Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mindlessness: Cunning, baffling, powerful

Friday night, I dutifully ate my dinner at the dining table. I tried to eat slowly but that just seemed a way to prolong an unpleasant task. I was hungry, I needed to eat, I had good food to eat, but there was no enjoyment. It seemed weird to sit at the table by myself and watch myself eat. That's the way it felt. And I was glad when it was over and I could turn on the current spy series I'm watching on Netflix.

I'd love to be able to say that I stopped eating after dinner, mastered my restlessness in front of the tube, and lived slimly ever after. No such luck.

For the first hour, I reined myself in, then got up and ate a low-fat granola bar in front of the computer. Then another. That's my limit. I noticed that I was eating them really fast so that I could get back to the TV. I watched the episode for another 20 minutes or so then remembered there were some Cheetos left in the cupboard. I got up to get them and the next thing I remember was getting up for the second bowl and realizing I had eaten the first bowl in front of the TV. I had no memory of sitting down in front of it, no memory of eating any of the Cheetos, only the telltale orange-smeared paper towel on the chair for cheesy fingers. No memory whatsoever. I ate the second bowl in front of the computer.

Yesterday I snacked all day: grapes, the rest of the Cheetos, granola bars, nuts, you name it. If it was here, I ate some of it. I couldn't seem to get full, to get satisfied. I was working on a hard project--preparing for a 3-day writing teaching gig for a new client. Did I register the stress? Nope. I registered hunger and restlessness.

I finally stopped working about 5:30, turned on the TV. I ate my dinner at the computer, ate the first three snacks at the computer, watching myself wolf them down in emotional starvation as fast as I could stuff it in and then I said to myself, "Self, this isn't working." And I let myself eat in front of the TV and the frenzy slowed and the eating stopped. I'm having to rethink this.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Loved this poem so much I'm sending it on to you

The Hymn of a Fat Woman

Joyce Huff

All of the saints starved themselves.
Not a single fat one.
The words “deity” and “diet” must have come from the same
Latin root.

Those saints must have been thin as knucklebones
or shards of stained
glass or Christ carved
on his cross.

as pew seats. Brittle
as hair shirts. Women
made from bone, like the ribs that protrude from his wasted
wooden chest. Women consumed
by fervor.

They must have been able to walk three or four abreast
down that straight and oh-so-narrow path.
They must have slipped with ease through the eye
of the needle, leaving the weighty
camels stranded at the city gate.

Within that spare city’s walls,
I do not think I would find anyone like me.

I imagine I will find my kind outside
lolling in the garden
munching on the apples.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

My new commitment

Yesterday I got home about 4:30. I'd been travelling all day (10 hours of airports and airplanes) and I was both tired and wired. I did the bulk of the unpacking, snuggled Frannie and Nellie, did my best to unclog a kitchen sink with standing water, caught up on email and mail and the life that had been on hold for 8 days.

I wasn't very hungry. I'd snacked on nuts and pretzels and an airport cafe sandwich and lots of sparkling water to stay hydrated. But I knew I needed to eat something and I knew I needed to slow down and for several decades my way to do that has been to eat dinner and then snack in front of the TV with a good Netflix series on. Except...

Except that I'm into my new commitment. On Feb 14, the one-year anniversary of giving up dessert, I committed to breaking the TV/food connection, a long-standing habit of mindless eating. I'd thought about starting on Feb 1, which was just after the first meeting of the Women and Food group and I stated my commitment. But I decided having one food-related "sobriety" date was plenty and of course, that gave me two more weeks to eat and watch. But come Feb 14, I didn't eat and watch and on Feb 15, I didn't either.

Then I went to Nashville and led a 5-day writing retreat and gave a workshop and did some touristing and there was no TV involved at all. So last night was actually the third night I had a chance to step into my commitment. I made myself a simple supper and did not know what to do. I didn't want to eat in the dining room by myself, I couldn't sit in front of the TV, so I ate in front of the computer and kept answering emails.
It wasn't at all satisfying. I didn't pay attention to the food, rather focussed on the emails. I honored my commitment to not eat mindlessly in front of the TV but I still ate mindlessly.

Now I'm facing that same dilemma again. It's curious that I don't mind eating lunch alone at the table and I eat breakfast alone at the table but dinner, that seems too much aloneness. So having the TV for company has been really meaningful and now I don't know what else to do. I'll have to give this some thought.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Speaking in Nashville

The last week I've been in Nashville, first leading a 5-day writing retreat, which was wonderful. Great place, great company, wrote some great poems. A really delightful time and healing for my sadness over Reinie.
Today I led a 3-hour workshop on story and choice: how our lives and our stories are the result of our choices and how we can change the first two by changing the third. It was a very friendly and responsive group of recovery professionals and lay folks and I had a great time. Then this afternoon, my host, Beth Easter, took me to Cheekwood, an amazing estate/park not far from her home.

There are, I'm sure, many tourist experiences to have in Nashville but being outside in the sunshine on a cool winter afternoon was perfect after a morning of intense concentration with others and I was glad to just walk and take in the stark winter beauty of the landscape. Most of the trees here are oak and maple, dramatic in their bare limbs and trunks. I was particularly struck by a row of crape myrtles whose bark was so fleshlike as to be astonishing. Beth is a wonderful friend and she took photos while I just looked and we sat quietly and contemplated the landscape.

It has been a wonderful trip. I like leading retreats, I love leading workshops. And I'm looking forward to heading home tomorrow.

I know Reinie's absence awaits me and more sadness will come but it has been good to be away this past week, to let the newness of that experience settle down and perhaps dissipate. And it will be really good to see Frannie and Nellie.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Requiem for Reinie

I took my grief to Tennessee
Through airport security where
The shrapnel of loss went undetected
I buckled my grief into the empty middle seat
The woman at the window didn’t notice,
Casually tossed her worn jean jacket over it

I fed my grief pretzels and Ritz crackers
Let it sip from my diet coke
Choked back tears when it pushed itself
Against my chest at 32,000 feet

I walked my grief up and down
The dingy brown carpet in Kansas City
If the sharp-dressed man on his iPhone
Saw my pain, heard my cries,
He gave no sign, embarrassed perhaps
For the older woman in black

I flew my red eyes to Tennessee
The deepest anguish abated by clear decision
Then briefly revived by his yowled surprise
as the first surge of oblivion
Burned into his veins.
Yet I found my courage,
Cajoled him away
From the front door, assuring him
of a more certain escape, a deeper freedom
he could not see was coming
I stayed present, faithful as he staggered into sleep,
eyes open to the coming night.

I brought my grief to Akers Farm
To the big A-frame set on acres
Of February brown and gray
The air perfumed with the moldering
remains of fall, rebirth still months away
despite the soft kisses of global warming

I took my memories down to the waterfall
The small ball of fur loose in my lap
on the way home from the pound
The trust between us there from the start
The extravagant beauty, the regal bearing
Of Maine Coon, of white ruff, silky fur, bush of a tail
The alpha confidence
in the presence of larger cats
as he roamed his two-garden kingdom
His steadfast presence as one old belief
after another fell away and my life shifted
in ways I could not have expected

And now our journey was over
Our paths diverging
And now his frail body was laid to rest on a small soft mat
The final breaths coming deep and slow
And now touching the sweet chime twice
to send him on his way
To ring out the last loveliness of the trust we shared

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Reinie Kelly 1992-2011

I said goodbye to my dear old boy this afternoon. When he dipped low in his life force last week, I called and arranged for the home vet to come. Then he perked up the last couple of days, throwing me into agonizing indecision again. Curiously the indecision was all in my head: rational voices saying he might have a couple more months, that I should wait. But in my heart, I knew it was time.

Last night I went to bed very sad. I knew it was his last night with me. I was soothed only by knowing that he didn't know. And yet I wonder. He seldom sleeps on the bed, preferring in the last few months a corner of the bedroom rug. Yet he cried to come up right away and lay down right by my shoulder and looked right in my eyes. I petted him, I talked to him, I told him everything that was in my heart. He's deaf, been deaf for a year, but I could tell he read me. We stayed like that for nearly an hour. I cried a lot, he stayed right by me. Then we both went to sleep. When I awoke a couple of hours later, he was on the rug in his usual spot.

Despite the rain, he wanted out several times today. He followed me around. Was it more than usual? It felt like it to me. Before the vet came, I was wracked with indecision. And my wonderful friend Melanie helped me think through it. Or rather she encouraged me to listen to my heart. And I think it was mostly just grief and I wanted the grief to go away. Once the vet came, it all seemed clear what I needed to do.

There was only one bad moment. He balked at the sedative and it took him a while to relax. But then I just held him and it was okay, okay for him, I think, and okay for me.

I rang the meditation bell twice at his passing.

I'm leaving in the morning for Nashville for a week of retreat. That seems a wonderful gift right now--to be immersed in story and countryside with loving friends. I carry Reinie with me on the journey, tucked safe into my heart. Wherever he is on his journey, I know I'm in his heart as well.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

An old mode

Found myself back in an old mode of operation this weekend. I'm leaving for Nashville Wednesday morning and in order to come back to a reasonable amount of work, I needed to do an unreasonable amount this weekend. I still had only three things on my to-do list each day but some of them were really, really big.

Yesterday, I did an extra cardio push at the gym and fueled by an endorphin high, I got crackin' early, did two projects, run four errands, and then put in 6 hours writing a paper. I felt good, productive, capable, needed--all those things that feed my workaholism. I had a quiet evening, watching TV, savoring my second-to-the-last night of eating in front of it.

Today I woke up sad, cranky, miserable. I cut myself some slack this morning but then pushed myself to the desk and three more projects, finishing about 6:30. I should feel great. Got it all accomplished, ready to relax. Instead, I find myself in an old familiar place, all revved up and nowhere to go. I've got one more big project to do before Wednesday and I'm having trouble not starting it even though I'm tired and have no real brain power left to apply.

This is an old mode, this working too much and then not knowing what else to do with myself. When I get out of balance like this, it's hard to get back in. I've got all kinds of rationalizations but none of them work. I'm out of sync with my own best interests. Time to move back into spaciousness.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Gearing up for the next change

February 14 is right around the corner. It'll be a year since I stopped eating dessert. I tell people I stopped eating sugar but that isn't strictly true, as you'll know if you've been following this blog. I eat jam once in a while on my toast, been known to sprinkle brown sugar on my oatmeal, eat a sweetened yogurt for a snack, eat fruit popsicles, and low-sugar granola bars. But I haven't had ice cream in 15 months and it's been a year since chocolate of any kind or candy or pie or cake or cookies or pudding or scones or doughnuts or maple bars or pastries have crossed my lips.

After the first few weeks, the cravings for specific foods really settled down. It was unpleasant but I didn't go crazy as I suspected I might, not out of some sense of exaggerated response but really believing that all that sugar was keeping me grounded. I've learned that that is not the case.

Do I miss it? I miss the flavors. But what I really miss is the heedlessness of it that I wrote about some weeks back. I enjoyed being totally free and relaxed around food. Eat whatever I want, when I want, in the quantity that I want with no concern for health or weight or anything. I miss that feeling of carefree, do what I please. As a chronically good girl, I don't really have that in any other place in my life any more. I don't do sex indiscriminantly any more, don't drink alcohol, don't eat sweets. I've tried eating a lot of cheetos (salt bloat and orange fingers) and even tried eating a lot of fruit popsicles, but it's a half-hearted effort that brings no satisifaction on the heedless scale.

I'm gearing up on Monday to start the next phase of my commitment: to stop eating anything in front of the TV. I currently eat dinner there when I'm alone, which is most nights, and then I snack on whatever's handy. It's all pretty healthy but it's still a lot of extra food and it's still mindless. I'm not even conscious most of the time of getting up from the chair to go get more. So it may take some self-training to break this very old habit. One of the women in my Women and Food group is going cold turkey from all distractions while she eats: reading, computer, journaling. I'm not willing to do that yet. But someday.

I have some of the same fears as last year. My inner whiner is on and on about how miserable I'm going to be. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe I'll feel lighter, freer, more real in my life. That's what I'm hoping. Stay tuned.

PS The new photo is an old one of Reinie, the Old Boy, in his prime. Isn't he handsome?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Waiting on the old boy

I don’t like holding the power
For someone else

Two weeks past
a turn for the worse
Energy ebbed, life flickered
Then rallied, not ready, not ready yet

For two weeks, he cleaned the dish
Played with the red pen I dropped
Wanted me to pet him
Wanted to sit with me, sleep with me

Now again energy lower
Coat shabbier, eyes not so clear
Kidneys, heart, ebbing
Life flickering

Next week, a ticket to Nashville
Teach, speak, do what I do
Do I wait on the old boy?

I cannot ask another to make this decision
I cannot ask the old boy to make this decision
How do I rally my courage, my commitment?
How do I get ready for release?
For now, I’m
Waiting on the old boy

Monday, February 7, 2011

Making an amends 36 years later

They say in AA that when you can't locate someone to make an amends, you state your willingness to do so and wait as opportunities will present themselves. Last Saturday morning, such an opportunity presented itself via email.

I got an email with "Duck?" in the subject line and a very strange-looking name. I figured it was spam, somebody wanting me to become the heir of 5 trillion dollars in Nigeria but I opened it and found a message from a best-selling novelist in Finland. He said that he had included a scene in his first book that involved his French teacher who had a large butterfly on the wall above her bed. He had been in Eugene, Oregon (hence the Duck?) in the spring of 1979. He was 22, the teacher 33. Was I that teacher?

Well, dang, I was. He had been a student in my French II class, I'd had a potluck party on a Friday night after the term was over for students from both my classes. I'd gotten very drunk and seduced him. Not one of my prouder moments. What's more, we made plans for the weekend (he was leaving for Finland on Monday). Then I went to a party Saturday, met the man I would spend the next 11 years with, and ignored Juhani's phone calls. I felt bad about it. I was mindful of his feelings but my own took precedence and I was so inept at dealing with my own guilt. My life went on.

I wrote him back last Saturday, owned my part, apologized for my rudeness and my callow treatment of his feelings. I had not forgotten him. Mostly I had not forgotten my poor behavior, which made it to my Fourth Step. I was grateful for a chance to clean that up. And flattered to think he would write abut it. The wonders of the Internet.  

Friday, February 4, 2011

Intention revisited

Living spaciously in January seemed a piece of cake. I came back rested and refreshed from a long writing retreat. Eased my way into the New Year with a calendar policy and a 3-item to-do list. Worked 5-6 hours a day, got some of the things on my long-term master list accomplished. Spent time with friends. Wow, I had it all in hand.

Then starting Monday, old and new clients started showing up. Projects I'd discussed with them in November or December (and forgotten in the interim). Referrals from former clients. A couple of jobs I had applied for months ago. Suddenly I had a tremendous amount of work and not enough practice with living spaciously to handle it.

I felt the old familiar stress of overwhelm, of saying yes and yes and yes. Of watching abundant work come in and responding from a place of scarcity. Of being afraid to say no or it'll have to be later or let me look at my calendar. So after a couple of helpful conversations with wise friends, I sat down and made a list of all the projects (17 of them) and parsed them out on a calendar, being mindful of keeping my play dates, and then wrote to the clients and ascertained their deadline needs and my own. Then I sorted things out, made more realistic agreements, and began to breathe easier.

This may seem simple and logical to some of you, but to me, with an overly responsible good girl always whispering in my ear, it's a huge step forward into taking care of myself and living spaciously.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Food and money

As I was working out on the treadmill this morning, I thought about the fact that in the new Women and Food group, four of us are also in the Women and Money group. All four of us believe that we do not have enough money for the future and we all struggle with overeating. It occurred to me that the two ideas are intimately related. That fear and lack financially translates somehow into a need for an abundance of food; here at least is one place where we can be in control, where we can solve the problem of scarcity and lack.

I was also struck by the very large dreams and goals of women in the money group, most of whom are at the end of middle age or entering elderhood. $100,000 in savings, say, or a portfolio of $1.5 million but with no real concrete plan for getting there. I wondered if these dreams (and I'm all for big dreams) are somehow linked in their lack of basis in rational expectation with our desires to regain the thinness of our youth, which I suspect each of us imagines will be accompanied by smooth skin, firm muscles, better vision, better hearing. You get the picture.

I'm not sure what to make of all this. On the larger scale, it may just be an interesting observation. On the personal level, it seems important to come up with a realistic plan to achieve what I'd like to. If I want $30,000 more in savings by the time I'm 70, I need to start saving $150 a month. And I set my online savings to start drawing that from my checking account. If I want to weigh 170 pounds again, I'm going to have make some specific changes in how much I eat. And I need to change, I suspect, my relationship to scarcity and lack, abundance and overconsumption.