breathe or walk. However, with effort and awareness, we can shift the energy into our hearts, listening and responding from this much deeper, more resonant place.

The brain has a masterful way of imposing structure and order on the world, creating divisions and categories, devising plans and strategies. In many ways, we have our brains to thank for our survival on this planet. However, as is so clear at this time, we also need the wisdom of our hearts if we wish to continue surviving in a viable way. When we listen from our heart, the logical grid of the brain tends to soften and melt, which enables us to perceive the interconnectedness beneath the divisions and categories we use to organize the world. We begin to understand that just as the heart underlies the brain, this interconnectedness underlies everything.

Many agree that this is the most important work we can do at this time in history, and there are many practices at our disposal. For a simple start, try sitting with a friend and asking him to tell you about his life at this moment. For 10 minutes or more, try to listen without responding verbally, offering suggestions, or brainstorming solutions. Instead, breathe into your heart and your belly, listening and feeling instead of thinking. When you do this, you may find that it’s much more difficult to offer advice and much easier to identify with the feelings your friend is sharing. You may also find that your friend opens up more, goes deeper, and feels he has really been heard. If you also feel great warmth and compassion, almost as if you are seeing your friend for the first time, then you will know that you have begun to tap the power of listening with your heart.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

chocolate sightings

When I checked into the Double Tree Hotel in San Diego, the clerk slid a suspiciouly familiar flat brown bag across the counter at me. Welcome, she said. Here's one of our award-winning chocolate chip cookies!
I didn't even hesitate, just said No thanks, I'm sugar-free. She wanted to insist but I repeated what I'd said and the cookie disappeared. Unfortunately, I then realized that the air was redolent with chocolate. They keep the cookies in a little warming drawer and the whole lobby reeked of the stuff each afternoon.

Those same cookies appeared each afternoon in the breaktimes along with big, fat iced brownies. Fortunately, there were grapes next to the chocolate fondue pot and I took a bunch and hid out in my room so I wouldn't have to smell it all.

Then yesterday, I went by our local best cake makers for a German chocolate cake for my sister. It's her favorite and I was driving up the Gorge to celebrate her birthday with her and wanted to surprise her with that favorite. So my house smelled faintly of chocolate as well as did the car on the drive up.

We had a wonderful gourmet dinner in town and then she and our friend Melanie ate pieces of the cake as we played cards. It was an interesting moment for me. I wanted a piece because I remembered how good it was--the soft, flavorful cake, the icing, the coconut. But I also didn't want it. I didn't want to go back to how I eat sugar, I didn't want the guilt and the shame again. It wasn't worth it. And I'm glad I didn't eat any and after their plates disappeared, I didn't give it another thought.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

San Diego

I'm waiting for the airport shuttle here at the hotel in San Diego. It's been an excellent trip. I had a chance to see some of the city and its culture (see and reconnect with friends who are also speakers on this Hazelden tour.

It does me a lot of good to spend such intense time with other women in recovery. We speak a similar language, the language of the 12 steps, and because most of us have been in the program for quite a few years, we have a lot of the same experiences, even though we attend meetings in very different parts of the country. AA is both different and the same everywhere.

Yesterday afternoon, I delivered my presentation on Living Into Your Intentions and Becoming an Honest Woman, based on my book and some of the work that I do with clients and groups. I was a big hit again although I couldn't tell you exactly all I talked about it. I didn't stick as closely to my notes this time or to the slides. I know I told stories and I got the main points across but I go into some kind of zone when I'm speaking that is both hyper-conscious (I can feel myself standing up at the podium yesterday) and so totally present to the moment and to the audience, that it feels almost surreal.

It's the best of the speaking experiences, that sense of generating the ideas and the talk, rather than reading it or even just speaking it. There's nothing mechanical or automated about it. I let the ideas flow and shared what was in my heart and mind and it worked well.

I spent a half hour afterwards signing books and talking to participants, many of whom have deep longings to be creative. There is an artist in each one of us and I feel so glad to be bearer of the news that it's okay to let her out.

Afterwards I was completely vibrating with energy and while it would probably have been a good idea to stick around the conference and talk to participants in the next break, I couldn't sit still so I went to the gym and worked out and then went out and played in pool, preserving the right for old broads to wear bathing suits in public.

I am so grateful to Patricia Broart of Hazelden for inviting me to do this. Thank you, Pat!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Geographic cure--or the Travelling Shingles Show

I"m in San Diego at the third of the Hazelden conferences. I speak tomorrow on Living into Your Intentions. These trips are a real treat for me. I've grown close to the women who are also speakers (it's the same team each time this year) and the director and so it's like a mini-reunion with old friends. I'm happy to be here.

And I'm unhappy to say that the shingles followed me here. Just like an alcoholic who moves in hopes that she won't drink so much in a new location, I was somehow hoping that a change of venue, a change of climate, a change of scenery might signal the end of the pain and itching. It hasn't.

 It wasn't rational, my thinking. I've talked to enough people who've had shingles to know that the best one can hope for is a month of misery followed another month of intermittent and eventually fading misery. I'm now moving into week 5 and I think I may be starting the intermittent phase. Not too much pain at all yesterday (night or day), then pain again today, but less severe, less startling.

I also heard some wise advice today. My friend Judith has a new sponsor, who's 80. Judith asked her how she dealt with her pain. "I don't," the woman said. "You don't have pain," Judith asked. "No, said the woman, "of course I do. I just don't talk about it or focus on it."

I've been feeling pretty bored by the shingles and I think I too am ready to let it fade into the background.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A big week just past

The middle of September is a very big week of memories and celebration for me. In 1997, my mother died on Sept 20, after a long experience of dementia and attendant poor health. Five years later, in 2002, my father died on Sept 15. As you may know if you read my memoir, my father and I were very close in the last years of his life and his death was a great emptiness for me. The following year, I did a shamanic soul retrieval in late August and made a decision to get a new kitten as part of the my healing. Nellie, in all her tuxedo sweetness, came to me on Sept 17, 2003, the date chosen on purpose. And as I mentioned last week, Sept 16 is my AA anniversary.

So that week is a big event in my life. It brings up lots of memories, lots of reflection.

Yesterday, I chaired one of my favorite AA meetings, a women's step study that I've been attending for 6 or 7 years. I was surprised at how emotional I felt, how much gratitude for the program and all the kind souls I've met there, for the philosophy of the 12 steps. When I got sober, I had no life philosophy other than vague Christian notions of right and wrong, kindness and integrity. In AA, I grew up and became an adult, willing to accept responsibility for my part in things and to live a sober life in all senses of the word.

I do not think I would be alive today if I had not taken that step of admitting I was powerless over alcohol and that my life, such as it was, was unmanageable.

One of the things I talked about yesterday was how grateful I am that AA allows us to be all of who we are in the meetings. I think that was probably the first place I ever experienced that--the acceptance of who I am. Now my challenge is to bring that full self out into the world, nothing held back, nothing hidden. I'm glad to have support on that journey.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Rebellion at Camp Shingles

Okay, I've had it. I've been really pleasant about this since my meltdown and comeback 10 days ago but enough is enough. I'm tried of low energy, tired of pain and itching, tired of feeling creepy in my own skin. I so appreciate what those with chronic pain go through and I don't want it.

On Wed, I took half a vicodin, first narcotics to cross my lips in 21 years, other than a post-surgery morphine drip for a few hours when I had my gallbladder removed. In a half-hour I was stoned and the pain went on and it was worse stoned. So I'm not taking any more of that. Other potential drugs have big side effects (like suicidal thoughts. Don't need those.

The pain is not unbearable. It's just very wearing and makes working and reading and doing any of the things I like to do not much fun.

I'm trying hard to be grateful. I don't have it in my mouth or my groin or my internal organs. It isn't life-threatening or going to ruin my vision. But I would very much like to sleep and be able to just be without the constant reminder of a zombie virus in my body.

Guess I'm out of recipes for lemonade. Where is Pollyanna when I need her?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Celebrating and remembering

Today I celebrate 21 years sober. I had my last drinks on Sept 16, 1989 in my apartment in Lynchburg, Virginia. That afternoon I entered the local treatment center less than a mile from my home. I had jogged by it hundreds of times over the course of six years, sometimes drunk, mostly hungover. I had, of course, no idea that what went on in that building would change my life.

I've been thinking a lot about risk. Am I willing to continue to risk and change how I do things? Can I risk asking for help when I need it? Can I risk being that vulnerable? Can I risk receving the help that I ask for or that is freely offered? Can I risk letting go of some of my hard-won self-sufficiency, a trait I know that people admire and are attracted to? Can I risk opening my heart wider than ever before?

I think back to the risk I took so many years ago. The risk to give up drinking and step into something I could never have imagined, for my life today resembles very little the life I lived then and is not anything I would have predicted.

Four days before I went to the treatment center, I surrendered and admitted my powerlessness over alcohol. I didn't know that that was what I was doing. I just knew I couldn't go on in the same way. Then last February I came finally to the same understanding about sugar, and I surrendered. Now another opening is occurring, a chance to deepen my emotional and spiritual life. What will happen if I step through that door?

Monday, September 13, 2010

I need to laugh more

I spent the weekend with my family: my sister, her husband, and her two boys. My sister and I grew up in a family of non-stop punsters, and we regularly crack each other up on the phone or over email. So it was good to spend 72 hours together because we laughed a lot.

I know some of the scientific studies that show that laughter is good for our bodies, releases important anti-stress chemicals. I didn't feel any immediate pain-relieving effect but I certainly had my mood lifted by being here.

I also think that laughter is a part of intimacy. That when you share a lot of belly laughs with someone, you get each other in a different way. You feel seen and heard and share something important. I often make my friends laugh. I think some of them find me quite hilarious but they don't make me laugh. They don't share that same sense of humor or know how to do word play in the same way. I do like making them laugh, but I want to find some friends who make me laugh, who can dialog in that way.

My sister is in a terribly stressful job right now and she took most of the weekend off to be together with all of us. I know the laughter did her good, whether it was playing endless games of canasta or watching Comedy Inc. or sitting out on the terrace riffing on anything and everything that we could make puns about. I know it did me good.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Opening to receive

As my shingles adventure continues (rash is healing nicely, itching is less noticeable, pain is ongoingly problematic), I'm doing my best to soften. Perhaps initiated by the massage experience on Thursday and my willingness to be in touch with my body, unhappy as it is, I've found myself also willing to be in touch with the kindness of others.

As you'll know if you read the meltdown episode, I was just fed up with it all, including taking care of myself. The truth is no one is asking me to take care of myself by myself except myself. I've had lovely phone calls of concern, blog comments of support, and offers to come and care for me. It's me who puts up the barricades to this. Me who feels embarrassed or inadequate or shy about taking in the caring. Me who can't find the courage to be that vulnerable with another.

There are decades-old stories that I'm living out about having to take care of myself but they aren't proving helpful. Instead, they are holding me back from healing, both emotionally and physically. So if there is a lesson for me to learn from the misery of shingles, it's that's okay to ask for help or at least to accept the help that is offered.

This weekend I'm up at my sister's in the Columbia Gorge. She and I have grown more and more close over the years and since I've been here, I've been practicing relaxing into her concern for my pain, her offers of help with the pain patches, her tenderness with me.  It's both a small thing and a huge step for me.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Getting back in touch

This morning I had a wonderful massage from my friend Concetta. She always does a great job but this time I asked her for the kindest, gentlest, most relaxing massage she knew how to give. And I got it. Warm scented oil, hot rocks, soothing music. She said nothing, just let me be, just let me rest. She has a wonderful little studio over in Lake Oswego that is dimly lit and cozy. The sheets were soft. All of it was perfect. And I really rested.

Since the shingles diagnosis 10 days ago, I have been distancing myself from my body. I didn't want to experience the itching, the pain, the numbness. I didn't want to befriend my body or the virus that was causing it. I just wanted it all to go away, to float above it somehow until it was gone.

This is a trait of addiction for me. Figuring out some way not to be with what is. Not to be with what is uncomfortable. Not to be in this present moment, however it shows up. And I variously have used food and alcohol and sex and food again and work and Netflix to numb out.

The massage did two things. It really relaxed me. But it also brought me home to my body. It reminded me that my body could be a source of comfort and that there are things I can do to make it feel better so that I don't have to abandon it.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Meltdown at Camp Shingles

Although I had the first decent night's sleep last night in a week and a great phone call with a close friend at 8:30 this morning, by the time I got to my counseling appointment at noon, I was in meltdown. We did our opening meditation and I was already crying by the time she rang the closing bell.

I was fed up. Fed up with pain and itching, sure. Fed up with low energy and a numb midriff and irritability. But even more, fed up with taking care of myself. By myself. Of being responsible for me. For carrying the weight--and extra weight--of myself. I was ready to just stop and lay it all down, yet terrified to ask for help.

I'm tired of working on myself. Of facing my issues. Of being obsessed with food and terrified to put it down, terrified that I won't know what to do with myself if I do.

I'm tired of being alone in my life, and I'm terrified of connecting on a deeper level. I'm tired of feeling there's something deeply flawed in the way I relate to myself and others, a feeling that keeps me looking for an outside fix, be it alcohol, sugar, or too many nectarines, and I'd be deeply sad if I stopped moving forward.

I've cried a lot today. Then I took myself for a long walk and a half-mile from home the sky opened up and cried with me. My shingles didn't go away but somehow I felt seen.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The report from Camp Shingles

Other than a spate of pretty funny puns from friends on Facebook, having shingles is not particularly hilarious. I feel good that I haven't had a drink or a gallon of ice cream, I've kept my snacking somewhat in check, I've been able to work enough to keep my clients happy, I've been resting a lot and taking care of myself.

It's been a week of itching and pain and I'm ready for it to be over and I don't think that's going to happen. While my rash is subsiding, the cramping and itching are not and tonight I'm pretty miserable. And that miserableness makes me restless and irritable.

I don't want to be good. I don't want to meditate or raise my consciousness or get in touch with my Higher Self. I want to give this to someone else, anyone else, although I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy--if I had an enemy. Well, there are a few people in history I'd love to see afflicted with this. I don't remember if shingles was one of the torments of Dante's hell but it could have been.

I'm lonely and I've been isolating all day. I made some phone calls this evening but everybody seems to be out or away for the weekend or maybe they're isolating like me. I had a party I could have gone to but I was too miserable to sit still.

I wrote those paragraphs and felt really sorry for myself. And then I knew what to do. Go for a walk. How simple! I walked up through beautiful Laurelhurst Park. It's 65, breezy and clear. It was gorgeous. I walked two miles at a good pace. The sweating wasn't good for the shingles but my mood is much improved.

Friday, September 3, 2010

When am I fooling myself?

I think I'm getting hooked on a lowfat, organic, low-sugar granola-type bar. If you've been following my freedom from sugar adventures, I haven't given up every gram of sugar in the universe. I've been staying away from high-sugar items and anything that parades as a dessert. Ice cream tops the list but it includes candy, cookies, cakes, cupcakes, muffins, scones, puddings, anything with whipped cream, get the idea.

There's a slippery middle ground that I'm beginning to see. Low-sugar popsicles, low-sugar nut bars, low-sugar granola bars. Most of this are good but not yummy and they make a safe snack in the late afternoon, especially the nut bars. But I'm finding myself growing a little too fond of a couple of them. I'm tempted to make sure I have a few on hand. I'm occasionally eating 3 or 4 over an evening in the old mindless way. (I also have found myself doing the same with cheese and crackers or cheetos.)

Some of this has been happening the last week here at Camp Shingles. But that's not the only reason. It was happening before now and I'm seeing that I'm still hoping food will soothe me, fix me, take care of me. And much as I don't want it to be so, I'm seeing that letting go of these faux safe foods is the next big step to take in really coming into my own.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Equanimity in the face of pain

Since I got sober 20+ years ago, I haven't had a lot of physical pain. My migraine headaches stopped when I stopped drinking. I had a brief bout with gall bladder issues but after surgery that passed. And I've had a few esophageal problems but medication righted that as well. For most of the last decade I've been pretty healthy.

Now, here at the home of Shingles R Us, there's quite a bit of pain. Pain complicates things. It makes me restless, it makes me irritable. It makes it hard to work, to be satisfied, to be enjoy reading or writing or art-making. And it makes it hard to withstand other kinds of discomfort--like not eating whatever I want when I want it.

I haven't gotten any ice cream, I haven't picked up a drink, I haven't even taken up my doctor's offer for narcotics. But I don't want to move forward in my abstinence from excess food. I don't want to take the next important step in my own emotional healing. And that makes me miserable in a different way.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Hanging out [with] my shingles

Thursday I noticed I itched along my midriff with no signs of bug bites. That kept up until yesterday when the pain started and I suddenly had a sneaking suspicion that I was coming down with shingles, a viral outbreak of chickenpox along the nerve endings. This is a condition that only occurs in those of us who've already had chickenpox. It can be excruciatingly painful or mildly uncomfortable; it can last several weeks or long months. I'm hoping that the vaccine I got several years ago and seeing my doctor at the first sign of the rash (this morning) and taking anti-virals will help me be on the less miserable end of the spectrum. But it will be what it will be.

There's a theory that shingles comes when you're stressed. I've been deeply annoyed with Qwest phone services for days now, but I doubt that that would bring it on. If anything, it might well be the deep work I've been doing in therapy. Or maybe it's the phase of the moon or just my time to get it.

I've felt particularly irritable all day. I had to go to the store to get the anti-viral meds and it took all my resolve not to get ice cream. I'm coming down with something miserable and surely I deserve it. I know that madness lies in that direction and I didn't even let myself go into the food aisles. But pain makes me restless and I associate eating with soothing restlessness. And restlessness makes me defiant. It's harder to see the brighter side, the healthy side when I feel ill at ease.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Frustration and flexibility

I realized this morning that I've been letting external circumstances dictate my inner comfort. On Thursday, I changed my phone services in order to stop paying for a second phone line now that I no longer use my fax. I had a pleasant man come out and do the necessary changes and once he left, my Internet service no longer worked. Between Thursday afternoon and yesterday morning I was on the phone about a dozen times with the phone company and my Internet service provider, who kept telling me contradictory things and I got more and more frustrated.

Mostly I was anxious because my routines for email were disrupted. I have a preference for the reliable and the predictable, especially in my home environment (I'm a bit looser on holidays). I also felt frustrated that I couldn't solve any of this on my own. I could make phone calls, and eventually get the phone company and the ISP to talk to each other, but I couldn't solve the problem.

It isn't a catastrophe. My neighbor Ben has wifi and he was generous enough to offer me his password for the next few days so that I can get web mail. Although some things take longer, I can communicate with anyone I need to and I can use a flash drive to move between desktop and laptop and I can get info on the web. It's all okay. But it doesn't feel okay.

I don't like it that such minor disruptions unnerve me, that I have such a need for things to go along as I think they should, that my acceptance of change and break-down are intellectual. Maybe it comes from living in a country where most things work most of the time, unlike a large part of the world where very little is reliable and disruption is a way of life.

It helps to recognize my frustration for what it is, to practice acceptance and flexibility. But curiously, the thing that made the biggest difference was taking out a couple of hours from my work day yesterday to participate in my friend Mary Garvey's journal jam. Mary invites friends over to collage and write and paint in their journals. She has a ton of supplies, big tables. It was truly therapeutic for me to cut and paste and arrange and contemplate from a whole different part of myself. I don't always remember that. But somehow I knew to get to her place and play. When I got back, the fact that I won't have a solution until Tuesday just didn't seem all that big a deal.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

the universe responding

Since the beginning of my inquiry last week into just being, several things have happened. First and most importantly, work has slowed way down. I have several large projects ahead but they are all delayed. Funny thing, huh? Just when I was looking at ways to sit with my feelings, to take time to be, the universe opens the door for that to happen.

Second, I am blessed with having several possibilities of places to go and do my work. About an hour from here is a Trappist Abbey, a lovely place in the farm country SW of Portland where I've been for day retreats. I called today and I can have three days and three nights there in mid-October. So I made a reservation. Next, my good friend Jayna runs a small retreat center an hour in the opposite direction in the hills northeast of Vancouver, WA. While they don't specifically have overnight accommodations, the day lodge has a sleepable futon, a small kitchen, a nearby shower and toilet. It too is a sacred space that calls to me. Third, my good friend Diane will happily let me use her beach condo two hours away if I want the beach to walk on.

Having these options helps me stay in that space of gradual change. I don't have to assume that all the changes I need to go through will have to happen at once. I can do one retreat or quest and see what happens and then maybe do another if I need more time.

Lastly, I've gotten a lot of positive response from friends about this idea and I'm feeling very supported. Now all I need is a kitten sitter for the days away.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Facing my resistance

Last week when I saw Anna, my spiritual director, we had a painful conversation. We can both feel that I'm getting ready to take the next big leap of faith: to sit and be with my feelings. This can have many manifestations, and in my efforts not to get stuck in my old pattern of all or nothing and then failing, I"m looking for ways to do this in a gradual way.

Anna  told me of an experience she had, suggested by her spiritual director, that was of critical importance to her. She went to a monastery and spent three days there not only in silence, but also doing nothing. That's right, nothing. No talking, no reading, no busy work, no program. Just being with her feelings. It was both very difficult and very powerful. She prayed, she meditated, she walked, she cried, she was just with herself.  Anna was allowed to write poetry and paint but she was encouraged to stay out of her head and in her heart.

One of my early AA sponsors did something similar. She sequestered herself in her house for a week and did nothing. She told everyone she'd be unavailable. She fixed enough simple food so that she didn't have to cook. She allowed herself to journal but she said later that she gave that up after a day or so because it was a distraction. She said it was life-changing. At the time (6 months sober), I thought she was crazy.

Now I have to say this both intrigues me and terrifies me. I can feel deep in myself the need to do this and yet it brings up for me all the things that I fear I'm avoiding. But I can see, five days later, that I have already shifted from "if" I do this to "when." 

Friday, August 20, 2010

to just be or not to just be--that is the question

Well, I've just eaten three organic peanut chip low-fat, low-sugar granola bars. These are the tastiest ones in my acceptable snack drawer--the ones that come closest to a candy bar. That's the bad news.

Here's the good: I consciously chose each bar and I consciously ate it. That's a step up from the mindlessness of much of my overeating. The kind where I find myself in the kitchen with a third serving of you-name-it in hand and I don't remember deciding to get up once, let alone three times, and I don't remember eating the other two servings.

I also knew this was a dangerous time. 4 pm on a Friday afternoon. The Writing Friday gang had just left and I had that what-am-I-going-to-do-with-myself feeling. There wasn't work to plunge into (the projects coming my way are delayed). I felt at loose ends with energy I didn't know what to do with and lost and lonely in my feelings. I used to berate myself for feeling this way, for being letdown and disappointed when peak experiences were over. Now I just know that that's what happens to me. But I still don't like it and I don't deal with it well.

As I stood there at the drawer and made my decision, consciously, I found that I couldn't face just being, even though that might have been kinder to myself in the long run. All I could think of was "screw that...I don't want to be kind to myself in the long run, I want to fix it now."

For that is the question. Can I just be with what is? with what I'm feeling without running away, without bolting as Geneen Roth says. Can I tolerate what seems intolerable?

I know that things are shifting for me, towards more courage, more ability to stay. I just don't seem to be there quite yet.

At least I stopped at three.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Six months and the return of the demon

Saturday Aug 14 marked six months off dessert. Six months since I made a commitment to shift my relationship with food. A lot has changed in those six months. I've lost about 20 pounds without dieting. I've survived several birthday parties with very attractive cakes, one cupcake extravaganza and a couple of times watching somebody eat ice cream. I've discovered which energy bars are low-sugar enough and low-fat enough so that the yummy-eat-several factor doesn't kick in. I've learned that dried fruit and fresh fruit and even Cheetos won't get me where I want to go: satisfyingly numb from whatever feelings are paining me, so there's little point in overeating them.

I've watched the TV/eating phenomenon get clearer and clearer. I've noticed when I'm unsatisfied by times with others (I come home and eat) and when I'm satisfied by times with others (I don't eat).

And Sunday when I came home from a lovely brunch and took a long nap and woke up and felt lonely and disconnected after the intensity of the morning, I had the first serious craving for ice cream that I've had in six months. For some seconds, maybe 20 or 30, I was miseraable. I really had to have it. And I watched it and let it go and fixed some dinner even though I wasn't really hungry for food. I couldn't stay with the feeling any longer than that but I didn't act on it.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

looking for God

My friend Sue and I have been communicating each day about our adventures in noticing where God shows up each day, a suggestion made by Judith Turian in her book Hanging out with God. Sue and I have been doing this for a couple of weeks now, just noticing in the day something that brings God to mind and then reporting it to each other

We're both finding that God shows up most easily in Nature: in the light through the trees, the sunrise, a soft breeze or hot wind, the gorgeous color of a begonia, the yellow of a big sunflower and this has brought up for me how little time I spend in nature in a day and how my soul craves that.

I'm also seeing God in the actions of other people: a sincere thank you, a bright smile, a kindness, a clever remark. How all these things are part of creation.

Friday, August 13, 2010


Frannie, the kitten, is running my household now. As a coach and a support group facilitator, I have lots of people visit my house, both individually and in groups. So Frannie is getting lots of social time. There are a few who are allergic to cats and they admire from a distance, but most people want to pick her up, cuddle her, wrestle with her, dangle their name pages in front of her, and talk baby talk to her.

She is adorable and I say that with all detachment. :) She has a pretty face, a fuzzy soft body, and is so relaxed and comfortable with herself and everyone else that she is picture worthy in most moments.

We coined the word "frantertainment" this morning at Writing Friday as we attempted to focus on our circle and our check-ins and intentions for the day but clearly everybody but me, and sometimes me, were really watching Frannie. Last night, one kittenophile came early to have a few extra minutes with Frannie.  She has two wonderful adult cats of her own but she said it took most of a week after our last group meeting to get over kitten cravings.

There is something wonderful about young animals: their big eyes, vulnerability, cute movements, snugglyness, that makes all the getting up to feed them and clean up after them worth it. Evidence of God at work, I think.