Monday, June 27, 2011

confirming what I know.

On Fresh Air Thursday, Terri Gross interviewed David Linden, author of The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good. He had a lot of interesting things to say about pleasure, about genetics and about addiction. What interested me was "fatty foods" at the top of his list. Those of us with a genetic propensity for brain alteration through pleasure (the way our bodies respond to dopamine production) means that anything that makes us feel good, we will want more of, even after it no longer makes us feel good.

Sugar and fat are an addictive combination for those of who focus compulsively on one pleasure at a time and we become just as addicted to them as nicotine or alcohol or sex. Unfortunately, the brain alteration that occurs is permanent. That's why we cannot go back to our naive use of a substance or behavior once we've become addicted. And it is clearly, in his opinion, physiological although our original impulse may be to relief stress (emotional/psychological), eventually the physical part of the brain is running the show.

This confirmed a lot of stuff for me. You might enjoy listening to his podcast on NPR.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Who's in charge of this show anyway?

On Wednesday, I had another amazing session with my therapist. I went in very petulant. I'm tired of these same old issues--my childhood, my weight. And I started talking about just declaring them done. And as I said that, I started to cry. Anna, wise woman that she is, said, "Hmmm, I see there's still a lot of emotion here. Perhaps you're not done yet."

We talked then about doing some body work, some nonverbal work, some feeling-centered work, and I know that's what's needed, and I'm so hesitant to get out of my intellect and go there. Adn we talked about that hesitation too.

She mentioned my inner child and I said, " You mean, Wounded Child Who Eats" and we had a good chuckle about the Native American naming and then I said something I hadn't thought before. About how angry I was with the stupid inner child who didn't save me when I was a kid and is only complicating things for me now.

"She's just trying to help you survive," Anna said. "And eating is how she knows to do that. Just like the part of you I'll call the Abstainer, the Disciplinarian. She's also wanting you to survive by not eating. And your Wise Self needs to hold them both loosely and compassionately."

And suddenly there was just such an opening in my heart and in my mind. For I have spent these many years assuming that the Abstainer/Disciplinarian/Hardworker/Rationalizer was the Wise and Authentic Self. And if she isn't, everything about this changes.

I'm not sure how to verbalize the difference but it has seemed so either/or, so one or the other, for so long, that I have grown to hate the Abstainer and Wounded Child Who Eats and that has meant really hating the only parts of my self I could see. But to grasp the fact that the Wise Self, the Whole and Perfect Self, is neither of these, that changes everything.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Setting down our burdens

On the first Wednesday of each month, I facilitate a lovely group of women in having conversations about our emotional lives. We touch on all aspects of what's happening with us, but our focus is on how this makes us feel. Last time we met, I asked us to consider the burdens that we feel and if we could lay them down.

I have a fair number of things that I worry about (the environment, homeless animals, war, the health of friends) but as true burdens, there were three things on my list: my ongoing dissatisfaction with my weight and my food relationship, my unresolved unhappiness with my mother (deceased now 14 years), and my concerns that I won't have enough money for my care as I get really old. To resolve any and all of these would, I think, help me have considerably more peace of mind.

And this brings me again to the paradoxes that mature adults deal with: finding it in my heart to forgive my mother and doing the work (meditation, writing, maybe painting) that would make that possible while not ignoring my own right to be angry and hurt at what happened. Having the courage to sit with my restlessness and anxiety around giving up food as solace while accepting that I got myself here during decades of living in survival mode. And forgiving myself for earlier poor choices around income and spending and making changes now, even though it's pretty late in the game.

Carrying these as burdens, as the UnForgiven, is so unhelpful and yet has seemed so natural. And as I mentioned to my therapist, in some ways, these aren't things I can resolve in my mind. I can't necessarily make a concrete plan, develop my own 12 steps, take some concrete action. This is deep inner work that takes quiet and solitude and inactivity on the external plane to evolve and resolve.

And these are burdens I would like to lay down.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A timely discussion from DailyOm.com

Peeling Away the Layers


Trees Shedding Their Bark



Like a tree our growth depends upon our ability to soften, loosen, and shed boundaries and defenses we no longer need.

Trees grow up through their branches and down through their roots into the earth. They also grow wider with each passing year. As they do, they shed the bark that served to protect them but now is no longer big enough to contain them. In the same way, we create boundaries and develop defenses to protect ourselves and then, at a certain point, we outgrow them. If we don’t allow ourselves to shed our protective layer, we can’t expand to our full potential.

Trees need their protective bark to enable the delicate process of growth and renewal to unfold without threat. Likewise, we need our boundaries and defenses so that the more vulnerable parts of ourselves can safely heal and unfold. But our growth also depends upon our ability to soften, loosen, and shed boundaries and defenses we no longer need. It is often the case in life that structures we put in place to help us grow eventually become constricting.

Unlike a tree, we must consciously decide when it’s time to shed our bark and expand our boundaries, so we can move into our next ring of growth. Many spiritual teachers have suggested that our egos don’t disappear so much as they become large enough to hold more than just our small sense of self—the boundary of self widens to contain people and beings other than just “me.” Each time we shed a layer of defensiveness or ease up on a boundary that we no longer need, we metaphorically become bigger people. With this in mind, it is important that we take time to question our boundaries and defenses. While it is essential to set and honor the protective barriers we have put in place, it is equally important that we soften and release them when the time comes. In doing so, we create the space for our next phase of growth.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A new light on a familiar idea

This idea of eating/drinking/spending to prevent the past from happening has really lingered with me. Saturday I was at an AA meeting and I was struck by two things: the Serenity Prayer and one of the most familiar AA sayings: "living life on life's terms."

I have always seen both of these (Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change) as talking about the present. We take each day as it comes, having an impact where we can, accepting what we can't impact. I don't think it ever occurred to me that they also speak to the past.

I cannot change my past. I cannot prevent it from happening no matter how much I eat or drink. It has happened. Some of that involves choices I made, some of it happened to me through other people's choices and limitations. Where I still have choice is in how I deal with the aftereffects and how long I choose to go on dealing with them.

Life's terms for me included a not very happy childhood with a specific trauma of loneliness and fear, an adolesence that was as painful as most, poor choices in partners, 20 years of drinking, 20 years of overeating. These are things I cannot change. Continuing to make poor choices or to numb out from my feelings or repeat any other old patterns, these are things I can change. And I just may be finally coming to have some wisdom to know the difference.

Friday, June 10, 2011

What are we running from?

I've just finished reading Geneen Roth's book Lost and Found. It's ostensibly about her experience of losing all of her life savings through investments with Bernie Madoff but it's really about unconscious behavior, whether it's the way we eat or the way we relate to money. She says many interesting things in the book but this one has stayed with me because it resonated so deeply:

When we engage in numbing behaviors, we are trying to prevent the things that have already happened to us. We are hoping that if we drink enough or eat enough or spend enough, we won't have had that damaged childhood or dysfunctional mother or painful love affair. That if we numb out, somehow that will all go away.

The truth of that for me is astounding. Intellectually I pretend that I'm eating to deal with painful feelings that might arise in the future but what I really want is not to have experienced what I have already experienced in terms of shame and sadness and fear. I want the alcohol or ice cream or Internet shopping to keep those things from happening then. The marvelous illogic of this has stopped in me in my tracks. Because if this is really why I am eating or drinking or spending, it will never work. My behavior today cannot change that past. I can pretend that I'm dealing with the present moment, but it is a pretense.

When I add this idea to my diagnosis of free-floating anxiety, anxiety that doesn't have a cause except in my wiring or my biochemistry, then eating makes even less sense. This is feeling like a big breakthrough for me.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A great poem

I love this poem. If I substitute "drank" for "roller-skated" or "eating" for "pedaling," it's a great poem about addiction.


The Rider


by Naomi Shihab Nye

A boy told me

if he roller-skated fast enough

his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him,



the best reason I ever heard

for trying to be a champion.



What I wonder tonight

pedaling hard down King William Street

is if it translates to bicycles.



A victory! To leave your loneliness

panting behind you on some street corner

while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,

pink petals that have never felt loneliness,

no matter how slowly they fell.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Dichotomies I am living with

Last month, after a particularly intense session with my therapist, she asked me to spend a couple of hours writing about what I was thinking/feeling/needing. Here are some of the notes I took.

Conflict: My right to be angry that my mother couldn't give me what I needed and in some ways helped instill some unhealthy beliefs and attitudes in me VS. my need to forgive her so I can move on. The whole issue of forgiveness without condoning or approving.

Conflict: Developing a healthy detachment from anxiety VS. numbing out so I don't have to feel it. Can I learn to discern the difference?

Conflict: Accept what is VS. do something about it?

Conflict: Be a distant witness/observer VS. fully experience what is happening?

Conflict: Hypervigilant VS. mindful?

And it occurs to me while writing this here that maybe these all occur on some sort of spectrum. That it isn't either/or as I often believe things are, but rather a murkier slide in one direction or the other. One of the most difficult things for me to live with is that not only are there few simple answers but the answer changes and the question repeats itself in my life. I get something resolved and feel relief and then a few months later, there it is again.

In addition, I can see, in reading these over, that there are different tones, different attitudes, attached to each side of the dichomoty. I'm not sure this will make sense to anyone but me but it's what's on my mind today. Thanks for listening.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Incorporating nothing into your day

Wednesday night I had dinner with some women friends. Several years ago we were part of a circle of trust where participants convened to ask questions of someone seeking clarity on an issue. The work was very intense and helpful at times. We hadn't seen each other all together in 3 or 4 years. After all the initial greetings, we went deeper and Anna shared her 3-year journey of recovery from food addiction.

Anna's been thin all the time I've known her and so I fell immediately into that trap of "You? You can't have food issues. You're thin." Of course, I didn't say this, I just thought it and then caught myself. Food addiction isn't about weight, it's about emotional and spiritual needs that aren't getting met in healthier ways.

Anna belongs to a 12-step group, Food Addicts Recovery Anonymous (not Overeaters Anonymous). She referred to it as a Nazi group, as the suggestions of other 12-step programs are requirements here. It's a strict program of abstinence (in Anna's case, sugar and all flour) and other activities. While the food abstinence has been challenging and helpful, the most significant change that Anna has made is another of the program's requirements: 30 minutes of quiet time a day with no activity.

She said this has changed everything for her. She is calmer, happier, more open in her relationship with her spouse, kinder to her clients and friends. Of course, the program is multi-facted (journaling practice, meetings, sponsorship, working the steps) but of all the things she does, this has made the most difference. Out of that quiet has come a meditation practice and a spiritual connection she didn't see as possible.

Something worth considering.