Archive for November, 2008

Thanksgiving

Oh, I nearly forgot! We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Europe and yesterday I was kind of busy. But this morning, it occurred to me that Thanksgiving has always had a rather unique meaning in my life. It was Thanksgiving of 1975 that I first “succeeded” at throwing up. Boy, was I pleased with myself! I had no idea that I had taken the first step into a 13-year eating disorder that would screw up even more of my life. (Things were already somewhat screwed up. Otherwise, I would not have grasped for an eating disorder to serve as a coping mechanism.) Then it took another 13 or so years to recover emotionally as well. What an ordeal! Oh well, to each his own.

I am grateful now for 20 solid years of recovery. When I first started with recovery, I didn’t think it would last that long. In fact, by the time I got started on the “final” recovery, I had long given up expectations of such a concept. All I wanted to do was learn to eat normally and to minimize the bingeing. By that time, I had learned to accept relapses. The goal became: to make the most of each day, and not beat myself up if I screwed up with the food. I could always start over, and that’s what I did.

Since moving the attention from food to life, other issues have come up. Struggle with food is very tangible. Now that the focus has shifted to invisible things (feelings, emotions, conflicts, disappointments, decisions and such things), there is a lesser degree of clarity. It’s easy to say I ate well today and that’s it. When I deal wtih the invisible, not so definable things, I tend to get confused or become unsure of myself. There is so much new territory, and no one in my immediate environment to encourage me. (On the contrary, there tends to be mostly resistance.) Yet I keep going.

Last night I hit another low. Once again the questions: What am I doing? What’s the purpose? What am I waiting for? Is it really necessary to wait? Am I being responsible or stupid? How could I have made such a mess of things? There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep. I’m not bouncy and cheerful, but this morning I am looking more clearly at plans and timetable for the next couple of years. I’ve gotten to be good at having faith and trusting in the universe, but during such long stretches I need to replenish hope. It helps to set up some kind of game plan or goal. Even if it doesn’t turn out that way (as things often turn out completely different than I expect), it gives me some perspective.

What to do? Thanksgiving is over, but today I will give thanks anyway. I am thankful for this life, for my children, for recovery, for coming this far, and for all the gifts I have received thus far — even if I didn’t appreciate all of them at the time. Today I am grateful that I have a messy room that needs to be cleaned, and lots of laundry that needs to be done. That’s more than a lot of people have.

While I’m doing those tasks today, and as I clear through the chaos and bring a semblance of order to my surroundings, I will focus on prayer. Lately I’ve felt the need to reconnect and ask for help from my higher power. I don’t need to hit bottom to ask for help. During the worst of times, I wrote letters to God in my journal. Part of recovery is learning to be less extreme. That means things don’t have to be totally unbearable before I am willing to work for change. I am grateful for that realization.

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November 28, 2008 at 8:41 am 2 comments

Playing stupid

Do you ever catch yourself playing stupid in order to protect someone or not hurt their feelings? Or maybe as a way to manipulate them? Lately I’ve come to recognize my own behavior in that area. There is the harmless version of listening to a story for the tenth time and pretending I haven’t heard it all before. That doesn’t bother me. I figure, if someone has a need to tell me, then it does them good. So I listen. (And sometimes I’m so forgetful that I only realize after the fifth repetition that I’ve heard it before!)

But there’s a different kind of playing stupid that I have recently become aware of with such clarity that it bowls me over — well, it only nearly bowls me over. These days I’m standing quite well grounded on both feet, so it would take more than a revelation for that. The other kind of stupid is when I make myself appear stupid as a means of avoiding conflict. Like today I spent most of the day working on a project on the computer. It was what I wanted to do, and it needed to be done (in my opinion).

As I stood with my husband in the kitchen earlier, it occurred to me that in the not too far past I would have made some comment like: “Oh, I had no idea it would take so long.” That implies: I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I really wanted to do something else (like clean the bathroom), but got caught up in that. And it probably even implies that he would have known better, if I’d asked him, how long it would take. Perhaps there would be a hint of guilt hidden in there, because I “know” he disapproves. Or I might have giggled like a little girl and showed him what I’d done — seeking approval, waiting for him to validate my efforts. Or I would have made a comment nearly scolding myself, in order to fend off any potential comments in that direction from him.

What did I do today? I worked hard with total concentration on what I was doing, taking breaks now and then to deal with other responsibilities. And when the work was finished, I didn’t apologize or anything of the sort. I brought out my finished work and said confidently: “See? This is what is looks like.” I was quite pleased.

Either he didn’t dare cross me and my positivity, or maybe he’s not the grouch I think he is. I tend more toward the former explanation, but at this point: it doesn’t really matter. Oh, that’s the title of a song I wrote several years ago. And it’s still true: It doesn’t really matter what, how or why. The situation at hand is what counts.

And even more important than the above is the realization that I have learned to do what I’m doing without fear of his judgment, scolding, criticism, or any other uncomfortable reaction. I can take whatever he dishes out. If I don’t like it, it bounces right back off me. As time goes by, the stuff that bounces off is getting to be less and less. He must have liked it better when those remarks sunk in and hurt. They don’t do that any more. They reflect off, and might even hurt him on the rebound. Again, it doesn’t matter why. He’s not doing it (as much) any more. That’s nice.

The other day, an unnecessarily negative remark was made to our daughter, which served to exacerbate an already difficult situation. After a brief exchange, she left the room in tears, telling him that a different tone of voice would be appreciated. (She’d heard me say that to him recently.) Where I once would have been silent and thought: “What’s the use of trying to talk to him?”, instead I turned to him and said: “I’m sure you don’t mean it, but when you say things like that in that way, it really hurts. When you talk to me like that, or one of the children, it makes us feel really stupid and incompetent. I’m sure you don’t mean it to, but that’s what happens.” His response was not exactly rewarding. He made some inappropriate (in my opinion) comment and left the room. That didn’t bother me in the least. I was simply happy to have spoken up and shared that information with him. Maybe he will think about it in a quiet moment.

I’m not sharing this to show what a lousy relationship we have. No. What I want to share is that even in this hopeless (in my opinion) situation, there are still things to learn. Things can change, and perhaps even get better. I can’t know the outcome now, nor is that necessary. What matters is the step-by-step change in communication habits. These are deep-seated habits that I brought with me from my childhood. If I don’t change them now, then when? With the next guy? When? After we get over the honeymoon? Or maybe the guy after that? I want to clear it up now, and then see what happens. I do believe this relationship is on the way out, but I’m not going to wait until then to change. I believe these behavior patterns could evolve with anyone if I spent enough time with them. I need to change things and that’s what I’m doing. Now.

That’s said for emphasis. What I’m actually doing right now is listening to Bob Dylan’s Love and Theft and enjoying the feeling that comes after a day of hard work and progress made.

November 25, 2008 at 9:38 pm Leave a comment

Mr. Customs Man

In the past, I have been irritated by having to pay customs on gifts that my children received from their grandparents. I grumbled and paid, and then they stopped sending presents. Postage and customs often amounted to the value of what was in the box, so they switched to savings bonds. And when we visit them, I usually need an extra suitcase on the way back!

Part of my recovery has been to learn to accept certain nuisances, but also to take action where it is appropriate, without getting overly emotional. I used to get all worked up and then react totally out of proportion. When my beat-up eyeglasses arrived last week — the eyeglasses I bought around 16 years ago in this country — and I had to pay €21 customs and delivery tax, I was rather annoyed. But I’ve learned enough over the past 20 years (of recovery) to not blame the mailman. I complained to him, but in a way that he knew I didn’t blame him for something beyond his responsibility.

Oddly enough, he’s the same mailman that accidentally backed into our garage on my husband’s birthday a couple of months ago. Even then I didn’t yell at him. Was it his fault that the garage was standing just where it was? Of course not! On the other hand, I do expect him to develop some routine and know where the buildings stand. He’s new, so I’m sure he’ll eventually get the hang of it.

But let me get back to the main story. I brought the unopened box inside and read through the papers. Oh, my father had filled in $75 for their value, and the customs people assumed it was a new pair of glasses. After looking over the whole form, I turned it over. On the back, near the bottom, it said: “If you want to complain, you can.” I smiled. Hmm… if nothing else, it would be a good exercise in asserting myself. So I dialed the phone number on the paper, which connected me with the central customs place in the state capitol. They informed me that my local customs office is responsible. I didn’t think to suggest that maybe they include that information next time. But if they did, maybe all of the Americans living in this district would complain on a regular basis if they knew there was a local office.

The friendly woman on the telephone gave me the mailing address for the local office, so I wrote them a letter and explained that the eyeglasses are quite old, slightly battered, and purchased in this country, thus I really don’t think it’s fair that I should pay so much money to get them back. I mentioned that I would not open the box, in case they wanted fresh evidence.

Two days later, a friendly man called me up. His voice was full of amusement as we discussed the situation. He invited me to stop by with my unopened box and then he would help me get my money back. I stopped by, opened the box, showed him the glasses, and listened as he explained that he would fill out two forms and within the month the money would be transferred to my bank account. The eyeglasses are considered “returned property”. Sounds good to me!

Now I have some questions. Was it so easy because I was friendly and didn’t take my annoyance out on them? Or maybe because I didn’t have a trace of hostility in my attitude? Or is it just a simple situation? (Probably.) But I wonder what good it would have done if I had simply called the first number and said: “I think it really sucks that you charge me customs when my kids receive presents from their grandparents. But to pay for an old pair of glasses is ridiculous!” And then slammed down the phone for example. I might have felt self-righteous, and maybe satisfied that I’d “told them” what I think of them. (Anyway, you can’t slam push-button phones, so why bother?) But in view of today’s economy — on both the spiritual and financial level, I prefer the friendly approach — and €21 back in my pocket!

Such situations are an opportunity to learn. I didn’t learn to simply be calm and deal with situations when I was growing up. I learned to be silent and suffer until I exploded. That approach never helped me much. Because it isn’t completely automated yet, I jump at such opportunities to “practice” standing up for myself. There is no risk of great loss, it’s not at all dangerous, and it gives me a chance to get used to being the way I’d like to be on a regular basis. The more practice I get with the little things, the better I am at dealing with things that matter.

Of course, the definition of “things that matter” is quite broad. Often I smile at situations, as some descriptions remind me of Arlo Guthrie’s famous song monolog (Alice’s Restaurant). To see the humor in a situation lightens it up in more than one way. It often becomes easier to deal with. As in that song, with humor we can also say a lot about serious things, but somehow it goes over better than with hostility or aggression. Since the aforementioned song is so long, how about something else from Arlo? (No, not Coming into Los Angeles, although that’s also a fun song and gave me the title for this post.) I had the good fortune to go to a couple of his concerts several years ago. His spoken words are as delightful as what he sings. So here’s a rendition of “This Land is Your Land” I found today.

It’s frustrating to have to learn these basic skills at such a late age. On the other hand, I have observed people older than myself who are yet to learn it. And now you’ve surely guessed the closing line: “Better late than never!!”

November 18, 2008 at 6:46 pm Leave a comment

Starting Over

Starting over is something we do several times in our lives. We start over when we move, change schools, change partners, change jobs, when a loved one or friend dies. Of course, we also start over when we recover from an illness or an addiction — whether alcohol, drugs or eating disorder. The magic of recovery is that we can start over. We can start over every single day. If we screw up in the morning, we can start over in the afternoon. Now is the moment to start over.

As I have mentioned in the past, I do notice that it gets harder, the older I get. On the other hand, I have matured, thus my expectations are not quite as high as they once were. I don’t mean to imply that one should settle for less, just that I’m learning to be a little bit more realistic than I was.

There’s an old saying which most of us have heard more often than we cared to, but it is true: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” To start over and build a new life — on whatever level — is a step-by-step undertaking. Brick by brick I built my new life. If I let the days be symbolized by bricks, I have constructed quite an impressive monument over the past 20 years. But like any other building, it also needs looking after. And 20 years down the line, it is in sore need of renovation. That is difficult, as I evaluate my (energetic and other) resources and contemplate how much I am willing to invest.

When I first began work on this building of recovery, I didn’t know as much as I do now. Thus I used some materials which were not so appropriate, although they worked at the time. I’d say they are comparable to asbestos. Deep down I knew even then that they weren’t the healthiest substances, but I wasn’t ready to go for the top of the line just yet. Now I have a better sense of that.

To start over, I work with what I have. I do the best I can one day at a time. The available materials and resources are implemented, and with time are reevaluated and replaced when necessary. The comparison to a building simplifies this project of life. The real thing isn’t so clear cut. Yet there is an aspect of simplicity, because I don’t have to be perfect and know the end results now. It is a learning process.

One big thing I haved learned is to forgive myself. I forgive myself for wasting so much time being bulimic and anorexic. I forgive myself for wasting time in other ways as well. At this point, I can view it as necessary time, not wasted — although it does pain me at times, but I can live with that. Once I gave up the illusion that I woud figure things out and then live happily ever after, I was much better able to cope.

Day by day I deal with what comes along. I work on being my true self and fulfilling my calling in this life. I don’t know where it’s going to go, but that’s not the point. Just like a board game — we are all excited about playing and who’s going to win, but when it’s over, it’s almost a let-down. So for today, I’m enjoying the fact that I’m still on the board and experiencing the adventures.

November 14, 2008 at 9:05 am Leave a comment

Still surprised

Last night was the big night. I’d been looking forward to it all week. Three girlfriends and I planned to go to a disco which was having an “Over-30 Party” with music from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.

There was only one problem: I just didn’t know what to wear. My girlfriends love to dress up and do make up — the whole bit. That’s just not my thing. I never claimed to be the world’s best dresser. In fact, the tendency is towards the other end. That’s okay. It’s my style. I put on a T-shirt and jeans, then asked my 16-year-old daughter for advice. She not only gave me advice, but she actually insisted that I borrow one of her cute tops. That was really sweet of her.

It turned out to be a fun night, though the music was less rock and more disco than I care for. But we managed to dance, two of them did some harmless flirting, and we all had a nice time. Being the serious, intense person I am, I am also serious about having fun. Therefore, when I go out to dance, that’s all I want to do. So I put my wedding ring on, just for the occasion. Sometimes it’s a good thing to have — for clarity’s sake, though I must say, it was rather uncomfortable. I rarely wear rings.

Anyway, it was a fun night. There’s nothing like girlfriends! And I’m still delighted that my daughter was so nice and helpful. It was one of those moments when a closeness and understanding emerge to warm my heart — sort of a consolation prize for the hassles her adolescence has bestowed upon us. The past few years were quite heavy, and there’s still more to come, but things have calmed down a bit. The image comes to mind of how things start to grow after a forest fire has swept through.

November 8, 2008 at 12:48 pm Leave a comment

What I can do

I was just reading in Amber’s blog about how we don’t know what we are capable of until life demands it from us, and that reminded me of an experience yesterday. I went to work, and one of the kids wanted to affix a shelf to a wall in his room. Under my calm exterior I panicked. I hadn’t done any kind of handiwork in ages! My husband does everything — and very neatly. So I just gave up in that area a long time ago.

Well, in the function of doing my job, I organized a drill from home and then set about the task. I pretended to know what I was doing, and soon believed it myself! My client wasn’t quite sure how to do it, and I had to show him how to measure, where to put marks on the wall to drill, etc. We didn’t do it absolutely perfectly, but the metal piece which supports the shelf is hidden, so no one can see that it’s slightly lopsided. The shelf itself is level — and that although we didn’t use a water level.

Afterwards I felt elated. Not only did we succeed in our endeavor, but I actually knew how to do it. And he wouldn’t have succeeded without me! Really. I let him do as much as possible, but he needed my assistance. The fun part was to just DO it. No big deal. It didn’t have to be perfectly done.

I realized once again that I stopped doing a lot of things because it is so COMPLICATED with my husband. I hate doing any kind of renovation, or even just going skiing with him. It takes forever until everything is prepared, until the skis are perfectly organized in the car, along with the ski boots, helmets, etc. And after we’ve skiied, everything has to be perfectly brushed off so there isn’t a DROP of water left on the skis. Sometimes I feel like screaming.

Where does this roundabout description bring me? You may be surprised. I certainly was. Later in the evening, I thought about the situation of being a “victim” and how horrible that is. What became clear to me is that my “victim” situation is a thing of the past, but I myself created or at least cooperated in the establishment of the present situation. I made decisions which made me unhappy. Never mind why I made those decisions. What matters is: They were mine. I chose to give someone immense power and control over me. I don’t like it. I never did. But now I dislike it so much, that I will not accept it anymore.

Lately, I’ve looked more closely at my own responsibility. True, many things in life happen which are beyond my control. Yet I do have some say in the matter. It is up to me to make decisions, to set boundaries, to say “Yes” as well as “No” in the personally appropriate situation. At this point, I will not torture myself with blame or try to figure out why I made the decisions I did. (I’ve already done that!) Instead I focus on awareness, assessing the situation, and changing that part of my behavior which I deem inappropriate.

In the past, I slipped into roles that didn’t suit me, but they were familiar. I felt that something was wrong, but ignored that feeling and played the game. Now I realize that just because those games were/are familiar, that is not reason enough to continue playing them. As I gradually learn to react more appropriately and authentically, I observe that certain patterns of interaction have begun to change — almost imperceptively, but they are changing. It is only when I compare the situation now to a few months ago, that I see a more noticeable difference.

I have become more courageous, even in little things. (I find that the little things are a great way to get started!) I feel a new sense of competence and security, and trust in my ability to cope with the person and/or situation at hand. As far as the bookshelf is concerned, that was quite simple: Just DO it! And if I’m not sure, I ask for help. But I will not give up before I even start, or simply say: “Oh, no, I can’t do that.” That’s what I used to do. Today I give it my best shot first.

Along the lines of what Amber said: Often we don’t even realize what we are capable of — until we have to do it! Life is full of surprises!

November 4, 2008 at 12:22 pm 4 comments


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