Friday, April 29, 2011

Now why did I agree to stop eating food soothers?

I'm in a Holiday Inn Express in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, about 10 miles from the campus of the main Hazelden recovery center. I arrived last night after an uneventful flight and relatively uneventful drive in a rental car the 60 miles up here from the airport. For many people, this will sound like no big deal. But for me, a person with a highly developed comfort gene and an almost non-existent adventure gene, this is stressful.

Roads I don't know, a car I don't know, a place I don't know, 300 people I don't know. Yikes!

I did pretty well. I got here safely, got checked in, found that my room backed up on the elevator and asked for another (and got it)--this alone was a huge accomplishment in asking for what I need. Then at dinner a guy a couple of tables over said into his cell phone that he was speaking on Saturday and I approached him, a total stranger! Those of you who don't know me well will find this perplexing. Why is she telling us all this normal stuff? But those of you who do know me will know that for me, these are challenges. I'm introverted, shy, often solitary. So I'm really stepping out here, folks.

Today I met my friends Patricia and Ann, got a tour of the campus, had lunch. Came back and rested a while, then went to the event for the afternoon and early evening. It all seemed fine until I got back to the hotel and every candybar in the vending machine was doing a little peekaboo dance of seduction just for me. Right next to them were the Cheetos, now also not on my list of foods. I restrained myself, got ice, a big glass of water, ate a few nuts I'd brought with me and called it good. I wasn't hungry. Dinner had been delicious and I wasn't even tempted by the huge chunks of chocolate cake at each place but once I got back here, I really needed soothing. Oy!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Deciding that we matter

I am deep in a self-conversation about what matters (see for my ideas on mattering and creativity), sparked by a book I'm reading on anxiety and artists. The author, Eric Maisel, suggests that making a decision to matter is central to relieving ourselves of anxiety. I've been in a related conversation for a while about what matters to me, in other words, what my priorities are: writing, painting, well-being, friends and family, paid work. Some of my friends also have a service category but I see all these five priorities as forms of service.

But Maisel is taking this further. It's acknowledging and believing and acting from a stance that who we are matters. Anxiety and meaninglessness are good chums and so deciding, declaring that I matter, that what I do matters, each day, each thingis meaningful is rather revolutionary for me and certainly for our culture as we now live in it. In our culture today, most things are seen as pretty meaningless in the grand scheme of the universe, a small kindness is dismissed because it doesn't solve the global issue. Our efforts seem puny on the huge scale of a tsunami or nuclear meltdown and so we shop and eat and watch TV. And all this leads to an underlying anxiety that fuels more distractions.

But if I matter, if writing this blog matters, if doing my dishes matters, if painting or writing a poem or editing a website matters, then my life feels different to me, richer, clearer, more important--to me. And that may just be enough.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Completing my drainers and a surprising result

For years, I've been passing on Cheryl Richardson's ideas about "drainers," those tasks and projects that have been lurking in our brains and on our to-do lists for too long. That chair that needs repairing or recovering, that purse that never worked out that I keep meaning to return, the watch with the cracked crystal, that phone call to the bank to protest a charge. All those things that when we think of them our energy just gets drained away. Richardson really encourages getting those things done. Make a decision, find the money, take the time, or let them go/give them away. Release that energy for something else.

Over the past year or so, I've been steadily working through my drainers. I saved up my money, got the big green chair and its ottoman recovered. I got the broken leg on the antique table fixed and sold it. I sold several other things that had been in my basement storage unit. I cleaned out the basement storage unit and got rid of a lot of stuff. I got that watch fixed this week and that purse returned earlier in the month. And two weeks ago, I found a beautiful small rug on a great sale that is a perfect replacement for the worn one too well favored by my old cat Reinie. My list is now pretty much complete.

Curiously, while taking care of each one was a great relief and felt good, there was a curious emptiness when the list really shrank to next to nothing. I felt caught up, unburdened by the drainers, and yet I also felt lost, or perhaps more accurately, at loose ends. And I wondered if somehow having that list of tasks and incomplete projects serves a deeper purpose. If it keeps us grounded, feeling connected to life, maybe even important in a different form of busy-ness. Kind of a "boy am I needed--look at all these things I need to do."

And they also kept me from turning my energy to some of those things on my excuses list. I couldn't possibly paint, I have too many drainers to take care of. Now with the drainers gone, I'm looking at what is really standing in the way of my doing what I say I want to. Hmmm.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

More on excuses

Thanks for all your many comments, both public and private, about the post on excuses. I've really been sitting with this since last Friday. Sitting with the fears, the inertia. And again looking at the difference between wanting to do something and committing to it. I wanted to stop eating sugar for a long time and not much changed until I made a commitment to abstaining from dessert. It's been 14 months and I have an easier and easier time just saying no (not exactly what LadyBird Johnson meant but it works).

I'm also aware that I can't take on all 5 of my issues at once. So I've decided to take on the relatively easier ones, in that there are concrete things I can do right away to turn the energy in another direction.

First, I have approached a friend who paints and who has invited me to paint with her about getting together four days in June to paint, either all in one week or two days over two weeks. I'm hoping that four painting sessions will shift me into gear and get me back in the proverbial saddle.

Second, I'm committing to doing the footwork to market my completed novel and spending at least half of writing Fridays upcoming on that project, which will require some time and some attention to detail. I need to "woman up" and just do this, regardless of the outcome.

Third in May, I'll be headed to the beach for a week's retreat and will start the second draft of the second novel then, with a goal of completing it by August 1.

That leaves, of course, the two much more difficult issues that I dance around: food and men. These are such long-standing issues that coming up with a quick, concrete solution isn't so easy, but I think taking some more substantial creative risks may help me get the courage to do so in the more private areas of my life.  We'll see what happens.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Making excuses

Once a month (first Wednesday), I get together with an amazing group of women and we encourage each other in building the best lives we can create. This month we talked about excuses and where we are making them and why.

Here's my list of where I'm most often making excuses:

1. Why I don't paint anymore (no time, too messy, no studio)
2. Why I'm not shopping my first novel (no time, too complicated)
3. Why I'm not working on my second novel (no time, need a big block of time)
4. Why I'm not losing weight (I refuse to diet or join a group)
5. Why I don't do something about having more men in my life (too busy, too fat)

I know you can see the pattern here. First, my excuses are mostly about time, yet I find the time to read a lot of mystery novels and watch a lot of Netflix and eat out with friends and putter around the house. I read somewhere that when your excuses are about time and money, the reality isn't about time or money. It's about fear. And that is so true for me.

1. I'm afraid my good paintings were a fluke and that I have no talent or skill.
2. I'm afraid no one will want my novel.
3. I'm afraid the second novel isn't very good either.
4. I'm afraid I'll be hungry and depressed and miserable if I stop eating what I want.
5. I'm afraid none of the men I might meet will like me.

At this point, I'm not sure how to go about resolving the issues in the reality but it at least seems more honest to me to tell the truth about it, rather than hiding behind the excuses. More later on this, Jill

Three great quotes about excuses

For many people, an excuse is better than an achievement because an achievement, no matter how great, leaves you having to prove yourself again in the future but an excuse can last for life—Eric Hoffer

The trick is not how much pain you feel but how much joy you feel. Any idiot can feel pain. Life is full of excuses to feel pain, excuses not to live, excuses, excuses, excuses. –Erica Jong

I will not take “but” for an answer. –Langston Hughes

Suggestions from the fabulous Patti Digh:

When you feel an excuse coming on, rather than verbalize it, stop for a moment:
• What are you making an excuse about? Change it.
• Your hair doesn’t look right? Change it.
• Your house is a mess when someone stops by unexpectedly. Spend just 15 minutes a day putting things away so visitors aren’t dreaded but welcomed.
• You didn’t have time to finish something? Reprioritize or say no to more things.
• Keep a catalog of your excuses. Then make your life an excuse-free zone.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The ongoing conversation about food

My friend Kathie, who reads my blog from time to time, asked me why I hadn't been writing about food much lately. After all, she said, wasn't that why I started the blog in the first place?

I've been thinking about this since she asked me, as I had no ready answer. First, it was one of the reasons I started this blog. I'd been meaning to create one for a while and giving up desserts in Feb 2010 seemed a good topic to begin with, chronicling my experience as I moved off the huge quantities of sugar I'd been consuming for years. The blog was also intended as an extension of my memoir, Sober Truths: The Making of an Honest Woman, about my descent into alcoholism and my two decades of sobriety. So all kinds of internal and external conversations seem appropriate to me to include.

But that doesn't answer her first questions. I haven't been writing about food because I'm stuck again. I've kept the 20 pounds I lost in the first 6 months of no dessert and my weight hasn't budged from there, mostly I think because other than dessert, I'm eating pretty much anything I want to at any time. I did give up Cheetos, another huge favorite, about 6 weeks ago. I have definite Cheeto cravings (or Cheeto substitutes like clam dip and potato chips or Fritos and bean dip). But other than that, I've been unwilling to take necessary steps to get unstuck and move forward.

I also know why I'm stuck. It's because I've found a dessert substitute: an organic crispy rice peanut butter granola bar. It is pretty low fat and not high in sugar but it is yummy and yummy translates into eating a lot of the yummy item. I have other snack bars that are tasty but one is plenty. But not the pb bars. I can eat 3 or 4 at a time. I don't get the sugar high but I do feel sated and my blood sugar soothed in some way. And I just honestly don't want to give them up and find out what will happen. I just don't.

So I am stuck. And I don't know what I'm waiting for, but I'm waiting.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Feng Shui and me-- Part II

Since that first feng shui experience 10 years ago, I've lived conscious of the basic principles. Keeping my home clutter-free, not storing anything under my bed (the chi needs to circulate freely for us to have healthy sleep), keeping my closets tidy. I know which areas of my house relate to the areas of life in a the bagua system (9 categories) but mostly I just subscribe to tidiness and cleanliness and less clutter.

But in the past month, I've had two other interesting feng shui experiences. One was learning that basements have an impact on our health and well-being. Under my apartment is a communal storage area and laundry room, so the other tenants of the complex mingle their energies with mine down there. I asked Tina to come back for a consultation and we did a smudging and then I effected some cures by hanging crystals in the corners of the room and placing some symbolic objects in the wealth area. I haven't noticed any big changes but I do feel better knowing I've done what I can to make that a more harmonious space.

Second, I've been taking a course in prosperity thinking that is based on feng shui ideas. Each day I've been writing out a given affirmation 9 times, then spending a brief time visualizing what I'd like to have in a certain area (wardrobe, livelihood, education, home, etc.). And there's an added tip or cure that can be done for each of the 27 days of the course (numerology is important in feng shui). Some of them are very elaborate (for example, obtaining water from 9 prosperous business) but others have been worth doing: candle burning, placing red envelopes with special Chinese coins in auspicious places in my home. I figure they can't hurt.

I'm not looking to be wealthy. That, frankly, has never interested me. But I am interested in having steadier work and in feeling comfortable with the money I have. I'll keep you posted on the results.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

friends, snacks, and meals

This past week I've had two houseguests, my good friend Barb from Tacoma and my good friend Beth from Nashville. Both visits were really fun. We did a certain amount of touristing, a little shopping, and a lot of talking and laughing. We also ate out quite a bit as Portland has so many wonderful restaurants.

What I found during both visits is that I wasn't inclined to snack at all between meals. We had plenty of activity and I was hungry for each meal, and we didn't overeat at meals, picking restaurants with reasonable portions. But the combination of such good food and such good times really satisfied something in me that I often fill with food when I'm alone, especially if I'm alone too long.

I certainly could have sneaked snack bars or extra food or eaten it in front of them but I didn't need to. At the same time, most of the time, when I'm at home working or just hanging out, I'm not conscious of being lonely or of suffering even mildly. So I'm not quite sure how these things are connected, but I sure can see that they are.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Yes anyway

I gave her a ride from the train
Station to Burnside, a tall woman
With brown curly hair, maybe 40
I’d just hugged Barb goodbye
Told a last joke about puddles and said
I love you and she said “Are you headed
To Burnside can you give me a ride?”
All in one question and I looked
At this stranger and felt afraid and
Ashamed that I wondered
If she had a gun in her purse
And said “Yea, sure” in spite of myself
And before I knew it
She was buckled in next to me
And for seven blocks, we made
Halting conversation
About the first sunny morning
In six weeks and her mother
Headed back to Port Townsend
And how much she liked living on 22nd
And for the whole seven blocks
I wondered if I’d get out of this alive
And felt ashamed that I trust so little
And she unbuckled the seat belt
Before I even came to a stop at the light
And thanked me with a shy smile
And striding off around the corner
Was out of sight so quickly I wondered
If she was a messenger sent to remind me
Of a different way to be in the world

Friday, April 1, 2011

Feng Shui and me--Part I

In 2000, I was part of a personal growth program that was big on projects to move us forward in life. I decided to take on a fairly safe project, one that would have definite and successful outcomes. I took on revamping my apartment to better support what I was up to in my life. I called the project Zen Home.

I gave the walls a fresh coat of paint, including some more interesting colors (I had a very tolerant landlord at the time who was okay with anything I wanted to do as long as he didn't have to pay for it). I moved my office out of the living room (where I had positioned my desk for the view into the courtyard) and into the mostly unused second bedroom/guest room, thereby separating work and private life. I pulled up the ancient wool carpet to expose the lovely hardwood floors underneath. I bought a couple of great rugs from Pottery Barn. All these things made a huge difference in the way things looked.

But it wasn't until I hired a friend who'd just finished her training in Feng Shui that things really shifted. Tina came and spent two hours orienting me to the Feng Shui system and making suggestions. The most dramatic had to do with the healthiest placement of my bed in the bedroom (with my feet facing the door) and the position of my couch again facing the door. She also suggested some simple cures for some of the less harmonious angles (good chi likes round, not sharp) and suggested some color adjustments and other minor things.

None of these things meant very much to me, to be honest, but they were simple enough to do and I was willing to go on faith. Once it was all complete, I felt good in my home. It seemed nicer to me but I couldn't have said whether it was the angle of the couch or the mango colored wall in the new office. But everyone, I mean everyone who came to my home after that remarked on how wonderful it looked and even more importantly on how peaceful my place felt. And I became a believer.