Musings on Food and Freedom

When your body is craving sugar and dairy, it’s amazing where you can find it. Take, for example, the caramels I bought last Halloween for the purpose of melting over apples. They sat in the pantry for months. However, once they were the only available option, we annihilated them. I also dug out a restaurant gift card that had been sitting around since last September. I gluttonously seized the opportunity to inhale two plates of Alfredo and a huge serving of fried donuts with chocolate dipping sauce. When in Rome, indeed!

If I look at things through the lens of these examples, I could conclude that no progress has been made on our healthy eating journey. However, that’s simply not true. Over the years, I have learned that growth and progress tend to be slow…and this experience is no different.

First of all, our grocery cart has been looking ridiculous. And by ridiculous, I mean awesome. I wanted to take a picture for you, but I was afraid people would think I was crazy. However, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t bursting with pride as I admired the bounty of produce and whole grains. I have discovered that I really like whole wheat pasta, sprouted beans and lentils, very suspicious looking Fire Engine 2 veggie burgers (with stir fried vegetables, guacamole, and sprouts), whole wheat frozen pizza crust, and fiber-rich cereal with banana.

I have also discovered that I do NOT like crispbread crackers… nor do I find kale to be particularly appealing. It might have been because I doused my kale creation in so much sriracha that I nearly got sick…but more shall be revealed. Also, don’t talk to me about chocolate almond milk. It belongs in the trash. Don’t make something into a health food if it’s only going to be vaguely-chocolate swamp water.

Bland crispbread and rage inducing “chocolate milk” aside, traveling is going to be much more of an obstacle than I initially anticipated. We recently went on a three day road trip and I got a little out of control. If I want to travel wisely, I’m going to need to start packing snacks. If you set me loose in a service station full of twinkies, candy, and chips, I am going to have an apple hand pie for breakfast, followed by a Hershey bar, chocolate cookies, and honey roasted cashews. (Yes, that happened.) Restaurant eating isn’t easy, either (as you may have already gathered from my opening). On our trip, I chose a salad for dinner…but I also had to have a side of cheese stuffed breadsticks. The following morning, breakfast went straight to hell, too. I regressed right back to my favorite stand-by of ketchup-doused scrambled eggs and corned beef hash. I didn’t even consider a less offensive, cow-friendly pancake.

So… those weren’t shining moments for me. But here’s the thing: When we came home, I got right back on the horse. That’s because our home is a healthy environment. When I don’t have access to unhealthy food, I don’t eat it. Since our environment has changed, I have also noticed some subtle shifts in my thinking. I don’t salivate over the processed shit at the grocery. I have a list and I go right for the things I need. I have also started to consider healthier choices when we go out. Before, I wouldn’t even look at a salad. In fact, the last time we were at that particular restaurant, I had a basket of chicken wings with extra dipping sauce.

These are the key things I have learned thus far:

  1. My home is a safe place and I should eat there as much as possible.
  2. Meal planning and list making are essential for success at the grocery store.
  3. I need to pack snacks if I’m going to survive five hours of driving or a layover at the airport.
  4. I should try to find vegan or vegetarian restaurants as much as possible while traveling.
  5. When I get crazy, it isn’t an excuse to give up. I simply must get back on track as soon as possible.
  6. It’s important to be gentle with myself. It’s about progress, not perfection. I’ve probably consumed more fiber in the past few weeks than I have in a year. And that is most certainly a good thing.
  7. My wife, J.L., reports that routine has been essential for her. She eats certain foods at certain times of day, and her body has adjusted to this schedule. When she deviates from her routine, the day doesn’t go as smoothly.

I’m struggling with the commitment piece but I am determined to follow through, especially since I have my spouse cheering me on. Oddly enough, it’s not the sugar that’s getting to me, it’s the butter. Right now, I feel like the hardest things to give up are butter (on my toast, pasta, and vegetables), plain greek yogurt (SO GOOD in chili), and feta (my salad feels so sad without you, buddy). If push comes to shove, I might have to give Earth Balance a try. The whole “oil free” or “no added oil” thing – while it makes perfect sense from a health perspective – is a little too extreme for me, and, as we all know, I am wary of extremes. However, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes are also extreme…so I should at least try to put my best foot forward.

J.L. and I went on a date tonight and it struck me how profoundly privileged I am to even be making these changes. Some people don’t get anything to eat, let alone a choice. Others aren’t educated enough or mentally sound enough to consider these issues and make rational decisions about their health.

We went to see a documentary called “God Knows Where I Am”. It’s about a homeless woman who died in an empty house just twenty minutes from our city. She was mentally ill and refused to take her medicine because she suffered from psychotic delusions. She didn’t think she was sick. (To be fair, it is an outrage that anti-psychotic and mood stabilizing medicines are still so harsh and debilitating.) She starved to death over the course of approximately forty days. The house she died in was about five hundred feet from other residences… and no one even noticed she was there. I expected it to be a disturbing movie, but I didn’t expect it to resonate with me so personally. There were a lot of parallels to the life and death of my biological father. I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on it, but I certainly remember his delusions, his stays in mental hospitals, and the electroshock therapy. He also died in a very sad, gruesome, and lonely way.

You can’t have a parent like that and not be impacted, but I think that so many people choose to let this kind of trauma define the rest of their lives. That makes me sad…and also a little angry. I acknowledge and accept that I have witnessed and been through some very tough stuff. However, I choose not to be a victim of my past. I realize that I have no control over my other family members, I ask for help when I need it, and I work tirelessly to improve myself. I think it’s a slap in the face to my deceased parent to do anything else. He didn’t have the opportunity to experience freedom from his own mental imprisonment. He was too sick to properly advocate for himself…and so was the woman in the film. You can’t advocate for yourself when you’re psychotic and suffering from morbid cooccurring disorders. I do have the opportunity to advocate for myself and I choose not to waste it.

All of that is not to say that I am strong on my own. I am joyful, free, and mentally sound because I have a whole community of people holding me up. But I accepted that I needed help, asked for it, and I work on it every day. I may not be able to choose where I come from or the cards I have been dealt, but I am free to choose how I respond or whether or not I needlessly suffer in silence. I intend to cherish every moment of my freedom and live my life to the fullest. I am so grateful to be clean and sober and I truly believe that I am only fit to help others when I have thoroughly worked through my own issues.

If you’re out there wishing you could make a change, I hope you will stop selling yourself short and ask for help. You are worth it. There is no shame in admitting that you’re not perfect or that something is wrong. In fact, it’s only human. We all have flaws. I marvel at the fact that I am currently so content and well adjusted. Considering where I come from and the obstacles I had to overcome, it’s an incomprehensible miracle. If it’s possible for me, it’s possible for you. My life is pure magic today. The only way things could get any better is if I could help my wife retire early and we could get a dog. When I look out the window at the newly bursting trees and the gray Spring sky, my heart bursts. Some people try to rain on my parade, but I choose not to let them. Instead, I hope that they can find peace, too.

To Light a Candle

I am pretty proud of myself. I finally made an appointment to see the dentist. Granted, my bottom teeth are feeling alarmingly sensitive…but what really matters is that I have one foot in the door.

I know, I know: Not cool. But isn’t it funny how we only change when we are in pain? I think we are all guilty of it to some degree.

I wish I could say that pain didn’t motivate me to start looking at my eating habits. What I can say, however, is that it didn’t take much pain. I’m not waiting for the situation to escalate or for some awful diagnosis to develop from continued unhealthy eating.

We’ve been cleaning out our freezer and pantry – eating through the last of our non-plant-based food items – and instead of savoring the cheese and butter, I have felt almost annoyed by the chore of slogging through all the dairy. Last Wednesday, we went to see Stevie Nicks and the Pretenders. Before the show, I ordered one “last” roll of my favorite sushi. (For the record, we haven’t given up on our commitment to spend less eating out. We had a gift certificate. 🙂 ) While it tasted delicious, I was acutely aware of how heavy it felt in my stomach. I worried I would feel too queasy to watch my rock’n roll goddess perform. Luckily, I rebounded… but another door slammed shut on my doubt. My body is ready for change.

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Our beautiful sushi platter. The roll on the front right is vegetarian!

After a night of fitful post-concert sleep, my wife and I dragged our tired selves to a new vegan juicery and cafe. (Who the hell can sleep after being in the presence of Stevie Nicks?) At first, the clubby music and steep prices at the eatery raised my eyebrow, but when our drinks and breakfast arrived, I felt surprisingly satisfied and inspired. The food was yummy and filling. Best of all, I didn’t feel gross after putting it in my body. It gave me pause to think that people will buy four or five $10+ cocktails in an evening without batting an eye, but one comparatively priced health drink might be considered over the top. Which product should we really value more? If your answer is the cocktail, we might need to talk.

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My smoothie (cold brew, banana, nut butter, almond milk) & vegan granola bar.

It seemed like a good morning to continue our foray into the world of veganism, so we went to Whole Foods to replenish our dwindling supplies. Instead of feeling limited by the lack of choice, I felt happy and excited to be proactively improving our health. At the check-out line, I braced myself for sticker shock but, because I had done my research, stocking up only cost us what I would usually spend on a week’s worth of groceries. It really helped to be at a different grocery store, too. There were a lot fewer processed foods jumping off the shelves – or maybe I just didn’t notice as much because it was unfamiliar territory.

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Our new fruit bowl

To be fair, I still have animal products in my system… so I haven’t started the withdrawal process yet. The food in my work environment also continues to pose temptation. However, I am feeling cautiously optimistic and creatively inspired. Having a yummy vegan treat and a successful grocery experience really helped build my confidence. I also saw a comforting film this week. It talked about how perfection isn’t the aim of eating plant-based food – it’s improvement. Eating nutritiously doesn’t mean never, ever indulging. It means being healthy most of the time. I feel like I don’t have to say goodbye to our yearly batch of cut-out Christmas cookies (which we tend to give away) or a birthday sweet. On the rare occasion I do have something unwholesome, I just need to remember that I have’t given myself license to have all the unwholesome things. Embracing minimalism has also taught me that the rarity of an occurrence adds to its overall value. I think that philosophy applies to food. It tastes more decadent if you don’t have it every day.

The question is whether or not this philosophy will work in application. A complete abstinence approach has been the only way to treat my substance abuse issues. I’m on a mission to find out if food will be any different. I will adapt my methodology accordingly and report back to you.

The other interesting factor the film touched upon is the importance of a likeminded support system. I’m really blessed to have a wife who is on board. It would be much harder to make these changes with certain kinds of food still in the house. I also draw strength from watching documentaries and following online communities. It’s interesting how the tenets of recovery are the same regardless of how the addiction manifests.

We really just need to fill the voids inside us with genuine connection and community.

When I started following a personal finance blog last fall, I never knew I was about to embark on this crazy journey. First, I changed the way I view money and consumerism. Soon after, I simplified the way I relate to my possessions and the items in the space around me. I also started to prioritize activities and eliminate those that were not adding any value to my life. Next, I assessed how to lighten my footprint on the planet and be kinder to my global brothers and sisters. Finally, I examined my relationship with food and found it sorely lacking. One thing has become clear: Recovery is about so much more than stopping a behavior. It is about growing and growing and growing. It is about discovering the interconnectedness of all things. It is about wading beyond the shallows of life and finding joy and understanding in the depths. Recovery isn’t about stopping. It’s about starting.

I needed to open my mind. Putting down alcohol, drugs, awful relationships, and credit cards seemed like miracle enough. But the miracle was only just beginning to unfold.

This stuff is exciting. It is so much better than getting drunk or high. And if I can have it, so can you. I want you to know that it is not only possible….it is waiting for you.

Sometimes it still takes pain for me to change, but I’m finding that I am increasingly motivated by a plain and simple desire to be better than the person I was yesterday. When I got clean and sober almost eight years ago, I had a flame the size of a candle burning steadily inside of me. It was enough to keep me alive. Today, that candle flame has expanded into a blazing inferno. Every time I share with others, it ignites further still.

I have never been the kind of person who can sit down and shut up. It used to be about trying to control the world around me. Now I stand up and speak because I want to pass on the gifts I have been so blessed to receive.

It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

– Eleanor Roosevelt

You Are What You Eat

I am swamped right now. In fact, writing this is my way of taking a break. What I really should be doing is reading a book, taking a nap, watching Netflix, or mindlessly scrolling through Pinterest. However, making time for my own blog is really important to me.

Something crazy happened after I wrote Sugar, We’re Going Down. In that post, I said that I wasn’t ready to make a change in my eating… but I admitted I had a problem. I’ll tell you what, admitting the existence of a problem truly is the first step. After my admission, something unnameable shifted in my consciousness. For a whole week, information about nutrition and food manifested in my life. My readiness to open my mind transformed me into a magnet for things that support my intentions. I went from being totally unwilling to take action to actually taking action. J.L. and I previously declared we would do a sugar detox once summer arrived. Now we are making changes immediately. Over the next seven to ten days, we will be eating our way through our unhealthy pantry/freezer and restocking them both with new, healthful food. I have designed a recipe board, made a list of basic staples to buy at Whole Foods (which we will supplement with produce from a cheaper source), and created a list of bottom lines to guide our lifestyle change.

Through this process, I am going to write about my feelings and experiences. I have to admit that I am really, really scared. It sounds ludicrous to be scared about not eating certain types of food… but I really am. I bought a bunch of frozen vegetables at Target this afternoon and I thought: “No more macaroni and cheese?” It made my stomach ache with sadness. Later, I thought about milkshakes, root beer floats, and blueberry pop. I felt a little despair. I love those things.

One of my bottom lines is to be gentle with myself. If I fall prey to weakness – which I may – I am not going to punish or shame myself. Relapse is sometimes an unfortunate part of recovery. When it happens, you get back on the horse and move on. Moreover, this new lifestyle isn’t about deprivation; it’s about giving myself the precious gift of good health. I have been sickly for most of my life. Most kids don’t have a colonoscopy in their teens. Most twenty-somethings don’t have to withdraw from a physical dependence on Imodium. Most thirty-somethings haven’t spent almost an entire lifetime on antacids. Or…maybe that’s the norm in this day and age? Our diets in the United States are atrocious. Beyond atrocious, even. The word doesn’t do the debacle of our eating justice.

Let’s be clear. This is not a “diet”. I don’t need to lose weight. I need to get healthy. But what am I going to eat? I tried the whole gluten free thing for a year. I found out that I don’t have a wheat intolerance. I also found out that being gluten free did nothing to reduce my inhalation of processed food. So…what now?

Plants, baby. Plants.

We are about to embark on a journey of plant centered eating. No more meat. No more dairy. No more added oils or high sodium content. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts. Period. Anything else will just not be available in our house.

It sounds extreme. I don’t deal in extremes anymore, right? Truth be told, I think it’s extreme to know that I am incredibly unhealthy and yet do nothing. I think it’s extreme to know my risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer is astronomically high (due to making poor food choices) and do nothing. I think it’s extreme to know that the food industry is destroying the planet and the health of millions and do absolutely nothing. I think it’s extreme to rip a baby cow from its mother, steal the mother’s milk, and sell the spoils at the local grocer. I might as well kick the baby cow in the face, throw myself under its mother, and start suckling.

When I think of it that way, giving up the milkshake seems a little easier.

Good grief, I swore I would never become a torch carrying vegan. I just “can’t even”…as the kids say these days. I also swore I would never become that girl who regularly shops at Whole Foods. I’m about as hippie as they come…but I like people and things to have a down to earth quality. Whole Foods is supposed to be “down to earth” (haha, get it?), but on the few occasions I’ve visited, it felt kind of  pretentious. The older I get, the more I realize I need to examine my biases. Maybe people find my blog pretentious. When I have one finger pointed at someone else, I have three pointing back at me. I think that sometimes we are judgmental because we, ourselves, fear being judged. I am also learning that I should never say never. Like…ever.

I am not going to be militaristic. If I’m a guest at someone’s home, I’m not going to expect them to cater to my food preferences. Luckily, the changes we made when we decided to start saving more money for retirement have already reduced our take-out and restaurant habit – but if we do go out to eat and I make an unhealthful choice, I’m not going to spend the following week self-flagellating and saying Hail Mary’s. By the same token, as much as I am more sympathetic to the very serious plight of cows (and I mean that sincerely), I still haven’t given up the idea of the waffle and milkshake bar on our St. Augustine vacation. However, I’ve also looked to see if there are vegan options in town so we can make healthier choices the rest of the time. It’s progress, not perfection.

I’m not really sure what this crazy journey is going to bring. In two weeks time, I may have already failed. Maybe eating plant based food will make my heartburn worse rather than better. In May, maybe I’ll stuff my face with waffles and milkshakes every day for a week. Or maybe my skin will clear, I’ll have more energy, and I’ll feel like a million bucks. Maybe I won’t be willing to give that up for a morning (or seven) of gluttony. All I know is that when I look at J.L., I want to do better. When I bring unhealthy foods into the house – or plan less-than-nutritious meals –  it has an impact on my wife. Not only because we consume the same poisonous things, but because when I harm myself, I am harming her, too. When I don’t feel good, the look on her face breaks my heart. We have many years of adventuring and hand holding ahead of us. But we have nothing if we don’t have our health. Eating well isn’t just the self-loving thing to do, it is an act of radical love for my wife.

Sugar, We’re Going Down

So…I’ve been watching more documentaries. Does this mean I am posed to write another hippie manifesto? Not exactly. I am having a hard time relaxing when I have a few hours of free time. One evening this week, I had to pull out a mindfulness coloring book because I just could not settle. I desperately needed to unplug and anchor myself in the present. Spring is dragging its feet here in New England. Getting centered will be easier once I can spend evenings walking outside. However, with a windchill below zero one night and rain the next, adult coloring pages and educational Netflix respites have to suffice.

I’m a little stressed. It’s fair to say that I have been stressed since I entered the work force at seventeen. It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s not because I’ve had “bad” jobs. It’s just that my A.D.D. is debilitating. Recovery has made coping easier – and now I can hold down a job for years at a time and be considered “good” at what I do – but the past fourteen years have felt like a prison sentence in the realm of gainful employment. While I look like I am functioning on the outside, on the inside I would rather be locked in a cell for eight plus hours a day because at least my mind would be free. Instead, I wage a daily battle against my own brain, essentially forcing it to focus by mental violence. As a result, I feel sad, irritable, discouraged, and dishonest. Why dishonest? Well, despite my A.D.D. diagnosis, I am able to thrive when I utilize certain intrinsic skills. Life has necessitated I ignore these skills for the sake of survival, societal contribution, and “productivity”. Surviving has required me to wear a mask even when every atom of my being fervently resists. I am unable to be myself or feel my true feelings.

This is what A.D.D. feels like in a nutshell. However, I have also heard other addicts describe this experience. When we are not using our natural talents to help others, we feel trapped, disingenuous, and unhappy. Helping other addicts keeps us alive. I recently heard someone say that addicts are divinely chosen because we are not only strong enough to handle our disease, but also because our primary purpose is to be a beacon of hope for others. This resonated deeply with me.

Now that I know my fourteen year struggle is coming to an end, my bottled up resentment has exploded. I  was stifling one heck of an angry baby bear. One would think it would be easier because the end is in sight, but I never dared hope that my dream job would be possible. I had resigned myself to mental imprisonment. I tried to be grateful and kind despite my inner struggles. Now that I am aligned with my true purpose, accepting anything less feels unbearable.

The stress of this transition period has highlighted my last remaining active addiction: Sugar. The subject of sugar addiction has been serendipitously popping up over the past few weeks and the significance of the problem was cemented by the last two documentaries I watched. (You would think the significance of the problem would be cemented by a trip to the gastroenterologist and an endoscopy but…it takes what it takes.)

Sugar is literally a poison. It is a classified liver toxin. It changes the brain like a drug and most of the population is hopelessly addicted. I know I am a certifiable sugar junkie.

I remember when my wife, J.L., came home from the gym one morning and brought up the idea of attending a nutrition class. I got irrationally angry and then I cried. That is not a normal reaction. More disturbing still is that J.L. didn’t ask me to make any changes and yet I still felt threatened. It is no different than defiantly clutching a bottle of booze to my chest. The only difference is that this type of addiction has less visible societal consequences.

When I eat an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s (after eating nothing but junk all day, BTW), the only person I’m killing -albeit slowly- is myself. But is that really true? My unhealthy lifestyle does impact society at large because I add weight to the overburdened, ineffective healthcare system and I support an unsustainable food system. Therefore, the consequences of food addiction are arguably just as severe as the opioid epidemic – if not more so.

I keep saying this over and over but addiction is the Achilles heel of our modern civilization. If we don’t treat this prevalent disease and start making changes, we will destroy ourselves. We are ruled by the 1%…and they profit from our sickness. But I digress.

As I’ve also been saying, no one else is responsible for my recovery or my life. Nor can I count on the 1% (or the 99.9999%) to change. I simply must change. And that is not going to be easy.

I recognize that I am not ready. First of all, I am still working in an environment where junk food is readily available. It is a recipe for failure. It would be like trying to get sober while tending bar. If you can do it, all the more power to you, but I cannot. However, that particular circumstance will change by mid-summer. The other issue is my upcoming vacation in May. There is a milkshake and waffle bar in St. Augustine…and I’ll be damned if I’m not eating there twenty five times before we leave. As far as the stages of change are concerned, I am only in the contemplation phase.

It’s hard not to feel a little angry. I’ve given up alcohol, drugs, toxic relationships, credit cards, and more. Now I have to stop eating my favorite peanut butter M&M’s? Mint Oreo ice cream? Chips? Cookies? Pies? My enflamed digestive system says: “Yes”. My broken-out skin says: “Yes”. My exhausted body says: “Please. Help”.

I have to remember that for every one thing I have given up, I have gained unimaginable, unbelievable, downright miraculous gifts. I also feel so awake in a cosmic, spiritual sense. It seems impossible to feel any more awake. But then I continue to learn and expand. Endlessly.

While I am afraid to let go of sugar, I know what it’s like to purify my body of other toxic things. When I look at organic farmers and gardeners, I feel inexplicably envious. I want to eat food that is straight-from-the-earth fresh. I want to have a relationship with my food and with the people who grow it. I crave clean, green things. I want to be clean.

It’s just that staying sick feels easier…even though it’s not. It’s not easy to hold junk food in your hand and say “I don’t even want this,” and eat it anyway. I never pegged myself as sugar obsessed – I don’t think about it a lot (unless you try to take it!)  – but the compulsion and the powerlessness are certainly there.

I would love to hear from readers who have experience with food addiction. What are your suggestions? Do you intend to abstain from sugar forever (one day at a time, of course) or do you create bottom lines to measure and guide your recovery?

I guess all of the above is to say: “Hi, my name is Autumn, and I’m a sugar addict. I am powerless over sugar and it’s making me sick”.

I shared something today that said:”Healing is not linear”. Thanks for being on this healing journey with me.

 

 

Fear

“I don’t know what my body needs right now,” I just said out loud, as I pushed my laptop away and reached for my steaming hot cup of tea. There’s a part of me that wants to write, but there’s also a part of me that just wants to finish season two of the Golden Girls…or even stare off into space. The part of me that wants to write won out. (It usually does.) The last couple of weeks have been intense and – through the overwhelm – the reigning emotion has been fear.

Fear might be “the big word” to talk about when it comes to addicts and alcoholics. I have never once met an addict or alcoholic who has not conceded to being a fear-driven creature. People say: “I felt like a square peg in a round hole”. Others describe it as a feeling of “not being okay”, “not belonging in the world”, or “being the only one missing the guidebook to life”. When we drink, use drugs, or engage in our compulsive behaviors, our sense of existential unease magically disappears. We suddenly “fit in”. We can be confident and interesting and appealing. We feel like “ourselves”.

Ugh. What a lie this disease spins for us. I had NO idea who I was and I didn’t want to know, either. Figuring that out would be way too fucking scary. I would have to leave the safety of my sick little comfort zone. God forbid I discover I was “just like my father”. Come to find out, I am like my father in that we share a disease. That’s where the similarities end. Today, I have healed enough to say that perhaps we would have had more in common if he had been able to get well. As it advances, addiction shrouds anything beautiful in ugliness. Unfortunately, my father died before he could break free from the shroud, but his suicide showed me where a fear-based life leads. Today, I understand that his children may be his only opportunity to show the world the light that existed underneath the illness.

I felt as if he was with me when I wrote that. “Hi Dad,” I said. “I’m still mad at you but that’s okay. I see you”. Obviously, I don’t literally see him. When I think of him in memory, I actually feel nauseated. It’s because I don’t see a man, I see the embodiment of total sickness. It’s repulsive and it is the very thing I do not want to become. When I think of him as a spirit, however, the disease is gone. He is whole again. I can honor that wholeness of spirit. In fact, that wholeness of spirit is what I strive for today, except I am able to do so here, amongst the living.

One of the first pieces of advice I was given in recovery was to “feel the fear and do it anyway”. I avoided fear like the plague for my entire life. I’m a lot better at feeling it now, but I’m still far from fearless. Take the past couple of weeks for example: First of all, I had an endoscopy. It wasn’t the procedure that freaked me out – although having a camera shoved down your throat isn’t a good time – but the idea of the unknown. I do NOT like the unknown. I also do NOT like feeling out of control. I like it when I get answers on MY timetable…not the timetable of medical professionals. Why do I struggle so hard against the things I can’t control? Well, sometimes I still feel like an undeserving piece of shit, waiting for life to punish me for merely existing. You see, I was just hired for my dream job, so why wouldn’t life laugh in my face and then drop the other shoe?

Wait. I was just hired for my dream job? Yup. That brings me to example number two: I was just hired for my dream job!(!!!) Out of the blue, I received a message from a local recovery center. They were familiar with my work on Human Too and they were interested in how I could bring my photography, writing, and social media skills to the table. It is everything I have ever wanted…but because I don’t have an advanced degree, it’s something I thought I could never have. So while I felt an overwhelming sense of joy, my silly, silly brain automatically conceived all the possible ways I could be an inadequate pile of manure. Ridiculous, right? Furthermore, I have to work my current job until the middle of June. So my silly, silly brain automatically freaked out about how to handle both positions at once.

Long story short, I survived my endoscopy. While I’m still not sure what’s wrong, I am comforted by the fact that it looks great in ye olde esophagus. I am historically predisposed toward muscle spasming and tension, so if the test results reveal nothing else, it could just be another delightful way my body internalizes stress. I also gratefully accepted my dream job… and I love it. It is not work…it is my mission.

I know this position is going to push me to grow. I feel like I have already evolved so much this year and I am amazed that my growth game is continuing to expand in such a profound way. I guess I am ready. As for the sheer volume of things on my plate – including the need to organize foot surgery for this summer – I am surviving by keeping my focus in the day. I’m not going to reach the finish line any faster by worrying about tomorrow. I will get there by doing what I need to do for today and then doing that on repeat. I’d rather be a speedy hare but, gosh darn it, I am a tortoise.

My list of fears is swiftly declining. I obviously have the big ones: Losing my wife, violence enacted on my person or loved ones, cancer, spiders, fire, drowning trapped in my car (or drowning, period), ladybugs (okay, so that’s not a typical fear), bats, the mere existence of President Trump (sorry, couldn’t resist), salmonella, cruise ships, a world without Stevie Nicks (oh, my broken heart), and etc. But the list of “things I’m afraid of that other people are good at” has dwindled down to a handful. I’m afraid of flying alone (being out of control, getting lost), driving in Boston (being out of control, getting lost, claustro-fucking-phobic traffic), subways and city buses (I still don’t know where the eff I’m going, I get motion sick, not to mention other people’s germs), and attending events with large groups of people (I am too introverted for that shit; small talk makes me want to poke out my own eye with a stick). Ironically, if I have a PURPOSE for being at an event, i.e. speaking or hosting a table, I could care less. If I have to be there just to “be social”, I’d rather eat a grasshopper. It’s too overstimulating. I like one-on-one interactions or small groups, followed by a week of solitude. 😉

If I need to overcome these fears to improve my quality of life, the Universe will gift me with the opportunity. There is no quicker way to gain confidence than to do what scares you. Recovery has provided one opportunity after another. Clearly I don’t like feeling lost and out of control, so these teachers will appear when I’m ready to learn from them. Also, just because I have these fears, doesn’t mean I can’t live a full life despite them. I can hire a car, get a direct flight, or ask a friend for support or companionship. I think one of the biggest mistakes we make – whether we’re in recovery or not – is pretending that we can do everything ourselves. I didn’t get well on my own. I received help and guidance from literally hundreds of people. I can’t take credit for any of my success, either. There have been strange angels all along my path who have opened doors I couldn’t possibly unlock myself.

Fear has no power over you when you view yourself as a member of a benevolent tribe.

After my endoscopy, I was sitting in an Olive Garden parking lot while my sweetie ran inside to pick me up some fettuccine alfredo. (The nurse told me to drink a smoothie. Ha! To be fair, I asked the Docs permission. 😉 ) The sky was melting into an ephemeral pink and purple painting. Relief washed over me. I felt like the Universe was laughing with me instead of at me. “See, Autumn,” it said. “Everything is going to be okay. It always was. You are my beloved child. I have work for you to do”.

“Okay,” I agreed. “I just need to eat first”.

Losing the Mess

Life is invariably messy. But does it have to be? There are so many factors in the world we can’t single-handedly control. Right now, the tension within the United States is palpable, never mind the tension brewing with our neighbors on the same continent and across the ocean. I try to steer away from taking heated public political stances because I personally believe it doesn’t help push our society forward – rather it perpetuates the backward momentum – but it is undeniable that we live in scary times. If you look beyond the inflammatory headlines and simply examine the legislation, available as stark, inarguable, fact, it is impossible not to feel a chill of existential anxiety run down your spine and sit like a rock in your stomach. Who can say how it will all conclude? It doesn’t matter which side of the aisle you’re on; we collectively have a lot riding on the less-than-pure-white White House.

If that isn’t enough, we are each fighting our own messy personal battles. For example: I can’t control the fact that my upper G.I. system has recently decided to stage a rebellion in my esophagus. No specialists are immediately available, and the discomfort has resulted in being pulled from medication that helps me stay focused, patient, less impulsive, and less irritable. Just when I thought I was starting to get ahead with my health, my body threw a curve ball.

With the world in such an uncertain state of chaos and the circumstances of our lives often out of our control, how can one possibly be content? How can we attain even a modicum of serenity? Doesn’t the grand scale of all this uncertainty make us VICTIMS of circumstance? I think society would respond with a resounding “hell YES”!   But lately, I have been questioning this programmed “victim” attitude in both the personal and political spectrum.

With my personal circumstances, for example, I could ask: “How am I supposed to function?” One version of the aforementioned question would be rhetorical and soaked in self-pity. I would be lying if I said that wasn’t the first version of the question that I did, indeed, ask. I panicked. I shed some tears. I’m a recovering worrier. It’s what I do. But then I asked the non-rhetorical, pro-active question: “Okay, what can I do to function as best I can until this situation gets resolved?”

I think that victims become victimizers. It’s standard practice for political discourse on social media. It’s identity politics. One group feels victimized by another and retaliates by trying to make the other group feel as miserable as possible. Or, in a more general sense, one individual has a miserable life so he or she does x, y, or z and these behaviors detract from the general benefit of his/her personal relationships and society as a whole.

I recently deleted Facebook from my phone for just this reason. It’s been a long time coming. I’ve taken “vacations” but I’ve never permanently pulled the plug. I log on to manage Human Too and to periodically check my wall, but I don’t read my newsfeed anymore. As a gay woman, I very well could be in the political crosshairs. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to feel like a victim or let my peers suck me into bullying and general misery. You don’t like gay people? Fine. Are you a gay person who feels shitty about the current state of affairs? Fine. I can acknowledge both as co-existing realities but I am NOT going to wallow in the swamp by spending HOURS of my time scrolling through the murk every day. I can’t do anything to clean the water in the swamp if I’m stuck in it up to my chest. When I’m submerged, the water isn’t getting clean. My soul is just getting dirty.

I am learning that we can control a lot more than we think. There are, of course, things I can’t change and must accept. My addiction is one of those things. But I can control my response to just about everything.

Even though the world is arguably more chaotic than it has ever been in my lifetime and I must face life on life’s terms – unexpected hurdles and all – I am also finding ways to invite in more peace and contentment than ever before. And that, my friends, is the beauty of recovery. Recovery is constant learning and growth. But you don’t have to be in recovery to strive for constant learning and growth. One could posit that a life richly lived is the same by definition.

Discovering the Frugalwoods blog a few months ago jump-started my most recent self-evolution. It taught me to let go of society’s definition of success. (I am, in fact, wildly successful! I have a daily reprieve from a deadly disease. And I have a really kind heart.) It taught me about letting go of yet another addiction: consumerism. It taught me how to change my attitude toward money. I didn’t pick a high-paying field but that doesn’t mean I can’t save for retirement. After a few trial runs with some of the principles that work for our family, we are on our way.

It didn’t stop with the Frugalwoods. The Universe has had many things to show me and my heart has been wide open.

I am currently reading a book called Everything that Remains by The Minimalists. The word minimalism often conjures an extreme picture of stark rooms and empty closets. But it’s not really about that. Because when you get rid of all your stuff you are still left with you. It’s about clearing your life of things that don’t add value…and stopping the pursuit of even more things that don’t add value to fill the bottomless void inside.

You will never walk into my home and find barren shelves and empty walls. But I am engaging in a massive clean-out and a firm assessment of whether or not an item/activity adds value. Keeping Facebook on my phone does not add value. An excess of clothes I don’t wear or coffee mugs I don’t drink from do not add value. Buying shit I do not need does not add value.

I said in my last post that I don’t deal in extremes anymore. This is still true. I intend to keep my antique bottles and my seashells and most of my decorations. We will still celebrate holidays and live a full life. It just means that I don’t need more. I don’t need to buy an Audi in two years when my current vehicle is paid off. We don’t need to go out to eat at least once a week. We don’t need presents stacked from floor to ceiling every Christmas. I don’t need to buy everything I see that glitters appealingly in my direction because I “deserve” it.

Every time an item hits the trash or the donate pile, I feel like I can breathe a little easier. Adopting some of the Frugalwoods and Minimalists’ ideologies has added a whole new element of calm and gratitude to my life. I have realized that what I have is enough. It is beyond enough. I have realized that the “things” I value most are time, freedom, kindness, and travel with my wife. I have realized that I can better utilize my money to support these values and that I can quite literally clear both my physical space and my head space for these values.

Everything that Remains also talks about the difference between passion and excitement. As an addict, this resounded so deeply with me that I sat briefly in stunned reverie. I am historically accustomed to experiencing life in highs and lows: excitement and despair. I can fall back onto this roller coaster if I am not careful. Not dealing in extremes does require constant vigilance. The Minimalists point out that passion is not excitement. Sure, passion can feel exciting at moments, but it is also loving something so much that you’re willing to “drudge through the drudgery”. It is discipline and patience. It is putting in the work to master a skill. To say that I needed to hear that message is a vast understatement.

So, yes, while the world burns and my own life continues to be perfectly imperfect, I have been choosing to cultivate an oasis of peace.

I think that the answers to life’s biggest questions are sometimes so painfully simple that it’s appalling that we don’t all “get” them. But the simplest answers are sometimes the hardest to swallow. Recovery programs are full of infuriatingly simple clichés that prove this very point. It has certainly taken me years to get basic principles…and yet I still need constant reminders. I can’t help but wonder, however, what it would be like if the whole world stopped and asked: “How does this add value…to my life and the lives of others? Is this word or action adding value?” And if we all deprogrammed ourselves from excess, consumerism, and an overstimulating amount of technology, would our relationships be better? Would our waste be reduced and there be enough resources for everyone?

The answer is simple but the execution is hard. I can only do my part. Perhaps in cultivating my own oasis of peace, I can skim a little of the murk from the swamp.

*If you’re interested in a FREE copy of the book Everything That Remains, please visit here.

Remaining Teachable

Unless you subscribe to the school that says ignorance is bliss, one arguably fun thing about recovery is that the layers of your own personal onion keep unfolding. You discover more and more about yourself as you go along. I think there’s a grand myth that once you have a few clean and sober years under your belt, you’re fixed. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom. Cured. The thought just made me snicker out loud in my living room like a maniac. Because nothing could be further from the truth. If all goes well, I will have 7 years of recovery next month..and I still have my fair share of issues to slog my way through. The good news is that most people could stand to do a little “issue slogging”, so I’m not alone.

One can ascertain a lot about my present brand of crazy by either observing my recent purchases or peeking at my shopping list. The items I have collected lately include 3 pairs of athletic shorts, other assorted articles of athletic wear, and a beginners yoga DVD. The items I have on my “to-purchase list” include a book on living with adult ADD and a Missy Elliot CD.

This is a hilarious amalgamation for a number of reasons. Those of you who know me are fully aware that I hate the idea of doing anything that requires exertion or sweat. I was possibly the most awkward girl in my high school gym class. The poor teacher didn’t even know what to do with my lack of eye-hand coordination. I can’t eye-hand coordinate, make my limbs look natural, or do math above a second grade level. It’s just who I am.

Missy Elliot is there because she’s my go-to for what I like to call “ass-kicking anthems”. When I need to get pumped up, Missy is my girl. And lately I need some help to get in the mood for ass-kicking.

I have a lot going on. Not only am I managing a day job, a (struggling) photography business, and a sparsely updated blog, I’ve also started a (successful) social media campaign called “Human Too” to combat stigma against addicts and alcoholics. If that list doesn’t perfectly illustrate my ADD, I don’t know what does. On top of that, my body is changing in a way I do. not. like. If I could sum up turning thirty in two lines, I would say this: Don’t expect to even LOOK at a dessert ever again without gaining two pounds. And don’t expect to drink coffee on a road trip without almost (or actually) peeing your pants at least once.

That brings us back around to the shorts and the yoga DVD. Lately, I’ve gained some weight.  My unhappiness with this has delivered me face to face with the fact that food has become just another drug for me. In fact, it really always has been just another drug for me, but I HAD a great metabolism so I could live in happy denial. Stressed? Donut time. Bored? How about a cookie? Or a cupcake? Or a bag of cheesy popcorn? Or a bowl of sugary cereal topped with whipped cream? Or just a plain old bowl of whipped cream with a spoon? Because god damn it all, I have NO VICES LEFT. No credit cards. No weed. No Jack and Pepsi. And MOST CERTAINLY no bat shit crazy women.

It sucks to get honest and admit that food is another item on the list of things I need help managing. When I was a teenager I got really sick and really thin. People reacted positively to the weight loss. Since then I haven’t experienced being any other size and my self image is struggling. I’m used to being a notch or two above sick looking. Now I just want to get to a place where I feel healthy. I’m hoping the fake-it-til-I-make-it approach will work. If I LOOK like I can run a 5k, maybe I’ll get to FEELING like I want to run a 5k. And let’s face it – that flexible waistband feels a HELL of a lot better than trying to squeeze my ass into last summer’s clothes. But I’m not living under the delusion that I’m going to jump right into running. Ohhhh boy, just the idea is funny. I’m starting off small with some regular walks, irregular sprints, and possibly some light yoga. There are muscles in my body that I forgot I even had.

In my last post I talked about how the group I joined for 8 months helped me to stop jumping into things so quickly and also to stop quitting. I’m still doing really well with that. I haven’t quit my job. I haven’t quit any of the things I’ve started (blog, business, campaign). I haven’t decided to sign up for a 5k or join a Cross Fit gym. I’m trying baby steps. (A. Find shorts that don’t cut off your circulation. B. Stretch out muscles that you forgot existed. C. Stop pounding carbs.) The other thing that helped was when the gears of my brain finally clicked into place. I was on a marathon of self-berating about my perpetual career woes when a tiny, timid little part of my brain piped in and said “Hey, you remember when you were a kid and you got diagnosed with ADD?” I did some reading, and my whole adult life finally made sense. The 18,000 tabs always open in my head, the inability to complete one task without starting 10 others along the way, the boredom, frustration, and irritability at work, the constant noise in my brain, the success I have when I’m hyper-focused on a task I like…

I think it’s important to acknowledge that sometimes a recovery program can’t address all of your needs. Before I’m able to explore other career options, it makes sense that I’m going to need some help treating my ADD.

I SUFFERED at school. If I go back to school or back to a professional work setting, I don’t need to suffer anymore.

Sometimes this whole growth thing can be a little overwhelming. Especially with a noisy brain that NEVER. SHUTS. UP. But at the end of the day I am so thankful. My life may not be perfect, but the beautiful thing is that I KNOW myself. I am aware of who I am on a very deep level and I become more and more in tune each day. I seem to remember an ad on TV that says “Know More, Do More”. That is a great summation of what recovery is all about. When I’m not in the process of actively learning, I’m in the process of actively dying. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I think I would prefer to remain teachable.