Posts Tagged ‘uncertainty’

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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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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“All of you are perfect just as you are and you could use a little improvement”

~Suzuki Roshi

This past weekend, I attended a meditation retreat at the New York Shambhala Center. The focus of the retreat was “The Art of Being Human” and getting in touch with the concept of basic goodness. One of the exercises we did involved recalling a moment of basic goodness, a moment that was remarkable for its detail and brilliance, a moment in which we were fully present. My moment occurred to me immediately. In fact, I’ve written about it here.

Just recalling my moment was viscerally calming. I was in a time of transition in my life. Uncertainty, self-doubt, and fear were very present. But I also had a sense of confidence or trust in myself that taking a risk was the right thing to do. I felt very aware of the past and the future, but not pulled in either direction. Instead, I was held by the present moment with a sort of buoyancy, like being suspended in midair without feeling precarious or in jeopardy, like I was hanging out in the most comfortable hammock.

In the exercise this weekend, we used our respective moments to connect with the sense of basic goodness, the fundamental heart of our existence. And as a result, my practice felt very soft, clear, aware, and heartfelt. But connecting with a moment of basic goodness when everything feels OK is one thing. Recalling it when I am sad or lonely or angry or restless, that’s another. When I fear I will be a failure or, worse, that no one will even notice, how can I begin to remember this foundational concept?

When I asked her this very question yesterday, my meditation instructor’s guidance was “to expand and include.” Since then I keep saying the words to myself. Expand and include. I understand them but at what point will I feel them?

In the recollection of my moment of basic goodness, I recognize my desire to be held. Often I try to simulate this feeling by grasping onto events in the past or by fantasizing about the future. I am seeking some ground on which to feel stable but it never seems to work. And never am I more vulnerable to doing this shimmy between the past and the future – never am I less present – than when dealing with strong emotions. My work, therefore, is to connect with that sense of being held, of trusting in the moment, when the going gets tough.

To do this, I will need to cultivate enough space and openness to allow “negative” emotional states to exist without letting them pull me under, similar to how I was aware of past and future in my moment of basic goodness but able to remain in the present. This will allow me to experience the pain that is very real, but also to remember that there is more than pain. That the pain isn’t the end of the story. Holding these two seemingly opposing views is what is so complex about life, where things are never black and white. The idea that in a moment of pain, I could feel as held by the present moment as I did in my moment of basic goodness, that I could feel as well placed, that I am exactly where I need to be, is something I can imagine. And from there, I can begin to practice.

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I have been on vacation in Sicily for the last week and, as always, I am struck by the stark contrast between the raw beauty and sensuality of the place and a sense of disconnectedness between the people and one another, the land, the public spaces, and the natural resources. Here, as where I live in New York City and anywhere else I have traveled, we seem to forget how we are connected to one another, how our actions and words have consequences, our inherent interdependence. This contrast is magnified by an awareness of current suffering – developments in Syria, the fall of Detroit, soaring obesity and diabetes and cancer rates, and any number of issues that raise my anxiety levels to the point of overwhelm, helplessness, and hopelessness.

Oftentimes, when I reach such a point of delusion, something happens to shift my awareness just slightly, and to cause my heart to open rather than to shut down. That something happened last night.

My boyfriend, his cousin, his cousin’s cousin, and I met for a late-night drink (a non-alcoholic bitter for me) in Messina. Afterwards, we went for a little stroll along the water to see the restaurant where my boyfriend’s cousin works as a chef. It was late and I was ready to go home but we continued to walk out on a little stretch of the dock that allowed access to the boat slips. On our way, we encountered a beautiful cat, whose name I learned was Romeo. At that point in the evening, about 2 am, when my Italian language skills had reached a point of fatigue, feline seemed the only language I could understand. But I hesitated to reach out to him because my boyfriend had commented just two days earlier on the fact that I was more interested in the stray cats in Syracusa’s archeological park than I was in the 2500+-year-old ruins.

As we came back from the boat slips, we were greeted again not only by Romeo, but also by about 10 other cats, including kittens as young as 4 and 8 weeks, the parents probably not more than a year old themselves. It has always been difficult for me to handle outdoor cats. I understand that felines gingerly walk the fine line between wild and domesticated, that they probably fulfill their cat-ness by surviving outdoors. Still I always want to take them in, to give them a home. And I can understand how people become animal hoarders, how they just want to save one more. We stayed with the kittens for a few minutes. In my head I was rationalizing how the mild temperature, abundance of fish, and mostly friendly caretakers contributed to a life worth living for these homeless creatures.

Just as we were about to leave, I heard a cry. At first I wasn’t sure if it was human or animal. I walked to the limits of the dock, where a gate prevented me from going any further, and saw two of the older cats looking down into the water, where the concrete dropped off steeply. The cries grew louder and more desperate; it was clear they came from one of the kittens. I didn’t want to hear the cries. I didn’t want to feel what I felt when I realized a kitten had fallen into the water below, with no way to climb back to safety, that its mother was looking on helplessly, much the way I was, gripping the gate. Then the cries stopped.

A kitten just drowned, I said to the guys. They protested, especially my boyfriend who would rather protect me from any upsetting thoughts than allow me to think about an animal’s suffering. It just drowned, I said again, and I just stood here. For a moment, I felt a surprising sense of relief wash over me – relief at the idea that whatever suffering a small animal was experiencing had just ended abruptly. But then I heard it again and saw movement in the water. The kitten was swimming away from where it had fallen, further out into the water, but in the direction of the walkway we had access to.

As I realized what was happening, I turned around and expected to find the guys standing behind me motionless, exchanging impatient looks, as I was help rapt by the drama of an insignificant being unfolding before me. But instead, I found that one of them had stripped off his shirt, was prepared to dive, and was scaling the fence that separated us from the drowning kitten; another had gone in search of a net to draw it safely from the water; and my boyfriend preceded me down the walkway in the direction of the struggling kitten.

I got down on hands and knees and crawled out on the walkway, trying to call it toward me, seeing how it could barely keep its head above water, and that it was clearly torn between the terrors of the water about to swallow it whole and the giants clamoring to get at it. Something allowed it to come closer, though, perhaps the current or its own last efforts, and my boyfriend was able to extend himself to the point of toppling into the water, to catch a few hairs on the edge of the kitten’s foot and draw it in. He handed it to one of the others, who lifted it out and brought it to safety.

The kitten was limp and appeared to have already drowned. Some of the water it had swallowed was coming out of it’s mouth in a foam and it had defecated in that final way the body has of letting go. One of the guys held the motionless kitten with its head down so the rest of the water could come out. But it was gone. Dead, I thought, and again felt the relief of the end of its suffering. At least it didn’t get swept out to sea, I thought. At least we did what we could. At least we tried.

The dead kitten lay on its side, sodden, still, and not weighing more than a pound. I stroked its small body, and tried to imagine that there was some movement or warmth coming from it, when I heard a small cry, and saw a little movement of its head. By that point, one of the guys returned with some paper towel and we began to dry it, to massage it back to life, to clean up the mess of dying. As the little thing regained consciousness, it loudly protested the vigorous massage. The other cats came closer than they had earlier, perhaps no longer viewing us as a threat, to get a look at the commotion.

I watched as the other kittens played, tackling one another and rolling around by the edge. This happens every day, I thought. One of them falls into the water and drowns, or gets too close to the street, or crosses the path of someone who has forgotten his or her basic goodness. And life goes on. I felt helpless and thought, There are too many to save. There is too much suffering in this world. What is the point of trying to help when there is no way to succeed?

The kitten continued to be gently but firmly reinvigorated, this little thing that perhaps no one would have missed. We left him loosely wrapped in some paper towel, a safe distance from the edge of the dock, so that his mother could attend to him without onlookers. Maybe he survived the night. Or maybe the experience was too much for him and his small body gave out after we left. I don’t know for sure. The mixed emotions of knowing we had done what we could and recognizing that his little life was now back in the hands of a harsher reality weighed heavily on my heart.

Rather than a sense of relief at his rescue, I felt pulled to let go of hope for a happy ending and also a small sense of having done something important. I could have pretended not to hear the cries. The guys could have remained unmoved, emotionally and physically. But we all chose to make a difference in a small life by allowing ourselves to feel something. Holding these mixed feelings simultaneously is a tricky thing. In the end I was left with the confidence that it still matters to try, to make an effort, however small and seemingly insignificant. That many small efforts could lead to something greater. That we can always try to be the person who would save a drowning kitten in some small way every day.


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