Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Lowering expectations

I spent some time with a good friend, Diane, the other night and we were talking about relationships as women often do. She was telling me that she'd recently had some breakthroughs in both her marriage and a close friendship, realizing that she had unrealistic expectations. She wanted her husband to be interested in all her inner workings (she's dealing with the terminal illness of a beloved stepfather) and she wanted her friend to create a lot of space for Diane's issues. She had realized in recent encounters that neither was going to happen.

It got me thinking about my own expectations. I know that in my writing life, the words of William Stafford are a constant reminder to lower my expectations. I'll write more, I'll write more freely, and I probably have a chance to write much better, ironic as that may sound, because I'll write more.

And I'm wondering, in my conversation about food as addiction, if I lower my standards of what can satisfy me, if I can be open to different kinds and levels of satisfaction, if I can notice satisfaction everywhere it shows up, then maybe I won't need food to do that for me, at least not so often.

I've also been thinking about relationships and whether I can notice their differing levels of give and take, of satisfaction, and let that be as it is as well, rather than holding out for some form of perfection and being disappointed when they aren't what I want.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Food for thought

I went to an amazing performance of Verdi's Requiem yesterday and as I listened to the music and the astonishing soprano and tenor and the chorus and the power of thought and notes, I was reminded of this quote.

From Mark Morford:

Stop thinking this is all there is...Realize that for every on-going war and religious outrage and environmental devastation and bogus Iraqi attack plan, thre are a thousand counter-balancing acts of staggering generosity and humanity and art and beauty happening all over the world, right now, on a breathtaking scale, from flower box to cathedral...Resist the temptation to drown in fatalism, to shake your head and sigh and just throw in the karmic towel...Realize that this is the perfect moement to change the energy of the world, to step right up and crank your personal volume; right when it all seems dark and bitter and offensive and acrimonious and conflicted and billious...there's your opening. Remember magic. And, finally, believe you are part of a groundswell, a resistance, a seemingly small but actually very, very large impending karmic overhaul, a great shift, the beginning of something important and potent and unstoppable.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

When your new best friend fails you

For the last several months, I've had a relationship with snack bars. They're quite low-fat and pretty low-sugar and so they seemed okay even though I went through the usual panic if I didn't have a few around. And I'll confess that there were some days when I ate four or five and skimped on meals. And while I wouldn't say I became addicted to them, I did keep focussed on them and used them for overeating in the evening.

Now their charm has worn off. They're tasty enough but they don't do anything for me, emotionally or physically. I just get fuller as if I'd eaten another slice of turkey or another half of potato. They aren't a treat and that's what I wanted them to be: a treat, and my new best friend.

I'm coming to see that food truly is a substitute for love. That I can have intimacy with a substance (alcohol, ice cream, granola bars) much more easily than I can with a friend or a lover. Food's easier to trust. Except when it fails us.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Hooked by my feelings

I've been in a slump this week. If you live in the Northwest, you know we've had gloomy weather for months (only a handful of days with sun) and so I suspect I've been suffering from UNseasonal affective disorder. But my spiritual director, after talking to me for a few minutes on Tuesday, commented that I was actually beginning to experience my feelings, those feelings I've been stuffing away with food for most of my life.

Anger, sadness, grief, loneliness. I've never really accepted these, never felt at home with them. I grew up in a pleasant household where we were regularly admonished to say nothing if we couldn't say something nice. I learned to say nothing a lot. And now without food to hold all that in, they're bubbling up and it is most unpleasant.

I'm angry that one addiction wasn't enough, that I gave up alcohol and have stayed sober and that isn't enough. I'm angry that my parents helped get me into this mess. I'm angry that I've made a lot of bad choices that have made me even more tentative in my emotional life.

I'm sad for my child self and my adult self and without food, all the pain and difficulty of the world just seems to be too much.

I've felt weepy all week, weepy and scared that I will have to make more big changes in order to stay sober from food.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Is there a normal relationship with food?

I had dinner with my good friend Kathie last night. She asked me if I felt proud of myself for having abstained from sugar all this time--more than four months, and I felt a bit stymied as to an answer. On the one hand, I do feel good about it. I've been abstinent from a substance that was really plaguing me. But many of my habits around food have not changed all that much.

I still eat often when I'm restless, bored, anxious, tired, lonely--all the same reasons I ate sugar. So I've eliminated one toxic substance--and I'm not minimizing how big a deal that is--but I'm still overeating a lot of the time.

So I said to Kathie that I was really wishing I could develop a relationship with food like normal people have. Her reply: "I don't know anyone who has a normal relationship with food."

And I realized that I was comparing my insides to people's outsides, as we say in AA. I assume that because someone is thin, they don't struggle with food the way I do. That there's a difference between those of us who are fat and those who aren't. And I really have no evidence for that. Maybe they are white-knuckling it every meal, trying to stay away from food, just like I am.

So is the difference that they're in control of themselves and I'm not? Something to think about.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

One step forward, three steps back

Friday night I had a small victory. I had a good day with writing friends, got some work done as well, and had dinner with a close friend at a restaurant with both enjoy a lot. I came home though a little letdown and turned on a Netflix and started thinking about eating something else. But as I got up out of my chair to go into the kitchen, for one of the first times, I stopped and thought about it and wondered if I could just sit with it and let go of the craving and the temptation and the discomfort of not eating. And I did. It took about 20 minutes of restlessness and urges to get up and eat something and yet I was able to just sit there and then I got engrossed in the show and each time the habitual nudge came, I just ignored it.

I woke up yesterday feeling very proud of myself and accepting that I can do it if I want to.

But there's the deal. Do I really want to? Do I want to sit in discomfort over and over again? Or do I just want to satisfy the craving and be done with it?

Last night was a different story. I had a good morning, got some work done and a couple of nagging errands completed. But then I was lonely and tired of working and I started eating about 5 and just kept at it. None of the food I ate was very satisfying. I don't have any sweets and no cheetos or other chips or nuts. I ate a couple of granola bars but they satisfied nothing. I just kept eating and I could see that it was crazy. I wasn't getting what I wanted out of it and yet I couldn't stop. And I couldn't imagine anything besides food, really good, yummy, sweet food, that could make me feel better.

I woke up a bit hungover from food and disgruntlement with myself this morning.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Overeating and impotence (no, not that kind)

Coming back from the beach yesterday, my sister and I got into a conversation about the state of the world and our sadness about the kinds of collective decisions humanity makes. The strong role that the thirst for power and greed play in wars, the Gulf Oil disaster (she and I are both skeptical that the world as we know it can ever recover from that as the oil will inevitably spread around the world), our many resources and how poorly they are used. Watching log truck after log truck go by with its loads of our oxygen-producing trees, now dead, it just all seems insane.

And whether it was that conversation alone or that combined with the inevitable mini-letdown of coming home and unpacking and reading the mail and paying bills and just being alone again, which isn't always a relief, I started eating. Again, I never gave a thought to sitting with the discomfort or praying or calling someone to beg me to keep from putting food in my mouth.

And I wondered if there's a connection between our impotence to stop the insanity around us, and to which we inevitably contribute, and our desire to consume while we can. Since we're going to hell in a handbasket, what difference does one more handful of cheetos make? Since I can't fix the genocide in Usbekistan (I cannot fathom the ritual slaughter of people of another faith) or the insanity of Israeli militarism or my own government's complete reluctance to give up warring and save the children, eating and the way it numbs my feelings seems like, well, a good idea.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

More on satisfaction

I've been  at the beach the last couple of days with my sister. We've had off-and-on again Oregon spring weather. One good walk on the beach, then too many squalls for me to risk it in my light jacket. But it's clearing up today and we should get a good walk in before we leave.

I've been different with food here. I had lunch before we left but we ate an early dinner per my sister's preference at 4 pm. I was sure I'd be hungry later but we read and watched an engaging documentary on Benjamin Franklin and played some cards and I never really thought about food again. Yesterday, at lunch I made good choices and ate a wonderful vegan soup and half a crab sandwich and when we got home, I didn't even think about snacks and we ate a simple dinner and I was done.

So I've been thinking about what makes this different from being home. One, I'm not alone here. There's enough quiet (my sister loves to read and nap and walk by herself) and plenty of conversation including a lot of laughter. I come from a family of punsters and we go at it unceasingly, cracking ourselves up. Second, I've gotten a lot of rest, sleeping my fill each night and napping and reading in the afternoon. Third, I'm not working. I failed to send myself the document I needed and so I'm actually taking 48 hours off, something I don't do very often.

I'm not sure what conclusions to draw from this. Do I spend too much time alone? Do I work too much, rest too little? Is it easier to be satisfied when you're on vacation?  One of my challenges is how to translate that into daily life.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The evil twin didn't just drop in for the evening

She held me hostage in bed yesterday until nearly 9 am and even then it was a struggle to break the bonds that chained me to her. I moped around all day (her lethargy and sour mood were contagious). I did get some work done (only because I'm taking off for the beach today for 48 hours) and went to a business meeting. She tried to talk me into pizza for lunch (I resisted) and buying some black licorice on sale (I resisted). I tried to tempt her with fresh flowers but she laughed in my face.

Once we got home, she did not want to go back to work and I made her and she nattered at me all afternoon. Telling me we should be watching episodes of the first season of 24 and eating whatever we could get our hands on. I kept her in check for hours, even through a tedious formatting edit of a dissertation, the kind of work that's not the least bit stimulating but has to be done. And because I couldn't solve a formatting issue, she got pretty loud and obnoxious.

At 5:30 I went to dinner and left her here. Had a great time with a friend and ate wisely. And when I got home, I solved the formatting issue and was feeling great. Then through an error (mine), I lost the document. I lost the two hours of tedious editing, and she possessed me and we watched three episodes of 24 and ate way too much. I slept poorly and dragged myself out of bed again this morning.

Something's got to give. I suspect I should befriend her, listen to what she has to say, but right now I hate the bitch!

Monday, June 14, 2010

The need to be bad

Yesterday started out great. My gym buddy Melanie and I went to our gym and I pushed hard on the treadmill and then did some serious weight lifting. Felt very proud of myself. I came back and swept out all the dead leaves from the garage. I've been talking about doing that for a month and it took all of 15 minutes. I like things really tidy so that lifted my spirits.

I spent the afternoon working--in spite of the good weather, I had a deadline to meet and I'm coming up on a week off of real vacation (a writing retreat) so that felt all right. I took some breaks in the afternoon. Deadheaded the roses, washed my terrace furniture down---excuses to be outside.

About 5, I was ready to slow down. And just as I did, my evil twin showed up--the one who wants cheetos and granola bars for dinner, the one who likes diet coke, the one who tried to talk me into going to Plaid Pantry. She and I wrestled for about four hours. I gave in to the last of the Cheetos and too many granola bars (not satisfying but I kept eating them anyway). I refused to go the Plaid Pantry for coke or ice cream. But she and I were clearly bingeing, clearly defying common sense and good health.

I wonder sometimes about that side of myself. The one that feels ashamed after and welcomes it. The one who wants to feel like a failure at keeping my word. What a curious dichotomy!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sitting with my feelings

I went to a birthday party today. I ate sanely (fruit salad, half a bagel, a little cream cheese). My friend was kind enough to suggest we head out after 90 minutes and before the cake came around. That felt right to me.
But then after lunch here, I've been eating steadily--fruit, nuts, cheese. Just to keep eating.

I feel almost as stuck as I did before I gave up sugar. Or perhaps I've just peeled off another layer off of the habits and needs that seem to drive this train of feelings and impulses.

I spoke again with my spiritual director of not eating after meals, especially dinner, of sitting with what is. She looked at me and said you know you haven't really given that a try, just sitting with the impulse. And I knew she was right. In many ways, I've just switched what I eat, not tamed the eating impulse itself.

The thing is that I don't want to not eat. I don't want to sit in discomfort and be restless and antsy and unhappy. I just want the problem to go away, to not be there.

When I got sober 20 years ago, I had that restlessness, that irritability, and after a few months, it passed. But I had food then to tide me over. It wasn't the same. It wasn't as swift or effective but it dulled the impulses. Now I just don't want to be uncomfortable. Dang!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Identity theft

When I was in Tampa last month, I invited the conference participants to visit my web site and read my blog. I gave them the web addresses on the one of the slides printed out in their packet. I didn't think to warn them about googling my name.

If you put the words Jill Kelly into Google, you'll either end up on Wikipedia or at Neither site is about me. Both are about a blonde 39-year-old porn star who took my name as her stage name. The web site comes with a Mature Content warning.

That Jill Kelly is famous for live sex shows, hard-core porn films, and a line of sex toys. She's even an Adult Video News Hall of Famer, something I didn't even know I could aspire to. She also works as a talent agent for other female porn stars.

Perhaps we all think of ourselves as unique. That our name is our identity and belongs to us. I've known for many years that there are other Jill Kellys in the world. I had a collection agency from Florida calling me for about 18 months and threatening to repossess my Mustang. Except I was driving a Honda and the real deadbeat was Jill Marie Kelly, not Jill Beverly Kelly. And two years ago I received a paycheck from Oregon Health and Science University for much more than my part-time teaching gig warranted. Turns out the University, which is Oregon's largest employer, had another Jill Kelly (Jill Eileen Kelly) on their payroll. I didn't try to cash the check. There are even several other Dr. Jill Kellys, who are authors--one in spirituality, one in fantasy. Those I don't mind so much.

I'm not a prude and I don't care much what consenting adults do or whether they take pictures of themselves doing it. But to have the name that is mine pre-empted by a sex worker, that just feels weird. Well, at least all my body parts are my own. According to her web site, that other Jill Kelly can't say the same.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Food as barometer

In this inquiry I'm in around food, my spiritual director suggested I think of my use of food as a barometer, rather than a problem. "The problem lies elsewhere," she said yesterday. "From all you tell me, you eat more than you need because you are not satisfied and you are looking to food to satisfy something it can't."

This concept is not new to me: that those of us who are food addicts or overeaters use food to soothe our feelings, give us something to do when we're restless or bored, keep us company, a whole host of uses that tend to help us gain weight and avoid our feelings.

But the idea of observing my eating habits for information about what else is out of balance in my life strikes me as a great idea. I suspect that most of the time I go on eating after a meal because I'm not satisfied. I may have eaten enough food but something in me remains unfulfilled, unsated, and more and more food doesn't really satisfy that, it just makes me uncomfortable or sleepy so I don't care.

Anna then suggested that I start looking into each day for fun, engagement, and satisfaction. Instead of my usual focus on how much I can get accomplished and how many people I can please, perhaps I could begin asking where am I going to have fun?

That idea scares me to death.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The impulse to fix myself is everywhere

Thursday I was at Fred Meyer, a local, huge one-stop shopping center. I'd gone to make a bank deposit and pick up prescriptions. Even though the robot at the drugstore had called and barked out the information that my prescriptions were ready, they weren't. The chagrined clerk said to come back in 20 minutes. So I took my irritation, got a shopping cart, and started perusing the aisles.

This was a bad idea. While I avoided all the candy aisles and the granola bar aisles and the pastries and the cheeses, there was still a store's worth of distracting stuff. Not distracting to look at , but distracting to buy. And I was irritable and wanted to feel better.

There was one thing on my list that I could get: some large plastic containers for my years and years' worth of journals, which I had decided to move to our dry, warm basement storage area and give myself some more book shelf room. They were on sale and I found just what I needed. But then I went by the luggage display.

I don't know what it is about bags and containers but I love them. I'm not into shoes and I'm not even into purses. I can carry the same handbag for years and years and not give a whit about style or fashion. But I love things to put things in. My current suitcases are two duffel bags, one small one without wheels and one large one with wheels, both in excellent shape. But as I had borrowed my friend Melanie's small suitcase (with wheels) for my trips to Minneapolis and Tampa, I thought I'd just get my own. And they were 50% off. Sucha deal! I found a red one I really liked.

And then I came to my senses. Neither Melanie nor I travel by plane much, and for car travel the two duffels work well. What's more, Melanie has no problem with lending me her little suitcase, none at all. I was just in the grip of fixing myself through retail therapy. I wanted to buy something new and shiny and red in hopes of feeling less irritated about the prescriptions, and less deprived without sugar. I didn't need the suitcase. I didn't need it at all.

It was a great reminder that I'm still looking for fixes from the outside when I just need to be with what's going on inside.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Still flailing in inactivity

I've been at loose ends since work slowed down on Thursday. I've curbed the incessant eating to a large extent, but the abrupt halt to my structure is really hard on me. This isn't new to me. I've been a freelancer for nearly 16 years and work comes and goes in a very definite feast or famine way, but each time it's hard and without food relief, it's seeming even harder.

The last three days, I've been working through my longer to-do list. Friday I spent writing letters and emails and doing some marketing for my writing, long overdo follow-up on some warm leads, and making some adjustments to my over all plan. Yesterday a little work came in and I alternated doing that and going through my books. For years, I've had an agreement with myself that I can't have more books than I have shelves for and that's gotten out of hand over the last year, so I culled three big bags for resale and moved my 20 years of journals to the basement in plastic tubs. Today I tackled my clothes and the bedroom's relative clutter. That kind of cleaning out and giving away always lightens my mood.

So it's not so much moving from lots to do to nothing to do, as it is moving from external accountability and deadlines to my own internal motivations and desires. And somehow not letting food control the transition.

I'm reminded too that health is a static situation but a constant adjustment and readjustment of thousands of small processes within our bodies, so perhaps I can relax into a number of adjustments into a new kind of balance around what happens to my time.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Possessed by the slave to food

In less than 24 hours, my too-busy work schedule came to a grinding halt yesterday. It felt likes being on one of those moving sidewalks, walking faster and faster and dragging a big suitcase, and then going sprawling when you hit the end. My big writing project is on hold until the client sends more info, a manuscript project is on hold while the client rewrites portions, two dissertations are arriving much later than expected.

Sadly, my workaholic self could not celebrate, could not breathe a sigh of relief and settle in with a good book, she could only flail in the nothingness of the inactivity and then start to eat. I kept myself busy with odds and ends until 1:30, went to a writing group where I had a good time, then got home at 4:30. I settled down in front of Netflix and ate and ate and ate.

I didn't eat sugar unless I count the low-sugar granola bars and the package of dried mango. I had a good dinner. I didn't go to the Plaid Pantry and buy candy or ice cream or even Cheetos. But I kept eating way beyond full, way beyond sated, and I never got satisfied.

I felt lonely and it didn't occur to me to call anyone or go do something. I felt bereft and it didn't occur to me to pray or meditate or pull out a spiritual book that might have brought me some comfort. I just ate. My old self felt completely in charge of the situation.

I woke up hungover this morning. Not from the food, other than quantity, everything was pretty good for me--little sugar, little fat, little salt. But I had an emotional hangover from restlessness and boredom. Back on track today, one day at a time.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Support from the universe

Once I got the ball rolling to postpone or cancel appointments this week, once I did some footwork, as we say in AA, the universe responded. My big writing project, which was due to be completed on June 2, has stalled because the client needs to get me more info and I haven't heard from him since I sent a reminder nudge on June 1. Two dissertations to edit are arriving later than expected, and a memoir manuscript is being reworked at my suggestion.

So things are much calmer here, my pace healthier and more leisurely. I like this pace. I like having some things coming in, some things to do, and a chance to do other things at my own rhythm, with full attention, not that scatteredness that comes from adrenalin rush.

I had also been really anxious about some correspondence I needed to take care of (see today's post on and having that resolved that, I feel a lot better too.

I've even caught myself a couple of times this week volunteering for something that needed doing and then rethinking it, almost immediately. I've realized these were Heavy items, not Energizing ones, and I bowed out. Progress!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Clearing the decks

Nothing like a quiet holiday weekend and a bad cold to clear the calendar. I had little planned this past weekend because I knew I'd need to work. While the end of dissertation editing season is in sight, it's not yet over, and a couple of huge projects I've been chipping away at needed serious attention.

Friday I felt the beginnings of a cold creeping on. You know that sore nose, scratchy throat, over all malaise. I'd been unusually listless at the gym the day before and I should have heeded that and upped my wellness formulas but I didn't. Ah me. So I worked Friday and I worked Saturday.

Then Sunday when I could see that I was in for the full cold Monty, I began erasing my schedule for the week, cancelling some appointments and postponing others. Then I got into the swing of it and rather than playing it day by day (would I feel good enough yet?), I just cancelled everything until Friday. I will plan to go to the gym tomorrow for a light workout and maybe get to the bank. But I'm working only a little bit and reading and resting.

The sad thing is I find all that much harder than working full tilt. I'm full on most of the time and this doesn't fit with that person I know myself to be. Food for thought.