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

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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Simplifing the Superhero

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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?

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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?

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The Grief of Alcoholism

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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

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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?

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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.

Never Look Back

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“Never look back,” my Aunt Iris said to me as a 35-year-old recently divorced woman. Right before her 25th Wedding Anniversary party I found out she had been divorced three times. There was no one else in my family that had been divorced that I could talk to, so this was a blessed discovery. When I asked my mother why she struggled so with marriage, she said quite bluntly, “She just didn’t put up with bullshit.” And the fifth one was the charm. She would stay married to him until he died many years later.

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It is so hard not to look back. I fail miserably at keeping my head in the present marching boldly into the future. But I’ve learned that rehearsing finished conversations, trying to revive dead relationships and replaying past events doesn’t make life any better. When I find myself doing it, I try to turn it around by asking myself if I want to keep investing my time in a mistake, or if I’d prefer to invest in my future. The present is all I have, and the future is a result of this moment. The past has no return unless I’m using it as a “lessons learned” review.

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Whether it’s a man, a woman, a bad financial deal, a screwed-up workplace, an unfriendly community, bad habits that don’t serve you, people that don’t have your back or it’s just time to move on, take some advice from Jo Dee Messina and my Aunt Iris, never look back. 

In the Effort to Move Forward, We Die

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I have been in a pensive mood this week. A lot has been going on in the world and in my life in the last month. And life moves forward. You have to roll with the punches and embrace change. There is no “pause” button. But I can sometimes find a pause by increasing meditation, getting off social media and listening to my heart. That’s what I’ve been doing, and I’ve been thinking about life… my life specifically and collective life generally.

At one point in my life I used to wonder if this was all there is to life. Those times were hopeless and were empty of connection and purpose. Today, I find myself overwhelmed by all there is. There is so much. There is so much hope and fear and anger and love. It’s hard to process it all. Our culture is changing. And I have to accept that cultures change when they need to change.  In my opinion, we’ve screwed it up. The party’s over.

I listened to a podcast this week from Invisibilia, one of my favorite podcasts. The Personality Myth episode is about a man who had been in prison for most of his life after raping a woman. A woman worked with him on a project many years after he was incarcerated and was very impressed with him as a person. When she found out why he was in prison, she struggled with how to rectify the two seemingly different people.

It made me think about how people change. I remember the young woman I was in my 20s fueled by alcohol and ambition. In my 30s, I tumbled into a depressive state that seemed insurmountable. The woman in my 40s had no confidence and swirled in desperation in an abusive relationship. I started to get my mojo back in my late 40s and in my 50s I’ve come into my own. If I woke up in one of those other bodies today, I don’t know if I’d recognize myself. And, yet I know that those women are all part of me.

This morning I read a story about a promising young woman who developed schizophrenia in her 30s. She ended up dying on a street corner in New York after living on the streets for a number of years. The people who knew her and loved her in her highly functioning days struggled with the reality that her life had ended up so destitute. And, yet, there was hope in her life and a connection with others that never ended. She always wrote. She read voraciously. She remembered with astounding accuracy the people who loved her. I imagine if someone had outlined her life’s trajectory to her in her early 30s she would have thought they were insane.

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Life does not have a normalcy. There is no real status quo. We are either changing or we’re dying. This idea that things were better in the past is lunacy. Believe me when I say the good old days may have been good for a privileged few, but for most of us the good old days were filled with abuse at the hands of power, discrimination and a hopelessness that things could ever get better. We will look back at this being the good old days.

When I can be objective about what’s going on right now, I am hopeful. I think it’s time for a new generation to take over. The Baby Boomers have made a mess of our world, and my generation was so powerless in its wake that we did nothing to mitigate the damage. My young friends in their 30s have a completely different vision of how the world should operate, and I feel hopeful that they can undo some of the damage we have done. This generation will have their own set of problems to be sure, but maybe at least they’ll do better than we did. I hope one day we look back and say that all of this mess was just one more step in moving forward.

 

There Are No Words

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Here we are again. There are just no words.  Actually, there may not be enough words. I keep wanting to write, but I can’t process it all. And I’m not just talking about the immediate crisis of the Parkland shooting. The complex processing that I can’t adequately express in words started with the Harvey Weinstein stories and the resulting cascade flooding the news cycle.

I walk in circles where people heal their wounds, so I know the silence around abuse. I have heard loud and clear that the abuse is horrible, but the silencing by others who should be protecting them is often much worse than the event itself. Women – and men – whose lives and relationships who are ravaged by the impacts of early abuse of any kind tell their mother, their father, the authorities to only find that they are not believed. Or maybe they are believed, but they are told to keep quiet. It’s just too INCONVENIENT to confront a spouse … or an uncle … or a friend … or a teacher.

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So now we have a tsunami of words that have been silenced for far too long. Then we have the horrific doctor here in this state who systematically abused children and young women in his care in front of parents and others because his words describing his “technique” was unfathomably legitimized. Yes, there were complaints, but those words were explained away and covered up. Every one of these women’s lives will be horribly impacted by this abuse but most of all by the silencing of their voice by the people who should have protected them. I LOVED hearing their words to their trusted perpetrator.

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We have the 18th school shooting this year. Eighteenth… and it’s not even the end of February. Parkland is the tip of the iceberg. And yet the rallying cry of some is that these children should not be speaking up. It is not their place. They are not old enough, wise enough to express themselves. These kids just lived through an event where they were targets of a man with a gun. Whatever age they were before this happened is irrelevant. They were forced to grow up real quick. Youth over. Life changed. Grown up.

I am sick of this silencing of people who have been abused. I am especially sick of white men in power who silence people with their money, their shaming and their lies. There is a cultural shift in this country going on, and it’s about damn time. I am horrified that there was a systematic silencing of women in the workplace who had to endure ridiculous behavior in order to work. I am saddened at the lack of compassion and understanding to the plight of children who have to fear gun violence in their schools. There are just no words that adequately express my feelings around all of this.

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This is who we are, America. Make excuses all you want. Marginalize the victims. Squash them if you can. We are one big dysfunctional family. Protect the perpetrator. Ignore the problems. Pretend we are normal. Keep the status quo. Do not feel. Do not speak. Do not tell the truth. I don’t know the answer to any of the problems we have as a country, but I know the path out is paved with words. Find them. Say them. Listen. It’s the only thing that has ever healed.