Posts Tagged ‘friends’

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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Did you ever ride the go-karts at Disney World? Each car is situated on individual, parallel tracks that prevent crossover and collisions, so that everyone basically drives around without incident. At the starting line, the track beneath the car is wide, encompassing the full width between the tires, and as a result the drive is quite smooth; but soon the track narrows to a thin rail and the driver must find the proper steering wheel position that will prevent the car from zig zagging the entire way, slamming into the track on the inside of the right tires, then the left, over and over again. I could never do this. Every time I tried to drive the Disney go-karts, I gave myself whiplash (physical and emotional) because I could not find the middle ground.

This is not unlike other parts of my life. If I were to whittle down my life’s narrative to a single story line, it might be about my search for the middle ground. My natural tendency, however, seems to be vacillating between extremes. At a recent weekend meditation retreat, I spent the entire first day on the cushion ping-ponging between sleepy and speedy. Although I was a little tired, my sleepiness was about more than that. It was an avoidance technique, a way to literally shut down my body so that I didn’t have to deal with the difficult emotions that arose. When not doing the old college head-bob, I was feeling speedy, zooming through mental to-do lists, and wishing away the minutes on the clock so that we could get to the next thing, and then the next, and the next. And when we did get to the next thing, I wanted to just get through that. Sleepy, speedy, sleepy, speedy. That was my Saturday.

Another area where I vacillate between extremes is in expressing myself. As I have mentioned before, I have a tendency to bottle up my emotions and then explode. This feels like a balloon taking on air, little by little. Because I’m elastic, adaptable, I rationalize that it’s easier for me to take on whatever it is than to verbalize my true emotions. But eventually I lose my elasticity. I get to a point where I can’t take on any more, even though I still wish I could. And then Pop Boom Bang! One of the many problems with this approach is that no one on the outside can see it coming. Another is that I might explode at something relatively innocuous, or at least something that would be considered incongruent with the level of my reaction.

But nowhere do I vacillate between extremes more than in romantic relationships. While I feel like a fairly effective communicator in other parts of my life, all of that seems to go out the window when love is involved and I switch between extremes of hope and fear suddenly and often without warning. Being so vulnerable with someone – placing my heart in his hands and trusting that he won’t squish it – sends my rational brain on an extended vacation. When things are going smoothly, I am full of hope, struck by how easily it flows, and wonder why all the fuss about how difficult relationships can be. And then, all of a sudden, it stops being easy. When this happens, I feel disoriented, unable to express myself. And I quickly switch from a sense of hopeful beginnings to one of fearful endings. I automatically go to that extreme. When trying to communicate, I run out of skills and feel utterly hope-less.

Eventually I do reach a point of exhaustion with these extremes. On the second day of my meditation program, for example, my practice was very different from the sleepy-speedy day before. It was as if I had worn down my avoidance of the present moment, fatigued my muscles of resistance, and could finally rest in awareness. So too has this happened with expressing difficult emotions with others. Rather than always filling the balloon to bursting and then exploding, I release tension gradually, mindfully, by trying to take a gentle approach, by giving myself permission to risk disappointing the other person. Sometimes it’s successful and sometimes not. And in my relationship, often directly following the point at which I reach utter despair, I find myself softening and opening and developing curiosity about what is going on in the moment, less so about the outcome – good or bad.

On the topic of hope and fear, Chogyam Trungpa writes in Ocean of Dharma:

The experience of our day-to-day living situation consists of dissatisfaction, questioning, pain, depression, aggression, passion. All these are real, and we have to relate with them. Having a relationship with this may be extremely difficult. It’s an organic operation without any anesthetics. If we really want to get into it, we should be completely prepared to take a chance and get nothing back but tremendous disappointment, tremendous hopelessness.

Hope is the source of pain, and hope operates on the level of something other than what there is. We hope, dwelling in the future, that things might turn out right. We do not experience the present, do not face the pain or neurosis as it is. So the only way that is feasible is developing an attitude of hopelessness, something other than future orientation. The present is worth looking at.

Faith is a more realistic attitude than hope is. Hope is a sense of lacking something in the present situation. We are hopeful about getting better as we go along. Faith is that it’s okay in the present situation, and we have some sense of trust in that.

I have no reason to believe I would be any better at driving one of the go-karts at Disney but I am working on finding the middle ground in other (arguably more important) parts of my life. My faith in the process of meditation has only grown since I began practicing three years ago. I don’t think it would be extreme to say that sitting with myself, allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go, practicing letting go of hope and fear, and cultivating space, acceptance, and kindness is the most important thing I can do with my life.


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Last week I had lunch with a new friend. It was a raw, honest conversation that bolstered our new bond. It also made me acutely aware of the ways we all suffer, how much we need one another, and how we can want that least when we need it most. He had to get back to work but as I left the restaurant and walked down the block, we were already texting one another, him to apologize for running off, me to chide him for not telling me I had flax seeds in my teeth.

I had just hit ‘send’ when I heard the screech of a set of tires. I looked up to see a jeep mid-intersection, mid-right-turn, about 6 inches from a crossing pedestrian. And as I (and everyone in a half-block radius) registered what had just happened, the jeep remained motionless while the pedestrian, a woman frozen in place, broke down. I walked into the intersection, took her by the arm and led her, sobbing by now, to the sidewalk where she leaned against a lamppost.

The jeep pulled over and just sat for a few minutes while the woman and I stood there, sort of holding one another up, breathing deeply, and fully realizing what could have just happened. This would only happen to me, she said, I’ve just come from radiation. And my own eyes welled in response to her thinking she could be responsible for this near-miss. And maybe even her cancer?

Then the driver got out and came over, visibly shaken himself, and said, I am so sorry, I can’t believe this just happened, I didn’t even see you. To which she responded without a hint of anger or self-righteousness, It’s alright, nobody got hurt. The three of us just stood there, a little triangle of basic goodness, feeling our own pain and that of the two other people in front of us. Raw and honest.

Had this unfolded slightly differently (and no one in New York City would be particularly surprised if it had), the same near-miss might have led to a screaming match about who was right and who was wrong between two people (and any number of onlookers) who felt vulnerable, fearful, and painfully aware of the difference a half a second or a half a foot can make. And the opportunity to allow those feelings and that awareness, and the choice to be kind to one another, would have been lost.

In those few moments, three people – three strangers – were there with one another. To hold that discomfort. And after those moments passed, we went off in our separate directions.

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When I was younger, so much younger than today

I never needed anybody’s help in any way

But now these days are gone, I’m not so self-assured

Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors

~”Help” by The Beatles

Have you ever noticed something, seemingly for the first time, and then you hear or see it everywhere? You finally learn the definition of “the canary in the coal mine,” and then three friends use it in separate conversations.

Lately, I’ve been hearing and reading the suggestion to allow people to help me:

  • In David Whyte’s “Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity”:

Sooner or later we admit that we cannot do it all, that whatever our contribution, the story is much larger and longer than our own, and we are all in the gift of older stories that we are only now joining. Whatever our success at work, in the financial markets, or in the virtual worlds now being born, we are all in the gift of much older work, we are all looked after by other eyes, and we are only preparing ourselves for an invitation to join something larger.

  • In “A.P.E. [Author Publisher Entrepreneur] How to Publish a Book,” Guy Kawasaki repeatedly writes about the importance of asking for help, often in untraditional ways, from the initial writing stage through to the publishing and marketing stages.
  • In “Intuitive Eating,” the authors write about the common tendency to eat when what we really need is support and/or nurturing, something that we can often easily receive if we only ask for it:

When you find yourself reaching for food when there is no biological hunger, take a time-out to find out what you are feeling…Call a friend and talk about the feelings…Talk to a counselor or a psychotherapist.

  • In my Kaufman FastTrac NYC small business course, we discuss establishing a personal network of individuals who can broaden our perspectives, provide information and feedback, and be objective.

The ubiquity of the advice to ask for help caught me by surprise. (Sort of like that ‘w’ in the word answer. Really? Was that always there?) Why does asking for help seem counterintuitive? Why is it so difficult? I can only surmise that my resistance stems from my fear of appearing foolish, a wish to have my proverbial shit together (or at least seem to), and my striving for perfection.

When the shoe is on the other foot, however, and I am asked for help, I am more than happy to oblige. I feel a sense of purpose and connection with that person, as if I’m growing and nurturing not only that relationship but contributing to a bigger picture in which we are all interdependent. Why not extend such an opportunity to others by allowing them to help me?

In “Ocean of Dharma,” Chogyam Trungpa writes:

We can afford to open ourselves and join the rest of the world with a sense of tremendous generosity, tremendous goodness, and tremendous richness. The more we give, the more we gain – although what we gain should not particularly be our reason for giving. Rather, the more we give, the more we are inspired to give constantly. And the gaining process happens naturally, automatically, always.

I spent this past weekend with my parents, my sister, and her family, including my 4.5- and 2.5-year old nieces. The girls reminded me of that instinctive drive to “do it myself,” and how that seems to be the very definition of growing up and becoming independent. At the same time I found myself asking my mother for help: I always find it difficult to maintain my meditation practice whenever I am away from home, but by asking my mom to sit and practice with me, we both benefited. This simple act of asking for help strengthened our connection and broadened our perspective.

Perhaps the definition of growing up is not the ability to be completely self-reliant but rather knowing when, how, and who to ask for help. Allow me to be your canary in the coal mine: Have you been helped yet?

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