Wednesday, September 29, 2010

chocolate sightings

When I checked into the Double Tree Hotel in San Diego, the clerk slid a suspiciouly familiar flat brown bag across the counter at me. Welcome, she said. Here's one of our award-winning chocolate chip cookies!
I didn't even hesitate, just said No thanks, I'm sugar-free. She wanted to insist but I repeated what I'd said and the cookie disappeared. Unfortunately, I then realized that the air was redolent with chocolate. They keep the cookies in a little warming drawer and the whole lobby reeked of the stuff each afternoon.

Those same cookies appeared each afternoon in the breaktimes along with big, fat iced brownies. Fortunately, there were grapes next to the chocolate fondue pot and I took a bunch and hid out in my room so I wouldn't have to smell it all.

Then yesterday, I went by our local best cake makers for a German chocolate cake for my sister. It's her favorite and I was driving up the Gorge to celebrate her birthday with her and wanted to surprise her with that favorite. So my house smelled faintly of chocolate as well as did the car on the drive up.

We had a wonderful gourmet dinner in town and then she and our friend Melanie ate pieces of the cake as we played cards. It was an interesting moment for me. I wanted a piece because I remembered how good it was--the soft, flavorful cake, the icing, the coconut. But I also didn't want it. I didn't want to go back to how I eat sugar, I didn't want the guilt and the shame again. It wasn't worth it. And I'm glad I didn't eat any and after their plates disappeared, I didn't give it another thought.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

San Diego

I'm waiting for the airport shuttle here at the hotel in San Diego. It's been an excellent trip. I had a chance to see some of the city and its culture (see http://www.thewritingwheel.blogspot.com/) and reconnect with friends who are also speakers on this Hazelden tour.

It does me a lot of good to spend such intense time with other women in recovery. We speak a similar language, the language of the 12 steps, and because most of us have been in the program for quite a few years, we have a lot of the same experiences, even though we attend meetings in very different parts of the country. AA is both different and the same everywhere.

Yesterday afternoon, I delivered my presentation on Living Into Your Intentions and Becoming an Honest Woman, based on my book and some of the work that I do with clients and groups. I was a big hit again although I couldn't tell you exactly all I talked about it. I didn't stick as closely to my notes this time or to the slides. I know I told stories and I got the main points across but I go into some kind of zone when I'm speaking that is both hyper-conscious (I can feel myself standing up at the podium yesterday) and so totally present to the moment and to the audience, that it feels almost surreal.

It's the best of the speaking experiences, that sense of generating the ideas and the talk, rather than reading it or even just speaking it. There's nothing mechanical or automated about it. I let the ideas flow and shared what was in my heart and mind and it worked well.

I spent a half hour afterwards signing books and talking to participants, many of whom have deep longings to be creative. There is an artist in each one of us and I feel so glad to be bearer of the news that it's okay to let her out.

Afterwards I was completely vibrating with energy and while it would probably have been a good idea to stick around the conference and talk to participants in the next break, I couldn't sit still so I went to the gym and worked out and then went out and played in pool, preserving the right for old broads to wear bathing suits in public.

I am so grateful to Patricia Broart of Hazelden for inviting me to do this. Thank you, Pat!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Geographic cure--or the Travelling Shingles Show

I"m in San Diego at the third of the Hazelden conferences. I speak tomorrow on Living into Your Intentions. These trips are a real treat for me. I've grown close to the women who are also speakers (it's the same team each time this year) and the director and so it's like a mini-reunion with old friends. I'm happy to be here.

And I'm unhappy to say that the shingles followed me here. Just like an alcoholic who moves in hopes that she won't drink so much in a new location, I was somehow hoping that a change of venue, a change of climate, a change of scenery might signal the end of the pain and itching. It hasn't.

 It wasn't rational, my thinking. I've talked to enough people who've had shingles to know that the best one can hope for is a month of misery followed another month of intermittent and eventually fading misery. I'm now moving into week 5 and I think I may be starting the intermittent phase. Not too much pain at all yesterday (night or day), then pain again today, but less severe, less startling.

I also heard some wise advice today. My friend Judith has a new sponsor, who's 80. Judith asked her how she dealt with her pain. "I don't," the woman said. "You don't have pain," Judith asked. "No, said the woman, "of course I do. I just don't talk about it or focus on it."

I've been feeling pretty bored by the shingles and I think I too am ready to let it fade into the background.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A big week just past

The middle of September is a very big week of memories and celebration for me. In 1997, my mother died on Sept 20, after a long experience of dementia and attendant poor health. Five years later, in 2002, my father died on Sept 15. As you may know if you read my memoir, my father and I were very close in the last years of his life and his death was a great emptiness for me. The following year, I did a shamanic soul retrieval in late August and made a decision to get a new kitten as part of the my healing. Nellie, in all her tuxedo sweetness, came to me on Sept 17, 2003, the date chosen on purpose. And as I mentioned last week, Sept 16 is my AA anniversary.

So that week is a big event in my life. It brings up lots of memories, lots of reflection.

Yesterday, I chaired one of my favorite AA meetings, a women's step study that I've been attending for 6 or 7 years. I was surprised at how emotional I felt, how much gratitude for the program and all the kind souls I've met there, for the philosophy of the 12 steps. When I got sober, I had no life philosophy other than vague Christian notions of right and wrong, kindness and integrity. In AA, I grew up and became an adult, willing to accept responsibility for my part in things and to live a sober life in all senses of the word.

I do not think I would be alive today if I had not taken that step of admitting I was powerless over alcohol and that my life, such as it was, was unmanageable.

One of the things I talked about yesterday was how grateful I am that AA allows us to be all of who we are in the meetings. I think that was probably the first place I ever experienced that--the acceptance of who I am. Now my challenge is to bring that full self out into the world, nothing held back, nothing hidden. I'm glad to have support on that journey.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Rebellion at Camp Shingles

Okay, I've had it. I've been really pleasant about this since my meltdown and comeback 10 days ago but enough is enough. I'm tried of low energy, tired of pain and itching, tired of feeling creepy in my own skin. I so appreciate what those with chronic pain go through and I don't want it.

On Wed, I took half a vicodin, first narcotics to cross my lips in 21 years, other than a post-surgery morphine drip for a few hours when I had my gallbladder removed. In a half-hour I was stoned and the pain went on and it was worse stoned. So I'm not taking any more of that. Other potential drugs have big side effects (like suicidal thoughts. Don't need those.

The pain is not unbearable. It's just very wearing and makes working and reading and doing any of the things I like to do not much fun.

I'm trying hard to be grateful. I don't have it in my mouth or my groin or my internal organs. It isn't life-threatening or going to ruin my vision. But I would very much like to sleep and be able to just be without the constant reminder of a zombie virus in my body.

Guess I'm out of recipes for lemonade. Where is Pollyanna when I need her?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Celebrating and remembering

Today I celebrate 21 years sober. I had my last drinks on Sept 16, 1989 in my apartment in Lynchburg, Virginia. That afternoon I entered the local treatment center less than a mile from my home. I had jogged by it hundreds of times over the course of six years, sometimes drunk, mostly hungover. I had, of course, no idea that what went on in that building would change my life.

I've been thinking a lot about risk. Am I willing to continue to risk and change how I do things? Can I risk asking for help when I need it? Can I risk being that vulnerable? Can I risk receving the help that I ask for or that is freely offered? Can I risk letting go of some of my hard-won self-sufficiency, a trait I know that people admire and are attracted to? Can I risk opening my heart wider than ever before?

I think back to the risk I took so many years ago. The risk to give up drinking and step into something I could never have imagined, for my life today resembles very little the life I lived then and is not anything I would have predicted.

Four days before I went to the treatment center, I surrendered and admitted my powerlessness over alcohol. I didn't know that that was what I was doing. I just knew I couldn't go on in the same way. Then last February I came finally to the same understanding about sugar, and I surrendered. Now another opening is occurring, a chance to deepen my emotional and spiritual life. What will happen if I step through that door?

Monday, September 13, 2010

I need to laugh more

I spent the weekend with my family: my sister, her husband, and her two boys. My sister and I grew up in a family of non-stop punsters, and we regularly crack each other up on the phone or over email. So it was good to spend 72 hours together because we laughed a lot.

I know some of the scientific studies that show that laughter is good for our bodies, releases important anti-stress chemicals. I didn't feel any immediate pain-relieving effect but I certainly had my mood lifted by being here.

I also think that laughter is a part of intimacy. That when you share a lot of belly laughs with someone, you get each other in a different way. You feel seen and heard and share something important. I often make my friends laugh. I think some of them find me quite hilarious but they don't make me laugh. They don't share that same sense of humor or know how to do word play in the same way. I do like making them laugh, but I want to find some friends who make me laugh, who can dialog in that way.

My sister is in a terribly stressful job right now and she took most of the weekend off to be together with all of us. I know the laughter did her good, whether it was playing endless games of canasta or watching Comedy Inc. or sitting out on the terrace riffing on anything and everything that we could make puns about. I know it did me good.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Opening to receive

As my shingles adventure continues (rash is healing nicely, itching is less noticeable, pain is ongoingly problematic), I'm doing my best to soften. Perhaps initiated by the massage experience on Thursday and my willingness to be in touch with my body, unhappy as it is, I've found myself also willing to be in touch with the kindness of others.

As you'll know if you read the meltdown episode, I was just fed up with it all, including taking care of myself. The truth is no one is asking me to take care of myself by myself except myself. I've had lovely phone calls of concern, blog comments of support, and offers to come and care for me. It's me who puts up the barricades to this. Me who feels embarrassed or inadequate or shy about taking in the caring. Me who can't find the courage to be that vulnerable with another.

There are decades-old stories that I'm living out about having to take care of myself but they aren't proving helpful. Instead, they are holding me back from healing, both emotionally and physically. So if there is a lesson for me to learn from the misery of shingles, it's that's okay to ask for help or at least to accept the help that is offered.

This weekend I'm up at my sister's in the Columbia Gorge. She and I have grown more and more close over the years and since I've been here, I've been practicing relaxing into her concern for my pain, her offers of help with the pain patches, her tenderness with me.  It's both a small thing and a huge step for me.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Getting back in touch

This morning I had a wonderful massage from my friend Concetta. She always does a great job but this time I asked her for the kindest, gentlest, most relaxing massage she knew how to give. And I got it. Warm scented oil, hot rocks, soothing music. She said nothing, just let me be, just let me rest. She has a wonderful little studio over in Lake Oswego that is dimly lit and cozy. The sheets were soft. All of it was perfect. And I really rested.

Since the shingles diagnosis 10 days ago, I have been distancing myself from my body. I didn't want to experience the itching, the pain, the numbness. I didn't want to befriend my body or the virus that was causing it. I just wanted it all to go away, to float above it somehow until it was gone.

This is a trait of addiction for me. Figuring out some way not to be with what is. Not to be with what is uncomfortable. Not to be in this present moment, however it shows up. And I variously have used food and alcohol and sex and food again and work and Netflix to numb out.

The massage did two things. It really relaxed me. But it also brought me home to my body. It reminded me that my body could be a source of comfort and that there are things I can do to make it feel better so that I don't have to abandon it.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Meltdown at Camp Shingles

Although I had the first decent night's sleep last night in a week and a great phone call with a close friend at 8:30 this morning, by the time I got to my counseling appointment at noon, I was in meltdown. We did our opening meditation and I was already crying by the time she rang the closing bell.

I was fed up. Fed up with pain and itching, sure. Fed up with low energy and a numb midriff and irritability. But even more, fed up with taking care of myself. By myself. Of being responsible for me. For carrying the weight--and extra weight--of myself. I was ready to just stop and lay it all down, yet terrified to ask for help.

I'm tired of working on myself. Of facing my issues. Of being obsessed with food and terrified to put it down, terrified that I won't know what to do with myself if I do.

I'm tired of being alone in my life, and I'm terrified of connecting on a deeper level. I'm tired of feeling there's something deeply flawed in the way I relate to myself and others, a feeling that keeps me looking for an outside fix, be it alcohol, sugar, or too many nectarines, and I'd be deeply sad if I stopped moving forward.

I've cried a lot today. Then I took myself for a long walk and a half-mile from home the sky opened up and cried with me. My shingles didn't go away but somehow I felt seen.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The report from Camp Shingles

Other than a spate of pretty funny puns from friends on Facebook, having shingles is not particularly hilarious. I feel good that I haven't had a drink or a gallon of ice cream, I've kept my snacking somewhat in check, I've been able to work enough to keep my clients happy, I've been resting a lot and taking care of myself.

It's been a week of itching and pain and I'm ready for it to be over and I don't think that's going to happen. While my rash is subsiding, the cramping and itching are not and tonight I'm pretty miserable. And that miserableness makes me restless and irritable.

I don't want to be good. I don't want to meditate or raise my consciousness or get in touch with my Higher Self. I want to give this to someone else, anyone else, although I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy--if I had an enemy. Well, there are a few people in history I'd love to see afflicted with this. I don't remember if shingles was one of the torments of Dante's hell but it could have been.

I'm lonely and I've been isolating all day. I made some phone calls this evening but everybody seems to be out or away for the weekend or maybe they're isolating like me. I had a party I could have gone to but I was too miserable to sit still.

I wrote those paragraphs and felt really sorry for myself. And then I knew what to do. Go for a walk. How simple! I walked up through beautiful Laurelhurst Park. It's 65, breezy and clear. It was gorgeous. I walked two miles at a good pace. The sweating wasn't good for the shingles but my mood is much improved.

Friday, September 3, 2010

When am I fooling myself?

I think I'm getting hooked on a lowfat, organic, low-sugar granola-type bar. If you've been following my freedom from sugar adventures, I haven't given up every gram of sugar in the universe. I've been staying away from high-sugar items and anything that parades as a dessert. Ice cream tops the list but it includes candy, cookies, cakes, cupcakes, muffins, scones, puddings, anything with whipped cream, pie...you get the idea.

There's a slippery middle ground that I'm beginning to see. Low-sugar popsicles, low-sugar nut bars, low-sugar granola bars. Most of this are good but not yummy and they make a safe snack in the late afternoon, especially the nut bars. But I'm finding myself growing a little too fond of a couple of them. I'm tempted to make sure I have a few on hand. I'm occasionally eating 3 or 4 over an evening in the old mindless way. (I also have found myself doing the same with cheese and crackers or cheetos.)

Some of this has been happening the last week here at Camp Shingles. But that's not the only reason. It was happening before now and I'm seeing that I'm still hoping food will soothe me, fix me, take care of me. And much as I don't want it to be so, I'm seeing that letting go of these faux safe foods is the next big step to take in really coming into my own.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Equanimity in the face of pain

Since I got sober 20+ years ago, I haven't had a lot of physical pain. My migraine headaches stopped when I stopped drinking. I had a brief bout with gall bladder issues but after surgery that passed. And I've had a few esophageal problems but medication righted that as well. For most of the last decade I've been pretty healthy.

Now, here at the home of Shingles R Us, there's quite a bit of pain. Pain complicates things. It makes me restless, it makes me irritable. It makes it hard to work, to be satisfied, to be enjoy reading or writing or art-making. And it makes it hard to withstand other kinds of discomfort--like not eating whatever I want when I want it.

I haven't gotten any ice cream, I haven't picked up a drink, I haven't even taken up my doctor's offer for narcotics. But I don't want to move forward in my abstinence from excess food. I don't want to take the next important step in my own emotional healing. And that makes me miserable in a different way.