Stop It. That Cupcake is Not BAD.

What I eat does not define me. It does not make me “good” or “bad.” We’re selling ourselves short to think otherwise.

I dislike it when people talk about food.

No… that’s not quite right.

I dislike it when people imbue foods with odd mystical powers: like the idea that they can make you good or bad, if you eat them.

I hate it when I tell people I ran recently, and they say something like “Oh, then you deserve that cupcake.” Wait. What?

I get miffed if someone tells me how many calories are in something. Or, even worse, turns their nose up at something I’m eating because it’s not healthy enough or isn’t “worth it.” What the fuck?

I like food. Done right, food has the potential to be a communal gathering spot where we can come together to nourish our bodies and souls. Everybody’s gotta eat, right? And I think we should–by and large–eat foods that we love. And we can love a vast array of foods, if we expose ourselves to them.

But hell if I am going to eat something just to be thin. No. Not a chance. ‘

I spent half of high school walking around in an undernourished daze. I ate so little that my stomach hurt constantly. I couldn’t think clearly. I was anxious and depressed. It was horrible. Anxiety controlled what I was able to consume (which was very, very little). Then, later on, I grasped on to restricting my food intake as a way to control something in my life. Much of my pride and self-worth was tied to my thinness.

That’s a shit way to live.

What I eat doesn’t make me worthy. Or unworthy. Sure, I have a weight at which my body feels most right. Because that’s what’s most important to me: feeling good in my own body.

That’s why I run. Mentally & physically, it makes me feel better. I think more clearly. I feel more capable.

And when I eat, I choose my food based on flavors, preferences, and overall common sense about nutrition. I don’t think foods can be “good” or “bad.” That salad doesn’t make me a better person. Not even a little. And that cupcake doesn’t make me “bad.” Gross. I wish people would stop pushing that rhetoric on to the next generation of girls. Because, yes, they are listening.

I want to be healthy and strong. I want to have enough energy every day to really embrace my life. I want my daughter to see me eat food and appreciate it for exactly what it is: fuel to live the rest of my life. Nourishment. An opportunity to gather together.

And if my daughter asks me if I want to have ice cream with her, the answer is going to be yes. Yes, I want to embrace this moment of your childhood. Yes, I want to celebrate the here and now. And, yes, my life is defined by so much more than the amount of calories in this ice cream cone.

Holiday Hangover (No Booze Required)

Ever had a emotional hangover? Like from all the ups and downs of the holidays? Yeah, they’re real. And they’re hella tough. So, this Monday, take it easy on yourself. You’re worth it.

When I quit drinking, the first miracle was that long string of hangover-free mornings. If that doesn’t seem in any way miraculous to you… well, you’ve probably never spent half an hour deciding if an egg sandwich sounded delicious or like something you might immediately upchuck, while anxiety zips through your body like a high-speed train.

Just saying.

Sometimes, even a decade later, I wake up marvel over the fact that I feel GOOD first thing in the morning. It’s glorious.

I wish I was immune to ALL kinds of hangovers. But I’m not. I’ve had a sugar hangover. And a caffeine hangover. (I know. Cute, right? But, trust me, dehydrated & fuzzy headed is not a good look on me) But the worst is the emotional hangover. And there’s nothing like the holidays to bring on a killer emotional hangover.

For lots of us, the holidays can be fraught. It’s like life gears up for these made-up days that we’re supposed to be full of joy & gratitude and love for our families. And that’s great. Except when it’s not.

Like when Uncle Bob thinks tear gassing refugees is the way to protect ‘Merica.

Or when Cousin Sally wants to know if you’re still living in sin with your boyfriend.

Or when half your family is racist (sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, fill in any other thing that makes your stomach clench as you’re trying to digest your cranberry sauce).

Or when you’re just trying to work up the nerve to come out to your family through the entire holiday meal, but all you can imagine is your mom running away from the table in tears and your dad disowning you.

Or when you just don’t measure up to anything your family wants you to be. And you just wonder why they can’t accept you.

Or maybe you suffered a loss this year, and nothing is the same. And it won’t be. And you have to navigate that hard truth as you walk through the emotional landmines of the holidays.

Here’s the thing, some version of one (or a fun mix-and-match set) of these things goes on in most families I know.

So what does that mean?

Maybe that you love your family but that they drive you batshit crazy. Or maybe that you have to fight falling into old patterns just to emerge from the holidays virtually unscathed. Or that the holidays leave your wrecked and depleted, instead of joyous and renewed. Or that you call out bigotry in the middle of the Thanksgiving meal & let the chips fall where they may.

All these BIG (and conflicting) feelings can add up to a massive holiday hangover.

Holiday hangovers leave me feeling especially stuck. And vulnerable. It takes me days to get over them. My inclination is always to muscle through, to woman-up and show them.

This NOT a good plan.

If I’m a frazzled mess (hypothetically speaking, of course), the last thing I need is to start trying to prove something. Because no one is watching. And there’s no one to prove anything to but ME.

So, I’ve tried to talk myself into being less black and white. Holidays are not good or bad. There are good & bad parts to everything (which really helps me delve into the moments of joy without wondering when the other shoe is going to drop).

And I try to remember that everyone’s got their own shit going on. And sometimes I don’t  now anything about it. So a little grace is required. Sometimes, a lot of grace.

But most importantly, I remind myself–frequently, consistently, insistently–that I write my own narrative. No one can take that power from me. I do not have to play a part in someone else’s drama. I can throw out the whole script and start over. And that knowledge shines bright when things get tough. It helps me hold on to who I am, instead of being called back into who I used to be. And who I am now is a helluva lot better than who I used to be–and it’s worth writing a whole new script for.

On this Monday after Thanksgiving, be gentle with yourself. Especially if your holiday didn’t look anything like you wanted it to. Your worth isn’t determined by how much you accomplish today. You ARE important. And worthy. Connect with someone that makes you feel that way. Do something special for yourself. And don’t let anyone else write your narrative. Not ever.

Getting Unstuck

I’ve working on getting myself unstuck from a pretty significant rut. But good news… I found 5 relatively simple things I could do to reconnect with myself & the world around me.

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I’ve spent the past few weeks re-examining my life a bit. I guess that’s to be expected since I’m (ahem) . . . middle aged. (WTactualF?!?)

I first realized there was a problem when I caused a online scuffle on Facebook with some other folks, and I was completely unable to let it go. Like hella unable. As in not-gonna-let-that-shit-ride. As in personal interior devastation and destruction.

Holy shit. Hello, outsized response to criticism. (Let’s be clear: I’m talking about my own outsized response here. I’m not trying to take other people’s inventories.) So, yeah, something was WAY wrong with my internal balance. And upon further examination, I realized my personal growth had kind of stagnated. And I just didn’t feel the same muppet-like enthusiasm for life as usual.

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(Actual footage of me on an average day)

How’d I get out of my rut? So glad you asked. Segues are SO hard.

5 (Relatively) Quick & Easy Ways I Got Emotionally Unstuck

  1. I got me a therapist. I am 100% on board for therapy. We’d all be much happier (and more well adjusted) if we ALL had a therapist. Sure, they require an investment of time, money, and emotional energy. But (and I think as women we sometimes forget this) I am worthy of that investment. So are you. Yes, it’s hard work sifting through some of the past events and current hangups that landed me in emotional quicksand in the first place. But you know what happens if you stay in quicksand too long… (I mean, as an adult I haven’t really encountered quicksand as much as I thought I would. But as a kid, I knew all about the hazards of quicksand. So, I’m always prepared for a quick escape)

2. I delved into my spiritual practice. Over the years, my spirituality has looked wildly different–depending on where I was in my journey. Right now, it looks a whole lot like reading a lesson from A Course in Miracles each morning, practicing the exercises throughout the day, and finding a crystal that resonates with me (I them to set intentions and to return to as a touchstone so I don’t wander during the day). I’ve had to learn about 100 billion times that a spiritual practice is crucial for me. Like, I absolutely cannot exists happily without it. And, you know it’s kind of the whole foundation of my recovery:

It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe. We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.

So, yeah, NBD… spirituality is just the key to EVERYTHING.

3. I started striving toward being fully present. During those two days when I was so in my head about a conflict going on in the ether, I couldn’t even participate in conversations happening right in front of me. This undercurrent of ugly self-talk, picking arguments with ghosts, and just general bullshit that my brain pulls sometimes had me miles away from where my feet were. It sucked. So, I made a conscious choice to be more curious about my immediate surroundings. What did I hear, see, smell, feel? What made this moment unique? Where could I find joy, or love, or hope, or connection? The pictures at the top of the post, they’re where I’ve been the past 2 days: physically, mentally, and emotionally. They are real. They are here. The present matters. It’s all I’ve really got. So, I sure as hell am going to make an effort to embrace it.

4. I put down my damn phone. Well, I put it down MORE than I had in any recent memory. Suddenly, it seemed foolish that some flat rectangular object could have that much pull over me. Instead of enhancing my life, it was really bringing me down. So, I cut it loose(ish). And I created some hard and fast rules for myself about engaging on social media. It turns out that it’s MUCH easier to be present if my nose isn’t always pressed up against my phone. Who knew?!?

5. I made it a point to connect. I love people. Which is why I love social media. But nothing beats looking someone in the eye and really connecting with them. Small connections, seemingly inconsequential interactions… they make up so much of our lives. The way we move together in the world and develop empathy and understanding can be truly beautiful. So, I committed to letting more of that beauty into my life–to really see people, to interact with them in ways that are kind and compassionate, and to laugh. In real life.

And these 5 things, well they’ve got me feeling a lot more like this these days:

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So, when you find yourself in an emotional rut, what do you do to get unstuck?

Running as Spiritual Practice (Wha???)

Running is sacred for me, like meditation or yoga is for some folks. I check in with myself when I run. I get real. Like, real real.

Running is sacred for me, like meditation or yoga is for some folks. I check in with myself when I run. I get real. Like, real real.

When I’m running, I can’t lie to myself. Who’s got the energy for running AND lying? I get honest when I run. It’s the time I can best see through my own bullshit.

Truth-finding at it’s finest.

This summer, I committed to approaching each run with curiosity & wonder. Atlanta’s got a rich tapestry of complex beauty to explore. But I can’t really engage with my surroundings when I’m tripped up on things like time and distance. So, I stopped struggling to meet goals that required miles of continuous running. And I started taking pictures. Instantly, running became an adventure. Taking time and space to connect with the world around me really upped the ante on running as a spiritual practice.

Now, (on most days) I emerge from a run with an honest, peaceful connection with the space that surrounds me.

Pretty damn cool.

 

Running has also honed my ability to listen to myself. I often set out on a run with some loose goals in mind. But, most of the time, my body has plans of its own. Sometimes that means a farther run, because I’m feeling good or I’m trying to work through something–and I need the mental space and/or the boost of triumph that a long run provides. Or it could mean altering my pace, running faster for a shorter time or plodding along just taking it all in. Running is teaching me to trust myself again (drunks are notoriously untrustworthy. It’s been years since I picked up a drink, but I still struggle with self-trust. Running helps).

Today, on this bright and sunny summer day… I didn’t want to run. It seemed like a helluva lot of work–especially since leaving my house for a run requires running uphill no matter which direction I head. I procrastinated. I rationalized. But I had no good reason to not run–so  I finally hauled my ass out the door. And for the first 500 feet, I was miserable. Then I told my brain to suck it. I needed the time outside. I needed a self-check in. And spiritual practice is, well, a practice–not an if-I-feel-like-it situation.

And I’m so glad I hung in. Because today I found this:

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It’s a splash park, y’all!

I ran through the water (spontaneity! Usually I’m AWFUL at spontaneity). And took a picture. And felt really grateful I’d come on this run after all.

Running’s about discovery for me. And about being a better version of myself.

And, c’mon, a spiritual practice that involves splash parks…that’s rad.

Deep Clean … Keeping it Real (Clean)

LOTS of cleaning happening around these parts lately. And not like the tidying up kind. It’s the get on your hands and knees and scrub the baseboards and the floors kind of cleaning.

LOTS of cleaning happening around these parts lately. And not like the tidying up kind. It’s the get on your hands and knees and scrub the baseboards and the floors kind of cleaning. The kind where you have to take a shower afterward because GOOD GOD who knew a house could require this kind of scrubbing?!?

What are my people doing that they track in so much dirt? It’s like they recruited tiny Tonka dump trucks to haul dirt in and scatter it randomly throughout the house. But, bit by bit, I’m seeing progress. Sparkling white baseboards (before the dog slings slobber all over them). No dirt lurking in corners. Turns out, I really like clean. And, somehow over the past few days, I’ve begun to appreciate the process of cleaning.

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It just feels like plain, old-fashioned hard work.

And at this moment in my life, that feels good. Rewarding. Stabilizing.

It’s a bit like the psychic work I have to do to stay sober. My brain can get a little cobwebby, too. Resentments, doubts, fears start accumulating. For a while, I might try to overlook them. Because who really has the time to excavate them when I’m trying to manage the dog, the kid, the Simon. But dark corners eventually begin to crowd out my happiness. All the psychic dirt makes my perspective . . . gray.

Eventually, when I get uncomfortable enough, I do a psychic sweep. Yes, it’s much easier if I do it every day & don’t let the dust bunnies colonize. But sometimes, you don’t see the dust bunnies multiplying until they’re ready to revolt and take over the whole damn place.

It’s just as hard to get my brain/heart/soul clean as it is to clean this house. But it’s worth it to live in a place where I can let ALL the light in without fear of what it might uncover.

 

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All this scrubbing has unearthed a desire to live in a clean space ALL THE TIME. Not just once a year or so. Which means a lot of work. Emotional work and physical work. I’m still in the middle of the physical work–I swear, two or three tiny dump trucks of dirt made it in overnight. But I’m examining what the emotional work will look like… it shifts, you know. I’ve felt called at different points of my journey toward different spiritual practices.

And against everything I want to do–and I mean everything–I think I might be called to haul my ass back into A.A. Let’s just be super clear: I am so grateful for everything A.A. gave me. I know, without question, that the 12 Steps & the 2 years I spent going to meetings are why I am sober now (almost 10 years later). But I’ve never been in love with A.A. I didn’t like going to meetings. I’m not good at towing the party line. I’m just not an A.A.er.

Yet…

I feel called. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt called, but you can’t just ignore it. It’s nagging, the calling. It resurfaces. Constantly.

People brand new in sobriety–or folks that need sobriety–keep popping up in my world. And then, the other day at church, there I was minding my own business, dropping off some clothes for the Clothing Closet, and I almost literally ran into a sign for an A.A. Women’s Meeting. I’m afraid if I don’t heed the call soon, the Universe is actually gonna drop something on my head. Like an anvil. Or something.

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Let’s be clear: I’m as stubborn as the day is long. So, I’ll probably hold off a little while on the A.A. thing (see: stubborn). But, if you see me walking around like Flat Stanley, you can assume that anvil found it’s way to me.

My Brain Picks Battles for Me

My brain picks battles and wages them solo. And it’s a real crap judge of character. So, I’m taking back the reins.

When something goes wrong (as things tend to do. This is life, after all), I instinctually view the situation as conflict. For instance, if a perfectly lovely handyman didn’t get all the way to the edges in a few spots when he painted the ceiling…well, he must be trying to get away with something. He must be taking advantage of me. He didn’t paint the ceiling properly at me.

I immediately make it a Big Thing in my head. I have imaginary conversations in which I make valiant attempts to stand up for myself. Or I jump to the final dire consequences: small claims court, Judge Judy style.

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All the while I feel victimized. And that sucks. Because victimization = powerlessness.

But, amid the chaos of my thoughts–and it’s hella chaotic up in here–somehow I managed to remember something about vengeance and attack thoughts from A Course in Miracles:

What I see is a form of vengeance.

[This] idea accurately describes the way anyone who holds attack thoughts in his mind must see the world. Having projected his anger onto the world, he sees vengeance about to strike him. His own attack is thus perceived as self defense. This becomes an increasingly vicious circle until he is willing to change how he sees. Otherwise, thoughts of attack and counter-attack will preoccupy him and people his entire world. What peace of mind is possible to him then? 

(Lesson 22, Workbook for Students, ACIM)

The basic theme here: cut that shit out. Because who wants to live their life in constant battle? Not this girl.

So, I tried a different tact (in my own head, of course. All of this is going on in my own head. Apparently, I don’t need other folks to create conflict. My own brain does it for me. Rad.). I assumed best intent. I assumed that, instead of not painting the ceiling well at me the dude just needed to do a little touch-up. And that, instead of trying to get away with something, maybe he just hadn’t noticed because his head had been craned back like an open Pez Dispenser all day long paining my ceiling.

And just like that, all the fight left the situation. Because I wasn’t bringing any fight to the situation. I was just observing a lack of ceiling white paint on the edges of the–ahem–ceiling. But, let me tell you, an observation and a battle are two totally different things.

He knew, by the way. He knew he’d have to touch up the ceiling. And he did. With no complaints. No battle. And no Judge Judy involved.

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Whose Script Is This?

When I walked up into Alcoholics Anonymous in my cowboy boots, feeling mighty superior, I had my script firmly in hand. I was a smart, sensitive, tragic victim. The world simply couldn’t understand someone as deeply empathic and intuitive as I was. So, I drank to shield myself from the tragedy of the every day as it unfolded around me.

We become the story that we tell ourselves. 

From the time we’re born, people that we love–and even complete strangers–feed us a script about who we are. We see foremost what they call forward. We become what they nurture–and we learn to hide (or feel shame) about what they dismiss. We keep this script close, reverting back to it when we feel off-base.

But, sometimes, the script is a lie.

When I walked up into Alcoholics Anonymous in my cowboy boots, feeling mighty superior, I had my script firmly in hand. I was a smart, sensitive, tragic victim. The world simply couldn’t understand someone as deeply empathic and intuitive as I was. So, I drank to shield myself from the tragedy of the every day as it unfolded around me.

You can imagine how quickly the A.A.ers called bullshit on that.

They immediately started asking me to find my part in my own pain. I resisted mightily. For real. I thought I was exempt from the basic truths that, in every situation, we have choices. Often we don’t choose what happens to us. But we do get to choose how we deal with it. We get to write our own story.

But writing your own story is hard.

It means excavating psychic pain, long buried, to figure out what really happened… and to examine how your beliefs, attitudes, and/or resentments (mix & match any of these!) play into how you experience that pain now. Shiiiiiiiit. And then there’s the whole “making a list of people you’ve harmed”…. which really could be its own level of hell.

BUT.

In doing all that–in laying out my own pain & the pain I’d caused others–I could see patterns in my behaviors and beliefs. I found triggers that I could then defuse. And I could speak it all… and begin to let it go.

None of us get to re-write our past. In fact, I’ve long stopped wishing that I could. What’s way more important to me is writing my future. In order to do that, I have to create my own script about who I am. And that is the work of every day.

For a long time, my script read that I was a tragic fuck-up with lots of potential.

I mean, if you’ve got dramatic flair, you can be good at playing that part. But, ultimately, it’s not very fulfilling.

As I re-frame my story, I don’t see wasted years. I see an illness that drove my life to a standstill. I see the ravages of unchecked mental health issues. I see darkness—that, ultimately, I emerged from. I don’t see a fuck-up. I see a warrior.

I have to check my script every day, to make sure I have the right one. There are moments when I remember vividly–too vividly–the pain I caused people I loved and the agony I put myself through. And the old script plays. I have to check it. Stop it in it’s tracks. I do not have to be that person any more. Full stop.

I get to write my story. And it’s compassion, and love, and rising up from the wreckage… It’s being worthy and loved simply because. It’s being real and loving hard and not letting fear shut me down. It’s being fully alive and watching my real story unfold.