Sunday, May 30, 2010

Chaos and serenity

I've been reading about highly sensitive people. An estimated 20% of us have more sensitive nervous systems than others, often due to childhood experiences or trauma. We startle more easily, are less comfortable around bright lights and loud noises; we often need substantial time alone in the quiet and sometimes in the dark. And we have a different relationship with chaos.

This became clear to me after the Tampa trip. I was really happy those two days in Tampa. I had just the right kind of schedule. An interesting work project that I had brought with me (yet only one project) that I could work on as much as I wanted or not. I had a quiet comfortable room to myself with a wonderful view of spacious lawns and wide water. I didn't have much with me so it was easy to keep my belongings neat and organized (not too much clutter). I had people around who wanted to spend time with me and whom I enjoyed but they also didn't mind if I went off by myself and was alone. I tried something new (the spa) and had one big obligation (my presentation). Everything felt in a good balance.

In contrast, when I got home, I had seven work projects stacked up, some with many documents within them. I had dozens of unanswered emails. I had a long string of appointments, both social and work-related. I had a bunch of errands to run, four bags of books arrived from my sister's that I needed to go through, three bags of Goodwill cast-offs to get rid of, bills to pay, checks to deposit--and a partridge in a pear tree (just kidding).

I'm learning that it's not the amount of work ahead, it's the number of things that creates an uncomfortable chaos for me. I like it tidy, I like it spare, I like the easier of focus of one thing at a time until it's completed. Zen-like. That's the direction I want to move in.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The unbearable heaviness of appointments

When I saw Anna, my spiritual director, this week, we talked more about work and food and my calendar. I can see how work and busyness are a part of my whole food/addiction structure. I've kept busy for years, for decades, to not be with the gaping whole in my psyche where well-being might reside. Or where it does reside but is cloaked over by a need for more.

Anna suggested that I immediately clear my calendar of everything and start over, putting in only those things that delight me or interest me or satisfy me. I shrank away at the thought. My work calendar already has many commitments, and it is important to me to have integrity around those commitments. I feel the same issue of integrity around personal commitments. Okay, I can see that I shouldn't have said yes to X, Y, or Z, but I did, and now I feel it imperative to see them through.

So we talked about all that and then she made two good suggestions. That I could put nothing new in my social calendar that wasn't an absolute delight. And that I could go back a couple of months in my calendar and mark my appointments with H (for heavy, burdensome, obligation) and L (for light, delight, fun, energizing) and see what happened.

These steps seem more reasonable to me. I'll let you know what I discover.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Crazy busy is a form of violence

Since coming back from Florida, I've been mired in crazy busy. I hear people use this term rather proudly, as if it is some badge of honor, but it doesn't feel that way to me. It feels frantic and uncomfortable and for me unhealthy. The same thing that is slowing my progress with food addiction and with deepening my spiritual progress has kept me from posting here the last three days.

First, I came back from Tampa on a high from the conference but with an exhausting 11 hours of airplanes and airports. I coasted on that high on Monday, then crashed on Tuesday but with no space in my schedule to rest. I needed to plunge right back into work and appointments and a birthday party, and dinner with a best friend, and the last of a poetry class, and a promised coaching session with another close friend, and several client appointments, and all the while the busy work schedule loomed in the background and I picked away at it in bits and pieces.

Wednesday I saw my therapist/spiritual director. She had asked me to bring a visual representation of how I want my life to feel. I did two small water colors of spacious fields and open sky and moutains in the distance. That's what I want, I said. Peace and space.

But that's not how I'm living my life. We went on to talk about why not, what prompts me to overfill my schedule (a plethora of interests, a need to be needed by others, an inability to say no when others ask--boundary issues of the people pleaser, not wanting to miss out on opportunities).

But I can so easily see how crazy busy affects my mood and my eating, and keeps me from diving deeper into my spiritual program. Something has to give.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sugar, fatigue, and jet lag

I've been dragging all day. I went to bed as late as I could force it, about 9:30 Pacific time but it was clearly really late for my body (past midnight in Florida). I slept okay and woke about 4. Then, I stayed in bed and rested and dozed and got up about 7, trying to get back on my regular schedule.

But I'm not rested and I'm jet lagged for sure. Travelling is tiring--the stuffy air of planes, the noise of the engines, the tight seat, the prolonged sitting. I've needed to work today and I just couldn't find the energy for it. So I've taken care of a few errands, watched an episode of MI-5, done my laundry and unpacked. My house is clean, stuff is put away, groceries purchased. I'm pretty much ready for the week.

I also bought a big bunch of tulips and they're cheering me up.

But I have been thinking about sugar all day and how much I'd like to just sit in front of the TV for the next few hours and eat ice cream. I don't want to be productive, I don't want to be "good." I'm due to go to a friend's birthday party tonight and much as I love her, I don't want to do that either. There will be cake and I'll have to watch everybody do that. Just no fun.

After lunch, I ate 4 low-fat, low-sugar granola bars. I don't binge much any more but I just didn't care. Too tired. They weren't very satisfying and I certainly didn't get a sugar buzz but I got full, really full, and that was about as much as I could do.

And maybe there's some withdrawal going on from the high of the trip, the excitement, the enjoyment, and now I'm back to my routines. There's nothing wrong with my routines but they aren't quite so thrilling. Maybe I just need to cool my jets, as it were, and take it easy for a couple of days.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

long day's journey into Portland

I just spent 11 hours on planes and in airports. I'm not sure how constant travelers do it. They just must not think about it. I am very glad to be home to Reinie and Nellie and especially to the cool rain of Portland.

Last night I walked in the dusk and dark of Safety Harbor with one of the other presenters. We talked about Higher Power, we talked about weight loss, we talked about relationships--the things that women talk about. But mostly all I could think about was the heat. It was about 85 (in the dark) and muggy as all get out. After 1o minutes of not much exertion, I was soaked. It was fun though to walk along the bay in the moonlight, swat insects, and see the light on the water.

I'm experiencing jet lag the other direction. It's 7 pm here but 10 pm for my body. I'm ready to slow down. Still basking in the experience of yesterday.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Another big hit at Women Healing!

Back in my hotel room. It looks lovely outside: big fluffy clouds, blue sky, sparkling water and it's 95 and steambath humid so I'm admiring it from in here. I'm such an Oregonian at heart--I hear that it's cold and rainy at home but that sounds better than this.

I gave my second presentation this afternoon. A very different crowd from Minneapolis and its blue-collar emphasis (jeans, t-shirts, casual, a hard look to many of the women). This crowd was blond and tan and dressed in summer frocks. Florida, I guess. I sat in on a presentation this morning, one I enjoyed at the last conference, and the crowd wasn't very responsive, so I was worried that they might not like me.

But I worried in vain. I was a huge hit again. I turned my spa experience into a comedy routine, read from my book, did my slides, got their attention again and again. They waited in a long line to buy my book and have me sign it (sold about 60 copies). And got a nice accolade from the woman organizing the conference who said she could begin recommending me as a motivational speaker. Yikes! Me!

I actually love doing it. It's in some ways the culmination of my teaching career and my belief in creativity and story. I feel exhilarated and exhausted both when I'm done and so moved by their being moved. Women come up to me and cry and say how much it meant to them. And I barely remember what I say because I go into a zone and speak from some other place in me. Maybe something new is opening here in my life.

Many of the women relate to the sugar story. I think it is a common issue, for women at least, in AA. And I've talked to several men about it. One actually had chocolate bars be his first sign of relapse--he was eating 8 to 10 a day and then realized what he really wanted was a drink and so he had one and then many and was back out in his active addiction for several years. We get numb any way we can.

I'm glad to be done, glad the conference is over. It'll be a quiet evening and then a long flight home tomorrow but I'm so glad I came.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Spa day

I woke at 6 this morning, 3 am for my body. In that way we just know, I knew I was done sleeping. So I got up, promising myself a nap later if I needed it. It seemed better to try to get myself on East Coast time so that tomorrow, when I give my presentation, I'll feel alert all day.

It was already warm and steamy at 6 as the light came on, and I thought vaguely about going out to walk, but I couldn't get up the energy--heat and humidity make me lethargic. I have a hard time remembering when I used to run in the heat of Virginia summers, tho always early or late.

I spent a quiet morning, did a little work, shmoozed a little with participants, but I didn't attend the sessions. Instead I spent time in my cool room with its great view reading and writing. Then after lunch, I went to the spa. The spa is about as big as the hotel itself and has been here since 1950. Newly renovated, it's very swanky. I've had massages for a long while now and even had a pedicure or two but mostly at simple spa shops in Portland.

This was the big time. I got a robe to change into. It was a thick terry cloth robe, which seemed ridiculous as it was steamy and warm in the spa area. And it was too small. One size does not fit all. I went back to the desk and the woman was very apologetic. She said I meant to ask you if you'd like something roomy and she gave me a much nicer, lighter robe. I still felt awkward. I didn't know what to do or where to go and I had no one to do it with. Most of the women were there with friends, several with what looked to be their daughters. And I felt lonely in that way that we longers do.

I had a great massage from a genius therapist who said nothing the whole time, just let me listen to Sade and relax. Then a facial with an aging esthetician (been at it 35 years) who told me all about the Florida winter, her garden, her son, who lives in Park City, Utah, and how I should be caring for my face (and neck). She was a hoot. Last was a pedicure with a quite handsome man, who's been "doing toes" for 17 years. He also talked non-stop, about his catholic upbringing, his marriage at 16, the son he raised by himself, his business as a tile contractor (he continues to do toes to have health insurance for his son and new grandson). It's amazing what people will tell you.

I write all this, not so much to chronicle my day, but as a prelude to how I felt about it. I wanted to do the spa day. It seemed a pampering and luxurious thing to do, but I found it hard to relax because I didn't know what I was doing and that was because I hadn't done it before. I don't know that anybody but me expected me to know what I was doing when I'd never done anything like it, but I sure did and so I was nervous. Nervous at being naked under the robe, ashamed about being so fat I had to get a bigger robe, one that wasn't like anyone else's. Angry that over the last 15 years I've eaten so much sugar and other food that I let myself get that fat Ashamed that I was ashamed. What a cycle!

Gone out of my head were any of the kind things I say to myself when I can remember. I felt alone, I felt uncomfortable, and I was angry with myself. And then I remembered that it was just an experience and not a big deal and it could be any way that it was and that's all it was, the way it was, without judgement or expectation.

So hard to remember.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Another country

After many hours of flying today, I checked in this evening to the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa. Safety Harbor is an old and chic village in Clearwater, FL. The high humidity, the high temperatures (90 when I arrived at 6), the palm trees, the flat landscape, the water, the old money...It's a lot like the Bahamas, which I visited once decades ago.

The flights were easier than I'd anticipated. I slept a little, worked a little, chatted with my seat mate, a former female detective from Anchorage who now is a psychologist for the VA, and we got to Houston. I spent an hour there, spilling egg salad all over one of my three outfits (the one I had on), cleaning that up (not too successfully), and then boarded another plane. The forecasted thunderstorms were not over Tampa so our flight was smooth. The shuttle bus from the resort was there almost immediately so I didn't have to gasp in the steambath-like atmosphere very long. It was amazingly hot and wet air going into my lungs, amazing, and such a shock from rainy, cool Portland this morning and then the cool mechanical environment of airports.

My room is deluxe. Big enough for a party, swanky linens, a little balcony, and a nice view of Tampa Bay and the lights. I feel like a princess.

I reconnected with my three favorite people from Minneapolis and met some new ones and begged off and had dinner alone and am now trying to decide how I can trick my body into believing it's bed time, when it's 6:45 there and 9:45 here and I need to be up at a reasonable time.

I survived several hurdles today: The seatbelt fit. When I flew last spring at my highest weight, I begged off sitting in the seat by the exit windows even with more leg room because I couldn't fit the seat belt. Fortunately the aisle seat was a little bigger. When I flew to Minneapolis, the seat belt fit and I was tempted to fly Delta again for that single reason. But then I took my chances on Continental and the seat belt fit.

I also had to do a lot of things that were unfamiliar to me. Strange airports, use my cell phone several times. I know how to use my cell phone, of course, but I don't do it often, and so it wasn't routine. And I had to navigate a lot of stuff with strangers, that too takes me out of my comfort zone.

There is a gorgeous pool here but it's not open in the evening, unfortunately, when I'd have time to use it. I'll see.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Off to Florida

I'm putting everything into the suitcase for the trip to Florida. Just checked the weather and see that our storm will be over by the time I leave and Houston, where I change plans, will be clear, but T-storms are predicted for Tampa. Could be bumpy. I'm not crazy about flying and all kinds of trips make me anxious so I'm feeling a little jittery tonight.

The thought of a drink crosses my mind or a pill or ice cream to soothe me. None of those things are here in my house, it's 8:45 and I'm not going out, so it's just an old reaction, an old habit resurfacing, something to talk about on Saturday at my presentation, how these old stories, these old desires to alter my mood haven't vanished but rather gone into comfortable retirement.

I spent time getting ready today, going through my slides again, making some tweaks to the script of my presentation. I listened to a bit more of the CD from the Minneapolis speech but it just made me nervous, nervous that I wouldn't be funny again. And I realized I've done plenty of prep and I can just let it be what it is going to be. So I'm ready to go.

And I stuck in my bathing suit.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The bathing suit dilemma

I'm headed off Thursday to the second of the four conferences for Hazelden. This one is in Safety Harbor, Florida, just south of Tampa at what is billed as one of the top 10 resort spas in the U.S.. I have no idea why we are moving from an airport Marriott to a swanky spa but I'm not complaining. I went in and looked at all the amenities and see that there are two swimming pools. I enjoy swimming, not so much for exercise as for immersion in water since I mostly shower and I live in a region where only the suicidal swim in the cold, undertow ocean.

So do I take my bathing suit? Our family used to go over to Eastern Oregon for a week each summer where we lounged around the pool. I was never self-conscious for more than a few minutes. The resort there catered to all ages and all types and there was as many old as young, as many heavy as thin, as many attractive as not so. But will I be willing to wear my suit at a spa where the rich and famous are known to hang out?

The question may be moot. First I have to find the suit. I haven't worn it in 6 or 7 years. Will it fit? Will it have fallen apart in the way of aging elastic? If it's not viable, then I guess I'm off the hook in the decision-making department.

And if it is wearable and I can get into it? Then I guess I have to decide if I'm one of those women who doesn't give a damn and takes her ease, or does give a damn and stays inside. be continued

Sunday, May 16, 2010

My relationship with the mirror

When I got to the gym this morning, I discovered that my usual treadmill had died and wouldn't get repaired until Tuesday. I like that treadmill because it's one of two that doesn't face the mirror. I'd rather not look at myself as I work out. But today I had to and I spent some of the time noticing how small my eyes look these days and how the flesh under my jaw jiggles with the downbeat of my step. On the positive side, I am looking a little thinner and I noted that with satisfaction.

Then this afternoon, I tackled my clothes for the upcoming trip to Tampa. I'm going to the second Hazelden conference to speak and instead of cool, rainy Minneapolis, we're going to hot, humid Gulf Coast Florida where it has been 90 or so every day already for weeks. For me that mean getting out summer clothes (here in Portland, we rarely have any heat at all until July) and trying things on to see what looks good with my current size and shape. That meant a lot of mirror time.

Two things that I thought might work, a 2-piece dress and a short sleeved tunic, looked awful. I looked washed out (pale winter skin) and, well, fat, really fat. I don't fool myself into thinking that if I choose the right color and style, I'll look thin. That kind of magical thinking is long gone. But something's look nicer than others and so I kept trying. I wanted to look great, not just invisible, the way I do most days here. And eventually I found 3 outfits that I can wear over the two days. I'm counting on air-conditioning to be cool enough and will take shorts and a t-shirt for the gym or a power walk around town.

I think somehow I thought that the 16 pounds I've lost would make more of the clothes fit differently or that somehow I'd look different. It's not discouraging exactly. I'm realistic about what needs to happen but I wish there were better clothes solutions for someone my size.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Sugar radar

I’m at the Oregon coast on a 2-day mini-holiday. We ate lunch yesterday in a favorite place of mine in Cannon Beach and I had my favorite Crab Louie. As we were finishing up, three older women at the end of the long room were paying their bill and ordering caramels to go. They were quite a ways from me (maybe down five tables) but my ears perked up. How is it that my radar is that keen?

I love those caramels. They’re made by a local candy maker and I’ve been known to buy a half-dozen and eat them on the way home. I felt a pang of regret, of grief at the thought of not eating them again. Of course, those women ordered one a piece. How sensible! I wondered if any of them wanted more and said nothing.

We moved on to a small bakery/ coffee shop that has the most delicious coffee, called Sleepy Monk, also roasted by a local purveyor. I ordered a latte and a couple of their yummy rosemary foccacia rolls. My friend Cynthia got a decaf and a cookie, a buttery chocolate chip cookie.

She asked if I’d mind and I said no. I’m not about to be a downer on someone else’s enjoyment of sweets, someone who can have it be a treat instead of a medication. But I saw that there were pecan praline cookies too, my favorite from that bakery, and I thought fondly of earlier times when I would have bought three when my companion’s back was turned or bought three and lied and said I was taking the other two home for my cat sitter or my next-door neighbor or my sister and then eaten them in secret after lights out.

I ate one of the rolls as a late afternoon snack and it was delicious and I was okay with just one (and an orange). Cynthia had asked me earlier if I still found myself craving sweets. It’s been three months now and I said no, not craving. But wanting, yes, the wanting is still there.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A poem for the inner child

The child I never wanted
Is demanding my attention
That’s what Anna says.

Too complicated by half
Listening to the small girl
I abandoned when her mother did.

At 8, I silenced her with chocolate and homework
And the stories of children braver than I
At 25, I drowned her out with bourbon and wine and the kisses of men.

At 63, she’s still waiting
Anna says she holds the key to healing
But I can’t see how so I take on another project
Cram it in to a schedule already too full by half
This homework of my later years.

Had I known how to mother a child
I would have done so decades past
But all I found were Peter Pans
And all they wanted were Wendys to mend their tears.

I didn’t see myself as Wendy, but as Nancy Drew,
Who solved the mysteries by her own self.
I was no Mrs. Darling either
Clueless as to what went on in the nursery.

So I grew up instead of listening to the child
How can it not be too late now
For her, for me.

The heart scarred, loving only around the edges
Yearning, longing, hungry for blessing.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The heart of the matter

A painful hour with my therapist today. We're circling closer and closer to the heart of the matter, to childhood memories, to experiences that I turned into truths that I apply to me and everyone else. I cried a lot and now I feel exhausted. I came home, had lunch, then kept on eating. I don't feel any better, just too full.

My friend Cynthia, who is a psychology professor, was telling me about the idea of empathic breach. As a small child, we expect our parents to know what we need all the time. When those needs are fairly basic, they do pretty well. When the needs get more complicated, parents often fail, hence, a breach in empathy or empathic breach. If the parent rectifies this with the child, the child's woundedness heals over and when this breach and its healing occur repeatedly, the child learns that the parent and others won't be there all the time but will be there most of the time. However, if the breaches are too frequent and the rectification comes rarely or not at all, the child learns not to trust others and loses faith.

I am one of these. One of those with little faith in the constancy of others, those who took on that something in us was so flawed that the parent couldn't figure us out. In reality, my parents' circumstances and own problems were such that it wasn't going to happen. But as a child, I didn't know that and I took it on as me, as my fault. That I was too complicated, wanted too much.

Later experiences in childhood with God taught me the same lesson. Don't count on God. He won't show up when you need him.

This is causing a lot of pain for me now as I give up the anesthetic of sugar. Without that to keep me from feeling, all the unfulfilled longing is eating away at me. And it's not fun.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Don't tell me I can't

Yesterday morning was my annual physical. In order to get correct readings of blood sugar and cholesterol, they asked me to fast after 8 pm for my 8 am appointment. Now I don't always eat after 8 pm but as soon as they told me I couldn't, I felt panicky. I wrote it into my calendar so I wouldn't forget and I thought about it all day long. How 8 pm would come and I wouldn't be able to eat. How when I got up in the morning I wouldn't be able to have tea like I always do.

It seems a small thing, a silly thing almost. Surely as a conscious adult, I can go 12 hours without eating. And I often do, sometimes longer depending on how late I sleep and when I have breakfast. I also know that one weight-loss technique is to eat dinner at a reasonably early time and then not eat again until breakfast. Theoretically, you sleep better and you lose weight because you're not ingesting food that won't be left unprocessed when your metabolism slows down for the night. But I've been a chronic evening eater for a very long time and it's a habit I'm finding hard to break.

But being told I can't, that it isn't a choice, creates a sense of lack, of deprivation, of withdrawal that is very hard for me to sit with. I'm not sure what the psychology of that is but those of us addicted to ingesting substances, be they alcohol, drugs, or food, don't like to be told no. Something for me to investgate.

Monday, May 10, 2010

God as I understand God

One of the great presentations I heard at the Hazelden conference last month was from a California therapist, Dr. Judith Turian. Her presentation was on building a loving, satisfying, lifelong partnership with a Higher Power.

The God issue has long been problematic for me. In AA, for many years the group was my Higher Power. Then I came into a vague relationship with what I call "Spirit," which moved me a little further along the path but enabled me to make no real commitment. Turian's recommendations are about real specifics and she encourages people to write out answers to the following questions.

Describe your Higher Power (your real thoughts and feelings).
What is your Higher Power's personality like?
How does your Higher Power feel about you?
How does your Higher Power interact with you?
What does your Higher Power expect of you?
When you think about having a close relationship with your Higher Power, what fears, worries, or concerns do you have?

And I added one question of my own: What does your Higher Power want for you?

I've been working with these questions over the last few days in my journal. As I suspected, they are forcing me to take a stand, to get real and specific. All for the good.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Scars on the heart

I had a painful session with my spiritual director last Wednesday. It's always curious to me how I don't really have anything in mind when I go to see her, no burning desire to share something and then I say something and she says something and we are suddenly into the thick of whatever has been plaguing me all week.

The week before at my poetry class, the instructor asked us to choose someone we deeply loved and write a poem about them. I was struck by the fact that there didn't seem to be many choices at all for me. I love a lot of people but I don't feel like I love them deeply. And I began to wonder if I am incapable of deep love, if I am too wounded, too frightened to do that.

I mentioned to my spiritual director that I felt as if a large part of my heart were encased in scar tissue: tough, unyielding, unmoving. She nodded in her wise way and said that that was probably an apt description given my history and my experiences. And then she talked about how it was possible to break up that scarring and risk again but that it took a lot of concentrated effort to work and work with the scars and that it was most often arduous and painful. Was I willing?

I couldn't immediately say yes. The truth is I don't know if I can.

Today is Mother's Day and I thought about my mother and how conflicted my feelings about her are, still, yet, after so much work and therapy and prayer. How I envy women with good relationships, healthy relationships with their mothers. My mother has been dead for nearly 13 years and yet I struggle to soften my heart. I suspect all this is intimately connected with my relationship with food.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Last Wednesday at my poetry class, I started a poem this way:

I did not count the stairs today
Though I would guess near 80
These stairs are meant for younger legs
With hormones jet-propelling

Our class meets on the third floor of an old high school here in Portland, up four flights of stairs from the basement entrance out of the faculty parking lot. Over the years I've learned to find too many stairs or lengthy hills daunting. Where once I bounded up them, now my age--and more particularly my weight--make them difficult. When did they become daunting? 30 pounds ago? 50 pounds ago?

I can get up them. That's not the issue. It's the heart-pounding, breath-gasping after-effect that is so disconcerting, and for some reason, so embarrassing. I show up in my weight every day. And no matter how I dress, I still look fat. But for some reason, I'm more embarrassed by the gasping breath at the top of the stairs than I am by the number size on my clothes.

And yet I do not push the incline on the treadmill I work out on 4 times a week. I push the speed and on a flat surface, my gait is swift and crisp but those stairs...

Friday, May 7, 2010

A day of mindfulness

I went with friends today to a seasonal day of mindfulness at Crooked Kitty Ranch where the Braided Way Sangha meets. Three of my friends hadn't been to the ranch before and it was in full spring splendor, the many trees leafed out, the lilacs in bloom. The sun shone a good part of the day and we sat outside as we wished.

I've been in a bit of a funk. I don't know whether it's a cyclical low point that hits me from time to time or something to do with the deep inner work I'm doing with my spiritual director around the place of love in my life. But I have found it hard to keep to my usual routines and schedules, which are a major way of grounding myself.

So it felt particularly good to be on the land, to listen to the birds sing, to feel the breeze on my skin and hear the wind in the trees. We even watched and heard a pair of eagles dancing on the currents above us.

I spent time reading, thinking, meditating, and just being. I was delighted by my friends' delight in the sweetness and peace of the day. It was a lovely experience and I came back feeling much better.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


I just got up from a two-hour nap. I don't usually sleep in the daytime. It makes me groggy in the evening and I then stay up too late and get into a bad cycle. But today about 3:00, I'd had it with my life and needed a respite. So I got into bed, read for 5 minutes, snuggled in with Nellie, my tuxedo girl, and slept deeply for an hour and then weirdly for another.

The feeling of overwhelm and disgruntlement (not even sure that's a word) had been growing for a few days. Nothing's really seriously wrong. But it was nap or get ice cream and I chose the nap.

I think there are times when there's just too much stimulation. I had several projects to tackle this afternoon, I've made commitments to do some serious thinking and writing about 4 different things, I haven't worked on my novel in a couple of weeks, I didn't have a very successful time at the poetry writing class (didn't write anything I liked), I don't see when I'll find time for the homework, I should be making a big salad right now for tomorrow's potluck lunch, I completely forgot to write the blogs yesterday when I got home from class, a group is meeting at my house tonight, I can't find the folder that has my short story in it, the sugar ants are all over the sink for some weird reason, my desk needs clearing, my work basket needs clearing, the dishes need putting away, there are dead cherry blossoms all over the couch where Reinie dragged them in on his fur, the terrace needs sweeping, the car needs washing, and I got a grease stain on my new shirt. It all felt like too much. And so I went to bed.

Ice cream used to be my way to check out when life got too much--ice cream and tv and then a nap. Guess I still need a way to check out from time to time.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Transitioning from work

I just got off the phone with an old friend (we've known each other an astonishing 45 years) and we were talking about how to make the transition from work to play. For many years, my transition habit was a whole lot of white wine. Three or four glasses about 6:00 signaled the end of the work day and the transition into more drinking for the evening.

When I got sober, I took on exercising every day right after work, then dinner, a shower, and a meeting. That worked for me for a number of years. Then when I moved to a climate where exercise in the winter evenings didn't work so well and I was tired of going to AA meetings at 8 and getting home late, I started baking in the evenings right after work. I'd come home from the university, make brownies or a cake, fix an early supper and proceed to eat most of the brownies or the cake, at least until I felt sated and numb.

Now that I'm off sugar and moving to change my relationship with food, I feel kind of stuck. I'm a chronic overachiever. I've long bought into that part of our culture and it was reinforced in my home where success at school and in activities was rewarded with attention and feelings weren't. And I do intense work that requires a lot of concentration so in a sense when I stop working, it's like I've been running full tilt and stopped abruptly. For a long time, I've used food to create that transistion and I'm tempted now to use cheese and crackers or other snacks to create it instead.

My therapist asked me to make a list of other things I could do but I feel really resistant. Oh, I can make the list: take a walk, make a phone call, do some art work, listen to music, read a book. But that all sounds like work to me, not nearly as simple as filling a plate with food and eating it. So what if food isn't an option? How do I be with that? Stay tuned...

Monday, May 3, 2010

Abstaining from accomplishment

I had a coaching session with a new client today, a dancer and wise woman. We each wrote out some ideas about what we'd like our lives to be in five-years' time. After she read me her list, I asked her this question: "What would happen if you had already accomplished enough for this lifetime? If you didn't need to accomplish another thing?"

She laughed and said, "My whole body is smiling at that thought."

If you're young and reading this, it may not mean anything to you. But many of us older folks already have extremely impressive resumes of work, community service, relationships, parenting, friend-helping, an impressive list of accomplishments. Maybe we don't need to do more. And the important word here is "need." Maybe we can ease up and do what we want, laying down the burden of guilt about the very needy world out there and our own need to prove something to somebody from our past or anybody from our present.

What if we turned over a new leaf and began acting out of a commitment to joy, to peace, to connection, rather than a commitment to do all we can for everyone and be all we can for ourselves? What if contemplation and reflection became our life's work at this stage?

I asked Lily how she might turn over a new leaf. She smiled and said, "I'd write my resume on a wall and then paint it over."

"Clean slate," I commented.

"Clean slate," she nodded.

We both agreed to give that some thought and Lily headed over to the art store to find something she could write with on the wall.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Falling into overwork

One of the few disagreeable parts of the freelance life is the feast or famine nature of the work. Some people have steady clients after a while and things go along swimmingly until the client folds or hires someone in house. Some people never have much work and scrape by. I tend to have a lot of work for a few months, then some weeks of very little.

It takes me a while to relax into the big spaciousness of very little work, to do the things I want to do and enjoy them, without worrying about where the money will come from. Then when work starts up again, I have a hard time buckling down to keep at it.

Right now I'm in a big glut of work. Because I had very little work for 6 weeks, I need to make all the money I can right now, which means taking on a lot of projects and working nights and weekends to get it all done. I'm grateful for the work and grateful to be able to support myself doing some I like and am good at. I'm also grateful for the flexibility to work at home and take vacations when I want to.

But the overworking is also dangerous for me because it's easy to convince myself that I deserve to eat whatever I want whenever I want it. I can justify extra food as fuel, as reward, as a substitute for sleep. And in the short run, that may be all right. But in the long run, it leads me into addictive places where I'm just eating to be eating.

And work can become its own addiction, feeding into a need to achieve, overachieve, be needed, be needed even more, prove something to myself or some unspecified someone that I can do it, that I can juggle all kinds of projects. What begins to slip away is my sense of rightness with myself and my spiritual program. And that's not good for me.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


I'm a pretty introverted person. I do like to be around people, especially one on one or in small groups. But I also need a lot of alone time. I've lived alone more of my life than not. It just seemed to work out that way. I went from college to several roommate situations in apartments, then living with the first serious relationship in my life for 6 years. But that was it. In 1975 I moved into an apartment by myself after we broke up and while I had numerous relationships and one that lasted nearly 12 years, I always lived by myself.

At first that was convenient, for my drinking was really taking off then and I needed the solitude to be able to consume as much as I wanted. Then I guess by the time I got sober 18 years later, I was just in the habit of it, of being alone a great deal and comfortable with my own company and finding it peaceful to only connect some of the time.

This has been on my mind today. I had dinner with my friend Isabelle last night. Her dad is in his last months of life, had a stroke, and is in the Vancouver Veterans Administration rehab. He's miserable there because he's got no solitude. He has a roommate, he has to eat with others in a big dining hall, and he can't be on his own schedule.

I don't think it ever really occurred to me that I might at some point have to give up my solitude. It's not that I was in denial about it but it just never occurred to me. And I think that would be very, very difficult for me. I could live with others but I would be miserable if I didn't have a room of my own where I could close myself off and be alone.

Like many in recovery, I vacillate between loneliness and needing solitude, in having to be a bit vigilant not to isolate too much, especially when the world feels overwhelming. My way is not to talk out those feelings but rather to ingest something to try to make them go away. Another behavior that I think has to change.