Archive | May 2013

Warts and All

Awhile ago I received a note, via email, from a friend. I wanted to post it to Facebook, but realized it was way too long for that. Then, as I started typing it I realized I wanted to say more stuff about it. And thus this post was born. I’ll just copy tbe quote here first, in case you just want the inspiration without my blathering:

Pema Chadron, in The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving Kindness writes:

When people start to meditate or to work with any kind of spiritual discipline, they often think that somehow they’re going to improve, which is a sort of subtle aggression against who they really are. It’s a bit like saying, “If I jog, I’ll be a much better person.” “If I could only get a nicer house, I’d be a better person.” “If I could meditate and calm down, I’d be a better person.” . . . But loving-kindness – maitri – toward ourselves doesn’t mean getting rid of anything. Maitri means that we can still be crazy after all these years. We can still be angry after all these years. We can still be timid or full of feelings of unworthiness. The point is not to try to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about BEFRIENDING WHO WE ARE ALREADY. The ground of practice is you or me or whoever we are right now, just as we are. That’s the ground, that’s what we study, that’s what we come to know with tremendous curiosity and interest.

I tell my students (and other people’s students when they let me) that quotes do not speak for themselves. When we write, I tell them, and we are quoting someone, we take their words out of the context that the writer has given them and we put those quotes into our own writing–so we have to give those words context. Now, granted, I haven’t read The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness so I can’t really tell how Pema Chadron contextualizes these words (though I do have this book on my reading list now). Thus, you poor readers are left with me and my thoughts on what this tells me. But then again, I guess that’s why you’re here, though I can’t imagine why you do this to yourself . . .

As you know from my last post, I have to make some life changes.  And as you may remember from my first post, I’m on a journey of re-self-discovery. I lived through my twenties and early thirties believing I knew EXACTLY who I was and what I wanted. And then it all came tumbling down. I gained a lot when I became a mom, but I lost (or let go of?) a lot, too, and here I am trying to pull myself all together again and figure out who I am and what I want to be when my kids grow up.

I can’t remember a time when I did not want to throw some part of me away to be something better. My aggression towards who I really am has never been subtle, or hidden, or low-key. I wear my self-criticism on my sleeve. Berating myself for this, or that, or the other thing . . . it’s as natural as breathing.

I mean, I’m doing it right now. “It’s terrible you’re sitting here writing this blog post when you should be tucking your children into bed and going to spend some time with your husband. And you haven’t packed snacks or lunches for tomorrow, either. You really need to focus less on being a writer and more on being a better wife and mother. And what about your running? How are you ever going to improve your time if you don’t start hitting the pavement again? And your eating hasn’t been all that great lately. You really need to get some better recipes so you can be a better cook. You need to eat better. You need to sleep better. You need to work more efficiently. Oh, and don’t forget all that laundry. You really need a better system. And that office! Who can even walk in there? I wish you were a better housekeeper. Most people would have all that sorted away already.”

So much in our society is targeted toward making us “better.” Better people. Better women. Better wives. Better mothers. Better friends. Better daughters. Better citizens. Better readers. Better writers. Better employees. Better administrators. Better teachers. Better learners. Better. Better. Better. We’re NEVER good enough.

The cynic in me will say “Yeah, because if anyone tells us we’re good enough then they can’t sell us anything to make us better.” The optimist will say, “That’s because we should always strive to improve, to learn, to grow.” The realist in me, however, likes to pop up pretty often nowadays and say, “I. Am. So. F****ing. Tired. When have I reached the point where I can be enough???”

This is what I like about Chadron’s quote. She tells us that who we are is already enough. We can be friends with our imperfect, un-bettered selves.  She clearly doesn’t mean that we should give up, give in, and walk away from any form of self-betterment. She just says, “Hey. Yeah. Do yoga. Run. Eat right. Get fit. But do it for the right reasons. Do it out of love for the YOU you are now, not the you that someone has convinced you you should become.”

We all know the phrase, “You are your own worst enemy.” What a great thing Chadron suggests in saying that we should be our own friend. How many of us forgive flaws in our friends that we excoriate ourselves for? How many of us see the beauty in those we love yet only focus on the features we find unattractive in ourselves? If you have not already seen this Dove project sampling, watch it now. What you see will amaze you.

It shows that when these women describe themselves to a sketch artist, they look VASTLY different than when virtual strangers, who have only met these women once, describe them. Strangers are kinder than we are to ourselves. Imagine how much kinder our friends are? Friends who know who we are inside? Imagine how they’d describe how we look when we’re laughing, when we’re sharing a joke, when we’re hugging our children, when we’re petting our cats, when we’re kissing our spouses? Imagine how they’d describe the inner us, the us that they love whether our hair is styled or frizzy, whether our make-up is freshly applied or barely washed off from the night before, whether we’re bright eyed and ready to face the day or barely breathing even after our first cup of coffee?

I sit here trying to imagine how I would treat myself if I was my own friend, instead of my worst critic. What would I say to myself if I loved and accepted all of me, warts and all? (No. I do not have warts. I am sunburned. But no warts yet).

I don’t even know how to answer that question. I’ve never thought about it. It’s like a foreign language to me. Be nice to myself? Say good things? How will I ever motivate myself to be better, faster, stronger, smarter, more efficient, more attentive, more perfect if I don’t constantly nag myself into improving?

I guess if I wanted to make a debate over it I’d be talking about whether discipline yields better results than nurturing. But I don’t want to dichotomize. I want to synthesize.  Discipline through nurturing. Motivation through kindness. Self-acceptance as an agent of self-improvement. That’s exactly what Chadron is suggesting. It’s a phenomenal theory. It’s the practice that’s hard.

So for one week I am going to focus on motivating myself through kind words rather than negative self-talking. After all, the house can’t get much messier, right? And I can’t do any less running than I’ve been doing. . .

Yet there I go again. Motivating myself by self-denigration. Let’s start that over again. Because practice, clearly, is necessary.

So for one week I am going to focus on motivating myself through kind words rather than negative self-talk. Because I am a good and loving person, worthy of goodness, love and kindness. I am going to treat myself to a clean house this week. I am going to be kind to myself by making time for a run. And now, I really am going to give myself the gift of watching television with my children and my husband. And there’s a good start.

This entry was posted on May 31, 2013. 4 Comments

Turning a negative into a positive

I know I haven’t posted here awhile. It’s mostly because I’ve been dealing with some health issues that have gotten me really depressed, but ended up being an awesome catalyst for getting healthier.

Around April 1st I started feeling chest pain, which I knew wasn’t my heart because it only happened when I started eating–and also because I had a full cardio workup about two years ago which ended up with a recommendation to calm down and start taking yoga. Which I think is doctor-speak for “You’re super-stressed out and you’ve got to learn to cope.” Of course, I never followed the doctor’s advice, keeping up with my insane-too-much-on-my-plate life (and not taking yoga). And so, when I started feeling this chest pain I started worrying that my self-neglect was finally starting to do some real damage if not to my heart than to my stomach. So, I got myself to a gastroenterologist.

An endoscopy two weeks later showed me that I have esophagitis–fortunately no signs of cancer–but a severely inflamed esophagus from the acid leaking out of my stomach up my entire esophagus, all the way to my throat. The acid’s getting out because I have a slight hiatal hernia. So the doctor’s orders were: no chocolate; no alcohol; limited caffeine; no carbonated beverages; no fried, fatty, spicy, or acidic foods; and no eating three hours before bedtime. He also said that I might need surgery to fix the hiatal hernia, but he believes that if I lose even just 5-10 pounds the hernia will pop back into place and I can avoid surgery. In essence, I can solve this problem if I stop indulging my inner-five-year old who seems to feel like it’s okay to eat every sweet and fatty thing that it can find, and lose some weight.

On top of that, while anesthetized for the endoscopy I evidently had some trouble breathing, which, along with my snoring at night indicates that I’m developing sleep apnea. This wasn’t an issue 20 pounds ago. Which is yet another indication that I need to lose weight.

I spent a good 24 hours wailing about being fat, feeling sorry for myself and weeping in bathrooms. Then I got a call from my super-friend M., who caught me at the beginning of my 48 hour I-hate-myself-funk, and told me that even though she’d been training for a kicking triathalon, she’d put on some weight and would love to get it off for good. But then she asked me the best question of all time: “What do you WANT to do?” Not “What are you going to do?” Not “Hey, this is what I’m going to do, do you want to come along?” or “Well, what are you doing about it?” She asked me what I wanted to do. My immediate answer, “Join Weight Watchers.”

Here is my reasoning: I have been working with a phenomenal fitness trainer since November. I have learned a TON of things about clean eating, fitness, and general overall health–most of which correspond to exactly what my gastroenterologist told me about what I should avoid. But there are two things I cannot seem to master without significant oversight: portion control, and what Weight Watchers calls “Hedonic eating.” There are many people in the health community who have ALWAYS practiced portion control and who I truly believe have never had to struggle with hedonic eating. These are people who believe that food is fuel, and that is it. They do not seem to share the mindset that food is one of the only sources of pleasure in the life of overweight people. It is as good as a hug, a kiss, a prayer. It is love, comfort, solace, kindness, fun, reward, joy. We eat (or drink) when we’re happy to celebrate, when we’re sad to make ourselves feel better, when we’re stressed to make things a little more bearable, when we’re angry to calm ourselves down, or just because dammit it tastes good and we want more. It doesn’t matter if we’re hungry or full. It doesn’t matter what our mood is. Food is ALWAYS the answer. There doesn’t even need to be a question.

Now, clean eating, in which one avoids all processed foods and tries to eat only things that are found in nature is a great way to combat weight gain, but doesn’t allow for how difficult it is for an hedonic eater to eliminate sugary, processed foods. Because, seriously, hello? Who reaches for a carrot for comfort?

Now, clean eating is incorporated into Weight Watchers under the term “power foods.” Power foods are foods that are packed full of protein or good fat and a healthy about of carbohydrate and fiber, so they satisfy you and keep you fuller, longer. They’re also things that are “worth” the calories and fat that you get out of them. So a power food is a banana, which has the same calories as a 100 calorie bag of cheese nips. But it’s a better choice for its fiber content. Clean eating would absolutely tell you that a banana is superior to cheese nips, because a banana is a fruit and cheese nips are processed crap. So they’re together there.

But Weight Watchers is totally on to the fat person’s tendency to hedonic eating. The folks who run the program are intimately aware of the attitude of, “Even when I’m not even remotely hungry I eat because it tastes good and I want it and it’s yummy and I’m bored or sad or happy or angry and I AM GOING TO EAT THE WHOLE BOX.” In essence, Weight Watchers is tackling the overeater’s Id, the inner child who for some reason the superego has allowed to run wild.

I realized this the Friday after my endoscopy when I went for a mall walk with my friend D., who is also thinking a lot about getting healthier. She is seeing a nutritionist who has told her that “the closer the food is to the farm, the better it is for her,” and to drink 1/2 of her body weight in ounces of water a day. So I’ve been trying that, too. But we also had this awesome conversation about hedonic eating. She likened it to the child in the mall who throws themselves down on the floor and screams if they don’t get the cookie they want. “Would a good parent give them that cookie?” she asked.

“Of course not! They’d say, ‘No cookie for you now, and no cookie for you for the rest of the day, either.'”

“Right,” she said. “So why do you let yourself have the cookie?”

I have been a truly horrid parent to my inner child. I have been indulging that little bitch like crazy for the past 10 years. I have given in to every impulse, every desire, every want, all with the idea of “I deserve it.” When Boo was first born it was, “I kept the child alive for a day! I deserve some cake!” Then, “I have kept the child alive for a week! I deserve some cookies!” Then, “I have gotten through this day of no sleep. I deserve some ice cream!” Then, “I have nursed her through this illnes! I deserve some McDonald’s!” Then, “I have gotten her dressed, out of the house, to a music class, and back home in time for nap. I deserve this ice cream!” Oh, and when little Critter came along, it got worse. “It became, “I did not slap Boo for pinching Critter! Cake time!” or “Oh for the love of all that is Holy, I am so bored looking at these children and making sure they don’t in some way hurt themselves or each other, I am going to eat this whole box of goldfish.” I don’t even LIKE goldfish!!! But there I was, shoving them into my mouth like they were the last food on earth. When I moved from eating as reward to eating out of boredom, that’s when the problems really started. And where did they end me up? On the floor of my guest bathroom, weeping after my endoscopy, and wailing, “Food is the only thing in my life that makes me happy!”

Which is a total lie. I mean, really. I have a husband whose very presence in my life brings me unbelievable joy. I have two children that have changed the way my world spins on its axis–I never knew even dealing with a tantrum could bring me such happiness. I have friends who are the stars in my life–they bring me brightness and light and even new patterns of thinking. How could I reduce my joy to food? And during that walk with D. I realized that when I said that I was throwing a temper tantrum. Like a five-year-old who was told she could no longer have that cookie any time she darn well pleased, I was throwing a full-fledged hissy fit, saying the stupidest things and lashing out at the people I love because I was being told, ‘no.’ And here I thought I was a good parent when in truth, I’m a big spoiled baby.

And that, as I would tell my children, is totally unacceptable.

It’s still not easy. My inner Id has taken a lot of control away from me. It’s really tough to break the patterns of thinking. But having the restrictions, because of my health, has really helped. Having the support of my friends who have joined Weight Watchers for me has helped. Having a family who wants me to stop snoring so they can sleep while we’re away on vacation–and who also just love me and want me to feel better–has helped. I’ve already taken off about seven pounds, which is bringing me very close to what the doctor wanted me to do. I already feel infinitely better. My husband says I snore less, I choke less, I sound better. But I know deep in my heart that I need to keep disciplining that inner child of mine, because I still need to lose a bit more. But baby steps. Seven pounds is good. Seven pounds is GREAT. And I’m proud of me for finally starting to get my inner spoiled toddler under control.