Friday, February 28, 2014

Day 354 The difficulty of explaining addiction

Sunday night I made dinner for a stranger. Alison is a publisher and academic from the UK who was in town for a day-long workshop on self-publishing and I was speaking on editing at the workshop. She'd wanted to hook up with other presenters for a meal so I invited her over. She turned out to be a lovely woman and we spent a nice evening getting to know each other.

When I invited her over, I warned her about two things: I had cats, in case she was allergic, and I didn't drink. I didn't want her to show up with a bottle of wine as the hostess gift and have the awkward conversation then. Because I had introduced the topic, we got to talking about my experience with alcohola and my memoir. And I realized once again, how hard it is for people who don't have this disease to understand our need for continual treatment.

It's not easy to explain the obsession of the mind. I think people can grasp the allergy of the body to alcohol. But once that allergy is subdued, how can there be a need for more treatment? I tried to explain the kind of restlessness, irritability, and discontent that comes over us, but while she understood the words, they were, I'm sure, through her own filter. And our restlessness, irritability, and discontent, are not the same. I ended up saying that going to meetings grounds me, centers me, gives me a certain peace of mind. And I let it go at that.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Day 353 Alcoholism is not cute

I was at a meeting on Monday. It's a 12x12 meeting (12 steps and 12 traditions) and we were talking about the 8th step and making a list of those we had harmed while we drank and used. A woman new to the program spoke towards the end. She had gone 24 days without a drink and was recounting with nervousness and a certain ambivalence the blackouts she had been experiencing. The nervousness came across as giggles and a bit of silliness. I recognized that brand of nervousness as my own from the first year of meeting. Covering up my shame with a dramatic joke.

It was her ambivalence that struck me as more problematic. She wasn't sure these blackouts (where she hit and kicked people in a rage) were all that important. She had stayed off alcohol for two months last summer and convinced herself she could handle it. And what I could hear in her share was the fact that she didn't want to be an alcoholic, didn't want to stop drinking, didn't want to be different from her current circle of friends and family, couldn't see the benefits ahead.

And I spoke up after she did about the gift that sobriety is and it's a gift that's not easy to get and not easy to keep and that if we get a chance, we should take it and hang on.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Day 352 An intriguing idea

"What if you created a space for yourself where there are no mistakes, no failures, only lessons and each lesson takes you closer to that place you don't know you are going but will recognize when you get there.
--Justine Musk

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Day 351 Falling down the habit hole

I've copied Leo Babauta's interesting and helpful conversation about habits here. The psychology of habits fascinates me. 
Posted: 21 Feb 2014 09:30 AM PST
By Leo Babauta
I’ve learned these lessons the hard way.
I struggled to quit smoking in the early 2000s, failing seven times before finally succeeding in late 2005. I struggled with exercise habits, with changing my horrible eating habits, with waking earlier and being more productive and getting out of debt and simplifying my life.
I failed a lot, and still do. It was through those failures that these hard-fought lessons emerged, and so I don’t resent any of the failures. I recommend this attitude.
I’ve taught habits to thousands of people, in addition to changing dozens of my own. Teaching what I’ve learned to others taught me even more.
And still I’m learning. That’s the fun part.
Changing habits is one of the most fundamental skills you can learn, because it allows you to reshape your life. To reshape who you are. That’s truly transformational.
I share these lessons not as Commandments from On High, but as things you might try, in your journey of change and learning. Try them one or two at a time, so you’re not overwhelmed. Come back to this list after you’ve done that.
I hope they help.
  1. When you make a small change, your ‘normal’ adjusts. Imagine that you’re used to a whole set of conditions — if you deviate from those conditions very much, you will be uncomfortable. Going to live in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language, don’t know anyone, aren’t used to the food, don’t understand the customs, don’t have the same kind of home you’re used to … this can be very difficult. But if you make one tiny change, it’s not very uncomfortable. And after a month or two, you adapt to this tiny change, and it becomes part of the conditions that you’re used to. Your new normal. Changing your life in small steps like this, one small change at a time, is much easier and much more likely to succeed than making multiple huge changes all at once. Gradually change your normal.
  2. Small changes are easier to start. A big change not only requires your mental commitment, but more time and effort. If you already have your time tied up in other things, you’ll find it difficult to find the time to start your new habit. You might do it once or twice (go to the gym for an hour) but that habit is dead before it starts unless you put in an extraordinary effort. A small change — just a few pushups in the morning, for example — is much easier to get started. You could start it right now, in the middle of reading this article. Making it easy to start a habit means you’re more likely to actually do it.
  3. Small changes are easier to sustain. If you start a big change (go to the gym for 30 minutes every day!), you might actually be able to start it with all the enthusiasm you have in the beginning. But that enthusiasm wanes, depending on energy and sleep levels, what else is going on in your life, disruptions in routine, etc. And eventually you’ll probably fail. But if you make the habit very small when you start, you are much much more likely to sustain it for longer. It’s easier to keep a small thing going than a big one. And keeping it going is what matters.
  4. Habits are tied to triggers. When the trigger happens, the habit follows, if it’s been ingrained strongly as a habit. For example, for some people, when they arrive at work, they immediately turn on their computer. And then maybe immediately do another habit after that. The habit-trigger bond is strengthened from lots of repetitions.
  5. Habits with variable or multiple triggers are harder. If you want to meditate every morning after waking and drinking your customary glass of water (for example), it’s much easier to create a habit like this with one daily trigger … as opposed to a habit that requires either 1) variable triggers, like not reacting angrily when someone criticizes you (you don’t know when that trigger will happen), or 2) several different kinds of triggers, such as smoking which might be triggered by stress or other people smoking or drinking alcohol or coffee, etc.
  6. Learn to do easier types of habits first. If you try to do hard types of habits (like ones with variable or multiple triggers, or ones that you dislike or find very difficult), and you’re not skilled at creating habits, you’re much less likely to succeed. I highly recommend doing easy habits first, ones that only require a couple minutes a day, are tied to a single daily trigger, and that you enjoy and find easy. What’s the point of trying to form an easy habit? Well, you might find it harder than you think, but also, you’re building your habit skills, and most importantly, you’re building trust in yourself.
  7. Build trust in yourself. What I lacked before I got better at changing habits was trust that I would stick to a habit. Why? Because I’d failed so often before, allowing myself to break promises to myself because it was easier than sticking to the promises. It’s like if another person constantly lies to you — you don’t trust that person anymore. The same is true of your promises to yourself. And the solution is the same — to build trust slowly, with small promises and small victories. This takes time. But it’s arguably the most important thing you can do.
  8. Incremental changes add up to huge changes. This might seem to make sense on the surface, but I don’t think most people feel its truth in their gut. We all want all the changes we want, right now. We can’t possibly make ourselves give up a few of those changes for awhile, to focus on one, because then we wouldn’t get what we want, right now. I’ve seen this so many times — people want to make 10 changes at once, and can’t choose just one to focus on. But doing lots of changes at once, or big changes, means you are less likely to succeed. But if you stick with small changes, you’ll see some powerful long-term change. Try making small changes to your diet and activity levels — after a year, you’ll be way fitter than before. Try learning something a little at a time — if you can make it a habit and stick with it, you’ll be way better at it in six months. This is what I’ve seen in my life, and it’s been dramatic in scope.
  9. It doesn’t matter which change you focus on first. We’re not in it for the short game, we’re in it for the long game. It can be hard to figure out which change to make right now, because that means giving up lots of other important changes. And I’ve seen people agonize over which change to make first, because they think the order matters. Sure, maybe it would be optimal to learn to meditate first, before making eating changes, but you know what’s not optimal? Making no changes. Over the long term, if you pick one small change at a time, you’ll have all the important habits formed. So honestly, just pick the one you feel like doing the most — the one that you’ll enjoy most.
  10. Energy and sleep levels matter a lot. I wrote about this recently, but if you are sleep-deprived, you’ll be tired and have little energy to focus on habit changes. That’s fine when your enthusiasm for your new habit is high, but the moment things get even a little difficult, you’ll skip the habit because you don’t have the willpower to push yourself through a little discomfort. Sleep matters.
  11. Dealing with disruptions in routine is a learned skill. One of the most common causes of habit failure is disruption in routine — taking a trip, having a big work project that requires you to work late, having visitors, having a cold. These kinds of things change your normal routines, which do a couple things to the habit you’re forming: 1) the trigger might not happen (if you’re sick you might not get up and shower, for example, if showering is your trigger), and 2) you might get so busy/tired that you don’t have time/energy to do the habit. So how do you deal with this obstacle? Anticipate it. Know that it will happen (yes, everyone’s routine gets disrupted). Plan to either take a break while you’re traveling (for example), or have a new trigger while your old one is temporarily disrupted. This kind of anticipation and planning is a skill that you can learn, and this skill makes you better at creating new habits.
  12. Think ahead to avoid foreseeable obstacles. Other than disruptions to your routine, there are other things you can anticipate. For example, if you’re changing your eating habit (say, no sugar) and you’re going to a restaurant with friends or a birthday party, what will you eat? What will your strategy be if there’s sugar (which there will be)? If you forget about it and wait until it happens, you’ll be unprepared and less likely to stick to your habit. How and where will you work out when you travel? Anticipate and prepare.
  13. Watch your self-talk. We all talk to ourselves. It’s just not always obvious, because the self-talk happens in the back of our heads, unnoticed most of the time. That’s normal, but when the self-talk is negative, it can absolutely ruin a habit change. If your self-talk is a series of things like, “This is too hard, I can’t do this, why am I making myself suffer, it’s OK to cheat, it’s OK to quit, this is too hard, I hate this” … you need to either catch it, or you’ll likely fail. You have to become aware of what you’re saying to yourself, and recognize that it’s not true. Then tell yourself things that are positive. This is a key habit skill.
  14. Get good at watching but not acting on urges. When you see the urge to smoke, or eat a whole bag of Doritos, or not meditate, or procrastinate, or not go on your morning run … you can pause and watch it but not act on that urge. The urge usually goes unnoticed, and you just act on it. But you can watch it, and not act. You can give yourself a choice. At the moment you’re watching, dig deep and remember your powerful motivations.
  15. Have powerful motivations. It’s easy to say, “Sure, I’d love to learn to program!” It sounds nice. But something that sounds nice isn’t going to stick when things get a little hard. You need to have a very strong motivation — wanting to have better health so you won’t suffer as much, wanting to create a good life for your kids, wanting to help people in need. Looking good is not a good motivator, but feeling strong and empowered is. Write your motivation down. Remind yourself of it when things get hard.
  16. Use accountability to engineer positive & negative feedback loops. Feedback loops help steer you to doing a habit long enough for it to be ingrained as a habit … or they help steer you away from a habit. Sugar and drugs have feedback loops that are good for forming habits (you get pleasure from doing the habit, suffer if you don’t), while exercise often has the wrong feedback loops (it’s hard to do the habit, enjoyable to watch TV and skip the habit). However, we can re-engineer the feedback loops, and accountability is one of the best ways of doing that. If you’re going to meet a friend at 6am to go on a run, you’d feel really bad if you missed the run, and feel good about going on the run with your friend and enjoying the conversation. Boom. New feedback loop. Same thing when you blog about your habit to an audience, or join an accountability team.
  17. Challenges work really well. Short-term challenges of 2-6 weeks can be really motivating. Maybe it’s a challenge between two people (you and a friend), or a group challenge. It’s a form of accountability that’s fun and, again, revises the feedback loop in a good way. Examples of challenges: no sugar for a month, work out every day for 21 days, stick to a diet for 6 weeks, etc.
  18. Exceptions lead to more exceptions. It’s really easy to justify not doing your new habit (or doing an old habit you’re trying to quit) by saying, “Just one time won’t hurt.” Except that it will, because now you think it’s OK to make exceptions. And now you don’t really trust yourself to stick to your promise to yourself. It’s much more effective to not make exceptions — catch yourself if you’re thinking about it and trying to justify it, and remember your motivations. When I quit smoking, I told myself Not One Puff Ever (NOPE).
  19. The habit is the reward — it’s not a chore. Adding external rewards can be a useful way to have good feedback for doing the habit, but the best possible reward is internal. The reward is doing the habit. Then you get the reward immediately, not later. For example, if you think exercise sucks, you’re getting bad feedback as you do the habit — you won’t stick to it for long. But if you can find ways to enjoy the exercise (do it with a friend, see the enjoyable aspects of exercise, play a sport that you love, go on a hike with awesome views, etc.) then you’re getting positive feedback as you do the habit. Change your thinking — the habit is lovely, a reward in and of itself, a way to care for yourself. Do not think of it as a chore you need to get done, or you’ll avoid it.
  20. Lots of habits at once means you’ll probably fail. Go ahead and try an experiment: do 5 new habits at once. See how many you’re successful with. Then try one habit only, and see how long you stick to that. In my experiments, one habit is much more successful than two at a time, and exponentially more successful than 5-10 habits at once.
  21. Recognize when you’re getting distracted. In the beginning, we can get very focused on a new habit, and have lots of energy to put into it. But other things can come up and we might find a new shiny toy to get excited about … and soon the old habit change is falling to the wayside. This has happened to me many times. Now, I’m not saying a habit needs to take up all your mindspace and free time. That’s not healthy either. But you should be able to focus on it for a small amount of time each day, and still enjoy it and look forward to it. If that’s falling away, re-examine your motivation and priorities, and either drop the habit or re-focus.
  22. A blog is an amazing tool. As I said, accountability makes a huge difference in your habit’s feedback loops. Blogging is a great way to get accountability. And as you’re sharing what you’ve been doing and what you’re learning, you are forced to reflect on your habit, which makes what you learn about the habit and yourself a much deeper experience.
  23. Failure is a learning tool. You will fail in your habit attempts — that’s a given. But instead of seeing it as a failure of you as a person (it’s not), see it as a way to learn about yourself and habit change. Each person is different — what works for me won’t necessarily work for you. And you won’t know until you try it and fail. When you fail, you learn something new, and that helps you get better.
  24. How you deal with failure is key. When many people fail, they feel bad about themselves and give up. This is why they have such a hard time changing habits. If instead they got back up and tried again, perhaps with an adjustment to their method (some new accountability, for example), they’d obviously have a much higher chance of success. The people who succeed at habits aren’t people who never fail — they’re people who keep going after they fail.
  25. Adjust or die. On a related note, habit change is about learning to adjust. New job? That will change things, so you’ll need to adjust your habit. Missed a few days? Figure out what’s going wrong and adjust. Habit isn’t enjoyable? Find a new way to make it enjoyable. Self-talk sabotaging your habit change? Focus on becoming aware of your self-talk so you can solve that problem. Adjust, adjust, adjust.
  26. Enlist support. Who will you turn to when things get hard? When you need encouragement? When you fail? Have a support buddy — I had one when I was quitting smoking, and I’ve used it other times as well. If you start out without support, and fail, that’s OK — adjust by finding someone to help you. That might be your spouse or best friend or parent or sibling or co-worker. Or maybe you find a support group online. It makes a big difference.
  27. You limit yourself. Lots of times I suggest people give up something like cheese or sugar or beer, at least for a little while. They respond: “I could never give up my cheese!” (or meat, or sweets, etc.) Well, that’s true if you believe it. However, I’ve learned that we often think we can’t do something when really we can. I recently talked to someone who was absolutely sure she couldn’t give up baked goods. She limits herself with this belief. We all do to some extent — but if you can examine your beliefs and be willing to test them out, you’ll often find out they’re not true.
  28. Set up your environment for success. If you’re going to give up sweets, get rid of all the sweets in your house. Ask your spouse to support you by not making or buying sweets for a little while. Tell friends you’re not eating sweets and ask them to support you. Yes, this can require others to make adjustments, but if you ask nicely for their help, often they’ll be glad to support you. But the point is, find ways to create an environment where you’re likely to succeed. Create accountability, reminders, support, a lack of temptations and distractions, etc.
  29. Just lace up your shoes & get out the door. Reduce the barrier to starting the habit. If I need to go for a run, often I’ll think about how hard it is, how long it will take, how cold it will be, etc., and I’ll psyche myself out and not do it. But when my rule is, “Just lace up my shoes and get out the door”, that’s so easy it’s hard to say no. That’s my bar. As easy as possible. Once I’m out the door, I’m invariably glad I started and things go well. For meditating, just get your butt on the cushion. For writing, just open up your writing program and write a sentence.
  30. Define your breaks. If you’re going to be traveling and know that you can’t stick to your habit, for example, set the dates of your habit break in advance, rather than letting it slide and then thinking that you’ve failed. And have the date when you’re going to get back on track, and set a reminder so you don’t forget. This will keep a planned event from completely derailing your habit change.
  31. Habits are situational. A habit is tied to a trigger, but really, the trigger is an environment. So if your trigger is your morning shower, that’s great, but it’s not the shower itself. The trigger is taking the shower in your home, getting out, seeing a something in your bathroom that somehow triggers the impulse to go and meditate (or whatever your habit is). So if you take a shower in a different bathroom in your house, or in a hotel, the trigger doesn’t happen. The same is true if you got a phone call as you got out of the shower, or your wife comes and gives you a hug, both disrupting the trigger. Anyway, there’s not much you can do with this info, as you can’t control all the things in your environment, but being aware of subtle environmental changes that affect your habit can help you to understand what’s going on.
  32. Learn to cope in other ways. Often your bad habits are ways of coping with a real need — like needing to cope with stress or bad feelings about yourself or a fight with a loved one. The need to cope with these things won’t go away, and so bad habit becomes a crutch. You can find other ways of coping that are healthier, so you don’t need the crutch anymore. Read more.
  33. Be kind to yourself. You will fail, and you can be hard on yourself and feel guilty and think that you’re crap. That won’t help at all. Being kind to yourself is a good habit skill, if you pair it with an adjustment that allows you to improve your habit method. To be kind to yourself: remind yourself of how hard it is to be happy, and that you’re struggling to find happiness despite things that cause you stress and frustration and anger and irritation and disappointment. This is hard. Have empathy with yourself. Be understanding and compassionate. It will help you as you adjust and try again.
  34. Perfect is the enemy. Often people strive for perfection, but this stands in the way of progress. Progress is much more important than perfection. If you find yourself not starting a habit because you want the perfect circumstances, or not meditating because you want the perfect time or space, or not writing because you want the perfect tool, or not being happy because you haven’t been perfect with your habit — drop your expectations and just do the habit.
  35. A workout partner works wonders. For exercise, the most effect method for me is to have a workout partner. That’s true whether I’m going to the gym, taking a Crossfit or yoga class, going for a run or hike. When I don’t have a workout partner, my frequency can often drop. This concept can be applied to any habit that you’re struggling with.
  36. Habit changes are tools for self-learning. Habit changes aren’t just ways to add a new thing to your life. They’re tools for learning about yourself. Through habit change, you learn about what motivates you, about self-talk and rationalization, about urges, about internal vs. external rewards, about weaknesses and kindness, about progress and empowerment. You can learn more about yourself through a few months of habit change than you have in the last decade, if you pay attention. And in that way, habit change is an extremely rewarding process, regardless of the outcome. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Day 350 Integrity: an expanded meaning

In the money program I'm enrolled in with Dave Ellis and Lynne Twist, we've been talking about integrity. Lynne reminded us yesterday that integrity is more than keeping your word. It's about honoring your word. That means that when you find you can't keep your word, you say so and make other arrangements including accommodating those you may have disappointed or caused difficulties for.

This conversation reminded me that I have much better integrity around my word with other people than I do with myself. I wouldn't dream of not showing up for a date with a friend or a client (or not calling to cancel and being sure the cancellation was received). But I don't hesitate to cancel out on a date with myself to go to the studio or take a walk or stop working and read for a while. I honor my word with others and not as often with myself.

And of course I'm very reluctant to examine how this plays out with my willingness and commitments to abstain from addictive behaviors. Much to think about here.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Day 349 My relationship with one day at a time

I had an experience in the treatment center 24+ years ago that has stayed vivid. I was in the shower and I realized that one day at a time, was a tool, not a promise. Sobriety wasn't a diet that I could start and stop. It was forever and one day at a time was not a choice but a technique. I felt sucker-punched in a way and that's when my grief around breaking up with my lover, alcohol, finally set in. No more flirting, no more cheating. We were through.

I don't think I've ever really done that with sugar. I haven't really broken it off. I've been abstinent for long periods (three years the last time). But then I pick it up again and I fall into the false meaning of one day at a time. That the one day that will be at a time will be tomorrow, not today. That I can stop one day at a time and then eat some the next day.

I haven't grieved. And I need to. Maybe it's time to get in the shower again.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Day 348 Okay, I admit it

I've been finding that my way of eating is not so exciting and interesting any more. The food is still good. I made a wonderful rich tomato soup (Melanie's homemade tomato sauce, red cabbage, carrots, onions, celery, bok choy, lemon salt, cumin, veggie broth) and a potato bake with bok choy, onion, fingerlings, and chard and a teriyaki sauce. I still love my green smoothies in the morning. Never seem to tire of good oatmeal with fruit and nuts, and I'm still enjoying big salads.

But it's become what's so. Not an adventure. Not a surprise. Not a challenge. And so I'm having to find another way into this. Maybe it's cookbooks. Maybe it's a cooking class. Maybe it's structured eating in a way I haven't tried lately or ever. I'm going to need to jazz it up to stay interested.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Dat 347 Regaining consciousness

Somehow, someway, in late January, I lost contact with my body. I went on living in it but I didn't feel it. I got numb physically through sugar and overeating and under-exercising and lost touch with it. I think we overeaters have to do that in order to keep eating the way we do. If we were conscious of the weight going on, we might have to face what was happening to us physically as we tried to protect ourselves emotionally.

I've been making choices for the last couple of months that make me more vulnerable and I've been eating as a safeguard. I didn't recognize it as such but my spiritual director did. "Not surprising that you would return to an old faithful friend when things got new and different," she said when I told her what was happening. It might have felt exciting to my mind to take these chances but it was scary to my sense of self and so I went back to the tried and true.

Now I'm regaining consciousness and feeling the weight I've put back on and the slowness of my workouts. I'm not happy with the weeks of relapse but I'm ready to step back into consciousness and see if I can keep it going.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Day 346 Staying out of advice

My good friend Judy emailed me Monday with a comment on a recent blog post on sugar in which she offered some ideas on shifts I could make in my food plan. Although I knew it was well meaning--I know she cares about me--I still read it as advice and I wrote back a rather neutral reply of thanks. Wise woman that she is, she immediately wrote to apologize and take it back.

I so appreciated her acknowledgement of how that might have landed with me. I know only too well how thin the line is between well-meaning suggestion and unsolicited advice and how often I step over that line myself. Most of us don't want either coming our way. The truth is we pretty much all know by now what we need to do. We've got plenty of information and lots of instructions.

What we need is inspiration, support, encouragement, and occasionally, when we ask for it, coaching. But coaching isn't advice either. It's the delicate art of asking the right questions so we can figure things out for ourselves. Twice this week I've heard characters in TV shows saw "talk less, listen more." I don't usually get my inspiration from the small screen but that's good for me to consider.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Day 345 Recommitting to celebration

More than intermittent candy consumption has been going on in my life lately. I realized recently that I've lost touch with celebration and gratitude. I haven't been in a negative space. I've actually been pretty upbeat. But I've been focused on getting a lot done: paid work, a new art website, coming to the end of the first draft of the current novel, the homework assignments for the big program I'm participating in, snf general maintenance for my life. And then I've been collapsing, lapsing, relapsing into a lot of Netflix evenings and extra sleep.

There's nothing wrong with what I've been doing. Even the candy-eating isn't wrong, it isn't a mistake. But it's not what I really want. I want joy as well as productivity, I want deep peace as well as thanks from my clients, I want a broad margin to my life as well as full engagement. I was the unrelenting cheerfulness of no sugar, no wheat, no dairy.

I know that a shift into celebration and gratitude is one reliable avenue into the things I want. I'm turning down that street starting tonight.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Day 344 Thoughtful paragraph from Marianne Williamson

"At a certain point, it doesn't really matter so much how we got to be a certain way. Until we admit our character defects and take responsibility for the fact that regardless of how we got them, they are ours now, God has no power to heal them. We can talk to a therapist for hours about how our relationship with Mom or Dad made us develop a certain behavioral characteristic, but that of itself will not make it go away. Naming it, surrendering it to God, and asking God to remove it, that's the miracle of personal transformation. It won't go away in a moment, necessarily, but its days are numbered. The medicine is in your psychic bloodstream." Marianne Williamson

From A Year of Miracles

Monday, February 17, 2014

Day 343 Needing to move towards more protein

I haven't been feeling as good physically the last few weeks. There are lots of possible reasons. Travel to a hot climate and different food. Overloading on sugar. Under-exercising due to weather and some time constraints. But I think I need to change my food up a little.

My therapist has Type I diabetes and mentioned some concerns about my proposed high vegetable and grain diet with low levels of animal protein last March when I got started on this. Her diet is low in all carbohydrates, more along the Atkins diet. I didn't find the low animal protein problematic until I got back on sugar. But now I see that I've been doing fruits and vegetables and grains and refined sugars, a carb load that would do an ultra-marathoner proud!

So to right that balance for a while, I'm going to be adding some additional beans and lentils to my salads and soups and some eggs to my breakfast and see what happens.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Day 342 Do you know where your sugar is?

Now that I'm withdrawing from candy again (specifically the new all-caramel Milky Way that cuts out the awful nougat layer), I've been thinking about where sugar is in my diet. I consume a fair amount of fructose: a banana, a cup of blueberries, a cup of other berries, sometimes a little mango or pineapple, these go in my morning juice. And the juice itself has some apple and carrot in it so there's sugar there too. I don't tend to eat much more fruit during the day although occasionally I'll eat an apple and in this season an orange or a satsuma.

I eat a lot of vegetables for lunch and dinner (usually a green salad with many kinds of raw vegetables for one meal and a big serving of steamed or baked vegetables for the other. There is probably fructose in some of those but I don't worry about it. I don't sugar my tea, I don't drink fruit juice anymore, and i gave up sodas years ago. I do usually eat an energy bar (5-14 grams of fruit sugar from dates each), and I put sweetened coconut milk on my oatmeal (1/4 cup has 2 grams of sugar) and sometimes I'll put some agave syrup on the oatmeal too.

So when I'm good, I'm very, very good. But when I'm bad... Yikes!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Day 341 What is that we really want?

On second Wednesdays of the month, I lead a group of women friends who are engaged in conversations about life purpose and intention. This week our conversation was about what we really want. We looked at the different aspects of our lives: home, health, family, romance and friends, work, fun and leisure, learning, money, spirituality.

None of us had any trouble coming up with material things: be thinner, be fitter, get a new car, get my rugs cleaned, figure out a better solution for the litter box. But we all had a lot more trouble coming up with desires in other realms. One woman commented that when she wrote about what she needed, she could think of a lot of things but when it came to desires, her negative filters (you can't have that, we can't afford that, don't be silly, who do you think you are) all jumped in her face. The other women concurred.

And we got to talking about whether this is a male/female difference. Do women focus on what they need and suppress what they want while men focus on what they want and suppress what they need? We had a rich conversation and then tried the exercise again. It was still tough to move out of what we don't want and into what we do although we came up with a few things.

How easily are you able to express what you desire?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Day 340 The scourge of Valentine's Day

According to my reliable history source (Wikipedia,what else?), people have been thrusting sugar on other people on this day for nearly 300 years. Oh yeah, there are cards too and sometimes jewelry. And flowers are always nice. But come on, it's about the candy.

One of my most memorable relapses on sugar occurred on this day 12 years ago. I was coincidentally visiting friends in San Francisco and it was the husband's habit to buy his wife a dozen chocolate roses and a 5-lb. box of Sees candy. His daughter, who was always watching her weight, got a 2-lb box. The wife asked me if I would like a chocolate rose and I said yes even though I'd been abstaining from sugar for about 5 months. I got a rose and a 1-lb box, which I ate in a day. Then at the San Francisco Airport, I bought several "gift" boxes of chocolates from a kiosk. You can guess who the recipient was and how long they lasted.

While I have a well polished list of rationalizations around this, the truth is I can't leave sugar alone. The arrows in Cupid's quill of course are the arrows stuck in the body of the martyred saint. I think of them as so many ways to get stuck back in my addiction.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Day 339 An important 12-step promise that I don't always remember

Among the many wonderful promises in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous is the promise that if we work the steps and turn our lives over to the care of a Higher Power, we can be restored to sanity. And that certainly happened to me with alcohol. My relationship with alcohol was crazy, and not in a cute way. And when I found the courage and support to give it up, I got sanity back.

In a transformation program that I'm enrolled in, one of the teachers commented today on commitments (we're being asked to make quite a few) and what happens if we break them. Too often, she said, we invalidate ourselves and our commitment when we lapse (relapse) and we give up. Instead we can have compassion and seek support in getting restored to commitment. And I saw how commitment and sanity can be the same for me around sugar. How I can have compassion and seek support and be restored to my commitment and sane eating?

What would it take to restore you to a commitment you hold?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Day 338 Gratitude for what's available to me

It's Wednesday and our local organic chain, New Seasons, offers a senior discount of 10% on Wednesdays so this is the day I usually shop. I was particularly impressed with the produce section after my trip to Florida where local things were great but really limited. At New Seasons, everything is lovely and luscious and most of it is affordable if you don't pick things from Chile or Argentina or Israel.

I bought kale, cucumbers, lettuce, bananas, parsley, celery, portabello mushrooms, potatoes, peppers, mirepoix, red cabbage. I didn't get time to cook today but hope to get a soup on tomorrow and maybe also a veggie bake with one of the new sauces I bought.

I know that eating this way, with a focus on lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, is greatly enhanced by the accessibility and affordability of produce here. I've lived in other places (central Virginia, western Pennsylvania) and the winter is pretty dismal in the stores. Here, we just have a wealth of great food down the street. I am very grateful.

Day 337 In case I'm not convinced yet

For the last three weeks or so, I've been having mild but annoying sinus problems. I've blamed Evie, the cold, the humidity in Florida, the cold, having a 4th cat, but not my return to sugar. Then Monday I talked to my good friend Meredith, who mentioned a connection between sugar and sinus health, and I dismissed it, mostly because I didn't want to know. But then there's this:

Sugar's Effects on the Sinuses

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Sugar is found in a wide variety of foods ranging from breakfast cereals to salad dressings. In fact, the average American consumes over 30 tsps. of refined sugar daily, according to registered dietitian Sandra Woodruff in her book, "The Complete Diabetes Prevention Plan." This is on top of the large consumption of high carbohydrate foods such as white bread, rice and baked goods. The impact of sugar on the human body is still up for debate, but more and more health professionals believe it has a detrimental effect on the immune system, causing issues ranging from fatigue to long-term sinus issues.


Sinusitis is one possible effect of sugar on the sinuses, according to Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., in his book, "Beat Sugar Addiction Now!" Usually this has to do with the growth of fungal yeast that is fed by sugar, which in turn causes an inflammatory reaction in the sinuses. The inflammation then creates swelling, which blocks the drainage from the nose and sinuses. Sinusitis is often treated with antibiotics, but this makes the yeast overgrowth worse, which can lead to chronic sinusitis, maintains Teitelbaum. One way to fight against sinusitis is to cut down sugar intake tremendously or remove it altogether.

Immune System

Dr. Robert S. Ivker states in his book, "Sinus Survival," that sugar weakens the immune system, which leads to higher possibilities of sinus infections. When the immune system is weakened, it is more susceptible to bad bacteria and also allergies. If the immune system is depressed for long periods of time, auto-immune diseases may become a problem. Also, sinus infections may begin to occur on a regular basis.

    Mucus Buildup

    According to Chiropractor Ellen W. Cutler in her book, "Live Free from Asthma and Allergies," a sugar intolerance causes a buildup of mucus in the nose and sinuses. Cutler believes that the inability to properly digest sugars and starches in quite common, and that an undiagnosed sugar intolerance plays a role in many kinds of sensitivities, including those with sinuses. Cravings for sugar and carbohydrates often accompany intolerances to it, so note if you desire sugary foods as a pick-me-up or a way to get through the day, and if your nose starts to run after eating sugary foods.

    Liver Impact

    Sugar also has a negative impact on the liver, according to licensed acupuncturist Jason Elias in his book, "Chinese Medicine for Maximum Immunity," which in turn affects the sinuses, since the liver helps to thin mucus. When the liver isn't working properly, mucus can build up in the sinus and nasal passages, and they aren't able to drain properly. Sugar both stresses the adrenal glands, negatively impacting blood sugar levels, and makes the liver work harder to steady blood sugar.

    Monday, February 10, 2014

    Day 336 Living hand to mouth

    "Regardless of how much time clean you have, relapsing is always as easy as moving your hand to your mouth." --Seth Mnookin

    This quote from blogger Seth Mnookin really struck me. Not only because it's a wonderfully visual description of relapse but also because it comes at the real issue in a different way. Relapse doesn't take much. One drink. One pill. One bad choice. One poor decision. One whim. One stressful evening. One bad day. One irrational thought and then hand to mouth. 

    I've been thinking about how often we/I put hand to mouth: eating, brushing our teeth, drinking water or coffee, cough drops, vitamins, snacks, meals, cigarettes, toothpicks, fingers, lip gloss, pencils, thumbs. The bending of the elbow, the move of one body part towards another.

    Living hand to mouth has a proverbial meaning of poverty. That you only have enough to eat and just barely, enough to get by. So hungry you don't cook it or put it on the table, straight from hand to mouth. But it occurs to me that this is a great image for addicts, especially food addicts. We focus our lives, our living on the distance from hand to mouth. Eating (drinking, pills) are central to our lives and sometimes the only real focus. It's an odd way to live, it seems to me, and one that is so easy to get stuck in.  

    Sunday, February 9, 2014

    Day 335 Glad I stocked up!

    On Tuesday when I went to the organic store, I really stocked up. I have a tendency to buy more food than I need at any one time, food insecurity I guess, and I wanted lots of what I wanted, but this time it worked well for me. We've been more or less snowed in since Thursday noon and I've had plenty of veggies and fruit.

    I've juiced twice: kale, romaine, celery, carrots, apple, satsumas, cucumber. Got enough bananas, grapes to freeze, some frozen marionberries and raspberries, and lots of spinach for the smoothies.

    I got a package of yams and sweet potato, peeled and chunked, and made a soup of some of that with onion, fennel, white beans, bok choy, yellow curry sauce, and chicken broth. Have been eating it with ground lamb and Bhutanese red rice.

    I also did a veggie bake of the rest of yams and sweet potato, onion, kale, celery, and cauliflower, with a sauce of olive oil, reduced balsamic vinegar, lemon salt, basil, and broth. Fabulous with chicken sausages.

    Wonderful warm foods for cold winter nights!

    Saturday, February 8, 2014

    Day 334 Grateful for the gift of desperation

    Saw this line in a blog yesterday: "grateful for the gift of desperation." And I thought of my own desperation 24 years ago. End of my rope. Couldn't do it anymore. Find a way out or kill myself. Point was I'd been trying to find a way out by myself. All by myself. And getting sober doesn't work that way. Staying drunk does. Relapse does. But getting sober and staying sober isn't a solitary activity.

    For a long time, it was hard for me to remember those last months of misery. The sickness, the toxicity, the perpetual nausea and headache. The shrinking window of relief when I'd consumed just enough. And all the pretending of being okay, pretending to be clear and alive, when I was dying inside.

    Desperation drove me to the doctor that sultry Wednesday afternoon in September of 1989. Desperation carried me through the next three days before I went into treatment. It kept me in treatment for the 28 days. It got me to a gazillion meetings in the first years. Now I hold to the gift of desperation as a reminder of how far I've come and how close the past remains. And I am glad to be desperate to stay sober.

    Friday, February 7, 2014

    Day 333 Juice relief

    Monday I traveled home from Florida. My plans for an easy trip (an hour layover in Minneapolis midway) of 9 hours turned into 18 hours due to mechanical problems in Florida that delayed us four hours and then a missed connection that put me in Minneapolis for almost 5 hours instead of that one hour layover). I had planned to be home at my house by 2 pm on Monday and getting to the organic market so I'd be able to slip right back into my eating routine.

    Of course that didn't happen and I got home at 8:30 to an empty fridge. The next morning I had oatmeal and was at the store early buying kale and collard greens, cucumbers and apples, carrots and celery, romaine and fennel. By 10 am I had juice! And by 11 am I had soup in the crock pot and veggies baking. It's always fun to travel and always nice to be home.

    There's an odd kind of craving that I've developed for the juice, a need for it in my body, and I was glad to be able to satisfy that need.

    Thursday, February 6, 2014

    Day 332 Overheard in a Florida meeting

    So many of us are deeply saddened by the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman from a drug overdose. Much of the media conversation shows a poor understanding of addiction, even with all the information that's available. The disease is cunning, baffling, and powerful. It is not rational. It's not something you can think your way out of. Deciding to use again is not like buying a car.

    A small percentage of us (about 10% or so) get sober and stay sober. No one really knows why some of us do and most of us don't. We believe it's from working the 12 step program, seeking support, getting rigorously honest with ourselves and our sponsors and opening up to a higher power through some kind of a spiritual program. But we don't really know. I don't know if Hoffman had those things in his life. I suspect not, or not all of them, or not enough of them. And the dark seduction, the promise of freedom from pain, was too much for him.

    At an AA meeting I attended last Thursday in Naples, a man told a bit of his story and one thing he said rang so true for me. "After 10 years," he said, "I understood what a great thing had happened to me."

    I have made efforts to stay sober: going to meetings, working the steps, eliminating drama from my life, moving always towards kindness and sanity as best I can. But I also understand that a great thing has happened to me and I am so grateful.

    Wednesday, February 5, 2014

    Day 331 Evie is becoming a pet

    I am sitting at my desk here in my office and Evie is sleeping in the wicker inbox to my left. The box is a favorite sleeping place for Frannie and for Sammy. They're within arm's reach for a petting hand at many times of the day. It used to be Frannie's box only. But Sammy doesn't pay any attention to tradition or rules and so if he gets in it, Frannie is out of luck. I've seen Evie eyeing the big cats in the box but she's now figured out how to get up on the desk and if it's empty and I'm here, she gets in. Her eyes are closed as I write this and she is purring loudly.

    I was gone to Florida the last 8 days, and Kathy, my regular cat sitter, said that it wasn't until day 6 that Evie let her pet her. But last night, when I got home and called her name several times, Evie came right out to the living room and with a little coaxing came up to me to be petted. I was concerned that she might have forgotten me, regressed somehow, but no. And during the night, I woke several times to find her asleep on my arm and ready to purr the moment I touched her.

    There's some wildness left, of course. If I move too quickly or make too much noise, she'll skedaddle in a flash, but she knows me and is bonding with me, and asleep in the box, she's just one of the cats.

    Tuesday, February 4, 2014

    Day 330 Restraint of pen and tongue--and fork

    The day before I left Florida, I got on the scale in Karen and Joe's bathroom so I could weigh myself and then me with a box of books to see how much weight there was for mailing the books. Although I was fully clothed and it was late in the day, two things I don't do when I weigh myself, I certainly noticed that I've put about 7 pounds back on since Thanksgiving, thanks to my pal Sweets. In addition to some brief but profound binges and some just general eating too much, I'm creeping back up in size, something I really don't want to do.

    So I've been thinking about moderation and the AA phrase of "restraint of pen and tongue" (advice to think well before speaking or writing) has come to mind. Some of us are compulsive and/or impulsive; many of us are impetuous. We speak and act quickly, often without a lot of consideration. And that kind of behavior impacts both my food choices and my speed of consumption.

    So I'm committing to restraint not only of pen and tongue, but of fork and spoon as well. I think this will really serve me.  

    Monday, February 3, 2014

    Day 329 Practicing obedience to the unenforceable

    While in Florida, I went with my friend Karen to an Alanon meeting. I'm always struck by the gentleness of Alanon, the rather yin or female feeling to the meeting and certainly to the readings. Of course, Alanon was originally for the wives of alcoholics just as AA was for men and that may be part of it. And Alanon's focus is relationship sanity, not substance sobriety, and that may be part of it too.

    The meeting focused on Tradition 2 and I was struck by this phrase from the reading: "practicing obedience to the unenforceable." That so sums up the commitment to food sanity I wish to embrace. There is no way to enforce it, those choices to not eat certain things, to abstain. But there are ways to practice that sort of obedience, obedience to our Higher Self, our own best interests, our own good. And while it is a practice (i.e., progress, not perfection), it's a noble effort.

    Sunday, February 2, 2014

    Day 328 Acupuncture before flying

    I've been fortunate so far to escape both the respiratory flu that has been so vicious and the intestinal norovirus making the rounds. I've had a minor cold, or it stayed minor, but was concerned about flying and the exposure to others and the fatigue of travelling. So I got the good idea to go Sunday afternoon to acupuncture before I flew out Monday morning.

    I always have a restful nap at Working Class Acupuncture and Sunday was no exception. I also noticed that I had much less trip anxiety that evening and the next morning. I had a smooth and easy flight and have had little trouble with jet lag and have felt quite good while I'm here.

    I don't know how much of this to attribute to healthy eating and how much to acupuncture but I'll be doing it again when I get home!

    Saturday, February 1, 2014

    Day 327 The Why Me? list

    Karen Casey, author of Each Day a New Beginning, and I are leading a writing workshop for 16 women here in Naples, FL. We had a great day today, asking the writers to write stories from their past, write letters of anger and reconciliation to people with whom they have problematic relationships, and write terrible poems just for fun. As a prelude to the terrible poem (which were wonderful, by the way), I asked them all to write a long list of complaints, to complain about anything bothers them.

    A few people had trouble as they have worked so hard to not complain but I asked them to just play along. And then we read our lists aloud and each complaint was followed by the question: Why me?

    Here are some of mine:

    • I have to clean the litterbox. Why me?
    • My hip hurts. Why me?
    • It's too humid here. Why me?
    • People drive too close behind me. Why me?
    • I'm fat. Why me?
    • Sammy occasionally pees on the bath mat. Why me?

    You get the idea. By the time four or five women had read their Why Me? lists, we were chuckling. A few more and we were roaring with laughter. We saw that we have the same complaints, the same issues, and in sharing them out loud, the same relief. It turned into a lot of fun.