September

The smell of autumn is in the air. The mornings are cool, and in the evening it’s getting dark sooner. School started, but this year I only notice it because of my job. My children have chosen the path of working in the “real” world.

Last weekend an old friend came to visit. We had a wonderful time with lots of talking, hiking, and she met some of my new friends. On Sunday she asked me if I hadn’t thought about rearranging the apartment. The kids are gone and I was still living in one room. Yes, the idea had crossed my mind. But I didn’t know where to start.

That evening, plans swirled in my head. I drew a sketch and went to bed. The next morning I got started — and spent the next few days hard at work. Every spare moment and lunch break went towards change — and getting rid of old baggage. It feels good to take up more space, and it is helpful in the process of digesting all the changes in my life.

What a coincidence that my birthday will soon be here. The timing is quite appropriate. My father turned 77 a couple of weeks ago. We spoke on the phone and I laughed. I still love numbers. I said, “Oh, 7×7 is 49. That’s how old I will be!” He liked that — an easy way to remember how old I am. (As long as he doesn’t forget how old he is!)

Which brings me to the next issue: What to do on Sunday? There’s so much going on at the moment, I’m really not up for a party. It seemed like it would be unnecessary stress. Rather than worry about what everybody else expects, the question appeared: “What do I want?”

Thus I wrote the following email to a handful of women friends: “After careful deliberation, I have decided to bake a cake on Sunday. If there happen to be any goddesses in the vicinity, I would be happy if they stopped by. As of 2 pm I will surely be out of my pyjamas.” One friend wrote back immediately, delighted, and suggested they help me disassemble my daughter’s old loft bed so that the rearrangement could be completed. What a wonderful idea/offer!

Yesterday, during a group session at work, I introduced a formula for dealing with anger. First they wrote all the angry things that you’re not supposed to say on a poster. Then we proceeded to the next part, which is based on a model of communication by F. Schultz von Thun. There are four levels of communication, both for the sender as well as the receiver.

In yesterday’s example we had four steps:
First: What is the deal? (It’s my birthday and I don’t know what to do.)
Second: What effect does it have on me? (I feel stressed and tense, that people expect things from me. Maybe even resentful?)
Third: What does this mean for the relationship? (Some people might feel let down or disappointed if I don’t invite them.)
Fourth: What do I want? Or in case of anger at someone: “What do I want from you?”

This morning I realized that I had used that model to solve the birthday dilemma. Last night I pointed out that many of us tend to get stuck at the second step, and carry around guilt feelings and resentments, with no solution in sight. Often we don’t even realize it, but as a result might even tend to avoid people.

By moving on to the third and fourth steps, we can dissolve the discomfort. Even if we don’t declare what we want to another person, the clarity in our own minds can ease the tension and bring about change. It’s a matter of practice — whether big problems or small ones.

I asked if they remembered what it was like when they learned to drive? Gas, shift, clutch, lights, signs, one way streets, yield, in stressful moments accidentally turning on the windshield wipers. I remember doubting I would ever get the knack. But eventually I did. Sure enough, it became an automatic process.

Then it occurred to me that a couple of years ago, I was in a stressful situation (driving someone else’s car) and was in a hurry to back out of a parking lot while other people were waiting to drive in. What happened? The windshield wipers went on! I had trouble finding “reverse”. It was different than in my own car. My passenger asked: “Where is reverse?” Then I looked down and saw where it was. A moment of clarity! What helped? The question: “What’s the deal?”

I told my clients that little anecdote and said: “When in stress, breathe and ask the question. Then you can extricate yourself from the feelings (panic?) and take action.”

So that’s today’s little story. Now I have to get going, because I have a seminar today and tomorrow. If I don’t get groceries for Sunday organized today, there will be another problem to solve! 🙂

September 16, 2011 at 8:38 am Leave a comment

Thank you for asking me a favor

Lately it’s just one strange or unexpected thing after another. Yesterday evening I went to an outdoor concert. Hadn’t had any supper, but figured there would be something to eat at the concert. There was: Hot sausage with a roll. I’m more or less vegetarian and was suddenly very hungry, but not in the mood to beg for an empty roll with mustard.

A dear friend lives just two hundred yards away from the concert, so I called her and said: “Hi, I’m here at this concert and thought I would find something to eat, but there’s nothing here for me. Could you possibly make me a cheese sandwich?” Of course!

I left my partner standing there with our drinks (we weren’t allowed to leave the premesis with them) and walked over to my friend’s apartment. As she lovingly prepared — “Is one enough?” “Do you have enough bread? I think I need two!” — the sandwiches (dark bread, butter, thinly sliced cheese, fresh ground pepper and thinly sliced pickles), we had an intense chat and caught up on the latest excitement and developments in each other’s lives. She wrapped the sandwiches and gave me a few fresh tomatoes from her garden as well.

Full of gratitude, I thanked her and was ready to leave. Then she said: “Thank you for asking me! I think it is wonderful that you did. I will remember it when I am in need of something, and it will give me courage to ask!” I admitted that I’d felt a little funny at first, but was sooo hungry!

It may seem strange to write about this here, but it’s part of recovery and this little story contains various important elements: First of all, paying attention to one’s needs — in this case, hunger, but it could also be a need of affection, someone to talk to, a hug, a nap, a walk. The possibilites are vast. Then, once the need is recognized, it’s about taking the appropriate action to fulfill it. It was a Sunday evening and everything was closed. I immediately thought of my friend — as I associate her with that town — and called her. That was a step. It could have been that she had nothing to eat, in which case I would have sought some other solution — or gone hungry for a few hours. But since she has three granddaughters living in the same building who visit her daily, I figured she’s always got something to eat. I was right. Then there’s another element. She cut two slices of bread. I looked at them and thought: “I need more” — but was hesitant to speak up, but on the verge. Luckily, she asked me: “Is one enough?” I dared to say “No, I need two.”

So, up to now it’s very much about food, but it was food for the soul as well. I generally find it easier to give to others rather than ask favors (sound familiar?), and I certainly don’t want to be a burden. What happened during that experience? We had a nice visit. It was okay to be there in my need. The trust and friendship are there, so we both know I wasn’t taking advantage of her. In fact, it was wonderful to have that short visit! And she knows that I am here for her as well.

The best part, though, was when she thanked me for calling her. It’s ironic to think that by paying attention to and acting upon my own needs, I actually did something for someone else!

And yet I have experienced similar joy, for example when a different friend was visiting and feeling kind of down. We went for a walk in the forest, then I invited her to stay for dinner. She sat on a chair in the kitchen as I cooked, and we talked. (I assured her that I didn’t want any help cooking. It was a simple meal and would have been more work to delegate.) She expressed how comforting it was to sit there and observe the bustle of preparation and the sense of being taken care of, and I was happy to have her company.

Ah, the strange and unexpected fun one can have!

August 15, 2011 at 10:06 am 2 comments

Yesterday’s message

Yesterday I was in a strange place — yes, one could say in an existential crisis of sorts (even without an eating disorder!). What to do? I decided to go to the Tibetan monastery and listen in case Buddha had some advice. Sure enough, he did. 🙂

I walked speedily around the Stupa nine times. It was probably the tension. Anyway, four words came to mind and became a mantra: courage, wisdom, patience and trust.

Afterwards I went down the hill and then into the building with the meditation room. There I got another message: Be mindful, conscious and aware. Be in the now.

I must admit, it was nothing new. But who says I need new information every time? Reminders are priceless! 😉

August 14, 2011 at 11:57 pm Leave a comment

Yesterday’s poem

Existential Crisis #51

Haven’t had one for a while
had forgotten how it feels
when your body is translucent
and your head superbly reels.
Plunging wide into the depths
as expansive thoughts confuse
urgency you wish to conquer
yet powerless to refuse.

Off on a flight
don’t want to grab hold
strong enough to fall
foreign visions behold.

The cells within my body
are attempting to adjust
they swirl in blind abandon
immersed within their trust.
One more destination
another plan revealed
yet clarity evades me
through disarray concealed.

Off on a flight
don’t want to grab hold
strong enough to fall
foreign visions behold.

August 14, 2011 at 11:51 pm Leave a comment

Frayed Edges

It’s not just an image
Dreams will carry you on
Fluttering wings, frayed edges of pictures
Old and worn, deep in your pocket
To be gently withdrawn once a year
For a furtive glance at what had been a chance
Lose yourself in a trance and snatch the circumstance.
Wander in the far expanse and you will see
That seemingly impossible dreams come naturally
To the artfully ambitious dreamer

August 14, 2011 at 11:46 pm Leave a comment

Addiction

There’s a trigger in my brain
and it’s driving me insane
how often I insist it’s faulty wiring
yet impulses persist, it’s rather tiring.
I vow, I plead, I reason
my mind pursues its treason
calm moment of sobriety
restores the equanimity
only to dissipate
I try to hesitate
but timeless faulty wirings prevail
disregard attention to detail
shame and misfortune daunt my perception
knowing victim the taunt of deception
powerless I am humbled
again severely tumbled
into the claws of addiciton
tomorrow my resurrection.

August 14, 2011 at 11:27 pm 2 comments

Balance

We all know the sayings: “To everything there is a season.. got to take the good with the bad… life has its ups and downs… etc.” There’s no need to analyze what stood behind it, but for a long time I used to hold my breath when things went well. There was an underlying tension: “How long will this last? When will something bad happen?” I’m sure many of you can relate to that. A simple example can be found with eating habits. During a binge free period, I used to worry about when it would be over. But it applied to just about anything that made me happy. I wanted to hold on to it, to have it stay forever, but knew and dreaded the fact that it would eventually pass.

Over the past few years, I have learned a lot about crisis and its true nature: It really is a chance to grow and learn. Rather than simply hold my breath and worry, I look at the situation, see the possibilities, and reach out for help or guidance. Often there is more than one way to go. When a choice or decision is made, then I work with whatever comes of that. It is a process.

Who knows what comes first? The realization that life truly is a balance, a combination of ups and downs — or the acceptance that I as an individual have my darker and brighter sides. For a recovering perfectionist, that is a true challenge. In the process I have learned to deal with the inevitable tension and insecurity. No, I really don’t know what will happen, how things will turn out. But today I can accept the unknown. That doesn’t mean I never get crazy and climb the walls with impatience, but there is something like an impartial observer in me who sees that and reassures me. “Yup, this is all part of life.”

Trust makes a big difference. Perhaps faith is more appropriate. I trust in my ability and ressources to deal with whatever life gives me. I have faith in the big picture and today have less of a tendency to label things as good or bad. It’s all part of the process. It is how it is.

These days I tend not to hold my breath. There is a strong sense of curiosity. During pleasant moments, I can enjoy. When the situation has more of a challenging aspect, I am curious as to how things will turn out. I take steps, make decisions, and then let go — knowing I cannot control the outcome. But I can always take action — unless intuition guides me to sit and wait, which can also be helpful. No matter what happens, the world keeps turning and I trust in my ability to cope. Whatever the challenge, I can cope and will not simply dissolve into air.

Hmm, it wasn’t my intention, but somehow once again this leads me to the serenity prayer. Funny how frequently that turns up. “God, grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Wish you all a wonderful day no matter what! 😉

August 11, 2011 at 10:23 am Leave a comment

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