Posts Tagged ‘Pets’

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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Since I wrote my last post – Meditation, Medication, and Where I’ve Been – I’ve thought a lot about the things I do that affect my mood. In that piece, I was working through my own resistance to taking an anti-depressant because I felt that it was a false comfort, an artificial means of improving my experience of my life and the world. While taking a drug for depression may not be ideal (my Words with Friends winnings have dipped precipitously, for example), I now realize that anti-depressant medication really isn’t as different as I thought. There are in fact many things I take and do, pharmacologic and otherwise, that alter how I experience life day to day.

Take something I do every day: eat. Clearly the foods I eat affect how I feel. Dark chocolate, fatty fish, or dark-green leafy vegetables (though not necessarily all at once) have effects on the brain that make me feel better. (I once had a dentist who claimed eating a pound of spinach always cured his blues.) On the other hand, I associate chicken soup or my mother’s oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with intensely comforting feelings. Whether a food has an actual physiologic effect on the brain or brings about pleasant feelings – or a combination of these two – the result is the same.

In an attempt to address depression more “naturally,” I once experimented with dietary supplements such as St. John’s wort, SAMe, and fish oil. Though the effects of these substances can vary from source to source and person to person, they are biologically active compounds that affect the brain (often along the same pathways as anti-depressant drugs).

Exercise – running, walking, yoga, or my new passion Physique 57 – is perhaps the best non-pharmacologic approach to improving depression. Again, it is not totally clear whether the effects are predominantly physiological or a result of switching things up and, as Pema Chodron says, “doing something different.” It is likely a combination of these.

It bears mentioning that alcohol and drugs can be remarkably effective, at least in the short term, in making one feel better. I used to derive great relief and comfort from a glass (or three) of wine. However, in the best of cases, these positive effects didn’t last, and in the worst of cases, alcohol made my depression worse and led to dependence as more and more was needed to achieve the perception of pleasure.

Meditation, on the other hand, has improved my depression by changing how I relate to my thoughts and feelings. By taking the brave step to stay with feelings of depression, I have been able to develop curiosity about what is going on in my mind. I was ultimately able to discern what was depression – which I decided to treat with an anti-depressant for now – and what were judgments and anxieties about my depression.

Many other things – laughter, sex, getting a massage, listening to music, taking a vacation, spending time with animals or the people that make me feel good – enhance feelings of enjoyment and happiness and should not necessarily be thought of as that different from a little green capsule.

The day I published my last post, my blog had the highest number of hits ever in a single day. That tells me I hit a nerve. With so many of us experiencing depression, I hope we permit ourselves to do the things that make our lives better and loosen some of our harsh judgments about pharmacologic interventions for mood-related issues.

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Recently I had a string of days during which I was just cranky. Here’s a sampling of things that were pressing my buttons so you get my gist:

  • I’m cranky that people don’t let others out of elevators or off subway cars before pushing their way on
  • I’m cranky that people walk 4 across on the sidewalk and don’t make room for two-way traffic
  • I’m cranky that the wind in Boston blows my hair into my lipgloss
  • I’m cranky that Rufus scratched the wood table I recently refinished, ate the funny Passover card I was going to send to a friend, and consumed and then vomited a sheet of the lint roller paper, which I have to buy in bulk to deal with the volume of white cat hair he leaves in his wake  [deep breath]
  • I’m cranky that my full time job is taking me away from my “real life”
  • That nothing I cook comes out like in the recipe
  • That I write plainly and not beautifully like in The Elegance of the Hedgehog
  • That after taking a month off from running due to an injury, I can’t run as well as before
  • That I’m getting older
  • That no one makes a good horror movie anymore
  • And that meditation isn’t making me less cranky!

Have you had moments like this? Days? Weeks?

When I was feeling cranky, I wanted nothing more than to feel something else. I wanted to feel serene, composed, and content. But try as I might – and I tried meditating more, running (poorly), calling my Mom, who was also cranky – I could not get myself out of this cranky mood. So I felt bad about feeling bad.

At last, I picked up Pema Chodron’s Start Where You Are. Lately, whenever I read this or another dharma-related book, I find some nugget of wisdom that I need right in that moment. Here is what I found that day:

…Buddha, which means ‘awake,’ is not someone you worship. Buddha is not someone you aspire to; Buddha is not somebody that was born more than two thousand years ago and was smarter than you’ll ever be. Buddha is our inherent nature – our buddha nature – and what that means is that if you’re going to grow up fully, the way that it happens is that you begin to connect with the intelligence that you already have. It’s not like some intelligence that’s going to be transplanted into you. If you’re going to be fully mature, you will no longer be imprisoned in the childhood feeling that you always need to protect yourself or shield yourself because things are too harsh. If you’re going to be a grown-up – which I would define as being completely at home in your world no matter how difficult the situation – it’s because you will allow something that’s already in you to be nurtured. You allow it to grow, you allow it to come out, instead of all the time shielding it and protecting it and keeping it buried.

My take: At any and all times, I cannot get away from my buddha nature. So, at that time, I was cranky buddha!

This teaching didn’t make me feel less cranky. But it did teach me that I didn’t need to feel badly about it or add to my discomfort by trying to change how I felt. And I was again reminded of the importance of taking my seat and focusing on the breath.

So each time I am distracted by cranky (or any other) thoughts, I just begin again.

[Postscript: Since I started writing this post, I have become less cranky. In fact, between then and now I have been wistful buddha, hungry buddha, writing buddha, buddha with lost wallet, buddha in love, and any number of other incarnations of the range of feelings and situations we all experience. None of them last and all of them have been useful.]

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The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

- Mohandas Gandhi

Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.

- Oscar Wilde

Rufus Wainwright (nee Pipsqueak) came to me when he was 4 weeks old, a pound and a half, and beyond scrawny. His eyes sealed shut with an eye infection and slowed by malnutrition and a cat-cold, I initially thought Pipsqueak would be an easy addition to my previously cat-free home. I could not have been more wrong.

Named after the famous singer-songwriter, Rufus the cat was also a momma’s boy and troublemaker. And, as it turned out, a teacher.

Even before his eyes opened and he finally got some meat on his bones, Rufus assumed the role of house-wrecker, getting into anything and everything, especially where he wasn’t meant to be.

Whether it was walking back and forth at the bottom of my closet, transmitting his glossy white coat to my somewhat excessive number of black pants; scaling my window treatments like so many rock walls; leaping 10 feet to the top of my brand new wooden cabinets, leaving back-paw claw tracks; or, every time I turned my back, jumping into my kitchen sink and swatting at falling drops of water.

Though I’m not generally an angry person, this feline has made me blow my stack more times than I can ever remember doing before. I’m talking steam coming out of my ears Looney Tunes-style. But for some reason, I find it incredibly easy to forgive him.

And forgive him, I have. No matter what he does – and in the last week that has meant shredding my shower curtain liner, tearing open an Amazon.com box and devouring the tape that sealed it, spilling his water dish…every…single…day, waking me out of a dead sleep by cat-barking, and tear-assing around my apartment at 4 am – I always forgive.

Which makes me wonder why I find it so difficult to forgive myself. Rufus, after all, is just being a cat – a cat who is particularly gifted at being annoying but essentially just a cat. And I am just being human – when I get scared or stressed, when I overreact or say something stupid, when I am selfish, lazy, or boring. Like Rufus (and the rest of us), I deserve forgiveness.

Kitty Carlisle, the singer and actress, had a morning ritual of looking at herself in a mirror and saying, “I forgive you.”

I think that Kitty was onto something.

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