Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve ritual

For the last five years, I've come on a writing retreat to my soul place on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle. Aldermarsh is a small cluster of elegant buildings on 5 acres on a country road. It is dark here at night with only a faint glow of the city to the south. It is quiet here at night. You can hear owls and coyotes and the wind in the trees. I walked for 45 minutes on the road here yesterday and in that time only four cars and one truck passed me.

I came the first time by myself. I had friends living on the island to see every couple of days and the owner here to help me with the wood stove and the generator when the power went out in a wind storm. Now I come with several other women, people I enjoy being in silence and in conversation with. We're far enough north that the days are very short and the evenings long and slow. We stay in silence most of the day. Some of us writing, others reading, resting, reflecting. At night we play cards and chat and laugh.

Tonight we will have our New Year's Eve ritual after dinner. We will sit in circle and share our answers to several questions.

What do we want to release from our lives at this time?
What do we want to welcome in?
What are we most glad about from 2011?
What do we most want to be in 2012? To have? To do?
What is our clearest purpose (reason for being) at this time?
What is our biggest challenge?
What do we fear?
What do we long for?

Each year this produces a very rich conversation, a deep intimacy amoung friends, and a strong space for us to hold these desires for each other.

If you decide to do this ritual by yourself or with others, I'd love to hear how it goes.

Happy New Year, Jill

Monday, December 26, 2011

A part of AA I don't often connect with

Yesterday afternoon, my family all left about 1:30. I began thinking seriously about all I had to do today ( I leave tomorrow for a 10-day writing retreat) and there was no way I could fit in a meeting at my home group, so I went online and looked for something close and soon. There was a Speaker Meeting at an address about 10 minutes away. I knew where it was, just didn't know what it was. It turned out to be an AA clubhouse in a storefront in a part of Portland that moves east into much cheaper, shabbier neighborhoods. (My neighborhood isn't chic by any means (it's a very old, working class neighborhood of Portland) but it's become trendy with young people and is very tolerant of gays so we have a wide range of ages and styles around here and most people are moving up.) This was definitely something different.

The storefront was weirdly arranged with a warren of small rooms and then a long narrow back room. There had obviously been a Christmas potluck going on and there were a dozen people at small tables talking and eating pie. No one spoke to me, no one even nodded at me, and all my old shyness and insecurities came rushing back at me. I realized I was still in my holiday clothes, not in jeans and old jackets like most of these folks.

Then a white-haired woman beckoned me into the long back room and introduced herself and we chatted a little. One of the first things she asked me was my sobriety date and I found that odd, but it turned out to be an Oldtimers' meeting and I wondered if you had to be an Oldtimer to go. She had 38 years in the program. I took a seat, I was a few minutes early and the few men at the table were the leather-skinned, bedraggled veterans of the alcohol wars that I used to see in my first meetings in Pennsylvania where there were mostly very low bottom drunks coming in. One of the meetings was called Sober Up of Die.

The speaker had 30 years and I looked forward to his sharing but he was a terrible speaker. He meandered around, spoke almost not at all about alcohol or alcoholism but gave us way more intimate details than any of us wanted about his 4 wives, 9 kids, and even more grandkids. There was no real lesson learned. He just seemed to need to talk about all that. And I listened and thought about my own trajectory in the program, the years I've been sober, the years I've been more sane than not. And I was glad to be there and to be reminded that I've been more than lucky in this life. Not only am I sober, but I didn't lose everything like some of these folks who not only lost the relationships and the money but the wherewithal to get it back.

That meeting wasn't what I was looking for and it was out of my comfort zone and it was perfect. God bless us, everyone!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Progress and the slippery slope

Last Sunday, my family met for brunch to celebrate my birthday and that of my nephew Alex. The hilarious and very congenial waiter convinced the table to order a plate of gingerbread pancakes to share as we waited for our food orders. My sister cut the plate-size cakes into small triangles and passed them along. They looked really good and so I put butter and syrup on mine and ate them (three bites). They were great but good and the amazing thing is I didn't think about taking a second helping (there were several left) or about trying to sneak them or even wanting them. It didn't occur to me and that seemed such a major breakthrough. And when the waiter brought the birthday cake slice for me in a to-go box, I didn't even hesitate, just passed it right along to my sister.

But it's the holidays, a time fraught with peril for those of us who are alcoholic and/or food addicts. It's a time of year when normal eaters and drinkers binge and the dangerous substances are everywhere. At every party, every event (no matter how benign), there are plates full of sweets and cookies with rum and spiked drinks. And sometimes abstinence feels like penance, rather than a choice freely taken. And even resolve gets shaky.

Last night another family dinner, this one smaller. My nephew ordered gelato after. Ice cream is my weakness. And he didn't finish it and I really, really thought about it. About using the spoon the waitress had so kindly placed in front of each of us. I was craving for a minute and then I thought about the consequences. About starting up again in all of that. And I took a deep breath and let it go.

May we all find peace around food and drink in this holiday season.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Letting go of the outcome...even on my birthday

Saturday was my birthday and I gave myself a party. When I was at the beach on writing retreat in early November, I asked for suggestions on how to take some small risks in my life. One suggestion, from Christa, was to celebrate my birthday in a new way. So I invited some of my closest friends to join me from 4-6 pm for a birthday circle. I knew I wanted several things. I wanted good friends to help me celebrate. I wanted them to bring poems to read. And I knew I didn't want a big food extravaganza. So I planned it for late in the afternoon, made tea, had juice, and some simple snacks.

I had invited 30 women. 18 said yes and 15 came. Most of these women were from my various circles, which tend to be very New Age. Two of them were from my family, which is not New Age at all. And I was concerned that, well, that that difference wouldn't work out very well. As a hypervigilant, I'm always watching to be sure everybody is okay. And I didn't want to have to do that on my birthday. Also I felt awkward about imposing a circle on my guests when maybe what they expected was a meet-and-greet like my annual open house.

I had suggested that those who wanted to could go out to dinner with me afterward. Then my sister wanted our family to get together in the evening and I said yes to that. And then that changed and suddenly I had no plans for afterward and that didn't feel good either so I talked to my good friend Mary and we agreed to have dinner and that seemed fine. I was practicing flexibility

I had a nice morning. I worked out, I got a facial, I got my apartment organized. I got a shower and got dressed and my first guest arrived at 2 pm. She'd gotten the time wrong. And although I wasn't ready for guests, I let go of the outcome and spent a lovely hour talking to her and another friend, who drove down from Seattle and then the party started and somehow the snacks and drinks got put out and the candles never got lit but who cared. And at a certain point, it seemed right to call circle and it was lovely. My friends told how they knew me, they read their poems, some gave me gifts. And people left when they needed to and some arrived late and it was all fine.

The poems were lovely and varied. Some were written for the occasion. Others were by favorite poets. One friend, Lily, asked each woman to say a word or phrase about me and then she danced it. So cool! And during the circle some women cried and it was all okay. And then some people stayed late and we talked about  the world and our love for it and our grief over it. And then they all left and Mary and I went to dinner at one of my favorite places and had a great time.

I felt very loved and celebrated. And I felt that the new way I celebrated in was not so much the circle or the poems but that I let go of the outcome and trusted that it would work out fine. And it did.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Being in my body 1

It is difficult for me to admit but but wanting in my body is close to incomprehensible to me. In the Pleasure Reboot program I took a week ago, Jenna talked about pleasure as a feeling and feelings only living in the body. They don't live in the mind. We need to be present in our bodies to perceive pleasure, happiness, contentment, satisfaction, joy, relaxation.

Most of my life I have felt separate from my body and for good reason. At a certain point in my childhood, I went from being unconscious of my body to being hyper-conscious of it. It was a time of emotional trauma and my body was full of fear. I had no way to talk about the fear, to process it, to befriend it, and all I could do was distance myself from it. Later, when I no longer lived in constant fear, I found other emotions to avoid: humiliation, nervousness, boredom, anxiety, and later jealousy and heartbreak.

Of course, my life wasn't all awful. I had laughter and happiness and pride and accomplishment and excitement. But I had already learned to distance myself from my body and so it was very difficult to register those more positive emotions and they never seemed as strong or important as the misery.

As my alcoholism progressed into chronic hangover, the physical illness was wretched and I further distanced myself from my body so that I wouldn't feel so sick, so ashamed, so lost. And because my drinking led me to a lot of casual sexual encounters, I didn't want to experience them either, though I always thought I did.

I've been sober now for more than 22 years and I have healed a lot. I have learned to understand my alcoholic tendencies, to understand my experience of attachment disorder, to understand why I couldn't pick better partners or make the ones I picked really love me. I understand a lot. But that's in my head, not in my body.

I'm coming to see that in order to let go of food as soother, I have to learn to feel pleasure in other parts of myself. And this is terrifying to me. Even thinking about writing this and posting it brought on two panic attacks today, deep experiences of fear in my body. But I do have a small degree of willingness. And maybe even just an inkling of curiosity.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Better boundaries, fewer rules

A couple of posts back, I talked about an Enneagram workshop I had gone to and some learnings about being a One. Today, I was at the monthly meeting of the Soul Strippers group I belong to, and we were talking about things we might want to manifest in the New Year, not as projects or as tasks, but more ways we wanted to be in the world. After I'd done a little writing on this, I realized one of the things I wanted was better boundaries and fewer rules.

We Ones are very rule-bound. We have learned that this is a hedge against chaos, against the unpredictability of life and of other people and so we are most comfortable when we know the rules and when others follow them. I've known that for sometime. My relationship with the rules is what makes me a One. But until today I hadn't connected my need for rules with my relationship with boundaries in relationships.

In my past, I've not been very good at boundaries. I have had a tendency to take responsibility for others' behavior and others' well-being, co-dependency at its worst. This was true with my romantic partners. I tolerated a lot of hurtful behavior, putting their needs before my own for fear of losing them. And I was always trying to re-establish the rules, getting them to agree to things. Sometimes they humored me, sometimes not. But the rules never lasted. Boundaries were an issue with my mother and they have been an issue more recently with other mother figures in my life, including 12-step sponsors. Mostly in all these cases, I've given up my power in order to have rules.

And I'm seeing that intimate relationships are lived in the emotions and rules come out of the head. Talk about a disconnect.

It may be that those of us with a tendency to addiction have an increased issue with boundaries. That it takes a certain degree of emotional health to do that well. I know that in these last several years, I have had the courage to set boundaries with friends, clients, and acquaintances in ways that would never have occurred to me before. Doing this has not been easy and it has not resulted in happy endings. But it has resulted in a new kind of strength and clarity for me.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

taking care of yourself vs. taking care of someone else

I had an unpleasant task this week. I needed to write to a participant in one of the groups I host and ask her not to return. The particulars of the group and why she wasn't a good fit are not of importance here. Suffice it to say that when I brought up the issue at a meeting (she wasn't there), all the other members of the group, including me, felt that she wasn't a good fit. And as host, I volunteered to communicate with her.

I had been uncomfortable in this woman's presence for some months but I probably would never have said anything if two other members hadn't approached me with their intention to withdraw from the group if she continued with us. So then I had to look at the dilemma. Did I want her gone because I was uncomfortable or did I think it best for the group if she left? And what about her feelings?

Some relationships are easy to end. You spend a couple of times with an acquaintance, don't care for her, and you say no to the next invitation or two and she gets the hint and you both move on. If I don't like working with a client, I don't take the next job. If I don't like the energy or style of a teacher, I don't take another workshop. But when you open a group to the public and accept all comers as members, it's a lot trickier to disengage.

Our decision was not made lightly and I took some comfort in that. We were all also conscious that this would be difficult news for her to hear. And I appreciated that we talked about that before making our decision. And I sent the letter.

If you've read this blog for a while, you may remember I had a similar decision to make and action to take a year or so ago, when one person's energy and needs didn't fit my retreat group. And so life comes around again with another messy situation. I felt stronger this time. When I got the woman's response this week, I didn't respond with the details she wanted, and just reiterated our decision. I knew there was nothing to be gained for her or us by telling her the reasons. She either knew anyway or didn't really want to know and just wanted to argue. I was sorry for her sadness but relieved for us.

It is not easy to balance taking care of what you need and want and considering what will happen to the Other if you speak up for that. But the alternative of irritation veiled in politeness, of a kind of emotional swimming upstream, isn't acceptable. So I'm slowly learning to speak my truth with more tact and more kindness, and yet still speaking it.  

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Another damn insight

I'm taking a one-week pleasure reboot workshop from health coach Jenna Abernathy ( and she has some very wise things to say. I was attracted to the workshop not only because I know Jenna (she was my yoga coach for a while) but because the Enneagram workshop I attended 10 days ago made it really clear that for Ones the spiritual path lies through pleasure. We are really good at hard work and problem-solving and actually pretty lousy at having a good time. So I thought I'd take some lessons.

One of the first things Jenna said really struck me. "Eating to run away from stress is not pleasure." Wow!

It made me think about all the alcohol and food I have consumed greedily, desperately, untastingly. I wasn't looking for pleasure. I was looking to get numb. In many ways, sex was the same thing. And work. I didn't want to be feeling what I was feeling so I drank or ate or worked until the feelings went away or went further in. Yet I would have said that I enjoyed all those ice cream bars or cookies or caramels or glasses of wine or things checked off my to do list.

And maybe, in my own way, I did. But if eating or drinking or working to escape the negative is not a positive, then I think I will have to admit I may not really know what pleasure feels like. All these many years I have equated it with relief, with making that discomfort, that loneliness, that sadness, that anger or fear go away, when it may have just brought me to neutral.

One of our challenges this week is make a list of pleasures for ourselves. No wonder I'm stymied.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Being with Ones just like me

Saturday I attended a workshop on the Enneagram, a very old system of understanding personalities. In the system, there are 9 types although we all have some of the characteristics of all 9. Yet in our childhood we began to fall back onto one particular "habit of attention." I'm a One, also known as the Perfectionist or the Idealist or the Reformer. We like rules, standards, order, tidiness. We don't like messy or unpredictable. Our habit of attention goes to error, to what's wrong and how we can fix it.

Saturday was an opportunity to be in the company of 13 other Ones. It was an amazing experience to be with so many people whose emotional response to life is similar to my own, where everyone nods their head in agreement when you say I have to make my bed every morning or I'm always decluttering or I don't like it when I don't know what the rules are in a conversation, a situation, a relationship, a job. While we aren't exactly control freaks, we do like to know what's expected and what's going on, even if it's bad.

I took away a lot of scary and intriguing ideas to think about. That life is inherently messy and meandering. That standards and rules are artificial constructions, that nature doesn't live by them, including human nature. That serenity lies in surrendering to the mess and accepting it as it is. That living in the Serenity Prayer can be really helpful. That joy and pleasure are a One's path to spirituality.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Worried about not worrying about my weight

I had a session with my wonderful therapist, Anna, yesterday and the conversation circled/spiraled back around to food and weight loss. For the past five years, we've moved in and out of that conversation. After about three years, I was able to give up most of the sugar in my diet. But since February 2010, I haven't made much of a move to shift other patterns of what, when, and why I eat.

For a while, I gave up thinking about it, as part of my letting go of chronic concerns, and I was happier until I started gaining weight. Then I lost the weight I'd gained. But with this past illness and the cough hanging on, I'm reading that weight loss can improve lung function and so I find myself falling back into "should" around it. When I mentioned this to Anna, she asked me a couple of questions but I could feel that my answers were the same old things, the same old worry and resistance. I make it a point not to lie to Anna so I couldn't say yes to the questions when yes wasn't the truth. And she'd see right through me anyway.

So she suggested that I just stop being in the food conversation, stop revisiting the spiral. Stop worrying about what I eat or if I should eat that or why can't I stop eating that. To be honest, it wasn't a relief to hear her say that. It was frightening. I've been carrying the worry about these pounds around as long as I've been carrying the pounds. What will I be without that concern? What will I obsess about?

It feels comical in a way but it isn't. I'm sort of lost without this chronic concern. Now what?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Getting a grip on your mind

In a recent conversation with our creativity class, Eric Maisel talked about the mind and its relationship to our creative process. I found his ideas also really applicable to the other parts of my life: my spiritual practices, my emotional health, and my relationship with food. Here are some of his ideas (or my interpretation of them).
  1. Recognize that you are the only one who can get a grip on your mind. No one else is in there with you.
  2. You do not have to accept a thought as true. And even if it is true, it may not be helpful.
  3. Learn to listen (and hear) what you say to yourself. This takes courage.
  4. Distinguish between thoughts that serve you (support what you truly want) and thoughts that don’t serve you.
  5. Get in the habit of self-questioning. Is this thought helpful?
  6. Substitute helpful thoughts in language that is supportive of your desires.
  7. Decide what you want to be saying to yourself and say it.

While I have no trouble with items 1 and 2, I am finding #3 very hard: really hearing what I’m saying to myself. I’m so used to going on impulse (eat that, eat more of that, do that), that it is hard for me to figure out what I’m saying. It requires a kind of slowing down and quieting myself that isn’t easy. But I’m giving it a try.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Being in the presence of grief and fear

Two of my close friends are having cancer experiences. My friend J. is having a recurrence of her lymphoma. She had her first experience 11 years ago and has had a reasonably good remission, although her health has not been strong since then. Over the last few months, she has had all kinds of symptoms that she know recognizes. The good news is that it is a variation of the same kind, not a more deadly kind, and she has confidence in chemo and care for herself.

My friend S. is experiencing cancer with her husband, who has learned he has stage 3 esophageal cancer. Five years ago he had a second heart attack and a stroke and has some brain injury and physical disability. She is sitting with the unfairness of more suffering for him. They have made a decision not to treat this for it would gain him only a little more time and undoubtedly much increased misery.

Yesterday at Writing Friday, Carole wrote a lovely piece about her feelings about J. and the impotence of friendship and the power of love in the face of such difficulty and holding someone while she experiences what life gives her. There was a deep sense of reference as Carole read, tears, a sense of holding ourselves and others in these robust and frail bodies,the connection of hearts and souls. J. had gone outside on her cell phone to schedule the first chemo session and we breathed our love out to her.

There is an amazing power in community. I have known this since September 16, 1989, when I went to my first AA meeting. I had been in the treatment center for four hours, was drunk, and still I could feel something astounding, something magical in the room and the shared commitment to sobriety (which meant nothing really  to me in that moment). I just remember that when we held hands at the end and recited the Lord's Prayer (which I did not believe in), something changed in me, something opened in me to life in a different way. I felt that something yesterday in our circle of writer friends and heart mates.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Illness, depression, and doing what you need

For more than three weeks, I've had a virus in my chest. It seemed to go from cold to bronchitis to pneumonia in about 2 weeks. I did all the things I knew to do on my own: clearing my calendar, taking my herbal remedies, resting, drinking lots of water. I never had a fever or felt particularly sick but the cough got worse and worse and I got more and more tired. Although I'd occasionally feel I was on the mend, I never really was. A week ago Monday, I saw the nurse practitioner at my doctor's office, he diagnosed pneumonia and put me on an antibiotic. The change was slow but positive and I saw him again that Friday and he said my lung was clear and I'd turned the corner. He didn't however listening to the hacking cough and by Sunday, I was worse again. Now I am on the second round of antibiotics and hoping this will do it. While this second antibiotic has some unpleasant side effects, including insomnia, it does seem to be working. I am coughing less often, less violently. And I've become cautiously optimistic that I am on the mend finally.

Several things have come out of this experience. How much I take for granted that I will heal and be well. I know that many people have to give up on that belief and I have been depressed by thoughts that I might be joining them. Bronchitis can turn chronic and lead to COPD, a nasty acronym for battered, scarred lungs that don't work well. Second, that my body needs my love and tenderness, not my fear and resistance to what is.
Third, that illness is depressing and my spirits have sunk quite low in the last couple of days, especially with the antibiotic-induced insomnia.

It is a curious phenomenon, the bleak thinking that comes in the dark hour when we cannot sleep and feel alone and vulnerable. How quickly I could go to thinking I would never be well, I would be on a respirator, I would die. That my books would never sell, that my writing is terrible, that my life has been a waste. Fortunately, my thoughts became so out of control and so gloomy that I had to laugh. And last night I didn't let myself go there.

I also recognized that I desperately needed an AA meeting, that it had been over a month since I'd been, perhaps the longest time in all 22 years of sobriety. Normally I go once or twice a week but I had not felt up to driving, to leaving the house, to coughing for an hour in the presence of others. And when I don't get to my meetings, eventually the sanity starts to wobble.

I went to a meeting at noon today and talked about some of these things. Within three minutes of sitting down, I felt better. My chest wasn't any clearer, but my mind and heart were. I had forgotten that meetings are a medicine that I need. I was glad I remembered.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Laughter, donkeys, and exceptions

Respecting the Body"For most of us, and for most of modern culture, the body is principally seen
as the object of our ego agendas, the donkey for the efforts of our ambitions.
The donkey is going to be thin, the donkey is going to be strong, the donkey is
going to be a great yoga practitioner, the donkey is going to look and feel young,
the donkey is going to work eighteen hours a day, the donkey is going to help me
fulfill my needs, and so on. All that is necessary is the right technique."
Reginald Ray, Tricycle

Today at the Women and Food group, we talked a lot about our donkeys. Pam's knees are going on her, Angela's had spectacular digestive problems, I've got a chest virus that refuses to go away, Lila's been wrestling with pleasure and where it lives. And that doesn't even take into consideration the weight our donkeys seem to want to hang on to or add to themselves. 

Fortunately we're a group of women with excellent, active senses of humor so we were saved from all-out melancholy and obnoxious drama by much laughter, although some of  it was pretty dark. So we let ourselves whine for a while and then we got down to being kinder and negotiating our individual ways back to possibility. 

There's both wisdom and intelligence in this group of four and we ended our discussion by talking about what it would take to be exceptions. To be successful at overcoming our dependence on food for self-soothing, or our mono-focus on food as pleasure. None of us had solutions yet but we were willing to really speak our minds and our hearts about our donkeys, and I think something truly significant happened. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Missing drugs and alcohol

For more than two weeks, I've been puny. A cold virus settled in my chest, moved from cold to bronchitis and now to walking pneumonia. I've not been lie-in-bed-and-moan sick. I've just been coughing and coughing and coughing until I'm worn out sick. Finally Monday, after two weeks, I went to the doctor and got the pneumonia diagnosis (I'd been hearing the most amazing whistling, squeaking, and clicking in my lung) and got antibiotics. They have not yet worked any miracles on my chest. I am still puny and I want to run away from my body until it is better.

When I was drinking, I didn't mind being sick. It was a great reason to stay home from work and cancel all appointments and just drink. And with cold medicine and enough bourbon, I'd get so numb I wouldn't care. But now I don't do that and I miss that deep sense of relaxation that comes from just enough booze boosted by an antihistamine. My body remembers that sense of relaxation, that sense of ease, probably more than any other part of the alcoholic experience. Right now I'm deeply missing that ease.

I'm not going to drink. The consequences of that are so horrifying to me that I don't feel at risk. But it is easier to contemplate the seduction when I don't feel good.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

More on possibility

Life is possible. Situations are possible. And anybody can start to gain some kind of insight and appreciation of their lives. That’s what we call “sacred.” It doesn’t mean something dramatic, but something very simple. There’s a sacredness to everyone’s life.

– Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

Friday, October 21, 2011

Upgrading our personalities

"You're the only one who can get a grip on your mind." --Eric Maisel

Spending today with the thinking of psychologist Eric Maisel, whose ideas appear here from time to time. In his workshop lectures on creativity, he has talked twice about the need to upgrade our personalities. We upgrade our computers, our cars, our mattresses. Just yesterday when my phone died, I had a choice between replacing it with a similar model or upgrading (actually for less money). I was tempted to stay with the familiar as I know how it works. But I chose to try something new, something that might work better.

I'm sure you can see where this analogy is going. We stay stuck in our relationships with self and others because things are comfortably familiar, even if they're awful. That was certainly true for me when I was deep into the active part of my alcoholism. My life was terrible: I felt sick all the time, I was in a very painful jealous relationship, I was going nowhere in my career, and yet I knew it all so well that it was easier for many years to stay there and just be in it and make excuses.

Part of sobriety for me has been this process of upgrading, though I didn't know to call it that. It's not just, I don't think, about the natural inclination to move towards what's healthier for mind and body and spirit. It's also about awareness of how we are in the world and how we might be. It's the language and philosophy of possibility, of experimentation, of change.

Many people deride self-help but in the case of our inner selves, the self is all the help we're ever going to have. We can read and talk to others, we can internalize events, but the conscious changes in behavior, and Maisel would say, the changes in thinking and feeling, have to come from inside. Maisel believes that's the good news. That we have much more control over all that internal work than we think we do. I like the choice this opens up.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Can it just be okay to need fixing?

This weekend I was reading my friend Angela's blog, Her Greening, and got to thinking about the shame we attach to our brokenness. Much of the brokenness is itself shame, shame about being unable to care for ourselves as children when our parents couldn't. Shame about needing love and nurturing from those same parents who couldn't do that either. It became our fault that we were wounded in that lopsided way that some of us reasoned as children and that we couldn't fix ourselves or fix our parents.

Now in healing and recovery from those old wounds and the havoc they wreaked on our adolescent and adult choices of companions and soothing substances, we can feel an additional burden of shame that we are still wounded, still needing, and perhaps most shameful of all, still needing fixing.

It is not uncommon in AA to encounter people working a great program, going to meetings, not drinking, cleaning up the wreckage of their pasts, and still addicted--to sugar, to caramel macchiatos, to new shoes or half dozen new mysteries or over-exercising or working too much. Addressing these additional efforts to fix ourselves are not talked about much in AA. They're considered outside issues by many but I don't think they are outside issues. I think they are the same issue. For my use of food to take care of myself grew out of the same sense of brokenness that caused me to seek shelter with alcohol. And I know I am not alone in this.

There is considerable cultural shame around overeating. It's a different shame than that meted out to the out-of-control alcoholic but it winds up as shame nonetheless. If we can give up alcohol, why can't we give up sugar? And diets seem to me to be another shaming device: you shouldn't eat that way, you shouldn't need to fix yourself with food or work or ordering six Netflix at a time so you'll always have plenty; you shouldn't need anything to help you make it through the day or a lonely evening or a weekend with the flu. But that isn't my reality.

So I'm sitting with this question: Can we let it be okay to need fixing?

Friday, October 14, 2011

The meaninglessness of addiction

In our creativity lesson this week, teacher Eric Maisel talked about meaning and the struggle that creatives have in finding life meaningful. Many people, perhaps most, in the world, do not struggle with meaning issues. They are happy or unhappy, settled or unsettled, but they don't experience the kind of existential sadness that some of us do when our activities or way of life seem meaningless. He posited that some of us are just born that way, born wanting life to be meaningful.

I was born with this yearning. I've often associated it with being a highly sensitive person, not exactly hypersensitive to others, but hypersensitive to existence and what I am doing here and what it all means. But until this morning, I had not clearly and directly associated that yearning with my experiences with addiction: sugar, alcohol, relationships with men. I had not seen that a perception that life isn't meaningful enough has a connection to self-soothing and wanting to numb out.  I wrote "addiction" down in my notebook as Maisel went on lecturing and then he himself came to that idea, mentioning the creatives' propensity for addiction to substances and behaviors.

Many of us addicts and alcoholics are disappointed by life. The thrills don't last, the happiness doesn't last. Relationships end or fade into routine. We learn all we can from a job and then we're bored and tired of it. And we grow disillusioned with religion when the meaning it tries to impose on us doesn't hold up in the face of reality.

Addiction, for me anyway, has been a response to that overwhelming sense of meaninglessness and sobriety my attempts to find meaning. What a breakthrough to be able to articulate this.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Rat trap vs. freedom

Last Wednesday at a women's gathering, we talked about Martha Beck's article on rats and freedom. Curious why some Vietnam vets just stopped drinking and using drugs when they came home, researchers worked with rats and learned that rats who feel trapped in small cages will overuse morphine-laced water until addiction but rats in large cages with lots of toys and not too many other rats not only didn't get addicted but the addicted ones cut back and eventually stopped.

While the women at the gathering aren't all addicts, like most Americans, we have compulsive and repetitive behaviors. So we worked through Beck's exercise: listing people, locations, activities, and situations that made us feel trapped, and then people, locations, activities, and situations that made us feel free. Not surprisingly, spouses fit both lists as did work. But after a very interesting and lively conversation, we began to circle back to a discussion from some months ago.

The thing that struck me in the Beck article was that the rats who were happy and engaged with their toys were the freeest of addiction. And so we recommitted, each of us, to creating a couple of hours of pure pleasure every day. Things done and enjoyed for their own sakes: from painting to listening to music, to walking the neighborhood, to reading a good novel. Each of us had our own list.

For me, two things have needed to happen. I schedule in the pleasure. I'm not particularly spontaneous and I could see myself at 10 pm with no pleasure in the day. So  now I'm writing on my novel for an hour first thing each morning. And I take time each afternoon to read or visit with a friend. And I am much happier for it.

The second thing is a little harder and will take some practice. I have to register the pleasure. I have to savor it and acknowledge it and maybe even report it. I have to be in the moment and in the pleasure. That's quite a change to work through.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


God is the journey we all want to be on. --Louie Schwartzberg

Monday, October 3, 2011

Working on learning to be in my body

I've known for a long time that I don't really inhabit my whole body. One of the first acupuncturists I saw, maybe 10-12 years ago, told me that all the energy in my body was running up to my head and none was running down to my feet. In fact, most of my chi was located from the waist up. This meant of course that I wasn't grounded, but rather floating. At about the same time, I started teaching a course in creativity and the chakras, Hindu energy centers. During our meditatons in the class as well as on my own, I had a great deal of difficulty envisioning the root and sacral chakras in my body. (The root chakra is located approximately where the sex organs are and the sacral chakra is located above it in the belly area. Root chakra is associated with family, community, lineage. It is our foundation in life. The sacral chakra is related to generative creativity: children, imagining, envisioning, innovating.) Since then several massage therapists have commented on the congestion in my lower torso and for years I've suffered from low back, hip pain. Hello!

Attachment disorder didn't just confuse and limit my ability to attach to my mother. It also confused and limited my ability to connect with my self and with my body. That kind of confusion and limitation, that kind of disconnect, has, I think, led in part to my ability to do self-destructive things to my body, like two decades of excessive drinking and two decades of excessive eating. In fact, I wonder if the need to drink to hangover or eat to discomfort has been a way to connect to my body, albeit in a twisted fashion. Something interesting to ponder.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Attachment disorder and overeating

Over the last several months, I've become interested in disordered attachment. This happens when the primary parent/caregiver is unable to develop a healthy relationship with the very young child. While there are many reasons for this inability, in the end what matters is that the child perceives that the parent is unreliable or unsafe or unloving and that the child is on her own to take care of herself, most commonly in an emotional way, though sometimes in a physical way as well.

In the physical realm, children who are abused learn to hide while children who aren't provided with enough to eat learn to stuff themselves when food is available or they hoard food. This is not uncommon among foster children, for example, whose parents are addicts or alcoholics. These children don't trust that food will be there for them, even when the circumstances change. This is the case for one of my friends.

In the emotional realm, children with disordered attachment learn to soothe themselves in any way possible since many experiences seem unsafe and they do not have a steady adult to rely on. Life in my family seemed very unsafe to me; I perceived, quite probably mistakenly, that my parents weren't paying attention and that I had to be responsible for everyone, including myself. I also did not feel safe in the presence of my mother. I could not count on her to be loving or kind, though she often was. But there was another cold, unhappy side of her that I also felt responsible for. Her fluctuating emotions caused constant anxiety and fear in me, that I dealt with by self-soothing with food and later with alcohol. With enough sugar or drink in me, I could relax, not care that things weren't safe.

In the readings about disordered attachment, I learned that some children become afraid of their mothers. And that happened to me. It was an immense relief to read that this happens to children, for I have always felt ashamed that I feared my mother, who never hit me or physically abused me. But I was afraid of her, nonetheless. I also transferred that fear of powerful people to the men I got involved with, afraid they would hurt me, leave me, betray me. And the ones I picked did. It set up a sad pattern of relationships and a lot of difficulty with intimacy that I just kept at bay with sugar and then with booze and then with sugar again.

My abstinence from sugar is bringing all this up for healing. It's quite the ride.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

12 desserts a day, ice cream 16/7, and HP

Life on a cruise ship is not for the faint of resolution. I got home yesterday from our week cruise from Seattle to Juneau and Ketchikan. We had lovely accommodations, excellent service, and great food. In fact, on our ship, there were five places to eat. There were three formal dining areas and a "grill" with burgers and hot dogs, and a 16-hour buffet with non-stop entrees, snacks, desserts, and ice cream, both hard and soft. It was an extravaganza of edibles.

The food in the buffet was pretty good. The food in the dining rooms was terrific. We ate most of our meals in the Vista Dining Room with elegant table settings and formal service and a view of the water. The breakfast menu was substantial; the lunch and dinner menus each offered four courses of gourmet food, including a choice of 12, count 'em 12, different desserts at both lunch and dinner.

After an appetizer, soup, and an entree, I was never hungry for dessert but that didn't mean I didn't want one. The first couple of meals were okay. I ordered the fruit plate and watched the 5-6 other people at the table eat their warm fruit crisp with ice cream, or the chocolate mousse cake, or the special combination of creamy sauce and caramel and pound cake, or the baked alaskan, and I felt virtuous.

Then it got tougher. My commitment began to waver and I started to feel immensely sorry for myself. I'd go up to the Lido to the buffet to get hot water for tea and watch people strolling with waffle cones of chocolate or mango ice cream, licking their lips and talking about how fabulous it was. At lunch one day in the dining room, a woman went on and on about the bread pudding with whipped cream that showed up at lunch each day at the buffet and you could eat all you wanted. I wanted to push her overboard.

My commitment wavered a bit more. "Maybe tonight I'll have dessert," I said to Melanie, the friend I was travelling with. It was day 3 and I was really tired of the fruit plate.

"Well, you could," she said. "How would you feel about that afterward?"

"I don't know," I wanted to say, but it was a lie. The dessert would go down and I would want another. And so I told her about the waffle. On day 2, I ate breakfast in the buffet by myself. I ate eggs and bacon and toast and then decided I could have a waffle (hot, fresh) with fruit on it. There was hot maple syrup to go on it, and hot chocolate syrup, and hot caramel syrup but I'd have fruit. So I did. And it was delicious and that wasn't the end of it. For the next 48 hours, that waffle was in my thoughts. Or rather another one like it was in my thoughts, maybe two this time, maybe with caramel. I do love caramel. And I was right back into craving. I didn't eat another waffle.

The last indecision occured at dinner on Day 5. We'd opted to eat in the very fanciest dining room (it cost extra) and the food was fabulous. And I decided that I could have dessert. Just this once, on this special occasion. I was all set to do it. And when the dessert menu came, there were 6 choices: 5 had alcohol and the 6th was cheesecake, which I don't like. And I realized my higher power was intervening for me. And so I ordered the fruit plate.

There's a PS to the story. Other than no dessert, I ate what I wanted. And from the deliciousness of the dishes, I would guess I consumed enough butter for most of Portland. But when I got on the scale this morning, prepared to have gained some weight, I had lost 5 pounds. Go figure!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Duelling voices

I leave today on vacation. My neighbor and gym buddy Melanie and I are sailing up the Inland Passage to Alaska, something that's been on both our dream lists for a long time. I talked with a friend last February about her trip, who raved about the experience, and mentioned it to Melanie,and we looked at each other and said, "Let's go." So we board the ship tomorrow and cruise for a week. I've very excited.

And the last two days there've been duelling voices in my head. One voice says, "The food is going to be fantastic. You can eat dessert this week. You've been really good, and remember you're not worrying about weight loss. You're in recovery from that chronic concern." The other says, "If you could eat dessert in moderation, if you could pick and choose when to indulge, you'd already been doing that. Abstinence works best for you. Hang in there!" So I find myself in that scene from Animal House when Tom Hulce has the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other.

What makes the decision easy is knowing myself so well. I might, maybe, perhaps could eat a dessert or three on the trip and not get hooked by sugar again. But I've done this dance of maybe so many times and I am so happy not to be living in shame and guilt around what I eat that it just isn't worth it.

If I lived in the outback of British Columbia and might never see a great dessert again, maybe I'd consider it. But I live in Portland with desserts galore and ice cream anytime I want to buy 6 gallons for my freezer. I also know there will be other wonderful food to eat and so I'm staying in alignment with my commitment.

PS I asked Melanie if she'd keep the pillow chocolates to herself and she suggested we just tell the steward not to leave us any. Nice to have a smart friend along.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Feminism didn't save me from the culture

When I was in my early 20s, I read a lot of feminist literature, including Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex. I became angry at the patriarchy in many ways. At home, my father had pressured my mother to give up the job she loved at the junior high library because she wasn't home when he needed her there (which was rarely). More potent was his need to provide for her in the eyes of his peers and that overrode her need to have something to do with her considerable intelligence. I stayed angry with my father over that for a long time, though of course my mother could have insisted. But the acculturated mother I had couldn't have insisted. She hadn't wanted to marry in the first place. She hadn't wanted children. She had wanted a career and to put her college education to good use. But she succumbed to social and cultural pressure and married and had 5 kids and worried about ring around the collar and waxy build-up in her kitchen corners.

I was determined to have a different life and so I have never married, I've not had kids, I've had two different careers and a slew of jobs and been well paid and respected for my mind and my abilities. I have had many lovers, traveled alone, lived alone, created my own business in a field that was long dominated by men. But in one essential thing, feminism did not save me from the culture. And that is in how I view my body.

No matter what I believe rationally and intellectually, I have bought hook, line, and sinker into thin is beautiful, fat is not. While I've been able to fully embrace the fact that alcoholism is a disease, not a matter of will power, I can't get there with my own obesity. I want to. I really do. I want to love my body no matter its size or shape. I want to feel strong and healthy and proud.

But I feel ashamed. I know that feeling comes from absorbing thousands of images of what men (and women) have been selling in advertising since the 1950s. When I was young, I had one of those lovely bodies. For the last 20 years, I have not. And I have suffered because I have not. Self-induced suffering?
Perhaps. But I think it is more culturally induced.

I find it very sad that women's liberation has not extended to freedom from cultural pressure on one of the most precious parts of our existence. And I feel quite baffled as to how I can liberate myself.  

Friday, September 9, 2011

Unsolicited advice

Yesterday I set a boundary with a friend around unsolicited advice. She had responded (privately) to a recent blog post and offered an interpretation of my dilemma that made suggestions as to how I could resolve the issue. "If you were..." I guess it never occurred to her that I might already know what she was proposing, or that I might have considered that idea and rejected it, or that the issue might be more complex than what I had revealed in the blog. I chafed at her advice and then wrote and asked her not to do that in the future.

As a chronic fixer, I know how tempting it is to see the solution for someone else and want to offer it to them, even when we can't do anything about our own stuck places. Been there, done that, over and over. In fact, over the decades of my life, I have doled out probably thousands if not more pieces of advice to friends, to students, to clients, much of it unsolicited and probably a lot of it unwelcome.

Going to thousands of AA meetings and working as a sponsor has helped cure me of most of that. At meetings, there is no crosstalk. You don't give advice, you don't even comment on what someone else says. You share your own experience, strength, and hope instead. And as a sponsor, you learn pretty quickly that your advice, especially unsolicited, will not keep you or the the sponsee sober. Only actions make a difference.

Last year, I had a very painful experience around this with someone close to me. I was going through a rough growing-up patch and needed support and understanding. I got taken to task by two women I considered friends and mentors and a lot of unsolicited advice about my behavior that didn't take my feelings into account. I really saw in those two incidences how damaging my own attempts to fix others have probably been and how killing it is to a relationship.

Now, I do my best to ask if the person is open to suggestions before I offer advice although I do even that very sparingly. Most of the time I just keep such advice to myself.

I think this is especially important as concerns blog posts. Most of us who write intimate blogs do it to share our feelings. We aren't looking for external solutions or the advice of someone else, we're looking for our own inner knowings. And we welcome the shared experiences of others.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Not wanting to be who I was

This morning I received a very insightful comment on a recent post from a reader named Vicki, who said that in a discussion with her therapist about her yo-yo weight gain and loss, she came to the realization that weight loss brought up fear that she would return to the person she had been at 28, when she started to put the weight on. That resonated with something deep inside me.

In my 20s, I had a great body. I was tall, slim, had good legs, nice breasts, long hair. Men found me attractive, some found me sexy and I used my looks to get what I thought I could get: sex and attention, and to a certain extent relief from chronic fear, anxiety, and sometimes boredom. Of course, I wanted true love but that seemed impossible. The truth was that I looked pretty great on the outside, but emotionally it was another story.

By my 20s, I had suffered from chronic anxiety, low self-esteem, and co-dependency for a lot of years already. I know these are buzz words that a lot of people deride, but for me they were, and still are to an extent, very real experiences. While I knew I was attractive and I knew I was smart, I also believed that no man would really ever care for me in the way I wanted. And much as I tried to make that their fault, I believed deep down that it was a failing in me. I was too sensitive, too shy, too clever, too demanding, too needy, too something.

For a while, I tried to be someone else. Someone less smart, more fragile, more independent, less clever, and always thinner, that somehow that would make the difference. But eventually I gave that up until I started to really drink. Alcohol made relationships possible for me. I didn't drink to become more social, I drank to become less afraid. If I drank enough, I could pretend to be somebody else, somebody who didn't care that men abandoned her when she got too needy. Pretend that one-night stands were my idea. Pretend that fighting and jealousy were a given in a relationship. Pretend that monogamy was passe.

I was also spiritually bereft in those thin years. I became an intellectual cynic, a perfect stance for a college professor in the 1970s and 1980s. I had a cruel wit and I used it. I was more and more clever, and more and more unhappy.

So when Vicki talked about her fear of weight loss bringing that earlier person back, I was right there with my own miserable thin self. For being thin and sexy and attractive are completely enmeshed in my body and feelings with misery. No wonder I feel ambivalent about weight loss.

Friday, September 2, 2011

A challenge to my recovery from chronic concerns

If you've been following this blog, you know that I've given up, at least temporarily, my chronic concerns, including weight loss. I've felt quite happy about this. Just letting those thoughts or ideas pass through my mind when they arise, as in meditation, has been a great relief.

But then this week, I noticed that my clothes weren't fitting quite so well, my shirts were a little tighter. Not much, but just a little. So I got on the scale and I had gained 4 pounds. I don't do the scale very often and I know that weight fluctuates so I got on the next two days as well. The 4 pounds were still there. So now I'm tempted to diet, to think about what I'm eating, to worry again. I don't want more weight, I'd love less weight, and I don't know how to change that without obsession.

I thought about my friend Angela, who has been eating differently both to be good to her body, which has been unhappy with some of the foods she's been consuming, and to develop a different relationship with food. Then this week, she blogged about the fact that she had only lost 15 pounds over the course of changing her diet. Weight loss wasn't part of her quest, not ostensibly, but she was disappointed to not be thinner than that. And my heart sank for her and for me both. We can't shake off the culture by saying that our weight isn't an issue. We're conditioned to equate body size with worth. Thin is right, fat is wrong. More fat is wronger.

This is a big conundrum. And I want very much to stay in recovery from weight loss as a chronic issue. So more investigation is clearly called for.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Weight loss and men

 In Martha Beck's 4-Day Win, one exercise is to chart the history of your weight concerns. Starting at birth, for each year you indicate 0-10 if you were fat. My own fat history doesn't start until I'm about 34. But my dieting history, which I decided to also chart, starts much earlier. When I was 27, my partner at the time (we lived together) wanted me to be about 20 pounds thinner (I'm 5'10 and weighed 150). I got down to 132 and he thought I looked great. But I couldn't maintain it without starving and I gave it up. He never chided me as being fat but was wistful about my thinner days. For the next 15 years, I dieted off and on always with men in mind. When I wasn't seeing anybody, I'd diet to attract somebody. When I was seeing somebody, I'd diet to keep him. All this time, I weighed 155 or less.

When I met my second long-term partner in 1979, at age 33, I began to gain weight. We drank heavily together and ate out a lot. That'll do it. And gradually my weight increased to about 185 in the last years of my drinking.

After I got sober, I lost about 10 pounds of alcoholic bloat and kept it off for a year. But then I really got into sweets big time and I gained 10, lost 5, gained 10, lost 5, gained 20, lost 10, you know the drill. I never could sustain the weight loss and my therapist has suggested that weighing a lot of extra pounds keeps me safe from men. And I'm sure it does, because I'm sure no one will be interested in me with me weighing what I do. I'm so far from the culture's desirable norm of underweight women that it's not an issue.

If I'm honest with myself, now that I've given up sweets and lost the 25 pounds that would take off (my weight stabilized after 6 months) to what it's been the last year, weight loss is again about men. So it's not a coincidence that giving chronic concerns includes both weight loss and looking for a partner. They go together just the way I've been acculturated to think. That makes me sad.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Defining recovery

My friend LindyFox recently sent me her book on co-occurring disorders--those who have substance abuse issues and mental illness. Lindy is an expert in this field and I met her on the Hazelden national tour last year when we were both speakers. Her book is a training manual for therapists and I was just reading through the exercises. While I don't have a mental illness beyond addiction and the obsession and compulsion that go with it, many of the ideas struck me as highly useful. Here's one:

Early in the group process, participants are asked to define "recovery" for themselves and to set goals. I don't remember doing this in my treatment center in 1989. Maybe it was part of the first few days while I was in the alcohol poisoning fog, but I don't think so. And so I began thinking about how I would define recovery from my chronic concerns.

I know that when I gave up sugar 18 months ago, I wanted three things: to lose weight (and I did but not as much as I had hoped), to be free of guilt and shame around food (and I have been), and to be free of the fear that I was ruining my health (and I've stayed reasonably free of that as well). So while this wasn't a definition or a goal (the aspects of Lindy's program that are intriguing me), I did have desires.

Recovery from my chronic concerns would mean peace with myself. It would mean freedom from resentment of myself, as my friend Beth pointed out: all that resentment that we stuff down because we aren't perfect, we can't control our appetites, we struggle to "fix" our habits, whatever they may be. It's a constant battle and it seems to do me no good. So forgiveness of all those things would come into play, not just acceptance.

Recovery might also mean a lot of freed-up energy, the energy I spend worrying about things that don't change with worry, the negativity, the boring repetitiveness of all that concern. Recovery might mean something fresh and new could come into my life. It might mean exploring other more interesting and complex issues, both personal and global. This is beginning to intrigue me.

Friday, August 19, 2011

More thoughts on Dave Ellis's ideas

As I give up worrying about my chronic concerns, I have been thinking more about what I do want. Most of my concerns, I realize, focus on things I don't want: excess weight, anxiety, guilt, loneliness. Oh, I've dressed them in the guise of desire. I can rephrase it that I'd like to be thinner but I'm not sure I remember enough about what that feels like to imagine it again). Or I can say I want to be partnered but I don't have much to go on there either, never having had a really happy experience. And I think there's something off-kilter about these desires for absence, not presence. So I'm relooking at what I want from the Ellis perspective.

After you write a whole bunch of 3x5 cards with a want on each card (Dave suggests you do about 400!), you categorize them into A (want so much I'll do anything to get it), B (want enough to put in time and energy to get it), C (want it but won't commit much to get it but if it happened that would be great), and O (obligation: something I want because I should want it). So I spent time the other night, going through my Wnt cards (I've only got about 100 so far) and really thought about the categories.

This time if I let go of those wants that had to do with don't wants (weight, loneliness, guilt, etc.), I had many more Cs (great if it happened but not a project) and fewer As.

Here are the current A's:

1. Fully step into my life as a writer and painter.
2. Break the bond between watching TV and eating.
3. Come into a deeper resonance and understanding of myself as a woman (as opposed to a person).
4. Contribute to others healing from sugar addiction.
5. Get my novels out into the world.
6. Heal my back pain.
7. Be in touch each day with my passions.

The excitement and commitment I feel around these are much different from the lukewarm sense of resignation and pre-failure that I have about weight loss or finding a partner. And that feels good.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hard to get excited about chronic concerns

Last week, I shared some of the wisdom from the Dave Ellis workshop with a group of close friends and we started talking about what we want and how to get it. This is a familiar theme for our group and really only the scale of desires and the action technology is from Dave. So I didn't expect anything special to happen. But as I began explaining how I had used some of his technology to plan a project, one of the women interrupted me and said, "I picked an old concern, a chronic concern, and the thought of doing any of these actions on it makes me sick."

Of course, as readers of this blog you already know what her chronic concern was: weight loss. And guess what mine was? Weight loss! And her anger, not with me, of course, or with Dave Ellis, but just with life and her own choices so moved me that I started rethinking whether chronic concerns are really wants at all but rather shoulds.Some of us have been in this weight loss conversation for so long that we are just sick of it. And it's hard to get excited about a project to fix something you're sick of.

As I thought it about some more, I realized I was sick of all the same old projects: lose weight, get more flexible, find a partner, have more money in savings, reconcile with my deceased mother, cure myself of anxiety.

So thanks to Pam and her discomfort, I'm calling a halt to worrying about any of those things. I'm just going to practice being okay as I am. Don't get me wrong. I'm not going back on sugar. I plan to keep going to the gym and doing my PT exercises, and reading the Martha Beck book, which I think is truly revolutionary, and incorporating more meditation in my life. But I'm going to stop having problems for a while, at least the same old problems. I'm just going to focus on being happy.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A lovely version of the 12 steps for all of us

My good friend Beth Easter from Nashville shared with me this version of the 12 steps that she created for work with women in difficulty. Thank you, Beth!

1. We admit to fearful and chaotic conditions in our lives.

2. We dare to hope in a Source beyond self that can provide Good Orderly Direction.

3. We make a decision to let go of fear and surrender to Love.

4. We abandon our lens of fear and courageously enter and search the interior of

our lives.

5. We hold and share, openly and honestly, the contents of that self-search with Spirit

and another human being. We experience an authentic connection. Intimacy =


6. We open our self to Love’s transformation trusting that Spirit/ Love’s power can

shape and mold our character.

7. We invite and allow healing, bowing to Love’s design in our lives.

8. We become conscious and aware of persons harmed by our weaknesses and

become willing to make amends to them.

9. Made open, face-to-face amends to those persons whenever possible, mindful that

we not bring additional harm to others.

10. We continue to keep an inward eye recognizing our emotional errors and misguided

thinking, and we disclose these mistakes promptly.

11. Seeking through a continued exchange with the God of our understanding, we

improve our awareness of our contact with Spirit. We ask for the knowledge and

power to carryout Spirit's will in OUR lives.

12. The result of working these steps is a spiritual awakening. Our new way of

being and expressions of gratitude are a message of the reality of Love.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Moving from should to want

I'm still mulling over the wonderful wisdom from the Dave Ellis workshop last week. In one of the afternoon sessions, he talked about the importance of language and creating our world with the words we speak. This isn't a new idea to me. I've been in groups that have talked about this before. But it was a really good reminder and he pushed it a bit further.

It makes good sense to me that if I want to be free of burdens in my life, I could drop the following words from my vocabulary: must, have to, should, ought to, need to. These are especially deadly, Dave pointed out, when they are proceeded by "you" as no one wants to be told what to do. No one really even wants advice even when they ask for it directly. What they want is encouragement to solve their own problems.

Instead of using these words that lead to obligation and burden, Ellis suggests just using "want to" or its corollary "don't want to." Instead of feeling I should go to that high school reunion, I can want to or not want to. When I do things I want to, I have more energy, more lightness in my life. When I don't do things I don't want to do, I usually feel relief, another positive thing.

Ellis says it's okay to do some things we don't want to--like the dentist. That happens. But coating them in need or should isn't helpful. These are interesting ideas to me.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Lessons in desire and responsibility

I spent Wednesday and Thursday this week in an amazing workshop with the more than amazing Dave Ellis, author of Falling Awake. Dave primarily works with coaches and leaders but people are welcome to do his workshops for their own personal goals and intentions. I was straddling both worlds. While I don't work as a life coach, I do a lot of coaching in my groups and do work as creative coach for writers and artists. But I went to the workshop to get turbo-charged in my own life.

Dave offers a lot of concrete suggestions for how to manifest what you want and the first big task is to figure what you want. He uses a 3x5 card system to keep track of things and he gave us hundreds of them and encouraged us to write each desire on a card and to have about 400 desires. He said he figures about 1/4 of what we want will come to us and so it helps to want a lot. We can want things for ourselves, for our friends and family, for our world. And wanting is not a commitment to put in the time and energy to manifest those desires. That's something separate and that was good for me to hear.

Because at one point, I had to raise my hand and say that wanting good things for the world sends me straight into responsibility to fix it, to make it happen, and that just makes me tired. He laughed and said that in his view, we are responsible to do those things that we are passionate about, not those things that we are sorry about. And I began to feel that I might just be able to put down the guilt I feel about my privileged life and acknowledge those things I am passionate about as being enough of a challenge for this life.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A reminder of my past

My breakfast date didn't show up this morning and while I waited for her and decided if I was going to eat by myself or leave, I watched the other patrons. I like to do this sometimes to get ideas for characters for my fiction--the way people look, the physical mannerisms, quirks. At one point, I noticed the waitress go behind the bar and pull down a bottle of scotch. This is a breakfast and lunch place and most of those don't have a full bar but this place must serve bloody marys or drinks at lunch. She pored two shots of scotch in a tall water glass and then placed it front of a guy at the end of the bar.

He was an average-looking guy in his 30s and he wasn't alone. He and a male companion had been eating breakfast and drinking coffee and passing papers back and forth between them. But there was one glass of scotch, not a champagne toast. He downed it in two gulps, and then I noticed the suffering on his face, the unhealthy look of his skin, the slump to his shoulders, and I could feel his misery deep in my body.

I admired his willingness to ask for what he needed, a stiff drink to take the edge off, something I wouldn't have been able to do. I'd have gritted my teeth and then hurried home and canceled my day and drunk all I needed. I wondered what his companion thought, what he knew of his friend, and what he might say or not say.

I felt so glad to be sober, to be free of that misery, and I felt such empathy for that fellow.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Feeding my inner Dalmatian

In Martha Beck's book, which I'm finding more and more revolutionary in its take on permanent weight loss and right relationship with food, she speaks of the Dalmatian self, where everything is black and white, all or nothing. As a person in recovery, I know the Dalmatian side of myself all too well. The all or nothing attitude has been with me probably since childhood.

It seems to originate in my Disciplinarian but I think it's just my way of simplifying things. If I don't ever eat X, then I don't have to struggle with choice. But I also know that when the Dalmatian is in charge, there's no chance for moderation--ever.

As a recovering alcoholic, I do not advocate for myself or others the idea that I can at some point drink again. I believe way too much of the published research on the addictive habits of the brain chemistry of folks like me to think that that is possible. I also don't put much faith in the idea that I can learn to be moderate with other substances of choice: ice cream, caramels, chocolate, Cheetos (wonder why they all have "c" in them?)

But I do want and need a way to be moderate with food in general. I want to eat and be satisfied by amounts and foods that promote health and well-being in my body instead of thinking first and only about satisfying a craving as if that craving is the only thing that is important.

I've decided to embark on a full embracing of Beck's Four Day Win and I'll be posting my experiences here. You might want to check the book out for yourself.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Fasting from vigilance

For the last 10 days, I've been fasting from vigilance. As a chronically anxious child and adult, I've honed vigilance into a fine art: always watching to see if everyone is okay and if they aren't, what I can do to fix that. Being conscious of noises and other changes in my home and my car. Unconsciously sniffing the air for smoke or dangerous chemical smells. Constantly monitoring my body for errant symptoms of impending disaster. It's an exhausting way to live and drinking helped mitigate it a lot. So does eating.

So as I move into a different relationship with anxiety--acceptance, compassion, kindness--so too do I want a different relationship with the Watcher. (I have to admit that the more of these parts of myself that I can label, the more I begin to feel like Sybil.) And this past week, I've given myself permission to not be so vigilant.

I've not monitored every item for recycle or trash. I've napped in the afternoon with the door open and just the screen latched. I've taken time off from my work responsibilities and not apologized for it. When my housekeeper couldn't come on her appointed day, I didn't obsess about it or clean the house myself and resent her. I just wiped down the bathroom and left the carpets hairy. And, most importantly, I haven't paid all that much attention to what and how much I've been eating.

That may not be exactly true. I have consciously included fruits and vegetables in my meals. I've consciously said no to some extra helpings but it hasn't been from a punitive place or even from a place of any curiosity. It's just been a quick thought without a lot of inner conversation. That's actually what I want relief from: the low-level anxiety and the inner conversations that brings up.

Monday, July 18, 2011

What do I want? Part II

This morning I had breakfast with a good friend. She is on week 3 of a 4-week deep detox: She is eating leafy greens, a couple of kinds of fruit, and lean protein: no dairy, no grains, no fat other than what's in the poached egg or poached salmon. She looked terrific and said she feels terrific except...she's hungry all the time. And plans to eat, and I quote, "the whole ass of a cow" in two weeks when the detox is up.

Last spring this same friend did three months of Medifast ($900). She lost 40 pounds. When she went back to eating regular food, she began to gain the weight back and rather quickly. So now she's trying something else. I think she believes some in the detox part of it, but maybe mostly she just wants to lose the weight again.

I know that these extreme diets work to lose weight. No one would do them if they didn't. But there's no way to keep that weight off and I've promised myself no more rollercoasting food programs. But I was tempted. I want to look thin and healthy the way she does. But I don't want to think about food all the time and be hungry. That just sets up a war between the Disciplinarian and the Wounded Child Who Eats, and instead of living moderately in the middle of the spectrum, I'm back to the all or nothing.

I'm much more inclined to look at the way my friend Angela is moving ( What foods make me feel good and , even more critically, what does feeling good entail? I think being more in my body is an important first step.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Looking for a compelling vision

Yesterday, Anna, my counselor, asked me what my vision was around losing weight. I have to admit that the question baffled me. Usually, I can come up with an answer to what she prompts but this time I was stuck. I knew she wasn't asking about the obvious, like the vision of myself thinner. Because I could so easily see, that that vision, of a thinner me, isn't sufficient to change my behavior. I don't want that enough to eat less or exercise more, the two ways to lose weight. When I'm restless and bored, and it occurs to me to eat something, nothing in me says "Don't, you won't get thin that way."

I know I'm still stuck in an old mindset. That weight loss is painful, miserable torture, the way it has been in the past. That my chances at succeeding at it are slim (irony intended). That my chances of gaining all the weight back are high. I'm still in that vision and so some part of me says "Why bother?"

For 17 months, I haven't eaten dessert. Two things keep that present and easy for me. I lost 20 pounds and I'd probably quickly gain them back if I started in on ice cream again. But more importantly, I don't feel guilt and shame anymore about what I eat, and I don't want those feelings back.

But there's a part of me that is still suffering from self-loathing. It's a feeling I can ignore most of the time. The way our bodies are set up, the position of our eyes and faces means that we look down at one part of ourselves, the front and I'm okay with that front. It's when I'm at the gym and faced with mirrors that show all sides of me that the self-loathing comes up to bite me. Somehow this self-loathing, dropping this, is part of the compelling vision I'm looking for but alone it's not enough. 

Will I be happier thinner? I don't know. Many people aren't. Will all the things I want fall in my lap if I'm thinner--like an agent and publisher for my novels? Doubtful. Will I suddenly be irrestible to handsome men? Also unlikely. So what is it I want?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

My work, my life

I have often marvelled at how the diversity of my freelance editing work contributes to my knowledge of myself and the changes that occur in my life. A decade ago I was editing books on low self-esteem and would share my stories with the author whenever I saw myself in her theory. She asked my permission to use those stories and editing her books helped me see that even I am highly functional, maybe even overly so, I still had low self-esteem from childhood experiences in my family.

Today I was editing a chapter from a book in progress on child development and parenting and came across this sentence in a discussion of why using rewards and punishments with children is a bad idea. "Using rewards teaches the child that the most important thing is to prolong pleasure—even at the expense of betraying yourself." This sentence so resonated with me that I immediately copied it out into my journal and into this blog.

"Prolong pleasure even at the expense of betraying yourself" is an amazingly accurate description of my addictive relationships. whether they be food, alcohol, work, sex. You name it. The incomprehensible demoralization that the AA Big Book talks about is that very sense of betrayal. And yet I have been so desperate to prolong pleasure because in the either/or world of addiction that I still visit all too frequently in one form or another, there is only pleasure and punishment; nothing else is really living. Both the extreme pleasure I have sought and the deep misery I have experienced have seemed like "real life." As if ordinary, peaceful, semi-contented living isn't real life.

There wasn't a lot of punishment in my early life. My mother had a distinct way of expressing her disapproval that turned us all into pretty good kids. But there was a lot of rewarding done. I remember an afternoon in the summer I was 10 when my mother promised us a big reward (ice cream cones) if we would not make a big fuss about getting polio shots. I was very frightened of doctors for a reason I don't remember and the idea of getting a shot (they used big honking needles in those days) terrified me. But there was no getting out of it and I knew that I could have some food I wanted to soothe the anxiety and make it go away. And it worked and it went on working for decades while I learned to prolong pleasure, even though it meant betraying myself, my health, my career, my spiritual nature.

Lots to think about here.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Old memories, old cravings

I've been at this retreat center more than a dozen times over the last 9 years. I come now twice a year for a week or so of writing and creative community. It's a place where my soul can rest and my imagination can find the time and space it needs to expand.

In the early years, I ate a lot of sugar here. We have a circle every afternoon and in those early times, we outdid each other with exotic chocolate bars, often with as many as 6 or 7 bars to choose them. We'd eat a lot, then eat a big dinner with a fabulous dessert. And of course, I always had my own stash of the latest obsession. Two years in a row it was Werther's soft caramels. Then it was ordering an extra pan of Chef Patti's Caramel Banana Cream Pie--all of myself. Chef Patti is a local wizard, who cooked for us until we decided to save money and cook for ourselves. Then two years ago, it was going three times to the local grocery store for half-gallons of my fix of ice cream and hiding the containers in the trash and hoping nobody would look in the spare freezer in the unused second kitchen. 

Now that I'm dessert-free, we have fresh fruit with our meals. People can bring chocolate, or whatever they want for themselves, but I ask that the meals be free of refined sugar items.

But the last couple of days, I've had serious cravings for sweets. Some of it may be triggered by old memories of the heedless kind of eating I used to do. Maybe it's because I'm moving closer and closer to not using food as a soother so much any more. Whatever it is, it's been difficult. There isn't anything here to binge on--although I guess I could make some kind of sugary buttered toast or jam and yogurt, but of course that isn't what I want.

I want to be reckless and eat myself sick. And I'm not going to do that. It does, however, feel good to admit my desires to myself and to the page. There is some relief in that.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Is real relaxation possible for someone like me?

For the last week, I've been practicing Martha Beck's body whisperer exercise, which is basically spending 10 minutes soothing your body through kind thoughts and words until you reach a state of relaxation. I tried moving on to the next exercise, getting in touch with your body, but I found it almost impossible to discern what was going on in my body (Beck's point exactly) and so I've gone back to the whisperer.

It is disconcerting to see how amazingly anxious I get each time I sit quietly and try to calm myself. It is more than the usual monkey mind that happens with meditation. There's a sense of deep distress that I'm sure doing something productive or eating something will fix. And it makes me realize how little I know about relaxing.

For as long as I can remember, I've been drawn to books on relaxing and resting and slowing down and simplifying, all while keeping my life going full tilt. What I know about relaxing comes from overeating: consuming so much food that I'm sluggish and unable to do much except nap or watch TV. I miss alcohol, not for the taste or the oblivion, but for the sense of relaxation I got from that first hit, the way my shoulders would go down and my gut would unclench. While sugar and fat didn't work as quickly, they worked well enough and so it's no wonder I've been reluctant to let it go.

I do believe Beck is on to something and that this will work but it's going to take a lot longer than the four days she suggests to do undo a lifetime of anxiety.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The body whisperer

In her amazing book, The Four Day Win, Martha Beck devotes a chapter to the corollary between gentling horses and coming into right relationship with our bodies. She talks of watching a friend domesticate a horse by speaking its language, by setting aside the predator/prey relationship that is a function of biology between the two species, and coming into a gentle, loving place where the horse will team up with the human.

She suggests that most of us with food issues and body issues are playing out the predator/prey relationship every day, trying to whip our bodies into shape through shame and deprivation and well-meaning external and internal cruelties.

Last Sunday at my Women and Food group, we read this chapter aloud to each other. The responses of the others were just as profound as my own had been. Was there really, truly a way to be in a different relationship with our bodies and the tender part of our selves that are interwoven into those cells?

And I thought about my Wounded Child Who Eats as the wild horse trying to survive and my predator-self the Abstainer trying hard to be in control to survive and I felt such sorrow for them both.

Beck gives a simple 10-minute soothing exercise at the end of the chapter. It is a combination of self-soothing and meditation. I'm doing it each day. I'll report what happens.

Monday, June 27, 2011

confirming what I know.

On Fresh Air Thursday, Terri Gross interviewed David Linden, author of The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good. He had a lot of interesting things to say about pleasure, about genetics and about addiction. What interested me was "fatty foods" at the top of his list. Those of us with a genetic propensity for brain alteration through pleasure (the way our bodies respond to dopamine production) means that anything that makes us feel good, we will want more of, even after it no longer makes us feel good.

Sugar and fat are an addictive combination for those of who focus compulsively on one pleasure at a time and we become just as addicted to them as nicotine or alcohol or sex. Unfortunately, the brain alteration that occurs is permanent. That's why we cannot go back to our naive use of a substance or behavior once we've become addicted. And it is clearly, in his opinion, physiological although our original impulse may be to relief stress (emotional/psychological), eventually the physical part of the brain is running the show.

This confirmed a lot of stuff for me. You might enjoy listening to his podcast on NPR.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Who's in charge of this show anyway?

On Wednesday, I had another amazing session with my therapist. I went in very petulant. I'm tired of these same old issues--my childhood, my weight. And I started talking about just declaring them done. And as I said that, I started to cry. Anna, wise woman that she is, said, "Hmmm, I see there's still a lot of emotion here. Perhaps you're not done yet."

We talked then about doing some body work, some nonverbal work, some feeling-centered work, and I know that's what's needed, and I'm so hesitant to get out of my intellect and go there. Adn we talked about that hesitation too.

She mentioned my inner child and I said, " You mean, Wounded Child Who Eats" and we had a good chuckle about the Native American naming and then I said something I hadn't thought before. About how angry I was with the stupid inner child who didn't save me when I was a kid and is only complicating things for me now.

"She's just trying to help you survive," Anna said. "And eating is how she knows to do that. Just like the part of you I'll call the Abstainer, the Disciplinarian. She's also wanting you to survive by not eating. And your Wise Self needs to hold them both loosely and compassionately."

And suddenly there was just such an opening in my heart and in my mind. For I have spent these many years assuming that the Abstainer/Disciplinarian/Hardworker/Rationalizer was the Wise and Authentic Self. And if she isn't, everything about this changes.

I'm not sure how to verbalize the difference but it has seemed so either/or, so one or the other, for so long, that I have grown to hate the Abstainer and Wounded Child Who Eats and that has meant really hating the only parts of my self I could see. But to grasp the fact that the Wise Self, the Whole and Perfect Self, is neither of these, that changes everything.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Setting down our burdens

On the first Wednesday of each month, I facilitate a lovely group of women in having conversations about our emotional lives. We touch on all aspects of what's happening with us, but our focus is on how this makes us feel. Last time we met, I asked us to consider the burdens that we feel and if we could lay them down.

I have a fair number of things that I worry about (the environment, homeless animals, war, the health of friends) but as true burdens, there were three things on my list: my ongoing dissatisfaction with my weight and my food relationship, my unresolved unhappiness with my mother (deceased now 14 years), and my concerns that I won't have enough money for my care as I get really old. To resolve any and all of these would, I think, help me have considerably more peace of mind.

And this brings me again to the paradoxes that mature adults deal with: finding it in my heart to forgive my mother and doing the work (meditation, writing, maybe painting) that would make that possible while not ignoring my own right to be angry and hurt at what happened. Having the courage to sit with my restlessness and anxiety around giving up food as solace while accepting that I got myself here during decades of living in survival mode. And forgiving myself for earlier poor choices around income and spending and making changes now, even though it's pretty late in the game.

Carrying these as burdens, as the UnForgiven, is so unhelpful and yet has seemed so natural. And as I mentioned to my therapist, in some ways, these aren't things I can resolve in my mind. I can't necessarily make a concrete plan, develop my own 12 steps, take some concrete action. This is deep inner work that takes quiet and solitude and inactivity on the external plane to evolve and resolve.

And these are burdens I would like to lay down.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A timely discussion from

Peeling Away the Layers

Trees Shedding Their Bark

Like a tree our growth depends upon our ability to soften, loosen, and shed boundaries and defenses we no longer need.

Trees grow up through their branches and down through their roots into the earth. They also grow wider with each passing year. As they do, they shed the bark that served to protect them but now is no longer big enough to contain them. In the same way, we create boundaries and develop defenses to protect ourselves and then, at a certain point, we outgrow them. If we don’t allow ourselves to shed our protective layer, we can’t expand to our full potential.

Trees need their protective bark to enable the delicate process of growth and renewal to unfold without threat. Likewise, we need our boundaries and defenses so that the more vulnerable parts of ourselves can safely heal and unfold. But our growth also depends upon our ability to soften, loosen, and shed boundaries and defenses we no longer need. It is often the case in life that structures we put in place to help us grow eventually become constricting.

Unlike a tree, we must consciously decide when it’s time to shed our bark and expand our boundaries, so we can move into our next ring of growth. Many spiritual teachers have suggested that our egos don’t disappear so much as they become large enough to hold more than just our small sense of self—the boundary of self widens to contain people and beings other than just “me.” Each time we shed a layer of defensiveness or ease up on a boundary that we no longer need, we metaphorically become bigger people. With this in mind, it is important that we take time to question our boundaries and defenses. While it is essential to set and honor the protective barriers we have put in place, it is equally important that we soften and release them when the time comes. In doing so, we create the space for our next phase of growth.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A new light on a familiar idea

This idea of eating/drinking/spending to prevent the past from happening has really lingered with me. Saturday I was at an AA meeting and I was struck by two things: the Serenity Prayer and one of the most familiar AA sayings: "living life on life's terms."

I have always seen both of these (Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change) as talking about the present. We take each day as it comes, having an impact where we can, accepting what we can't impact. I don't think it ever occurred to me that they also speak to the past.

I cannot change my past. I cannot prevent it from happening no matter how much I eat or drink. It has happened. Some of that involves choices I made, some of it happened to me through other people's choices and limitations. Where I still have choice is in how I deal with the aftereffects and how long I choose to go on dealing with them.

Life's terms for me included a not very happy childhood with a specific trauma of loneliness and fear, an adolesence that was as painful as most, poor choices in partners, 20 years of drinking, 20 years of overeating. These are things I cannot change. Continuing to make poor choices or to numb out from my feelings or repeat any other old patterns, these are things I can change. And I just may be finally coming to have some wisdom to know the difference.

Friday, June 10, 2011

What are we running from?

I've just finished reading Geneen Roth's book Lost and Found. It's ostensibly about her experience of losing all of her life savings through investments with Bernie Madoff but it's really about unconscious behavior, whether it's the way we eat or the way we relate to money. She says many interesting things in the book but this one has stayed with me because it resonated so deeply:

When we engage in numbing behaviors, we are trying to prevent the things that have already happened to us. We are hoping that if we drink enough or eat enough or spend enough, we won't have had that damaged childhood or dysfunctional mother or painful love affair. That if we numb out, somehow that will all go away.

The truth of that for me is astounding. Intellectually I pretend that I'm eating to deal with painful feelings that might arise in the future but what I really want is not to have experienced what I have already experienced in terms of shame and sadness and fear. I want the alcohol or ice cream or Internet shopping to keep those things from happening then. The marvelous illogic of this has stopped in me in my tracks. Because if this is really why I am eating or drinking or spending, it will never work. My behavior today cannot change that past. I can pretend that I'm dealing with the present moment, but it is a pretense.

When I add this idea to my diagnosis of free-floating anxiety, anxiety that doesn't have a cause except in my wiring or my biochemistry, then eating makes even less sense. This is feeling like a big breakthrough for me.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A great poem

I love this poem. If I substitute "drank" for "roller-skated" or "eating" for "pedaling," it's a great poem about addiction.

The Rider

by Naomi Shihab Nye

A boy told me

if he roller-skated fast enough

his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him,

the best reason I ever heard

for trying to be a champion.

What I wonder tonight

pedaling hard down King William Street

is if it translates to bicycles.

A victory! To leave your loneliness

panting behind you on some street corner

while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,

pink petals that have never felt loneliness,

no matter how slowly they fell.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Dichotomies I am living with

Last month, after a particularly intense session with my therapist, she asked me to spend a couple of hours writing about what I was thinking/feeling/needing. Here are some of the notes I took.

Conflict: My right to be angry that my mother couldn't give me what I needed and in some ways helped instill some unhealthy beliefs and attitudes in me VS. my need to forgive her so I can move on. The whole issue of forgiveness without condoning or approving.

Conflict: Developing a healthy detachment from anxiety VS. numbing out so I don't have to feel it. Can I learn to discern the difference?

Conflict: Accept what is VS. do something about it?

Conflict: Be a distant witness/observer VS. fully experience what is happening?

Conflict: Hypervigilant VS. mindful?

And it occurs to me while writing this here that maybe these all occur on some sort of spectrum. That it isn't either/or as I often believe things are, but rather a murkier slide in one direction or the other. One of the most difficult things for me to live with is that not only are there few simple answers but the answer changes and the question repeats itself in my life. I get something resolved and feel relief and then a few months later, there it is again.

In addition, I can see, in reading these over, that there are different tones, different attitudes, attached to each side of the dichomoty. I'm not sure this will make sense to anyone but me but it's what's on my mind today. Thanks for listening.