Looking back and thinking forward

Month: January, 2015

Living the rewrite: Part II

Sitting in a coffee shop organizing the chapters of the new book I am writing, I feel a sense of excitement; the thrill when pieces fall into place, and the book takes shape before my eyes. For some weeks now I have been feeling despondent, flailing about without a focus. When this happens to me I immediately spiral downwards, descending into an abyss of self-loathing. It takes no time at all before I find I am castigating myself for all manner of imperfections. The ancient script kicks into place even before I am able to notice what is happening. This time, though, the recovery is quicker than usual. I am able to sense that these feelings come from a time and place that are no longer relevant for me, and I even laugh out loud to myself. I think: "Well, hello there, old feelings – old voices and castigators who hang out on my left shoulder buzzing insults in my ear – you are no longer needed here. In fact, you are offensive, and more importantly you are holding me back!" Before I know it, they melt away, and all that remains is a slight twinge of muscle ache close to the left side of the base of my neck. Even that remnant becomes insignificant as I smile to myself knowingly. I am able to conjure up an image of the coming days with a stream of writing. 

This reminds me of the day, seventeen years ago, when I completed the first chapter of my dissertation. Life Partner and I had rented a small apartment in Ithaca for a month while he taught a summer class at Cornell. I had moved my small, old Apple computer into a corner of the living room. In the mornings, Life Partner went off to the university to teach, while I began writing my thesis on a little table surrounded by piles of books I had brought to help me along. In the afternoons, we would meet up for lunch, play a few games of tennis at the community park, and then visit the pool to read at the edge of the water, or swim laps. Evenings were dinners out or the occasional movie.

One morning earlier than expected, I completed the first chapter of my doctoral dissertation. I stood up and stretched my arms to the ceiling. A feeling of excitement overwhelmed me, and in order to calm down, I decided to do some yoga asanas. While I was bending and stretching through the salutation of the sun exercise, I suddenly had an image of the future; of graduation day when I would walk up on the stage to receive my Ph.D. degree, and true to the tradition, be hooded by my advisor. The image was graphic, clear, bright. Immediately as I saw myself walking up towards my advisor, a flash of light shot through my brain, and suddenly I was blind, unable to see half the living room where I was doing yoga. It was as if lightening had struck. In that moment I was terrified of some type of imminent danger. Indeed, I felt I might die. I went quickly to the bathroom and ran water into the tub. As I immersed my body into the warm, comforting water, I realized that ancient voices in my brain were warning me that I was not allowed to feel this type of accomplishment. I had entered turf that was not mine to have. I needed to stay outside of that area – it belonged to others – not me.

Still feeling partially blind, I dried myself off, dressed, and then walked slowly and tentatively up toward Cornell, hugging the stone wall that flanked the sidewalk, until I arrived at a small cafe at the the top of the hill. There I sat drinking a cup of hot tea gathering strength and comfort from strangers as some conversed softly among themselves at different tables in the restaurant. Slowly, the partial blindness dissipated and I was able to see clearly again. I had managed to ward off the chorus of my old life script. When I met up with Life Partner at lunch I described the events of the morning, as he listened quietly, supporting me as I processed what had transpired. 

I look around the coffee shop now, where I am sitting typing this post, and realize that the memory of that traumatic incident years ago came back to remind me how my old life script had been in the way of writing my new book. But it feels quite different now, for there is no sensation of imminent danger. There is only the slightest twinge, a small, dull ache in the left corner at the base of my neck. I am standing solidly on turf that belongs to me. I am on the inside looking out – not cast out only to look longingly in like before. I shed a small, warm tear of joy and relief, and allow myself to feel accomplished and exuberant that my new book is starting to come together.

I think I am going to enjoy writing it!

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Family ties

Living the rewrite: Part I

I recognize that I don't actually rewrite my emotional script as much as I live it through feelings that arise in the context of interactions with others. Writing about it, though, helps to pick apart the illusions that I developed as a child. It's about making connections between past feelings and present realities. Part of the rewrite is that it is becoming less painful, and rather more intriguing to make those connections. In other words, I get to see how my mind works! A little like the unraveling of a mystery. For we are mysterious and complex beings, us humans. I imagine that all those millions of neurons and synapses in our brains must make for complexity. And that is the other exciting part about living the rewrite. I am discovering that I am complex and mysterious. For, mostly I thought of myself as either good or bad, and did not allow for the many varieties of feelings and human characteristics I have – just like any other human being. Indeed, in my relationships I have not had a problem with recognizing and accepting others as being complex and mysterious. I just held that two dimensional standard for myself. Much as a child would. 

So, I think one of the important discoveries for me has been accepting that I am multidimensional, with complex emotions – just like everyone else. And, in fact, that is a relief – a release for me. For, bit by bit, I am letting go of the fear of dreadful punishments to befall me for what I consider as "being bad." For example, loyalty has always been a big issue for me. Growing up, I learned it as something simple – I was either loyal – that is, adhering to one opinion and a type of "party line" – or I wasn't. Even independent thought, in and of itself, was seen as disloyal. In my present reality I know that critical thinking and independent thought is essential for me in making choices. Indeed, the fact that I even have a choice is something I discovered only in my forties, and knowing that has saved my emotional life. I am coming to realize that there is nothing inherently wrong with me because I think differently from the people I love and care about. Just the reverse, because loving someone means understanding their flaws as well. We don't throw people away just because they are not like us. We work to understand and accept their differences. For, we are all not alike! 

Rewriting the emotional script

Quote of the day:

Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Cheryl Strayed

Rewriting my emotional script is only possible once I have come to a clear understanding of how it was acquired. More importantly, though, is the realization that while the script I developed about myself was necessary to help me survive as a child, it is irrelevant to who I have become today.

In fact, all it does for me lately is get in the way, and hold me back. 

Indeed, I have spent years exploring and researching the emotional memories and experiences of my earliest years. I did that by interviewing significant family members and friends, through writing this blog and two books, and with the guidance of professional therapists.

Lately, I have the feeling that my researching-the-self period is coming to an end. There are very few stones I have left unturned. And, I am weary of the journey.

In fact, I feel more than prepared to tell me a different story about myself, even though I am sure I will regress from time to time to yearnings and ancient pains.

However, that won't get in the way as I strive to perceive me differently. For, there is no going back now.

Punishing pleasure

Quote of the day:

After 30 years of working with emotional eaters, I can confidently say that I've never met anyone who has ever lost weight — and kept it off — by deprivation. We are sensory, pleasure-loving beings. It is not just calories that fill us up, but the joy we take from eating them. 

We don't overeat because we take too much pleasure from food, but because we don't take enough. When pleasure ends, overeating begins.

Imagine what your life would be like if you let yourself eat with passion. If you felt entitled, no matter what you weighed, to eat with gusto. You may discover that foods you loved — as well as those you didn't — truly do give you pleasure, and there's no price tag attached. And that's how it should be. Why not be astonished by the crisp taste of an apple? Why not revel in the smooth texture of an olive? Since you need to eat to live, why let one moment of joy — even one — pass you by? Geneen Roth

It is hard not to think about New Year resolutions at this time of the year. After all, it seems that everyone is talking about them everywhere. Especially in the media. Along with resolutions are the countless newspaper articles, commercials, blog posts, and books suggesting various ways of dieting. For, after the holidays everyone is reminded to return to "being good," and must surely lose all those pounds gained during the festive season of merriment, giving, and … well, pleasure

Punishing pleasure is a deeply cultural phenomenon. We are allowed to enjoy only for a guarded, little while, but then we must pay the price with guilt and deprivation. People everywhere giggle guiltily as they enjoy the season of delicious foods with friends and family during the holidays. All knowing that as soon as it is over – they will get back to "being good." Yes, "being good," is just one of the expressions I hear people constantly repeat like a mesmerizing mantra during the month of November to January.

As one who has become an expert on self regulation, I am challenged by relearning how to experience pleasure without guilt and shame. It becomes especially challenging when my brain is bombarded by a society that reinforces that which I am struggling to unlearn. 

I understand wanting to start anew at the beginning of a new era, year, or birthday. It feels natural to mark time in that way. I just wish we did not feel the need to punish ourselves for experiencing pleasure. It wipes away warm and enjoyable memories, and treats us as if we are naughty children, who need to be regulated back to obedience, and who know how to follow orders – as if we had gotten out of control, and need to be shipped back to shape!

So, I for one am going to try and ignore all the advice about reigning myself in at the beginning of this new calendar year. For, after all, I have just started enjoying letting myself go …

Blogging-a-versary 2015

Quote of the day:

The daily sharing of my interior life made me stop and notice my world. MaryBeth Coudal

This morning I woke up and realized that it is time to celebrate my ninth blogaversary. I lay in the dark as Oscar spread his body out across my chest, purring while I stroked his head and ears, and suddenly I found myself thinking about my blog. Indeed, I have not been writing it so much lately. Mostly, I am thinking of the book I am writing, and in a way have abandoned blogging – even in my mind. But, this morning, I thought, "Hey! I have been blogging for nine years!" 

It felt like some kind of an achievement, and I remembered fondly and gratefully how blogging has helped me through some emotionally, challenging times. Doing the work with my therapist these past four years or so, I have confronted the lonely, frightened child I was growing up. In the past year, specifically, I have faced my inner child quite intensely, and as painful as it has been, I realized that so much of my loneliness and fears have nothing to do with the realities of life for me now. Incidents or interactions with others at times can still trigger those ancient feelings, but I am more able to see that they are irrelevant to me now. In fact, I step out and away from them quite quickly lately. I feel less lonely, more included, and belonging than ever before – with family members, friends, and, more importantly, with myself. And I wonder: "Was blogging a way for me to feel less lonely and afraid? And, perhaps I don't feel the need to blog as intensively as I use to, because I am feeling more open and belonging – less lonely and afraid."

All the work I have been doing in therapy feels like an achievement too. As I look back over these past nine years, I have come a long way in my psychological development. Writing has been a crucial part of self understanding and awareness. Especially as it is shared with others. For, having readers bear witness to my emotional life has made it real, vital, and, most importantly, valid.

Nothing heals more than the validation of our feelings. 

Starting 2015 with a blog anniversary, and writing another book opens different doors to my mind and soul.

Perceiving the world with an adult view feels like an adventure ahead with unimagined vistas to explore.

A new road to travel down.

It reminds me of the poem by Portia Nelson that one of my doctoral advisors, Tom Frantz, once quoted to us during a statistics class, and which I subsequently quoted in my book(Page 158):

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters, by Portia Nelson 

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place.
But it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it's a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

I walk down another street.

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Holding still