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.