Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Holiday parties and no dessert

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 28, 2010


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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 26, 2010

Just desserts

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Passing on a prayer

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

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

Ted Loder from Life Prayers

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tempted to slide

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The inner brat

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Spiritual correctness and permission to get angry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 14, 2010


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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Controlling my way to the beach

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The sugar report nearly 9 months in

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Life arrived in search of me.

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

Life arrived in search of me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Backsliding but not quite

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

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

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

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