Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Another damn insight

I'm taking a one-week pleasure reboot workshop from health coach Jenna Abernathy (www.divinehunger.com) 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.