Subtle Shifts Matter

morning

I learned to motivate myself by being hard on myself. You are a loser, so you’d better shape up. You’re fat… better exercise and eat right. Nobody likes you, you’d better learn to be nice. Being mean to myself doesn’t motivate me. Yes, it might cause me to get started with some action, but the shame and regret that is produced by the constant criticism eventually sends me right back to depression, compulsive behavior or addiction. None of these conditions provide the foundation for success.

My morning meditation teacher encouraged me to focus on one positive thing about myself. I focused on my ability to be flexible and to adapt to my ever-changing external environment. It is a trait that I developed as a child, and I’m quite good at it.

My approach has changed over the years. As a youngster and a young adult, I was a chameleon and changed to fit the circumstance. That tended to cause me a lot of anxiety even though it was great for survival. But I lost myself. As I’ve gotten healthier, I’ve learned that a chameleon doesn’t change its insides. It only changes its spots. I can stay solid in my own being and be true to myself but change my response to external stimuli.

Small changes in perspective create the biggest change for me. Perhaps it’s just focusing on one thing that is positive to lift my mood. Or maybe I change the one thing I have control over. Sometimes I shift my focus from what is happening and its painful consequences to the learning I’m gaining from the event. When I’m tired and exhausted and anxious, I can’t make big changes. Those things happen when I’m in a place of strength. Getting to that sweet spot is often a process.

Have a great weekend, y’all!

What is one positive thing about yourself – or your world or your work – that you can focus on today? How do you shift your perspective so change is more manageable?

Taking the Path of More Resistance

IMG_2203

I mapped out my 11-miler for Sunday morning. I just could NOT do another circular run around my house. During the week I have to stay close to save time, but why on earth would I trace the same steps again when I have the freedom to roam?

I traced a beautiful route online through the dunes and marsh in Saugatuck. It’ll be great, I thought. I can run, change clothes and grab some quinoa porridge at one of my favorite resting spots. I was so looking forward to the adventure. The only downside was the rain in the forecast. It wouldn’t be the first time I got drenched on a run, though, and almost always it turns out to be fun.

The run started on a bicycle path, and I found myself enjoying the straight line. The roadside scenery wasn’t as interesting as I imagined on my adventure, but I was drawn to the simplicity of it. I missed my turn and rambled forward.

I’ve always longed for a straight path to take me where I’m going. If I’m going to quit sugar, I want to quit and be done with it. Getting sober would be so much easier if it was a straight path to success and normalcy. Building a relationship should resemble the one and half hour path of a romantic comedy. We meet, act silly, fall in love, have a problem and are cemented together in love until the end of time.

change

Nothing ever happens that way in real life. Choices are difficult, and I almost always have to compromise. My journey with sugar has been years long even though it really does a number on my body and probably my health. But as I look back over time, I’ve been consistently declining my consumption. And every time I got off the path, I felt so bad that my resolve to quit strengthened. Losing the path is part of the journey.

This week I was in a lot of anxiety. When I have night after night of insomnia, my body craves sugar. Thursday night, it was chilly out, and I was craving warmth and comfort. A tsunami of sadness washed over me, and I had a good cry. I wanted Mujadara from my local Mediterranean restaurant. I didn’t want Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Chocolate wasn’t dancing in my head. I wanted a healthy lentil and wheat dish with creamy homemade yogurt. And to my pleasant surprise it came with some lentil soup that was flavored with cinnamon and spice. My meal was warming, comforting and healthy. And I CRAVED it.

IMG_3480

I got bored about 2/3 of the way into my run. The straight line led me to some beautiful places, but I had to turn around and run the same way back. It was efficient and simple, but I had to listen to music and podcasts in order to distract myself. I needed that yesterday, and I got a lot of thinking done, but my preference is to go the path of more resistance. The twists and turns often bring something new and unexpected, and it’s just so much more interesting.

What change are you trying to make? Do you need to quit beating yourself up because it’s not taking you in a straight line to victory?

The Great “I Am”

Image-1-1

I still struggle calling myself a runner. I use the walk/run method, and there is a strong inclination of serious runners to turn up their noses at walk breaks. Never mind the fact that they might walk at points when they are running long distances. I run in intervals throughout my race, so for some purists, I’m not technically a “runner” yet.

I also don’t have a runner’s body. I see all of these lithe, thin runners at the start line, and I dream of having that body so I can fly through the air instead of plodding along pounding the pavement. “If you were really a runner,” my inner critic says, “you’d look like that.” Yet most of the runners that line up at a race looking nothing like that. They look more like me.

fast

It’s so much easier to compartmentalize people than to understand that we are all complex and multi-faceted beings. I came out as a liberal one day when a friend was going off on a rant about them. “You don’t seem like one of those,” she spit out. I told her we are people. We are not the fixed image that is promulgated by Fox news. Some are extreme. Some are mildly committed. Some take “walk/breaks” and have a mix of views and beliefs both liberal and conservative. But I identify mostly with a liberal idealogy, so I can easily say I’m a liberal.

I am often mistaken for a vegetarian. No matter that I scarfed a chili-cheese dog at work the other day. When they are ordering for meetings, I almost always get an email that asks if I want a vegetarian meal. “You’re a vegan, right?”  My neighbor told me they’d love to have me over for one of their grill outs, “but you’re a vegetarian,” she said. “No, I’m not,” I said with a laugh. She was dumbfounded. No matter that she never saw me eat in my life nor have I talked with her about food. There is something about me that screams vegetarian or vegan. Unfortunately my diet – and I – don’t identify with the label.

runner

There is something transforming that happens when I proclaim “I am”. Maybe it’s the same powerful compulsion that drives us to label others. If I believe I’m thin rather than trying to be thin, I might eat better. If I believe I’m a writer, it might encourage me to schedule time daily to write. I know that the days I claim fully the label “runner”, I have happier, easier runs. Those words “I am” can be powerful and affirming even if we think they don’t apply yet.

What are the labels you ascribe to yourself? Are they driving you in positive or negative directions? How powerful are those labels in defining your daily habits?

 

Gratitude

What a glorious day my higher power hath made! What am I grateful for?

  1. I spent the day with Nancy who traveled with me through relapse, recovery, divorce and rebirth. She’s one of those easy friends who totally gets my story and loves me through it. I am grateful for love in all kinds of packages.
  2. I ran 5 miles last nights got, 5 miles this morning, and walked 6 miles this afternoon. I’m grateful for my health, access to healthy food and my stamina. I can sleep when I die.
  3. I am grateful for a job that lets me afford little trips into Chicago.
  4. I am grateful for sobriety. It’s the only way to live.
  5. I am grateful for Ashok who is so patient and flexible with me.
  6. I am grateful for this big, beautiful body of water called Lake Michigan.
  7. I am grateful for ice cream. Even though sugar seems to be really hard on me, the fat content of ice cream makes it a little less troublesome.
  8. I am grateful for my little house in Michigan. It’s a comfortable spot to return home to.
  9. I am grateful for laughter. No matter what troubles occur, laughter makes it more palatable.
  10. I am grateful for peanut butter. It is an inexpensive, tasty, easy to carry source of protein. I couldn’t live without it nor would I want to.

Headed home… y’all have a great week!

The Pacifier

pacifier

I always tell my friends that leaving is a process. When you are ending a significant relationship or making a big change, it’s rarely a single decision. Most of the time, there are a thousand little decisions and awarenesses that move you away from the current state to the new state. And it usually involves a lot of back and forth, too.

Price’s book How to Break Up With Your Phone is not just a “put down your phone” sort of plan. There is a 30-day calendar that walks you through a process of discovering how you use your phone, experimenting with some boundaries and finally encouraging a trial separation for a weekend. My trial separation is going to fall when I’m on a camping trip somewhere in the Appalachians.

My first thought was, “Oh no. That wouldn’t be safe to be without my phone out hiking. What if I need my GPS? Perhaps I could change the weekend.” After my initial resistance, I talked myself down. Did people hike and camp before phones? Maybe I could pull out a map for heaven’s sake, and navigate the old-fashioned way. Wouldn’t that be a novel idea!

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 8.49.32 AM

So, I’m all in. Day 1 – which is on a Monday – asks me to download a time-tracking app. I’ve already downloaded Moments which tracks how many times I pick up my phone during the day and how much time I use it. I have to admit that I didn’t use it as much yesterday. Even thinking about this has made me aware of times I really don’t need it. I went for a walk and coffee with my friend Abby yesterday, and I just tossed my phone in the car. And I used my computer yesterday afternoon at home instead of my phone. That’s one way to get around that damn app!

IMG_76E1FD52AD6F-1

My screen time yesterday was 3 hours 58 min. Granted, an hour of that was when I was running and using my Runkeeper app. So, I really had 3 hours of screen time where I was engaging with my phone. I picked it up 26 times. 26 TIMES!!! And that’s on a Saturday when I took a 2-hour nap, ran for an hour and walked for an hour and a half without my phone. This is definitely an eye-opener. I’m not supposed to make any changes yet, so today I’ll use it to my heart’s content.

The goal of the next few days is to decide where I really want to place my attention. She encouraged me to answer the question “What do you want to pay attention to?” and save it as my lock screen.

IMG_2945

Yesterday, I was driving, and the Benton Harbor bridge went up. I instinctively reached for my phone. I saw that lock screen, and I put it down. I watched a sailboat glide beneath the bridge and some Canadian Geese peck at the ground for food. I noticed that the Whirlpool building on the river had a trail and some picnic tables near the water. “That’s nice,” I thought. And the interesting this is, I felt better. My mood lifted.

All day I noticed how I felt when I had the urge to pick up my phone. Sometimes I was bored. Other times I was anxious. All of the time I wanted to distract myself with something. A phone was what hung on the wall in my parents’ house. It had one purpose. It never solved any of my problems. This is entirely something else. My smartphone soothes me. It relieves my boredom. It assuages my loneliness. At one time alcohol did it for me. Sugar and food serves that purpose, too. It can be an addiction, but it’s most definitely a pacifier.

IMG_8357

Instead of reaching for my phone yesterday, I visited with a friend. I read two issues of Runner’s World magazine. I haven’t been able to read through a single copy of Runner’s World for years. Pre-smartphone, my favorite day of the month was when Runner’s World arrived. I’d grab a cup of coffee and devour every word. As I was reading through the May issue last night, a question popped into my mind. I instinctively reached for my phone to google the answer. I hesitated. “I don’t need the answer right now,” I told myself. “This is not an emergency.”

 

 

 

Learning from Anxiety

IMG_0B1BF78381DB-1

I woke up this morning before the alarm. My jaw was clenched. My eyes felt wild and panicked, searching for something to fixate on. The back of my neck gripped onto itself. I knew I wouldn’t go back to sleep. My animals started to stir, reacting to my movement. Anxiety, dammit…. Damn IT! 

I’ve been practicing meditations for anxiety when I wasn’t anxious so I could be prepared the next time this happened. I have a list of interventions that I know with some certainty work to ratchet down the relentless grip of tension. Practice yoga … no coffee or sugar … let myself cry … meditate … take a walk …. listen to Gregorian chants… there are many solutions at my fingertips. There is no need to panic. But anxiety screams, “OMG… PANIC … PANNNNIIIIIICCCC!!! This will never end. Today will be HORRIBLE!”

I got out my 10% Happier app and pressed play on the “Before Getting out of Bed” meditation. It helped a little, but when I opened my eyes I could still feel the tension in my neck. I gave myself a little neck massage and it relaxed a bit. I had to get to the gym, so I went, and the anxiety ratcheted up again. I found myself hating my workout. I tried to talk myself down and stay in the moment while I worked through my reps, knowing that I needed the workout even if I was anxious. It was not pleasurable. I hated virtually every minute of it, but I did it.

On the way home, I was really uncomfortable. Instead of falling into the trap of blaming myself for my anxiety, I reminded myself that this was like a headache for me. It’s not because I’m overthinking. It’s not because I don’t trust God enough. It’s not the result of eating anything bad. I just have a headache, and, for me, the headache symptom is a relentless attack on my body by my anxiously-wired brain. Beating myself up only exacerbates the problem. And latching on to any of the crazy, hateful thoughts my brain is tempting me with is like pouring gasoline on a fire. Just let them go and do the next right thing.

IMG_2077

I got home, made myself some herbal tea and chose the Working with Anxiety meditation from my app. She had me focus on my feet – like really, really focus on my feet. Oh my, that felt comforting. Next we focused on my hands, and the anxiety was loosening its grip. Then we moved to my stomach and on to my breathing. I followed her instructions, and like butter oozing off a sweet potato, my anxiety slipped away.

By the time I opened my eyes my anxiety level which was definitely at defcon 8 when I started was probably at a baby 3. Wow! I’m still at a 3 right now as I sip my herbal tea, and it could still go back up again as the day goes on. But the more I just let it be and take care of myself, the less it seems to impact my mood. I’ll just keep it simple today.

 

 

Our Need to Look Forward

 

IMG_1851

Signs of spring – asparagus, morel mushrooms, new potatoes and red onions. Yum!

I had brunch at the Browns’ house today on Dewey Lake. If you’ll remember, I spent a month in the little cottage by the lake when I first moved up to Michigan. But today was the last meal that the Browns would have in the big cottage on the hill. I’ve had at least 15-20 meals with them in the last two years. And dinner was usually followed by a boat ride on the little lake. And while I’ve been there for two years, they’ve been gathering at that spot as a family for as long as they can remember.

IMG_0348

One of my first mornings in Michigan on Dewey Lake. I feel like a different girl than I was on this day.

Kathy has since moved to California. Another sibling is renting a condo in downtown Saint Joe, and still another has an RV spot near Saugatuck. Their parents and a brother are buried down the street in Dowagiac. An era is ending for this family, and as we took one last walk down to the boat ramp, they all agreed they were ready for the next chapter to begin. What I thought would be a tearful day turned out to be a day of gratitude and acceptance.

 

I had to do a trail run today. I’m training for a 15K in September in Saugatuck which is part trail run, part street run and part dunes climb. It’s a tough one, and I’ve been building a base with strength training and street running. I wanted to run a trail that I knew, so I chose one in a state park near where I used to live. I’d run those trails in that park in every season and in every kind of weather.

 

Leaves and wildflowers were popping out in celebration of springtime. I hiked that trail this winter in the snow. It was the same but totally different. It is the ending of the winter in the woods and the beginning of spring. Nature is always looking forward. I ended my day with dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant having one of my all-time favorite soups. I’ve ordered that warming soup so many times on chilly days. It was comfort food when my marriage was falling apart. It, too, felt familiar.

IMG_1864

We didn’t talk too much about the past today even though I’m sure it was as much on their minds as it was on mine. There have been many nights that I’ve listened to Brown family stories at that dining room table. It was their Mother’s home. Her presence was palpable and yet I never met her. It was certainly fitting that they would say good-bye on Mother’s Day.

IMG_1855

The Browns found these old cookbooks in their family home. I’m glad this is changed!

Comfort hails from the familiar. Like nature, though, we have to always look forward. We have no choice in this. We suffer loss, and we let go. We set goals and leap forward. If we fall backward, it is usually a painful incentive to try something different. We are hard-wired for growth. And growth happens outside of our comfort zone.

When you look back on your life, what changes brought about the most growth? What are you afraid of changing now?

32287828_10155850799938978_6346074132735590400_n

 

Simplifing the Superhero

superhero

My Memphis friend Gene in turned me on to the Optimal Living Daily podcast a few weeks ago. The one he mentioned was one on writing, and I thought it was pretty cool, but I didn’t listen again until this morning. Vacation is optimal living anyway, right? Justin, the author of this podcast, takes the best that he finds on the web about improving your life and compiles it for us to hear.

I managed to extricate myself from the bed this morning (the Monday after vacation) to get to the gym, and I didn’t want to think about the news yet. I spun through my podcast feed, and decided to listen to the Optimal Living podcast. This morning’s  message was about untethering yourself from your smartphone, and I found that interesting, but I really liked the one from Friday about redefining the superhero.

“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstdacles.”

~~ Christopher Reeve

I often beat myself up because I’m not out saving the world or adopting orphans. “What am I doing with my life?” I ask myself with a generous dose of shame. I feel guilty for working in corporate America instead of working at a nonprofit doing something that is meaningful for the planet or saving the animals that are rapidly becoming extinct. I donate money but shouldn’t I be doing something more substantial? I grapple with the reality that I need to take care of myself financially at this moment in time. What is more important?

Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 6.30.41 AM

Justin got this redefining of superhero inspiration from Eric Weinbrenner. He says that dreaming about being a superhero is a distraction. The world needs something more basic and simple from us.

“The world doesn’t need guys with superhuman strength, it needs men who are willing to:

  • Take responsibility for their actions.
  • Step up and do what they can to make a difference in their communities.
  • Get off the phone or computer and spend time, face-to-face, with the people that really matter.
  • Refuse to be okay with the status quo. “

~~ Eric Weinbrenner

I’ve been praying about my own role in this drama we call life. As I turn this over in my head, I ask God to help me understand my role and whether I need to be doing more. Inevitably, someone will contact me to tell me how I’ve helped them with my writing.  In my heart, I know that sharing what I’ve learned with others on the same path is God’s greatest desire for me. I learned from the love and support and wisdom of those who struggled before me. Maybe writing doesn’t feel superhero-ish to me, but if my story helps one other person take the next step in improving their life, it could feel superhero-ish to them. And they can turn around and do it for another with their unique superhero talent. Sometimes being part of the chain is the best kind of superhero.

What is your superhero talent? Does it feel like a superhero talent? Are you sharing it in a way that feels satisfying to you and could be meaningful to others?

badass

The Grief of Alcoholism

lonely

I read this article yesterday from the New Yorker. David Sedaris writes about his zany, funny mother who was overtaken by alcoholism in her later years. She was the organizing factor in their family. But as the children left, she became more organized around the clink of ice in a glass. I was struck by the deep grief that poured out of his story.

He keeps asking why none of them ever said anything or did anything about her alcoholism. The disease stole her life long before her early death stilled her heart. But they were paralyzed to help her. Of course, in reality, she has to want to help herself, but often people help themselves when their loved ones confront them about the pain their addiction causes for others. Sedaris spends hours watching the show “Intervention”. I imagine he has his letter to his mother written indelibly in his mind. Instead, she slipped slowly to the grave.

Alanon has a book about the grief caused by alcoholism. People often think the alcoholic is only hurting himself or herself, but the family is impacted dramatically. Even if the drinker is more of a functional alcoholic, the loss is immense. There is the loss of time where the addict is not himself because of drinking. There is the loss of relationship because you are never sure how much any conversation is impacted. Is this what they really mean? Will they even remember it? There is the loss of presence as the alcoholic gives more and more time to the bottle. The list of losses is endless, and its victims are far-reaching.

Sedaris is haunted by the inaction of everyone in his family to stop the slow, painful loss of his beautiful, lively mother. He describes his confusion as he hears the clinking ice in her glass behind her slurred words. He can’t bring himself to say anything but he is enamored with those families who made the effort to intervene. “At least they did something” echoes loudly.

Just Start the Conversation

lonely

On the way home from Chicago yesterday, I listened to a podcast about the The Lonely American Man. Suicide rates for men have spun out of control. Seven out of 10 suicides in 2016 were white males. Middle-aged men seem to be particularly vulnerable. (Statistics on suicide)

If you are interested, please listen to the podcast, but in a nutshell they say the lack of emotionally-connected male friendships and social support are killing our men. Our culture encourages men to shut down their feelings which cripples them in creating strong social ties. And many men depend on their wives and girlfriends to be social coordinators. If they lose that relationship, they then lose their community. And many don’t know how to start again.

I wonder how much of the frustration in our society would dissipate if people – and men in particular – had the skills and encouragement to share their feelings. One supportive conversation can defuse anger and stop an avalanche of fear. Our culture encourages us to bottle up our emotions or pretend they aren’t there, and that’s not healthy. It’s not good for individual health, and it’s very unhealthy for relationships.

I was in a training class this week in Chicago. In the past, the class would have bonded. We would have chatted at breaks and maybe even gone out to lunch together. Now, people head for their laptops or to a quiet corner with their phone. It felt lonely, and it’s not conducive to learning either. The instructor didn’t even do introductions at the beginning of the class, so I had no clue who any of these people were or where they were from. I finally got up the nerve to interrupt my neighbor and ask her about her passion for politics. On the last day I went to lunch with another woman in the class. It was the best part of the week. I felt a bit awkward initiating those conversations but I’m glad I took the risk.

The main point of the podcast mirrored what I experienced this week. You have to make it a priority to talk to people. It is really hard to make the first move. But if I don’t make the first move, I stay isolated. What if my next best friend is standing beside me in line this morning, and I never open my mouth? Even worse, what if that man in front of me is contemplating suicide out of loneliness and one friendly conversation might make a difference?

8f42bf78-97e6-4e35-8ec5-709ed099f8e9-f2222779-4d01-427f-b6a6-15771ecf9a47-v1

Could you bring yourself to hop over that hurdle of fear, put down your phone and start a conversation with somebody today? What if you just experimented with it once a day for a week? It could help you feel more connected, but it also might make someone else’s day.