Weighty Matters

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About Compulsion

com·pul·sion
kəmˈpəlSHən/
noun
 1.
  1. the action or state of forcing or being forced to do something; constraint.
    “the payment was made under compulsion
    synonyms: obligation, constraint, coercion, duress, pressure, intimidation

    “he is under no compulsion to go”
  2. 2.
    an irresistible urge to behave in a certain way, especially against one’s conscious wishes.
    “he felt a compulsion to babble on about what had happened”
    synonyms: urge, impulse, need, desire, drive; More

     

    Since I deal (or not sometimes) with compulsive eating behavior as part of my binge-eating disorder, I thought it might be a good topic to discuss.  I know how the behavior manifests, but figured it would be good to see how compulsion is actually defined and then assess how it resonates to me.

    So, definition number one doesn’t match.  Nobody forces me to overeat, eat when I’m not hungry, eat and keep eating, etc.

    Definition number two?  Yes, that’s the one. If there’s a way to highlight words in WordPress, I can’t figure it out, but if I could, I owuld highlight “irresistible” and “against one’s conscious wishes”.  Yes, I really do feel sometimes as if the urge to eat is irresistible, even unstoppable, and it occurs regardless of my conscious desire to stay on my plan.

    Compulsion is a horrible feeling.  Imagine if you couldn’t control your hand and had to watch while it picked up a kitchen knife and stabbed you in your own thigh.  Yes, that’s a really dramatic image, but it serves a point.  When compulsion overcomes my conscious wish and give in to the irresistible urge to eat, I hurt myself — physically, emotionally and spiritually.

    I wish the weight loss surgery had also removed the compulsion, but it didn’t, so I still struggle with it every day.  However, the surgery set me on the road to a good long period of recovery and weight loss.  I’m stronger now than I’ve ever been, so while I have my off periods, I believe in myself.  I’m definitely not going to gain back my weight.  Ultimately, I have come to believe that with the help of a Higher Power, a program, and all of the tools at ready, I am stronger than the compulsion.

    One of the big tools is to set myself up for success instead of creating situations where failure is more likely.  For example, being in the vicinity of bags of candy for Halloween — that’s a big time, doomed-to-fail scenario.  I am absolutely capable of compulsively eating piece, after piece, after mini-piece of candy until I’m sick to my stomach.  Setting myself up for success means not buying the bags and having them in the house.

    You see, once I start, it honestly does feel sometimes like I can’t stop myself.   The time to bring all of the weapons forward to beat back the compulsion is before I take the first piece.  The call to action needs to happen while I still have conscious thought — and when I’m still conscious and aware that the compulsion is bubbling up.

    I’d like to substitute healthier, more positive behaviors for the destructive compulsive ones.  That’s been an ongoing effort.  Exercising consistently.  Practicing good, positive thinking.  Reshaping those old truths.  Exploring the flavors of healthy food and experimenting with new-to-me foods and cooking techniques.  These are all positives.  They take practice.  Continual practice.

    Also on the positive side is recognizing that I have an addictive personality.  If it wasn’t food that became my drug of choice, I know I’d be addicted to drugs or alcohol.  There was a time when I was hooked on cigarettes and also a regular pot smoker.  In the early 80s when I lost more than 100 pounds on an extremely restrictive, medically supervised, diet, I did not yet know that I had an eating disorder, so I wasn’t in any kind of treatment to help me understand and deal with the other aspects of the disorder.  I was only eating nine ounces of protein a day and I wasn’t drinking alcohol when I went out to the clubs three or four nights a week with my friends.  So, I still needed something to make up for the lack of food as a coping mechanism.   I started getting high almost every night.

    Although I spent a lot of years partying in rock clubs with my friends, I didn’t drink to drunkenness every  night and I wasn’t much for drinking at night when I was at home.  I think observing and dealing with my mother’s alcoholism probably contributed to me not making that my addiction.

    I gave up pot a long time ago and have no desire to pick it up again, even on rare, recreational occasions.  I was never into coke or other illegal drugs.  I also tend to avoid prescription pain killers unless absolutely necessary — as in the pain level I’m feeling is at least an 8 on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being unimaginable pain.  Even after surgery when I was recovering at home, I only took a couple of doses of the pain medicine the doctor prescribed.  Today the orthopedic doctor offered to write me a scrip for a stronger medication than over-the-counter pain relievers.  I politely declined.  I’d rather not have it in the house and run the risk of swapping one addiction or compulsion for another.

    Compulsion is ugly, challenging, frustrating and, sometimes, disheartening.  When all is said and done, however,  I refuse to be its victim.  I’m going to borrow from one of my favorite television shows, Scandal, and imagine myself as a gladiator.  I may not win every battle, but I do not run from the war.

     

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Recovery’s Three Legged Stool

In the OA rooms, we talked about recovery being like a three legged stool.  You need to work on all three legs in order to be in balance – physical, emotional/mental, and spiritual.

When I first got that I had an eating disorder, a compulsive overeating disease, the positive effect on me emotionally was remarkable.  It really helped me clean up my head and my heart.  In ensuing years, even when I fell off of the wagon, I had a much clearer understanding of myself, my relationship with food, the role food and overeating played in my life, their effect on me, etc.  I am convinced that without this understanding, I would not be successfully maintaining my post-bariatric surgery weight loss.

In the early days, however, the ultimate focus was physical recovery.  Losing weight and restoring/regaining physical health were the goals.  Even with the better concept of disease behavior, I yo-yo’d with my weight until I finally committed to weight loss surgery.  If you’ve been with this blog from the beginning, or at least for a while, you know that I’ve lost a lot of weight and that I have worked on a lot of my issues, using this blog to help me process my thoughts and feelings.

Yet, for almost a year, I’ve been more stalled on my weight loss.  I’ve pretty much maintained the level that I reached, but digging in and sustaining the rest of the effort to get to my goal weight has been a constant, annoying, upsetting and frustrating struggle.  I gear up, employ a new strategy, go gung-ho for a while and then get stuck again.   Hence the annoyance and frustration.

A few days ago, I blogged about the constant food chatter that goes on in my head.  My dear, wonderful, long time friend read it and sent me a long email describing her struggle with the same thing.  This friend has also spent a great deal of time in OA.  She’s also had weight loss surgery and lost a phenomenal amount of weight.  She gets the disease thing.

You know that old proverb that when the student is ready, the teacher appears?  In her email, she openly talked about the fact that the food thoughts, the endless chatter and mental struggle ARE the disease to her.  She shared that she needs to remember the powerlessness and the need for the spiritual connection to recovery.

I’ve been re-reading and studying her email for the last couple of days, absorbing the words into my heart.   I see where I’ve been very intellectual about my approaches to food and recovery.  I know how much emphasis I’ve placed on the physical recovery.  I think those two legs of the stool needed my attention and they’re holding strong.  It’s that third leg — the spiritual one — that’s wobbling.  It needs my focus.

The first step of OA is admitting that I am powerless over food and that my life is unmanageable.  My life might not seem to be unmanageable, but right now, when it comes to how much food obsession is controlling my thinking, trust me, it needs to be managed better.  Until I remember step one and the powerlessness, I can’t embrace that a Higher Power can help me.  However,  once I do those two steps, I can make the decision to turn this over to the HP and accept the spiritual aspects of recovery.

It’s not religion, but I do need the spiritual connection with whatever represents a higher power to me.

What really connected for me today is that the physical recovery is not enough for me.  Sure, I could go on for the rest of my life, be happy because I’ve lost so much weight and am maintaining.  I could be satisfied with my greatly improved physical fitness.

But I’m not.  It isn’t enough.  I have more work to do.  I am not enjoying the serenity of full recovery because of the mind chatter, the food obsession, the constant battle to stay on track and not give into the disease of  compulsive eating.  I want that serenity, that recovery, too.   So, while I continue to maintain the physical exercise, et al, I need to reconnect to my spirit and emotional recovery.  That’s my focus now.

Thank you, my dear friend, for sharing your story and struggle and bringing me the reminders that I needed to have, when I most needed them.

In other news, today I walked another 5K – this time for the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event in town.  I didn’t shoot for a particular time goal.  This was about being with friends and folks I know throughout our community, having fun, and raising both money and awareness.  I raised more than $700, dyed and bedazzled a bra for the day, and had a great time walking.  I never would have done this even before weight loss surgery and am glad that I could today.

Here’s the bra.  After I dyed it, I hand sequinned/beaded the “ribbons” onto the cups.  A little uneven, but as I said to friends, so are my boobs at my age.thebra

 

 

Here’s me this morning.  The idea is to wear the decorated bra on the outside of one’s clothes.  (By the way, I’m not feeling myself up in this picture.  I was trying to show off my pink fingernails at the same time.)

We saw quite a variety of great creations!  It was really terrific to see a great turnout of people from the community, walking alongside the Overseas Highway in a spirited wave of pink!

Me in Bra

 

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Today’s the Day

Today’s the day I get back on track. It’s just before 8 a.m. and I’ve already made a good start. Instead of going back to sleep when my clock radio went off at 6, I rolled out of bed, put on my walking shoes and took the dogs out for a 30 minute power walk. I just had my protein smoothie and packed a healthy lunch with the appropriate snacks for lunch.

I feel strong and powerful emotionally, just in taking these few positive steps.

Honestly, I permitted myself to wallow for a few days and, in the wallowing, also ate a bunch of stuff that wasn’t good for me but tasted good. Now, I could continue to do that, but I also see how quickly my body puts on weight when I do and that isn’t acceptable. I’d also stayed off of the scale for a while, not wanting to face the physical reality. I got on this morning. Sure enough. According to the scale, I’ve gained 8 pounds. I know this is mostly water weight or bloat, but it’s a good reminder that I’m only a few missteps away from totally backsliding. Also not acceptable.

I am absolutely happy with the progress I’ve made over the last 2 1/2 years and I cherish that happiness. It will take me a while longer to untangle my messed up mindset but I am very, very clear on this point. I have transformed my life and will protect that transformation. Even if I never get to goal weight, I still want to maintain the good health that I’ve achieved thus far. (Yes, I know I’ll eventually get to goal weight, but I still need to reinforce the joy and happiness of the “now”, so it doesn’t go unappreciated in the effort for the future.

I’m sorry if I’m repeating myself and this all sounds like stuff I’ve said before, but I need to repeat it for myself. Heck, I need to pound it into my brain so it stays up front and doesn’t get clouded or buried by the other stuff that sometimes goes on in my diseased thinking.

Right now, I’m taking back my recovery. Today’s the day.

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Quieting Mind Chatter

I touched on this the other day but thought I’d expand on it a bit, mostly because it does me a lot of good to explore the realizations. I think it helps me integrate them more into my recovery. It also speaks to the clarity of mind that I’m experiencing that I recognize the things I’m realizing.

It’s Thursday night and I’ve been clean with my food for four days straight. I’m not white-knuckling it which means that I’m not constantly struggling against the compulsion. I’m not locked into a battle where I constantly want food and have to just as constantly tell myself, “No!” When those battles erupt, my mind is damned noisy with the conflict between recovery and relapse as I use my head to fight the behavior of compulsive overeating. Those fights are mentally and emotionally exhausting and very wearing on my spirit. The push-pull creates an almost constant tension.

Getting clean of the compulsion quiets the mind chatter, releases the tension and reduces stress. Picture a tug-of-war when everybody lets go. Instead of the rope being stretched between the two teams, it just drops and lies limply on the ground — no tension.

So, in addition to feeling better physically because I’m not messing up my stomach by eating the wrong things or eating more than my stomach can comfortably handle, I’m able to relax mentally. My emotions even out, too, because I’m not beating up on myself or fretting about the relapse behavior.

Relaxation lets me recharge and create more energy. Emotional respite engenders happiness. Happiness motivates me to do positive action. When I’m down in a relapse, I don’t want to exercise. I find it easy to talk myself into hitting the snooze button instead of getting out of bed at 6 a.m. to do some sort of fitness activity. That’s a whole different sort of mind chatter, sort of like: “Time to get up!” “Ugh. Don’t wanna.” “You should get moving, go ride the bike.” “I’m tooo tired.” “You’re being a lazy slug.” “Yep. Zzzzzz.”

In addition to the clean eating, I’ve also exercised every one of the last four mornings. I stopped arguing with myself and got out of bed when the alarm went off. On Monday and Wednesday, I road my bike for 40 minutes before work and then walked the dogs. On Tuesday and and this morning, I walked the dogs for 40 minutes. I also did Tai Chi class last night and have done at least some Tai Chi foundation moves each day.

There is a strong correlation between the physical relapse of overeating, the noise in my mind, and the messiness of my emotions. It stands to reason then that the connection between clean eating, a quiet mind, and uncluttered emotions would be equally strong. Tonight, I relish the peaceful, easy feeling and embrace it as a way to set myself up for more success tomorrow.

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Feeling It

When I lived in a state of morbid obesity or super obesity, I only felt the ill effects of too much eating, or of eating too much crappy food after a binge. It really took stuffing myself with massive quantities of food for my body to complain. My spirit, my head, my emotions suffered, but I was so physically conditioned to eating a lot that lesser amounts didn’t make an impact. Even if my lesser amounts would have caused gastric distress in a “normal-sized” person, they didn’t register.

Now that I’ve lost more than 180 pounds, my body is much more sensitive and aware. This is beyond my surgically altered stomach. I’m not talking about how packing too much food in at one time triggers me to throw it back up. I truly notice physical reactions if I eat too much in a given day — even spread out over several meals — or if I indulge too often in crappy or not-as-healthy-for-me food.

This past week was a perfect example of this new awareness. As I’ve shared, I was incredibly busy at work with three days of media filming that required longer days, largely spent outside. My schedule of eating was thrown off and it was more challenging for me to find time to sit down and eat one of my normally healthy meals. Add in the stress and, let’s face it, I ate more crappy food than I usually would in a month. Ok, ok, the occasional small serving of french fries alone wouldn’t kill me, but when combined with other food items that have too much salt, too much fat, or too many carbs over a few days, my body sent clear messages. Eat crap = feel crappy. I bloated, I ached, I felt sluggish so I had to work harder to muster the energy I needed for the job. I’m sure this all made me feel even more tired at night. Overall, I was just off.

Sorting through all of this, crystallizing the realization, and processing the experience helped me take action to feel better. I ate unhealthy for so many years. Now that I’ve made it a practice to make healthy choices — not only in quantity and selection but in the quality of the food selections, I know how much better healthy feels.

Yesterday and today I’ve consumed mostly vegetables, fruits, and yogurt while also raising my hydration level. I haven’t had overly processed foods, nor anything that salty. It’s amazing to me how much better I feel, and in how short a time. I just took the dogs out for a long walk and felt really connected to my energy again. Honestly, I could have gone longer but Pyxi is still building back up after her mild injury. I may pop in an exercise DVD just for the hell of it.

I’m psyched that I’m more in touch with how and what I eat affects me. I’ll take it as another sign of my ever developing recovery. I like that, for the first time in my life, I’m aware of my body’s signals rather than being numb and oblivious.

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Good New Days

The good news about tough times is that they don’t have to continue forever. Each day is an opportunity to do better than the day before, to make healthier choices, to reframe our mindset, and rebalance our emotions. It’s another chance to reconnect spiritually with whomever or whatever we decide is our Higher Power.

Today wasn’t perfect for me, but it was so much better than the last week. I’m relieved and, trust me, when i went to bed last night I anticipated a complete suckfest. As tired as I was, I could not shut off the mind chatter. Situations, worries, and drama kept repeating in my head. I believe that’s what psychiatrists call “inefficient worrying”. Whatever the name, I experienced it to the point where it took two hours and a change of scenery for me to go to sleep.

Change of scenery sounds weird, but sometimes when I can’t fall asleep in my bed I get up and go out in the living room to my recliner. For some reason, when I do that I can then drop off. My sleep in the chair usually only lasts for an hour to an hour and a half, but when I sort of wake up and return to my bed, I immediately fall asleep again and go through until morning.

Despite only getting about five hours of sleep, my mind was clear when my alarm went off. I spent some time connecting with my spirit. I said the Serenity Prayer. I mused on the things that I need to disconnect from and let go, then made the conscious choice to turn them over. With a calm mindset and a serene spirit, I actually experienced some good energy — like I’d relieved myself of things dragging at me. So I went out, jumped on my bike, and rode eight miles before breakfast. I rode to the beach and had the pleasure of seeing bright brush strokes of lavender, rose, and gold sweep across the sky. It was glorious.

The positive state of being remained throughout the work day and when I got home. Situations that last week threw me completely off of my game, today rolled off me without causing me difficulty. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that my food and eating through the day were also on point. I feel off some tonight and that’s my bad. I didn’t make my house “clean”, meaning I still had some junk food around

That’s one of the worse aspects of being a compulsive eater. I don’t have to be in a poor state in order to eat off plan. Sometimes I eat compulsively just because the food’s present. Anyway, it’s gone now. With my new found balance and positive, healthy attitude, I can withstand bringing any of it back into the house. that will help pad the likelihood of stacking up some successful days.

My takeaway reminder lesson from all this is to remember that no matter how far off I slip, it is always possible to climb back up, shore up my defenses, and reconnect with what I need to do in order to not only survive but thrive. I will never lose hope.

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Stopping the Slide

A lot of what Chrissy said in her comment to my Funk-ytown post really resonated. Recovery requires attention to all three aspects – physical, emotionally and spiritually. Spirituality does not necessarily mean formal religion. It means different things to different people whether their Higher Power is God, Allah, Buddah, the Universe, or a higher consciousness of their own self. For me, mostly, it’s God. Sometimes it’s an intangible state of being I think of as my healthy-non-diseased mental state.

Whatever the case, I need to reconnect with my Higher Power in order to stop this slide. Allow me just to say that today I physically feel like utter crap and that’s a direct result of too many days in a row of eating off of my plan. Emotionally and mentally I’m still down, although I had a nice time last night — which I’ll share about later in this post.

I’m trying to take care of myself. Thanks to the forethought of arranging for a dogsitter to stay in my house last night while I went to Key West for the function, I was able to sleep in a little this morning. Staying in bed until almost 9 a.m. felt really good. I woke up to a beautiful morning, so beautiful in fact that it would have been a perfect day to take out the boat with friends. However, I didn’t rush to come back home. I realized that while I would have loved to be out on the water, I really didn’t want to be around a lot of people today. I feel like I have been surrounded by others without a break for too many days in a row. Don’t get me wrong, I like being social and enjoy the company of others at work and in my various other pursuits. It’s just that when I’m already feeling the effects of energy drain, I hit a wall.

So, today I decided that I would rather soak up some solitude hanging around the house with Nat and Pyxi. I also would treat myself to new spring flowers for my porch planters and rejuvenate my herb planter. This was another way of taking care of myself. With that decision made before I left the hotel this morning, I was in a calmer, more relaxed state of mind on the drive up home.

Perhaps that’s what opened me up to understanding why my funk and slide are prolonged. Lately, I’m experiencing a resuscitation of some co-dependency issues. Co-dependency kicks off my eating disorder because food and overeating were always my coping mechanisms. Destructive and not always effective, still, it’s how I coped.

I haven’t run up against a situation where I would experience co-dependency in the two-plus years that I’ve lived in recovery on my weight loss and health-reclamation journey. I’m not surprised that I didn’t recognize this right away, but now that I have the signs are very clear to me. Now that I know, it’s time, as Chrissy said, to jump horses on the carousel and look for help from my spiritual self and my Higher Power.

This is not something that I can resolve with an extra bike ride, although the endorphins help. I need to make the conscious decision to turn the problem, the situation, and my reaction to it, over to my Higher Power. Turning it over is another means of letting go of it. It requires admitting that the situation is not something over which I have any control, nor am I required to fix it.

My responsibility in this is to take care of myself. I need to stay aware of how the situation affects me and, when I feel its influence, not take that influence into myself but turn it over and let it go. It’s another kind of mindfulness, to realize how other people/places/things/situations can impact my health — if I permit them to. This aspect of my recovery requires help from my Higher Power, but I have to make the conscious choice to ask. Doing so will help me stop this slide and get back on the road to recovery.

Okay, now back to last night. A few weeks ago, I talked about finding a couple of new dresses for upcoming events and then also ordering some heels. Last night was one of the events. I had fun socializing with a large group of people whose company I enjoy. We talked, laughed, and danced a lot. It’s not easy to take a flattering picture of myself with my phone in a mirror, but hopefully you can get an idea. I think I looked great in one of my new dresses. (Please ignore the slightly strange facial expression. I was focused on trying to get the photo.)

newdress

This was the debut of one of the new pairs of shoes, too. First time that I’ve worn more than a kitten heel in forever. They were pretty and comfortable (for most of the night anyway). I slipped them off a few times, as did some of my friends with their heels, but I was never in pain. As I discussed in that earlier post, I haven’t owned a lot of really pretty shoes in my life. If I keep having this kind of success, I might become a late blooming shoe addict. What do you think?

Shoes

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Food Isn’t the Problem

I have a cold. I felt like crap all day, bad enough to stay home from work. I stayed home from work but didn’t refrain from working. Considering the sneezing, stuffy head, fuzzy brain and general tiredness, I was actually very productive and got a lot done. I was not, however, physically active. For the first time in months I have gone two days without reaching my minimum commitment of 10,000 steps. I feel sluggish. Even though I have more than enough reason to have not fulfilled my physical fitness goals the last two days, mentally I’m struggling with it. I’m sure that I’ll improve as soon as I get back on the step count, but it does me good to share this stuff. Thanks for listening.

While I was working from home today I had on the television. I sort of half listened during the Dr. Oz show, but in that hour I heard something that struck home. I’m sure I’ve heard it before, but it was excellent timing for me to hear it again today. The doctors were talking about the growing number of heroin addicts and the different prescription drugs that are hydrocodone related in different strengths, the addiction problems, etc. One doctor said that in the lives of addicts, the drugs are not the problem. The drugs are the solution. What a strong, important point. From my perspective, food and my way of previous diseased eating are not the problems. They are what I used to cope or bury the real issues. They’re the ways that I tried to solve my issues.

Sometimes it’s difficult to separate out these things. Even though a drug addict might know that he/she turned to drugs for an emotional reason doesn’t mean their bodies don’t physically become hooked. Same thing with me. I can get hooked on the behavior of stuffing my feelings with food or bingeing on certain foods because of their carb, fat or sugar content. So, I can’t ignore that, while food isn’t the root problem, it became a secondary problem at some point. So, until I “got clean”, I couldn’t clear my head and emotions enough to work on the motivating issues.

Some might think that getting clean is the hard part, but the real work begins after. That’s why it was so important for me to understand that the vertical sleeve gastrectomy — the bariatric surgery — would only be a tool to help me control my overeating behavior, which I’d not been able to sustain control over in the past for any significant amount of time. The hardest work is picking through the emotional and psychological issues that make me run to food. All of the time I need to remember that I cannot rely on food to be anything more than food. It needs to not be a problem or a solution.

The work is hard, but it’s important. It’s also possible as long as I keep at it.

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Nourishing Recovery

Feeding my recovery is as important as feeding my body. It’s sometimes more difficult. Protein, veggies, fruit, fluids, the occasional carbs, good fats — that kind of nourishment I understand and everything is readily accessible. Figuring out the nourishment for my emotional and mental recovery is challenging because what I need changes and it isn’t something I can find at the supermarket.

I’m still focusing on the “success breeds success” idea. By acknowledging each positive step, every good day on my food plan, making my daily exercise goals, I positively reinforce myself for my own effort. It’s like a self-delivered pat on the back and “atta girl” instead of a head slap. This nourishes the mental aspect of my recovery. When I do it successfully, it helps me do it successfully again the next time.

I guess it’s the emotional aspects that are the most challenging to feed and reinforce. Maybe it’s more that they can be the most uncomfortable to examine and then develop new ways of feeling and reacting which leads to improved, healthier choices. Choosing an attitude of gratitude first thing in the morning helps. Feeling grateful sets me up in a good way and opens up my spirit. Owning my awesomeness might have sounded cutesy to some, but it’s serious stuff to me. As confident as I am in many areas of my life, I can backslide into esteem issues.

Recognizing the challenges and setting up a proactive mindset usually impacts my emotions. Thinking of things for which I’m grateful, leads to voicing those things and that creates the positive emotion. If I acknowledge an awesome thing about myself — whether it’s an ability, an attitude, an — and really own it, that makes it real and keeps my esteem and the way I feel about myself at a good, steady level.

Even choosing this as a topic matters. It reinforces the importance of tending my recovery, nourishing it with everything that it needs to grow and thrive. My recovery isn’t just important. It’s important. Without it, my life and health can disintegrate. I want to always remember this and keep putting the emphasis on it that it deserves and needs. That I need.

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The Shortest Distance

We all know the truism that the shortest distance between two points is the length of a straight line between them. I find this to be logical, practical and also a calming approach to more than just traveling distances. In fact, I’m embracing it in my attitude toward a stress-inducing situation at work. I was asked to coordinate a project that involves collecting information and articles from a whole bunch of other people, proofing/editing them, and getting to a designer for layout in a very short amount of time.

The clock is ticking on our deadline. While I have some of the material, I’m still waiting for a number of articles from various other people who are scattered around the country. These people don’t work for me. They don’t work for the organization that’s producing the report. They volunteer for committees for that organization. It’s not like I can crack a whip on them to get the material written, finished and submitted. So, there is a lot about this project over which I have no control and no power.

Enter the Serenity Prayer — Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Every time I start to get tense, fretful and stressed over what material is still outstanding, I’m trying to step back, breathe and stay calm.

Some of the material comes to me in rough form, or in forms that I can’t use verbatim because the items are too long. Now, I could send it back to the writers and say, “That’s great, but could you cut it down, please?” However, mindful of that deadline, I decided to enact step two from the Serenity Prayer and incorporate the shortest distance-straight line approach. I find the courage (and the will) to change what I can, and take the shortest path to accomplishing what I need. In other words, I extrapolate information, shape it into the length we can use, and send it back to the writer with a nice, “This is great information. We needed it a little shorter. Is this okay?” message. I’m respectful of their original material and, let’s be honest, I’m saving them extra work to boot.

Judging from the response, this approach is working. I feel that I’ve struck a good balance. The extra work for me is offset by the reduced time needed to end up with a useable piece. This means less stress overall. It’s a win.

As I write this, it occurs to me that the Serenity Prayer is pretty linear and matter-of-fact. Accept what you can’t change; change what you can; be wise enough to discern the difference. This all serves to clear out the mind clutter. I don’t have time to worry. I just need to get the project done to the best of my ability. I also don’t have either the time nor the inclination to doubt that ability. Self-confidence is not the issue although that could get undermined by stress if I allow it to happen. I’m not. I’m just staying on the straight, A to B path from project inception to project completion. No detours.

Since I’m doing such a good job of not letting stress block the road, I’m also having good food days. This means that my recovery is also on that straight direct path.

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