Monday, August 29, 2011

Weight loss and men

 In Martha Beck's 4-Day Win, one exercise is to chart the history of your weight concerns. Starting at birth, for each year you indicate 0-10 if you were fat. My own fat history doesn't start until I'm about 34. But my dieting history, which I decided to also chart, starts much earlier. When I was 27, my partner at the time (we lived together) wanted me to be about 20 pounds thinner (I'm 5'10 and weighed 150). I got down to 132 and he thought I looked great. But I couldn't maintain it without starving and I gave it up. He never chided me as being fat but was wistful about my thinner days. For the next 15 years, I dieted off and on always with men in mind. When I wasn't seeing anybody, I'd diet to attract somebody. When I was seeing somebody, I'd diet to keep him. All this time, I weighed 155 or less.

When I met my second long-term partner in 1979, at age 33, I began to gain weight. We drank heavily together and ate out a lot. That'll do it. And gradually my weight increased to about 185 in the last years of my drinking.

After I got sober, I lost about 10 pounds of alcoholic bloat and kept it off for a year. But then I really got into sweets big time and I gained 10, lost 5, gained 10, lost 5, gained 20, lost 10, you know the drill. I never could sustain the weight loss and my therapist has suggested that weighing a lot of extra pounds keeps me safe from men. And I'm sure it does, because I'm sure no one will be interested in me with me weighing what I do. I'm so far from the culture's desirable norm of underweight women that it's not an issue.

If I'm honest with myself, now that I've given up sweets and lost the 25 pounds that would take off (my weight stabilized after 6 months) to what it's been the last year, weight loss is again about men. So it's not a coincidence that giving chronic concerns includes both weight loss and looking for a partner. They go together just the way I've been acculturated to think. That makes me sad.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Defining recovery

My friend LindyFox recently sent me her book on co-occurring disorders--those who have substance abuse issues and mental illness. Lindy is an expert in this field and I met her on the Hazelden national tour last year when we were both speakers. Her book is a training manual for therapists and I was just reading through the exercises. While I don't have a mental illness beyond addiction and the obsession and compulsion that go with it, many of the ideas struck me as highly useful. Here's one:

Early in the group process, participants are asked to define "recovery" for themselves and to set goals. I don't remember doing this in my treatment center in 1989. Maybe it was part of the first few days while I was in the alcohol poisoning fog, but I don't think so. And so I began thinking about how I would define recovery from my chronic concerns.

I know that when I gave up sugar 18 months ago, I wanted three things: to lose weight (and I did but not as much as I had hoped), to be free of guilt and shame around food (and I have been), and to be free of the fear that I was ruining my health (and I've stayed reasonably free of that as well). So while this wasn't a definition or a goal (the aspects of Lindy's program that are intriguing me), I did have desires.

Recovery from my chronic concerns would mean peace with myself. It would mean freedom from resentment of myself, as my friend Beth pointed out: all that resentment that we stuff down because we aren't perfect, we can't control our appetites, we struggle to "fix" our habits, whatever they may be. It's a constant battle and it seems to do me no good. So forgiveness of all those things would come into play, not just acceptance.

Recovery might also mean a lot of freed-up energy, the energy I spend worrying about things that don't change with worry, the negativity, the boring repetitiveness of all that concern. Recovery might mean something fresh and new could come into my life. It might mean exploring other more interesting and complex issues, both personal and global. This is beginning to intrigue me.

Friday, August 19, 2011

More thoughts on Dave Ellis's ideas

As I give up worrying about my chronic concerns, I have been thinking more about what I do want. Most of my concerns, I realize, focus on things I don't want: excess weight, anxiety, guilt, loneliness. Oh, I've dressed them in the guise of desire. I can rephrase it that I'd like to be thinner but I'm not sure I remember enough about what that feels like to imagine it again). Or I can say I want to be partnered but I don't have much to go on there either, never having had a really happy experience. And I think there's something off-kilter about these desires for absence, not presence. So I'm relooking at what I want from the Ellis perspective.

After you write a whole bunch of 3x5 cards with a want on each card (Dave suggests you do about 400!), you categorize them into A (want so much I'll do anything to get it), B (want enough to put in time and energy to get it), C (want it but won't commit much to get it but if it happened that would be great), and O (obligation: something I want because I should want it). So I spent time the other night, going through my Wnt cards (I've only got about 100 so far) and really thought about the categories.

This time if I let go of those wants that had to do with don't wants (weight, loneliness, guilt, etc.), I had many more Cs (great if it happened but not a project) and fewer As.

Here are the current A's:

1. Fully step into my life as a writer and painter.
2. Break the bond between watching TV and eating.
3. Come into a deeper resonance and understanding of myself as a woman (as opposed to a person).
4. Contribute to others healing from sugar addiction.
5. Get my novels out into the world.
6. Heal my back pain.
7. Be in touch each day with my passions.

The excitement and commitment I feel around these are much different from the lukewarm sense of resignation and pre-failure that I have about weight loss or finding a partner. And that feels good.



Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hard to get excited about chronic concerns

Last week, I shared some of the wisdom from the Dave Ellis workshop with a group of close friends and we started talking about what we want and how to get it. This is a familiar theme for our group and really only the scale of desires and the action technology is from Dave. So I didn't expect anything special to happen. But as I began explaining how I had used some of his technology to plan a project, one of the women interrupted me and said, "I picked an old concern, a chronic concern, and the thought of doing any of these actions on it makes me sick."

Of course, as readers of this blog you already know what her chronic concern was: weight loss. And guess what mine was? Weight loss! And her anger, not with me, of course, or with Dave Ellis, but just with life and her own choices so moved me that I started rethinking whether chronic concerns are really wants at all but rather shoulds.Some of us have been in this weight loss conversation for so long that we are just sick of it. And it's hard to get excited about a project to fix something you're sick of.

As I thought it about some more, I realized I was sick of all the same old projects: lose weight, get more flexible, find a partner, have more money in savings, reconcile with my deceased mother, cure myself of anxiety.

So thanks to Pam and her discomfort, I'm calling a halt to worrying about any of those things. I'm just going to practice being okay as I am. Don't get me wrong. I'm not going back on sugar. I plan to keep going to the gym and doing my PT exercises, and reading the Martha Beck book, which I think is truly revolutionary, and incorporating more meditation in my life. But I'm going to stop having problems for a while, at least the same old problems. I'm just going to focus on being happy.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A lovely version of the 12 steps for all of us

My good friend Beth Easter from Nashville shared with me this version of the 12 steps that she created for work with women in difficulty. Thank you, Beth!


1. We admit to fearful and chaotic conditions in our lives.

2. We dare to hope in a Source beyond self that can provide Good Orderly Direction.

3. We make a decision to let go of fear and surrender to Love.

4. We abandon our lens of fear and courageously enter and search the interior of

our lives.

5. We hold and share, openly and honestly, the contents of that self-search with Spirit

and another human being. We experience an authentic connection. Intimacy =

Into-me-see.

6. We open our self to Love’s transformation trusting that Spirit/ Love’s power can

shape and mold our character.

7. We invite and allow healing, bowing to Love’s design in our lives.

8. We become conscious and aware of persons harmed by our weaknesses and

become willing to make amends to them.

9. Made open, face-to-face amends to those persons whenever possible, mindful that

we not bring additional harm to others.

10. We continue to keep an inward eye recognizing our emotional errors and misguided

thinking, and we disclose these mistakes promptly.

11. Seeking through a continued exchange with the God of our understanding, we

improve our awareness of our contact with Spirit. We ask for the knowledge and

power to carryout Spirit's will in OUR lives.

12. The result of working these steps is a spiritual awakening. Our new way of

being and expressions of gratitude are a message of the reality of Love.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Moving from should to want

I'm still mulling over the wonderful wisdom from the Dave Ellis workshop last week. In one of the afternoon sessions, he talked about the importance of language and creating our world with the words we speak. This isn't a new idea to me. I've been in groups that have talked about this before. But it was a really good reminder and he pushed it a bit further.

It makes good sense to me that if I want to be free of burdens in my life, I could drop the following words from my vocabulary: must, have to, should, ought to, need to. These are especially deadly, Dave pointed out, when they are proceeded by "you" as no one wants to be told what to do. No one really even wants advice even when they ask for it directly. What they want is encouragement to solve their own problems.

Instead of using these words that lead to obligation and burden, Ellis suggests just using "want to" or its corollary "don't want to." Instead of feeling I should go to that high school reunion, I can want to or not want to. When I do things I want to, I have more energy, more lightness in my life. When I don't do things I don't want to do, I usually feel relief, another positive thing.

Ellis says it's okay to do some things we don't want to--like the dentist. That happens. But coating them in need or should isn't helpful. These are interesting ideas to me.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Lessons in desire and responsibility

I spent Wednesday and Thursday this week in an amazing workshop with the more than amazing Dave Ellis, author of Falling Awake. Dave primarily works with coaches and leaders but people are welcome to do his workshops for their own personal goals and intentions. I was straddling both worlds. While I don't work as a life coach, I do a lot of coaching in my groups and do work as creative coach for writers and artists. But I went to the workshop to get turbo-charged in my own life.

Dave offers a lot of concrete suggestions for how to manifest what you want and the first big task is to figure what you want. He uses a 3x5 card system to keep track of things and he gave us hundreds of them and encouraged us to write each desire on a card and to have about 400 desires. He said he figures about 1/4 of what we want will come to us and so it helps to want a lot. We can want things for ourselves, for our friends and family, for our world. And wanting is not a commitment to put in the time and energy to manifest those desires. That's something separate and that was good for me to hear.

Because at one point, I had to raise my hand and say that wanting good things for the world sends me straight into responsibility to fix it, to make it happen, and that just makes me tired. He laughed and said that in his view, we are responsible to do those things that we are passionate about, not those things that we are sorry about. And I began to feel that I might just be able to put down the guilt I feel about my privileged life and acknowledge those things I am passionate about as being enough of a challenge for this life.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A reminder of my past

My breakfast date didn't show up this morning and while I waited for her and decided if I was going to eat by myself or leave, I watched the other patrons. I like to do this sometimes to get ideas for characters for my fiction--the way people look, the physical mannerisms, quirks. At one point, I noticed the waitress go behind the bar and pull down a bottle of scotch. This is a breakfast and lunch place and most of those don't have a full bar but this place must serve bloody marys or drinks at lunch. She pored two shots of scotch in a tall water glass and then placed it front of a guy at the end of the bar.

He was an average-looking guy in his 30s and he wasn't alone. He and a male companion had been eating breakfast and drinking coffee and passing papers back and forth between them. But there was one glass of scotch, not a champagne toast. He downed it in two gulps, and then I noticed the suffering on his face, the unhealthy look of his skin, the slump to his shoulders, and I could feel his misery deep in my body.

I admired his willingness to ask for what he needed, a stiff drink to take the edge off, something I wouldn't have been able to do. I'd have gritted my teeth and then hurried home and canceled my day and drunk all I needed. I wondered what his companion thought, what he knew of his friend, and what he might say or not say.

I felt so glad to be sober, to be free of that misery, and I felt such empathy for that fellow.