Transforming Fear – Hindsight in Advance

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In my struggles with anxiety, I’ve found a few tools that really work for me. Exercise helps keep it at bay. If I’m in the midst of an anxiety-filled time, I meditate or do a Yoga Nidra practice. Cutting back on sugar and caffeine helps, too. Getting connected with others is critical. But, there is one tool that I found particularly helpful in times when chronic anxiety and full-on fear is present. It’s only in really digging in and letting myself imagine the worst happening and writing down my options that I can transform fear into something else entirely.

A friend of mine is facing some major life changes. It’s often better in life when something happens and everything changes immediately. I don’t have time to worry about it. I just have to act. The times that I struggle with most are the ones with impending change — in my anxiety-filled mind, impending doom – that is about to occur. Or even worse, it’s going to be 6 months to a year before it really happens. That projected change can really mess with my sanity. My friend is trying to make decisions and changes on the smaller things in her life to help her feel more in control, and there is comfort in that. In fact, sometimes one small change can make a big difference. But, I urged her to accept that the big major life change that is coming is very scary and very stressful for most people. It’s okay to be filled with anxiety and fear about it. And, making those smaller changes will probably not make the anxiety she feels dissipate. It’s hanging over her head like a noose… waiting to hang her … or give her a step up… and there’s no way to know which it will be.

Things always work out. There is comfort in that. The majority of the time, in hindsight, we are grateful for what happened even if it’s just because we learned. But, that’s hindsight. There is a way to experience some hindsight in advance. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? I read a book that suggested that I write down all of my fears when I’m full of anxiety AND write down what I would do should those things happen. The problem with this is that it’s uncomfortable to really imagine the scariest things I fear happening. My first choice is to ignore it.. medicate it … distract myself … or fix something easy like re-arrange my furniture. When I was finishing up graduate school, my ex and I had planned to move cross-country. To make matters worse, our marriage was falling apart in a big way. I told him that I did not want to move and add additional stress, and he told me that he was going. He didn’t care if I went or not. Now, for a normal person that might have been an indicator that this wasn’t a good decision. But, I was a mess. And, I couldn’t make a decision to divorce at that moment. I put it off and decided to go along with his wishes.

As I was getting ready to move – hunting jobs, finishing up my capstone project, packing – my biggest fear was that we would get to Memphis and get divorced. I tried to ignore it. My anxiety and fear increased. I tried to focus on school. My anxiety and fear increased. Nothing worked until I sat down and followed the instructions in that book. I wrote down that my biggest fear was that I’d move to Memphis, and we’d get divorced. I had all kinds of fears about that. I wouldn’t know anybody. I’d be in a financial bind bigger than I was at the present moment. What if I couldn’t find a job quickly? What if the job I found didn’t pay enough? All of these fears were nowhere near as enormous as the fear of being alone. It was blinding. One day, in a hotel room, while he was at a long meeting, I put pen to paper.

I wrote down my biggest fear – D I V O R C E. I wrote down options that might help my financial situation. I could get two jobs. I could find a roommate. I could move home and mooch off my family. I could go back to school and get my Ph.D. There were so many options that I hadn’t considered. Some of them were not options I could ever see myself doing, but they were options all the same. I thought of what I might do to support myself through the loneliness of being alone. I remembered my meetings and my connections I would probably make there. If I was single, I could more freely move to somewhere where I had friends. I could join a monastery. I wrote… my fears … I wrote .. my options. By the time my husband returned from his meeting, an ironic thing had happened. My fear of divorce had been transformed into a hope that – if it happened – it would be a catalyst for a new, even better life. It was just a tiny seed of hope, but it was hope all the same.

I kept this writing for a very long time. When the anxiety would well up, I’d re-read it. I’d remember my options. Eventually, a scenario started to form that I hadn’t even considered. What if I was happier divorced? What if my financial situation improved after divorcing a person who was admittedly out of control with his spending? What if I had time for more friends and connection when I quit putting all of my effort and energy into bailing out a sinking ship? That is exactly what happened. It happened slowly, and there was plenty of time for fear and anxiety to bounce in and out of my life for several years. But, eventually, the scenario that I never even considered happening became reality. My little list of options helped me bring hindsight into the forefront of my situation.

The thing I love about writing is that it takes my worries out of my mind. It allows me to experience – if I let myself really get into it – the things that I imagine. The power of the imagination is very strong. I can touch things I don’t want to touch in real life. And, once I go there in my mind, my body responds with emotions and thoughts that are identical to what I would experience if it really happened. It lets me feel as if it really is happening. And, I may make different decisions when it really happens than I might imagine if I just stand on the sidelines. Writing about “what if” is a powerful way to transform fear. It doesn’t take it away. It came back and grappled with me often. But, it did give me a path out. All I had to do was read what I had written. The opposite of fear is love. I had loved myself enough to step into my future and write it with just a dash of hope. I think it made all the difference in the outcome.

Living Series: Listening to Your Internal Compass

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The August 30 reading in Melody Beattie’s Journey to the Heart is about listening to what I want. She asks a series of questions:

  • What do you want?
  • What would feel good to you?
  • What energizes you?
  • Which friends feel good to be around?
  • What work excites you, infuses you with passion?
  • Which hobbies interest you?
  • How do you want to spend your time?

When I talk with women who are just starting recovery, who are just getting divorced, or who are just waking up to their own needs for the first time, I always ask what they like to do? Most of the time, the answer is that they have absolutely no clue. They have lived their lives for so long doing what they are supposed to do, caring for others and ignoring their feelings that they have never experimented with what makes them happy. It’s not to say that they don’t love taking care of families or they don’t have full relationships, but they’ve just never been on a journey to explore who THEY are. In so many ways, the world tells us it is selfish to pay attention to our own needs and wants. The result is an astounding number of people who blow up their lives in midlife in destructive ways because they just can’t deal with it anymore. I think it’s really sad. I also think it’s normal – and healthy – to have a midlife crisis.

When you have conversations with people that are real, you find out that most people struggle. If you don’t have those conversations, you would never know. Most people go on everyday, doing what they need to do and suffer silently. Since I write like I do, I hear from a lot of people – people I know and people I’ve never met – who struggle to be authentic. They are trapped in lives built on the values and dreams of their parents, their spouse or a society that doesn’t work for them. For many, the only option seems to be to blow it up. But, I argue that it’s not.

I know that I felt like I slept through my 30s and 40s. I know I was there, and I was making decisions, but, when I look back, it feels like I was sleep-walking. Who made all of those decisions? Why did I make those decisions? I was on auto-pilot, trying to make a living, trying to find a partner and doing what I thought I should to have a normal life. Turns out, I didn’t really want that life I was trying to build. I didn’t want a dream corporate manager job. I didn’t want a husband and kids. I didn’t want to live in a big city. It was not until I started to trust my heart and branch out and take some risks that I found out who I was. I like the outdoors. I’m happy being single. I want to work in a field where I make a difference and can relate to the people I work with. Most of the hobbies I have now, I explored after I reached midlife.

After my second divorce, I forced myself to take a year off from dating. I didn’t want to hitch on to somebody else’s idea of living. During that time, I made a list of things I wanted to try. I hung that list on my refrigerator, and I forced myself to get out and do them. I ran a marathon. I went on a women’s retreat. I made friends and risked letting them see the real me. I learned who I was. I spoke up for myself at work even when I knew my boss wouldn’t be pleased. Funny thing is, he respected me for it. I just knew I’d get fired if I didn’t walk the corporate line, but, as it turns out, they wanted me to be me and bring my ideas and thoughts to the table. That doesn’t mean they took them all, but I had value because I was different.

When my women friends tell me that they don’t know who they are, I encourage them to start exploring that. They don’t have to get a divorce. They don’t have to ignore the needs of their children. But, they do have to quit ignoring their own needs. It seems simple, but, to be honest, it’s not an easy exploration. It takes guts to look inside your heart and take some risks at midlife. For the majority, I think their partners are glad she starts standing in her own power. In some cases, it may inspire them to embark on their own journey of exploration. Men get trapped in expectations as much OR MORE than women. They become workhorses that support families and know nothing about themselves and what makes them tick. It’s no wonder that men traditionally blew up their lives during a midlife crisis and took off in a red sports car with a young blonde. Today, you see women doing the same. It’s what happens when you can’t stand it anymore, and you have no idea what to do except blow up what you’ve got. I would argue it could be done differently. But, you do have to have a partner who will work with you as you open up and become who you truly are.

When I was in divorce recovery, I was stunned to find that most of the people in my group, men and women, had been married 30+ years before they divorced. The kids left home, and they had no compass, less work to distract them from their internal emptiness. I looked it up on the internet, and, apparently, it’s becoming more and more common that people divorce after 30 years of marriage. How can they connect with each other when they don’t even know themselves? Divorce must seem like the only answer, and maybe it is. But, what if they took the opportunity to ask themselves those questions from above. What if they both set out on a journey to let go of their parents’ and society’s ideas of the good life and write their own definition? Honestly, their parents probably realized in their 50s that they wanted something different, too. We just don’t know what goes on inside people’s heads because we don’t talk about it.

A friend of mine told me he makes decisions based on what he was brought up to do. It’s the way we were raised, he says. He thinks about what his parents would do in certain situations and follows their lead. I understand his point, and I do think there is value in that. But, one day I asked him if he wanted his parents’ life. I know this. If you do what other people do, you will get what they have. You’d better make sure that’s what you want. I don’t have my parents’ life. I don’t have kids. I’m not married. It’s more difficult for me to know what they would do in my situation. My Dad told me the other day that he wished he would have encouraged me more in journalism. He told me when I was younger that I couldn’t make money in the field, and I should probably try something else. I’m coming to writing now, and, honestly, I’m glad it happened exactly this way. It means more when I discover it for myself. Some of the blessings of the work of finding myself have been that I did it on my own. The desire to be authentic came from within me.

When I do something for someone, and they tell me I didn’t have to do that, I always answer, “If I had to do it, I probably wouldn’t have done it.” I’m a bit rebellious in that way. But, I’m grateful that today I don’t always do what I should do. I question the things I have to do. Those are somebody else’s shoulds and have tos. Maybe I’ll do them and maybe I won’t. It just depends on whether or not I think it’s the right thing to do for me, my relationships and my future. I make a lot of mistakes, but I can own them. There is power even in that.

Living Series: Cultivating Curiosity

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Curiosity killed the cat.

An article in the August issue of Psychology Today caught my eye this morning. The title What Happy People Do Differently grabbed my attention, but I was really intrigued by the tag line which read #1 They Seek Risk, Not Reward. I consider myself a risk-taker, but I haven’t always been that way. My battle with anxiety and fear in my early years forced me to play within the lines of more tried and true ways of living. It was not until I started to push the boundaries of what I believe that I truly found contentment and what I would describe as happiness.

“One of life’s sharpest paradoxes is that the key to satisfaction is doing things that feel risky, uncomfortable, and occasionally bad,” reads the first sentence of the article by Todd B. Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener. The article insists that curiosity is the key to happiness. I love that word curiosity. It makes me think of that old saying, Curiosity killed the cat. Yes, it may have killed the cat, but I’ve also heard that cats have nine lives. And, taking that analogy even further, if I kill a belief that I have because I’ve been curious enough to explore something new, I just may open doors to a new life or a new of way of seeing life. It’s happened to me more than once. I used to believe that being single was a lonely way to live, and it was what I was until I found the right partner. But, when I finally decided to be curious about what kinds of things single people can do to be happy being single – not just waiting for the right partner to come along – I discovered that being single is not just a state of transition. Singleness can be a very fulfilling lifestyle… and, I might add, one that I might choose over the alternative.

Senn Delaney is a consulting company who helps companies define their cultures. I worked at a company who had hired Senn Delaney to help establish a common culture among several different operating companies. They have a concept they call the Mood Elevator. It’s a visual that helps you see where you are at any given time. At the bottom of the mood elevator are emotions that are more negative in nature, and at the top are more positive emotions. If I am at the bottom on the Mood Elevator, they say, I just have to become curious in order to move up the Mood Elevator. That goes right along with what the article says. If’ I’m in a bad mood, and I’m arguing with somebody to prove a point, all I need to do is to become curious about their point of view, the nature of our interaction or other ways of doing things to become more open. It really does work. Being curious can increase happiness or at least contentment.

Through my twelve step journey, I have met all kinds of people. I have met people who are still addicted and in the proverbial pit of hell. I’ve met people who are very spiritual. The thing about addiction is that it knows no limits. Anyone can be affected. I’ve learned to be curious about other people in that journey. I need them for support, and they understand me at least in one area of my life. I have to suspend judgment about what they do and who they are in other areas of their lives. We are honest about our struggles because it’s a support group, so we don’t keep secrets for the most part. I’ve learned what it’s like not to be judged for my decisions and life choices, and I’ve learned to give that acceptance to others. Because of that acceptance, I’ve been able to be curious about why people do the things they do and who they are. No matter who I’ve come across, I’ve always learned something from them. Being curious has increased my relationship potential and enriched my life.

A friend of mine told me today that he admired the way I’d handled my move this past month. He said he would have been freaking out if other people had been packing his household.  I don’t really know if I thought about it much, and, maybe if I did, I would have been a little freaked out about it, but I needed the help, and my primary motivator was to get it done. I’ve found in the last few years that having rigid beliefs, being afraid and wanting things done a certain way just make me closed off and nervous. My lifestyle is not for everybody. I tend to be reckless and extremely flexible. But, I do think that everyone can take a risk every now and then in order to experience something new. When I started letting go and letting other people into my life with all of their chaos and color, my life got better. All you’d have to do is to do something outside your comfort zone. What if you drove to work a different way tomorrow morning just for kicks? What if you risked saying hi to the person next to you in line at Starbucks? What if you actually went to that meeting you said you’d been wanting to check out? If you knew that taking that small risk would be one small step to becoming happier, would you do it? Well, according to Psychology Today, it will. Approach life with some curiosity. It might make all the difference.

Living Series: Divine Guidance and Agency

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Me and my cousin Bonni …. I’m going to get her for this!

My cousin Bonni is the one that is responsible for this mess I’m in. When I first started writing this blog in August of last year, she said that she thought something big was going to come of this. In my imagination, I hoped that I would become this great writer and make lots of money and have handsome men at my beck and call. Alas … I’m moving home. That’s what’s coming of this? Oh, well. Several people have asked where I’m moving, and I’ve told them that I’m moving back home after 30 years. Yesterday, a co-worker raised her eyebrows and responded, “Well, that’ll be different.” Yes, it will. And, after saying I would never go back for 3o years, it is a big damn deal.

It was Bonni that told me about the job opening in her office. I had seen some openings in my field at LSU and called her to see if she had any contacts there. In a whirlwind, her office called for an interview, and now I’ve got the job. She texted me the other day that a friend of hers had a house for rent, and it’s starting to look like I might take that one. I kidded her yesterday that she’d found me a job and a house. “Have you found me a man yet,” I asked. Apparently, she’s still working on that one. She better hurry up. I’ll be there Tuesday. Oh, and she’s retiring on the Friday before I start work on Monday. We’re not even going to get to work together. 😦

There is nothing in my life that I have done without agency. My sister-in-law Sharon is out looking for houses for me. I didn’t ask her to. She’s just doing it. She’s been texting me pics and stats on different places. My friend Lisa has found some college boy movers willing to make the trip to Memphis. Several people are looking for temporary cat sitters for me. Jean Ann is going to cat sit if I need it for awhile. And, when I asked for help on Facebook the other day for packing and getting boxes, I have been overwhelmed by the response. Every night this week, I’ve had gal pals over to help pack. Some brought food. Others I fed. Everyone of them left saying that they felt like they didn’t do anything. I wanted it that way. Do the math. If I have 3 people working for 1 1/2 hours, it would taken me 4 1/2 hours to do it. That’s a huge help. I hope we had fun doing it. I did. I know that we laughed a lot. I had several people that were my packing materials agents. I’d walk outside, and there would be boxes sitting on the porch. I even had one friend who asked for all my give-away stuff. She would come get it and bring it to her favorite charity. I had agents to pack, haul away crap, clean and bring food.

The night that my friend Elizabeth helped me pack my living room was a hard night. We go way back and are very close. She was among my first friends in Memphis, and she saw me at my worst. She is sort of my historical agent and at times my hysterical agent. When I think that I haven’t made much progress and am in the middle of an emotional fit, she reminds me of how I was when we met. She always says, “You couldn’t sleep. All you wanted to do was sleep.” Every time she says it, it takes me back to that time when I was so anxious that my body would not rest. I had migraines for the first time in my life. I didn’t sleep at all for about 4 months. I was gaining weight. I was so anxious that I literally had the shakes. It was awful. When I remember how I was, I can put things in perspective. It’s wonderful to have people who have witnessed massive change. I forget.

After she left that night this week, my living room and my entire house had reached the tilting point. It no longer looked like mine. My heart sank. Fear welled up inside me as I thought, “OMG … what am I doing?” I went to bed and tried to just put the thoughts out of my mind. I was thinking of every horrible thing that could happen as a result of this crazy, impulsive decision. My friend Julie, who I just met over the last year or so, texted me that she wanted to make sure I had her number because she wanted to stay in touch. She added, “You’re gonna rock this!” She went on to say that God would not bring me to something that He didn’t want me to experience. My fears melted away like butter in a hot pan. She was my meltdown agent.

The fact that I have these agents … friendshelpersguides in my life is an unbelievable blessing. When I turned 40, I had a roommate who was a medium. I didn’t believe in psychics. In fact, I wasn’t very spiritual at all. She did a reading for me, and I’ll never forget the vision that she had about my life. First of all, I was deep in depression, and she reassured me that I would not die alone. It was my biggest, darkest secret. I feared that I would die alone with nobody that would even care. She said I would live to be a very old age, and I would be surrounded by friends at the end. She told me that I was going to be the type of person that would just show up at friends’ houses uninvited. I would be spontaneous. She described me walking up in a friends backyard and saying, “Oh, you’re having a dinner party! Can I come?” She said people would love to have me come in. I remember thinking that was insane. I was an isolated, depressed woman who had a handful of friends that I really doubted liked me much at all. I was so insecure and so blinded by the filters of my depression. I couldn’t see how I would ever get to where she was describing. I can see that I am becoming that person. I’m not there yet, I still have insecurities, but the fact that I would risk rejection by asking for help is growth.

I believe that this life is a spiritual journey. I believe that I have guides that help me from the other side and from the human plane. I believe that everyone I meet has a purpose in my life. It may be for me to help them. It may be for them to help me. Some come in for a moment. Some are here for a lifetime. To those of you who are in my life, the magnificence of who you are and what you represent – God – is not lost on me. It is all divinely inspired. Our interactions are divinely blessed. Whether you help me find a job, tape up a box, take care of my cat or just text me an honest message, you are important to me. I don’t always say it, but at this time, I am absolutely floored by the people I have in my life. I am filled with gratitude. And, if you’re having a dinner party sometime in the future, don’t be surprised if I just invite myself in. Apparently, that’s the kind of person I am. I’m on my way to get there.

Living: Finding My Sweet Spot

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I had a discussion with my boss yesterday regarding the Manager’s Guide I’m writing at work. It has been a process writing this thing. It has evolved several times into something different, and it’s one of those projects that seems to get bigger the longer I work on it. It’s really important to him, so I keep writing and following the evolution, wherever it seems to take me. I always tell him, “I’m going to make YOU look good.” He laughs because he thinks I’m nuts. And, I am. But, I’m still going to try to make him look good. That’s my job.

I was asking him to brainstorm the content of the section on what it takes to be a good manager. He is reading a book right now, and we pulled out three top things we think a manager needs to focus on to be successful. One of those is the ability to set priorities, and once they are set, manage your time based on those. It’s just too easy to get distracted by a million things that NEED to be done. He pulled up a picture on his computer of two roads leading off into the forest.

Boss: Which road would you take?
Me: I don’t know.
Boss: Is there a right or wrong?
Me: No. Just different experiences.
Boss: How do you make the road take you where you want to go when you have no idea what is ahead of you?
 

We talked about values and how values are our guiding principles that take us where we want to go in life. When I first moved to Memphis there was a lot of chaos in my life. I was struggling badly, and I sought out counseling for some assistance in getting unstuck. I was struggling with the decision of whether or not I needed to stay married, and, if I did, what I needed to do first to make my life livable. There were so many problems. She told me that when she makes decisions, she runs them through her core values to make sure the decision is a good fit for her. My homework that week was to determine my core values.

We all have values. We may not be able to list them if someone asks. I found this to be an extremely valuable exercise and guiding tool. At one time, I thought values were morals. They are not. I can value something that is totally immoral. I probably wouldn’t, but I could. One of my values is Physical Health. I know this because I act on it all the time. In my counselor’s explanation, she said some people may say they value eating nutritious food, but they don’t do it. In that case, they don’t really value it. It may be a goal, but it’s not a value. My values are those things that consistently guide me even though I don’t know it. Another value of mine is Close Relationships. I spend a lot of time and energy getting to know people and making close friends.

The reason that it is important to know my values is that it helps me on those unmarked roads. I may not know where either of them lead. But, if I pack my bags with my values and follow who I am, I can’t help but get to where I need to go. The destination isn’t important. For us mortals, the destination is always death. It’s the journey that’s important. That determines the way we live. I found a list of core values on the internet. There are a number of different resources available. I narrowed them down to the top 5 that I almost always do. Once I had them in writing, it made my decision-making much easier.

My boss showed me a video of this young woman who got injured in a race and fell just before the finish line. She crawled across the finish. If anyone had helped her, she would have been disqualified. Her coach has Lou Gehrig’s disease and this was his last season. Her team had decided they wanted to give him a season to remember, and they were in the running for the State Championship. To honor him and her team, she VALUED finishing. My boss said, “How often do we leave it ALL on the field? How many times do we finish knowing we could have done more?” I thought about my half marathons and how often I’ve wondered if I could have run it faster because I felt so good after the race. I’ve often wondered how fast I could run a half marathon if I really left it all on the field. He said that the only way to know is to do it once. “The only way to address fear is to take action,” he said. “Then you’ll never fear it again.”

I have to talk to my coach about my race strategy in my next race. I’d like to leave it all on the field.….just once…in my sport. I left it all on the field when I tried to save my marriage. Even though it failed, I knew that I had given it my all, and I had no regrets. But, he’s right. If I don’t truly …in my heart ….value something, I’ll never give what it takes to leave it all on the field. That’s okay. Not everything can be given 100%. But, when I give my all, and it’s in line with my values, I’m in my sweet spot. It doesn’t matter where I end up. The cross country girl didn’t win the race, but she got national acclaim, her team won the State Championship, and her coach’s last season was a season to remember. I’ll leave you with the video. I hope it inspires you to figure out where you need to leave it all on the field. Just once…..

 

Living: Connecting with Those That Serve

Some of my Starbucks Baristas

Some of my Starbucks Baristas

I’m still reading Brene’ Brown’s book Daring Greatly. I love blogging about it because I imbed the contents in my brain. What’s the best way to learn something? Teach it. I know that from work. So, in writing about what I’ve learned and trying to “teach” it in this blog, I’m really learning it. I read something profound a couple of days ago that I should have know all along. The light bulb went off, and I was stunned and convicted about my behavior.

Brown wrote about how our numbing behavior affects other people. I know that when I am in relationship with an addict or someone who numbs out, their numbness impacts me. The consequences of their behavior can impact me if I’m living in the same household, but the impact of the disconnection is the biggest loss of all. When a person is actively numbing out, they can’t be present for their own feelings, so they definitely can’t be present for mine. It creates a very disconnected relationship and a lonely household. They may be there in person but they are not there in spirit.

I believe, as Brown does, that we are hard-wired for connection. There are times when I connect with strangers just as much as people I know very well. If I stop to help someone do something, and we have a moment of connection, it can feel every bit as spiritually uplifting as a connection with a friend. Brown talks about how cell phones disconnect us from others. I have watched people, and have done it myself more than a few times, as they order a drink at Starbucks, buy a book at a bookstore, pick up their dog at the vet or any other small transaction, and they are talking on the phone the entire time. They point, make signals, etc., while the person is serving them. Brown described an interaction with a service worker. She apologized for taking a quick call durng their transaction. The woman teared up, and thanked her for saying something. “They don’t even see us,” she added.

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I used to work in customer service. I actually loved working in customer service, and I was at a call center. What I loved about it, and what made my day, was when I was able to help somebody, and we started connecting as people. It was the best part of my day. I imagine that being a customer service person is not as fun these days. What is the barista at Starbucks thinking as they are making change, wanting to connect with a customer, and they are being ignored, pointed at and treated like a machine? It’s got to take the fun out of it. No wonder customer service is deteriorating. I think customers are deteriorating. I worked at Starbucks in Valparaiso IN. I hated the drive thru. I loved serving customers that came in. I had a chance to talk with them, laugh, learn their names and their drinks. It was fun. The drive-thru was often very different. People just ordered, wanted their drink, paid and left….and frequently they b**ched at you. We had a young staff. One of the young men served a customer one day who was brutally nasty to him. He turned around in tears. “Why does she have to treat me like that?” he asked. “I was trying to help her.” The only thing I could tell him was that he only had to deal with her for 5 minutes. She has to deal with herself all day. I felt sad that he had to experience that kind of treatment.

I got a promotion to the correspondence department when I was at the call center. I thought it would be great! I’d finally get off that telephone and write and answer letters. Well, a phone call is once removed from a face-to-face interaction. People will say things to you on the phone that they would NEVER say in person. A person from Las Vegas was yelling at me to do something that I could not do under our policy. She asked me where I was. I told her Knoxville. “Well, no wonder!” she exclaimed, “all you inbreeds down there. You’re a bunch of idiots!” I can’t imagine she would have said that to my face. Letters are even more removed than a phone call. We got some of the most vicious, demeaning, angry letters every day. It was really depressing to know that people could be so hateful and unkind.

One of the reasons that I like blogging is it gives me a reason to connect with other people. If I talk to strangers anywhere, there is something that usually leads me to an impression……. which leads me to a blog. Once I get the idea for a blog, I have a reason to call people, ask questions of strangers and take pictures of people doing fun things. It makes everything more fun. My social anxiety is diminished when I have a reason to walk up and talk to a stranger. What I get in return is that it makes me really present for the experience. I’m listening, I’m engaging in my life, and I’m connected.

The day after I read that section of the book, I left my phone in my car when I ran errands. It was much more energizing to talk to the people I met than to multi-task. I tried to make them laugh or made small talk because I imagined they wanted that kind of connection to make their day more pleasant. Yesterday, I walked into the Starbucks I frequent at lunch, and, as soon as I walked in the door, the barista said, “A soy green tea latte, no foam? Right?” I smiled, “Yes, thank you so much for remembering me.” I felt very welcome and loved in a small way. I know sometimes I’ll still be disconnected and distant, but I’m going to make a concious effort to do better. We all deserve better.

Living: Daring Greatly….The Vulnerability Myth

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As part of my Living series, I’m going to do a book study with myself and you, whomever you are that’s interested. Dr. Brene’ Brown has a new book out called Daring Greatly. It’s about her work with vulnerability and shame. I’ll read some of it each week and share my thoughts and insights from the book. If you’d like to join me in reading and/or commenting and joining the discussion, I’d love to have you. If not, maybe you’ll get something from the cliff notes that I write that will be useful.

In Chapter 2, she discusses the myths of vulnerability. The first one is Vulnerability is Weakness. I have always been an emotional person. I read a book once about Highly Sensitive People, and I’m convinced that I am one. As a little girl, it’s okay to be sensitive because you’re a kid. But, as I got older, I got the messages more and more that it was not okay to cry. When I went to churches, I got the message that it was not okay to fear. When I went to work, I got the message that it was not okay to feel anything. The older I got, the less okay it became to feel. The problem is I have a lot of emotions. And, from what I understand now, that’s perfectly f**king normal. Dr. Brown says that we’ve gotten to the point in our society that we judge and criticize people who feel and talk about their emotions. The problem with dismissing our emotions and stuffing them is that we not only dismiss the negative emotions like shame, fear and disappointment, but we also dismiss joy, courage, empathy and creativity. We have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable to ALL of our emotions in order to feel those “good” ones.

She talks about the feeling of love and how vulnerable it is to wake up everyday and love somebody that may not love you back. Love is very uncertain, and you can lose it at any minute. I was married to two emotionally unavailable men. I felt vulnerable a lot of the time. I really wanted to be silly and have fun and be who I was. But, I was already feeling so hurt and rejected that to put myself out there was really vulnerable and REALLY scary. I spent more and more time walking on eggshells, and, eventually, I became a shell of the person I was. Even if they had loved me, and I think in their own way they did, I was disappearing before their eyes. So, my inability to be vulnerable because I didn’t feel safe was stealing my joy right out from under me.

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What are some of the times I feel most vulnerable?

  • When I’m writing about my addiction in this blog
  • When I’m out on a date with a man, and I’m talking about my divorces
  • When I initiated sex with one of my husbands
  • When I’m speaking out against a popular opinion at work
  • When I don’t understand something, and it seems as if everyone else does
  • When I ask for something I need and I know I probably won’t get it
  • When I need to say something that may hurt someone’s feelings
  • When I feel ugly and run into somebody I know
  • When I admit a big mistake at work and take responsibility for it

Dr. Brown asks this question, “Do these things sound weak?” Does asking for something I need when I know I won’t get it sound weak? Does rigorous honesty in the face of rejection sound weak? None of this is weak at all. In fact, it would be weak for me to avoid it rather than being vulnerable. That’s one of the main things I’ve learned from my recovery work. When I stand up for myself – when I’m rigorously honest – when I say what I need to say OR keep my mouth shut when the situation demands it – I feel so vulnerable. But I feel that I’m in integrity with my values. And, being in integrity feels so darn good that it makes me desire to stay in integrity. Sometimes when I do one of these things, I feel joy. I have to call a friend and declare how proud of myself I am for walking through fear and doing something really vulnerable. And, you know what….calling someone to celebrate a success feels vulnerable, too. It really is something to celebrate since I spent a lifetime avoiding vulnerability at all costs.

The word naked came up over and over again in Dr. Brown’s research. I was talking to a friend the other day, and we were talking about that recurring dream we both have where we’re naked. I’m naked, and I’m running around at work, at home, out in the grocery, wherever the dream happens to be set. I know I’m naked, but I’m acting like its totally normal. People will say hey, “you’re naked,” and I act like I do this all the time. What’s wrong with it? It’s no big deal. What’s the fuss all about? But, inside I’m dying of embarrassment. Vulnerability is what my brain is trying to process. Somewhere in my life, I’m feeling vulnerable but I won’t allow the world to know. Why can’t I just say, “Yes, I’m naked, and I’m so embarrassed. Can you please help me find some clothes?” Why is it so hard to admit we’re naked when everybody knows it anyway? So, instead of allowing myself to be vulnerable and get what I need, I remain stoic and naked and all alone inside. Vulnerability is weakness?? I think not. Vulnerability is a courageous act.

Living: Flirting With That Line….Escapism

A friend of mine texted me and suggested I write a blog about the song Dream Weaver. I looked up the lyrics, and it just sounded like somebody that wanted to go to sleep and forget the day’s drama. So, I thought there might be some cultural interpretation that I was missing. I looked it up on Wikipedia, and, sure enough, there was. When this song was written, it was as a result of a spiritual teaching from a yoga philosophy. It really was written about dreaming while sleeping and escaping the world for the night. But, through the years, it has taken on a meaning of “love at first sight” or an incredible infatuation. Several movies have used this song in the soundtrack at the moment the main character sees the love of his life.

The word that was referenced on Wikipedia was “escapism”. I heard another country song today that reminded me of escapism. It’s from a song called Merry Go’Round by Kacy Musgraves.

Mama’s hooked on Mary Kay
Brother’s hooked on Mary Jane
And Daddy’s hooked on Mary two doors down.

Isn’t that the way it is? It’s so hard to be satisfied with being ordinary. It’s so difficult to look at what is present today in my life. It may be great, it may be not so great, but there’s always something greener on the other side. The past always looks simpler. The future always looks brighter. But, the present is….well….just ordinary. It’s waking up in the morning and seeing another wrinkle on my face. Its looking in the mirror and worrying that spot is a skin cancer and wondering what’s going to happen then. It’s taking the dog for a walk and knowing when I get back I have to drive to the office and sit in a cubicle and pretend to know what I’m doing on something I’m pretending to care about so I can get money to live a life that I’m pretending to have. In the meantime, my distractions, my “escapism” looks and feel so much better than worrying about that stuff.

I write a lot about my recovery from my addictions, and I know that some people sit back and say, “Wow, sorry she went through that. Glad I don’t have an addiction.” But, meanwhile, they go to work at 7 AM and work ’til 8 PM so that they don’t have to deal with their nagging wife or the inner critic that tells them they are not good enough. Another one will be so glad they don’t use drugs or alcohol because of the self-inflicted damage, but she eats herself to obesity or starves herself to death to escape the feelings of inadequacy in her failing marriage or the feelings of fear from a life out of control and filled with self-hatred. Another one heads to the mall to buy, buy, buy to punish her workaholic husband for leaving her alone all the time and to ease her fear that she doesn’t deserve to have nice things….that she’s unlovable. Still another sits in judgment of all of them because their religion takes them to a place where they don’t have to deal with the life that they built that they don’t love and the affair that is buried in their heart but is eating their soul. It’s all escapism…..all of it….substance abuse, gluttony, self-hatred, acting out sexually in destructive ways, unbridled judgment of others…..the Bible calls them the seven deadly sins….

  • Pride
  • Envy
  • Gluttony
  • Lust
  • Anger
  • Greed
  • Sloth

I need to escape my life and my feelings from time to time. I need to go to a cabin in the woods with my dog and just relax and enjoy nature. I need to laugh with friends and forget a bad day. But, I have to be careful when I cross a line, and only me and God know where that line is. It’s located at the point that I become addicted to escapism. It might be when I spend more money than I have because I want to ignore my limits. It might be when I’m playing so much that I don’t pay attention to the needs of my animals or my home. It may be when I neglect someone else’s feelings by saying something that makes me feel better but makes them feel worse. It also may be when I don’t take care of myself because it would be easier or feel better not to. They are all the same. And, the line is so easy to ignore.

I think that song Dream Weaver is a classic because the feeling is universal. We all want to escape at some level. There’s some choice we wish we hadn’t made. There’s some person in our life that we wish wasn’t there. There is a problem we can’t solve. There is an impending death that we can’t face….and it may be our own. There’s a line that we’re trying not to cross, but it’s so seductive. It just looks so much greener over there. If only I could get there for a minute….an hour….a lifetime…..it would be so much better.

I’ve just closed my eyes again
Climbed aboard the dream weaver train
Driver take away my worries of today
And leave tomorrow behind
(chorus)

Ooh dream weaver
I believe you can get me through the night
Ooh dream weaver
I believe we can reach the morning light
Fly me high through the starry skies
Maybe to an astral plane
Cross the highways of fantasy
Help me to forget today’s pain
(chorus again)
Though the dawn may be coming soon
There still may be some time
Fly me away to the bright side of the moon
And meet me on the other side
(chorus again, then fade out with the following

Repeated several times…)

Dream weaver

Dream Weaver lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

Living: Life is Short….”Take Care of Me”

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A couple of years ago, I was diagnosed with Severe Reactive Hypoglycemia. I went to the doctor because I had a terrifying episode where I got really disoriented when I was walking my dog. I couldn’t find my way home, and I didn’t recognize any of the street signs. My vision was blurred, and I was very shaky. I finally just picked a direction, and hoped I was heading the right way. Luckily, I was. What if I had been driving?

My doctor ordered a glucose tolerance test just to appease me, but he really didn’t think we’d find anything since I was an athlete and very healthy. When the test results came back, he said it was the most severe case he’d ever seen, and he made me come into the office to see him. He joked that he was worried that I had a boyfriend who was shooting insulin into my toe while I was asleep. Reactive Hypoglycemia can be controlled with diet, so I went to see a nutritionist, Sylvia White.  I did really well for a year or so, but last summer I sort of got back into old habits. I didn’t get all the way back into the heavy sweets that I love so much, but I did get off my controlled eating. I’ve been struggling to get back to it ever since.

Reactive Hypoglycemia occurs when my body overproduces insulin in response to consumption of a sugary food or a large meal. Instead of balancing it out to a normal blood sugar, my blood sugar plummets. Your body needs sugar for your organs to function. My numbers go so low that my body begins to consume muscle in order to get the necessary fuel. Reactive Hypoglycemia can be caused by heavy alcohol consumption, stress and disordered eating. All three of these things have been present in my life at some point.  My nutritionist recommended an exchange plan similar to the plan recommended for diabetics. I have to balance every meal between carbohydrates (complex), protein and fat. I can’t wait any longer than 3 hours to eat either a snack or meal. I also have to manage stress in order to keep from elevating my adrenaline and cortisol levels which impact blood sugar. If I don’t take care of myself with this condition, it could turn into diabetes at some point since my body may become resistant to its own insulin. My grandmother had both legs amputated because of diabetes. It’s not a pretty disease, and it’s completely preventable for me.

I don’t feel “on my game” when I’m not eating right. I experience a roller coaster of blood sugar ups and downs when I eat too much or eat too many sweets or simple carbs. I’ve been feeling down lately, and I know that could be a symptom of my not eating right. The problem gets exacerbated because I crave sweets and simple carbs when I’m down, and then I don’t feel good because of the blood sugar issue. I got motivated again last night. I bought a cart full of fruits and veggies and planned out my six mini-meals for today. So far, so good. I haven’t been hungry, I feel energized, and I’ve enjoyed what I’ve eaten. I’m on meal three right now.

I was talking to a gal pal last night, and we were talking about our age as it relates to health. I have an old college friend whose wife has Alzheimer’s. Another friend has Parkinson’s. Every time I hear another story like that about my peers, it reminds me that I’m at the age where my health can’t be a “back seat” issue anymore. I don’t have kids, and I’m single. I HAVE to take care of myself. Mine is a one income household. If I don’t work, there is no money. Sure, I have insurance and savings, but I may need that later. So, I won’t give up. It may take a few more false starts to get going again, but I’m going to keep trying as long as I have breath on this earth. It helps me to write about it which is why I’m boring you to death with this rambling. But, maybe you’ll get motivated, too. Life is too short. I don’t want to make it shorter.

Below is a sample of what I am eating today….

Meal #1 (6 AM):

1 c oatmeal
2 T dried raisins
2 T half and half
Chai with 1/2 cup skim milk and 1 t honey
3 oz. plain nonfat greek yogurt
4 drops Stevia
 
Meal #2 (9 AM):
1 1/2 c chopped fresh pineapple
Boiled egg
5 bell pepper rings
5 garlic stuffed olives
 
Meal #3 (Noon):
1/2 c cooked white beans
1/3 c cooked brown rice
1 c steamed broccoli
1 oz red fat swiss cheese
1 apple cooked with cinnamon
Chai tea with 1/2 c skim milk and 1 t honey
 
Meal #4 (3 PM):
1 large sliced roma tomato
5 garlic stuffed olives
1/2 c cooked white beans
1/3 c cooked brown rice
 
Meal #5 (6 PM):
1 c cooked non-starchy veggies
1 slice Ezekiel Bread
1 T Peanut Butter (no sugar added)
3/4 c chopped fresh pineapple
 
Meal #6 (9 PM):
1 oz goat cheese
1 Ezekiel brand tortilla
1/2 c pinto beans
1 c non-starchy veggies sauteed in olive oil
 

 

Living: Step Into the Flow

Blue Water Flow Detail

In my first blog, I wrote that my goal in writing this blog was to share my journey to create a different life for myself in the hopes that you might find some things helpful to your journey. Along the way, I can’t tell you how many of my acquaintances have shared similar stories and situations with me and who have now become great friends. What I didn’t know at the time of embarking on this journey of writing was that there is a whole community of bloggers out there, too. My horizons and my opportunity for friendship and connection grew immensely from my desire to create opportunities for others. That is sort of the way it works.

I have experienced in my life that, when you give – time, money, love, affection, support – there is a universal law in the world that brings that same stuff back to you. I’ve experienced it with money several times in my life. I’m not rich, so I don’t give an enormous amount of money away, and I’m particular as to what causes I can afford to support. But, every now and then, something happens in my gut that tells me to give money to something with a rather intense urgency. I have to make sure that it’s not my codependency talking, but that urging comes from a different place in my body. I trust that there is a power greater than me that is telling me I need to move on this. When I get into that flow, interesting things happen. One time, I got the exact same amount of money back in an unexpected refund check EXACTLY when I needed it. Another time, I ended up being given a discount at a store for a similar amount of money just because something weird happened. I just trust that money is on a continuum that ebbs and flows. If I feel myself getting anxious and tight-fisted about money (very different than budgeting; budgeting and planfully using money is different), I sometimes force myself to give some away just to get back into a flow. I’m never disappointed.

A man I met on Match was inspired by my running blogs to start running again. Every now and then I get a text from him about his running progress, and it’s not been easy, but he’s enjoying it. This morning, he texted me that he ran/walked on South Beach yesterday. At one point in his life, he had been inspired to run by a man named Raven whose claim to fame is that he runs 8 miles EVERYDAY. When he got out to run/walk yesterday, he met him on the beach. I just think that is so cool. He was open to adding a new element to his world, and the new element gave something back to him. In addition, because he texted me, I viewed the ravenrun website, and I am inspired by his journey. So, it expanded my world a bit, too.

It’s funny because the Raven’s story is much like what I’m describing. He decided to run 8 miles everyday for a New Year’s Resolution. He did it, and then decided to continue it. He runs everyday, on the same beach, at the same time…. and has since 1975. He just decided to add a new element to his life, and it began to add to his. He has people who travel all over the world to run with him. He has seen the same sunset, the same beach, the same water for 35 years, everyday. The spiritual and personal growth that he has experienced from showing up at the same place and the same time everyday must be mind-blowing. What a glorious meditation!

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The Raven

This is what I believe. The world is an immensely giving, loving place. Sure, there are issues all over the place. But, there is a higher power, and I choose to call him God, that has created a world where we reap what we sow. When we give and love, it comes back. It can’t be used like an investment. It has to come from the heart and in a desire to create openness and space. Greed closes the flow down. That’s a constriction. But, if I want to blow open my world, I just have to open my heart a little. I have to share a little of what I have. It can be money. It can be a hug. It can be encouragement. It can be compassion. That little crack that I create will allow boundless blessings to come flowing in if only I will appreciate them and see them for how special they truly are. Won’t you add a new element to your life today? Just to see what happens…..