Monday, May 30, 2011

Rejoicing in knowing what's wrong with me

I suppose most people would be dismayed to have their therapist confirm that they have a mental illness. Not me. I was really glad.

Last week at our session, my therapist told me that I had free-floating anxiety. She may have told me this before but I didn't listen or couldn't hear it. I didn't get the feeling that this was major news to her; we've been working together for about 4 years or so. But it was so helpful to me to know that that's what it is.

As a recovering alcoholic, I do believe that mental illness is part of addiction. In AA, we say that we have an allergy of the body to alcohol and an obsession of the mind with it. When I was in the throes of my addiction, I was certainly obsessed with alcohol. It's what I lived for. Everything else was peripheral. And as I've dealt with my continuing addictive behaviors (to work, to food), I've been looking for the common denominator.  

With free-floating anxiety (also called Generalized Anxiety Disorder), I am not afraid of any specific thing. I am just afraid. And when the fear hits me, I look for a reason to be afraid. I look for symptoms in my body, I look for something in my circumstances, I look at the world, and I find plenty of reasons. But they aren't why I'm afraid. Some researchers think that it comes from a glitch in the neurotransmitter chemistry of the brain. Others that it is based in childhood trauma or is inherited. Whatever it is, it is inside, not outside.

And for some reason, for me, that is good news. I can stop looking for what's wrong and just be with what is. It may not be easy, but it seems a lot simpler than trying to figure out each time what's wrong and how to fix it. There probably isn't any fixing it, just a being with it.

"Invite it in for tea," says Anna.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

When will I listen to my intuition?

When I got back from the beach two weeks ago, I had a message from a woman looking for an editor. I had responded to an ad she put out for a book editor. I called her back and we had a long conversation. She seemed a little strange and told me a lot about her personal life, not what I usually hear from prospective clients. But her book sounded interesting and she said it was the first of several and those are great clients to have. She lived here in town and wanted to meet me before we agreed to work together. That's not a very common request--most clients are interested in a sample and a time and money estimate--although most of those clients have come to me by referral. But some clients like to put a face to the name so I agreed to meet her.

She was friendly but strange in a way I couldn't quite put my finger on. In addition, she asked a lot of very personal questions and then would back pedal, say she was probably overstepping her bounds, she was a psychic, a therapist, interested in people and how they worked--but none of the questions were about my work.. She stayed an hour and a half and I felt leery somehow but she seemed keen on working together and handed me a huge check for the work. I had prepared a simple contract and she made some minor changes, but that all seemed okay too.

Next day I had an email from her talking about unfinished personal business between us and did I want to come over. I said no, no time. Again, something didn't feel right. But her check went through and I started the work. But very quickly I could see that it was going to take me way longer to do the work than I had estimated. The sample she sent me was not representative of the whole text and I had grossly underbid. So I emailed with some options. including a refund.

I got a furious email back, saying I was in breech of contract, demanding her money back by the end of the day or she'd sue me. The response was way out of proportion to the email I had sent her and I'd offered to refund her money. And then I realized that she was crazy, that my intuition, my wiser self had been telling me all along not to take the job. And I hadn't listened. The money was good and I wanted the work, even though I knew something was off.

I haven't had many of these clients over the years. Just a handful. But each time, I knew taking them on was a bad idea. I feel very relieved to be out from under this. The messenger she sent just came for the refund. I've put in a couple of hours work I won't get paid for but it seems a small price to pay.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Fat body, fat liver--an unforeseen consequence of sugar addiction

Last week I had a rather miserable set of medical tests done for abdominal discomfort. Because my symptoms are one of the many vague symptoms of ovarian cancer and because I fall into that equally vague risk category (over 55 and childless), my doc and I felt it good to be safer and do the testing. The abdominal ultrasound is tedious and was a bit painful for me as I have some version of fibromyalgia. It took 40 minutes. The pelvic ultrasound is internal and she pushed on places nobody is intended to push on! Believe me! It was grueling and took another 20 minutes. Between the two of them, I was so tired I slept most of the day. So glad I work at home and on my own schedule.

Well, the good news is that no cancer showed up. But I did get a diagnosis of fibrofatty liver disease. This is caused when too much fat comes towards the liver. Unable to process it all, it stores some or a lot in its own self. This can happen so much that liver function is impaired. At risk for this not uncommon disease are alcoholics and the obese, particularly (here I come!) those who consume large quantities of processed sugar and fat and who have dieted frequently (rapid fat loss). Boy, that's me! Processed sugary foods are easily converted to fat and fat is, well, already fat.

I feel so grateful to have already taken the biggest stride towards rectifying this by giving up sugar and the fat that goes with sugary desserts, be it ice cream, candy, cake, cookies, muffins, you know the culprits. In fact, for the first time in several decades, my cholesterol levels were normal  at my physical. And that's a big plus.

Fibrofatty liver disease is reversible and there are many herbal ways to strengthen the liver as well. So I'm feeling optimistic. But this was a consequence that I didn't see coming. And more changes are clearly needed. I want a well functioning liver.

So if you're thinking that sugar is a problem, maybe this is something to consider.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Giving up struggling

I was thinking the other day about how long I've been struggling with food. I didn't diet or struggle in my childhood or my youth. I was thin really until I hit my 30s, even though one boyfriend convinced me to lose an additional 15 pounds at one point. I was model thin and miserable because I didn't want to not eat.

I took up running in my 30s and that really helped me maintain my weight but I dieted off and on all the time I was drinking. Then when I got sober, I just stopped controlling my food. Abstaining from alcohol in the beginning was hard enough, and sugary treats really helped me deal with the restlessness that came with early sobriety.

Looking back, of course, I can see that the sweets free-for-all of the next decade led to major weight gain, and while I had stopped being thin by 40, I was only mildly overweight until I hit 50 and then it seemed that suddenly (and of course it was incremental) I was carrying a lot of extra pounds. I would control my food off and on, dabbled in Weight Watchers, OA for a year, but they were all about food, not about why I ate, and I didn't just want to find another soother. I wanted to find a way to need less soothing, heal up the wounds and sorrows, change what I could, accept with grace what I couldn't.

Now I just don't want to be run by food. Weight loss,well, some would be nice, but I want mostly to not be run by food. And I don't want to struggle with it anymore, to feel bad about anything that I don't have to. I want some choice in all this and that's what I'm looking into now.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I love this poem

Hokusai says look carefully.

He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing

He says look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat
yourself as long as it is interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.

He says keep praying.

He says every one of us is a child,
every one of us is ancient
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find
a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive --
shells, buildings, people, fish,
mountains, trees, wood is alive.
Water is alive.

Everything has its own life.
Everything lives inside us.
He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn't matter if you draw,
or write books. It doesn't matter
if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn't matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your veranda
or the shadows of the trees
and grasses in your garden.

It matters that you care.
It matters that you feel.
It matters that you notice.
It matters that life lives through you.

Contentment is life living through you.

Joy is life living through you.

Satisfaction and strength
is life living through you.

He says don't be afraid.

Don't be afraid.

Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you.

- Roger Keyes

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Inspiration and role models

On vacation, I watched Harold and Maude for the second time. The first time was in the theater when it first came out in 1971. At that time I was 25 and I identified with Bud Cort. I was shy, felt stuck, unsure, just as he was. Now at 64, I identify with Ruth Gordon and still love her zest for life.

Her singing, her dancing, her celebrating. Her thumbing her nose at the rules and the law (Tom Skerritt in an uncredited role). Her tender care for the trees in the city and the very young man. And her clear knowing when it was time to go.

Gordon was herself a remarkable woman. She made this film when she was 75 and went on to make 22 more films before she died at 89. She was married to a man 16 years her junior, famous playwright Garson Kanin. She won oscars for film scripts and for acting. I wish I had known her.

There are other older women I admire. Karen Casey, author of Each Day A New Beginning is a dynamo in her early 70s, a force to be reckoned with in the recovery community. Joanna Macy, Buddhist and environmentalist, is another, whose life force and life focus give me hope.

These women set precedents that I want to emulate: focus, concern, sharing of themselves, and a clear link to the world they live in. Makes me glad.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The highest possible regard

My good friend Meredith in Virginia recently got her certification in ZBG, a body energy therapy. At the graduation ceremony, the founder and foremost teacher of the program reminded both the new teachers and the long-term teachers of the most important thing to keep in mind when working with clients. It wasn’t knowledge, it wasn’t experience, it wasn’t skill. It was holding the client in the highest possible regard. That opened up something in both practitioner and client for the healing to happen.

Meredith mentioned this rather in passing but I was really struck by it. What would happen in our world if we each held each other and everyone we met in the highest possible regard? What if presidents did it and corporate executives and lawyers and schoolteachers and bank tellers? What if each driver of a vehicle held all other drivers and pedestrians in the highest possible regard? What would happen then?

In the wonderful way of coincidences, I recently edited a book for a long-time special ed teacher who wanted new teachers to know what had made her successful with so many of the kids she had worked with over several decades of teaching and tutoring. It was her belief in the abilities of these kids, not their disabilities. She was far more ambitious for them than their parents and their other teachers. She wanted to focus on all they could do, not what they might never do. And in order to do that, she held them in the highest possible regard.

In the second coincidence, I’ve been reading Roland Merullo’s novel The American Savior, in which Jesus comes to earth and runs for president. Jesus’s admonition that we should love one another is the same idea, that we love the other and wish well for the other, and do good to the other. I’m intrigued by what all this can mean for my own life.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Finding a way to slow down

I'm on vacation this week at the Oregon Coast. I came down Wednesday afternoon after 3 intense days of work. I also brought an important work project with me that needed to be completed by Thursday afternoon, which I did. I took my computer to the Cannon Beach library and after a series of inexplicable computer difficulties, I finally rented one of theirs (they are a private library) and got my project sent off.

In the email messages that day were two new projects. I'd been expecting them and also knew that I wouldn't have to work on them until I got home. But it isn't that easy for me to let go of the structure and groundedness that work gives me. All the way home to the condo in the pouring rain, I thought about how I could just do those projects while I'm down here. Even the fact that a friend is staying with me down here and we are spending the week together wasn't a deterrent. We do spend time each day on our computers, ostensibly writing on our novels, and how would she know from the other side of the room that I wasn't working on mine but instead editing Bridget's book or Kaye's tenure application?

And I realize how crazy that sounds, sneaking to do my work as if I were viewing porn sights or eating candy in the bedroom. A friend and I have been talking about the addiction of work, which is so familiar to me but a new concept to her. How that sense of being needed and competent is a drug for our wounded selves, giving us purpose and meaning in a world that often feels empty of either.

So far, I have been able to not work while I'm here. I've been able to let go of my addiction to email (I'm checking it only once a day since the condo doesn't have it) and just been in the moment of our activities. It would be easy to make this a judgement about myself, and instead I'm just viewing it as a curiosity.

Friday, May 6, 2011

In the lap of temptation

I'm spending a week at the Oregon coast in my friend Diane's condo. She's generously let me stay here once or twice a year for a long time. I've done some of my best writing there and I think of her as my creative angel. I've also eaten a lot of sugar in that condo: pecan praline cookies from the Waves of Grain, haystack coconut cookies from the bakery in town, homemade caramels from Bruce's candy store, the ever-present Tillamook ice cream. I've made myself sick on many of the best desserts the coast has to offer.

One thing Diane's condo doesn't have is wifi so I've come up to the Waves of Grain to check email and post to the blog. I bought some of their delicious Sleepy Monk coffee and three foccacia rolls and just drooled quietly in front of the four delicious (I know cuz I've tried them all) cookies and the key lime tarts and the florentines and the buttermilk chocolate cupcakes and went and sat down.

I'd like to feel very virtuous and say that I don't really want any of those but that would be a big, fat lie. I'd love to buy six cookies and take them home and eat two or three of them before my friend Pam comes for the weekend and then sneak the three over the next few hours. And therein, of course, lies the problem. I don't want just a bit or even one cookie. I want a handful, a bagful. I want to get sated, maybe even sick. It would take that to satisfy me...and I know I'm better not to start.

Yesterday while I was taking a shower, I noticed that the shampoo at the end of the tub was made by Dove. And of course that made me think of Dove bars and my first one and how yummy they are and how maybe, just maybe I could eat a box of them once a year and that desire and lunacy washed over me for a couple of minutes and I began to plan it out and then thought of the Saturday afternoon in my apartment when I ate 6 boxes of Dove Bars and I knew it was a fantasy, that dream of moderation and occasional eating. I've proved that to myself so many times.

So my friend Sue and I went to an AA meeting and I had a delicious tuna melt at the organic cafe in town and indulged in the corn chips that came with it and forgot about sweets until today. My resolve is strong. It's less a resolve to not eat sweets as it is a resolve to not be run by addiction and saying no is the only way I can get there.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

EMDR and shifting out of the past

For the last several sessions, my counselor and I have been preparing to do some EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) work on childhood beliefs, things that are stuck in my knowing of myself that no longer serve me. These beliefs are attached to emotions in my body, and we think they are related to panic and anxiety, which have resurfaced in some unpleasant ways in the recent past. To anyone looking on, the process seems pretty bogus. The therapist moves her fingers or a pen rapidly from side to side and you follow it with your eyes while staying present to thoughts or feelings or physical sensations. But something starts to shift and ease and a lot of emotion got released for me today.

One of the things that came up is that I'm interested in coming to a place of clarity and forgiveness in my relationship with my mother, in teasing out what was hers, what was mine, and what is now mine to take care of. Today during the process, I felt a real desire to love my mother in a way I haven't felt for a long, long time. I guess to love her anyway even though she was unable to take care of me the way I needed. During the session, I felt a lot of sadness about all that, but when I left, I felt angry, angry that it's me having to clean this up, angry that I'm the one doing the work. I felt 10 or 12 or 14 again and pissed off at my mother. I think that in itself is a breakthrough. I've always been afraid to be angry with my mother, afraid on a deep survival level. Maybe I'm finally coming to a place where it is safe to do that.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Traveling spaciously

As most of you know, my intention for this year is to live spaciously. I've just come back from a 3-day trip to Minnesota for a speaking engagement and I had a chance to apply that principle to my travel. It made a world of difference.

First, I took up my host's offer to fly in early on Thursday (the event started on Friday afternoon). I was able to get a flight at noon and made no plans for Thursday evening so that I didn't have to worry about what time the plane got in or how long it took me to drive to the destination (about 75 minutes as it turned out). I got to the hotel, checked in. I found out the restaurant next door only served until 8 (it was 7:20) so I left my suitcase in the car, washed up, and went to dinner. My pre-spacious self would have raced to unpack before going to dinner so that dinner could be leisurely. I'm so conscious of that irony.

I had a date at 10:30 the next morning, plenty of time to do my routines of journaling and meditation and shower and breakfast. I visited with friends, got a tour, then went back to the hotel and rested. After a couple of events, I needed a break so I spent time in the lovely meditation hall on campus, just reading and thinking. Then dinner and after a few minutes of the entertainment, I excused myself and drove back to the hotel so I could have time alone.

Yesterday I got up very early so I could have spacious morning time before my presentation. I had plenty of time to write, eat, get ready, drive over. No rush, no hurry. I had an hour to speak but stopped five minutes early to give the audience a bit longer break before the next speaker. I talked to people, sat in on the next program and then after lunch, went back to the hotel, took a nap, did a little work, just enjoyed myself. I also had an early night last night. And I got back to the hotel in time to see the lovely early evening light on the countryside so I put on my walking shoes and got some fresh air.

Today I got up early so I could leave in plenty of time. Turned out I needed it as I overshot the airport by about 10 miles, had to pull off, figure out the map, and retrace my steps. But I had plenty of time to turn in the rental car, get a sandwich for the plane.

What I've learned is that travel can be stressful (new situations, lots to observe and take care of), and if I do it spaciously, I can reduce that stress so like today, there was no panic when I realized I was lost. No fear I wouldn't make it in time. I had plenty of time. I like travelling that way.