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Lauren Stahl created SPARKite to help people like you and me hold ourselves accountable to the goals we wish to meet (but to do so, we might need some additional support). Lauren and I sat down for a little chat the other day. View the video here:

In addition, we will be hosting a conference call on Wednesday, February 26 (Yes! Tonight!) at 8PM EST. Dial in details are below. Here you can ask me your questions about food, nutrition, intuitive eating etc.

Conference call with Jenna Hollenstein MS RD
Wednesday, February 26th @ 8PM EST
Dial-in Number: 1-857-232-0159
Conference Code: 329250

 

 

 

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wineFull disclosure: I don’t drink anymore. More than 6 years ago, on my 33rd birthday, I drank my last glass of wine. It wasn’t particularly memorable except for the fact that it marked what I sometimes think of as the beginning of my new life. More on that later.

For many years before that last drink, and ever since, I have spent a lot of time thinking about alcohol and drinking. Before I quit, that thinking came from a place of guilt and shame, and the mounting worry that I had a drinking problem. Since I quit, my thinking about alcohol has been more objective; it has come from a place of curiosity rather than obsession. And it is from that place that I would like to share some potentially unpopular, but very honest, thoughts about drinking.

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I first saw you in the movie Happiness. Your raw-ugly-beautiful performance cut through to my heart in a way I had never experienced before. “This guy isn’t afraid of anything,” I thought. “He’s fearless.” And you did it again and again: in Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Capote, Synecdoche, Jack Goes Boating, A Late Quartet. Balls out, I would call it now, with great admiration.

More recently I saw you at one of the Happy Talks at the Rubin Museum of Art. You sat with philosopher Simon Critchley and were as real and thoughtful and imperfect as I imagined you. The way you dropped your head into your hand to fully consider whatever probing question your co-host had posed. As if you needed to remove yourself from the presence of all our eager eyes in order to touch something deep inside, to find an uncompromising truth.

At one point he asked you “How do you know when you feel happy?” And after a long, silent pause, you shared that watching your kids enjoying one another – how they allowed you to enjoy them – that was the definition of happiness for you. I wished my boyfriend was with me to hear that. To hear a father’s description of the unexpected joys of children, the sheer gorgeousness of life’s messy spontaneous moments.

But then you questioned your own answer. You wondered whether this sort of experience felt like happiness because it spurred reflection on your own past and sort of filled in the holes you imagined existed as a child, or if it was a feeling of true unconditional love for your children. “What is real happiness?” we were all left wondering.

I also wondered about those holes. I have them too. I often feel like a problem that’s impossible to solve. Simultaneously too much and not enough. And like there’s something rotten inside me, something that I might be able to exorcise if I could just find its exact location. I usually feel that no one else can see or understand it. I walk around the city feeling like everyone has figured out something that continues to elude me.

Drinking helped. It numbed me to my experience and allowed me to get away from myself and my pain, if only temporarily. But after a while I realized it didn’t really help. And worse than that, it added to my pain by convincing me that I was weak, incapable of dealing with reality, altering my experience in a way that was wasting my life. Eventually even the slightest discomfort led me to the bottle, creating a vicious cycle. When I stopped drinking 6 years ago, those feelings got worse. Without my predictable anesthesia, I felt overwhelmed by suffering, my own and that of others. When I found the practice of meditation, though, I started to build up my tolerance to such discomfort. Like exercising a muscle that had wasted away, I am gradually becoming more resilient, more loving and gentle to myself.

When I learned that you left rehab a few months ago, I wanted to reach out to you. I started writing a letter, telling you that even though we have never met, in a very real way I know you and feel your pain. I wanted to remind you how strong and beautiful you are, that you are deeply loved and appreciated for your imperfect self. Even if you didn’t believe it at first, I wanted you to take my word for it and eventually you’d see. I wanted to invite you to meditate, to have the experience of sitting with that seemingly solid and immovable discomfort without reacting with drinking or shooting up or even going down the rabbit hole of habitual thoughts. To watch how the pain changes, even if only minutely, from moment to moment. I wanted to tell you that it doesn’t get easier, but it does get better.

But I put the letter away. I lost my nerve when I realized you might think my lightweight addiction couldn’t measure up to yours, that my suffering was nothing in comparison. I couldn’t see past my own insecurities, couldn’t be fearless like you were in Happiness, and chose not to put those thoughts of love and support out there, even if you never read them. Now I wish I had.

You will be missed.

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Thrilled to have ByeByeBeer as part of my sober-sangha. Thank Buddha for the internet so that those of us living in sobriety and awareness could find one another.

One cat lay quietly nearby with zen-like stillness while I meditated this morning. The other cat jumped up on a table and lunged at a dangly snowman ornament hanging from a chandelier directly above my meditation spot. His aim is good, though he lacks thumbs, and this is the only thing that saved him and me, not to mention the poor chandelier. I broke pose to scoop him up and scold and nuzzle his so-soft head.

It’s not like he’d roused me from a state of nirvana. I’d been thinking “wow, 10 minutes is soooo long.” While I was periodically remembering to return to the breath, I hadn’t practiced meditation since last spring and my mind was an unruly mess. To call it monkey chatter would imply a massive hall of laryngytic monkeys. These monkeys were howling.

This meditation thing is going to take time and practice.

Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps…

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The following is a post I shared on my Eat to Love website for the New Year. Recognizing the sizable overlap between drinking and eating — as distraction, as habit, as addiction — I thought I would share it here. If you are interested in receiving this type of article from me, please feel free to sign up to join the Eat to Love community in the box at top-right here:

 

January can be a virtual minefield for those of us trying to have a healthy relationship with our bodies and minds. You can’t swing a yoga mat without hitting an article or advertisement for weight loss, undoing the effects of the holidays on our waistlines, or getting minutely closer to that ill-defined and literally impossible beauty ideal. If you’re like me, trying to live a life that doesn’t hinge on having rock-hard abs, a creaseless forehead, or anything preceded by the word “perfect” (not that there’s anything wrong with that [that’s not true…there kind of is]), perhaps you would like to share in my anti-resolution for 2014:

1.    I will tune out the relentless refrain about “having my best body,” “making this the year,” and anything vaguely resembling “New Year, new you”

These phrases all sound great at first, but they have a surly undertone: they are typically meant to sell us something, either directly or indirectly; they suggest we can improve ourselves but are maddeningly vague; and they are usually accompanied by tips that seem easy enough to implement except that they don’t address the reasons certain behaviors exist in the first place. Most of all, this type of refrain smacks of “everyone else is doing it…better get on the bandwagon.” Bullying couched in healthy-speak is still bullying. I say, “Resist, my friend, there is a better way.”

2.    I will not make promises about changing my body to look like someone else’s (even if that someone else is me 10 years ago, before a pregnancy, etc.)

The shape and size of my body are the results of many things, including genetics, culture, beliefs, and habits of diet and exercise. Any goal that involves losing a specific amount of weight, fitting into a particular jeans size, or lifting, shrinking, nipping, or tucking my shape ignores these things. What’s more, it creates an environment of black-and-white thinking, self-judgment, comparison with others, and inevitable failure. Relying on external milestones and ideals of beauty, we fail to heed our internal wisdom: our basic biology, signals of hunger and satiety, and our true wants and needs.

3.    I will not participate in fat shaming, the dieting dialogue, or moralizing about food, eating, and weight

“I’m so huge.” “I’m never eating again.” “I will need to run home (from vacation, 3 states away) to burn off that dinner.” “I’m so bad.”

Let’s. Just. Stop. This type of language is subtle but subversive. It gets into our vernacular and we stop noticing how shaming, diminishing, and downright cruel it is. The more time and energy we spend on such drivel, the less time we have for more productive thoughts, for really taking care of ourselves and one another, and for appreciating the beauty in ourselves and in every day of our lives.

Reversing this habit is difficult, to be sure. But rather than getting down on ourselves when we do participate, we can just notice, pay attention to the motivation behind it (self-deprecation, fear, anxiety, or just being part of the crowd), and challenge ourselves to not participate next time.

4.    I will slow down, get quiet, and tune into my body

A promise worth making is to pay attention to ourselves, to create the space necessary to listen to what our bodies and minds are telling us, which is often “slow down,” “take care of me,” “I can’t support you if you don’t give me what I need.” Whether we do this through meditation, a mindfulness practice, or simply choosing to say “No” to unnecessary commitments, we will develop a foundation from which to make skillful decisions and wise changes to our lives, if necessary.

5.    I will become a curious and objective observer of myself

As we tune in to ourselves, inevitably things will arise. Thoughts and strong emotions present us with a choice: we can either identify with them and react, or simply observe them without judgment. By learning to do the latter, we develop resilience and become more and more able to tolerate discomfort without automatically reacting.

6.    As the epic battle between head and heart rages on, I will try to pay more attention to my heart

Rene Descartes, who famously said, “I think, therefore I am,” would disagree with me on this one. But as someone who lives in her head, I know I need to connect more with my heart. My head is more likely to get confused and caught up in futile attempts to do battle with my body. My heart, on the other hand, is patient and quietly certain that I’m fine just as I am now.

7.    I will become a love ninja

Not everyone will understand this anti-resolution approach to the New Year. Many will get swept up in the usual tidal wave of extreme behaviors that peter out in a few short weeks (and the self-recrimination that inevitably follows). Rather than hurling judgment at them, however, I will stealthily launch my compassion, empathy, and love.

8.    I will contemplate a world in which the hierarchy of value centers on kindness and compassion rather than beauty, youth, and thinness

Just considering this for a moment opens my heart. And I think we are getting closer. If Intuitive Eating, the Anti-diet project, and the entire mindfulness movement are any indication, we are heading in a good direction.

Happy 2014 everyone!

 

I’m very excited to announce the publication of the Drinking to Distraction book!

This short memoir is a collection of my thoughts and experiences, from the days when I wondered (sometimes aloud, but mostly to myself) whether or not I was an alcoholic, to my decision to quit and those awkward early days, and finally to my discovery of meditation and learning to become more comfortable with discomfort.

It was important for me to write and publish this book mostly because it is the one I looked for all those years, when I read every alcoholism memoir I could find, hoping to find some glimpse of myself, some instruction manual to tell me what to do. I never found the book I was looking for; instead I found dramatic tales that ended with the author hitting bottom and going to rehab, which made me think I was alone in my experience as a grey-area drinker.

After starting the Drinking to Distraction blog more than 3 years ago, however, I realized I was never alone. There are many of us who chose to stop drinking, not necessarily because alcohol had caused us to lose control over our lives, but because it took away from our lives in more subtle ways, ways we couldn’t totally appreciate until after we made that fearful decision to leave it behind. And there are many, many more of us still struggling with this decision; I’ve received countless emails from readers and I can feel their pain, confusion, and anticipation. Writing about my experience and connecting with all of you has been essential to my recovery. Bringing this important conversation out in the open seems to me the only way to help ourselves and others.

I invite you to check out Drinking to Distraction here. Right now it’s only available through Lulu.com in paperback but soon it will be available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBookstore both electronically and in hard copy.

As always, thank you for reading!

 

So, let go, so let go

Jump in

Oh well, what you waiting for?

It’s alright

‘Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown

So, let go, yeah let go

Just get in

Oh, it’s so amazing here

It’s all right

‘Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown

~ Let Go, Frou Frou

 

It’s been more than three years since I began the Drinking to Distraction blog. I remember setting it up the morning after Thanksgiving, my boyfriend asleep in the other room. I was still in Boston then. “Hello world” was the automated first post. I’ve written more than 100 since then.

What I have shared on Drinking to Distraction has always been first-person narrative. “Here’s what happened to me, maybe you can relate?” I never did get over the nausea of hitting the publish button after I had revealed some very embarrassing or personal aspect of my life: my obsession with alcohol; my cowardice; my fears, selfishness, and small-mindedness.

At times I attempted to write in the voice of someone else: quirky Jezebel-variety snark or a more philosophical tone. But whenever I did that, the posts fell flat and went nowhere. My friends might have read them; my mom probably printed them out and added them to her binder. But they didn’t really touch people’s hearts.

On the other hand, when I wrote ‘Why bother?’ gets a firm answer, Have I told you lately that I love booze?, Meditation, medication, and where I’ve been lately, Practicing imperfection, or the most popular one ever, Can we break free of the perfection prison?, something different happened.

These posts were unilaterally preceded by what I would call a total breakdown. As I was writing them, I cried, I thrashed, I felt desperate. I felt physically weak, as if I had hit bottom and just couldn’t fight the truth anymore. I typed them as I might scrawl an S.O.S. message in a bottle: PLEASE SEND HELP! And somehow, after clearing away all of the bullshit, by cutting through to the purest of emotions and struggles, I helped both myself and a few others.

You might imagine that once I noticed the potential beauty in such a breakdown, I would attempt to stay there. But you would be wrong. While I might dwell in it for a short while, my defenses soon take over. I try to distance myself from that vulnerability. I resist it, try to outsmart it, mistakenly thinking I can access such truth and harness that power without feeling the freefall. But I can’t.

I have yet to embody the bravery necessary to stay in this brokenhearted and open state with any regularity. In general, I know what I need to do: to practice meditation every day and to stay deeply in touch with the genuine heart of sadness, to build compassion for myself and for others by observing without judgment, by noticing how I feel and remaining curious. But sometimes I’m just too terrified.

Since I launched Eat to Love about two months ago, I have struggled to find my voice. Rather than the recovering alcoholic (quack?) who supports her non-AA recovery through meditation and writing, I feel compelled to sound authoritative, to portray myself as the registered dietitian who has her healthful shit together, who practices what she preaches, and has something to say that hasn’t already been said 8000 times before. I try to resist the regrettable trend of putting a number in my blog post titles – “Do these 10 things in the next 60 seconds to make your life 100 times better” [GAG!] – but then I give in.

I know that the things I fear revealing about myself are exactly the things that uniquely position me to be of real help to people: My experience with quitting drinking, my own dieting history, my day-to-day struggle to stay in the moment, to become more comfortable with discomfort, and to deal with my anxiety without medicating with food, Bravo TV, or neurotic thoughts. To share these things in a meaningful way, I know I have to go to that fearsome place of vulnerability, openness, and heartbreak. While I haven’t yet figured out how to stay with what Pema Chodron calls the soft spot of bodhichitta, if history is any indication (and if I can manage to keep getting my butt on that cushion), I suspect I am heading for another breakdown of sorts where I can’t help but face the beautiful truth.

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