Monday, August 30, 2010

Hanging out [with] my shingles

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

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

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

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Frustration and flexibility

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

the universe responding

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Facing my resistance

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 20, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least I stopped at three.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Six months and the return of the demon

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

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

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

Sunday, August 15, 2010

looking for God

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

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

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

Friday, August 13, 2010


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A beautiful poem by Debbie Ford

I'm currently working my way through Debbie Ford's 21-Day Consciousness Cleanse and lesson 2 includes this great poem.

A Prayer for the Past

Let all those who guide me support me in peeling away

whatever it is that keeps me blind to what’s possible,

that keeps me hidden from my greatness,

that keeps me separate from my loved ones

today I ask You to lighten my heart, to lift my burdens,

my worries, my fears, my anxieties, my grief

so that I may know and cherish all that I am

I see it, I feel it, I acknowledge it right now

and so I know that it is.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Surviving a cupcake party

Saturday was a family birthday celebration for three members of my extended family. Eight of us got together for salads and fruit and presents and those damn cupcakes from my favorite place, Saint Cupcake. A big box of 18 "dots" of varying flavors: chocolate, red velvet, banana, coconut: the smell of baked vanilla and sugar kept wafting in my direction.

I'd known they were coming and I'd gone prepared. I contributed a lovely brie and a nice havarti to the potluck and I was delighted to enjoy them with slices of Dave's Killer Peace Bomb baguette (a dense multi-seed and nut extravaganza-scrumptious). But unlike cutting a cake and surviving the four minutes it takes people to eat their slice, those cupcakes followed me around. They were eaten agonizingly slowly over about 5 hours. The box kept getting passed around so somebody could have one more and eat it in front of me. At one point, the remaining cupcakes were sitting on my terrace (although not in my house) waiting to go home with my nephew, who'd had to work during the party.

Now, I don't begrudge him those cupcakes. He's 19, and 6'5" and weights maybe 170. He's got lots of room for them and does not appear to be a sugar addict. Nor did I begrudge my family their enjoyment of the ones they ate. But it wasn't discreet, or simple, or easy for me.

It did not occur to me to have one. I didn't crave it, I didn't even want it. I just didn't want it in my face. I don't go to bakeries or ice cream parlors now any more than I would go to a bar and watch friends drink. Nothing in it for me.

So I'm glad that's over and I can go back to the safety or my routines.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Coaching someone else, coaching myself

I spent an hour coaching this afternoon. S. and I sat outside on my terrace in the cool cloudiness of this unusual August weather. She'd come prepared with a list of the problems in her life, a list of what's she's tired of and doesn't want any more. I read it over, set it aside, and then said, "Let's each make a list of things that we really want, big and small. No limitations. Anything is possible." The only caveat was that anything that was purely money-oriented (like paying off a mortgage) had to go on a separate money list.

We each wrote for about 20 minutes. Then we read our lists to each other. It was fascinating to me how different our lists were (the only thing we had in common was a desire to be at a healthier weight), and it was interesting to me how few of her desires were very large. One of the results of years of personal transformation work is a lot of practice in dreaming big, setting high stakes for what we want. It was going to take S. some practice to move beyond some of her small wishes to truly big possibilities.

After we read our lists, we worked together to create several more lists for her. One was ways to approach the three most important things on her list. And we discussed that for a while and began talking possibilities. We had a very fruitful conversation. We also identified some issues that she's collapsed into each other (job stress makes weight loss impossible; job change would mean financial ruin). We looked at how these aren't necessarily true although she lives with them as true and that's an important distinction. 

Then we made a list of 10 very easy steps to take to begin moving out of stuck and into possibility and she left much encouraged.

After she left, I realized, as I usually do, that I got coached too in the process. I got reminded of always asking if my assumptions, especially if they are long-held beliefs, are, in fact, true. Usually they aren't; they're just my point of view. And I got reminded of my dreams and how I can make my own list of 10 easy things to do to move forward and that it would be good for me to do so.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Acting your way into new thinking

There's an old AA adage about acting as if. Not sure how to do something? Act as if you do. I came across this again yesterday in a different way: acting your way into new thinking. Can't convince yourself to exercise or stop eating after dinner or be kinder to that idiot in the cubicle next to you? Stop trying to persuade yourself into new behavior, just do it.

In a sense, that's what I did with sugar. I set an arbitrary date and began to just do the behavior. I didn't eat dessert or french fries then and I don't now.

I've found myself recently knowing I need to make other changes, in fact, quite a few of them. Drink more water each day, go to bed earlier, stop turning the computer on first thing in the morning (I'm also addicted to email), stop eating after dinner, reconsider the treats I'm allowing myself even though they are low-fat and low-sugar.

I've been spending time analyzing my behavior and trying to sort out why I'm still stuck in some places and I realize how fruitless that is. That I just need to pick a behavior and act my way into the new belief about myself. Like starting right now.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Letting go of more

My friend Patricia sent me this quote yesterday and I've been thinking about it all day. "Whether it's a mood, an attitude, a behavior, a closet full of clothes you don't wear, whatever you're holding onto, make no mistake it is holding on to you! And the more stuff--emotional, physical, mental or spiritual--that's weighing you down, the less progress you're making toward things that are really important in your life."

First, the closet full of clothes got me. I think most of my local friends would laugh to see what's in my closet since they mostly see me in black or navy blue but I do have some interesting clothes and never wear them. I'm also a comfort junkie and if pants fit me, or I like a comfortable tunic, I'll buy three. But the truth is as a fat woman, I don't much like the way I look in anything except simple dark colors so I've probably got 15 black tops of varying weights and sleeve lengths as well as a dozen pair of black pants. I've also fallen into buying pretty much anything that fits comfortably, another curse of excess weight.

In addition to a lot of clothes I don't wear, I've several closets full of art and craft supplies that I barely use, a lot of gift wrap, boxes of fax cartridges for a machine I use once in a blue moon, more bedsheets than I can use, shoes that aren't very comfortable. Old love letters, old drafts of manuscripts, old samples of client files. And that's without even looking in the cupboards and drawers.

I'm holding on to old fears and resentments, old memories, old longings, old humiliations. Old beliefs about me and my mother, old jealousies.

When I got sober, I was able to visualize that I was dragging a dumpster of baggage around with me. In the last two decades, I got rid of a lot, through therapy, meditation, personal growth work, and 12 steps, and reduced it to a Tuffy garbage can. Since I gave up sugar, I'd say I'm down to a small kitchen garbage can. But I've still got those that, as the quote says, are holding on to me for dear life.

I'm more and more ready to let go of more. Okay, I'm going in and getting rid of 10 things from my closet into a bag for Goodwill right now. Anybody willing to join me? Email me at with your letting-go adventure. Blessed be!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

End to a friendship

Several weeks ago, I wrote about a misunderstanding with an old friend in which she accused me of lying about something trivial, lying that I didn't do. I still don't know how she jumped to that conclusion or why she is determined to hang on to it. After a few unanswered emails of me explaining what I thought might have happened and apologizing for my part in any miscommunication, I let it be.

I spent some time thinking about how this relationship hasn't worked well for a long time, how much I hold back in my conversations with her for fear of her judgements, how little space there seems to be for me to be who I am becoming. And I realized I was hanging on to the relationship for two reasons: I'd known her 45 years and I don't like to have anybody mad at me.

When I think about what's important to me now--intimacy, honesty, spirituality, generosity--none of that shows up for me there in any reciprocal way. So I wrote to her and said I was going to take a sabbatical from our relationship. She finally emailed a response--no apology but then I didn't expect one--and said we were just headed in two different directions. She may not know how true that is.

I feel some sadness and some discomfort as I suspect she thinks ill of me, that all this is my fault, but I'm really okay with that. I've taken responsibility for my part and that's all I can do.