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.

Distraction

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To try to distract myself from the fact that I can’t work (or work out) right now because of the nice orange cast I have on my left arm (winter IS actually trying to kill me), I thought I would do a therapy redux. A couple of weeks ago, my therapist and I talked about the idea of an eating disorder as apart from oneself (this is discussed at length by Jenni Shaeffer in her book Life Without Ed). In fact, my therapist drew me a picture that looked sort of like this:

split

On one side of that line is me. On the other side is ED. The idea behind looking at ED as separate from me is that I can eventually phase him out of my life. Jenni calls this breaking up with her eating disorder.

Last week, my therapist and I took this same picture and placed in it the characteristics of my personality that are currently me, as well as the characteristics that are currently ED. This was kind of hard to do because if you had asked me a couple of months ago if some of the “ED” characteristics were part of the genuine “me,” I would have said, “Absolutely!” But I am starting to see that may not be true.

Anyway, on the “me” side, I was able to list nurse (and I include in this that I am a good critical thinker and also someone with good clinical skills), yoga, reader, giver, and learner. My therapist placed on that side gentle, loving, and kind, and she also placed anxiety on that side (and by that, she meant the baseline anxiety that I will probably always have as part of me). On the ED side, we placed sarcasm (=shield), binge eating, punishment, compulsive behaviors, isolation, overdoing, overworking, hoarding, being an “information whore,” projects, over-giving, talking too much, regimented eating, black and white thinking, and self-loathing. I would also add deflecting with humor. At the end of this, she folded over the ED side so that it was no longer visible, and then she wrote, “What would this life be like?”

The idea is that that life would allow for the “gray” world, where nothing was quite as absolute as I tend to see it. It would include time for self. It would not mean that I could not be funny anymore, but it would mean that I would not use humor and sarcasm as a shield meant to keep people away. Food rules would not exist. ED would be quiet. I would both love myself and like myself, not just one or the other. And she asked me where I would like to see myself on this continuum in a year. My first response was that I would like to be more balanced, and she asked if that meant I wanted it to be 50/50 (I sort of self-identified as 70/30 now, with ED having the greater portion of control right now).

But where do I want to be in a year? I would love to say that ED would be gone…but I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself, as that kind of pressure has been, in the past, a great opportunity to take a step (or several) backward. I don’t want to be where I am now, but I don’t know what it looks like to be between “here” and “there.” What does it mean to be better (but not all the way)? Only binge eating 50% of the time? Only compulsively shopping every other Tuesday? Only isolating myself three days per week?

I would imagine that life after ED could be amazing. But I can’t imagine what would take up all the time he once did. The only choice I can make, however, is to keep working in that direction and believing those who say that there is something else out there.

It turns out my body actually IS trying to communicate with me…

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So this intuitive eating thing has quite the learning curve, and it turns out you can do some quasi-intuitive eating while still doing things like wondering how many calories you burned at the gym this morning and also stepping on the scale, “just to see what it says” (spoiler alert: nothing good). I am still reading the book, and I am recognizing myself in a LOT of its paragraphs. Something I thought that no one else could struggle with as badly as I did is actually something that quite a few people seem to have a problem with. So while I still don’t 100% hear my body when it is telling me I am hungry, and I am not fantastic about leaving anything on my plate (I have long been a card-carrying member of the Clean Plate Club), I am willing to believe that there might be something to this whole idea. I maybe could get out from under food’s thumb someday.

Anyway, there have been some things that were major binge foods in the past that I have not been eating lately (because they are not the first thing on the list of things I want to eat when I start thinking about what I am hungry for). One of these is ice cream. A stressful day has often sent me down to Wawa for a pint of Ben & Jerry’s for dinner, and during this a-lot-worse-than-usual food time, those days were happening pretty often. However, it has been several weeks since I ate ice cream. Until this week. This week, a coworker made (!!!) an amazing ice cream cake, and I had a piece at lunch.

It was one piece. I didn’t overeat. I didn’t feel bad about it at all. However, within an hour, my arthritic left knee was SCREAMING at me. It was stiff and painful. Getting into and out of chairs was agony (and I was at work, where I sometimes spend a lot of time feeding babies, which involves a lot of getting in and out of chairs). It reminded me of the pain I got in my knees during some of my worst binge eating times, pain that got better when I did the Atkins diet, thereby causing me to assume that there was some inflammatory process from eating carbs that I was fixing by avoiding them for the most part.

For the past three weeks, I have been eating plenty of carbs. I have had a bagel for breakfast most days. I have eaten two loaves of this amazing multigrain bread from Wegmans that I love. I have had pasta several times. And rice. And even some chocolate. And I have not had knee pain. One serving of ice cream cake, and the pain was intense. So my body seemed to be telling me that ice cream was maybe not a great option for me. The pain is still there, although it is better. And I don’t feel any great urge to eat ice cream in the near future (although I never say never, of course).

It turns that I am in there, trying to communicate with myself. I hope to continue to get better at listening to those messages as they become louder than the voice of food.

 

Book Smart

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Last year, there was a point when I asked my therapist if perhaps I was reading too many self-help books. She didn’t give me a clear, yes-or-no answer, so I kept on doing what I was doing, which was building my book knowledge about a lot of things that she and I talk about in her office. A couple of months ago, she FINALLY said that perhaps I “know” enough, at least about the kind of information I can find in books. I maybe am not clear on how to implement it in my life, but I have done enough information gathering that I have a good body of knowledge about these topics.

Anyway, I am reading a book right now. Because of course I am. That’s what I do. And this one has stuff that I kind of already know (some of it is similar to what Geneen Roth has to say about compulsive eating), but it also has a lot of personal stories of people who used to struggle with binge eating and now don’t. And I am actually highlighting things in this book because some of it really speaks strongly to me and resonates with the role that food has played in my life. The book is called Intuitive Eating, and it is written by two Registered Dieticians, Elyse Resch and Evelyn Trible. Much of it is stuff I have read before, about rejecting the diet mentality and learning to listen to your body and feeling your feelings without using food.

The first section that really spoke to me is entitled “Last Supper Eating.” Resch and Trible have to say this: “The mere perception that food might become banned can trigger overeating. Just thinking about going on that diet can create a sense of panic and sending you on a trail of eating every food that you think won’t be allowed.” Many of us have felt this before. We are going on a diet on Monday. It’s Saturday. Let’s eat ALL THE FOODS because we may never be “allowed” to eat French fries (cookies, chocolate, bacon) again. And then they say this: “Each impending diet brings with it more fear of deprivation – with the knowledge that you won’t get “enough” or get what you want. Then comes more overeating, loss of self-control, and finally, erosion of self-esteem.” So that is every time we fail at our diet because we aren’t “good” enough.

I believe this. And apparently other people feel the same way I do! Amazing! It has definitely given me something to consider as I move forward with this “not dieting” thing. Right now, I am not dieting, and I am not binge eating. However, I am still thinking about things in a diet-y way. I am still thinking about food a LOT. But I still have quite a lot of this book left to read, so I am hoping that maybe there are more insights waiting for me. It might be a step in the right direction.

On not dieting…

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As I have mentioned several times, it has come to my attention that dieting, for me, is not something that is going to work. My issues with food run deeper than the willpower I always thought I needed to stick to a diet. Even the best diets, the kinds that emphasize healthy choices and lifestyle changes and moderation, are, at the end of the day, a scorecard system where the expectations (my calorie goal) are weighed against the reality (the “good” days and the “bad” days). In my mind, I recognize that this is not going to work for me. I have other “stuff” to figure out. 

So the general consensus seems to be that, when we find ourselves in this place that I have found myself, it is time to eat with mindfulness. It’s time to pay attention to our hunger. It’s time to eat what we want, as much as it takes to make us feel satisfied. It’s time to stop vilifying carbs and praising low fat foods. It’s time just to EAT. So a couple of days ago, I started just to eat. Some things I have discovered: I really like bread. But good bread, like from the bakery at Wegmans. I also really like to start my day with a bagel with cream cheese. When I start my day with a bagel, I am satisfied with the bagel. It takes a conscious effort at EVERY meal to stick with my goal not to eat when I am distracted. I still sit on the couch for many of my meals, but the TV is not on, and I am not on the internet, and I am not reading. I am eating. That is it. Occasionally, I am halfway through a meal and realize that I am watching TV and have not really tasted one thing that went into my mouth. And then I turn off the TV and try to return to my meal. 

It still feels like an interesting experiment. I still, occasionally, wonder when the next great diet idea is going to come along, the one that I can stick to. I still don’t trust that this can work for me. But right now, I like the way that bagel tastes every morning. And I like that it doesn’t follow me around all day, telling me that I was “bad” for indulging in it. And that feels like a little bit of peace in my day.

One Little Word 2014 – PEACE (and a 2013 wrap-up)…

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I had therapy today, and when I talked to my therapist about a journaling/retrospective/goal-setting activity I was planning to set out on (which I had also done last year), she said something like, “Maybe you shouldn’t do that.” And as soon as she said that, even though I tried to protest a little bit, I felt like she was probably right. I am an information gatherer. I read and read and read to gather more information on whatever I am interested in, and in the past two years, that has meant that I read the entire works of Geneen Roth, as well as all that Brene Brown had to offer. I read other self help stuff as well, and I read about mindfulness and disordered eating and self esteem and a myriad of other topics that resonated a little bit with the journey I have been on. My KNOWLEDGE about these topics is first rate. I did several online art journaling workshops this year that gave me knowledge about these same topics, as well as awesome art projects to do, in a step-by-step format. So why do I sit here, on New Year’s Eve, still struggling with the same compulsive eating (and spending) issues that I have allegedly been working on for all this time? When I do these activities, I feel like I am doing something that is on the path to getting “there.” I don’t know where “there” is, but I feel like I should be doing SOMETHING to make my way toward it. But I got called on it a little bit today because it is not about the knowledge anymore for me. It is about putting it into practice. So that leaves me somewhere in contemplation (we discussed the stages of change today) of this strange world of mindfulness, something that I just don’t really “get.” My therapist says that she believes I can get there. I am choosing to try to believe her.

Anyway, my word for last year was ENOUGH. I got this from the common phrase that is the mantra of many women who are in a similar position to the one I have been in, “I am enough.” But I don’t think I committed to it as a theme for my year. I did some surface things…bought a couple of “I am enough” necklaces, created a private board on Pinterest full of inspirational images, reblogged post after post on Tumblr about being enough, right in this moment, just as I am. But I kept worrying about my weight. I kept dieting (and then “messing up”). I kept shopping. I kept binge eating. 

In choosing a word for this year, I waffled between FREE and PEACE. I think that those words, as I am defining them, are pretty much the same, so I settled on peace. I want to find peace in my body, in my relationship with food, in all of the “stuff” that I have been carrying around with me. I want to be free of these things. And I think that the only way to do this is to take some sort of leap of faith and let go of the power that the scale has over me (and maybe even stop weighing myself at all, although the thought of that freaks me out a little bit) and work toward mindfulness. I have spent many years eating for reasons other than hunger, to the point that I don’t know that I have a full understanding of what hunger feels like. I have spent many years eating past the point of satisfaction, to the point that I don’t know that I could recognize satisfaction if I were experiencing it. But the hardest thing for me to consider in this is the fact that I have to give up dieting, and I have been dieting for so long that I can’t imagine what it would look like not to be doing that anymore. 

So here’s to giving PEACE a chance in 2014. I do believe my therapist (and also all the experts in all of the books I have read) when they say that finding peace within ourselves will allow the rest to follow. I just have to figure out a way to make that part of my story.