Archive for the ‘Musing’ Category

Figuring stuff out

April 20, 2011

So I’ve been going to some meetings, and it’s helped me figure some stuff out.

First of all, one of the things that’s…

I was about to say “One of the things that’s causing my anxiety lately…” but that’s not quite right. I’ve been watching my words, because our words shape us as we shape them. For instance, if I say that someone pushed my buttons, it’s not accurate. That person didn’t push my buttons. I’m not a victim. I reacted to something I saw in them. That clich├ęd old directive to start my sentences with ‘I’ has more validity than I’d like. It’s hard to do. It’s hard to redirect myself so that I remain aware that my feelings are my responsibility.

So. Start the sentence with “I”. I’ve been eating a lot lately, and I think much of it stems from anxiety.

Over the last few years I’ve learned things about myself. And it seems that, in almost every instance when I’ve acted to change a dysfunctional behavior to make myself a better person, I’ve met with resistance. I’ve lost one of my oldest friendships. And I’ve come to see the rigid structure that accreted around my old behavior patterns, like ice crystals around a stationary framework. I never noticed that rigid coating before because I wasn’t moving. But for the last year I’ve been flexing, moving my limbs in new ways, and the framework has groaned and cracked and shrieked. I’m terrified of losing more friendships if I so much as take a step.

That terror isn’t new, nor does it feel particularly important to talk about. I know it’s there. It’s not something I can think away. It’s something that only time and work and compassion and experience will ameliorate. I need to forgive myself for the past and just keep doing the work.

The new realization feels more important to talk about. It came to me as I mulled over what happened at a meeting yesterday.

One person made a comment about how self-loathing is a form of arrogance. I was surprised, because that’s been a pet assertion of mine for the last few years. I’ve turned it around in my head, and it feels true, but I’ve never been able to satisfactorily articulate why. So my ears perked up when I heard someone else say it.

A few minutes later, another person spoke of a trauma they’d suffered years ago. And I felt myself reacting with self-abnegating horror. If I had to verbalize the feeling that coursed through me, it would be to say “What am I even doing here, talking about my little drama? Compared to what this person has been through, my problems are nothing!”

I’m thankful that I’ve at least accumulated enough wisdom to see that impulse and resist it. Just because this person has suffered more than I, doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to be there. In my mind, I managed to stand against the wave of self-abnegation, because I knew that it was just arrogance in another form. I’m not special. And that means I don’t get to single myself out for self-loathing.

Then, this morning, I finally saw the obvious and quantifiable similarity between self-loathing and arrogance. You know that feeling I had? The one that made me want to hang my head and deny myself the right to be there, talking about my problems, in the same room with this person who’d suffered so much? What it amounted to was the assertion that I don’t deserve help. And that’s the parallel: When I’m arrogant, I don’t think I need help. When I’m self-loathing, I don’t think I deserve help. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter which path I chose, because I didn’t get help.

I’m trying the third path.

I’ll take it.

April 1, 2011

It was dark during most of my morning walk. As I returned across the parking lot beyond the courtyard, the light percolating up through the grey dawn had gathered enough strength to dispel the ambient anxieties of nighttime walking. I was no longer making my way warily through an indistinct landscape. It was day.

At about that moment when I relaxed into daytime walking mode, I realized that I was glad to be up. I use the word “realized” because the mental state of gladness was secondary to the physical sensation that had just crept over me. My satisfaction at having already finished a walk while most folks were still in bed was a construct that could not have stood except in the space cleared by my body’s mere rejoicing.

The feeling was familiar, but surprising. I used to get it all the time, but during the last few months I’ve been… what’s the word for “lost” that includes gladness? I was glad to be lost. I was glad not to be getting up. I was glad not to be exercising. I was glad to have an excuse.

I slashed my knee open, right down to the joint capsule. Had to have the damned thing in a brace, fully extended, for two weeks. What an excuse, eh? I moped, I started eating, and I didn’t do the upper-body exercises that I could have done. This is what always happens. No matter how much I prepare for it, the same thing always seems to happen. I guess it won’t stop happening until I stop wanting excuses for it to happen.

I saw that truth a few weeks ago, so I finally decided to give OA a try. I’ve gone to two meetings so far. It’s hard, but it’s a good hard. That doesn’t surprise me. What surprises me is that I’ve encountered a… person… there. Let’s call this person “X”. I have such a strong negative reaction to X that I don’t think I can keep going back to that particular group.

I won’t go into details, at least not here. Suffice it to say that, after two encounters with X, I don’t think there’s a fight-or-flight response system in my being left untriggered. Picture big red buttons, flashing fire truck lights, nails on chalkboard, cat fur being rubbed the wrong way, and grainy black-and-white films of World War II runways with klaxons moaning their way up to a yowl that makes you plug your ears.

To say that X has personality traits that I abhor is an understatement. I gauge my success as a human being by the degree to which I suppress the voices to which X seems to give full throat. X embodies everything I’ve spent a good fifteen years striving not to be.

But X is not the point right now, and I thank my lucky stars for Grace being around to help me see that. I talked through my feelings with her, and she said that I’m not responding to X, but rather to the memories that X triggers. At first I rejected this notion, because I felt that my emotions came from my anger at seeing X wallow in a behavior pattern that I’ve worked so hard never to indulge in. But then she pointed out that there’s a reason why I vowed never to indulge in those behaviors: at some point I felt trapped by someone who behaved in those same ways. Once she said that, I realized that I’d come to the emotional core of my reaction.

Oh, and then there’s the milk.

See, we ran out of milk yesterday. And it turned out that Grace was scheduled to go to work early today. So, since I intended to get milk for her morning coffee, I wanted see if I could get an early morning walk out of the deal. I set my alarm, and the secondary alarm in the kitchen, for 5:30, hoping against hope that I’d actually follow through. And what do you know? I did!

I don’t know why I got out on a walk this morning. Maybe I’ve simply been away long enough, and I’m ready to stop accepting excuses and come back. Maybe seeing X deepened my resolve to be the person I want to be. Maybe the emotional catharsis of winding my way through my feelings about X released some energy. Maybe it was the milk what done it.

I don’t know what caused it, but it felt good. I’ll take it.

Thanks, everyone else.

April 1, 2011

Thanks to everyone who checked in on me. I know that whenever I’ve gone away, it must be painful to check in on me, and hear something noncommittal. Joe, you especially come to mind. Thank you.

Thanks, Naomi.

April 1, 2011

You checked in on me… I think a day after Quest. In any event, your cheer, along with the simple knowledge that you understand and you’re there with me, always helps.

Thanks, Quest.

April 1, 2011

You were the first to check in on me, just as I asked. I’m sorry that I didn’t respond. I wasn’t ready to come back yet.

Categorizing my pathology

January 2, 2011

I feel the need to categorize my month off the wagon. I seem to want to believe that putting the reasons for the behavior into buckets will help me see it coming next time, and do something about it. It’s a reasonable hypothesis, even if it is perhaps overly hopeful. In any event, it can’t hurt, right?

So. Why did I spend a month off my diet? Here are the possible reasons I’ve come up with.

1. Self-loathing

Of all the reasons for suddenly going off the wagon, I find this one to be both the most tempting and the most dubious. It’s satisfyingly new-agey, yes? Painful relations with my family and friends caused me to regret my part in the blowups. I didn’t particularly like myself, so I abused myself. Simple, yes?

Well… I don’t know. I don’t doubt that self-abuse could have played a part, but I feel like it must be a smaller part than the more theatrical bits of me would like. This feeling comes mainly from #2.

2. Comfort

As I said in the previous post, I love to eat. I think that this gets lost in my sober regrets and reflections on the damage I’m doing to myself. It would be a mistake for me to forget the joy I get from eating, because it lies very close to the core of me. It’s real. It’s simple. And it’s immensely powerful. So I think that Occam’s Razor tends to slice a bit of emphasis from #1 and apportion it to #2. In other words, there’s little reason to conjure a psychological construct of self-punishment when it’s quite clear that I get a direct and simple pleasure from the act of eating. I was hurting, so I took comfort in food — simple as that.

3. Balance of forces

This is a passive version of #1. It requires only a decrease in my self-respect, as opposed to an active self-loathing. Picture my level of dieting success as the resultant of opposing forces: on the one hand I have the drive to be healthy; on the other hand, I have the desire to eat the world. If the former is bigger than the latter, then I will stay on my diet. If it’s not, I won’t. Which means that, if my drive to be healthy is tied to my self-respect, I may have disliked myself into falling off the wagon.

That’s all I got. So. What can I do about these factors?

Where #1 is concerned, I see little I can do on my own aside from telling myself that I’m not a bad person, and that I don’t deserve to punish myself.

I’m not sure if I can or should do anything about #2. I was hurting, and I needed what I needed. Hmmm. I’m going to have to think about that one some more, because as a truism it’s obviously prone to being overdrawn.

Similarly to how I might tackle #1, I might be able to ameliorate #3 by giving myself a break. I need to understand that, even though I’ve made mistakes, I’m no less deserving of treating myself right. #3 also lends itself to the sort of clinical analysis I mentioned in the previous post. If I can keep in mind the deleterious effects on my body, it will help me tip the scales toward wanting to be healthy.

I don’t know if all this mental gamboling amounts to much. I hope that it helps me understand why I fall off the wagon, and that understanding the mechanics of one fall can help me forestall another.

Turning it around

January 2, 2011

My original title of this post was “Well, that was pathetic.” But I’m figuring out a different way of looking at it.

I exercised twice today. I got out for a walk earlier, and I did a workout just now. Unfortunately the workout, outlined below, was a pale shadow of the ones I was doing a few months ago. It’s difficult not to look at the numbers, feel the weakness and heaviness of my body, and think “Damn. That sucked.”

But I just realized that there is a middle road between beating myself up and ignoring what’s in front of my nose. I can look at what’s in front of my nose, evaluate it clinically, and use it to modify my behavior.

OK, so what’s in front of my nose? Well, my belly is bigger than it was in October. My pants are a lot tighter. There’s more jiggling going on when I run. I can see in the mirror how much I’ve backslid. My legs don’t have the stamina they had. And the exercises I’m capable of doing have decreased dramatically, both in number of reps and number of sets.

All right. What benefit did I get from that month off the wagon? Well, lemme tell ya, I enjoyed the hell out of it. Don’t be fooled by all my talk about how sad I was and yadda yadda yadda. Sure I was sad. Sure I was in pain. But damn, I love to eat. I loved eating those bins of oatmeal raisin cookies from Stop & Shop. I loved eating all those omelets with sausage and buttered bagels. And drinking all that beer? Absolutely glorious. Think of my palate as an art student. Drinking all those beers was like a month at the Louvre.

Now. Weigh the cost against the benefits. Was it worth it?

Interesting. I just realized that, before tonight, I was weighing the pleasure of eating against how bad I felt about myself for eating. But now I’m taking the bad feelings out of the equation, because I’m operating on the assumption that they aren’t useful. So now I’m weighing the emotional benefits of eating against its deleterious effects on my body.

No. No, I don’t think it was worth it.

So now I have a fresh and clinical awareness that the costs of my addiction outweigh the benefits. But that doesn’t dismiss the addiction. I can still fall off the wagon. How do I turn the knowledge into a safeguard against the harmful behavior?

Stay tuned.

Dips Pullups Stairs
Round 1 2 1 100
Round 2 1 1 100
Round 3 1 1 100
TOTAL 4 3 300

Good morning, and Happy New Year!

January 1, 2011

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All right, back to the routine. And to help with that, I’m going to take a picture of everything I eat today, including the sugar that I put in my tea.

So that’s breakfast down. And now I’m going on a walk with Grace and Katherine, and later I’ll be running with Grace and, who knows, possibly doing some calisthenics. But most importantly, I need to keep aware of my eating choices without excoriating myself for the mistakes I’ve made.

It’s a tightrope walk, isn’t it? To overcome my pathology I have to keep my eyes focused on what I want to do. But I can’t define what I want to do without defining what I don’t want to do. So I look at my mistakes, because they compose the pool of real and immediate examples of what I don’t want to do. And to look into that pool is to invite self-loathing.

I need to draw from that pool without despising myself for creating it. I need to look at my mistakes to avoid repeating them. I need to use the tool of introspection without cutting myself on it.

One Year Later

December 31, 2010

Exactly one year ago I was getting ready to leave Lake Placid Brewing Company and walk back to my motel room with my belly and my growlers full of beer. I was feeling good about all the hiking and winter camping I’d been doing for the previous several days. I was also fat and unhealthy and depressed.

I haven’t had much experience with depression. Up until about two years ago, I’d spent my whole life being annoyingly happy. So while I was sitting there at the bar in Lake Placid, I was in the middle of something I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand why I didn’t feel like myself, or why I wasn’t doing the things I needed to do in order to get better.

It didn’t help that I was sick, and didn’t know why. I wouldn’t discover the allergen sources in my apartment for another month or two. So all I could do was sit there and drink my beer and try to feel happy about the invigorating hikes I’d taken and the breathtaking beauty I’d seen. But I wasn’t happy. Not only were those hikes pathetic compared to my previous vigor, but they didn’t change my fundamental feeling that I didn’t know myself.

I’m probably about forty pounds lighter than I was that night in Lake Placid. And I’m vastly more healthy in both mind and body. I’m in pain over the death of an old friendship and over difficult family interactions. I’m sad. But it’s me. I’m in pain. I’m sad.

I feel like myself. I know myself. It feels wonderful. So I’m sitting here feeling that. I’m feeling how much better off I am than I was one year ago tonight. I’ve gotten better. And if I’ve gotten better, than I can keep getting better.

Happy New Year!

I could use some help.

December 31, 2010

OK, so it’s been a month since I’ve posted. That’s because I went off the wagon around Thanksgiving. Everything was going OK, I was getting back on track, exercising, planning to limit my holiday eating and drinking to the holiday itself, and the next thing I knew I was lying in the mud and the wagon was trundling away into the distance.

I had a troubling conversation with my sister when I visited the family home for Thanksgiving. We had a blowup, and I said a lot of things that I’d been keeping inside for over a year. It felt like I’d just been operated on: like I’d had a deeply encysted mass removed. It could have been lanced with minimal pain a year before, but the delay necessitated a much more invasive procedure, and it was my fault. I’d repeated my family pattern of not talking to the person I was angry at. I’d kept my anger inside, and it hadn’t hurt anyone but me. It was a perfect example of what Mark Twain was talking about when he said

Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.

Then, nine days before Christmas, I had another unexpected blowup. This one was with a dear old friend. I’d had a falling out with him about a year before, and told myself I was done with him. But I’d been holding onto hope for a reconciliation, which led me to reestablish contact with him around Halloween. Things seemed OK, but then… well, the details don’t matter.

I no longer have any hope of a reconciliation. I’m in pain and I’m sad, but I also feel lighter. The weight of hope has been lifted. I’m mourning for a dead friendship.

Between my sister and my ex-friend, I’ve been in pain and I’ve needed comfort. So for the last few weeks I’ve been giving myself a break for falling off the wagon. Whenever I’ve had the knee-jerk reaction to beat myself up, I’ve been taking a deep breath and telling myself that it won’t help. If I need this right now, then it won’t do any good to despise myself for it. I have to just pick myself back up when I can, and start walking.

All this I knew. But something new occurred to me today — or rather a recurrence of an old thought. Remember when I wondered whether I was punishing myself? Well, what if my falling off the wagon isn’t just about my need for comfort? What if it happened because I no longer like myself enough to treat myself right?

For a long time I was troubled by the way my friend treated me, but I failed to set limits on his behavior. If I had done so, maybe I could have set us on another path; maybe our friendship wouldn’t be over now.

I got angry at my sister, and I used my perception of the way she was treating me to fall into the same dysfunctional family pattern I so loathe. Then, when I finally confronted her about the conversation that had troubled me a year before, I blew up instead of treating it as an opportunity.

It seems that, without a clear knowledge that I deserve to be treated well, I don’t have the willpower to treat my body well. Since around Thanksgiving I haven’t liked myself all that much. Maybe I’ve been treating my body badly because I’ve had no reason not to.

I’ve made mistakes. I have regrets. But I’m not a bad person. I don’t deserve to be treated badly by anyone, including myself. I understand all this, but I need to internalize it.

Tomorrow will be the first day of 2011. The holidays will be over. Holiday eating and drinking will be over. And I will be back on my diet.

So as of tomorrow, there will be no reason for me not to make daily entries in this blog. If you notice that I’m not doing so, could you please check in on me?