Friday, July 30, 2010

Relationship conversations

I've been deep in relationship conversations this week. It started last week when I spent some time with some old friends, both of whom were pretty stuck in their relationships. At least the kind of discontent they were expressing was the same thing I'd heard for the last several years whenever we'd gotten together. And I began to wonder how much movement I'd made over the past several years and especially over the last five months of no sugar.

I know that I need a couple more people in my inner most circle. People I can tell anything to. That became really clear when I got to spend weekly time this spring with my friend Cynthia from Pittsburgh. I'd missed that kind of relationship--an easy intimacy, someone who had time to listen to what was really going on with me, someone who created a lot of space for me to sort out my feelings before I spoke while also being someone I could just goof off with and laugh a lot.

I have a lot of good friends and interesting acquaintances but I've been missing something deeper. So I've approached two women I respect a lot and asked if they're interested in exploring something more with me. I've realized I'm too old to wait and see what happens, and I've been reticent too long to speak my need.

And asking for what you want sets it up differently. I'd known Cynthia for a couple of years before I asked her if she'd be willing to be an intimate, a confidante. I knew she already had a best friend but I really needed someone. And she said yes. Last week when I asked her why she always makes herself available emotionally to me, she told me it was because of that early conversation in which I asked for what I needed.

That conversation last week gave me the courage to ask for something similar from two others this week. I'll let you know what happens.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

More news on sugar (not so good for you)

When I read Kessler's book on overeating (The End of Overeating), I was struck by the passages that describe the historical shift away from saturdated fat in the 1970s), then seen as the cause of heart disease, towards carbs. This shift (what a coincidence!) occurred at the same time as a huge glut of sugar on the world's markets and very low sugar prices. As we know, 35 years later, a shift away from meat towards sugar has only increased weight in many people and raised rates of heart disease and diabetes. In the wealthy countries of the world, where food is healthy and plentiful, more people than ever are ill from what they choose to eat.

Andrew Weil has recently written about this issue. I found this thoughtful.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

My new girlfriend

Here's a photo of Franny, my new girl. She's growing daily. Is twice the size she was three weeks ago when she came home. We're working on "no" for climbing legs, biting hands and noses, and drinking caffeinated tea. Other than that, she is a sweetheart.

Oh, and did I mention I'm getting to see lots of sunrises! That girl loves to be up and romping just before the light.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mindless eating

As I explore further into my relationship with food, I see how mindless so much of my eating is. I seldom focus on my food. If I'm eating with others, I'm paying attention to what I say or what they say. If I eat alone, I usually read or work or write in my journal. At the very least, my mind has wandered off to some problem to solve, happy to have my full attention.

This morning I ate peanut butter toast and a bowl of fresh fruit from a stand in a rural part of the county. I was thinking about time (how I had quite a few things to get done before a group arrived 30 minutes later (shower, straighten up the living room, do the dishes, empty the garbage which was not smelling so sweet in the heat, find my notebook, and see if I could take care of any of the commitments I'd made to the group last month in the remaining minutes).

Only now, writing this, do I see how ludicrous this is. Where in the world was there time to pay attention to my food?

I actually did pay attention at several instances. Part of the fruit was a fresh peach and its flavor with the peanut butter was exquisite enough to sit up and take notice. And it was a sharp enough experience to bring the food into focus, although I quickly turned my mind over to something else.

The same kind of thing happened at lunch. I was eating a very good sandwich but working at my desk. Occasionally, I'd stop and really appreciate a bite and then my attention would be drawn back to the computer screen or a random thought would come through and my mind would chase it.

Clearly, mindful eating takes, well, mindfulness. How do I become willing to slow down and do that?

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Food Committee

I frequently have important insights while talking to my spiritual director, Anna. I was expressing my fatigue with food issues Wednesday, with continuing to eat more than I need in order to take care of myself and I had a sudden vision.

Many years ago, I saw my dilemma this way: I am walking down a hallway. On the walls are bad motel-art pictures, on high tables are the kinds of old magazines you might fine at the dentist. I near the end of the hallway, which is a blank wall. But on either side there is a door. If I go left, I enter a white, sweet marshmallow land. If I go right, well, for a long time, the door was locked. And then it was open a bit, and then wide open. But it is only sky. It requires faith to step off and not know where I'll land.

In the vision this Wednesday, I was at the end of the hallway. Standing at the door of the marshmallow room was the Food Addict. She had a seductive voice, a seductive smile, and she promised me I'd feel better right away. Standing up against the blank wall at the end was a prsion matron/drill sergeant with a voice remarkably like my mother's. She had only two words to say to me: "Will power." And then she showed me the spot on the wall that I could beat my head against.

To the right was the open door, the sky blue, a fresh breeze. But there was no one there to beckon me, to help me, to offer me a hand. And I felt so alone, so tired of doing it all myself.

I need to find, evoke, call into being the Wiser, True Self, who can hold my hand as I step off into the unknown.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A tale of magic in the universe

A friend came by today for some writing coaching. I've known Rick Sievers a couple of years and he participated in a writing group with me last winter. I've been editing his poetry (which is terrific) and knew we'd be talking about where he should go next.

But to begin with, he wanted to tell me a story. In mid-May he had an opportunity to go to Maui for a few days, thanks to frequent flyer miles and a cheap hotel someone told him about. He needed space to recharge, rethink some things, just be without daily life and family for a few days. On about the third day, he was having a heavy time of it and he decided to go walk on the beach. He took the elevator down (it was a tall hotel) and for some reason (here comes magic), the elevator went right by the first-floor lobby to the basement. When the door opened, Rick could see a stack of books, a kind of take one/leave one that you often see in tourist hotels.

On the very top of the stack was my memoir. I kid you not. Rick hadn't read it yet and he picked it up and the name inside was Vivienne Verdon-Roe. I met Vivienne 8 years ago in California at a Joanna Macy retreat and we've stayed in touch (she lives in Northern California). So it isn't such a coincidence that she would buy my book. But it turns out that Rick knows her too from a series of shamanic trainings years before I met her. And neither of us knows how Vivienne's book ended up there.

Rick took the book, read it all that day, and it was really meaningful for him. Just what he needed, in that moment, he said.

It wasn't until he told me the story today that we discovered we both know Vivienne.

I knew when I published my book that I wouldn't know all the stories around it. But I'm sure glad I know this one.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Holding to my commitment

I had lunch with a friend today who congratulated me on my will power and not eating sugar for these past five months. I thanked her and didn't explain that she didn't get it. My abstinence from dessert has very little to do with will power. Will power is what you use when you have a choice. When the ice cream is in the fridge and you don't choose it. When that big bar of chocolate gets passed around and you take one square and don't take four.

WhatI I'm exercising instead is commitment. I have made a commitment to not eat dessert. When my friend Elizabeth and I had lunch on Saturday and she wanted gelato to celebrate her birthday, I didn't get any because I have made a commitment and honoring that commitment is important to me.

There's a paradox here that is familiar to alcoholics and addicts. As long as I don't choose alcohol, I have a choice about whether I drink or not. Once I choose it, choice is over and I'm off and running. I think sugar would be the same. If I chose ice cream on Saturday, then it would be hard to not feel I had dishonored my commitment and the shame of that would push me into other eating behaviors.

Commitment is about pride and promise. Will power is about discipline. There's a difference, perhaps a spiritual component, that I'm hard pressed to explain but that is very real to me.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sitting with ambiguity

 Last Saturday I had a falling out with an old friend. She felt hurt that I hadn't paid close enough attention to a group newsletter she sent out and accused me of lying that I'd read it all. That so annoyed me that I got sarcastic and she misinterpreted that and it all snowballed from there. After cooling off for a few hours, I wrote another email apologizing for my part in any misunderstanding. More than 20 years of 12-step work has trained me to look for my part in any disagreement, sort that out, and make amends for what's mine.

Unfortunately, she has never responded. And that leaves me in ambiguity, a place I hate. I know this is a product of decades of black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking. I like to know where I stand, even if it's awful. Not knowing what's going on with the other person makes me really uncomfortable.

My mother was a great grudge holder and well-practiced in the silent treatment. I don't remember her ever apologizing to me for her part, or even acknowledging a disagreement. The best she would do is pretend it hadn't happened. Terrified as a child by the cold shoulder, I learned to apologize even when I wasn't at fault. That led me later into very dicey areas with abusive boyfriends and manipulative roommates.

Today, I recognize these patterns and on good days, I can see one of them coming and make other choices. A part of me wants to email my friend, tell her to get over herself, and be done with it. Another part of me sees that I've done what I can, done my footwork, as we say in the program, and need to let go of the rest.

When I discussed this with my spiritual director, she wanted me to see how little my friend's responses have to do with me or anything I've done or said, how they have to do with her and that I can't control or maybe even influence.

And I see today that I don't have to sit in ambiguity. I've been definitive in making my amend, seeing my part. That's where my clarity lies.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Words of wisdom

In the midst of the whirling day, in the hectic rush to be doing,

In the frantic pace of life, pause here for a moment.
Catch your breath, relax your body.
Loosen your grip on life.
Consider that our lives are always unfinished business.
Imagine that the picture of our being is never complete.
Allow your life to be a work in progress.
Do not hurry to mold the masterpiece;
Do not rush to finish the picture;
Do not be impatient to complete the drawing.
From beckoning birth to dawning death, we are in process,
And always there is more to be done.
Do not let the incompleteness weigh on your spirit.
Do not despair that imperfection marks your every day.
Do not fear that we are still in the making.
Let us instead be grateful that the world is still to be created.
Let us give thanks that we can be more than we are.
Let us celebrate the power of the incomplete,
For life is always unfinished business.

Richard Gilbert

From the Skinner House meditation manual "In the Holy Quiet of this Hour"

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

From Valentine's Day to Bastille Day

Today it's been 5 months since I gave up sugar. Desserts, to be more truthful. Some of the people I've met on the no-sugar path are avid label readers and won't touch anything with sugar as an ingredient. I've found that sugar alone is not the issue for me. It's the combination of sugar and fat and other things that make binge foods for me, foods I can't let go of once I start. So over the last months, I've eaten the occasional bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios or put a smear of raspberry jam on the my English muffin or ordered carmelized onions on my sandwich.

Over the months, the no-dessert experience has become easier. I just don't do it. I find it easier to speak, easier to feel neutral when I speak it, less need to explain. And people seem to hear "I don't eat dessert" far more easily than "No thank you" to a specific offer.

One thing that has helped a great deal, I think, has been the suggestion of my therapist that I not focus on weight loss but rather on eating a bit less and not eating dessert. I've not been obsessed with the scale (although I've lost nearly 20 pounds) and I eat what I want within reason. It's given me an opportunity to change my relationship with food. I think about food much less as time goes on. I still enjoy it, I still pick out things I like at the store and enjoy eating out but without the prospect of yummy treats at the end of the day, it's a different relationship. More pragmatic, more ordinary, perhaps.

There are still restless times, times when I want to use food to soothe myself. I haven't expected that to go away, as the habit is lifelong, but I'm beginning to accept that what I can eat is not going to soothe those feelings and I'm not willing to go back to the old foods that do.

Most importantly, I don't spend time in shame and guilt around food anymore. I just don't. Hurray!

Franny Update: Thanks for your kind wishes about Franny. She has been eating better although she has a bad cold (a common occurrence for shelter animals). I'm still concerned but we're both doing better and really bonding.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Concerns provoked by the past

I'm discovering that having such a young kitten is only partly a joyful experience. Maybe it's because I'm an HSP (highly sensitive person), maybe it's because 22 years ago a too-young kitten died in my hands, but I find myself as much worried about Franny as delighted by her.

She is very small and about a pound underweight. The vet proclaimed her healthy on Friday but now she's sneezing (upper respiratory issues are epidemic among shelter animals) and her stomach and intestines are upset as well. She's eaten very little today and she's a cat who should be drinking 3 chocolate milkshakes made with half-n-half a day in addition to some fried chicken and a couple of Big Macs.

The experience with Albert, a small orange cat from a animal shelter in Virginia (a basement with cages and a give away policy), was heart-breaking. I was thoroughly immersed in my drinking, coming to the end about a year later, and I took pretty good care of him, but I was drunk and working and consumed with the antics of my philandering boyfriend and while I noticed that the kitten was not eating much, I didn't see any other symptoms. After I'd had him about two weeks, I went away for the weekend. My landlady, who had cats of her own, put food out for my two but didn't stay to see them eat. When I got home late Sunday night, Albert was lethargic, listless, limp. I held him all night and he died in the morning before I could get him to the vet. I had an autopsy done, hoping he had some heart condition or symptom-less disease, but all the vet could find was that he had zero percent body fat. He had starved although short of force-feeding him, the vet wasn't sure anything different could have happened. "Sometimes they just don't live," he said.

The experience with Albert is one of the most painful of my drinking years and it is also making me hypervigilant about Franny. I want her to eat lustily, play heartedly, purr loudly, and be strong and healthy. I knew she was small when I got her but assumed the Humane Society was on top of health and fitness for adoption. But after I got her home, I realized that in a cage of five kittens, who's to know if one is a puny eater. Isn't fighting her way to the food dish. Is sleeping too long.

I'm glad it's Sunday night, glad that the intestinal symptoms and not-eating showed up today and not yesterday, glad that the vet is there tomorrow. But I feel haunted by the past and at a loss as to what to do with my anxiety.

Friday, July 9, 2010


You may remember that in mid-March, my old boy Jake died of old age and kidney failure. I've been thinking since then about getting a third cat, a kitten, but I had a lot of trips planned and kittens require a lot of love, bonding time, and a watchful eye so I waited until I came back from retreat.

Tuesday my nephew Miles and I went out to the Humane Society and we brought home a little torbi (tortoise shell/tabby mis). Her name is Franny, she is a little under 2 months old and a little under two pounds. I hope to post a picture soon.

There is something so cute, so endearing about baby mammals, and especially kittens and puppies, I think, for their facial features and antics charm us. Members of the groups I lead here fall into two camps: those who love kittens and can't stop holding her, petting her, playing with her, and those who aren't animal lovers or are allergic and look on politely. My friend Pam, who grew on a farm with many barn cats (and kittens), was so entranced, I felt like I should search her bag when she left last night in case she'd tucked Franny inside. :)

Franny is curious, bold, feisty but respectful of the two older cats, who are mightily pissed off. Nellie hisses and growls and runs under the bed. Fortunately, she does not seem mad at me. She'll let me hold her, cuddle her, and she'll sleep right by me. But she runs away from the kitten. I don't think of her as a Fraidy Cat, but with Jake gone now almost 4 months, she has become used to being the only cat inside (with the advent of good weather, Reinie is living outdoors now). And of course there was no verbal way to prepare her for the advent of the interloper.

Reinie has shown little interest in the kitten, who gives him a wide berth. Reinie is gentle and loving but he is the alpha male in the two yards he presides over and Franny must know that for when he comes toward her, she huffs up twice her size and backs away..

She is taking more time than I remembered--she doesn't sleep all night and when she's awake, she wants company and says so in a high-pitched meow that is unmistakeable. I watch to be sure she eats enough (the vet says she's underweight, not surprising for a Humane Society kitten who must contend with bigger others for food). But she seems to follow my voice, purrs loudly when I pick her up, wants my attention.

Having a cat is a long-term commitment and how do you know who will be the right one? Gut instinct said yes with Franny. And she's darn cute!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

House swarming

Monday, when I got home from the retreat, I unloaded the car, unpacked, went grocery shopping, and then puttered around the house. When I went out to water the plants, I noticed a lot of bees buzzing around the purple petunias that hang near my front porch. Then I notieced that the paper pulp basket underneath them was covered with bees. Then I realized that the pot was more than twice its size.

I went in and phoned my friends Cindy and Phillip, who are bee keepers. They were thrilled. Here was a swarm, a new colony off bees who had taken the new queen and were looking for a home. Scouts had led them to my pot as a kind of way station, or rest area. We sat and watched them for several hours as more kept arriving. Evenutally the swarm on the pot numbered, Phillip estimated, about 8,000 bees.

It was a beautiful and exciting thing to watch. Then C and P and their friend Jeremy suited up in their garb and got most of the bees into a big tub with a burlap lid and took them away. The bees they hadn't been able to get settled onto the pot. The next evening they came to take more but it was a different experience.Without their queen, the remaining bees were not so docile and I got stung and left the keepers to their work. They took what they could and the remaining 100 or so will die, lost to their colony.

It has been an amazing experience, minus the sore lump on my cheek. A chance to participate in a mystery.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Don't let them eat cake

A friend who shares sugar addiction sent me the following clipping from the Oregonian newspaper on June 29;

"Eating lots of cake and bacon changes the brain in ways similar to smoking cigarettes or taking cocaine, at least in rats.

"Scientists tested the addictive powers of junk food by giving rats all-they-could-eat access to a buffet of high-calorie foods, including sausage, cake, bacon, and chocolate, along with their regular (and far less compelling) rat chow. The rats got fat, regularly overeating the junk food, and their brains had fewer molecules that sense dopamine, a brain chemical that creates rewarding feelings. Similar decreases in rewarding sensing affect the brains of drag addicts, scientists wrote in Nature Neuroscience.

"Drug addicts also keep seeking another hit, even if it clearly harms them. The rats did the same. When scientists paired the fatty foods with electric shocks, normal-weight rats quite chasing the cake, but the rats who'd already binged on fatty foods endure the shocks to eat more."

Yikes, these are some of my favorite foods. But the scariest part is the reduction in dopamine receptors. No wonder it's hard to feel satisfied...

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fourth of July

Five years ago on the 4th of July, I had an experience with amnesia. It was a Sunday morning and I had gone to the gym by myself. My gym buddy, Melanie, was in Phoenix visiting her mother. I got to the gym at 9:30 and was to meet my sister for coffee at 11.

I did my treadmill workout and I watched the clock to be sure I was on schedule. I have a clear memory of it being 10:21. After that I apparently lifted weights, said goodbye to the gym owner, Bob, and drove home. I have no memory of that.

When I got home, I started calling my sister's house, a number I knew by heart. Over the next 10 minutes, I apparently called her 23 times. Each time saying, "I'm in trouble. Where are you? I need you."

Neighbors outside on a patio heard my phone calls and came up to investigate. The fellow suggested he drive me to the hospital. I got my ID and gave him my keys. At the hospital, I was able to give the receptionist my name and social security number and insurance card. I have no memory of any of this.

At 1:23 I came to, of sorts, in the emergency room. I was talking to my sister. I had been asking her questions, the same questions over and over. Her answers seemed to satisfy me (why was I there? what was happening to me?), but I couldn't remember her answers for more than a few seconds.

The cat scan, which I do remember, showed nothing. No stroke, no tumor, no lesions. Diagnosis: transient global amnesia. It had come and gone. It occurs mostly to people who have accidents (car, bike, swimming). No one seems to know why it happens or why it happened to me that 4th of July.

I found it fascinating and frightening. I was scheduled to come up here on retreat two days later and to spend the week here alone. I felt uneasy about that and about driving, but in the end, I did it and nothing untoward occurred.

I hadn't remembered about the amnesia until the fireworks started. Curious associations, memories of no memory. 

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Eating and creative satisfaction

I'm on the fifth full day of the retreat now, winding down into evening. I've been writing a great deal on my novel and both the imagining and the expression of it are going well. The other women at the retreat have gotten over their discomfort at the slow pace and the silence and have settled in well (it's amazing how long it takes to let go of the stress of the larger world). We've gelled as a mostly compatible group and are supportive of each other's efforts.

Being in retreat, especially situations of parallel play, where others are creative too, is just so good for me. And because I'm so fully engaged in the writing, I'm finding that my eating is healthier too, more balanced. I eat a good breakfast, I eat a good lunch, I eat a good dinner. Others are eating dessert or snacks but only twice have I wanted something in the mid-afternoon and mostly because I didn't eat enough lunch and was really hungry, not because I was bored or anxious or restless.

The retreat will end all too soon (early Monday morning) and while I have more than succeeded with one of my wishes (to write a lot on the novel), my other hope, to spend quiet, reflective time listening to my inner voices and coming to know them better, that hasn't happened and I don't know that one more day will be enough for that.

But I've learned a lot about what makes me satisfied just the same. And the role of creativity in concert with others has been confirmed.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Expectations and perfectionism

I've been thinking today about yesterday's post. We Ones in the Enneagram system struggle with perfectionism. I don't have what I would consider classic perfectionism, that need for every detail to be just so. I don't have to obsessively line up the corners on books or use military corners on my bed. I wear clothes that have stains out in public once in a while, I let my car get dirty, I often have ink on my hands. So because I associate those things with perfectionism, I haven't seen myself as one.

Yet when it come to relationships, I have very rigid expectations. I want love to appear in my life in certain ways: i.e., "if you really loved me, you'd __________" kind of expectations. Because of that, I'm again not seeing where love and satisfaction may be showing up in my life because they don't look like what I expect. Or perhaps it's more what I wish for, some idea of perfection against which I measure what I get. For in many ways, I expect to be disappointed. I've grown to expect the men I meet to be unavailable and unfaithful, I expect my friends to want me to listen to them but to have no time to listen to me. I've grown to expect disappoint and therefore I'm wary of investing very much.

None of this is helpful for my relationship with food. It keeps me leary of intimacy, and keeps me unsatisfied. And although talking about reducing expectations is easy, doing it seems the most difficult thing in the world.