Saturday, December 29, 2012

Finding it hard to be easy with myself

I'm on retreat this week in a favorite beautiful place. I come here twice a year to write and read and reflect, to move out of the quite busy life I keep going at home. In drawing tarot cards and angel cards the first night, I got contemplation and relaxation, words that aren't easy for me to hear, activities that aren't easy for me to step into.

I'm not good at nothing. Instead I'm good at doing too much with grace and productivity. I'm not only the product of a culture that rewards that, I'm the product of a family that admired that. I'm reluctant to hear those three little words: Take it easy. I know all the physical and mental health reasons why that is such a good idea, and yet something in me mightily resists, a brain that doesn't want to be idle, a body that often runs on free-floating anxiety.

My recent astrological reading was about completion, completing projects and phases so that something new can come. Most of the completion is done; I moved it along before I left home. Now I'm waiting, something I'm not so good at. I'd love to find some kind of dimmer/rheostat for my body and mind so that they didn't have to be full on or full off. Maybe that's what I'm here to learn.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Completing the seasonal exhale

I had an interesting conversation with a spiritual director yesterday. Jen is in training and I am a volunteer recipient of her practicing in spiritual direction. We have conversations once a month about the inner life.
We were talking about the solstice and the seasonal cycles, and Jen mentioned that if the year is a breath, the winter solstice is the end of the exhale. I liked that image, and we can began to talk about what things need completing and what things need releasing at this time.

Completion is of particular importance to me right now. I had my first big art show last weekend at the studio, the culmination of 6 months of recent painting and 10 years of earlier efforts. It also marked for me stepping into my painter self more fully. On the writing front, I am self-publishing my first novel next month and I just finished proofreading the final version and sent the changes off to the designer, who has already completed the cover. A smaller book, on creativity and recovery, is also nearing the end and I plan to publish it next month as well. Both books have been in my mind and heart for quite a while and it is nice to get them out.

On the letting go front, I'm ready to release several things. One is any sense of limitation on the creative front.  There's a lot I need and want to learn about painting and writing, but feeling incapable of doing so doesn't work any more. Second is wanting to release tenacity, holding on to things I don't need any more. Like limitations, like old fears and old stories, like needing to have too much to do in order to feel worthy.

I don't know exactly how the completion and releasing will play out next year but it feels good to set the intention and complete the seasonal exhale in that way.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The bliss of quiet

For the last four weeks, I've been subjected to roofer madness. The two-building complex where I live got a new roof. Not just new shingles but the roof built from the studs up and new gutters and new drain pipes and new eaves in places and new porch roofs and a new roof on my covered patio, which has leaked for the 18 years I've lived here.

It took a crew of 15-16 men  to tear off the old stuff and build the new stuff. There were three different crews: roofers (Hispanic), gutter guys (a grumpy old guy with several kids working for him), and two handsome Russian carpenters. Then there were a slew of supervisors and advisers and onlookers. They had hammers and compressors and nail guns and more hammers and tromping feet and loud voices over the noise of the hammers and compressors and nail guns. There was also something that sounded amazingly like a large dental drill.

I live at the far end of the courtyard, off the street. It's usually pretty quiet here, especially in the winter with the windows closed. But for four weeks, it's been bedlam most of the daylight hours. Many days the generators and compressors have racketed steadily for 8 hours. While I could have taken my laptop and worked elsewhere, I felt it important to stick around and reassure my three cats, two of whom were very frightened by the noise.

Yesterday morning, two guys came. I passed one of them on my way to drop off the recycle stuff. "We're done," he said. "Final clean-up." I wanted to hug him. I didn't, just smiled and thanked him. He and his crew have been very respectful and tidy and have done an amazing job. They've been pleasant and courteous and I'm so glad they're gone.

For two days now, it's been quiet. My jaw is starting to unclench and my shoulders to drop. Ah, the bliss of quiet!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Goldilocks and enough

I've been thinking lately about my relationship with enough. I'm taking an online class with teacher Wayne Muller on that very topic. When have we done enough so we can rest? When have we put together enough money for our future so we can stop worrying? When have we eaten enough so that we are satisfied?

I eat too much. I work too much. I'm anxious when I'm not doing either or both. Hard as I try, I can't seem to find a place where I feel it's enough. Or perhaps it's that the feeling of enough-ness doesn't last for more than a few minutes. That was a common pattern with my drinking. I'd be okay for a brief time and then I'd go into withdrawal and need another drink. I get that same antsy feeling with eating and working. Disconnected, wanting, and uncomfortable in the wanting.

I've always admired Goldilocks as a archetype. She seems to be pretty picky. Bed too soft, bed too hard.  But from another angle, she's pretty discriminating. She knows what she likes. She knows what's just right. I admire people who eat that way. People won't eat something just because it's there. "Not worth it," my sister will say and push away a restaurant meal after a few bites. She could send it back, order something else, but she doesn't. She's eaten enough. I've often wondered what enough feels like to her. I wonder how to recognize it in myself.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

When an introvert gives a party

Today is my annual holiday open  house. I invite just about everybody I know who is local to come to this event the first Sunday in December from 2-5 pm. I started doing this in the late 1970s when I invited my two French classes and other graduate students to come for a cookie exchange. The kids were always excited about coming and taking home a bunch of cookies. Then I began inviting faculty friends and people I knew from my part-time jobs. I made mulled wine and eggnog with bourbon from scratch. I never drank those (too sweet). I'd just have a never-empty bourbon on ice in a coffee mug. Oh the games we used to play.

Most of the years since then, I've held this annual event, the only big party I ever give. It's been an alcohol-free gathering since 1989 and a sugar-free gathering for about the last five years. I make a cranberry cider and ask folks to bring savory appetizers and no sweets. I've discovered you get a lot more interesting food if people can't bring cookies and brownies and fudge, the holiday standbys.

It's now 12:40 and I'm ready for the party. I have it all down to a routine of set-up and tear-down after so many years and I make the cider in advance. But it's about now each year that I wonder what I'm doing this for. As an introvert, I don't much care for a lot of noisy people invading my not terribly big space. I'm also a One on the Enneagram scale. We like tidy and orderly and parties are seldom that. So I feel trepidation and a desire to run away and put a "open house cancelled" on my door and go to a movie.

Then I remember that I'm blessed with lots of interesting people in my life, who will also bring other interesting people with them, and that in a big way, this party isn't for me but for all my friends to meet each other and make good and perhaps important connections. And it's an easy way for me to get together with acquaintances, those folks I know won't ever be close friends but I like them and want them to know that.

And I know how to take good care of myself. I went to the gym this morning and had a good workout. Then I went to the studio and painted for an hour and came back happy. We'll all have a better party now!

Friday, November 23, 2012

The November blues

In my part of the world (Portland, Oregon), we are entering the time of the very dark. We are a month from the winter solstice and two months from any substantial shift in the light. The sun comes up about 8 am and by 4 pm it's starting to get dark. And when it rains all day, like it did today and will do repeatedly throughout the winter, the sky is not ever very bright. In addition, above the 45th parallel (that invisible global line that marks half-way between north pole and equator), which is situated about 40 miles south of us, just north of the state capital of Salem, winter sun doesn't give us any measurable vitamin D that might enhance our mood.

I grew up here and I love the rain. It's what makes it so incredibly green and lush here and it's an important part of our climate. I also love the coziness of being inside when it's cold and darkish outside. But in November, it's always tough to adjust to the short days. And this year seems particularly difficult as we had a magical two months of dry sunny weather through September and October.

It took me a couple of weeks to remember that this always happens. That I want to sleep more than usual, that I feel like going to bed at 8:30 (it's already been dark 4 hours), that I don't want to get up when the alarm goes off, that I drag around a bit and wish I could open the windows (too cold, too wet) or go for a long walk without being plastic-coated.

I know it will pass. Not just the dark time of the year, but this adjustment period. That I will grow used to the long evenings and find ways to fill them. That I'll burn candles and keep the lights on. That I'll up my vitamin D intake and eat things that make my mood better. But for now, I just have to ride the November blues.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

letting meaning trump mood

If you're not a regular reader of my other blog, you might find tonight's post of interest: Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Identify theft

No, I didn't lose my wallet or have my credit card number pilfered. I'm talking about another woman giving me a bad name and not for the first time.

When I got ready to launch my website, a search showed that was already taken.

I already knew there were other Jill Kellys in the world. For several years in the 1980s, I was pestered by creditors wanting to repossess the car of Jill F. Kelly. Such communication was all done by phone in those days and month after month I'd get calls asking for money and threatening my credit, even though I was Jill B. Kelly and could prove it. The in the late 1990s, I was working for Oregon Health and Sciences University as a contract instructor. When my paycheck arrived one month, it was for nearly three times the usual pitiful amount. I noticed that it was made out to Jill R. Kelly. OHSU had two employees with the same name (and different jobs and different SS numbers and addresses). They were very embarrassed at the error.

I even found other books authored by Dr. Jill Kelly, one a fantasy novelist, the other an academic writing on religious history. Another Jill Kelly was a ghostwriter for country and western stars. So I knew I wasn't unique although I think I believed that for a long time.

Back to my website. was taken all right and by an apparently famous porn star. She appears in countless porn magazines and films, and you have to pay to get into her site so I haven't seen it.  In addition, a trucker in Arkansas is one of her biggest fans and has a Jill Kelly blog where he pours out his adoration. Jill Kelly isn't this woman's real name and hence my feeling of identify theft. But I can tell from her home page that my body parts are more real than hers.

Now there's Gilberte "Jill" Khawam Kelley, thoroughly mixed into the Petraeus scandal. She looks a bit more like me than the porn star, but Jill isn't her name either so my identity is again being taken over and my name, although not myself, dragged through the mud.

It's a good thing I'm not attached to it. :)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Slowing down--what a bitch!

I'm taking a Tai Chi/Qi Gong hybrid program called The 18 Therapies. These are a series of 18 shapes that you make with your body in a flowing motion. They are not stretches, though we are all tempted to make them be stretches for that's how we know to be with our bodies in slow motion. They aren't exercises exactly either as we don't move around much. We mostly stand there and move parts of our bodies. The very patient teacher, Patty, encourages us to give 70% to our efforts. This too is very countercultural as we are normally exhorted to give it "our all" each time we do something.

I had my second session today and it went much better than the first. While the movements aren't exactly complicated, they require a certain level of attention and coordination that I don't usually associate with movement. Yes, I am confessing that my gym routines are not a mindful practice. In fact, I purposefully go somewhere else in my head during the 30 minutes of treadmill work. During the 18 Therapies, you pay attention to your hand or shoulder or your breath, in fact, you hold all of that in quiet attentiveness. It is restful to do so when I can let myself.

Today I came in in a flurry. I'd been up for a long time already and had skipped going to the studio, which I wasn't happy about but it just seemed one more thing to cram in, because I had so much to do and I had done quite a lot by the time I got there and I had quite a lot left to do (in fact, too much as I've said yes to too many clients in the same time frame) and I crammed in going to the credit union and mailing a package on my way to class and I was practically breathless with hurry.

And I thought about how some years ago, I took on never being in hurry again and wondered when that disappeared and how I could get it back.

As I left the 18 Therapies session, Patty encouraged us not to rush off but to move slowly back into the day and while that sounded so good, I didn't. Hmmmm. What's up with me?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fat women, fat clothes

I've been thinking about clothes lately. I'm in no sense a fashionista and all my friends will tell you I mostly wear black clothes that are loose and a bit large. While I choose black in part because I believe it makes me look marginally thinner, I mostly wear black because I'm a chronically sloppy person whose ink pen will die or her latte explode or she'll spill soup down her front and the black covers up more of those stains than lighter colors. And I wear fairly shapeless clothes that are a little too large because I can't stand anything tight. I began wearing elastic waist pants when I was in my 20s and still very thin. I hated jeans (too thick, too tight), I hated the confinement of belts, I hated the itch of tight sweaters even when my breasts were enviable.

So as I've gained weight over the last 15 years, my clothes haven't changed all that much. I like cotton knits, I like soft fabrics, I like things that don't make me sweat (I abhor most synthetics).

But do I dress this way because I'm fat?

I've noticed over the last months, especially over the summer, that a lot of somewhat younger (30-50) fat women are wearing very tight clothing. They wear tight jeans, tight shorts, tight layered thin T-shirts. Their fat thighs show, their belly rolls show, their breasts are barely contained in their bras. I don't know if this is a defiant fashion statement (these are the same kinds of clothes worn by younger, thinner women and appear in the store displays) or whether they had these size 10 clothes and when they got to be a size 20, they just went on wearing them.

I wonder if men find these women sexually attractive with everything on display.I went through a brief period in my 30s of wearing somewhat provocative clothing (low-cut tops). I was thin or at what the culture defines as a good weight. In addition, it was a period of high sexual activity for me and when I met my next steady boyfriend, most of that display disappeared, so maybe that's why they wear it. But I don't find it any more attractive on them as I would on me.

I guess what I'm really wondering is what's a good look for a fat woman. My friend Jan is heavier than she'd like to be and she wears beautiful clothes: suits, jackets, sweaters. But it's all hot and heavy and doesn't appeal to me. She's also a public speaker and dresses up for work. My cats and my computer could care less what I wear.

I'm glad there are real options, catalogs and online shops like Land's End and Ulla Popken, who make what I think are attractive clothes for those of us who are obese. But somehow I can't let go of the image of Sarah Ferguson, the former princess, who became a spokesperson for Weight Watchers and took off her loose comfortable dress to show us the skinny body in the slinky wrap skirt. Is that what I'm supposed to aspire to--something tight and clingy?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Can't vs. won't

Two recent experiences have given me a different perspective on some of my conversations about habits and desires.

First, I've been working with a coaching client who is struggling to develop a strong writing practice even though he expresses a serious desire to write and publish a novel. He is not a novice writer but has been away from writing for more than a decade raising and supporting a family. Instead of clearing space in his calendar for the writing, he finds himself working more than ever, taking on additional responsibilities within his community, and enrolling in a full-time graduate program that is not related to his creative writing. He's aware of the self-sabotage that's going on although he has very logical rationalizations for his choices. But each new activity provides him with reasons why he can't get any writing done.

Second, I met a couple of weeks ago with my buddy Lily. We are each making some small daily changes to our routines for health and weight loss. I was talking to her and it suddenly occurred to me that I needed to confess a lack of integrity. That for all my talk about wanting to lose weight, I wasn't really making any serious changes. Yes, I was walking an extra 3-4 miles a week; yes, I was using a smaller plate; yes, I was drinking more water. But I wasn't eating less. I wasn't cheating on my food plan because I didn't have a plan.  But I wasn't eating any less or any differently.

And I began to think about how often I say I can't seem to lose any weight and how it sounds an awful lot like my client who says he can't find time to write. I know that my client really means he "won't." Perhaps both in the sense of "will not" and "doesn't want to." If he doesn't write, he can't publish, and if he can't publish, he can't fail.

And me. I don't really know if I can't lose weight (like a metabolic thing). All I can say for sure is that I don't lose any, although I say I want to, and yet I don't want to change what I'm doing. I want to continue to eat what and when I want. I don't want to diet. I just want the weight to go away.

It's an interesting place to sit, this idea of can't vs. won't.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Autumn and my drainers

Every fall I get a burst of energy. It may come from knowing the threat of heat from the summer is past (summer is my least favorite season) or it may come from many decades of being a teacher and having September be the first of the year. Maybe some of it is just inherently human or human from the North. The urge to create a winter nest, to put food away for the winter, to plan for survival. While I live in the temperate climate of western Oregon and have never canned in my life, I still feel an urge to make everything tidy for the coming dark. And that includes attending to my drainers.

I got the idea and the word from Cheryl Richardson. Drainers are those little things around the house that nag at us. They drain energy each time we see them and think "I need to take care of that," whatever that might be.

Here is a list of my drainers:
Wax the car
Repair the seat cushion that has come undone from the ties that secure it to the chair.
Move the cooling fans to the basement
Clean out the refrigerator
Take my winter coat to the cleaners
Get new gloves
Fix the broken switch on the bedside light
Get the front door knob fixed
Repaint the kitchen
Get a flu shot
Figure out what is wrong with the scanning feature on my printer
Figure out how to get more oomph out of my wifi

I'm happy to report that almost all of these are done. I'm waiting on an estimate for the kitchen painting and I can't seem to fix the door knob hard as I try so I'll need help with that one. But every day I've tackled one and I'm feeling very ready for the change in season.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The German chocolate cake experiment

Tuesday night I went up to visit my sister and help her celebrate her birthday. As a gift, she'd wanted us to bring a German chocolate cake from Jaciva's, a local bakery. Cakes from Jaciva's have been a staple of family birthdays for years. I gave it some considerable thought and then decided to treat myself to a piece.

If you've been following my blog, you know that I own up to an addiction to sugar that may well have preceded my addiction to alcohol and that on Valentine's Day 2010 I swore off desserts and sweet treats. So I had to have a serious conversation with myself about this new decision. I had not been craving sweets or missing chocolate. I didn't feel that I was on the slippery slope to relapse. I felt confident I could say no if it came down to it. But sharing in the birthday festivities, including cake, I had missed.

We had a very nice dinner out and I ate lightly (soup and salad). Then we went back to her house and changed into our pajamas and had cake. I had a moderate piece, not a tiny sliver but not the large size I would have taken before.

Here's what happened:

  • I ate 3 bites and I had had enough.
  • I finished the piece of cake anyway, enjoying it less and less.
  • I didn't enjoy the chocolate pieces that decorated it--this is excellent chocolate but it still didn't taste good to me. 
  • The cake was pretty good but not fabulous.
  • I most enjoyed the feeling of the frosting smooshing around in my mouth. I don't eat things that have that creamy texture very often. I miss that.
  • After about 45 minutes, I felt yucky, not only too full but buzzing from the sugar and slightly sick.
I haven't spent any time analyzing this. I just feel grateful that it wasn't much fun and I don't really want to do that again.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Poetry therapy

I had a wonderful experience this past weekend. For a number of years, I've been recommending John Fox's books, Finding What You Didn't Lose and Poetic Medicine, to people interested in writing poetry for self-exploration and understanding. Early last week, I found John was coming to Portland to offer a workshop for the weekend and I signed right up. Sometimes it is just so clear what we need to do and considerations of time and money are immaterial.

I wrote some wonderful poems, heard some great poems, met a whole new family of writers. And I learned a lot about what John does at the Institute of Poetic Medicine ( This nonprofit funds the work of writers all over who work to alleviate suffering and isolation through poetry writing programs in schools, prisons, nursing homes, hospitals, and other community gatherings.

I was struck by the simple complexity of these efforts, of our listenings, of our being together, through self-expression. So powerful!

Here's the first poem I wrote in the workshop (for another, see my writing blog at

And what if my words
carry the key to my feelings
in the breast pocket
of the charcoal pinstripe suit
they only wear to funerals
and high-holiday gatherings?
And what if the key opens
the floodgate of tremors and tears
in torrents?
And what if I used the key proffered
by a preposition or an adverb,
heedless, unconcerned, feather-light
on the tongue, salve to the ear,
Tinkering in uninhibited flux
of a trapeze crisscrossing
the high wire of my heart?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Stepping into small responsibilities

When my mother died in 1997, my father vowed to honor her memory by making someone smile every day. He lived another 8 years and when I last checked with him a few weeks before his rather sudden death, he had lived into that vow.

My father never saw saving the world as his responsibility. I knew him as a man of considerable integrity who treated employees generously and fairly and loved his family deeply and lived his life providing a good home and college education for his four kids. He was a man who grew kinder and more liberal as he aged but he didn't take on big causes.

I thought of him this morning when I came across a sentence scribbled into my creativity notebook.

I've had any number of conversations with friends about our nagging guilt about not solving the world's problems.The guilt comes, for my part anyway, from living a very privileged life. I am American, white, highly educated, skilled, have enough money, a comfortable home, more than enough of everything and way more than most people on the planet. Surely, all that abundance comes with big responsibilities to take care of others. Yet I am also introverted, need a lot of solitude, and smart enough to know that our global problems are just that: global. It will take more than me and more than a village to fix them. So I am learning to be content to make the efforts I can.

And then I found this quote: "The purpose of life is to help others live slightly less hard lives." What an amazing purpose to have for one's life! That means that my contributing to the food bank and the humane society, my volunteering, my voting, my petting of stray cats--it all adds up to helping others live slightly less hard lives. A responsibility I can easily step into.

Like my dad with his smiles.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

a very thoughtful commentary

This is from How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, a very funny and insightful memoir by a British woman.  It was sent to me by my good friend Pam Stringer. Enjoy!

Why is being fat treated as a cross between terrible shame and utter tragedy? Something that—for a woman—is treated as somewhere in between sustaining a sizable facial scar and sleeping with the Nazis? Why will women happy boast-moan about spending too much…drinking too much…and working too hard…but never, ever about eating too much? Why is unhappy eating the most pointlessly secret—it’s not like you can hide a six-KitKats-a-day habit for very long—of miseries?

There’s a pecking order of unhappiness. The heroin addicts look down on the coke addicts. The coke addicts look down on the alcoholics. And everyone thinks the people with eating disorders—fat or thin—are scum. Of all the overwhelming compulsions you can be ruined by, all of them have some potential for some perverted, self-destructive fascination—except eating.

Overeating, or comfort eating, is the cheap, meek option for self-satisfaction, and self-obliteration. You get all the temporary release of drinking, fucking, or taking drugs, but without—and I think this is the important bit—ever being left in a state where you can’t remain responsible and cogent. In a nutshell, then by choosing food as your drug—sugar highs, or the deep soporific calm of carbs, the Valium of the working classes—you can still make the packed lunches, do the school run, look after the baby, pop in on your mum, and then stay up all night with an ill five-year-old—something that is not an option if you’re caning off a gigantic bag of skunk or regularly climbing into the cupboard under the stairs and knocking back quarts of Scotch.

Overeating is the addiction of choice of carers, and that’s why it’s come to be regarded as the lowest-ranking of all the addictions. It’s a way of fucking yourself up while still remaining fully functional, because you have to. Fat people aren’t indulging in the “luxury” of their addiction making them useless, chaotic, or a burden. Instead, they are slowly self-destructing in a way that doesn’t inconvenience anyone. And that’s why it’s so often a woman’s addiction of choice. All the quietly eating mums. All the KitKats in office drawers. All the unhappy moments, late at night, caught only in the fridge light.

I sometimes wonder if the only way we’ll ever get around to properly considering overeating is if it does come to take on the same perverse rock ‘n’ roll cool of other addictions. Perhaps it’s time for women to finally stop being secretive about their vices and start treating them like all other addicts treat their habits instead. Coming into the office looking rattled, sighing, “Man, I was on the shepherd’s pie last night like you wouldn’t believe. I had, like MASH in my EYEBROWS by 10 p.m. I was on a total mince rush!”

23 years

Today is my sobriety anniversary. 23 years since I last picked up a drink. 8,395 days one at a time.

It's an astonishing amount of time for someone who was a daily drinker, who could not go more than 4 hours without a drink, who was drunk all day every day for months at a time.

In some ways, it seems like that life happened to another person. In other ways, I am so conscious of that struggling part of myself, who comes back around from time to time with questions and concerns.

AA saved my life, saved my sanity, perhaps saved my soul. I am inexpressibly thankful for the life I have now, one I could never have imagined in those early days. I am full of gratitude today.

If you are struggling to stay sober when you read this, hang in there. It is so worth it!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Missing feelings, not flavors

Today is the 11th day free of my beloved banana Popsicles. On Labor Day, I was able to eat the last ones and make a commitment to not purchasing or eating any until Oct 1 or beyond. So far it hasn't been bad. I was away for 5 days with family and we ate well and healthy and I just didn't need them. Home again, I've been able to eat other, healthier snacks when needed and go without snacks some of the time.

I enjoyed them but I was being to eat them really mindlessly so maybe it's not surprising that I don't miss the taste of them. But I do miss the idea of them and the way that idea made me feel. That may sound funny, to crave an idea or a feeling but I do.

When I would come back from the store with a half-dozen boxes of Frut Stix, I would feel very secure, very happy, and almost excited. I had plenty. I wasn't going to run out, I could eat all I wanted, I was safe and satisfaction was waiting for me right there in the freezer.

There's a distinct experience of anxiety for me when I don't have what I need and enough of it. And a feeling of contentment when I do. I had that sense of contentment and enough-ness when I had enough alcohol, especially on a Friday night. Or after I got sober, when I had enough chocolate or enough ice cream or enough sweets. Or lately enough banana Frut Stix.

I miss that sense of contentment, of anticipation of satisfaction, of enough-ness. It's Friday night and I just have to be with not having that. I feel very sad.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Taking the leap--or at least one leap

Monday I ate my last banana popsicles. Over the weekend I became ready to let them go and decided I would abstain from buying and eating them until October 1. It seems a good incremental leap to make as it's the one food that is driving the addictive part of overeating for me.

Changing my eating habits and preferences are not as simple as abstaining from one particular food or even a group of foods like dessert. I have learned over these years to eat more than I need, to prefer feeling stuffed to having just enough, to eat an overabundance of carbs, to dislike being hungry, to deal with anxiety by feeding myself, to couple relaxing with TV or a novel with food.

I don't expect all of these habits of mind and body to resolve themselves by deciding to not eat Frut Stix obsessively. But it's a start. And it's the most obviously troublesome symptom. So I'm starting there.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Expanding my use of the Serenity Prayer

I had a good conversation with a close friend this week about the changes I'm embarking on and my fears and hesitations around doing so. In the course of our discussion, Meredith suggested that I began to look for some novel avenues of satisfaction, specifically around pleasure, love, and joy, as these are things that I am still looking to food to satisfy.

While the idea wasn't surprising to me, what did come up unexpectedly were thoughts about the Serenity Prayer. And I realized that I've always thought about those "things"--accept the things we cannot change, change the things we can, and know the difference--as being about problems. Some problems we can fix, some we can't, sort it out.

I had not thought about it as also talking about possibilities, that the things we can change can be how we do things, how we relate to self and others, how we get happy. That it can be about what we want, not just what we don't want.

So I'm embarking on a quest to find new sources of satisfaction for myself, to see what else I can change. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Waiting to change: Willing to be willing or jump?

I told my therapist this week that I was praying to be willing to be willing to take the next step in my relationship with food. She thought a moment and then wondered aloud whether it was necessary to be willing or whether one could just jump? She went on to say that neither was better, just different ways of going about it.

I had thought that when I wrote the last couple of blogs that I was ready to let my current addiction focus go. But I have continued to buy and eat FrutStix although at a reduced pace. So I've been waiting to be ready.

Anna and I talked at length about what I'm waiting for. Out of the discussion and my thinking about since then have come these ideas: I'm waiting for it to be easy. I'm waiting for it to not hurt. I'm waiting to know exactly how to do something I don't know how to do. None of these things have much to do with willingness. They have to do with fear. Or conversely, they have to do with courage.

I'm not talking about a diet or abstaining from some other particular foods. I'm talking about giving up going numb. Not using food or work or Netflix or novels to save me from myself.

What I feel lies ahead is an abyss, a sort of black hole, a midnight-inky desert of monsters and pain. The overeating and overworking and over-watching and over-reading keep me in the borderlands. Anna is encouraging me to find the courage and the resolve to set out on the journey into and through this part of myself. So that I can come out the other side.

I'm finding it hard to do that without knowing in advance what lies on that other side.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

All the money I've spent on addiction

In preparation for next week's Women and Money group, I've been updating my financial assets. I try to be dispassionate about money and how about much I have and if there will be enough for a graceful old age should I live that long, and I got to thinking about how much money my addictions have cost me over the years.

I spent most of my allowance on candy until I left home. I spent most of my discretionary income on sweets in early adulthood and then on alcohol. I liked to eat out and drink good wine and I spent a lot of money that way. And while I was a conscientious employee and a hard-worker, my drinking also kept me in low-paying jobs as they were often easier to drink around. Even as a college professor, I was too desperate to find work and took a very low-paying first job, not realizing that all my subsequent teaching salaries would be based on increments of that low rate.

But the biggest financial drain was the alcohol itself. I had early developed a taste for good wine and good bourbon and I found the money to drink good stuff, telling myself it would create less of a hangover. And maybe in the beginning it did. But I was probably spending $20 a day for a lot of years.

Then after I got sober, I spent not quite as much but still a lot on sweets again. I liked gourmet chocolates and expensive ice creams and I consumed a lot. I don't eat desserts now but I still buy lots of food, more than I can eat. Interesting to see what all lies underneath that.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Desire and happiness vs. craving

"Although desires can be remarkably stubborn, they share a goal—happiness—and this can form the common ground for an effective dialogue: If a desire doesn’t really produce happiness, it contradicts its reason for being."  - Thanissaro Bhikkhu, "Pushing the Limits"
This quote came across my desk this morning and I realized that for me, this is talking about addictive craving . When I am in craving, it feels like desire. If I can just eat that, I will be happy. But that isn't what happens. All that happens is that if I eat enough of whatever it is (or drink or shop or work), the craving goes away. And the absence of craving is not happiness. It does have a peaceful aspect to it. I am less agitated, less anxious, less restless, less crazy. But I am not happy even though I tell myself I will be.

I admire people who are easily satisfied. One piece of chocolate, one drink, one movie, one book, one new shirt. That has so seldom been true for me. I don't necessarily want more of everything but if it's good, if it tastes good or feels good, I can't seem to get enough. I can't seem to get satisfied. I eat a good lunch and I am still wanting something. I have a nice evening with friends and I am still wanting something.

It is helpful for me to consider whether an impulse or a feeling is a desire or a craving. I desire to sell my novel to a publishing house. I would really like that. It would give me a sense of deep satisfaction. That's a different feeling in my heart and my body from the one that says eat banana popsicles right now and eat a lot of them. Interesting to observe.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Another sober truth that I don't want to admit

On February 14, 2010, I stopped eating desserts: candy, cake, ice cream, pudding, cookies, scones, muffins, waffles, pancakes, anything that is basically a sweet treat. Since then, I've had occasional treats of low-sugar granola or nut bars and all fruit popsicles. And I can no longer deny that over the last several months, the popsicles have gotten out of hand.

I've gone from 1-2 a day of my favorite to a box of 4 a day to 2 boxes a day to 3 boxes a day. I feel uneasy if I don't have a good supply. I eat them whether I'm hungry or not. I mostly don't taste them; I'm just looking to get sated in some way. The ones I'm fixated on are non-fat, low-sugar and made with with clean ingredients and not many calories. But when I'm eating a dozen a day, the sugar adds up, the calories add up, the pounds add up, and the nagging gets louder that I'm back in addiction.

This is not something I realized just today. I admitted the creeping problem last week at my Women and Food group. The old need to have a stash to feel secure. But I didn't want to give it up and so all week I just ate however many I wanted. The old last hurrah!

But yesterday, when I put on first one new shirt and then a second and they were both tight in an unfriendly way, I knew all those bars were settling down to stay. The scale confirmed it this morning. And I am getting myself ready to grieve the loss of this soother, getting ready to be uncomfortable again. Such a process of letting go.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The unhelpful rules we live by

My good friend Sue and I have been having a conversation about the unhelpful rules we live by, those rules or beliefs that we either learned from a parent or teacher or through our own experience. Most of mine are the kind of survival tactics that worked once upon a time but that make poor companions on life's journey.

Here are some of mine:

Keep your feelings to yourself. No one wants to know you're unhappy or scared.
Life is not about happiness. Happiness is selfish.
Be loyal no matter what.
Figure out the rules fast.
Men can't be trusted.
Don't risk too much. Stay with what you can do well.
Duty/work comes first. Play only if there's time later.
Play should be meaningful, helpful, or a learning experience.
Always look like you know what you are doing.
Pay attention to everything; it is the only to be safe.
Another version: Be really careful about everything. Mistakes are a big problem.

What unhelpful rules are you living under?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Holding our dreams loosely

A friend of mine is going through a really hard time. A lot of old sadness and anger refuses to be pushed down any longer and she is feeling a lot of tough emotions. Part of the issue for her is that she has had, so she says, quite specific dreams and desires about her life and that's not what has transpired. She is angry about putting in so much effort towards those specifics and coming up empty-handed.

Listening to her talk about this last night got me thinking about my own life. My dreams have never been very specific. I wanted to experience a lot of different things. I wanted to work in different kinds of businesses. I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to have romance. I wanted to travel. I did some of all of that. Doing some of it I was happy. Doing some of it I wasn't.

Travel was interesting but often lonely and tiring. I now know that vacation to me is more about being with friends in a beautiful place and sharing creative ideas. Romance was thrilling, even more so when I was having an affair with somebody unavailable or I was the unavailable one. But in the end I didn't choose men very wisely and have ended up alone now for many years, a healthier choice for me. Sometimes I'm sad about that, sometimes I'm not. I was a college professor for 16 years but I was relieved to get out from under the politics of that institution 18 years ago and I'm much happier teaching writing in non-academic settings and editing people's books.

I often say at meetings that I have a life today I could never have imagined for myself. And thank the Higher Power that's true. My own imaginings were far more limited. I have a studio where I do art 3-4 mornings a week. I'm writing books that people enjoy reading. I have a lot of artist and writer friends who share my enthusiasm for the creative adventure.I have many people who care about me and good relationships with my family after years of distance. Most importantly, I'm sober and healing. It has served me well to have general dreams, and to hold those dreams loosely.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Close encounters of the chocolate kind

I'm just back from my annual 4th of July writing retreat on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle. Typically, once I arrive, I just stay at the retreat center. I do have a couple of friends on the island and I try to see them before the retreat begins. This year it worked best to see my friend Barbara Joy on Sunday, mid-retreat, and so I left the property and met her for a great Thai lunch. Then I went into town and shopped. Several retreat participants needed things (toothpaste, bananas, eggs) and I was glad to do it.

Next to the grocery store is a wonderful drugstore/emporium where I often find nice gifts and journals. It is also a depot/warehouse/repository of dozens of kinds of gourmet chocolate bars.

I need to own up here to the fact that I started thinking about getting a chocolate bar while I was still having lunch with Barbara Joy. What's more, I didn't mention it to her, which would have been the healthy thing to do. Own my craving, dissipate it. Instead I nurtured it.

Thinking about chocolate isn't really common for me any more. If I were going to break my abstinence from sweet treats, that wouldn't be my first choice. And when I went abstinent two and a half years ago, I thought I would really miss chocolate but I haven't, not in the way I miss ice cream or pie or almost anything with whipped cream.

But Sunday I fell into really wanting and scheming and deciding about having a big chocolate bar. I thought about it in the five-minute drive to the stores. I thought about it while I grocery shopped. I thought about it while I was in the drugstore.

There is a quality to such intense desire and planning that is so different from a fleeting thought like "Would love a chocolate bar. Too bad. Don't do that anymore." I even went so far as to wonder if sugar was really a problem for me. And that's when I came to my senses. Yes, sugar is a real problem for me. I can go ahead and get the chocolate bar, but I can't pretend it isn't a relapse.

And so I bought a gift for a friend and a new wonderful tablecloth for my dining table and walked right on by the chocolate bars. By the time I got back to the retreat, the craving was gone and hasn't returned. But it was close encounter, and that intensity reminds me my relationship with sugar isn't casual.

Friday, July 6, 2012

An important essay

Thanks to my good friend Tamara for forwarding this to me.

 If you live in America in the 21st century you've probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It's become the default response when you ask anyone how they're doing: "Busy!" "So busy." "Crazy busy." It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: "That's a good problem to have," or "Better than the opposite."
Notice it isn't generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs  who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It's almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they've taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they've "encouraged" their kids to participate in. They're busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they're addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.

Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren't either working or doing something to promote their work. They schedule in time with friends the way students with 4.0 G.P.A.'s  make sure to sign up for community service because it looks good on their college applications. I recently wrote a friend to ask if he wanted to do something this week, and he answered that he didn't have a lot of time but if something was going on to let him know and maybe he could ditch work for a few hours. I wanted to clarify that my question had not been a preliminary heads-up to some future invitation; this
 was the invitation. But his busyness was like some vast churning noise through which he was shouting out at me, and I gave up trying to shout back over it.
Even children are busy now, scheduled down to the half-hour with classes and extracurricular activities. They come home at the end of the day as tired as grown-ups. I was a member of the latchkey generation and had three hours of totally unstructured, largely unsupervised time every afternoon, time I used to do everything from surfing the World Book Encyclopedia to making animated films to getting together with friends in the woods to chuck dirt clods directly into one another's eyes, all of which provided me with important skills and insights that remain valuable to this day. Those free hours became the model for how I wanted to live the rest of my life.
The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it's something we've chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it. Not long ago I  Skyped with a friend who was driven out of the city by high rent and now has an artist's residency in a small town in the south of France. She described herself as happy and relaxed for the first time in years. She still gets her work done, but it doesn't consume her entire day and brain. She says it feels like college - she has a big circle of friends who all go out to the cafe together every night. She has a boyfriend again. (She once ruefully summarized dating in New York: "Everyone's too busy and everyone thinks they can do better.") What she had mistakenly assumed was her personality - driven, cranky, anxious and sad - turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment. It's not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school - it's something we collectively force one another to do.
Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day. I once knew a woman who interned at a magazine where she wasn't allowed to take lunch hours out, lest she be urgently needed for some reason. This was an entertainment magazine whose raison d'ĂȘtre was obviated when "menu" buttons appeared on remotes, so it's hard to see this pretense of indispensability as anything other than a form of institutional self-delusion. More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn't performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I'm not sure I believe it's necessary. I can't help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn't a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn't matter.
I am not busy. I am the laziest ambitious person I know. Like most writers, I feel like a reprobate who does not deserve to live on any day that I do not write, but I also feel that four or five hours is enough to earn my stay on the planet for one more day. On the best ordinary days of my life, I write in the morning, go for a long bike ride and run errands in the afternoon, and in the evening I see friends, read or watch a movie. This, it seems to me, is a sane and pleasant pace for a day. And if you call me up and ask whether I won't maybe blow off work and check out the new American Wing at the Met or ogle girls in Central Park or just drink chilled pink minty cocktails all day long, I will say, what time?
But just in the last few months, I've insidiously started, because of professional obligations, to become busy. For the first time I was able to tell people, with a straight face, that I was "too busy" to do this or that thing they wanted me to do. I could see why people enjoy this complaint; it makes you feel important, sought-after and put-upon. Except that I hate actually being busy. Every morning my in-box was full of e-mails asking me to do things I did not want to do or presenting me with problems that I now had to solve. It got more and more intolerable until finally I fled town to the Undisclosed Location from which I'm writing this.
Here I am largely unmolested by obligations. There is no TV. To check e-mail I have to drive to the library. I go a week at a time without seeing anyone I know. I've remembered about buttercups, stink bugs and the stars. I read. And I'm finally getting some real writing done for the first time in months. It's hard to find anything to say about life without immersing yourself in the world, but it's also just about impossible to figure out what it might be, or how best to say it, without getting the hell out of it again.
Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration - it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done. "Idle dreaming is often of the essence of what we do," wrote Thomas Pynchon in his essay on sloth. Archimedes' "Eureka" in the bath, Newton's apple, Jekyll & Hyde and the benzene ring: history is full of stories of inspirations that come in idle moments and dreams. It almost makes you wonder whether loafers, goldbricks and no-accounts aren't responsible for more of the world's great ideas, inventions and masterpieces than the hardworking.
"The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play. That's why we have to destroy the present politico-economic system." This may sound like the pronouncement of some bong-smoking anarchist, but it was actually Arthur C. Clarke, who found time between scuba diving and pinball games to write "Childhood's End" and think up communications satellites. My old colleague Ted Rall recently wrote a column proposing that we divorce income from work and give each citizen a guaranteed paycheck, which sounds like the kind of lunatic notion that'll be considered a basic human right in about a century, like abolition, universal suffrage and eight-hour workdays. The Puritans turned work into a virtue, evidently forgetting that God invented it as a punishment.
Perhaps the world would soon slide to ruin if everyone behaved as I do. But I would suggest that an ideal human life lies somewhere between my own defiant indolence and the rest of the world's endless frenetic hustle. My role is just to be a bad influence, the kid standing outside the classroom window making faces at you at your desk, urging you to just this once make some excuse and get out of there, come outside and play. My own resolute idleness has mostly been a luxury rather than a virtue, but I did make a conscious decision, a long time ago, to choose time over money, since I've always understood that the best investment of my limited time on earth was to spend it with people I love. I suppose it's possible I'll lie on my deathbed regretting that I didn't work harder and say everything I had to say, but I think what I'll really wish is that I could have one more beer with Chris, another long talk with Megan, one last good hard laugh with Boyd. Life is too short to be busy.
Tim Kreider is the author of "We Learn Nothing," a collection of essays and cartoons. His cartoon, "The Pain - When Will It End?" has been collected in three books by Fantagraphics.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Helpful information about calories

The link above is to an opinion blog in the New York Times reporting on a recent study that showed that all calories are not created equal. In addition to the idea of "empty" calories, those with little or no nutritional value, there is information about how we use calories differently. The study examined people eating the same number of calories but on three different plans: high-carb/low-fat; Atkins (no carbs to speak of and high fat and protein); and a more rounded diet but with low-glycemic carbs. I think you'll find the discussion interesting. 

At the same time, it's easy to be overwhelmed with all the information out there and I'm particularly drawn to some of the experts who encourage us to try things out and see how we feel in our bodies. It is so tempting to give up our decision-making and just jump on something restrictive (with immediate weight loss) rather than considering if we can actually eat Paleo forever or whether a moderate diet of many kinds of healthy foods might just work well. 

And those of us who have addictions to certain foods and how they make us feel (or help us not feel) have additional things to consider. Two bites of dessert may work for some people. It's not going to work for me. On the other hand, I'm not desperately attached to pasta or bread or crackers so maybe I can have a sandwich once in a while. 

I discussed this with my physician yesterday at my annual physical and she said something that makes good sense to me. "We need to go back," she said, "to seeing sugar and white flour as treats. True treats. Once-in-a-great-while treats. Not as everyday foods." Maybe with some of these things I can do that. Sugar? No. But refined carbs? Maybe.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Being stuck and getting unstuck

When I saw my therapist this week, I launched into a description of an unsatisfying get-together I had recently been to. She listened patiently as always, and then tried to move me into a new direction. I say "tried to" because it took some effort for me to let go of my resistance to changing. I wanted everyone else to change. Not only to accommodate me but to know what I needed without my asking. Sound familiar?

She talked about moving towards something I want, a way I want to be, and not remaining in an old, familiar place. Before too long, I recognized my resistance. In fact, I suggested that Anna's notes about our sessions must read like this: "Didn't get it. She still doesn't get it. No progress. She's still stuck." We both had a good laugh and I wrote down the following question for myself: "Being stuck. Do I still need more practice at that?"

And while the concept of "acting as if" isn't new to me, the idea of stepping into some other way of being felt very hard until I thought about something I've been doing in my creative work. When I hit a place in my novel or when I'm painting where I don't know what I'm doing (and that happens a lot), I ask myself this question: If I did know what I was doing, what would I do? And then I act on the idea that comes (or one of them if several come).

So if I did know how to be more comfortable in a group where my needs weren't being met, how would I be  and what would I do? And curiosity began to open up. Much more pleasant than being stuck.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The leap from information to action

More and more information is being published about the ruinous effects of our over-sugared, over-carbohydrated lifestyle. We eat too many carbs, many of us way too many, and we're fat and in poor health because of it. It makes perfect sense.

And yet part of me is sad that it makes so much sense. I've been loosely monitoring how many carbs I consume (even with no wheat) and it's certainly at or above the currently recommended 200 grams per day. Oatmeal and fruit for breakfast, potatoes or rice with meat and veggies for lunch and dinner, a low-fat energy bar with crisped rice in the afternoon or some unbuttered popcorn or any of the myriad things that I'm used to eating on a low-fat diet. It doesn't take very much of these things to add up to 200. And then if I add in the bits of sugar that appears in every bottled sauce or dressing and the juice that goes in my smoothie and the sugar in the nonfat yogurt I like and I'm over the top.

The sadness for me lies in the fact that even the 200 a day is probably way more than I can eat if I want to lose weight and be healthier. And so I'm sad at yet more change, more vigilance. Sad at the thought of giving up the low-fat, low-sugar popsicles I've come to love and baked beans and baked potatoes and rice with Thai food. I won't move off these things all at once. It's just wheat this month. Maybe rice next. So I'm not leaping from information to action but rather strolling. But it still makes me sad.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Getting off wheat--a week later

It's been a week since I set my intention to move off wheat. I ate the last two toaster waffles and then the favorite frozen ravioli from Trader Joe's with a pang of regret. I threw out the pasta (three open packages--what's that about?) and wondered what I'd do with my friend Mel's fabulous tomato sauce in the cupboard. I let the rye bread in the fridge go stale and tossed it too. I discovered that the crackers in the cupboard, while still high in carbs, have no wheat so I kept them for now. I set some unopened wheat items aside for the next food drive.

With some minimal guilt, I ate a tortilla when Beth and I had Mexican food but I decided afterwards that I wasn't going to fudge like that and when I ate out a few days later, I ordered my burger with no bun. I have a few things left that have wheat asa minor ingredient (way down on the list). Since I don't have a gluten intolerance (that I know of), I'm going to let that be okay for now (but no more wheat-ed purchases).

A friend read last week's blog and wrote to me about her own experiences of getting off carbs (a rather drastic plan through a naturopath that has her down 70 pounds and feeling great--after the withdrawal, of course). It doesn't sound sustainable. I've done more unsustainable food plans that I like to admit so taking it slow seems good for me.

And although I've been off desserts for more than two years, I'm beginning to see where the sugar still is in my diet (a fondness for dried fruit, low-sugar granola bars with their many carbs, white rice/potatoes/flour). My apprenticeship continues!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Moving out of carb country Step One

After a long conversation at our Women and Food group last week, I agreed to begin to shift in the direction of the paleo diet (simply put, no grains, no dairy, no sugar; yes to meat, veggies, fruit, and some say tubers like sweet potatoes). Going cold turkey into this from a carb-rich diet seemed more than I could do. Especially since to a woman, anyone I know who has done this says the first week is miserable as your body screams for carbs and you have little to soothe it with. Not my idea of a good time.

The last time I quit an addictive substance cold turkey, I was in an alcohol treatment center and had drugs and 24-hour support. I can't see that happening this time.

Secondly, the paleo gurus encourage you to go through your freezer, your cupboards, and your fridge and get rid of all the offending items. I have a fair amount of money invested in offending items as I keep my cupboards, freezer, and refrigerator pretty well stocked. I'm neither interested in throwing the food away or throwing that money away.

Fortunately, I've read several things that talk about easing into a low-carb food plan and so this month, I am moving off of wheat. I am not buying wheat products (bread, pasta, tortillas, etc.) and I'm not ordering them if I eat out. I do have some rye bread (just rye flour) and a couple of frozen pasta dishes that I'll eat up and then that will be that. And I'll see how that goes.

This seems a much more sensible approach and I'm hoping it will make an encouraging difference.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Reducing the sweet palate

My friend Pam, who's a part of my Women and Food discussion group, sent me the following link ( The endocrinologist on the videos, Marlene Merritt, specializes in blood sugar issues. I watched her teachings with the same fascination and horror that come up for many of us around disasters and tragedies, for I knew that what she was saying was not only true in general, but true for me. Sometimes we have to hear things a bunch of times, sometimes they have to be presented to us in a certain way. But after I watched these videos, I knew I had to let go of denial and the way-out-in-the-future Some Day and start thinking about how I was going to change what I eat even more.

She said many things that struck me but here's one. Our brains respond to sweet as sweet, whether it comes from candy or a spoonful of brown sugar or a mango or diet soda. It responds by insulin production and for many of us, insulin overload. Which makes us crave something with sugars to "entertain," as she put it, the insulin our body is pumping out.

Her advice: move away from sweet. Sweet needs to be an occasional thing, not an every meal, every snack, every bite thing. Give up artificial sweeteners. Not healthy. Cut back on all the other forms of sweet. And while I gave up desserts, highly concentrated sweet, several years ago, I haven't really cut down on sweet. I eat prepared and processed foods (hidden sweet). I eat fruit and dried fruit (overt sweet). I eat potatoes and rice (acts like sweet in system).

Looking now for ways to shift. More on this later.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Bad news for us sugar lovers Part 1

Several videos are circulating on you-tube of Dr. Robert Lustig,a  pediatric endocrinologist studying obesity in children. His findings have prompted a 60 Minutes episode on the evils of the sweet stuff. That, in essence, it isn't fat that is killing us, although too much fat contributes. But it is sugar that now appears to have a direct (and I do mean direct) impact on our "bad" cholesterol levels and likely contributes to build up of plaque in the arteries (also known as heart disease). It may also be feeding certain cancers, like colon cancer and perhaps breast cancer. Research is showing these cancers have glucose (sugar) receptors and pull sugar from the blood and feed on it. This, of course, goes beyond the eat sugar and gain weight and deal with those indirect consequences, like poor self-image or joint pain or maybe diabetes down the road. We eat it, it goes in our blood, and does us little good, if not actual harm.

I've been off dessert for more than two years now and that has cut my sugar consumption massively. But not before I ended up with what's called "fatty liver." My body has been running on carbs (sugar) for decades. First alcohol, which is sugar, and then sugar, which is sugar. Because of it, my body has gotten poor at burning fat and is storing the fat I eat everywhere in my body, including in my liver, which impedes my body's ability to burn fat even more.

I didn't know any of this back then. I just worried about being a drunk and then about being fat. And if I had known, it might not have made any difference. I knew the way I drank wasn't good for me, and I still didn't stop for years and year. I knew eating a gallon of ice cream a day wasn't good for me and I did that for years and years. I was also eating healthy food and exercising and doing lots of therapy and other good things for myself. And that seemed like it should be enough.

But I don't believe these findings are inaccurate. I know only too well that since we all started eating low fat (which means high sugar), we've all gotten fatter and fatter and less and less healthy. Me included. Now what?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Some ideas on receiving


  Here are some of the ideas I got when I asked for help with receiving. 

1. Ask, ask, ask!
2.    Breathe in as you learn to receive. Practice with art, beauty, nature, expansiveness.
3.    Feel what you eat nourish your body.
4.    Do a tree meditation, receiving oxygen and exhaling carbon monoxide.
5.    Explore vulnerability as a key to receiving.
6.    Make a list of already safe kinds of receiving and do them double.
7.    Make a list of slightly uncomfortable kinds of receiving. Practice these.
8.    Make a list of very uncomfortable kinds or receiving. Visualize receiving this until they are more comfortable.
9.    Do research on receiving to understand more and placate my brain.
10. Come up with compelling and meaningful reasons to receive
11. Find “receiving” mentors or heroines to emulate.
12. When in doubt, method act (act as if).
 13. Let your fictional characters teach you about receiving, or what the consequences of not receiving are. 
14. Let your cats lead by example. Be a cat for a day. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Learning to receive

When I was on retreat a couple of weeks ago, we spent our final evening doing 16 solutions for each other. This is a ritual in which each person gets to ask a question, usually one that is complex and often beginning with "how can I..." and then everyone, including she who asked the question, writes 16 solutions or suggestions that might answer or lead to an answer for the question.

The very first question was intimate and heartfelt and that set a great tone for work we did with and for each other. My question was about learning to receive. Giving of myself is not much of an issue but asking for help and receiving that help is a whole other story. So I asked for help with asking for help. And I had to laugh at myself and tell on myself because I waited to go last and felt really uncomfortable about asking for what I needed. Well, of course!

I got some great suggestions including one that never occurred to me: Ask to become willing to have whatever barrier there is between me and receiving be removed. Then ask that it be removed. Wow, the 6th and 7th steps in action.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Wise words from Northern Exposure

My good friend Tamara sent this quote from Dr. Joel on Northern Exposure in response to my last post:

"I'm working really hard at not working so hard."

Tamara's got my number!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Living in a culture of unrest

My good friend Sue sent me a blog post today from a Catholic writer, Father Richard, whom she reads each day. I don't always agree with his ideas but a phrase in the post today caught me: the culture of unrest. As you may remember, my intention this year is to learn about and practice relaxation and rest. You'd think that comes naturally to a person. You just find the time. You stop doing things. And you rest.

But that is not my experience. I'm firmly entrenched in the American culture of productivity and making the most of every minute. I'm an expert at pushing myself, at fueling my life on anxiety and feeling better when I've produced a lot. I'm not conscious in the moment of trying to prove anything, but clearly I am. If nothing else, I'm proving that I'm not wasting a minute of time.

I've brought that deep grounding in the culture of unrest with me on this retreat. I have a week at the coast with friends I enjoy, a week to rest, reflect, relax, and work on my novel. I went to bed early last night and slept a long time but it hasn't refreshed my mind. I had a fabulous massage this afternoon and yet I am struggling to unwind. The truth is I've been on the work treadmill pretty nonstop for several months and it feels a bit like having race-walked on one of those airport moving sidewalks and then come abruptly to the end. Both you and your suitcase go flying and hit the ground hard.

I want to do something to fix this. Do something. Do something. And that of course is the irony.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Anxiety and addiction

Several weeks ago, at a meeting of my Women and Food group, three of us (all in recovery from various forms of addiction) got to talking about our personal associations with being thin. None of us had been thin since sobriety. One woman associated being thin with being strung out on drugs, having cancer, being with narcissistic men. Another associated it with being high. I realized as we talked that I associate it with being anxious.

I was thin for a lot of my life. I was a skinny kid, a tall and skinny teenager, a thin young woman. All that time I was anxious. Some people dream of a lost childhood when they were innocent and pure. I dream of a time as a small child when maybe, just maybe, I wasn't nervous and scared. I started eating around anxiety when I was about 9. I started drinking around it when I was 19. I did both for 24 years. Drinking took away the anxiety. So does eating.

In my still limited thinking, I can't imagine being thin and not being anxious. I don't keep the weight on to be calmer. I keep eating to be calmer. And I'm afraid to give it up.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Starting fresh

I get blog posts from Daily Om and a couple of days ago, this reminder showed up: 

We can choose to start over in this very moment; there is no need to wait for a new year or a new month or a new week.

I was happy to see this reminder. I learned this idea in the treatment center in 1989. That you can declare something over and something new beginning at any moment. In early sobriety, I had a lot of nervousness and irritability. Knowing that it was a B-vitamin deficiency caused by drinking helped intellectually but not emotionally. Sometimes I just couldn't stand being sober and alert with no buffer to my feelings or anyone else's. Several times during that month, I'd tell my boss (a very understanding woman and member of Alanon) I needed a break, and I would go home, which wasn't far, and start the day over. Literally.

I'd take my clothes off, get into bed for about 3 minutes, get up, take another shower, and get dressed and go back to work. I don't know whether it was the negative ions of the shower, the fact that I changed my clothes, that I left work for a half hour, or just taking care of myself, but I'd come back to work with a fresh attitude, soothed in some way. 

I haven't needed to do that whole routine for a long time now. I have other tools: deep breathing, silent screaming, a walk around the block, a cold glass of sparkling water. But I love the idea of a fresh start, of ending whatever isn't working and trying something new. 

Friday, March 30, 2012

More on the C-suite

My good friend Tamara challenged me to explore the C-suite, that inner committee of chiefs that advise me. In particular, she suggested that I write a job description for the chief relaxation officer. So I spent some time doing that today and here's what I came up with for three of them:

CRO (chief relaxation officer)
Advocate for time off, turning off the computer, taking a break during the work day
Plan restorative vacations and prompt me to make those plans concrete
Help me get to the gym
Help me identify restful relationships and arrange time with those folks
Help me identify non-restful relationships and help me let those folks go
Help me set boundaries with my time and energy
Advocate for work/play balance
Remind me to pet Nellie and Frannie

CSO (chief spiritual officer)
Advocate for quiet time
Help me remember to meditate, rest in Spirit
Remind me to go to AA meetings and do a regular 10th and 11th step
Help me get out into nature and connect with whatever part of nature is around me
Encourage me to have deep conversations
Help me live by my values
Help me live by the Serenity Prayer

CCO (chief creative officer)
Help me make creative retreats a priority
Put the right creative opportunities in my path
Put the right people in my path
Encourage me to sustain the urge to create and to act on it
Help me have the discipline to be active and creative
Give me the courage to risk

I found this really interesting to think about. Now to consider the next step.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Women and food

On most Fridays, I host women writers here for a day of silence and writing. At lunch, we talk about different things and often about food. One of the women is on the Paleo diet (and writing about it). Feels better, is losing weight. Another struggles with food allergies and addictions and has gut issues. Portland seems a hotbed, as it were, of doctors sensitive to food issues. Or maybe it's because the town is full of naturopaths who are trained to think of diet and digestion as the root of most problems. (We have lots of naturopaths because we have one of the biggest naturopathic training colleges here.)

I've become rather skeptical about food allergies. My friend Pam appears to be allergic to lots of foods (she has migraines), but her careful diet doesn't seem to keep the migraines away. And when I travel in other parts of the country, people don't seem to have food allergies. They eat what's served and don't appear to be in any worse health than people here. Maybe it's a fad, maybe it's real. I don't know.

But what really struck me yesterday at lunch, after our elaborate conversations about what we will and won't eat, and what we can't stop eating, and what we wish we didn't crave, was a quiet comment from Judy, who spends half the year in South Africa working with poor women. Over there, the issue is getting enough to eat. She made that quiet comment and then held her peace. I admired her restraint and suddenly our conversation, real and important as it is, as health always is, took another perspective.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Using all the members of your C-suite

C-suite is a term I learned recently. It means the team of "chief" officers of a corporation, typically, the chief executive officer (CEO), the chief financial officer (CFO), and the chief operations officer (COO). In my counseling session with my spiritual director, I was confessing to continuing to work too much, to say yes to too many projects, and we began talking about what part of my self is making those decisions. Although she used the term Board of Directors, I immediately thought of the C-suite and who is running my life.

Most of the time in my life I see that the CFO and the COO are making the decisions. Taking more work is about money and financial insecurity. Staying busy with the day to day of life is where the COO comes in and my COO is a perfectionist so everything gets done.

But as I talked with Anna, I realized that I need to be listening to other members of the C-suite: the CSO (chief spiritual officer), the CCO (chief creativity officer), the CEO (chief emotional officer), and the newest member of the suite, the CRO (chief relaxation officer). How to go about that isn't clear but it's an image worth exploring.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

On the same note as the last post

I've had some great responses to the last post.

My writer friend Mary passed along this potential business card, suggested by her son:

"Your name here, Advisor
You don't even have to to ask."

 And my friend Karen often says, "Never pass up an opportunity to keep your mouth shut."

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Unsolicited advice

Last Tuesday, I had breakfast with a close friend. I was talking to her about an insight I'd had, a sort of emotional conundrum, and when I paused to gather my thoughts, she said quickly, "What are you doing Friday?" and proceeded to recommend that I take a workshop she was planning to attend that would clearly solve my problem.

Her advice came from concern for me but it annoyed me nonetheless for I hadn't asked for it. And she hadn't asked if I wanted it. And I realized in my irritation, that just like her, I freely offer advice way too frequently without asking if it's welcome.

There is something gentler and less intrusive in asking "Would you like a suggestion?" than in assuming that what I have to offer is wanted or even needed. Too often I don't allow the person talking to just think out loud. And thinking out loud is not necessarily asking for help. The idea of a sounding board, I believe, is to come to our own solutions, to hear our problem or question something out loud, to consider possibilities (perhaps offered by another), and reach our own decision.

What I found with my friend is that I didn't want her solution. I just wanted her to listen, to be present for my conversation. And when she tried to fix it, I just shut down. It didn't feel safe any more to ruminate in her presence. And that made me sad.

A year or so ago, I broke with a good friend over her insistence that I listen to unsolicited comments about my behavior and how I could fix them. I don't know what she found offensive in what I was doing as I refused to accept her unsolicited advice and sadly that meant the end of the friendship. But telling others what's wrong with them (in AA, we call this "taking someone else's inventory") never does any good and I was not in an emotional place to want to hear her criticisms, especially if they were linked in her mind to the continuation of the relationship.

Last Tuesday's experience was a good reminder about my own behavior, about just listening. And not offering my ideas about your problem, which, of course, is so much easier to fix than my own.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Love and admiration

This week during my conversation with my spiritual director, I had a major aha about my relationships with other people. I realized that one of the reasons that the letter last weekend from my ex was upsetting to me was that it was clear that this person, who had been a major player in my young adulthood, neither loved nor admired me. Maybe he did at one time. Certainly he desired me. Possibly he admired me. I don't know that he ever loved me. But the fact that his letter was full of evidence that at this juncture he does neither felt very painful.

I grew up desperately unsure of my mother's love. And by 6 or 7, I had learned to confuse or perhaps substitute her admiration for her love. She was happy with me when I get gold stars on my papers and good reports from the teacher. She wasn't happy with me when I got sent into the hallway for being disruptive or to the principal's office for talking too much in class. So if I was a good girl, an exceptional girl, an admirable girl, she would love me.

The crux of the matter, I realized in Anna's office, was that I learned I could do things to get people to admire me. I could be smart or funny or clever. I could get good grades or into a good college or work efficiently or solve problems or write books. But I learned or decided that I couldn't do anything, not easily it seemed to me, to get people to love me. They did (like my dad) or they didn't (like my mother). I could make them un-love me by being cruel or unkind but I couldn't make someone love me.

So in that odd and magical way we do, I moved into adulthood and found a succession of men who desired me and admired me but didn't love me. This confirmed my beliefs. Funny how we do that to ourselves. We find just the right people, as if by magic, who make the stories we've made up about life truer than true.

And I came to believe that I didn't care if they didn't love me as long as they admired me. That admiration was enough. And here I am, 65, and deciding that that isn't true.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The consequences of the past

The distant past came calling this afternoon via email from a man I was in a committed relationship with 35 years ago. We had a difficult ending to our relationship, one I describe in a chapter in my memoir. He had emailed me last year asking for a way to get his hands on the book (, I told him) but I never heard anymore from him until today. I knew he wouldn't like what I had written about him. Although I worked very hard at taking full responsibility for my part in what happened, it was ugly and it's never just ugly on one person's part, not when relationships last 6 years.

Three things struck me about the letter. How much he focused on some small details that were left out, details about him: how he made all the money and supported me, how successful he was, how much good he did in the community. All of that was true but not the story I was telling, not the story of my inner life. How differently he remembered the critical events in our relationship, from timing to location to how information was communicated. (He must have missed the part in the introduction where I clearly stated that this was in no way the truth, only my memories). And, lastly, while he acknowledged his part in it, there was no real apology, no accepting of responsibility, just blame. The letter was clearly meant to justify his actions and blame me, once again, for what had happened. There was no space for interpretation, for difference in memory. He was right and I was wrong.

And when I first read it, I fell into that space I had lived in for those years with him. Of apologizing even when it wasn't my fault. Of tiptoeing around his temper. And yet a part of me can clearly see what he still doesn't get, what he still doesn't understand about living with someone with active alcoholism.

I sent a brief reply. Said I hoped he had found healing in writing the letter and that I apologized again for any harm I caused him. And now I let it go.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Restful relationships

While I was in Florida, I gave a presentation on living with conscious intention. One of my intentions is to have a more restful life. I first articulated it as "rest more" in 2010 and this year is my year of relaxation. (You can see there's a trend here.) As I was giving the presentation, I remembered an idea that had come to me about relationships, about choosing restful relationships and giving up those that aren't. I was delighted to rediscover the idea.

Restful relationships are those people who leave you calmer or energized when you have been with them. Their counterpart, the unrestful relationship, is the person who drains you or exhausts you. It doesn't really matter why that's true, whether it's an annoying habit, a tendency to talk all the time about nothing, a need to be the center of attention, a tendency to be cruel or overly apologetic. You know in your gut whether a relationship is restful for you or not.

It isn't possible to avoid all unrestful people. But we can minimize their impact on us. We can choose to not be around them or work for them or have them in our homes.

I used to think it was unkind not to like everybody. I certainly wanted everybody to like me. But I realized as I got more mature that both of those things are impossible. And I also realized that I wasn't really liking them. Instead I was pretending to like them. I definitely don't want people to pretend to like me.

I'm not advocating telling people they are unrestful, though I have done that a couple of times when pushed by the person in question. I just move them out of my circle and open up space for someone more in tune with my energies. Ahhhh!