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Posts Tagged ‘uncertainty’

Recently I did an interview with the wonderful Kenneth Anderson of HAMS on blogtalkradio:

 

I’m embarrassed to say that before Kenneth reached out to me about doing the interview, I had not heard of the Harm Reduction Network. But now that I’ve delved into it a bit I realize how aligned it is with my own beliefs and experiences in drinking and in recovery. Kenneth is very passionate and devoted to helping people find what works for them and to reduce the harm to themselves. From their website:

WHAT IS HAMS?

HAMS is a peer-led and free-of-charge support and informational group for anyone who wants to change their drinking habits for the better. The acronym HAMS stands for Harm reduction, Abstinence, and Moderation Support. HAMS Harm Reduction strategies are defined in the 17 elements of HAMS. HAMS offers information and support via a chat room, an email group, and live meetings–as well as in the HAMS Book and the articles on this web site. All information on this site may be reproduced free of charge as long as the HAMS copyright is included.

HAMS supports every positive change. Choose your own goal–safe drinking, reduced drinking, or quitting. For more information please visit our page How HAMS Works. Please also check out the HAMS Podcast and the HAMS Psychology Today Blog.

 

 

And on harm reduction:

WHAT IS HARM REDUCTION?

Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies intended to reduce the negative consequences of high risk behaviors such as overdrinking or drug use. Harm reduction is a nonjudgmental approach that attempts to meet people “where they are at” with their drinking or drug use. Instead of demanding perfect abstinence, this pragmatic approach is supportive of anyone who wishes to minimize the harm associated with a high risk behavior such as drinking or drug use. Harm reduction accepts that high risk behaviors such as recreational alcohol intoxication are part of our world and works to minimize their harmful effects rather than simply ignore or condemn them. Harm reduction does not attempt to force people to change in ways which they do not choose for themselves. Harm reduction is a compassionate approach whose primary concern is the increased well-being of its constituency. Moreover an overwhelming body of scientific evidence shows that harm reduction works!!

 

What strikes me about this approach to recovery — even if ‘recovery’ is not about abstinence but about finding a moderation or alternative approach that works for you wherever you happen to be — is the potential for helping so many more people than if there were just one road to recovery.

Recently I went through a very difficult period and found myself searching desperately for some relief. As I’ve always mentioned, I never closed the door on “the rooms” and vowed to be honest with myself if my current approach to staying sober stopped working. As a result, I found myself attending some local AA meetings.

While I continue to identify with the people and the themes that I find in the rooms, it’s just not me. I’ve talked about my initial experiences in recovery and realize that I very well could have used my rejection by other alcoholics as a rationale to continue drinking as I had been. Had I known about opportunities such as those offered by HAMS, my somewhat rocky road to recovery might have followed a different route.

Definitely check out HAMS, have a listen to the interview, and let me know your thoughts!

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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.

Read more…

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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.””

Read more…

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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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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.

image credit

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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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