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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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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!

 

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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]

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P1000078On 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.

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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:

  1. If you are a spouse or partner of someone who is or was a substance misuser, you can contact Kimberly directly.
  2. If you have struggled with addiction yourself, you could provide your spouse or partner the opportunity to explore his or her experience.
  3. 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.

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