Saturday, November 29, 2014

Coming together, falling apart

Last week I was at an annual fall writing retreat with friends at the Oregon Coast. I have two books in the works: my fourth novel, which would have been fun to work on, and my book on sugar and food addiction. I hadn't worked on either book for quite a while as I've writing been some ebooks on self-editing.

Before I left, I decided to tackle the sugar book on the retreat because I felt stuck in the writing, and having a few days of silence and creative support seemed a good environment to deal with that stuckness. I spent the first days moving things around, finding a good organization for the material I had already written, reworking some of the older blog posts that were pertinent, and figuring out what needed to be written. It was very productive, something that always makes me feel good.

Then on the fifth day, I wrote a draft of the emotional eating chapter. I went into it with very clear ideas of the sections and what I needed to say. All that happened and yet something else happened too, some deeper knowing, some deeper feelings. When I woke up the next day, I was wiped out, exhausted, emotionally wrung out.

I didn't write again that day and since I've been home, I've worked on more mundane tasks for the book. I did good work that long, hard day but I suspect it's the tip of the iceberg. As the book comes together, I can feel my old structures of defense falling apart.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A family of fluctuating traditions

When I was a kid in a home that didn't feel emotionally stable to me, I loved the predictabiliy of holiday traditions. I gave my mother the same gifts every year (Jergen's hand lotion and a long-stemmed rose) and she always expressed delight, bless her. I needed the tree trimming to occur on the same day (my birthday) and the opening of presents to happen in the same way. I think I loved those traditions but I loved the sameness even more.

In the somewhat chaotic life I've lived as an adult, there has been a real need for flexibility in holiday and other traditions. And I'm so glad my family has embraced these changes so often that now doing different things feels normal.

For the last 10 or 15 years, my neighbor/friend/adopted sister Melanie has cooked a big Thanksgiving feast and invited all the orphans, those with no family or none they associate with. This year, she just didn't want to do it, so four of us are going to a nice hotel downtown for an afternoon meal on Thanksgiving.

For more than 15 years, I've done a first-Sunday-in-December open house with decorations, gallons of my own mulled cider, a real party. This year, I don't want to do it. So instead I'm having an informal drop-in gathering on a Saturday afternoon for folks to come by for tea and a snack and see my art and catch up.

It feels good to shift when traditions lose their ability to delight us.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Gratitude for my life

One of the most important teachings I got out of the Money Program this past year was that sufficiency, enough, abundance aren't specific amounts. They are a steady flow of what we need and what we want coming and going from our lives.

I am very grateful for the people who have come into my life this year and equally grateful for those who moved on. It was painful at the time, but I know that friendships have a lifespan too and that we move and change in our beliefs and interests.

I am grateful for deepening relationships with my family and close circle.

I am grateful for all the learnings of the past year, some fun to know, some hard to accept, but all have enriched my life.

I am grateful to have sufficient money flowing in and out of my life to have the things I need and some of what I want.

I am grateful to all the readers who bought my books, to the people who invested in my art.

I am grateful for retreats and a studio where I can write and paint. These are long-held dreams come true.

I am grateful for my health, my mind, my opening heart.

And I am grateful for all of you flowing in and out of my life. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

25 Small Ways to Help the World

I loved this post.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Some of what I learned from the More Money Guaranteed program

My 9-month program about transformng my relationship with money came to a close at the end of October. It was a highly successful investment for me. It was more money than I'd every spent on anything and I got more out of it than I could ever have imagined.

Here are just a few of the things that happened for me:

  • I got the courage to double my hourly rate.
  • I made significantly more money as a consequence.
  • I finally found a successful way to stop overworking.
  • I got things done on my longterm to-do list that I didn't think would ever get finished: an inventory of my art, an art website, five ebooks written and published, an Etsy shop. 
  • I gained a much greater understanding of investing and how to make the most of the money I do have and orchestrated some changes with my financial advisor and jumped in to do a little investing on my own.
  • I met 70 amazing and inspiring people and became good friends with several of them. 
The program is happening again next year (Feburary through November). There are numerous payment options and some very hefty scholarships depending on your income and networth. If you would like to transform your money and your life, I highly recommend it. And yes, I am taking it again! That's how good it was.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Learning to feel sorry for myself

In our second conversation about the five stages of grief, Anna, my therapist, advised me to learn to feel sorry for myself. If you can't, she said, you can't really grieve. That's what grief is, she said. It's being willing to go into the deep parts of your loss: the person, the possibility, even the dream that has died or left you. Grief is truly feeling that loss, being with it, moving through it, not pushing it aside.When we tell our children "stop feeling sorry for yourself" or "get over it," we do them a disservice. We teach them that grief isn't a part of a life, when it is central to life. Love and loss are central to life.

I grew up in a "buck up" family. Keep busy, don't think about it, and it will go away. Of course, it does. But it goes away someplace deep inside, not through you and out. When my mother died, when my father died, I didn't grieve. I didn't become lethargic or depressed or weepy or even particularly unhappy. I pushed all of that aside and went on with my life as if that was the most important thing to do.

Anna wasn't talking about either of these big events or even about the death of Nellie although she could have been. Instead, she was talking about food addiction. If you cannot grieve the fact that you are a food addict, she said, you cannot let go of wanting it not to be so. And if you cannot let of wanting it not to be so, you can't make peace with it. I now see the broader scope of all this in my life. How learning to feel sorry for myself could change everything.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A few words about the election

I don't rant much politically. I'm not sure how helpful it is. But several things have struck me about the recent election, which was disappointing to me but not surprising.

First, those of us who are well educated and liberal seem to think that everyone will (or should) think like we do. It wasn't until I realized how few of my age peers (teenage in the 60s) became hippies or anti-war protesters that I understood some things about our country. We weren't all that many. For one thing, many fewer people went to college in those days and we protesters were mostly college students or college grads. Most of our peers didn't fight the draft, got married right out of high school, took minimum wage or factory jobs, and if they have money now (or credit to buy things), they want to hang on to it and they will vote conservative. That's what conservative means, conserving what you've got.

Second, I read somewhere that the mean IQ in the United States, as elsewhere in the world, is about 102. That's right in the middle of normal (90-110) That means that half the people are below that and half the people are above. While it doesn't take a high IQ to vote or to understand the candidates' ideas, it may take a higher IQ to understand that TV is not our best source of information. And while a much wider range and much bigger number of young people are going to college, they are mostly not getting thoughtful, reflective educations: they are getting job training in the guise of a BA or BS degree.

Last, it struck me on Wednesday after the election, that most of our compatriots are living mired in fear. Fear of change. Fear of loss. Illogical fear. When you have illogical fear, you can't be reasonable. You can't be reasoned with. When you have illogical fear, you stay with the husband who beats you, you keep drinking, you keep shopping, you keep buying. When you have illogical fear, you have no imagination to work with, no way to imagine a different life. So you cling to what you know, you cling to the ones who soothe you, not the ones who want to shake things up.

We do get the leaders the larger collective votes for. And it's painful when you can see a different and perhaps better way.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

One person is all it takes

Since I got back from North Carolina two weeks ago, I've been thinking about my presentations at the retreat and wondering what impact my message had. This group of women in recovery was the audience I had written Sober Play: Using Creativity for a More Joyful Recovery for. It was wonderful to share my many ideas about how creativity and successful sobriety are linked both to the whole group and to individuals as the weekend progressed.

I was delighted and not all that surprised to hear how many of those women had dreams of being an artist, a writer, a musician. I think most of us do, once we're exposed. Once we hear great music or see art that touches us or read a book that we love, we want to do that too. We want to do what others do and once we start doing it, we want to do more.

But something intervenes, often an external critic, a parent trying to be "realistic," a teacher on a power trip, a friend who doesn't get it and we stop. We don't hone our skills while we're young when it's easier, we don't take chances when we're young, we just stop.

I've no way of knowing how many of those 85 women will step fully into their creativity now. They will still encounter the "realistic," the naysayers, the friends who don't get it. And they will have to battle their inner critics as well, all too quick to pull the you're-not-good-enough card on us. But maybe one or two will pick up that novel, that paintbrush, that crochet hook and go for it. I hope so.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Writing a book that includes failure

For the last five months, I've been working on a book on sugar and food addiction. I have wanted to write this book for some time. Many recovering alcoholics turn to sugar and why not? Alcohol is fermented sugar. In fact, many meetings serve sugar (doughnuts, cookies, birthday cake). And yet in most AA meetings, sugar addiction is not a topic on the table although many of us eat it like there's no tomorrow.

Part of my impetus to write the book was my success with the food plan. For nine months, I thought I had my food addiction under control. I wouldn't have said "cured" but I was galloping in remission. And then I wasn't. My quandary now: are there readers for a self-help book that doesn't have the answer?

Of course, there's always room to tell my story, to talk of my struggle, but is that enough? I'm no longer sure.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Still bargaining, still negotiating...still angry?

When I saw my therapist/spiritual director last week, I talked to her about Nellie's death and my grief. How I had so wanted to be in denial about it, had been angry, had wanted to bargain, and negotated, how I moved into depression and then into acceptance. And then as we almost always do, we started talking about my food stuff and I talked about how I had fallen away from the Plan little by little and how I couldn't seem to find the resolve to go back to it.

And she mentioned again those five stages of grief and suggested that I had a ways to go around my food addiction. We acknowledged together that I have passed through denial and come out the other side of angry as well. I actually stayed there a fairly long time. Why me? Why this too? Wasn't one life-threatening addiction (alcoholism) enough? I still occasionally feel this.

But according to Anna, I'me now in the bargaining/negotiating stage: if only I can find the right food plan, I'll be okay. I won't have food addicion anymore. It took our conversation for me to realize that the plan, any plan, will work for weight loss if you stick to it. And some plans will improve our health. But they don't cure food addiction. Nothing cures addiction. There is only remission. This makes me want to weep.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Boredom, not shame

You may have noticed that I haven't written about food much lately. That's because I've gotten back on the Road More Travelled: eating whatever I want, whenever I want it. This isn't unusual, of course. It's what food addicts do. Just like alcoholics drink and gamblers gamble and sex addicts find new partners.I expected to feel a lot of shame around this. After all, I was doing so well. I'd found a great food plan that seemed to be working, I lost considerable weight, I felt great. And then bit by bit, that all morphed into the same old same old.

But instead of shame, I just feel bored by myself. Oh yeah, this again. I've been here so many times. It plays out the same each time. I find a plan, lose weight, feel great. Then I succumb to temptation: a candy bar, a piece of cake, and for a while I don't gain back the weight, so I think I'm home free. And then I've moved back into all the comfort foods, all the self-medicating (even when nothing really needs medicating) and the weight comes back and the struggle begins again. It's become very tedious.

I'm not sure where to go from here, but boredom is never a good place for me. Something has to give. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

A measure of life changes

Today I finished narrating my memoir for Audible Books. It was an interesting and intense experience (about 13 hours of deeply concentrated work over four days for the 72,000 words) and while I can't call it fun, it was very satisfying.

Today in reading the last 25 pages, I was struck by the changes in my life since I wrote them seven years ago. It's not just the numbers: 18 years sober then, 25 now, 13 years in Portland then, 20 years now. It was more the change in relationships.

My best friend then has moved to Rwanda and we fell away from each other when it became clear she was not going to be here anymore. No animosity, no disagreement, just a change in life focus. Another close friend, whom I had trusted and loved deeply, broke my heart. Both were wonderful (in hindsight) experiences of boundary setting and accepting what is, but seven years ago I wouldn't have imagined either of those relationship disappearing from my life.

And then there's Nellie. She appears several places in the second half of the memoir, my soul sister, my companion. And now she too is no more.  How sure I seemed at the time of the permanence of things. How less sure I am today.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The intimacy of reading aloud

I am in the midst of the adventure of narrating my memoir for the audio book version. In two days, I have learned many things: It is extremely hard work. There's a level of physical exhaustion I would not have imagined. You sit quite still so that your distance from the microphone is always the same. You wear clothing that doesn't swish, jewelry that doesn't clink or ring. You read from a tablet (no page turning noises, please). If you swallow in the middle of a sentence, you have to do it over. And you can't run your hand along your pant leg. The microphone picks up everything.

Those of you who have read Sober Truths: The Making of an Honest Woman know that the first half is pretty difficult. My life before sobriety was not pretty. While I was writing those parts, it was painful, but once I got things down on the page, I had some distance from it. But in order to read aloud successfully, to create a good audio book experience, you have to live it out loud so the reader can live it too. It's not reading to a group, it's telling a story to another person. Reliving that first half, which I have done the last two days, has been difficult. And at the same time, I am grateful to not be that person any more and to not live that life any more.

It is one thing to write your intimate stories for other people to read in the privacy of their own world. It's another to speak them out loud. The recording engineer, a lovely man, is my audience, and it's both odd and interesting to tell him about the depths of my drinking and my sexual history. There is an intimacy in reading aloud that I never really thought about before as a writer.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Grief in the Green Chair

I have been home from the East Coast for a week now. It was easy not to think very much about the loss of my beautiful Nellie Girl while I was away. I was busy and in new places and the sadness only came over me at night and first thing in the morning. But here, I look for her everywhere. I wait for her to get on the bed in the morning and bite my chin so I'll get up and put canned food in the dish. I look for her in the window as I come up the walk. She was always there. I listen for her extraordinary purr, which was audible from a room away. And mostly I look for her in the big green chair, her most favorite sleeping spot.

My other cats are reorganizing themselves in her absence. Frannie, now the oldest at 4 and the biggest at 14 pounds, is tooting her own weight around. She has a prison mama swagger and is doing her best to intimidate the other two. Sammy, my handsome doofus, could care less and Evie, the little feral girl, steps out of everyone's way. So maybe Frannie's posturing is for me. Or maybe it's how she grieves.

But what I find most odd, most mysterious is that each  night one of them sleeps in the green chair.