Wednesday, July 12, 2017

gifts

last week was my birthday.  that, in my world, is an event.  my parents made a big deal about birthdays (and holidays) when i was growing up, giving my transient family a sense of tradition that would provide us with a feeling of home as we moved from base to base. as a result, i play up the birthdays of all my friends and loved ones... and i celebrate my own in the same manner.

this birthday was not one of the best. i got in a huge fight with a loved one that ended up disrupting a majority of the day's plans.  and a yearly call i was expecting from another loved one didn't light up my phone, despite my constant monitoring. these let downs seemed magnified on my birthday, and i cried and felt depressed all afternoon and evening as a couple of friends visited and others facetimed and called to try to talk it through with me.

all i wanted was to have a glass of wine.  or six.  i wanted to just go out with my best friend and shrug it all off; to pretend like i wasn't hurt and fucking celebrate my birthday.

but there was one additional complication: i gave up drinking for my birthday.

last fall i toyed, for this first time, with being sober.  i blogged about the journey as i started with 40 days, extended it as i was "assigned" an additional 40 days by elena brower (ex-life coach, present and eternal teacher), and then the lessons i learned about myself along the way.

but there were a few things i left out, even in my honesty: 1) the real reason i started the first 40 days, and 2) the depth of the concern i had that i couldn't do it; that i enjoyed alcohol maybe a little too much for me to give it up for even 40 days.

the real reason i started the 40 days?  the rape i didn't really want to talk about yet.  yes, i wrote a vague blog about it.  yes, i named it as rape and several days later even reported it.  yes, i was doing a lot of things to process.  but the initial motivator for the 40 days was when my research assistant asked me "do you think you're drinking more?" as part of a post-rape self-care inventory.

"no," i immediately replied, insistent, even to myself, that i was handling this.  but when i got home and got in the bath that night, i noticed there was a large glass of wine in my hand.  and i thought, "i don't normally automatically pour wine when i walk into the house." and my next thought: FUCK.

and so, the 40 days.  i wanted to demonstrate that my life would not be negatively affected.  i wanted to show myself i had the strength to do something i didn't think i could (thematic in my life).

and that's where that second omission surfaces:  i had concerns about my ability to stop drinking. in my first post about it, i even seem to minimize the sobriety aspect of the 40 days with the calorie counting moratorium i threw in to the challenge. (side note: the calorie counting was actually harder for the first several days... and that behavior had plagued me much longer!) but i had deeper, more secretive worries about giving up drinking: some related to social situations, but others were around the relationship (or obsession) i've cultivated with avoidance mechanisms.

i've blogged more openly about bulimia and dating as avoidance, but not about drinking.  drinking, with most of my friends, is not something we need to talk about.  because it's assumed that everyone is always drinking.  a lot.  you could blame it on the penn state influence, australian norms, or the single-in-the-city lifestyle.  but a majority of my friends are drinkers. so why would i concern myself with analyzing an avoidance mechanism that is an acceptable part of my life and relationships?

each drinking event i attended sober became easier and easier.  sober dates and sober holidays and sober vacations followed.  it was more recently that i came across some life planning notes, from life coaching work with elena, that hit home the non-named concern i had with drinking at the start of the 40 days.

excerpt from work written 5/5/14:
Things friends have said recently, but I tucked away due to denial:
Hal: Does your drinking every worry you?
Owen: It’s basically like rape when we have sex and you’re that drunk.
Matt: Yeah, I didn’t realize we always do that [drink so much when together].
Kitty: But we don’t have a problem, right? We’re young and single; we wouldn’t do this if we had families.
Me: (Hiding behaviors at all costs from my parents and others. Minimizing how much I engage in some of these bad habits, including drinking.)
dare i say i'm thankful for the impetus to start the 40 day journey?  reading about my previous denial scared me. i wondered if the "sober thing" would have ever appealed to me.  emergency room visits and blackouts hadn't influenced me to change my behavior; who's to say that anything would have?

in the 7 months after the "40" days, i haven't had much to drink on any one occasion.  i've learned i don't like alcohol or its after effects on my body or mind. and i LOVE being totally clear in my life and intentions.

this is how i 37.
and yet i've been afraid to totally give up alcohol.  isn't it nice to have that one glass of wine occasionally?  isn't it therapeutic to have a martini with a friend when they really need it?  isn't it socially acceptable to have a glass of champagne while attending a wedding? i had a million reasons not to give it up.

and then, about a week before my birthday, i realized the problem.  i was looking at this from a perspective of lack, and the only solution to that was to re-frame it.  and so i did: this birthday i gave myself the gift of not drinking (ever again).  the disappointing july 6th had no wine; the party with all my friends the next day had no whiskey (well, none in my glass!); the birthday dinner the following night had no cocktails. 

but i have so much more

and this, my loves, is the how, the why, and the what of my 37th birthday. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

newbie

i convinced a friend who had never done yoga to go to yoga with me last week.  THREE TIMES, no less.  i was super proud of him--he did every pose without a whine or audible sigh of annoyance.  he didn't even shoot me any "is she fucking kidding me?!" eyes during some of the more painful parts of the classes!

nope, my new-to-yoga bff stayed with his breath through it all.  and, if you have ever done yoga, you know this is a feat.  especially when new to the practice.

alas, after the three classes, i heard my friend saying that he really tried to like yoga, but he found some of the things annoying and didn't really want to do it again.  i didn't say anything in the moment, but i felt a little heart broken at hearing that.  what i saw in his yoga practice was something that was rare with many beginners: the dedication to staying in the practice. and i don't mean simply following the poses, i mean he didn't break concentration or breath, he really was looking for the yoga: the yoking; the union.

reflecting on his aggravation, though, i'm reminded of how long i hated yoga: about 5 years to be precise. i would go to yoga once a week because i thought i should.  because i thought it would round out my workouts.  because i wanted to tell people "i do yoga." 

and then i thought of all the lessons i know NOW, and what i wish i had understood about yoga earlier.  and so, dedicated to my bff who still has 3 weeks of paid-for classes to sneak his way in to, here are some of the things i wish i had known:

1) yoga is hard for everyone. the person who is rocking every handstand might have a killer time trying to get into splits.   the person flopping into forward folds so easily could be very upset about not being able to hold an arm balance. the person who seems to have most of the yoga class sorted could secretly not be trying any of the harder variations because they are afraid of change and terrified that someone might notice that fact. the person who is flowing perfectly through every pose likely has a mind screaming "you should be doing it better" that they are trying to calm.

knowing that yoga is hard for everyone--but in different ways--is the first thing you have to remember.  and then, you let the breath enter the equation and allow yoga to be the great equalizer that it is.  yoga will even out your body side to side and strength to flexibility and balance.  it will bring together your mind, body, and breath.  and it brings US together as a community as well.

2) you can hold that warrior 2.  when something is hard in yoga, and you think you cannot stand one more second of it, know that you can, and then just decide to do it.  the teacher won't ask you to hold something longer than you can.

and there are two things that happen when you hold the pose as long as the teacher plans: first, as kelli so elegantly put it this weekend, you train your brain to know that you CAN do things that at first seem impossible.  and, secondly, you transform.  literally and figuratively. breathing through that fire that builds up in your legs, or your belly, or your shoulders is HOW you change. 

3) yoga makes your LIFE better.  yoga is sneaky in the ways it changes your life, but the most practical way i can explain it is through the shifts: every time you don't understand something your body routinely does in yoga (why you always lift your first knuckle when your hands are meant to be flat on your mat, pressing down through the ridge of the palm and taking weight out of the wrist, for example), it is practice for learning how to approach patterns you don't understand in your life off your mat. like "why do i always respond to my partner's jokes with animosity, even though i know they don't mean them to hurt me?"

these patterns in our body reflect the patterns in our lives.  each little shift we find in our yoga practice--which continues to happen F.O.R.E.V.E.R in yoga--is retraining your brain to respond more effectively in life. every time i find a shift in a pose, i notice a shift in my life outside of the yoga studio.  the act of hitting a new arm balance will carry with it a little shift in understanding in your brain that rewires how you understand something and will allow you to see something else differently later in your day or week.  the confidence you gained from holding that arm balance will likely double the impact in your life. HOW COOL IS THAT?

----
mainly this blog is to say: stick with it.  everyone is a newbie at some point.  and the best thing about being new to yoga is that you get to have SO MANY little shifts and revelations, and that they will seem to come so quickly!  look for them.  examine and notice and take joy in the process.  i promise it will serve you off the mat in ways you never imagined.

namaste.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

kisses that wake princesses, glass slippers, and valentine's day

last night i took part in a life coaching call with a company i've done some work with in the past.  i really respect their methods and approach.  however, the call tonight was on love and relationships, in true february spirit, and let's just say i was not impressed with the advice espoused.

"you have the pussy; he should be chasing it! he's obviously not the one."
"he should be able to handle you talking about marriage on the first date if that's what you want. he must not be the one."
"just decide what you want now.  if it doesn't seem like he meets it, he's not the one."

um feminism.  um that's crazy.  um think outside of the box.  AND STOP SELLING THIS STORY OF "THE ONE."

selling a mythology that each person has one perfect person out there waiting for them is problematic in several ways:

1) it causes people to measure partners against unrealistic expectations.  no one is perfect: making sure that someone checks off every quality on a certain list is impossible.  holding someone up to this list, or expecting them to always behave in a way you expect is damaging for a relationship, but also constrictive on potential happiness.

i'll admit that i had a list.  i had a list i kept in my diary that was constantly revised through my college years, and i wouldn't date people that didn't meet every qualification.  one of the obvious problems here is that people change, so even if someone meets every checkbox when you meet, there's no guarantee that they will forever.  when i was only dating based on my list, i limited myself, but i also hurt relationships i was in.

my now ex-husband once asked me, while engaged, if i would still love him if he stopped running and put on weight.  i didn't answer for a while, and then said that i would prefer he kept running.  he looked at me, horrified, and said he would love me no matter what i looked like, no matter how much weight i gained over the next 70 years.  i often wonder whether he ever forgave me for that.

once our marriage ended, i started dating again.  outside of the university environment, i found that the types of people i was encountering were less likely to meet every single qualification i had set for a partner.  specifically, i felt that education was important, and i wasn't willing to date people that did not have college or advanced degrees.  but, eventually, i decided to ditch the list.  and, as it turns out, some of my most beloved relationships in the past few years have been with people that i would not have even gone on one date with in the past.

2) it causes people to stay in relationships out of fear.  thinking that there is this "one" person that is a "soulmate" creates a situation where, once in a relationship, we are fearful that there isn't someone that is a better match, and that we should stay with this current relationship that seems ok.  but, again, people change.  or new aspects of them are shown over time.

i was married.  i thought i would be married forever.  i didn't think divorce was even an option.

but i became miserable in my marriage.  and my husband did too.  i am so thankful that he had the courage and the love-based mentality to leave our marriage.  even though ending a relationship can be painful, staying in one because you think you should, or because you think "but this is THE ONE, right?" is not the answer.

3) it causes people to think that one person must meet their every need.  listen to me: no one person can meet every need you have, except yourself.

no other person can be your everything.  in any romantic relationship, expecting one person to shoulder all of your burdens, to respond to your every desire, to anticipate your every need, sets up a cycle of unhealthy dependence.  social networks (both offline and online) are there for your support: family, friends, and colleagues can serve in these roles.  all too often people abandon the use of their networks once in a long-term monogamous relationship, expecting their partner to be their "be all end all."

i've done it.  i've gotten into relationships where, sure, i still hung out with friends, but i didn't go to them with problems.  i stopped the more regular everyday interactions with them and relied on casual social drinks to keep the sense of friendship alive.  but imagine fostering those relationships simultaneously!  yes, it's more effort, but building networks around ourselves is so valuable.

i date and love more than one person at a time; i keep my network full of people who support me and care about me.  but the relationship model isn't what is important: it's that you're constantly honest with yourself and your partner.

i challenge everyone to let go of the myth of "the one," whether you consider yourself to be with that person or not. be with a person you love for who they are each day.  if you're single, look outside of your pre-defined qualifications and explore what else might be possible.

and, partnered or not, surround yourself with love, however it shows up in your life.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

new year, ever-evolving us

i'll be honest: i hate new year's day.  i feel no need to make resolutions, and have written about my non-resolutions before, a few times in fact.  but even so, reading about everyone's resolutions--mainly about working out and food promises--can be a little triggering: last night i felt a craving to throw up; today i wanted to run 20 miles.  i didn't do either.  but i felt an underlying edge of crankiness to my personality.

meanwhile, so far this new year i've already spent several hours working through complicated relationship issues with a few people in my life:  2017 welcomed in with a bang.  and, once again, provoking for the remnants of my eating disorder.  which feels frustrating. 

today i began sorting through journals and notes from my past year of growth, looking for something inspiring to help me through my own emotional turbulence.  one year ago today i started working on a course in miracles.  i found some notes from the first exercise i had done last jan 1, which was to name each thing that i saw, and then state that it does not mean anything. 

************************ 

"these flags do not mean anything."
"this mirror does not mean anything."
"this mannequin does not mean anything."
"this santa hat does not mean anything."
"this cat bed does not mean anything."

"this cat does not mean anything." was the first one that confused me; was i supposed to say this about living things also?  i wasn't sure.  i didn't dwell but i moved on.

"my bed does not mean anything" was the first hard one.  i had to correct myself to say "this bed does not mean anything."  and then i had to say it a few times.  i found myself thinking about the person who helped me buy the bed and get it home, and how i thought we were building something together when we did so.  all the people i had slept with in this bed, both friends and people i had dated.  the pain this bed had caused in bringing it to NYC.  after about six repetitions, i was able to move on.

"this hanging mobile does not mean anything." almost broke my heart for half a second.  this mobile i had made with adi one afternoon before leaving sydney.  i had to remind myself that the mobile was not her.  it was only something we had made together one day during big sisters club.

"this fan does not mean anything." (i had to go to an easy one next.)  "these shoes do not mean anything." i kept moving through things, struggling with some.  i got to "these walls do not mean anything." and paused.

it clicked.

these things do not mean anything.  none of them do, not even the cat.  we assign meanings to them.

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merely reading the notes from this brought me out of a food/exercise oriented place and sat me firmly in a seat of emotional sorting.  i have done this exercise since then, and find it extremely helpful, but specifically at times of feeling sadness around a relationship.  relationships can get messy: stepping back from intense emotions, whether with a family member, friend, or romantic partner, helps me sort through what i am feeling and experiencing.

and so today, after reading that, i took to a practice of cord cutting, another practice that has helped me when i feel overly blah-blah-bah about my life. (yes, i'm aware that sentence was vague, but that's the best i could do just now.) cord cutting is a specific practice of severing energetic ties.  the act of seeing myself as unbound--from both positive and negative energies around me--gave me a bit more distance from "life" things and provided me with a much-needed sense of buoyancy. 

post-inspiration searching, meditating, and general aura-cleansing, i find that i'm left with a bit of a new year's resolution in spite of myself.  i re-resolve to be my best me: for both myself and those i care about.  exercising my heart muscle and nourishing my soul as my top priorities, with gratitude and love to all my support systems.

and all my best wishes for your health, and whatever resolutions you employ toward that end.

Monday, November 28, 2016

promises promises

i love the results a consistent meditation practice brings. but for a while i lost my practice.  as in i think it wandered off while i was shopping, and no amount of PA system calling could place it.

ok clearly it didn't wander off.  but that's what it felt like.  it surely wasn't my fault that i lost it. i had been waking up early to meditate every morning for 6 months straight.  i made an international trip to sydney and continued the practice, despite the irregular hours and erratic schedule while there.  upon arriving back in nyc, though, my sleep was the most disrupted it had ever been, and my meditation practice got lost in the jumble.  for the following 6 months, i meditated irregularly: a couple of times a week, when it was most convenient.

mostly, i beat myself up for not meditating.  mornings that i woke up later than intended were begun with a rush to get brekky and a thought that i'd ruined my meditation plan. i would silently feel bad about this, think about the things i could be accomplishing if i had meditated and had a clear slate to work from, and then grumpily go about getting out the door.

despite knowing how the daily meditation practice helped me, i felt like there was some mental block keeping me from re-engaging with the practice. a couple of weeks ago i attended a coaching call with elena and laurie from the handel group on keeping promises. when laurie asked for examples of promises we were having trouble keeping, i mentioned this lost meditation.

elena and laurie talked about how feeling bad is a diversion.  when it comes to making and keeping promises, engaging in the promised behavior provides you with personal integrity.  if you don’t do the behavior and then feel bad about it, you obscure the fact that you didn’t do the behavior.  so what’s happening is you’re listening to the other voice that provides you with an excuse.

this means that every morning i woke up without meditating and then silently yelled at myself up for not doing so, my mind felt like i had taken care of the problem.  i was actually giving myself more of an excuse to continue NOT meditating.  

you have to quiet that excuse voice by giving yourself a consequence when you don't engage in the promised behavior.  if you don’t do the promised behavior, you have to follow through by doing the consequence. this consequence replaces the voice that gives you an excuse.

although i've worked with the handel method before, i was skeptical that simply setting a consequence would magically find my wandering meditation practice.  but, i set a consequence: if i did not wake up early and meditate for 20 minutes, i would not be allowed to watch internet tv before bed.  (what i like about that consequence is that it is also providing me with a second opportunity for meditation if i miss the morning.)

i set the consequence and instantly i was back on track: my missing practice showed up. and it has been showing up every day for the past 12 days.  i told my mom about this, and she said "you must really like to watch tv at night!" i laughed, because i suppose i do, but that's not actually what happened here.  for example, when my alarm goes off, i don't think "i better get up and meditate so i can watch tv tonight!" i don't think at all, really.  i just do it.

this is an example of personal integrity: of wanting to keep that promise to myself.  of showing myself i CAN keep the promise.  of becoming dependent on myself.

the coolest part of that is that it is SUPER EASY. showing yourself that you can keep these promises to yourself gives you faith in yourself. and that faith keeps multiplying.

go ahead, try it.  maybe you could care less about where your meditation practice is.  but maybe you beat yourself up about delaying email replies, about not flossing, or about choosing a sugary drink over water.  choose one of those little things that has been driving you nuts, make yourself some promises promises... and then keep them.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

gratitude for what we attract

monday night i went to yoga and the teacher started talking about "gratitude, since thanksgiving is next week."  WHAT?! --yeah, i audibly yelled that in yoga class.  how the hell did thanksgiving sneak up on us?   (no, no, i know how; please don't bring that up.)  after that class, i began reflecting on my gratitude practice.  i've gone through different stages of keeping gratitude diaries and finding lessons i can be grateful for in each life experience.

the gratitude experience that stuck out in my mind was probably the first time i actively used gratitude in a difficult situation: i was having a break-up conversation with someone i didn't want to break up with--he was the initiator.  instead of reacting when he accused me of things, i silently reminded myself that i was grateful he was even talking to me, and then responded from a calm place.  when he called me a liar, i reminded myself that i was grateful he had overcome his fears about coming over, and responded with grace.

the gratitude i silently washed that conversation with changed the trajectory of that morning and of my future relationship with that individual.  we moved forward as friends, for which i was grateful.

shifting to an attitude of gratitude does have the power to change our experiences.  after contemplating that for the past few days, i incorporated a gratitude shifting practice into the yoga classes i taught this morning.  leaving class, i was feeling grounded and ready to tackle the day.

as part of my grab-my-day-by-the-horns, i texted someone and told them i needed them to do some healing before i could spend more time with them. it was a very hard text to write/conclusion to come to.  mainly because i care about the person, but also because i'm not great at boundaries: i often let other people's needs outweigh my own.  i had to protect myself in this situation, even though i didn't want to.

i felt a pain at letting this person go, even if only temporarily. but i also felt grateful that i had the strength to set that boundary for myself.  coincidentally (or, perhaps, cosmically), i found something moments after sending the text that i had copied for myself months ago from a friend's friend's blog (written by Rosie Rees):
You have attracted this person, relationship and situation into your life to GROW through it. They are mirroring back shadow elements of ourselves that we have not claimed. It is NOT your responsibility or duty to change them. They need to do that themselves.
let me just point out that i think the above statement is always true, which is why i tucked it aside for myself, but you know how some days some things just ring like SUPER TRUE?  (yes, "super true" is definitely a phrase you should be using now.)

i needed to be reminded that it wasn't my responsibility to help this person through all of their difficulties, especially when they weren't asking that of me. but what was most helpful to me was being reminded that i was seeing a reflection of myself in this person: i was watching him cope with his life difficulties by sliding back into alcohol/drug use.  moreover, i observed this as i was testing out not using any type of numbing agents.

he was the first person i went on a sober first date with--just a week into my original 40 day experiment. so as i was learning that i didn't need excessive alcohol in my life, my lessons were even more crystallized by the fact that he was experiencing negative ramifications from his own use.

i hope that he continues to grow and heal, but i know it isn't my job to arrange that.  however, it is up to me to decide how i feel now, after sending that text this morning.  and instead of being sad for losing him, i choose to be grateful for his appearance in my life at this time.

so just as i challenged my yoga classes this morning, see what you can shift by cultivating an attitude of gratitude. we can be grateful for even the seemingly worst aspects of our lives.  there are several instances in my life that i could point to and say "that really sucked," but flipping that around is actually equally easy, and much more fulfilling.

i am grateful for my husband leaving our home; i was able to grow and heal in ways i would not have been able to without that impetus. i am grateful for my struggle with bulimia; it has taught me more about myself and my relationships than another avoidance mechanism that i could have more easily blended into society's allowances.

i am grateful i have learned to set boundaries for myself; i am grateful i can choose to see gratitude in each moment. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

bye bye judgement, hello love

i worked the elections all day yesterday in harlem. i watched disenfranchised voters who suspected that, when i told them that were in the wrong polling location, it was because of a conspiracy to keep them from voting. (it was actually that two polling districts used to be in one building and one of them had moved 400 feet away.) despite the challenges, harlem voters turned up and voted in droves: my precinct had about seven times the turnout as in the last election. 

it broke my heart to hear their assumptions yesterday, but it really broke my heart walking around harlem today.

this morning i had decided that i was not getting out of bed to teach my two early morning harlem yoga classes. i figured everyone would hibernate through the day, and i knew i had nothing to offer in my teaching. but my conscience got the best of me and i showed up... and students showed up. 

at the end of the first class i taught, a young black woman from north carolina started sobbing, saying that she didn't know how she could live through the next four years.  a couple other women and i encircled her, held her, talked with her, and cried with her.

i didn't know how to respond to voters yesterday who didn't believe me; i didn't know what to teach in yoga this morning; i didn't know how to comfort the crying student this morning. i did what i could in each instance, following heart and offering what internal gifts i could find: feeling our sameness.

in "the universe has your back," gabby talks about separation, and all the ways that we make ourselves separate. sometimes it is easy to feel sameness, like when people commiserate with you about a shared loss. but other times, the separation and judgement feels so great.

i woke up at 134 am this morning to a message from a friend in sydney: "lucky you are a dual citizen!" it read. i knew instantly what the results of the election were.  and in that second, i felt separate.  alone.

i instantly blamed others for the results of the election and thus they became the source of my pain. but the blaming and separation didn't comfort me, and i was left feeling that nothing could.

then i was reminded of one day last week when i was freaking out about not having enough time to run as long as i wanted to. i only had time for a shorter run and i started out feeling angry that i hadn't left enough time to run. but i decided to try to change that: i decided to wish a positive thought to each person i ran by. like "i wish you love; i wish you happiness; i wish you abundance" etc. i ended up having an amazing run and feeling great. ...i felt like each person i passed was on my team.

so today, i remembered that experiment from last week's run.  when i looked at the maps of red vs blue, i wished positive thoughts for the voters who disagree with me.  when i got angry or sad thinking about the results of the election, i thought of the humanness we all share. when i let go of blaming and separating myself from them, my heart softened and i could feel healing.

love.  the more we respond from a place of love, the more we can all heal ourselves and our country. (so i guess the short answer is, no, i'm not moving back to sydney just yet.)