Compulsive…

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I had something happen yesterday that, more than any binge ever could, totally defines the compulsive behaviors that I struggle with. I have had a change to my schedule for the rest of the year that involved me using some Wite-Out in my planner. This is certainly not a problem. I can handle some Wite-Out…but I didn’t have any at home. I headed to Staples, and when faced with three options, I chose one that was water-based because I figured it would not clump like I have had the other versions do in the past.

I headed home, opened my planner, covered up the old appointments, and wrote in some of the new ones. And…it did not go well. The water base meant that it took forever to dry, didn’t cover well, and transferred a ghost of the ink to the opposite page.

My first impulse was to buy a new planner – the exact same one – so I could recreate the pages I have filled in so far and get rid of the one that I had “ruined.” I even went on the Staples website, filled up my shopping cart (I “had to” spend enough to get free shipping.), and I was ready to pull out my credit card when I decided to…stop. In therapy, we have talked about how, when faced with a compulsion, sometimes stopping for a few minutes can let the “need” to do something abate a little. This could be anything…a need to binge, a need to take a drink, a need to cut, a need to purge, a need to shop. Pausing can give you the time you need to consider which choice you want to make. It can take away the compulsive aspect of the behavior.

It doesn’t always work. Sometimes, when I try to pause, my response to that action is to say, “Fuck it,” and do it anyway. And there are varying reasons for that too. But THIS TIME, I closed out the Staples webpage and didn’t make my purchase. This morning, I stopped at CVS and bought some better Wite-Out (the quick dry…better coverage and dry time, but it is kind of clumpy in the bottle). And I put my planner back in order.

It turns out that sometimes I can be in charge…not my compulsions.

Unapologetically…

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I have been using an app called Lift to set and track some goals. For the most part, these are wellness goals, in one form or another. Some of them include “go to the gym,” “track calories,” “drink 3 liters of fluid per day,” and “take vitamins.” You can choose from a list of popular goals, or you can create your own. And you can choose how many days each week you would like to accomplish these goals. I aim to go to yoga or meditation twice each week. I aim to go to the gym four times each week. I aim to count calories five days per week (I am trying to balance paying attention to what I am eating with not paying too much attention to what I am eating). I aim to drink 3 liters of fluid (this could include water or anything that can be “counted” as water…I drink a lot of double-diluted Crystal Lite) every day. I aim to blog or journal three times per week (this is a brand new goal that I set this week…this is my first time accomplishing it).

I am trying to keep a list of topics I might want to blog about, and the first thing I want to talk about is the concept of being unapologetically me. I have been living on my own now for a bit over two years, since the implosion of my (former) marriage. And even when you are the person who has made the ultimate choice to end your marriage, the act of un-coupling is really, really hard. My ex-husband and I were together for a bit more than 12 years, and when we separated, I was 36 years old. For a third of my life, I had been part of this couple, and figuring out who I was outside of our relationship was a big challenge. Relying on good friends who knew me before I met my ex-husband has helped. Therapy has helped. But I still find myself, two years later, wondering who I really am.

I have discovered a lot about why I do the things I do. What I thought was a lack of control and lack of willpower around food, it turns out, was an eating disorder. My credit card debt, it turns out, was partly the result of using compulsive shopping as a numbing behavior. The 75 pounds I lost in the last three years of my marriage, it turns out, was compulsive dieting behavior. And as I was learning these things, I let them sort of define my view of who I was. And then, one day, my therapist asked me when I could last remember being myself. SUCH a difficult question, it turns out. It felt sad to admit this (although I was pretty numbed out at the time, so I probably didn’t experience it as sadness), but the last time I remembered feeling like myself was probably the last time I spent an extended amount of time as a single person…which was back in 1999.

I have had a history of giving up all the power in romantic relationships. I am exploring why this is, but once I am in a romantic relationship, I am usually willing to morph myself into what I need to be to hang on with all my might to that relationship, whether it is a good one or a bad one. I have only ever had two non-negotiables in relationships, events that, if they happened, would signal the end for me, and one of these two things happened in my marriage. If this has not happened, I probably never would have left, although I don’t know that I would not eventually have been left.

So the last two years has been about recovery from a lot of things, and while it seemed like a crisis period in the beginning (and for quite a long time), it is settling into something different. I am enjoying spending time alone. I am still seeing my therapist every two weeks. I am spending time moving my body in ways that make me feel good and feel good about myself. I am still plagued at times with crippling low self-esteem, but I also something think that perhaps I am not that bad. I feel content for longer periods of time. I binge eat less often. My spending is often more deliberate and less compulsive (although I had a low period when I was out of work with my broken wrist). And I feel less like I am putting on an act and more like the me that everyone sees is the real me.

For the last two years, I kept my divorce and its aftermath out of my blog (except for touching on some of what I was learning in therapy), and I certainly don’t plan any kind of in-depth discussion about what went wrong or the details of the un-coupling process, but I also am living life as a divorced woman, and ignoring that means ignoring a major event that has shaped the last two-and-a-half years of my life. So this is me. Unapologetically.

Notes from the Meditation Cushion 1.4

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First of all, I want to mention the passing of Maya Angelou today. I first read her words in eighth grade when I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and was amazed by the writing. I continued to enjoy reading what she wrote throughout the years, and I was very affected by the poem “Phenomenal Woman” when I was in college. And as I have gone through the last two-ish years of my life, there is one quote that I try to keep in mind at all times:

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I often find myself struggling with the “I am enough” thing, and this quote (and my therapist) reminds me that we are all enough, right in this moment, just as we are.

Anyway, Dr. Angelou will certainly be missed.

I went back to meditation last night, and I forgot to take my little notebook with me, which means that I found myself writing notes on half of a Post-it note and the front page of my planner so that I could remember it for this blog post. The lesson this week was about cessation of suffering and whether the cessation of suffering occurs because of something outside of ourselves or from something inside ourselves. I have shared here my struggles with compulsive eating, compulsive dieting, and compulsive shopping. Because this is part of my story, this lesson felt very real and very personal to me.

A book that was recommended to me by my therapist talks about scarcity (which is basically the fear of not having what you need, which then leads you to compulsively over-collect what you may need so that you don’t have to worry about going without), and this blog has a post on using food to fill the hole of emptiness. Compulsive behaviors and addictions often come about because those who engage them feel like something is missing in life, and therefore, there is a quest to fill in what is missing with something external, whether it be food or drugs or belongings or restriction of food or alcohol or gambling or any other compulsion. This is personal to me because, like many lifelong dieters, I have long felt that my life would be so much better if I could just lose weight.

The logical side of me knows that this is not the case. My “suffering” will not cease if I manage to lose weight because my weight is not the problem. It is a manifestation of the problem(s). Therefore, the only way to achieve true cessation of suffering is to experience inner peace. Although I am certainly a work in progress in this respect, there are some things that I can do as I continue to learn on my meditation cushion. And one way that she talked about that I LOVED was the idea of considering where a person is coming from when you interact with them. By choosing not to go into my day as my limited self, I can consider the motivation of all those I come into contact with and use that knowledge to adjust the way I react to them. The example given to us, which does not pertain to me, was the idea of a mother-in-law who constantly gives unsolicited advice to her daughter-in-law. The daughter-in-law might be annoyed by this constant advice if she considers if with her limited self. However, if she thinks of this advice as her mother-in-law’s attempt to provide her with loving advice and assistance, her outlook may change, and she will not feel herself as “triggered” by these interactions. I am sure we all have people in our lives who we can approach in this way.

Anyway, I am still very much a work in progress, and I have been deep into some compulsive behaviors lately, but some of the stuff I am learning through therapy and meditation has been repeated to me often enough that I am starting to have no choice but to listen to it. And this makes me so grateful to my therapist and to my meditation teacher!

Notes from the Meditation Cushion 1.3…and also some other stuff, in the style of a Word Vomit

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I went back to meditation last night, although it was back to a chair because I managed to fall again and bruise up my ribs, which means the idea of sitting on the ground right now is just out of the question. Last night, we learned about self-grasping and the role it plays in our problems. Self-grasping is the belief that we might hold that everything that happens is most important in relation to how it affects ourselves. So an example that was given had to do with being caught in traffic because of an accident. If I am stuck in traffic due to an accident, and all I am worried about is how late it is going to make me for an appointment, that is self-grasping. It means that my first thought was not about the person who was in the accident. I don’t necessarily want to be someone who is not concerned about someone who has been in an accident that is keeping me from getting where I am going. But it’s pretty common, apparently.

We also learned about how, when we believe negative things about ourselves, these negative things are really falsehoods. At our centers, we are unlimited potential, but there are figments of our imaginations that cause us to feel anxiety or anger or other negative emotions. We tend to identify with these emotions, but really these emotions are not us. I really feel this in relation to ED (my disordered eating). My therapist reminds me again and again that there is more to life than the size of my pants and the number on my scale. And intellectually, I know that. I know that my worth as a person cannot be summed up as a number of any kind. However, it is not easy to remember that when I catch sight of myself in a mirror. The reaction I have in that moment is completely knee-jerk, and it is not to remind myself that I am unlimited potential. It’s to point out to myself that I am fat. Some people suggest treating yourself and speaking to yourself as if you were your inner child, which is similar. Showing compassion to ourselves and realizing that these self-grasping beliefs are not who we really are seem pretty similar to me. It’s okay to notice them, but then they have to be let go.

Anyway, this can also be related to relationships with other people. If we find someone difficult to relate to, it might be because his or her unlimited potential is being clouded by one of these falsehoods, and if we can stay with the idea of the unlimited potential of everyone, including ourselves, at some point we can achieve a calm and peaceful mind. It gave me a lot to think about, as well as some fodder for therapy today, as it really kind of seems to fit so well with some of the body image stuff that I continue to struggle with.

In other news…

I had someone say something to me the other day at the gym that was sort of eye-opening for me. We were talking about junk food, basically, and I mentioned (rather flippantly) that it was okay to treat yourself once in a while. The person I was talking to said, “Well, no, it isn’t for me because I have an addiction.” I loved that she just put it out there like that because binge eating really does feel like an addiction, but since it’s about food, which we all need, it’s a really hard addiction to kick. Anyway, I shared with her that there had been a point where I had lost 75 pounds, but since my separation and subsequent divorce, I had gained some of that weight back. And her reaction was this: “NO! Do not let him take that from you.” I realized that I am still really affected by the ending of my marriage, in ways that I don’t think I should be anymore. Taking that a little further, when I shared this story with my therapist today, she had an interesting question for me. She asked me if I would rather be at my goal weight and still married or if I would rather be the weight I am now but not in that marriage anymore. At my goal weight and not in that marriage anymore was not one of the options she offered, and I was able to honestly say that I would rather be out of that marriage and at my current size. That is the first time ever that I have consciously chosen anything over my desire to be a certain size.

Anyway, this process continues. I have stopped looking for a quick fix, for the most part, although the urge to go on a crazy diet to lose some weight is sometimes still strong. I am trying to pay attention to my food without paying too much attention to it. I am trying to remember that the things that ED says to me are not the truth about me. I am trying to remember that the person I was when I was a child was someone filled with unlimited potential and that she is still inside me. And I am still so happy to have an awesome therapist on my side and access to a meditation class that I am finding very meaningful.  

Notes from the Meditation Cushion 1.2

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I missed meditation last week because I had a fundraising night to go to, but I found myself back “on my cushion” (I put that in quotes because I meditated from a folding chair due to some lower back soreness I was experiencing). Anyway, we took a break from our series that we have been doing, but we had a great topic to meditate on last night that really resonated with me. I jotted down some notes on the back of a prescription from my occupational therapist so that I could remember in more detail what we meditated on. I think next time I will bring a small notebook with me instead.

Anyway, the topic this week was the transformation of adverse conditions within ourselves. Transformation involves an ability to change the way you react to someone or something that you would consider adverse. So for me, this really meant something because I often say that I can follow negativity right down the rabbit hole. I can go into a situation in a calm and positive and happy mood, and all it takes is someone starting to complain, and I follow right into gossip and complaining and negativity. Instead of doing this, you can notice that this is happening and just let it go, thereby transforming that adversity. In this way, everyone you meet becomes a teacher, and this is especially true of people who might be “trigger” people for you. I have some people I know who I like very, very much and who I consider to be wonderful friends, but they maybe are a little more negative sometimes (which is something I struggle with as well). And I am usually happy to “commiserate” with someone and then pile a little bit more negativity on top. Instead of doing this, however, I could notice my urge to do this and then just let it go. This doesn’t mean that I can’t listen to someone who truly has something that she needs to vent about or ask for help with. But it does mean that I can keep myself from falling in with gossip and negativity.

Another part of the topic was the idea of wanting to do something to help others when they are faced with adverse conditions. And part of this was the importance of recognizing the difference between having an ability to fix something and having a desire to have the ability to fix something. Of course, we all have things that we can fix for other people. If I have a coworker with a scheduling conflict and I have the time free, I can switch my schedule with her to fix her scheduling conflict. However, there are also plenty of things that we can’t fix but that we want to have the ability to fix. So when we hear about someone who is affected by cancer or hunger or homelessness and feel like that is just TOO BIG for us to fix, we do still have that desire to have the ability to fix it. And it’s important not to get bogged down in the thoughts of, “Oh, that is just too much for me to worry about.” Instead, we can transform that within ourselves.

In other news, I have slowly been adding my “normal” activities back to my routine. I went back to the gym only about two weeks after I hurt my wrist, but I did not go full tilt in any way. I have been working my way back up the cardio ladder, and I also have slowly been adding the machines in the lifting circuit back into my routine. This week (about nine weeks out from my fall), I added back in most of the activities I have been skipping, although at lower weights than I had been before Wrist-gate 2014. I only have a couple of the machines that I have not added back in because I was lifting 200# or more on them, and I want to wait until I am totally released from my doctor to tackle those again.

I found, via a blog post I was reading, a fun app that I am going to use with some goal setting. It’s called Lift, and you can use it to set any kind of daily goals and then check them off when you complete them. Some goals I chose were “go to the gym,” “drink more water,” “mindful eating,” “take vitamins,” “eat 3 fruits or vegetables,” and “follow 7 steps of Calm.com.” Some of these things I do already, but some are things I would like to do that I struggle with a little bit. I do not usually pay enough attention to my fruit and vegetable consumption. I also drink a lot of Crystal Lite, but I don’t drink a lot of plain water. And I am trying to incorporate meditation more into my life, which is where the 7 steps of Calm.com come in.

I also have joined Zoot in the Less Loathing – Way More Love Subtraction Project for the month of May. I used to love weight loss challenges, but my insight into my eating disorder has taught me that these are not a good place for me to go. However, I do like having an opportunity to challenge myself in a less competitive way, and I love that this project involves trying to love your body for what it is and let go of self-loathing because it is something I totally have on my list of therapy goals, and I am NOT there yet. Sometimes, I get a little closer (usually when I am doing something in yoga or at the gym that leaves me a little in awe of my body), but mostly, I am stuck in the mire and muck of hating my body and believing that my worth is dictated by the number on the scale and the (recently higher) size of my jeans.

Anyway, please feel free to join us!

Notes from the Meditation Cushion 1.1

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First of all, I am happy to share that my sports medicine doctor, under whose treatment I have been for the last eight weeks since fracturing my wrist, has officially released me to head back to work this weekend! Hooray! I am very relieved because (A) I miss my job, and (B) I am running out of sick time, and (C) I miss my coworkers, and (D) there is only so much downtime a person like me can handle. Anyway, I will continue OT and go back to see the doctor in four weeks, at which point I hope he will completely release me from his care, at which point I will be able to resume things like yoga and my lifting routine at the gym.

Also, I can understand what they mean when they say that healthcare workers make bad patients. Some of the stuff I heard come out of my mouth throughout this process made me cringe (such as trying to convince the doctor in the ER that I would certainly be able to work that day…at which point he slapped a splint on my arm and shut down my argument and also such as saying more than once, “Well, I was reading on the internet…”). My doctor’s parting advice to me was, “Don’t fall again.” Yeah, for both our sakes, I am sure.

Anyway, I went back to meditation this week for my second session, and I came away with some thoughts again, which I guess is kind of the point. This week, we talked about Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha and the concept of refuge. Because my knowledge of Buddhism is lacking, I don’t remember everything we talked about, but my major takeaway was a discussion about the difference between looking for happiness from outside of ourselves vs. holding joy within ourselves. As a compulsive shopper and an eating disordered person, I know all about looking for happiness outside of myself. I most often look for it at Target. Maybe this pair of shoes will make me happy. Maybe another pair of yoga pants? How about a new lipstick? I also look for happiness in food pretty often. I do use food a lot for numbing, but there is also that search for happiness. Maybe a cookie will make me happy. Perhaps some fries from McDonald’s…or some Ben & Jerry’s.

At the very end, it was suggested we ask ourselves this question: “Where am I seeking happiness?” Because of my numbing history, it is hard to feel true joy. After all, if we use compulsive behaviors to numb sorrow and anger, we also will find ourselves numbing joy. This quote from Brene Brown sums it up: “We cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” So although I am not necessarily ready to jump feet first into expecting joy and happiness to come from inside, I can see the truth in that. And seeing the truth is the first part in making my way there.

Notes from the Meditation Cushion 1.0

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My mind is pretty busy. It’s really hard for me to be mindful and present, and this is evidenced by my “fondness” for numbing and my compulsive eating and shopping issues and my mindless time on the internet. Discussions about mindfulness are a big part of my time with my therapist (along with an attempt to “stay with the emotions”), so I have been thinking about doing some activities that could lend themselves to cultivating such mindfulness.

Over the weekend, I had my first experience with Yoga Nidra, which is a practice of attaining an altered state of consciousness through yogi sleep (or lucid dreaming). And I really enjoyed it and even felt like I achieved a real state of calm and that altered state of consciousness, which was surprising to me because, well, my therapist once described my mind as “chaotic,” and the woman knows of what she speaks.

Tonight, I decided to head over to my yoga studio (where I have not been since January due to my wrist injury) for a meditation class. I have never done a formal meditation class, although I have experimented with guided meditations on YouTube and via iPhone apps. And I watched Eat, Pray, Love yesterday and sort of really enjoyed the time that she spent at the ashram in India, so I figure I was ready to try it out on my own.

The topic of the meditation tonight, interestingly enough, was death. But it was not about death in a foreboding kind of way. It was more about giving up attachments as a means of achieving happiness. The overall message was that death is a definite. We do not know the day that we will die. That day may, in fact, be this day. Therefore, we must seek to make every moment meaningful.

I am guessing the three hours I spent playing games on Facebook today was not what is meant by “meaningful.”

Our teacher asked us what we would do differently if we knew today would be our last day on earth (or our last day was approaching). And I thought that what I would probably do is simplify. I would give up this desire to acquire more stuff to lend meaning to my life (which is what is meant by giving up attachments…not giving up being attached to anything but giving up letting our happiness rely on the things that we are attached to). I would not give my eating disorder (ED) the control that I give up to him everyday. I would not spend three hours playing games online. I would really make an honest effort to learn how to feel my feelings. I would feed my body food that made it feel good so that my last hours weren’t filled with heartburn and GI upset. I would move in ways that felt good. I would read for hours, probably snuggled in my bed, while a candle burned.

I love having food for thought. I plan to continue this meditation practice, attending as often as possible. I plan to engage in meditation on my own time. I think there is a lot to learn in stillness, if I can learn to stay there.