The following is what is becoming my annual post about seasonal affective disorder, written from my new platform at Eat to Love. Previous posts on the topic can be found here, here, and here. I’ll be following up with a recipe for my favorite anti-depressant stew and some more thoughts on nutrition for depression.
Feeling S.A.D.? You’re Not Alone. Here Are 6 Things You Can Start Doing Today to Feel Better
The holidays are upon us, there’s an invigorating chill in the air, celebrations to enjoy, but you’re feeling anything but festive? Does your body feel heavy and leaden, your mind sluggish and unclear? When you wake up in the morning, do you look forward to the moment you can get back into bed? I know I do.
If this sounds familiar, you might have seasonal affective disorder. S.A.D. is a type of depression that hits about the same time each year. The exact cause of S.A.D. is not 100% clear but it is likely a combination of seasonal changes in your circadian rhythm and your body’s levels of melatonin and serotonin. Women, people who suffer from depression, and those who have a family history of S.A.D. and/or depression are at the greatest risk for S.A.D.
I have struggled with S.A.D. since I was a child, yet every November I’m surprised by it. I feel like the tin man on my yoga mat, my eyes sit at half-mast, and if I open an email from the Humane Society, I am reduced to a sobbing puddle for 20 minutes. After the initial shock and indignation wears off (it usually takes me about 3 days to say “It’s happening again…”), I put on my big girl panties and deal with it. The following is a list of the things I have found most helpful in managing S.A.D. [Continue reading]
Posted in Awareness, Recovery | Tagged Alcohol, Alcoholism, Awareness, change, depression, friends, holidays, living in the moment, love, meditation, physique 57, planning, practicing imperfection, progress, recovery, restlessness, running, Shamatha, uncertainty, writing, yoga | Leave a Comment »
On December 28th of 2012, I was laid off from my job as a medical writer at a biotechnology company. I was with that company much longer than anticipated since the job, at the time I got it, was an escape hatch from the disastrous job I started right after I quit drinking. I planned to be at the biotech company only a year at most while I collected myself and began to understand what life was like sober. One year became four years and, during that time, I had what looked like a promising career with a handful of successes and a solid salary. But I knew there was something else waiting for me.
As the 28th of December approached, I was facing a world of uncertainty when “the perfect job” landed in my inbox. But after a whirlwind interview process, I didn’t get it. I remember getting the call. It was nighttime in Sicily. I walked out of my boyfriend’s parents’ house into the backyard to find a little bit more cellular reception and looked out across the Mediterranean as I heard the words “we decided to go with the other finalist.” But as I walked back into the house and told everyone my news with just a shake of my head, I knew that this was the right thing.
Working one job or another since I was 12 years old, I now had an opportunity to explore my own wants and needs without an obligation to an employer. Between the safety net of severance and savings and, more importantly, a supportive family and partner, I decided not to do what I thought I “should.” Instead I left myself open to the possibilities. And in the last year, those possibilities have included:
- Traveling back to Sicily and Paris and exotic Upstate New York
- Taking continuing education classes, attending conferences, and completing a free “How to start a small business” course in New York City
- Networking, opening up to people, making new friends, and reinvigorating old friendships
- Visiting friends and family near and far
- Formalizing my commitment to Buddhism
- Translating/interpreting a children’s book from Italian to English
- Taking care of myself physically and mentally, attending ballet barre and yoga classes, going for acupuncture and therapy
- Volunteering with the New York City Coalition Against Hunger
- Cooking, sleeping, watching trashy TV, and cuddling with my boyfriend and our fur children, Rufus and Darwin
- Writing a book based on the Drinking to Distraction blog [Stay Tuned!]
And deciding to start my own nutrition counseling business. Some of you already know that my education and early job experience was in nutrition and that I have long wanted to get back to that field. Given the time and space I was fortunate enough to have during the last year, I came to see starting my own business as a risk worth taking. And about two weeks ago, I launched my mindful nutrition business, Eat to Love, which integrates meditation, therapeutic approaches to addiction, and Intuitive Eating.
Besides taking an inventory of what the hell I’ve been doing for the last 11 months, I’m writing this post to acknowledge that none of the things I have done in the last year would have been possible if I had not quit drinking nearly six years ago. That was the first step out of my own cocoon, my coming out of hiding. A process that was furthered by beginning to meditate, by beginning to write about my experience here, by not trying to keep making all the “right” moves in my life or to please everyone else. Starting this business is taking the next step.
Gradually I will begin to spend more time on this new venture, which opens up new possibilities for the Drinking to Distraction blog. I always viewed the blog as a shared space where readers could post their own stories about drinking, mindfulness, meditation, and coming out of the cocoon. Now, more directly I invite you to submit your story, to experience the therapeutic release of writing your own narrative, and to help others by letting them know they are not alone.
Posted in Alcoholism, Awareness, Meditation, Recovery | Tagged Alcohol, Alcoholism, Awareness, buddhism, change, drinking problem, expectations, fear, friends, living in the moment, love, meditation, memoir, New York City, Pets, physique 57, planning, practicing imperfection, progress, recovery, resolutions, Shamatha, Susan Piver, uncertainty, work, writing, yoga | 8 Comments »
I first became aware of Jennifer Storm during my alcoholism memoir-reading days. After reading her first memoir, Blackout Girl, which was raw and brutally honest, I felt as if I knew her personally. Her second memoir, Leave the Light On, was one of the first to chronicle the recovery process, addressing a glaring dearth of such stories. A fellow Penn Stater and warrior for victims’ rights, Jennifer was kind enough to grant me this interesting interview. Please enjoy!
D2D: You have written several books about your experiences with sexual assault, addiction, and recovery. Tell me how the writing process and the recovery process have worked together.
JS: Writing has been something I have always loved; I still have the first book I ever wrote in 4th grade for an assignment. It’s a healing process for me to be able to get out the things from my past and put them on paper. It allows for a deeper level of understanding, analysis, and healing. I am all about understanding the “whys” of my disease. I truly believe that in order to be successful in sobriety, I had to get down to the core of why I was using, which meant I had to revisit the things that haunted my past. That began with being raped as a child. Writing providing a safe venue for me to begin that process, and then I had to share it with others. Exposing my past and my issues became a key element of my recovery. I was told early on that my “secrets would keep me sick.” I took that to heart and truly believe today that in order to maintain recovery, I cannot have secrets.
D2D: While many books about alcoholism are written from the perspective of the author before getting sober, you wrote one of the first memoirs that chronicled your experience after rehab. How were the two books received differently?
JS: Blackout Girl did better in terms of sales because society loves the drama; they love the dirt of the story. Leave the Light On was more about the “what now?” of sobriety. Here I was a 22-year-old young girl waking up after a ten-year stupor. I didn’t know myself, what I wanted, how to connect to people. I moved 400 miles away from home, started and new life, and decided to go to college. It was a whirlwind but a story I felt young people could really benefit from. Leave the Light On had more critical praise, as I think my writing certainly improved but it hasn’t flown off the shelves like Blackout Girl. I do however, continue to receive weekly emails from readers, usually of Blackout Girl, who thank me for putting my story out there and sharing how it has helped them. That is the reception I hoped for and am so proud to receive.
D2D: Your first two books were memoirs while your latest book, Picking up the Pieces Without Picking Up, is more interactive with the reader. What motivated you to write this book and to take the next step from telling your story to influencing the stories of others?
JS: Working as the Executive Director of Victim/Witness Assistance Program has opened up my eyes to the amount of trauma caused by crime and, more often than not, that the crimes involve substance abuse on some level. It is such a hand-in-hand occurrence, yet I couldn’t find a resource for my clients that dealt with trauma and healing, and that walked the person through the various justice systems, all while dealing with co-occurring substance abuse issues. I’ve watched victims really struggle after a crime, which at times has led to relapse or new onset of substance abuse. I wanted to provide a quick and easy workbook that would help them through the various stages of healing. I’m very proud of this book and wish I could get it into the hands of many more victims.
Jennifer Storm is the Executive Director of the Victim/Witness Assistance Program in Harrisburg, PA. Ms. Storm recently received the 2011 Pathfinder Award for Excellence in Victims Services by Gov. Corbett. In 2002, Governor Edward G. Rendell appointed Ms. Storm as a commissioner to the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. She has appeared in We, Women, Central Penn Business Journal, Rolling Stone, TIME, and many newspapers. Read more about Jennifer here.
Posted in Alcoholism, Interviews, Recovery | Tagged Alcohol, Awareness, change, drinking problem, fear, progress, recovery, writing | Leave a Comment »
“All of you are perfect just as you are and you could use a little improvement”
This past weekend, I attended a meditation retreat at the New York Shambhala Center. The focus of the retreat was “The Art of Being Human” and getting in touch with the concept of basic goodness. One of the exercises we did involved recalling a moment of basic goodness, a moment that was remarkable for its detail and brilliance, a moment in which we were fully present. My moment occurred to me immediately. In fact, I’ve written about it here.
Just recalling my moment was viscerally calming. I was in a time of transition in my life. Uncertainty, self-doubt, and fear were very present. But I also had a sense of confidence or trust in myself that taking a risk was the right thing to do. I felt very aware of the past and the future, but not pulled in either direction. Instead, I was held by the present moment with a sort of buoyancy, like being suspended in midair without feeling precarious or in jeopardy, like I was hanging out in the most comfortable hammock.
In the exercise this weekend, we used our respective moments to connect with the sense of basic goodness, the fundamental heart of our existence. And as a result, my practice felt very soft, clear, aware, and heartfelt. But connecting with a moment of basic goodness when everything feels OK is one thing. Recalling it when I am sad or lonely or angry or restless, that’s another. When I fear I will be a failure or, worse, that no one will even notice, how can I begin to remember this foundational concept?
When I asked her this very question yesterday, my meditation instructor’s guidance was “to expand and include.” Since then I keep saying the words to myself. Expand and include. I understand them but at what point will I feel them?
In the recollection of my moment of basic goodness, I recognize my desire to be held. Often I try to simulate this feeling by grasping onto events in the past or by fantasizing about the future. I am seeking some ground on which to feel stable but it never seems to work. And never am I more vulnerable to doing this shimmy between the past and the future – never am I less present – than when dealing with strong emotions. My work, therefore, is to connect with that sense of being held, of trusting in the moment, when the going gets tough.
To do this, I will need to cultivate enough space and openness to allow “negative” emotional states to exist without letting them pull me under, similar to how I was aware of past and future in my moment of basic goodness but able to remain in the present. This will allow me to experience the pain that is very real, but also to remember that there is more than pain. That the pain isn’t the end of the story. Holding these two seemingly opposing views is what is so complex about life, where things are never black and white. The idea that in a moment of pain, I could feel as held by the present moment as I did in my moment of basic goodness, that I could feel as well placed, that I am exactly where I need to be, is something I can imagine. And from there, I can begin to practice.
Posted in Alcoholism, Awareness, Meditation, Recovery | Tagged Alcohol, Alcoholism, Awareness, buddhism, change, drinking problem, expectations, fear, heartbreak, living in the moment, meditation, New York City, practicing imperfection, progress, recovery, restlessness, Shamatha, shambhala, Susan Piver, uncertainty | 4 Comments »
The rest of that saying goes “plus c’est la même chose,” which means essentially that “the more things change, the more things stay the same.” Every language seems to have some version of this expression, a resignation of sorts to the fact that people and situations can seem virtually immovable in many cases.
I have thought of this expression a lot lately, about how little I seem to have changed since I was a young girl. And how many of us also see familiar glimpses of ourselves as children as we go about our adult lives? The other night I was leaving an Italian class with a classmate, a successful lawyer and mother of grown children. She told me that she probably would not be returning because she found it too frustrating and intimidating to be among people she perceived as much more advanced. “I haven’t changed a bit since I was a kid,” she said. “I’m still so hard on myself.”
Like my classmate, my self-judgment doesn’t seem to have budged since I was a girl. I have a clear memory of sitting at our backyard picnic table the summer following 2nd grade. My father, a math teacher, was teaching me 3rd grade math that summer to prepare me to skip a grade in September. Each morning we sat at that picnic table and he taught me one lesson after another. And through clenched teeth and a protruding bottom lip, I pouted and struggled and fought my way through, not because I didn’t like what I was learning, but because I thought I should be “getting it” quicker. My dad told me, “It’s only easy if you already know how to do it,” the implication being that one must tolerate a certain amount of discomfort to make the mistakes necessary to learn.
Flash forward 30 years and it might seem that not much has changed. As I go about starting a business, I am facing a lot of new things, things that will allow me to conduct my business effectively. Things about which I would much rather remain ignorant. Things that elicit extreme emotions and mental choruses of “You’re stupid,” “You’ll never get it,” “This is beyond you,” “Everyone else got this on the first try.” Financial software, manipulating social media to be more efficient, iOS7. Hell, setting up our new printer had me stomping my feet such that the felines went a-scattering. We call these my “technology tantrums” and can usually laugh about them, but each one brings me back to that picnic table, to my vicious self-judgment and relentless self-criticism.
One thing that has changed, however, is the ability to notice myself taking a technology tantrum, to step back long enough to say “Hey, that thing is happening again where I feel uncomfortable because I don’t understand something yet. I should be gentle with myself and allow myself the space to learn something new.” In a way, flashing back to my 7-year-old self allows me to soften a little, to bring her some comfort, and to remind her to go easy on herself.
Posted in Awareness, Meditation, Recovery | Tagged Alcohol, Alcoholism, buddhism, change, disappointment, expectations, fear, living in the moment, meditation, practicing imperfection, progress, recovery | 4 Comments »
The practice of meditation has afforded me what appears to be a lifetime of food for thought. Yet the simple act of butt meeting cushion can be reduced to a very basic question: Can I try to focus on just being for 15 minutes today? 20? During that time, can I relinquish my urge to do stuff? Yet, without fail, while practicing I find myself ping-ponging between being and doing. Mentally writing this to-do list or that blog post. Then remembering the breath, noticing the things going on around me, the honking rush hour traffic, the oscillating fan turning my way, the flicker of the flame in front of me, ceaseless feline activity. Perhaps part of the point is just noticing this tendency with a light touch and a sense of humor. I think of it as my doo-be-doo-be-doo practice. I hum it to the tune of Strangers in the Night, perhaps an apt analogy for the struggle between accomplishing and simple existing.
Recently, I came down with pneumonia that had me flat on my back for a week. Then I was traveling in a country where I speak the language poorly and could not do many of the things on my growing to-do list. Without the ability to doo-doo-doo, I found myself wondering, like Little Orphan Annie, how am I going to earn my keep? As if my self-worth and very value was tied to my ability to do, to achieve, to cross things off the list.
But part of what I am learning from my study of Buddhism and practice of meditation is that I don’t need to earn my keep, per se. That inherently I, and all beings, possess basic goodness, something that is constant and pure, though often forgotten or obscured. I’m not unrealistic: I know how important it is to do, to make progress, and to bring home the bacon, or in our case, the tuna. But I do feel it’s important to periodically remind ourselves that even when we are not able to doo-doo-doo, we can just be our basically good selves. And that is more than enough.
Posted in Meditation, Recovery | Tagged Alcoholism, Awareness, buddhism, change, chogyam trungpa, drinking problem, expectations, living in the moment, meditation, practicing imperfection, progress, recovery, Shamatha | Leave a Comment »
One of the main goals of writing Drinking to Distraction has been to open up the conversation about addiction. Just saying out loud (or writing out loud) some of the situations, reactions, habits, and thoughts that have surrounded my alcohol use and the desire to escape my reality took the “charge” out of them, made them a little less scary and helped me feel less alone.
Even though I didn’t go the AA route, I have a great appreciation for what AA is and does. “You are only as sick as your secrets” is a favorite AA saying that speaks volumes. Specifically it gets at the power inherent in acknowledging, discussing, and accepting even the things for which we feel the most shame and guilt. Put simply: to speak your truth.
Oftentimes it is the addict or alcoholic who garners the most attention, help, and opportunity to speak his or her truth. Meanwhile, the people directly surrounding him or her can be forgotten. But they are no less affected; and in no less need of help. Spouses and partners in particular deserve the opportunity to speak their own truth, but they don’t always get it.
That is why I’m writing this post. Kimberly Langenbach, a doctoral student at the California Institute of Integral Studies and a friend of mine who was personally and deeply affected by her husband’s addiction, is doing important research on second-order change in the spouses and partners of substance misusers – specifically how spouses and partners of addicts experienced emotional and behavioral changes in their own lives. Her research will provide a rare but much needed opportunity for some spouses and partners of addicts to take a closer look at how the addiction of the person closest to them affected their own lives. Perhaps this research will even change the help and resources that are offered to spouses and partners of addicts.
Information about the study can be found here. Kimberly can be contacted directly here.
What you can do:
- If you are a spouse or partner of someone who is or was a substance misuser, you can contact Kimberly directly.
- If you have struggled with addiction yourself, you could provide your spouse or partner the opportunity to explore his or her experience.
- If you know of anyone who is the spouse or partner of someone with addiction, you can pass Kimberly’s information onto him or her.
Posted in Alcoholism, Awareness | Tagged addiction research, Alcohol, Alcoholism, Awareness, drinking problem, friends, married to an addict, married to an alcoholic, recovery, substance abuse, substance misuse | 2 Comments »