Tag Archives: Addictions

Renewal

I have recently been feeling a big pull towards the concept of renewal. It makes sense. It’s spring time, and the winter sucked really hard this year. But I am feeling it in a way that is a little more intense than the norm. I think a lot of it comes from living on a farm, and just being more generally in touch with what nature is doing. Living here forces me to take a more active part in the cycles of the seasons. During the winter I had to learn to just sit with myself a little bit more than I’ve been used to. When big snowstorms came through it could be days before the roads were reasonable for driving into the city. There were several times where we had to cancel plans with friends because, even a couple of days after the storm, it would have taken us hours of stressful driving to connect with them. No plan, no matter how longstanding, is completely within my control out here. When nature has other plans, I simply need to relinquish my will to her.

Being forced to let go has changed me. I have a long-term habit of trying to control my environment in order to feel O.K. I have done this with my behavior and also with my thoughts and judgements. I know that most people do this; it’s what we call “ego.” This strange idea that simply having consciousness means that we also have control. Over and over again in my life I have made careful plans to try to control “my” world, and over and over again the real world has said “fuck you, chicky. This is not how I want it to go and I’m bigger than you.” The point of this blog was, as the name implies, to document my roadmap, my plan, to gain further control over my world. What I’ve learned is that I don’t, and can’t, have control. Trying to wrest control from the universe has actually been the biggest cause of distress and backwards movement.

I wish that I could say that over the long winter I took advantage of having so much unfettered time to myself (true to the story that I always told myself “I just don’t have time to write, exercise, meditate, etc.). What really happened was that, while having to sit with myself, I spent most of my time trying to escape myself. In the absence of my old city-living mode of escapism,hyper-socialization, I turned to higher levels of solo escapist activities: unhealthy and excessive eating, too much TV, too much drinking. Even reading novels can take on an obsessive quality for me. For a couple of months I was in the midst of the deepest depression I’ve had since I nearly lost it at the tail end of completing my master’s degree. I was dwelling a lot on everything that I have not accomplished in my life, and on how my life seemed to just be happening to me in ways in which I didn’t want to participate . I felt hopeless and dead inside, and as usual, couldn’t seem to conjure up the energy to do anything about it.

I’ve known for awhile that I am an escape artist. I can look back at my life and see a clear road to “anywhere else but here, with anyone else but myself,’ wildly zig-zagging and wrapping around and through the hard lines of control that I try to draw for myself. It is the counter-balance to the part of me that wants to control and be too perfect to ever really accomplish or create anything of value because life is messy. After being forced to hang out with myself more, I know more deeply than ever before that the escape-artist in me is there to keep me from seeing the things about myself and my life that I don’t want to see. In it’s most recent incarnation, it has been padding me from the whole idea that I have no control, when the truth is that taking one’s hands off the wheel isn’t the same as being a victim.

I started to come out of the depression in February, and have since been actively poking at the things in my life that scare me. I am still scared, but am coming round to the idea that in order to get past some things, I have to actually go through them. When your hands are off the wheel, your vehicle can go in any direction. It can go to places that scare you, or it can go to places that exceed all expectations of joy. Either way, if you jump out of a moving vehicle you are going to get hurt. The point is that I have to step into my various roles in life. That doesn’t just mean the parts that I “like” or feel safe in. Being able to observe myself a bit more closely than usual out in the country, I didn’t just see what I was doing via my escape-artist, I felt it. In the past I have beat myself up over returns to deep escapism. This time I have some compassion for the fearful parts of myself. However, I feel like the winter was a death-rattle of a lot of self-destructive parts of me. It was a final tantrum of the escape-artist. Now, little by little, I’ve been stepping back into my life. Even the scary parts. It feels like a revival, and even though I’m still uncomfortable, I’m grateful for it.

A Time of Preparation

Although I frequently allude to spirituality here, it’s pretty rare for me to talk much about religion. Overall, I think it’s safe to say that I’m not big on organized religion at all. I’m not into dogma; though I believe religion can do very good things for people, I don’t think that any particular religion has the golden key to “salvation.”  That being said, I have no problem still self-identifying as what is perceived to be one of the most dogmatic faiths around: Catholic. There’s some further clarification in this post, if you care to know more about my perspective on the topic!

Anyhow, today is Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent. Lent is a 6 week time of preparation before Easter (the resurrection of Christ, and for a lot of Christians and our not-so-subtly-hidden pagan histories, the official start of spring). It is meant to be a time of contemplation, and a time of penitence. I am fine with contemplation part, but penitence (which essentially means deep remorse and shame for what a rotten person you are) doesn’t really jive with me so much. Personally I feel like Jesus would be more down with me spending this preparation time getting ready to be a better person than beating the crap out of myself. So, contemplation of where I’ve gone wrong and where I can improve is fine.  Self-punishment: not so much.

Since I’m not into penitence, I haven’t really given anything up for Lent since I moved out of my parents’ house.  Even when I did live at home, my parents weren’t that big on it either. We did not eat meat on Fridays during Lent, but that was about it. However, this year it has dawned on me, in relation to Lent, that giving things up doesn’t necessarily have to be self-punishment. It can be an exercise in contemplation and preparation as well. Duh. Fasting has been used in all sorts of spiritual practices for a billion years.

Accordingly, I have chosen this time to do an elimination diet. This means that I am giving up a lot of stuff. However, rather than punishing myself, I look at this as a a time to face some demons (physical addictions as well as emotional struggles) and come out with better clarity of mind and vitality of spirit. Seems like a perfect Lenten practice for me!

I will be posting about the diet, and lots of other wellness-related things, in more detail on my BRAND NEW health and wellness blog, The Cranky Hippie (more tomorrow about the decision to start a new blog on top of this one that I haven’t been consistent with)!

Finally, on top of the elimination diet and being a more consistent blogger, I might try to delve back into The Artist’s Way as a means to kind of jump-start my spirit/intellect a bit.The hubby and I have made a point of keeping our social calendars pretty clear during this time so we can rest and have down time to recharge our batteries for spring. But I will have to see how I’m feeling with the other changes.  Elimination diets (also somewhat of a “cleanse”) can be kind of difficult and draining at times, so I want to be sure to not press myself too hard. We’ll see how it goes!

Chaos Backstory: The Wonder Years

I started writing this post in August. I promised to post it in November. And now, as the year is drawing to a close, I’m finally ready to put it up. Because as I wrote in this post, I think it’s important to know the backstory when attempting to frame up the future.

I have never, at any point in my life, been what people would have considered “dangerously” thin. I have been slightly underweight, but nothing that anyone would have seen as cause for concern. More of my life has been spent being overweight.  Nobody could ever see that there was anything wrong with me (aside from being “fat”); and therefore, as people gradually learned about the eating disorder (ED) that I was actually treated for, they tended to write it off as a phase. In their eyes, my ED didn’t go on long enough to constitute a major life event.  I was never at death’s door. And “obviously” they couldn’t have been that serious, since I “allowed” myself to get fat again. The truth in reality is that I have had eating disorders in one direction or the other for almost my entire life, and for me they have always been a serious issue, despite what may or may not have been perceivable to others.

When I was in grade-school, I was painfully shy, but it’s hard to say which came first: the shyness, or the bullying. I was never a skinny kid; I was always a little bit rounded. But I was never overweight until I was seven.  My family moved to a new neighborhood that year. It was the year that intensive attention began being paid to my little brother and his special needs for getting through school. By default, or by virtue of not having any problems, I was on my own. Unfortunately, that was also the year that I was first allowed free reign in the kitchen. Since my eating was no longer being monitored, I did what any depressed seven-year-old would do: I ate a ton of junk food. It wasn’t lost on my classmates that I was getting bigger. The teasing started, and it didn’t stop until I decided to switch to public school for junior high, instead of going on to private high school with the rest of my classmates. It didn’t stop, even though I did actually lose a lot of the weight between dieting (I started dieting at age nine) and growth spurts before I left.

When I moved on to junior high, even though I was starting with a clean social slate, I had two major problems to contend with: 1. I had stopped growing at age 11, and my body was already fully developed, 2. Thanks to the previous seven years, it was already deeply ingrained in my head that I was fat, and therefore did not deserve love, kindness, sympathy, respect, or pretty much anything good. Obviously, the latter was to be the bigger problem.  The chip on my shoulder ensured that I still got targeted. Some of the more harrowing experiences happened during those years (being picked on while undressing in the locker room, having to file an on-campus restraining order because one of the few bullies from grade school that also switched to public school was still following me around the hall in high school yelling fat-based slurs).

Throughout jr. high and high school, I did make many good friends. A good core group of friends was something that I had been lacking before, and it was such a relief to finally feel like I wasn’t all alone. But I still always saw myself as the ugly duckling, and in hindsight, that warped vision of myself had already begun to create a much different internal world for me than what others saw on the outside. The body dismorphia aspect of an ED was definitely in full effect by the time high school rolled around.

I was always bracing for the next emotional hit,  and had therefore developed a bit of a sharp edge. I cringe when I think about some early attempts that boys made at asking me out. I was incapable of seeing myself as attractive, and completely used to being defensive about my appearance. One clear incident was a boy who was perfectly nice and not at all the type to be cruel, that attempted to ask me out and was met with an incredulous “no!” simply because I couldn’t believe that he was asking me out. I thought that he was being sarcastic and just teasing. He never spoke to me again – for good reason! I had unknowingly totally mortified him! Sadly, this would become a bit of a pattern in my early romantic life. I often didn’t realize until it was completely too late that my behavior , based on my own reality that others had no idea about, would seem totally bizarre and confusing to normal people who thought that I was a normal person.

Tomorrow: As if College Wasn’t Crazy Enough.

Chaos Backstory: My Sordid Food History

In my recent ramblings here I’ve been focusing a lot on how I’ve finally been having some breakthroughs on some health-related issues (read: addictions); namely food, booze, and cigarettes. I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions here that I’ve had life-long eating disorders (ED), and have said that those are the root addiction for the other two. However, I don’t think I’ve ever really told my story here. In fact, the only person who really knows and understands the whole story at this point is my husband.

After spending a lot of intensive time thinking about my sordid past in the last six months, I feel like I’ve sorted through a lot of things (particularly some of the anger that I have surrounding my ED), and am ready to share it. I think that the backstory helps to give some context to what I’ve been struggling to pull myself out of for the last several years, and helps me to frame up some of where I want to go with my writing here in the future.

So, I guess the first point of clarification is that I refer to my history of food issues generally as “eating disorders” because I don’t feel like any of the three major “diseases” really accurately describes me. The three generally acknowledged eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. From what I understand, a lot of ED sufferers don’t feel that they fit squarely into any of the three categories.  This is probably because the three have overlapping symptoms and hypothetical causes (there is no agreed-upon cause for ED), so a lot of people really do express all three throughout their lives.

My ED began as a pretty young child with straight-up binge eating, which is the least commonly diagnosed and, I feel, the ED that is taken the least seriously (which is very unfortunate because I would guess that a lot of the incidents of the other 2 EDs started out with binge eating, and all 3 disorders have negative long-term health effects). During my fairly brief stint in treatment for my eating issues, I was diagnosed with Bulimia. What that meant for me was that I would starve for 2 or 3weeks, and would then kind of “lose my mind” and go on a binge-purge spree for 2 or 3 days. Once I was “cured” of Bulimia, I stayed pretty stable and healthy for about 2 ½ years, and then slowly began sliding back into binge eating.

To keep any one part from getting too long, over the next week or so I’m going to break the whole story down into 3 parts: childhood, college, and adulthood.

Sorting through all this crud has been a 10-year work in progress of varying intensities, and I’m sure I’m not totally through it all yet. But I do feel like I am well on my way, and have a much better awareness surrounding it than I ever have before. For that I am grateful!

Just Start

It’s beginning to be very clear that I started a progression in May when I began trying to take off the excessive weight I had gained. I guess that somewhere in me I knew that if I just started to reach for one piece of one goal (good health) and actually stuck with it for awhile, believed in it, that the path to the others would naturally unfold in front of me.  I just needed to have a little help and a little faith that it wouldn’t be as hard as it seemed. I mean, people get over heroin addictions, right? Or Meth.  Or alcoholism. Or smoking cigs for 33 years (seriously, if my mom can quit smoking after that long, I should be able to, right?!).

It has been amazing how one piece of one goal leads to another piece. When I haven’t been trying to do everything all at once, and have just been focusing on one thing at a time, it has been so much easier to move right from one thing to another. I started with weight-loss and food issues because that is the hardest and most long-term health issue I’ve had. I have had an eating disorder of one kind or another for my entire life.

After five months of having my eating issues under control, the decision to quit drinking came very naturally to me. I didn’t need to force it because I had learned through dealing with my eating issues that alcohol is escapism for me. It was also a major contributor to the weight gain, and a major detractor from spending my time in a meaningful manner. Alcohol was a much more minor addiction for me than food. In fact, I think that alcohol itself isn’t an addiction for me at all; it is a secondary addiction (which I’ll go deeper into in a later post).

After six months of having my eating issues under control, and three weeks of being a non-drinker, continuing to smoke cigarettes was just seeming silly. There was nothing really satisfying about it anymore. It was just putting a dimmer on my other accomplishments.  By all accounts my body should have been feeling a lot better minus the bad eating habits and the drinking. But I still felt like crap thanks to smoking: swollen sinuses, shortness of breath, fatigue, etc.  I realized that I was only continuing to do it out of fear. If I was able to stop using food like a drug, and to stop drinking as escapism, what was I scared of? I know I can do this. I am doing it.

It is true that elements of all the health changes I’ve made have been difficult (I plan to write about some of my challenges, learnings, and experiences here over the next week or so). But they haven’t been nearly as bad as I made them in my mind during the years (years! Sad.) when I had so much trouble just getting started. The surprising part is that the gains from making one change have been so exponential. Once you start to feel good again (or, maybe even for the first time!), you actually want to do more stuff that will make you feel better – even if it’s stuff that seemed impossible before. Weird, right?

I know this sounds so cliché. It sounded that way to me for a long time. But seriously: just start. It does get easy eventually!

Food Philosophy Vs. Practice

In this post I wrote about how eating healthy is not that complicated. The overall point being that if a person eats actual food, and doesn’t eat an enormous amount of it, it’s pretty likely that he or she will be healthy. I am insanely tired of my own diet/food schizophrenia. I’m tired of thinking so hard about what I should or shouldn’t eat. I’m tired of all that thought being in vain when it becomes clear that whatever diet I’m on isn’t working, or when it conflicts with whatever the most recent nutritional science says. I’m tired of constantly starting new food routines. I just want to eat and be nourished and healthy. Period. Therefore, as part of my resolution to treat my body more respectfully, I intend to actually adopt the logical philosophy of Michael Pollan, “eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

I sincerely hope that this will be my final change in food routine. Ever. This final change-up entails the following:

  1. More shopping and more cooking. I will be looking for the most “whole” food possible. If sustainably farmed animal products are not available, or if I don’t know where they came from, I will not be eating them. In that sense, I guess that I will still be primarily vegan (since good stuff is hard to find!). But, since I will eat any animal products under the right circumstances, I will not call myself vegan or vegetarian. I heard a new term last week that probably describes my eating habits better: “flexitarian.” Or, perhaps I just won’t term myself anything but “eater”! Anyhoo, veggies and grains will be organic and as local as possible (acknowledging, of course, that it is the dead of winter in MN right now!). As little as possible will be processed. If I want a particular dish, I’m going to try to make it entirely from scratch (it’s an adventure!).
  2. 3 squares per day, nothing between. I want to eat well-rounded meals 3 times/day, not in front of the T.V., ideally in the company of at least one other person. Acknowledging that breakfast and lunch will still most likely be consumed while sitting at my desk (I would still rather be able to go home earlier each day than take a break to eat!).

So, really, those 2 things – eat food, not too much – are kind of a lot of work in the context of the current American societal structure. When I said that eating healthy isn’t complicated, what I really meant is that it is not difficult to comprehend logically. I didn’t mean that it is easy in practice! I am personally curious about how much time this will take each week; how much work will it actually be? Also, is all the work really worth it? Therefore, I am going to add a new weekly feature to this blog. I’m going to call it “Weekly ‘Eat Food’ Wrap-up.” Here is what I plan to include in the feature:

  1. What I ate over the last week.
  2. How many hours I spent shopping.
  3. How many hours I spent cooking.
  4. Times that I went off the plan (used stuff that doesn’t technically fit).
  5. Results: Weight loss (I will also note how much I exercised as an added barometer for this), noticeable health improvements, any stuff I learn in the process about new sustainable products/where to buy them, etc.

I’m not saying that I plan to be “perfect”. In fact, I will straight up say that when it comes to eating with others at restaurants or in their homes, I will eat whatever’s put in front of me (minus the meat, in most cases) without complaint. I’m a pretty average girl, and I want to see how this goes for the average person. I know that this is kind of an exhibitionist thing to do, but I feel like it will add some motivation for me to keep on track with stated values, and it might help others who are curious about how hard it is to do this and are trying to decide whether or not it’s worth it!Anyhow, I’m going to try it and see how it goes.

What do you think?