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Posts Tagged ‘uncertainty’

I first saw you in the movie Happiness. Your raw-ugly-beautiful performance cut through to my heart in a way I had never experienced before. “This guy isn’t afraid of anything,” I thought. “He’s fearless.” And you did it again and again: in Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Capote, Synecdoche, Jack Goes Boating, A Late Quartet. Balls out, I would call it now, with great admiration.

More recently I saw you at one of the Happy Talks at the Rubin Museum of Art. You sat with philosopher Simon Critchley and were as real and thoughtful and imperfect as I imagined you. The way you dropped your head into your hand to fully consider whatever probing question your co-host had posed. As if you needed to remove yourself from the presence of all our eager eyes in order to touch something deep inside, to find an uncompromising truth.

At one point he asked you “How do you know when you feel happy?” And after a long, silent pause, you shared that watching your kids enjoying one another – how they allowed you to enjoy them – that was the definition of happiness for you. I wished my boyfriend was with me to hear that. To hear a father’s description of the unexpected joys of children, the sheer gorgeousness of life’s messy spontaneous moments.

But then you questioned your own answer. You wondered whether this sort of experience felt like happiness because it spurred reflection on your own past and sort of filled in the holes you imagined existed as a child, or if it was a feeling of true unconditional love for your children. “What is real happiness?” we were all left wondering.

I also wondered about those holes. I have them too. I often feel like a problem that’s impossible to solve. Simultaneously too much and not enough. And like there’s something rotten inside me, something that I might be able to exorcise if I could just find its exact location. I usually feel that no one else can see or understand it. I walk around the city feeling like everyone has figured out something that continues to elude me.

Drinking helped. It numbed me to my experience and allowed me to get away from myself and my pain, if only temporarily. But after a while I realized it didn’t really help. And worse than that, it added to my pain by convincing me that I was weak, incapable of dealing with reality, altering my experience in a way that was wasting my life. Eventually even the slightest discomfort led me to the bottle, creating a vicious cycle. When I stopped drinking 6 years ago, those feelings got worse. Without my predictable anesthesia, I felt overwhelmed by suffering, my own and that of others. When I found the practice of meditation, though, I started to build up my tolerance to such discomfort. Like exercising a muscle that had wasted away, I am gradually becoming more resilient, more loving and gentle to myself.

When I learned that you left rehab a few months ago, I wanted to reach out to you. I started writing a letter, telling you that even though we have never met, in a very real way I know you and feel your pain. I wanted to remind you how strong and beautiful you are, that you are deeply loved and appreciated for your imperfect self. Even if you didn’t believe it at first, I wanted you to take my word for it and eventually you’d see. I wanted to invite you to meditate, to have the experience of sitting with that seemingly solid and immovable discomfort without reacting with drinking or shooting up or even going down the rabbit hole of habitual thoughts. To watch how the pain changes, even if only minutely, from moment to moment. I wanted to tell you that it doesn’t get easier, but it does get better.

But I put the letter away. I lost my nerve when I realized you might think my lightweight addiction couldn’t measure up to yours, that my suffering was nothing in comparison. I couldn’t see past my own insecurities, couldn’t be fearless like you were in Happiness, and chose not to put those thoughts of love and support out there, even if you never read them. Now I wish I had.

You will be missed.

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The following is a post I shared on my Eat to Love website for the New Year. Recognizing the sizable overlap between drinking and eating — as distraction, as habit, as addiction — I thought I would share it here. If you are interested in receiving this type of article from me, please feel free to sign up to join the Eat to Love community in the box at top-right here:

 

January can be a virtual minefield for those of us trying to have a healthy relationship with our bodies and minds. You can’t swing a yoga mat without hitting an article or advertisement for weight loss, undoing the effects of the holidays on our waistlines, or getting minutely closer to that ill-defined and literally impossible beauty ideal. If you’re like me, trying to live a life that doesn’t hinge on having rock-hard abs, a creaseless forehead, or anything preceded by the word “perfect” (not that there’s anything wrong with that [that’s not true…there kind of is]), perhaps you would like to share in my anti-resolution for 2014:

1.    I will tune out the relentless refrain about “having my best body,” “making this the year,” and anything vaguely resembling “New Year, new you”

These phrases all sound great at first, but they have a surly undertone: they are typically meant to sell us something, either directly or indirectly; they suggest we can improve ourselves but are maddeningly vague; and they are usually accompanied by tips that seem easy enough to implement except that they don’t address the reasons certain behaviors exist in the first place. Most of all, this type of refrain smacks of “everyone else is doing it…better get on the bandwagon.” Bullying couched in healthy-speak is still bullying. I say, “Resist, my friend, there is a better way.”

2.    I will not make promises about changing my body to look like someone else’s (even if that someone else is me 10 years ago, before a pregnancy, etc.)

The shape and size of my body are the results of many things, including genetics, culture, beliefs, and habits of diet and exercise. Any goal that involves losing a specific amount of weight, fitting into a particular jeans size, or lifting, shrinking, nipping, or tucking my shape ignores these things. What’s more, it creates an environment of black-and-white thinking, self-judgment, comparison with others, and inevitable failure. Relying on external milestones and ideals of beauty, we fail to heed our internal wisdom: our basic biology, signals of hunger and satiety, and our true wants and needs.

3.    I will not participate in fat shaming, the dieting dialogue, or moralizing about food, eating, and weight

“I’m so huge.” “I’m never eating again.” “I will need to run home (from vacation, 3 states away) to burn off that dinner.” “I’m so bad.”

Let’s. Just. Stop. This type of language is subtle but subversive. It gets into our vernacular and we stop noticing how shaming, diminishing, and downright cruel it is. The more time and energy we spend on such drivel, the less time we have for more productive thoughts, for really taking care of ourselves and one another, and for appreciating the beauty in ourselves and in every day of our lives.

Reversing this habit is difficult, to be sure. But rather than getting down on ourselves when we do participate, we can just notice, pay attention to the motivation behind it (self-deprecation, fear, anxiety, or just being part of the crowd), and challenge ourselves to not participate next time.

4.    I will slow down, get quiet, and tune into my body

A promise worth making is to pay attention to ourselves, to create the space necessary to listen to what our bodies and minds are telling us, which is often “slow down,” “take care of me,” “I can’t support you if you don’t give me what I need.” Whether we do this through meditation, a mindfulness practice, or simply choosing to say “No” to unnecessary commitments, we will develop a foundation from which to make skillful decisions and wise changes to our lives, if necessary.

5.    I will become a curious and objective observer of myself

As we tune in to ourselves, inevitably things will arise. Thoughts and strong emotions present us with a choice: we can either identify with them and react, or simply observe them without judgment. By learning to do the latter, we develop resilience and become more and more able to tolerate discomfort without automatically reacting.

6.    As the epic battle between head and heart rages on, I will try to pay more attention to my heart

Rene Descartes, who famously said, “I think, therefore I am,” would disagree with me on this one. But as someone who lives in her head, I know I need to connect more with my heart. My head is more likely to get confused and caught up in futile attempts to do battle with my body. My heart, on the other hand, is patient and quietly certain that I’m fine just as I am now.

7.    I will become a love ninja

Not everyone will understand this anti-resolution approach to the New Year. Many will get swept up in the usual tidal wave of extreme behaviors that peter out in a few short weeks (and the self-recrimination that inevitably follows). Rather than hurling judgment at them, however, I will stealthily launch my compassion, empathy, and love.

8.    I will contemplate a world in which the hierarchy of value centers on kindness and compassion rather than beauty, youth, and thinness

Just considering this for a moment opens my heart. And I think we are getting closer. If Intuitive Eating, the Anti-diet project, and the entire mindfulness movement are any indication, we are heading in a good direction.

Happy 2014 everyone!

 

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I’m very excited to announce the publication of the Drinking to Distraction book!

This short memoir is a collection of my thoughts and experiences, from the days when I wondered (sometimes aloud, but mostly to myself) whether or not I was an alcoholic, to my decision to quit and those awkward early days, and finally to my discovery of meditation and learning to become more comfortable with discomfort.

It was important for me to write and publish this book mostly because it is the one I looked for all those years, when I read every alcoholism memoir I could find, hoping to find some glimpse of myself, some instruction manual to tell me what to do. I never found the book I was looking for; instead I found dramatic tales that ended with the author hitting bottom and going to rehab, which made me think I was alone in my experience as a grey-area drinker.

After starting the Drinking to Distraction blog more than 3 years ago, however, I realized I was never alone. There are many of us who chose to stop drinking, not necessarily because alcohol had caused us to lose control over our lives, but because it took away from our lives in more subtle ways, ways we couldn’t totally appreciate until after we made that fearful decision to leave it behind. And there are many, many more of us still struggling with this decision; I’ve received countless emails from readers and I can feel their pain, confusion, and anticipation. Writing about my experience and connecting with all of you has been essential to my recovery. Bringing this important conversation out in the open seems to me the only way to help ourselves and others.

I invite you to check out Drinking to Distraction here. Right now it’s only available through Lulu.com in paperback but soon it will be available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBookstore both electronically and in hard copy.

As always, thank you for reading!

 

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The following is what is becoming my annual post about seasonal affective disorder, written from my new platform at Eat to Love. Previous posts on the topic can be found here, here, and here. I’ll be following up with a recipe for my favorite anti-depressant stew and some more thoughts on nutrition for depression.

 

Feeling S.A.D.? You’re Not Alone. Here Are 6 Things You Can Start Doing Today to Feel Better

The holidays are upon us, there’s an invigorating chill in the air, celebrations to enjoy, but you’re feeling anything but festive? Does your body feel heavy and leaden, your mind sluggish and unclear? When you wake up in the morning, do you look forward to the moment you can get back into bed? I know I do.

If this sounds familiar, you might have seasonal affective disorder. S.A.D. is a type of depression that hits about the same time each year. The exact cause of S.A.D. is not 100% clear but it is likely a combination of seasonal changes in your circadian rhythm and your body’s levels of melatonin and serotonin. Women, people who suffer from depression, and those who have a family history of S.A.D. and/or depression are at the greatest risk for S.A.D.

I have struggled with S.A.D. since I was a child, yet every November I’m surprised by it. I feel like the tin man on my yoga mat, my eyes sit at half-mast, and if I open an email from the Humane Society, I am reduced to a sobbing puddle for 20 minutes. After the initial shock and indignation wears off (it usually takes me about 3 days to say “It’s happening again…”), I put on my big girl panties and deal with it. The following is a list of the things I have found most helpful in managing S.A.D. [Continue reading]

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P1000078On December 28th of 2012, I was laid off from my job as a medical writer at a biotechnology company. I was with that company much longer than anticipated since the job, at the time I got it, was an escape hatch from the disastrous job I started right after I quit drinking. I planned to be at the biotech company only a year at most while I collected myself and began to understand what life was like sober. One year became four years and, during that time, I had what looked like a promising career with a handful of successes and a solid salary. But I knew there was something else waiting for me.

As the 28th of December approached, I was facing a world of uncertainty when “the perfect job” landed in my inbox. But after a whirlwind interview process, I didn’t get it. I remember getting the call. It was nighttime in Sicily. I walked out of my boyfriend’s parents’ house into the backyard to find a little bit more cellular reception and looked out across the Mediterranean as I heard the words “we decided to go with the other finalist.” But as I walked back into the house and told everyone my news with just a shake of my head, I knew that this was the right thing.

Working one job or another since I was 12 years old, I now had an opportunity to explore my own wants and needs without an obligation to an employer. Between the safety net of severance and savings and, more importantly, a supportive family and partner, I decided not to do what I thought I “should.” Instead I left myself open to the possibilities. And in the last year, those possibilities have included:

  • Traveling back to Sicily and Paris and exotic Upstate New York
  • Taking continuing education classes, attending conferences, and completing a free “How to start a small business” course in New York City
  • Networking, opening up to people, making new friends, and reinvigorating old friendships
  • Visiting friends and family near and far
  • Formalizing my commitment to Buddhism
  • Translating/interpreting a children’s book from Italian to English
  • Taking care of myself physically and mentally, attending ballet barre and yoga classes, going for acupuncture and therapy
  • Volunteering with the New York City Coalition Against Hunger
  • Cooking, sleeping, watching trashy TV, and cuddling with my boyfriend and our fur children, Rufus and Darwin
  • Writing a book based on the Drinking to Distraction blog [Stay Tuned!]

And deciding to start my own nutrition counseling business. Some of you already know that my education and early job experience was in nutrition and that I have long wanted to get back to that field. Given the time and space I was fortunate enough to have during the last year, I came to see starting my own business as a risk worth taking. And about two weeks ago, I launched my mindful nutrition business, Eat to Love, which integrates meditation, therapeutic approaches to addiction, and Intuitive Eating.

Besides taking an inventory of what the hell I’ve been doing for the last 11 months, I’m writing this post to acknowledge that none of the things I have done in the last year would have been possible if I had not quit drinking nearly six years ago. That was the first step out of my own cocoon, my coming out of hiding. A process that was furthered by beginning to meditate, by beginning to write about my experience here, by not trying to keep making all the “right” moves in my life or to please everyone else. Starting this business is taking the next step.

Gradually I will begin to spend more time on this new venture, which opens up new possibilities for the Drinking to Distraction blog. I always viewed the blog as a shared space where readers could post their own stories about drinking, mindfulness, meditation, and coming out of the cocoon. Now, more directly I invite you to submit your story, to experience the therapeutic release of writing your own narrative, and to help others by letting them know they are not alone.

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