Monday, November 29, 2010

The Question Is....

A dear friend from the other side of the country sent me a beautiful card recently. Much more beautiful than the card is her support, her reminder that I'm finding my way one day at a time, and a quote she included by Eugene Ionesco:

It is not the answer
that enlightens,
but the

Immediately I thought of a book I'd seen in one of those holiday catalogs, The Power of an Open Question, The Buddha's Path to Freedom, by Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel. The description says:

Deep insight can result from
simply asking a difficult-to-resolve question --
whether the question is
ever satisfactorily "answered"
or not.

The author's intriguing premise is
that the very process
of questioning
can itself
teach us openness, wonder,
and the ability to live
in the present.

The coincidence here is too important to be ignored, so today I put the book on my "wish list" for my husband to get me for Christmas. Maybe I can't wait. Maybe I need to order it right now. Or, what if most of what I need is already in the title and description?

Ten Things List coming up! Ten unanswered questions in my life right now:
  1. Shall I Do I want to What might I feel if I don't send Christmas gifts to my family this year?

  2. Are my jeans fitting tighter the past two weeks? (The answer to this one is easy... yes, darn it.

  3. Am I cheating, nibbling too much, justifying larger portions than I really need, eating between meals? (The answer to this one is also easy... yes, darn it.)

  4. What will I do about #2 and #3 above?

  5. Why do I feel so lonely and blue? What am I hiding from myself?

  6. I feel so much pressure all the time because of my self-imposed, exhausting to-do list. Why do I procrastinate rather than prioritize and do the stuff on the list?

  7. When will I make a written to-do list rather than try to keep it all straight in my head?

  8. When will I just say "no" to myself or others when I or they want me to do one more thing?

  9. What 10 things am I most grateful for right now?

  10. When will I get serious about walking and arm exercises... action rather than reaction!?

Well, that's pretty illuminating? Openness? Wonder? Not yet... more like beating myself on the head with a big rock. OK, guess I need the book. Obviously, there's a germ of truth about open questions and enlightenment. Yup, I can see that. Action seems to be the key!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

More Thanks!

Today, the officially designated day for thankfulness, is the easiest holiday for me. Even when it was all about food (either what I would eat or what I would not eat), the day was generally fun and easy. That's because I've always felt myself to be unusually blessed; and gratitude comes easily for me, flowing naturally like rain drops into almost all days of the year.

This year, added to all my other blessings, is the blessing of not being obsessed with eating, especially with consuming my binge foods. It is a miracle, pure and simple, one I never dreamed could happen in my life. For this amazing blessing, I thank:

Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, author of Holy Hunger
my dear, understanding, supportive husband
my OA group
Liz, my OA sponsor
Julie, another sponsor and dear sister-in-law
Liz and LL, bestest long-time friends
Christi, Lunnette, Christy, Leah
PJ, Anne, Karen, Jules, Cammy, Dees
Bobbi, Carol-Ann, Carol, Susan, Lois, Sabine
the founders of AA

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


The Unmistaken Child loves animals6 years old
beguiling child
the unmistaken child
reincarnated lama
in training
for his role
as spiritual leader

* * * * * * *
temperature outside
still crazy low
for our neck of the woods
15 degrees last I looked

but the sun was out today
cold and warm at the same time
cold outside
warm inside with sunshine
pouring through windows

took up my beading
for the first time in many weeks
sunshine did it

feeling better today
call of the kitchen
not so strong
chicken soup for supper
black tea with milk and sweetner

our phone line is kaput
more snow and more wind
in the forcast
for Thanksgiving day

gratitude day
what if every day
is gratitude day

movie tonight
Unmistaken Child
beautiful man
peaceful place
amazing true story

prayer of thankfulness
cold wind
eloquent movie
it's all good

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Fifteen degrees, wind howling, whipping the branches this way and that, blowing the snow into clouds that scud along the ground gathering size as they go, chilly even in the house with a wood stove fire blazing all day, I'm wrapped in a down comforter, woolly slippers, wool sweater and fleece vest... and still I'm feeling the brrrrr.

Oddly, more than personal confrontations, this vengeful show of nature's power has me wanting to eat. All day and all evening the kitchen has been calling my name. "Come here, my pet, you need something... maybe a few crackers? a few nuts? or perhaps a grilled cheese sandwich? what about popcorn?"

Entitlement thinking. I deserve to eat.

I went for a walk. Put full feeders out for the birds. I drank tea... and more tea. And still the kitchen calls.

Note to storm: You are a challenge, displaying your awesome force like this. You frighten me. I'm afraid the power will go out, a tree will fall on one of our buildings, the water pump will freeze, animals and birds will die; I'm nervous about chimney fires, cracked engine blocks, frozen pipes. Your noise scares me. I am naming my feelings rather than making popcorn.

I am entitled to my feelings; I deserve to feel.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Hanging In There...

porcelain rabbit figure, hangin' in there
Eeeegad! Twelve days since I last posted. Lots has happened, yet I just haven't had the mojo or energy or desire to write about it.

A dear friend who follows this blog emailed, sending concerns. I responded, saying:
Despite the joy of not having sugar obsessions blaring in my consciousness every moment of the day (or possibly because of it), my emotions and thoughts are a bit confusing and extreme. My husband and I continue to work at our marriage, but have had a few set-backs lately. I don't seem able to do any beading, although I've been knitting and quilting a lot. I think it is mostly a matter of dealing with all of the emotions that surface at this time of year in some other way than overeating and binging. I've been thinking of writing a post trying to work with, or at least name, the emotions... a bit stuck there as well. Not to worry though, this will pass.

Her compassionate reply to the above indicates a remarkable depth of understanding and provides the impetus I needed to open this posting window. She also sent me the image of a little, porcelain bunny, the one you see above, giving me the title for this post. Yep, I'm hanging in there, ears back, stretched out, gripping firmly the lifeline of sobriety, just like the rabbit. What else can one do?

It feels a little daunting to face my emotions, to write about my feelings. Maybe a Ten Things List will do the trick? OK, then. Ten emotions that surfaced today:
  1. Worry. I had three Dr. appointments at our local clinic today. One for little-toe bunions with a podiatrist who comes here once a month. One for a flu shot. One for an odd lesion on my left breast, a little red mole that turned red and got all scabby starting 9 days ago. I can build tragedy in my mind so easily. Worry. I worry and procrastinate, hoping it will go away. Turns out it was only a scratch (how that happened I have no idea) across the mole that got a little infected.
  2. Fear. It's snowing a goodly amount right now, accumulating rapidly. When it snows like this, my car does not leave the garage. Lots of fodder for worry and fears here. How many days will it last? Will we have enough food? Will our pipes freeze? Will our water pump break as it has in past years? Will I miss the OA meeting tomorrow morning? Will our power go out from snow laden trees falling on power lines? (A calm, little voice is saying: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change...)
  3. Joy. I decorated a wooden stick-tree with battery-run Christmas lights, twigs of fir and white ribbon bows as a display for selling beaded spirit dolls at the Farmers Market tomorrow. Probably won't make it because of the snow, but it gave me great joy to make the display and have it look so sweet.
  4. Happy. Walking 2.2 miles this morning with my neighbor made me happy.
  5. Despair. Looking at Christmas cards in town today lowered my spirits considerably. Do I want to send cards this year? Some years I've had fun making cards, sending them to a few special people. Most years my husband and I send cards with a brief newsletter. Many of our card and gift exchanges feel hollow, little more than a habit, following the path of expectations, meaningless.
  6. Resentful. From thinking about cards and gifts, my thoughts drifted toward my husband. A few weeks ago, I suggested we volunteer to help with the community Thanksgiving dinner this year. He doesn't seem interested. I got a list of work assignments and read them to him. None of them appealed to him. Do they still need helpers? Should I go alone and leave him home to have a peanut butter sandwich for Thanksgiving dinner? I am procrastinating, not volunteering, not planning a meal for us either, feeling stuck and resentful.
  7. Relieved. I'm glad I saw the Dr. about the lesion today and relieved to know it's a non-issue.
  8. Sad. Last week I went to our annual Quilt Camp, four days of stitching and socializing with about 40 local women who quilt. Big bag of mixed feeling there, some good, some not so good. I don't make main stream quilts using the latest patterns and fabrics. The noise of sewing machines and constant chattering annoys me, so I find a spot in the corner to work. I'm shy, always have been, not much of a socializer, a loner. I tend to focus on working and getting my projects finished rather than on people. Part of me wants to be more like them and with them... sadness blankets me. I don't seem able to shake it.
  9. Lonely. My three best women friends are unavailable to me right now because of work, travel or other activities.
  10. Guilty. I'm behind on lots of things and not very focused about catching up. Procrastinating on both little and big things, the to do list grows ever longer and I feel more shame.

Well, that's a bag-o-feelings for the day. I feel good about naming them, revisiting them as an on-looker, detached a little from the experience of them. They're not so bothersome in a Ten Things List as they are in my mind. How cool is that!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Changing Up the Holidays

bead embroidery, Dark Thoughts Pointing at Christmas
Dark Thoughts Pointing at Christmas

I am darkness
looking at Christmas,
pointing dark thoughts
at Christmas,
especially at all the hype,
the production
and the requirements
at this time of year.
I am supposed to be happy,
merry and bright.
But I am not.
I am darkness.

I want to change.
I want to hear
the sweet songs
of the Christmas birds.
Where is my big heart
at Christmas?
Follow the birds.

* -_- * -_- * -_- * -_- * -_- * -_- *

The above beading and my poem from 2007 tell my holiday story for many decades, how upside down it all was and how dark, all the way back to my 30s, possibly even my school years. The child got completely lost in the sauce.

As the poem suggests, every year I attributed holiday blues and bah-humbugism to things outside of my self, blaming the world for my unhappiness because of:

  • rampant commercialism
  • the way society pushes its traditions on us
  • not being good at the whole gift giving thing
  • lack of spiritual foundation
  • pessimism about world peace
  • seasonal affective disorder
  • not having any children through whose eyes I might experience the so-called magic of Christmas
  • my family being geographically scattered

Today I'm here to acknowledge something different, to state the one, encompassing mother-reason for dark thoughts pointing at the entire holiday season starting with Halloween and marching right through Valentine's Day. To day I'm here to admit the one word that sums it all up:


If I was not in diet mode, then I dreaded the holiday season, knowing I would

  • embarrass myself taking cookie after cookie, bar after bar, pie after pie, stuffed mushroom after stuffed mushroom at whatever party, dinner, event, restaurant I was at
  • stuff myself repeatedly until I was way beyond uncomfortable
  • buy every imaginable treat, bring it into my home and rapidly consume it
  • binge on sugar both publicly and privately
  • probably gain at least 10 pounds, perhaps 20, in five months of celebrating the holidays
  • eat rather than talk at social events
  • harbor deep resentment against my sugar-craving body
  • experience self-loathing and disgust

If I was in diet mode, then I dreaded the holiday season, knowing I would

  • be deprived of sweets, craving them, dwelling on them, feeling angry every time I had to pass on available sweets, feeling equally angry every time I "cheated"
  • figure out how to have as much fruit cake, pie, chocolate, Christmas cookies, etc. as possible, how to cut the healthy foods way back so I could binge without gaining weight
  • face the fact that I'd probably blow my diet, possibly gain back all the pounds I'd lost
  • avoid social situations because of deprivation or the possibility of blowing my diet
  • experience deep resentment against my body
  • ridicule and blame my body for being fat, for preventing me from eating all the treats I want

All-in-all, five months of being a super unhappy person, driven by addiction to a state of perpetual anger, resentment, angst and despair. No wonder dark thoughts pointed at Christmas!

* -_- * -_- * -_- * -_- * -_- * -_- *

Change! Ah-ha! Ho-ho! Change is here! Super, big-time, hallelujah change! Binging is simply not an option any more. It's not about trying to figure out how to cheat my diet any more; nor is it about flat-out gobble it all down. Been there; done both. I am abstinent now. Period!

Gradually, the call of the cookie, the whisper of the pie, the siren song of candy has faded. I don't dwell on or crave these things any more. I rarely think about them at all. And I don't feel deprived.

What does that mean as I look ahead toward Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day? It means I have a clean slate! I can re-invent the holidays and look for things to do that will be meaningful or fun. Unlike all years past, where obsession with food and sweets overshadowed everything else, this year I can focus on what is really important!

I feel giddy with excitement about it!

At the same time, I'm fully aware of how shaky sobriety is, about how it's one day at a time with the help of my higher power and fellowship of others who have known what it's like to binge for five months straight, about how feeling my feelings is still very much a learning process.

Shakiness aside, my optimism and child-like wonder at this time of new-beginnings is like the unfolding petals of the sweetest rose imaginable!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Dealing with Disappointment and Grief

How do I deal with disappointment and grief? Used to be I ate my way through it, cookie after cookie, chocolate after chocolate.

I have a very vague memory of when the pattern started. When my biological father died just before I turned five and my mother immediately decided to return to college, my brother and I were dispatched to live with our grandparents for two years. In my family, crying was definitely not OK. Daddy and Mommy were gone, but I was not to cry. One time at the breakfast table, when I started to cry, my grandmother tried to make it all better by pouring syrup on my waffle, noting that she was filling every hole. I actually recall looking at that delicious-smelling, thick, rich maple syrup, my tears evaporating as she filled all the holes with it.

How poignant! Filling every hole, indeed! Not filling any of the deep holes in little me, crying in disappointment or grief or loneliness. Yet, hmmm, she's paying attention to me, giving me something to fix my woes, sugar pops into my mouth bite after bite and guess what? I start to feel better. I learn that sugar fills my holes. NOT!

Indeed, she didn't know any better and I unconditionally forgive her. Yet, there began a life-time pattern of trying to fill grief holes with sugar. My OA sponsor says this is very common with women who overeat. She believes, when doing Step 4 (listing defects of character), that more of women's defects stem from grief than from resentment, which is common for men. She encourages me to look at how I've handled grief and disappointment in my life, at how pacifying with eating sugar may negatively affect my character and behaviours.

OK, I was 5 or so when the syrup incident happened and 67 when I stopped eating sugar as a solution. So for 62 years, I more or less unknowingly smothered my grief in sugar consumption. That's a long time.

What happens when I eat a lot of sugar is that I get cranky, really nasty sometimes. I can recall yelling at my parents, at my siblings, at girlfriends, at boyfriends, at co-workers and often at my poor husband after overdosing on sugar. Lots of mean spirited yelling over trivial things.

Interesting, isn't it, that this character defect, the yelling, is an indirect result of not dealing directly with grief and disappointment. I've doubtless harmed others, at least harmed my relationships with them, with my angry yelling, never even considering for a moment that the basis might be my own unexpressed grief rather than something they did to cause me irritation.

For the past seven months sugar has not been an option. Did I have disappointments and grief during that time? Yes. And I note that the anger response is still in me, even without the sugar to trigger mood swings. It's habitual. I need to change this. Awareness is the first step. Notice grief. Notice disappointment. Name it. Sit with it. When anger wells up in me, ask myself, what is making me feel sad.

Not OK to be on the pity pot? Nope, it's not. Yet, unfortunate, unplanned, unwanted, sad things happen. I must learn to recognize and allow grief into my life, and not just the big things like death of a loved one or pet, but also the day-to-day disappointments, even the ones that seem trivial. Not pity pot, but to be mindful of sadness, that is my journey now.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tools of Recovery

Overeaters Anonymous, a program of recovery based on and very much like Alcoholics Anonymous, is deeper than I thought at first, offering a wide range of possibilities for change and healing, proven to work for many individuals. I stumbled into OA through reading Holy Hunger by Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, an amazingly honest and thorough exploration of her personal experiences with binging, purging, dieting, emotion-evading and all the crazy voices in her head which provided every excuse for continuing to eat compulsively.

Although I've never purged, all the rest, the angst, the yo-yo dieting, the binging and obsession with food, the voices, all as she described in her book were exactly as I've experienced for 60 years of my life. It is as if she wrote my story, not hers.

Her story and her book offer an addict, like me, great hope because she turned to OA, admitting her disease and her powerlessness. In accepting her weakness, accepting the support and fellowship of other OA members, accepting the help of a power greater than herself, she turned herself around and was able to stop eating compulsively, stop binging, stop feeling crazy, reach a desirable, healthy weight for her size and remain at that weight without the relentless struggle of dieting.
The biggest benefit, for me, is to stop feeling crazy. It really makes me feel crazy knowing absolutely, without a doubt, that eating a dozen cookies at a time is not a healthy thing to do, knowing that if I eat one, I'll continue eating them until they're gone, and yet I do it. More than the weight, more than the embarrassment about my food habits, more than high cholesterol and other health problems directly related to my eating, much more than all that, I hated the feeling of being crazy and my inability to resist the slightest temptation.
OA teaches us that this is not a motivation or will-power problem. This is a disease, a progressive disease, one that can not be cured with will-power, a diet, a pill, a stay in the hospital or surgery. Yet, it is not hopeless, as once I had thought.

The way I interpret OA, to arrest the symptoms of the disease, two parallel pathways must be followed. The first is to use the tools of OA to stop compulsive overeating. The other is to work the 12 Steps of OA (and AA) to gain a spiritual foundation for change. Tonight I want to write a little more about the tools and about how I am using them at present.

There are eight tools of recovery, as follows:

1. Food plan. Since I definitely suffer the binge syndrome of overeating, where I've been known to eat a whole box of cookies, a whole bag of candy or a whole pint of ice cream in one sitting, the first part of my food plan is to identify and eliminate these foods from my diet completely.

"Why can't I be like other people? Why can't I eat just two cookies or half a piece of chocolate cake?" I don't know the answer, really. It's part of the disease. The important point is not why, but just that not being able to resist or stop is a fact for me. There is no half-way. I ask myself, "Do I want to be abstinent on my binge foods today, just for today?" So far, the answer is "yes."

Other than two slips, I have not eaten any of my binge foods (candy, cake, cookies, pie, ice cream, pastries) since April 17th, which is 199 days!

Just today, in a coffee shop with a fellow OA member, I briefly noticed a huge display of tasty-looking and delicious-smelling assortment of muffins, rolls, sweet breads, cookies and cakes. In the past, I would have been obsessed with looking at them and selecting which one or ones I would eat or equally obsessed with not being able to eat them because of dieting. Today, I noticed them in passing, got my coffee, and thought no more about them until writing a description of them here.

My point? The obsessive compulsion about sweet things is gone! I attribute this delightful change to a food plan of abstaining from eating my particular binge foods. Another benefit? Well, for once, I don't dread the soon-upon-us holiday season, the time of year previously known for stuffing myself with every imaginable treat and gaining 10 to 20 pounds in three months.

The other part of my food plan is simply to eat three meals per day and nothing between meals. I don't pay much attention to what I eat, although "healthy choices" are ingrained after years of dieting. Not eating between meals is definitely a challenge, one I struggle with, particularly during meal preparation. Sometimes I stay with the plan; sometimes I don't. I do the best I can.

Although, because of a previously negative relationship to the scale, I do not weigh myself, I have lost weight, going from a snug size 18 jeans to a comfortable size 12 in the seven months I've been practicing my OA food plan.

2. Sponsorship. I am fortunate to have two sponsors.

One is my sister-in-law, who is 16 years sober in AA. She is an invaluable mentor, guide and support! Talking on the phone and emailing several times a week, she helps me to accept both my success and my failures, to understand the program, and most of all to have patience with it.

My other sponsor is a long-time member of my OA group. A spiritual guide, she is helping me to understand the 12 step program, to face myself and my disease with honesty and to seek help with this journey. I see her at meetings and meet with her one-on-one as needed. Right now, I'm fairly self-motivated, yet I feel her support and am grateful to know when I need her, she'll be there for me.

3. Meetings. I've written about our meetings fairly often, about how they're invaluable to me in this process of recovery. We are united in our weakness and in our commitment to recovery. We share our process and our inspiration to the benefit of all. What if, for some reason, there were no OA meetings where I live? Having experienced the understanding and fellowship of meetings, I would go instead to AA meetings or I would join an on-line, live-participation OA meeting. I am certain meeting are a significant tool in my recovery.

4. Telephone. This is a tool I haven't used very much as I'm not very fond of talking on the phone. Yet, I understand the importance of resisting isolation in recovery. I guess blogging (writing and reading) and emailing are forms of communication like the telephone, yet not so immediate. I shall consider using the telephone a bit more.

5. Writing. Of course this blog is all about writing my feelings, thoughts, process. I love writing here, reading other recovery blogs and the exchange, inspiration and support that happens between us, almost as if we are all meeting together. It's magic for me!

I must also write privately as I work the 12 steps. Here is another area where I'm dragging my feet at the moment. Time to call my sponsor and get some help.

6. Literature. Over the years, AA and OA have amassed a vast library of literature relevant to recovery. There are stories, history, workbooks and guides. I've read and been inspired by several of these, the most recent being The Big Book itself, the fourth edition of the original Alcohol Anonymous book, written by the founders of the program. Quite an unexpected treat, this book both instructs and inspires me, helping me to better understand the concept of alcoholism or compulsive overeating as a disease. I'm currently reading an OA workbook designed to help participants work through the 12 steps.

7. Anonymity. I respect the concept of anonymity in OA. It gives me power to be honest with myself and others. For this reason, I do not use my name or anybody's real name in this blog.

8. Service. Although I have taken responsibility for the meeting-room key, until today, I had not offered my service to anybody else suffering from overeating, at least not directly. Perhaps indirectly, as a result of reading my blog or talking with me about what it's like to suffer the disease of compulsive overeating, I may have been of some slight service to others. However, today I offered to be a food sponsor (as opposed to step sponsor, which by my own standards, I am not yet qualified to do) to another OA member. I don't know where this will lead or how it will be for her. But, I can say that for me, it feels like a good thing, a pathway that can only lead to greater learning and healing, hopefully for both of us.

So this is a summary of the tools and where I am with them in the OA program at this time. My gratitude for having learned of OA and for all the assistance I've received to date is boundless.