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Posts Tagged ‘fear’

April was a bitch, and so was I. For much of it I felt as if I was in a communication black hole and this was intensely distressing. A glimpse into the last few weeks:

  • Text messages and emails from friends were never received
  • Posts on professional and personal Facebook pages vanished without a trace
  • I received some surprisingly harsh criticism of my book – was called cruel and inhumane – and could honestly not understand why
  • I anticipated giving a much-dreaded talk to an audience of my peers, for which there were many unknowns
  • We had house guests for 3 weeks, all of whom spoke a language I’m studying but in which I am not fluent, meaning it was never 100% clear if we were understanding one another
  • A friend with whom I was developing a workshop severed our relationship with nary an explanation, just a pseudo-spiritual quip

At the same time, wonderful things happened:

  • Those same house guests were people I love deeply and felt lucky to spend time with; I enjoyed sharing many quintessential New York and American experiences with them
  • I began working with a wonderful business coach and started to take the next steps in building my business, one of which is getting comfortable with public speaking (oh, and the talk went fine)
  • Several clients experienced important breakthroughs in their work with me
  • I received an email from someone who had read Drinking to Distraction and was helped by it
  • A woman I met at another nutrition talk I gave decided to stop drinking as the result of a conversation we had (and now has several weeks sober!)
  • My parents spent an enviable 10 days in Paris and had the time of their lives
  • I spent a weekend with my beautiful sister and nieces, who just adopted a 10-year-old miniature poodle
  • I made a wonderful new friend of the no-BS variety
  • A friend with whom I was developing a workshop severed our relationship with nary an explanation, just a pseudo-spiritual quip (think I dodged a bullet here)

Though my formal meditation practice waned during the month of April – all of the “not knowing” drove me away from my practice rather than toward it – I was intensely aware of the ups and downs as they occurred. But I felt a greater allegiance to the stressful aspects of that time – the ways in which I, ME, MYSELF was suffering. I experienced a form of anxiety that was deeply physical – feet feeling as if they weren’t touching the ground, stomach in knots, zero appetite (beyond rare for me), a light-headedness that at times felt as if I might just lose it altogether.

Uncertainty is something I continue to grapple with. Intellectually, I get the concept – I might even be able to speak on the topic with an air of confidence and comprehension. But the actual experience of uncertainty – not being sure if someone has understood me, not knowing whether I did something to bring about a negative outcome, not having exclusive access to the cocoon in which I hide – can be distressing to the degree of questioning my sanity.

I heard myself say more times than I’d like to admit (using both my inside voice and my outside voice), “I could really go for a drink right now.” The degree of discomfort uncertainty provoked created a deep desire to obliterate myself and completely disconnect. One morning I even found myself chugging a kombucha (something I already had mixed feelings about due to it’s 0.5% alcohol content) wishing it were a fizzy cocktail.

I went to a handful of AA meetings and couldn’t stop crying. I felt drawn in by the copious one-liners and promises of peace. I have always left the door to “the rooms” open. Though it has not been part of my recovery so far, as I approach 7 years, I am more than willing to incorporate the fellowship if that is what I need to maintain my sobriety.

But while I feel desperate for that level of certainty, I’m also suspicious. I wonder if the solution is finding more certainty or becoming better at tolerating the uncertainty. This is a question for anyone who regularly attends meetings, particularly those who have also used meditation to support their recovery.

As I have settled back into my practice, I have also been rereading some of my favorite dharma books. Not surprisingly Pema Chodron’s Comfortable with Uncertainty was my first stop. On turning arrows into flowers, she writes:

Devaputra mara involves seeking pleasure. Any obstacle we encounter has the power to pop the bubble of reality that we have come to regard as secure and certain. When we’re threatened that way, we can’t stand to feel the edginess, the anxiety, the heat of anger rising, the bitter taste of resentment. Therefore, we reach for whatever we think will blot it out. We try to grasp something pleasant. The way to turn this arrow into a flower is to open our hearts and look at how we try to escape. We can use the pleasure-seeking as an opportunity to observe what we do in the face of pain.

Where I go from here I don’t know yet…cue the uncertainty-related anxiety. Do I begin to incorporate the AA fellowship into my sobriety? To try to find like-minded others on that ill-defined path of recovery, meditation, and meetings? Trust that there is so much more to the program than the catchy phrases and free coffee?

Will the pain of not knowing drive me to wake up or go to sleep?

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“To Be or Not To Be”

At some point, perhaps years before the night of my book party, alcohol and drinking began to occupy an increasing amount of my mental real estate. During the workday I eagerly anticipated cocktail hour. Or I perseverated over where to purchase a bottle of wine on my way home from work. Among my shopping criteria were selection, price range, and distance from my condo. But most importantly, how frequently or recently I had purchased from a certain place. I feared becoming recognized as a “regular” so I rotated my patronage accordingly.

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Very happy to have been reviewed by Kirkus Indie:

 

“Hollenstein (Understanding Dietary Supplements, 2007) makes it clear from the start that her book has none of the drama of typical addiction memoirs. She has no harrowing, cinematic rock-bottom moment to report, for example; instead, she focuses on her slow realization that “[a]lcohol numbed both [her] pain and [her] joy.” This quiet process of introspection, however, proves to be just as engaging as any tale of alcohol-induced havoc. Hollenstein writes eloquently of the complex role that alcohol once played in her life, and her insights into drinking’s cultural currency are especially sharp. Of alcohol’s transformative power, for example, she writes: “Champagne with oysters transported me to Paris….I drank whiskey to express my saltier side.””

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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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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!

 

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