I’m listening to a podcast series on a topic entirely unrelated to the general subject matter of this blog. Or at least, it should be unrelated. But like so many lessons I’ve learned in life, the application has a wide net:
In order to bring your dreams to fruition, you must first clean the slate
Anyone who has ever had a bit of sober time before relapsing can appreciate the real estate that regret takes up in the brain. I remember once having garnered a small amount of sober time, then relapsing on and off for a few months. During my sober time, I became friendly with another member of my 12-step program, but since relapsing had lost track of her. I was running errands one day when I saw her across the parking lot. I virtually dove behind a car to avoid her and having to either lie or admit the awful truth. While I managed to dodge the person and the inevitable dilemma, I did not dodge the mental torment:
“If you had done what you were supposed to do, you would have 6 months of sobriety”
“Look how happy she looks, you could look and feel like that if you would just do what you’re supposed to do”
“You’re worthless and you’ll never get your act together”
I can look back on that incident and clearly see how those thoughts were nothing but damaging. They did not motivate me to get sober, I remained in active addiction for another 3 months! All those thoughts did was keep me in a shame spiral that led to more depression, which led to more hopelessness, which led to more relapses.
That negative spiral relates to more than sobriety. Without going into repetitive details, because I have used up my time on this blog talking about diet and exercise, I can easily see the regret over attempts and failures to lose weight morph into feelings of frustration, which morphs into feelings of hopelessness, and the end result is simply a relapse of a different sort.
Interpersonal situations follow this cycle all the time. I am frustrated with the behavior of another, I know the answer is to constructively communicate the frustration, but I project the answers I will receive, which leads to further frustration, which leads to hopeless and the decision not to communicate because, “why bother?” The issue never gets addressed, and thus will recur time and again.
So if living in regret is not the answer, then how exactly does one “clean the slate?” Even though I know that it does no good to wallow in the mistakes of the past, why do I continue to do so and how do I make it stop?
I think the answer here is two-fold. The first is to become aware of the thoughts in the first place. This is an area where I’m just beginning to make some progress. Often I will be deep into self-recrimination before I even realize what I’m doing. So developing an awareness of the thoughts that I’m having, how often I’m having them, is a crucial first step.
Next I have been told by multiple very wise people: Shut It Down. As soon as I know what I’m doing, stop allowing myself to indulge in these negative thoughts. Talk back, yell back, get up and move around, go help somebody else, but cut the thought process off immediately. Though I have no proof, I am told by repeating this two-step process I will decrease both the frequency and the intensity of the negative thoughts.
Here’s where this whole lesson comes full-circle. Regular readers might remember from my last post a woman worried that she needs her painful memories in order not to relapse. If she forgives herself for the pain she caused others, might she then forget how devastating picking up a drink would be?
The title of this post represents a saying that’s been used by the women in my extended family for years. My basic understanding, because of the context in which it’s been said to me, is to stop holding on to anger and resentments. Like a lot of family traditions, I never thought too deeply about the saying itself. Possibly because when it’s being said to me I am full of anger and resentment, and thus don’t give a crap about its origins.
But as I was typing this post, it popped into my head. Curious, I googled the expression, and up popped a whole bunch of links that had to do with catching spider monkeys. Since I always assumed this whole expression had to do with squirrels, I was already delighted.
As the story goes (and believe me, it is only a story, I did not come across any actual proof of its validity), a very simple device is used to catch spider monkeys. Place a nut that spider monkeys like to eat in a heavy, narrow-necked bottle and leave it nearby. The spider monkey will smell the nut, and reach in to grab it. Because the neck of the bottle is narrow, he will not be able to remove the nut because his clenched fist will not fit. Because the bottle is heavy, he will not be able to take it with him. As the story goes, it is then a simple matter of walking up to the monkey and grabbing him, because his desire to have that nut will override his desire for freedom.
So if I know that self-negativity is damaging to the psyche and inconsistent with a peaceful sober existence, but I continue to hold on to the regrets, and the shame, then I am a spider monkey just waiting to be captured. Which just made me laugh out loud, so if nothing else, I’ve amused myself with this analogy!
I guess it’s time to let go of some nuts.
Waking up after a night where everyone in the house slept all the way through, the gift that will keep on giving all day long!
… I am going to ignore the fact that we are a week into the new year, but still state my intention for my Word Of The Year. This practice has been making the rounds in my little corner of the blogging world, and it seems to have started with the delightful Mished-Up, I am so excited to have found her blog! Thanks for this wonderful new ritual, I am excited to embrace the concept and see what great things it brings to my life!
For my inaugural word, I have selected:
Here’s the reasons and hopes for and in selecting energy:
- Just thinking about the word energy brightens my spirits. I mentioned that I have been under the weather for the past few days. The silver lining of this being that I’ve had plenty of time to ruminate about my Word Of the Year! With zero energy right now, the idea of working to bring more of it into my life seems like a rewarding project.
- Energy is applicable to every component of life, and can be incorporated into any possible resolution I might want to make. If I choose to improve my diet, well, calories are technically units of energy. If I choose to revamp (read: restart) my fitness regimen, increased energy is a natural outcome. If I choose to organize myself better in the new year, I am ultimately expending more energy than I have in the past.
- I have an undertaking in the works currently that I will address in more detail in a later post, primarily because I detest talking about goals before I’ve really begun, but the undertaking involves the practice of meditation. From my limited understanding, one of the many benefits of meditation is increased energy, as well as the development of a new set of skills for dealing with the negative energy in one’s life.
- And speaking of negative energy, and by negative energy I am referring to any form of energy that is detrimental, learning how to best handle it would make this list as well. Managing/eliminating/limiting toxic relationships, growing/encouraging/fostering positive relationships, eradicating that which drains me mentally, and working to end negative patterns all could fall under the umbrella of possibilities.
- Harnessing the energy I possess and using it for good, rather than continuing to weigh the pro’s and con’s without ever taking action. Giving myself permission to fail would be key to this process, as well as working against my natural tendency for all or nothing thinking.
- Somewhat along the lines of the bullet point above, taking action to resolve long-standing issues that drain me of energy. Continuing to bitch and moan about a problem without making any attempt to solve it enervates me, so, clearly, the opposite approach should energize.
- Cultivate a greater awareness of and gratitude for the energy I have right here, right now. It is default thinking for me to consider what I should be doing, how I could be better spending my time, and how much more could have been achieved. Again, this type of thinking is exhausting. Taking time each day to consider what has been done well always brings positive energy, so why not increase that energy as much as possible?
- Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t include some component of recovery into this list. I know from experience the energy I receive from helping another. Continuing to reach my hand out to those in need boomerangs right back to me in a way that would be impossible to describe. There is a virtually limitless supply of energy in being of service to others.
So, there you have it, time to get energized! I really hope my throat and head are getting the message. Let’s see how energized 2015 turns out to be!
Writing this, sitting upright in the home office, rather than slumped over the laptop on the recliner, seems to be miracle enough for today.
I have been hanging on to this blog by my fingernails of late.
It started out as a rationale: I re-started a new fitness/weight loss/get healthy challenge a few weeks back, and I swore I would not bother the blogosphere with this nonsense again. I barely want to hear it myself, how could anyone else?
On the other hand, I have come to a point in my blogging where I write twice a week: one that wraps up the wisdom I glean from the weekly meeting I run, and the other where I release whatever is running around inside of my brain. If I am involved in a diet and exercise challenge, then guess what is the only thing running around my brain?
And then another thought occurred to me: many of the recovery bloggers I read credit their sobriety to immersing themselves in the recovery blogging world. It was not my path, but it has always intrigued me. Perhaps I can employ that same mindset and immerse myself in the diet and fitness blogs of the world.
So that’s where I’ve been. Instead staying on top of my WordPress reader, I have been branching out to MyFitnessPal forums, and the top rated diet and fitness blogs of recent years. It has been an interesting experience, but I’ve got to say it: not the same, not the same at all. There is something very unique, and very special, about our community. I certainly did not find it in the diet and fitness world, that’s for sure!
So that’s where I’ve been. And here’s why I’m back, and it has to do with a valuable lesson I learned from all the mini-challenges I did this year: consistency.
I have been working on improving my fitness for about 14 months, working on losing weight for about 7 months, and working on my overall health for 6 months. For a large majority of that time, I was looking at the glass half empty. No matter what I did, my focus was one what I hadn’t done, or what I still needed to do, or how much better I could have done it. It all came to a head for me a few weeks ago. I had started this challenge on September 12 (2 months before my birthday), and I had just had my first very successful weigh-in. My husband was congratulating me, and I could not see it. You see, that weight I lost that week I have been losing and gaining all year, give or take a few pounds. So while the number sounded good (I honestly can’t remember what it was, something close to 10 pounds I think), all I could see was the number I should be at, since I had already lost those 10 pounds 2 or 3 other times this year. And the more I tried to explain my thought process to my husband, the more he looked at me like I was speaking another language. I wound up in hysterical tears by the end of it; not because he wasn’t understanding my point, but that I was not understanding his.
This is a nod to my recovery tools: I can see now when I’m thinking like “Old School Josie” by watching the reactions of others. I may not be able to stop Old School Josie Thinking entirely, but I can at least recognize it and correct it.
So my mini-meltdown was the start of a slow new understanding: this is a process, not an event with a start and end point. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But when you’re in the thick of it, it’s anything but.
Next lightning bolt: each failed attempt, and that is probably not even an apt description, but let’s roll with it… each failed attempt was some kind of lesson learned that helped me the next go-around. Every subsequent challenge I have undertaken (I would say there have been four in all) has shown me greater and greater results. The most concrete example I can give: this most recent one had me going strong for three weeks, and I got to the lowest number on the scale that I have seen in my adult life, when I hit the all too familiar roadblock: a celebration of some sort. This time, it was my wedding anniversary, which turned into a 4 day free-for-all in terms of eating. It has been slow going this week, but I am slowly getting myself back on track. So here’s the progress:
1. I am back on track, normally a celebration derails me for weeks
2. My high number on the scale since resuming is the previous challenge’s low number
Even Old School Josie Thinking can’t argue that this is progress!
Last valuable lesson learned, and now I will finally tie this all back to blogging: Consistency is key. It is true in my sobriety, it is true for my diet and fitness, and it is true for blogging. If I don’t keep myself to a schedule, then I will fade away into the blogging sunset. I know it. Just in the few weeks I took off, the monkey mind was getting louder and louder: enough is enough, you are getting too repetitive, who gives a crap about what’s going on in your life? On and on.
Here’s my response back: nothing but great things have happened with respect to the blog. So I guess I’ll keep writing!
Through the orthodontic process, we discovered an abnormality in my son’s mouth, and we have been anxiously awaiting results of the oral surgery he had as a result of that discovery. Results are in, and it was the best possible news. So the miracle is: the good health of my children is now something for which I am consciously grateful each and every day!
Second miracle: surgeons who take their job seriously, and go the extra mile to ensure the best possible results. I’m telling you, there’s no feeling like knowing you can trust your child’s medical professional!
Did you ever go on the WebMD site to research a condition? I would doubt that I would be able to find my particular ailment easily, but if I could, it would look something like this:
Symptoms, Early Stage:
- Initial success with accomplishment of a goal leads to an increased momentum of goal setting (as in, now that I’ve stopped smoking and have lost a few pounds, let’s keep the health train going and start an official diet by counting points, buy a fitbit and count steps, train for a 5K and log miles, and of course there’s always the scale)
- Distracted thought processes (wait, which goal should I be working on right now… oh wait, I have children who need their dinner!)
Symptoms, Middle Stage:
- Irritability (leave me alone, can’t you see I’m trying to calculate all I’ve eaten today/steps I’ve taken today/average minutes per mile today?)
- Confusion (what exactly am I supposed to be doing right now?)
Symptoms, Advanced Stage:
- Deal making (if I get on the scale and the number is the same or less than yesterday, then I am doing well and should continue, if not, then I will… give up/throw the scale out the window/throw myself out the window)
- Negative self-talk reaches new heights (no matter what good is achieved on a given day, the negative voice can combat with all the goals that were not achieved)
- You are certifiable, go out and get fitted with a straitjacket
Diagnosis #2 (because life actually does have to move on):
- You are suffering from a condition called “Overshooting The Goal-Setting Mark.” Fortunately, this condition can be arrested and corrected with a few simple steps.
Treatment and Care:
- Acknowledgment of condition. Say to yourself, “you are heading in too many directions, and as a result, you are getting nowhere fast”
- Next, take some deep breaths, and remember all for which you are grateful (this step, by the way, helps with a lot of mental conditions)
- Once in a calm state, take quiet time, pick one goal, and Let. The. Rest. Go.
- Give voice to the confusion and negativity in your head with a trusted friend (or the entire blogging world, or both)
- Repeat these steps each time the condition flares up
Today is a day of rest… no accounting of anything today, and I am going to enjoy it!
This is the next progress report in my 6-Weeks-Until-I-Am-On-A-Tropical-Vacation-So-Let’s-See-What-Physical-Improvements-I-Can-Make Challenge (should I trademark that winning title?). For a recap, read Honesty, Hypocrisy & Me and Progress Report.
So the progress is pretty much 110% good. When I started, I made a commitment, both to myself and to the blogosphere, to complete some simple, daily activities, all designed to eradicate the four worst food items in my life. To date, those foods have been banished, but, like so many recovery-like activities, my progress has far surpassed the initial goals. Over the course of the past 5 weeks, I have not only abstained from those foods which I compulsively eat, but I have also managed to acquire a daily eating routine that is about a million times healthier than my diet 7 weeks ago. So by any standard I have far exceeded my goal, in terms of eating.
One of the simple daily tasks has been to re-incorporate a small amount of physical activity, which again has been a great success, and again has far exceeded my initial expectations. I have been able to increase, either by time or intensity, each week since I began.
Mentally it has been a bit of a roller coaster. Weeks one and two were a breeze, and I was given an almost daily reassurance from my scale… getting on the scale was in fact fun! Of course, every party has its end, and week three was a complete meltdown. I had eaten better and exercised harder than the first two weeks, yet still managed to gain a pound. Despite all logic and common sense, which would tell a sane person, “then just stop getting on the scale,” I actually upped my visits to my bathroom, sometimes weighing myself as much as 3 times in a day. You would think I’ve never been on a diet before! The absolute miracle of it all is that I persevered… in my entire life, I have never had that kind of negative feedback and continued on a diet. It worked itself out by the end of week four, but I’m still trying to understand and correct my mental process on the scale obsession. I have managed to eliminate the behavior of actually stepping on the scale, but the idea of what the numbers may be is never very far from my thoughts, and I am trying to figure that one out.
And then there’s other numbers… I find myself mentally calculating and re-calculating my daily caloric intake, and comparing it to the day before. The idea is almost laughable… I am the least qualified to judge some of the things I am assigning numbers to, and yet I can’t seem to stop myself.
And then, the biggest numbers game of all… the treadmill. I am obsessively checking the miles I am completing, mentally calculating how much it will be at the end, comparing it to the times in the past, and striving to beat each time. Now, for sure, some of this is to the good: I am getting faster almost every time I am on the treadmill. But I know, I know, that this kind of obsessing is fundamentally wrong, but I can’t seem to overcome it. Sure, I could cover up the panel, but I’m pretty sure I would have to spray paint it black or figure out a way to run backwards for me to avoid peeking.
So, the good news: I am down 15 pounds, have lost 4 inches from my waist (the only part I measured, I am an apple shape and my mid-section is the area I most desire to decrease), and my treadmill workout is back to when I was at my peak last summer. My diet is the healthiest, by a significant amount, in a solid 5 years, maybe even longer. Water consumption up, Diet Pepsi consumption down. My clothes feel looser, and I feel a great sense of accomplishment. All super exciting stuff.
The not-so-good news: I am a work-in-progress in the mental game of dieting. The idea of moderation and balance, in terms of time spent thinking about diet and exercise, is completely foreign. I need a better perspective in how I am spending my mental energy as it relates to this issue. And, truthfully, I’m not really sure how to achieve this particular goal. As, shockingly enough, moderation in anything has not been my strong suit.
Is this problem sounding familiar to anyone? Am I alone in the numbers obsession? Any words of advice on how to get a grip?
Perseverance in this challenge is a miracle. Seriously, a miracle.
Two weeks ago I wrote a rather despondent post bemoaning my relationship with food. As always, shining the light on my fears and troubles diminishes them. The comments I received turned my negativity around almost instantaneously, and the support from my “in person” friends was the icing on the cake (the cake, of course, being gluten-free, sugar-free, and calorie-free). I came to find out, once again, that I am indeed not alone in my troubling thoughts, and that, sharing the load truly lessens the burden.
One friend and I, who both have a trip booked for roughly the same time frame, have concocted a plan: let’s grab some of the most effective tools from the recovery toolbox with which I have been blessed, and put them to work in constructing a healthier lifestyle. Here’s what we’ve come up with so far:
Goal: Take the next six weeks, and make small, incremental changes to our current diet and fitness lifestyle, and see if we can’t feel and look better in time for our trips.
Okay, so there’s the big picture goal, how will the next 6 weeks play out? One of the biggest “tricks” to my success in recovery, especially in the early days, was that I had a to-do list of four things, and only four things, that I needed to accomplish in any given day, and if I went to bed having accomplished them, the day was a success. I’ve written about this ad nauseam, no need to revisit the specifics. So what I hope to do is use the same blueprint for improving my health. I took a long, hard look (cringing A LOT) at all my bad habits, and I concluded that, to start, I could commit to 4 things each and every day, and I was (am) hopeful that in time, I can add/modify/eliminate as needed to continue on a positive path. But for now, forget everything else, and commit to the following:
1. Eliminate the 4 worst foods in my current diet that lead to binge eating (again using the number because it worked so effectively in the past for me)
2. Commit to replacement foods that are healthier than existing foods
3. 20 minutes of dedicated physical activity
4. Communication/progress reports each evening (She has her own four, and reciprocates with her own progress reports)
That is it. Here’s what I am NOT going to do: beat myself up over anything else that I do or don’t do during a given day… if I go to bed having accomplished those four things, that day is a success.
Saturday, February 22nd was our start date; today is March 6, roughly 2 weeks in. How is it going?
Week one had its emotional ups and downs, but I successfully completed the week as laid out above. Each day I would wake up, absolutely convinced that I would not, could not, make it through the day without giving in to one temptation or another (sound familiar, friends in recovery?). Each night that I made it through, the exhilaration was palpable.
A surprising tool from recovery came in very handy during the first week. Each time I refrained from eating something, or chose something healthy, a pessimistic voice in my head would taunt me, “Big deal… you made it through this one, tiny hurdle? Do you REALLY think you are going to spend THE REST OF YOUR LIFE doing this?”
Here’s the surprise answer I had at the ready, and it comes directly from all the lessons learned through recovery: “Who cares about the rest of your life? Can you make it through the rest of this day?”
And would you believe that response was as calming, as soothing, and as positive, as when I used it in the early days of sobriety? So that was a really fun bonus. And the voice has since quieted down, it’s almost inaudible!
Other positives: the exercise thing, having committed to it effectively about 6 months ago but have since lapsed, was like riding a bike, in that making it a part of my daily life became routine fairly quickly. Without getting too far ahead of myself, I do find myself pushing myself a bit further, here and there, and I suspect that as time goes on I will continue to do so.
The regular “checking in” process has loads of benefits, the main one being accountability. There were several days that I turned away from one bad choice or another for the simple reason that I did not want to report I ate it.
Another huge milestone for me: sharing about the foods that tempt me. In the past, I would have been as secretive about this information as I was with every part of my active addiction. I attach shame to eating certain foods, and thus do it privately, and fail to disclose it to anyone. In order to have this communication with my friend be meaningful, I had to get real about the temptations in my life. Unsurprisingly, my revelations did not raise an eyebrow, and since that time I’ve opened up with more people about it, getting similar results.
I did not recognize this shift until a few days ago. I am a Catholic, and Lent is currently underway. In preparation for this religious event, I was contemplating what I would sacrifice, and decided that it would be one of the foods on my list above… Lent would simply give me a few added weeks of abstinence. However, tradition would have it that on “Fat Tuesday,” you celebrate with one last hoorah, and so I made the decision that I would break one of my four commitments. I communicated this to my friend, in advance, explaining what I was going to do, and how I intend to not let it derail me permanently (as has so often happened in the past). I finished explaining it in email, and when I sat back to review, I realized what an amazing accomplishment that was for me… that kind of unreserved honesty, as far as eating habits are concerned, is a first for me, and it felt really good to see the progress as it’s happening.
Last but not least, I am experiencing tangible results: my clothes feel a tad looser, the numbers on the scale are down, 10 pounds the first week! I am actually going to talk a little more about that, but it will have to wait for another post, since this one is running too long as it is! Finally, my mood overall is more positive and optimistic.
All great stuff, and I will post again in two weeks on this subject and let you know where I’m at!
Having good news of any kind to report is a miracle!
So, I’m going to tackle a subject I really, really don’t want to… health and fitness. If you’ve been following, even in an half-hearted sort of way, this blog, you will know this has been a tumultuous relationship all my life. Issues with body-altering substances predate issues with mind-altering ones by a lot of years.
When I hit my personal bottom, I was at the lowest weight of my adult life. But, let’s face it, active addiction is not a beauty regime… I looked like shit. Not that I was paying close attention to the numbers on the scale, but, then again, the fact that I can tell you the first fact of this paragraph means it registered in some way. So, fast forward through the past 16 months, and life is exponentially, magnificently, miraculously better. So much better, in fact, then let’s have some celebratory food… you get the picture. And up the weight has gone, through the past 16 months.
At first, I was just so damned happy to even want to eat, I was actually relieved to see the scale go up. I am not a therapist, but I don’t think it takes one to see that low weight (for me, that is) and active addiction are connected in my brain. So seeing a weight with which I am familiar is now connected with sobriety.
Except that is the stupidest form of logic ever, because my low weight is still well above the ideal weight for someone my age and height!
And here’s the other part, the part that is all about how my addicted brain works… if I am choosing not to worry about my weight (which for a long time I did, in order to make recovery my focus), then why not just go whole hog and eat whatever I feel like? And if I am eating whatever I feel like, then why bother with the gym? And so on, and so on, down the spiral we go. Which, as anyone who has tried to lose weight will tell you, the further down the spiral you go, the harder it is to turn it around.
Meanwhile, all the regular bloggers that I follow are, for one reason or another, going on cleanses, giving up sugar, running marathons. And you want to tell me God does not speak directly to us?!?
So, for all sorts of reasons, health and fitness have been on my mind. And every time I try to get up the gumption to do something about it, I feel overwhelmed, and I fall right back to my normal routine, which, as you know, has been a beautiful thing for me for the past 16 months. But, still, even though I had taken no action, I really have been thinking about it, praying about it, and trying to get quiet and listen for the answer.
This weekend, something new came to me. I have no idea if it is the answer, or just a load of crap, but any action is better than the total inaction of the past few months.
I realized that part of what overwhelmed me about trying to get myself “in shape” was the magnitude of the task. I mean, I have probably 6 or 7 major things that I should change, immediately if not sooner, to live a healthy lifestyle. But every time I thought of taking on this task, it tired me out just thinking about, plus that whiney little voice in my head saying, “oh great, yet another thing we need to give up!” It was just easier to think about it “later.”
So this weekend, it occurred to me: perhaps this all-or-nothing thinking might possibly be the stumbling block? Perhaps just taking one or two of the 6 or 7, focus on them, and see how I feel, might be the starting point. And, while I’m at it, I can address the whiney little voice by doing this… take 1 or 2 items that don’t require me to “give up” something; rather, take 1 or 2 items on the list that just have me add something in, and see how it goes.
And, of course, because there are no coincidences, Christy over at Running on Sober, right at the same time I am formulating this plan, asked me to join her in a new fitness regime, which I gratefully accepted.
So, like I said, no idea if this will work or if it is just another lame-ass attempt on my part that will fall by the wayside in a few hours/days/weeks. I hope not, but my track record is not good in this department. I do know this: since the idea came, and Christy asked, I have been to the gym every day (oh, and, for the record, the second item is to drink more water).
Sorry for the long-winded post. Interestingly, this is the first time in a long time that I have to actually stop myself from writing more. I could honestly go on for a lot longer with this thought process, which tells me that I have been putting this idea off for far too long (and should warn readers that this is not the last you will read on the subject). Wish me luck!
Summoning the courage to write about a sensitive topic… my normal way of thinking would have me achieve a goal before announcing my intention, so I am scared to reverse the order, but it’s time to try something new!