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 (amazon.com, 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!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Celebrating two years dessert-free

Yesterday, Valentine's Day, marked 730 days free of dessert for me.

It had taken me about three years of therapy to get to the point where I was willing to not eat dessert no matter what. I had taken a first step six months earlier in giving up my specific drug of choice: Dreyer's Slow Churn Caramel Delight ice cream. But giving up ice cream had resulted in my consuming more chocolate bars, more cake, more whipped cream on just about anything. I was still bingeing and still hating it.

My spiritual director seems to have infinite patience with me. She doesn't complain that I circle around and around and around the issues, one step forward, five steps back. But I'd reached a point of discomfort both in my physical body and in my emotions that I was willing to let go.

And so in mid-January I chose Feb 14 as the day. The best way I could think of to love myself was to give up sweets. And so I did.

I am not sugar free. In fact, I had a little brown sugar on my oatmeal this morning, and several weeks ago I had jam on my toast at breakfast one day. I don't fanatically read all labels and I know enough about the current American food industry to know that much restaurant food is laced with salt and sugar and fat. I try to avoid that when I can but I'm not rigid about it. For jam on toast or brown sugar on oatmeal weren't my downfall. Neither are dried fruit or a low-sugar granola bar. It was dessert, high-fat, high-sugar treats.

Just as with alcohol it has become easier and easier with time to forego dessert. I just don't eat them. I give away the cookie in the box lunch. I bypass the sweets tray at a conference. I have learned to breathe and drink decaf coffee if someone serves dessert (and I will eat fresh fruit if it's served).

I still overeat some of the time. But I don't binge any more and I don't feel run by sugar any more. And that's the best gift I could have given myself.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Fatigue and sugar cravings

Today is my last full day in Naples, Florida. I arrived last Thursday, led a workshop all day Saturday, and another all day Monday and all day Tuesday. Last night 2 hours after the end of the two-day workshop, I gave a presentation to about 70 people and signed books.

My co-presenter and friend Karen Casey had suggested I arrive a day early and stay a day late and we would put a day between the workshops. That was very smart thinking. I had a day to adjust a little to the change in time zones and the weather (from 45 degrees in Portland to 83 degrees in Florida). After Saturday's intense day with 55 women, we were both tired but we had Sunday to rest up. But then we went full tilt Monday and Tuesday and I didn't allow myself to slow down after the workshop ended at 4:30. I just took a shower, changed clothes, and had some supper, and went on to give the presentation.

By the time I got to the hotel last night about 9, I was nearly stupid with fatigue. All the adrenaline just kind of leaked out and I put on my pajamas and went to bed. I slept okay but woke early and I felt like a train had hit me. I got up and got some tea and walked down to the beach in the semi-cool of the morning but I was exhausted. I got some breakfast and read a while but all I could think about was getting something sweet to eat. A Starbucks muffin, an ice cream cone, a cookie. Didn't someplace around here serve pancakes? Something, anything to soothe how I felt. After about 20 minutes, I realized I was in the T of HALT, a 12-step acronym for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. all slippery places for those of us with addictions. I needed something to revive and my old friend sugar sure seemed appealing.

Then I remembered there was a spa here and I called and signed up for a Zen massage at 11:30. I didn't care what it cost. Turned out the spa is on my floor in the other wing. I could just walk over there and take my clothes off and get on the table. It was cool and candlelit and the most relaxing massage I've ever had. And I could roll off the table and put my outer clothes back on and go back to my room. It was perfect. I felt relaxed, less tired, and the cravings all disappeared.

I had a relaxing day and a two-hour nap and I'm feeling very all right again. Little by little, learning to do it differently.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Relaxing needs to impact my schedule?

My main intention this year is to learn to relax. When I saw my therapist last week, she asked me how that was going. Okay, I said. And then she asked, "How is that impacting your schedule?"

I looked at her, more or less dumbfounded. And then I started to laugh. It had never occurred to me that I would have to change my schedule in order to learn to relax. Somehow I thought I was going to find a way to cram relaxing into my already very full schedule.

And after I stopped laughing, I began to get it. That this is at the core of much of what I want to effect in my life. A slower pace, more time for writing and art, reading and meditating. And that means I will have to give up the workaholic life that I say I don't want and can't seem to give up. And my clinging to it is for so many good reasons: I feel needed, I feel connected, I feel proud, I feel less insecure financially. So it's a push/pull and I'm not quite sure how to do this.