Category Archives: Health

The Darkness


This post has been knocking about my brain since I first read the article that spurred the thought.  It’s an article about a man named Bill Zeller, whom I never met and whom none of you have likely ever met.  Bill Zeller was apparently a gifted programmer, and a couple of weeks ago, he killed himself.

At first I only took interest because suicide is a morbidly pet topic to me.  Both of my parents killed themselves (my father in October of 1974, my mother in October of 2003, six months following the birth of my daughter), and at least one good friend has chosen to shuffle themselves from the mortal coil over the years.  I would be lying if I said the odd suicidal thought hasn’t crossed my mind, but something about losing both of your parents to the most befuddling way to die (to everyone else anyway) caused me to make a long-ago deal with myself that I would never do that.  Mostly because I know what it does to everyone left behind.  I can’t do that to the people who love me, no matter how despairing I may ever feel.  And in all honesty, it has been a very, very long time since such thoughts have dwelled in my brain more than fleetingly.  Thank the gods.

Nevertheless, it’s a topic sadly close to my heart.  So I read Mr. Zeller’s very long suicide note with interest, and as I read, with growing empathy.  Mr. Zeller finally succumbed to demons that were given to him by someone else: notably, his childhood abuser, whom he does not name.  What he does do is speak at length about “the darkness”: that thing that prevented him from having intimate relationships with anyone else in his life, whether they were emotional or physical.

I know this “darkness” of which Bill Zeller spoke.  The darkness falls like a veil over every attempt at closeness and taints every pure sensation of love and passion with distrust and suspicion.  It is the worst manifestation of the curse of sexual abuse upon children, and it’s something most victims don’t even realize they’re suffering from until much, much later in life as they try to go about the business of being “normal” like everyone else.  Which is something that we never will be.  Not by everyone else’s standards anyway.  Until someone invents neurosynaptic erasure that won’t result in the fuckuppery of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind“, it is impossible to be a person unaffected by that kind of abuse and violation of trust.  We must simply accept and work through the things that have happened to us through the best of ours and our therapists’ abilities.  Even then, we may have to accept that, like Frodo at the end of “The Lord of the Rings“, there are some hurts that are too deep to heal completely.  We are changed permanently and irrevocably by them.

My heart ached for Mr. Zeller, whose darkness was clearly much more oppressive than it has been for me.  To be sure, my relationships have been deeply affected by things that happened to me when I was much younger, but unlike Mr. Zeller, I was not hindered by an inability to speak of those things.  Which does not mean those old demons do not still lurk in the corners and recesses of my memory.  I still suffer from a distrust of most men, whom some part of me perceives as predatory.  My impressions of men have been twisted and perverted by my earlier experiences and I often cannot help but interpret what is the perfectly normal sex drive of most human males into something dangerous that is to be avoided.  Each time I am approached with love, I must struggle through my brain’s automatic suspicion, which inevitably asks in fear, “What do you want from me?”  I often fail in this struggle, I have no doubt much to the consternation of anyone who has ever tried to be close to me.

Which is when the real “darkness” sets in.  The darkness that made Mr. Zeller finally decide to give it all up, that it was no longer worth the effort.  The darkness that whispers, “You’re damaged beyond repair, what possible good are you to the world like this?”

And I whisper back, “Fuck you.  You don’t own me, and even if I’m 80 fucking years old before I banish you with the Light, I will destroy you.”

I wish I could retroactively lend that inner strength to Mr. Zeller, and to my parents, and right now to everyone who suffers from “the darkness”.  I do not know where this inner tenacity comes from that I possess and that has saved me from countless destructive paths.  Guardian angel?  God?  Fate?  Pure luck?  I have no fucking clue, but I wish I could bottle it and sell it.  No, I wish I could give it away.  The ability to speak.  The ability to point a finger and say, “That person’s hurting me.”  Even if they’re not around anymore.  The ability to say, “This was not my fault.”  The ability to say, “I’m bigger than this, even if it left some marks.”  Because secrets kill just as surely as cancer.

Slowly, the darkness dissipates the more I say these things to myself.  I am no longer ashamed of my mental scars.  At least, not AS ashamed.  They make me who I am, and people keep telling me I’m a fairly amazing person.  I am better at believing them than I used to be.  I still have scars over my mental ears, but they get a little thinner each time I make the effort to let in the truth and beauty.  It means I have to leave myself vulnerable to pain, but it is perhaps one of the oldest yet truest cliches that there is no love without pain and no light without dark.  If I want one, I must deal with the other.  Lest I fall victim to The Darkness.

Judgment


I’ve been trying to restart my yoga practice recently.  I first started doing yoga back in 2007 when a good friend needed people to take her very first classes so that she could complete her yoga teacher certification.  I realized that I had been doing “yoga” for a few years at least in the form of my own stretching regimen at home.  She asked me, “Are you sure you’ve never taken a yoga class before?!”  Like many things in my life, I had been doing something that others do, I just didn’t know that’s what I was doing until I found them!

I found yoga profoundly moving yet calming, and it instilled a confidence in my body that I had never had.  I have always had a *strong* body, but it wasn’t something I was really proud of or confident in, particularly after a childhood in American physical education classes.  I recall PE as something torturous run by lesbians-in-denial who were unsatisfied if I could not run cross-country without getting a stitch in my side or do the beginning-of-the-year fitness assessment as well as everyone else.  Chin-ups?  *points and laughs*  Consequently I spent the greater part of my life feeling inadequate and weak, not to mention just plain fat and ugly thanks to growing up in the 1980s and its standards of beauty that no one could possibly live up to.

A lot of that changed with yoga.  Spurred by the newfound knowledge of what my body could do, I searched for any and all outlets.  Fortunately I live in a city with so many yoga studios it’s not even funny, including an actual chain of yoga studios that is responsible for churning out a steady stream of fresh graduates from their training program.  I had no fewer than three yoga studios within a five minute drive of my house, and I utilized them heavily.  I wanted something more, though.  The local yoga chain largely caters to the segment of America that just wants somewhere quiet to stretch after work, which is fantastic.  I was more interested in the spiritual aspects of yoga and the teachings of Patanjali.  Yoga wasn’t just exercise to me: it was a form of physical enlightenment.  I found my way to another studio further away but with a heavy emphasis on Buddhism.  The classes were also much harder.

The journey to yoga’s enlightenment is not without its troubles, though.  Yoga teachers often speak of practicing without judgment, which is extraordinarily difficult in a society defined by judgment.  We judge each other constantly in Western society, for our appearance, for our careers, for our clothes, for the food we eat, for the subdivisions we live in, for the cars we drive, etc.  We are steeped in judgment from the day we’re born.  Yet judgment has no place in yoga and will in fact hinder the precise work one hopes to do.  It creeps in there, though.  It casts its glance about the yoga studio and says, “You’re not bending as deeply as that person.  Your shoulders aren’t as flexible as that person’s.  Your hips are too tight.  You’re shaking too much.”  So on and so forth.  Without a lot of care, an otherwise extremely pleasant yoga session can be completely ruined by the monkey mind upstairs prattling on endlessly about all the ways I’m not measuring up.

I have to remember that the only person I’m not measuring up to is myself.  My yoga teacher isn’t judging me.  The other students aren’t judging me, unless it’s to similarly get on their own case about how they’re not doing something well enough to their taste.  The thing is that there really isn’t any one right way to do yoga.  It’s so incredibly individual that to compare one’s practice to another’s is foolhardy and self-defeating.

I have to work with my judgment if I want it to go away, though.  I have to acknowledge it and tell it, “I see you.  What do you want?”  Because judgment wants something.  It’s trying to tell me something, even if it’s going about it in an unhealthy way.  I listen to my judgment so I can figure out how to make it happy and send it away.  More often than not, my judgment is unhappy with my shoulders, which are fairly stiff and inflexible after a life of sitting at keyboards and hunching forward in an effort to minimize what is some fairly ample boobage.  Many women would flaunt their boobage, but since I’ve been the object of unwanted sexual attention from the age of 7, I’ve unconsciously slouched since Mother Nature decided to make my chest expand at the age of 14.  But that’s another post.

All that has resulted in shoulders and chest muscles that are almost wholly unfamiliar with being flexible and open.  They’re also laden with emotional baggage: I’m a firm believer in the theory that trauma lives in our body until we figure out a way to process it.  When I work with my shoulders, a well of anger and sadness opens up inside me and comes pouring out.  Or tries to anyway.  I’m in a room full of practicing yogis and yoginis, so it’s really not the time to have myself a little tantrum, which is often what I feel like doing.  Then comes the flood of judgment.

“Why can’t I get my shoulders where I want them to go?  Why am I so stiff?  What’s wrong with me?  Why can’t I be like everyone else in the room?  Why am I even doing this?  I’ll just fail at it like everything else.  I hate my shoulders.  I hate my body.  I hate myself.”

And so I stand there in the remotest corner of the room possible with hot tears running down my face, trying to hide them from anyone else who might be looking at me, struggling through whatever the pose is.  When I first started doing yoga, when this happened I would just try to ignore it and plug through the rest of the class, suppressing my feelings.  I would usually leave those classes feeling terrible instead of better like I should have (and I have indeed attended some magical yoga classes, free of my internal judgment, that I left floating on a cloud of peace and calm).  Well what’s the fucking point in that?!  I actually stopped going to formal yoga classes for some time because I was unable to stop being so goddamned judgmental of myself.  I was standing in a room surrounded by beautiful people, a beautiful non-judgmental instructor, and statues of the Buddha: it seemed sacrilege to violate the space with my own negative feelings.

Over the next couple of years I continued to do yoga at home, and I continued to read about yoga and its underlying principles.  I also began to study Buddhism much more fervently.  It was no longer just something with pleasant imagery that made me happy to look at.  Slowly I figured out how to sit with my judgment and counteract it.  Not completely, but enough that I could do yoga without ruining it.  Eventually, I figured out what my judgment really wants.  It wants love.  Love from the most important source of all: me.

When I feel that judgment creeping in, when I feel that inner hatred rising up, when I hear the inner voice saying “I hate this part of myself,” I tell myself in another voice, “I love this part of myself.”  Because I really do, deep down underneath all of that judgment.  Judgment which actually DID serve a very important purpose in my life for many years.  It was a survival mechanism that allowed me to discern people’s loving behaviors from their damaging ones, which is a very difficult game to play with some people.  I got very good at it, and when there were no more people around to play the game with, my brain began to play it with myself, which was inappropriate.  It made me label parts of myself as bad when they really weren’t.

I’m still undoing some of that self-damage.  Going to yoga is part of that, because it brings me face to face with my feelings and my ego, which one of my instructors tells us manifests the “pain-body”: the ego’s attempts to prevent us from seeing things how they really are.  My ego was very, very good at protecting me for a very long time, and now that I don’t need that protection anymore, it’s giving up its post very reluctantly.  It’s convinced I’m making a mistake, that there’s still danger out there that I need protecting from, and even if it has to make me feel like a pile of shit, it’s going to keep its vigilant guard over my borders.

It has to go, though.  Like an overprotective parent who keeps telling their kids, “You can’t do that!”, it has to be told, “Yes I can.  I don’t need your help anymore.”

This particular journey is harder than anything else I’ve done in my life.  I’ve finally managed to quit smoking (and there was much rejoicing, yay!), and I’m halfway through losing ninety pounds (for the second time in my life): this is harder.  Loving myself is harder.  Loving my body is harder.  Forcing myself to look away from the mirror when I find myself being critical is harder.  Telling myself “I love my shoulders,” is harder than telling myself how much I hate them.  I don’t know why, either!  It makes no logical sense to me, but something else I’m learning as I shed the protective mechanisms that I no longer need is that logic often has no place in determining the emotional vagaries of human beings.  I may as well try to make sense of why cats find it necessary for doors to be open, at all times.

So that is my path these days.  The path of judgment, or rather, the lack thereof.  The path of self-love instead of self-hatred.

I love my shoulders.  They are strong and can carry impressive loads.
I love my arms.  They are strong and can punch targets HARD.
I love my legs.  They do a good job of moving me around all day long.
I love my feet.  They support this body impossibly well (have you ever really contemplated what your feet have to do?).
I love my hands.  They type amazingly fast and can create beautiful art.
I love my back.  It holds the rest of me up very well.
I love my belly.  It carried my daughter for nine months.
I love my brain.  It’s the only reason I’m not dead or crazy.

I love me, and one day I will believe that as strongly as everyone else who tells me that without bursting into tears.

Credit Where It’s Due


Around 1am on Sunday morning, I marked four weeks since I had my last cigarette.  While this is not the first time I have quit smoking, it’s the first time I quit just for me.  The last time I quit, it was for my unborn daughter.  Other times I’ve quit, it’s been for boyfriends, or because “I’m supposed to”.  This time was different, though I haven’t quite put my finger on all of the different ways that it’s not the same.

I suppose the most important way that it was different was that it really was mostly for me.  Sure, I was also quitting because I knew it would make my family and friends really happy that I had finally quit, but as any addiction counselor will tell you, the addict has to want to quit, way deep down.  They may be able to go through the initial stages of quitting a bad behavior for other people, but it won’t stick.  They have to want it badly enough and think they’re worthy enough of the effort.  It also helps to have actual evidence for how things will be better afterwards.  I had that in the form of knowing how much better I would be able to do karate and other exercise after I quit.  At least, that was the most tangible reason.  Others made themselves known over the next few weeks.

Like not being stinky, though my friends tell me I was unusually conscientious in that regard.  I could tell the difference in my vehicle, mostly.  I also noticed I needed less sinus medicine and had less frequent headaches.  Food did indeed taste a bit better.  My sense of smell improved, which was good and bad.  Good when I wanted to catch a whiff of a bowl of potpourri, bad when one of my aging cats laid a stinkbomb in the catbox (which was almost enough to make me want to smoke again just to dull my senses again!).

Then I went to the gym, where the difference was showed to me in red numbers across the stationary bike readout.  I had to work much harder to get my heart rate to its target zone and keep it there, whereas before I had to struggle to keep my heart rate under my target zone.  This meant I wasn’t heaving for breath anymore, but my legs were on FIRE.  Consequently I’m getting a much better workout than I was before and I suspect I’m incredibly healthy for my age, all things considered.  At least that’s what the longevity calculator said in my fitness book, which told me my life expectancy has gone from a frightening 59 to a more reasonable 72.  A few more adjustments and I’ll have that puppy up in the 80s.

The first two to three weeks were undoubtedly the worst.  And I’m here to tell you that whoever came up with that bullshit about cigarette cravings only lasting 3-5 minutes needs a swift kick in the ass.  Sometimes that shit goes on for hours, and there’s fuck-all you can do about it except keep busy and wait for it to pass.  Indeed, many cravings are brief, but not all.  Telling quitters otherwise is doing them a disservice.  I’ve become quite opinionated over the last four weeks about the phenomenon of cigarette addiction in America, and without going into too much detail just yet, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that if we really want to get that last 20% of the country off the smokes, we need to treat it much more seriously than we have.  Quitting smoking is just as important and as difficult as quitting alcohol, heroin, cocaine, or any other addictive substance or behavior.  It’s not a weekend activity or something to be taken lightly.  If I ran things, everyone who wanted to quit smoking would get a paid month off work and a voucher to go somewhere nice for a week while they detoxed.  It’s that big of a deal.  I’m sure some of my friends who have met quitting with less success than I have might agree.

Indeed, if we treated things like smoking and food addiction with the urgency that we treat something like heroin or cocaine addiction, I don’t believe those problems would be as prevalent.  Of course, addiction treatment in general needs a serious overhaul in our country.  Namely, we need to ditch our Puritanical roots that make us think that someone who has trouble kicking something just isn’t trying hard enough or somehow deserves their fate.  Really?  Why not just shoot them in the head if that’s how you feel?  Or do they deserve to spend the rest of their lives in unhealthy misery as punishment for their inability to kick said habit?  Health begins with love, not punishment.

And that is perhaps the biggest difference between this attempt to quit and my others.  I wanted to do something good for myself, not punish myself by taking something away that made me happy.  And smoking did fill a pleasant niche in my life.  If it didn’t, I would have stopped long ago.  I had to give myself something bigger and more important to fill that gap, and I did.  I filled that gap with the love and support of my friends and family, and in doing so knocked yet another light-filled chink in my stalwart wall of self-loathing that I’d built for the last three decades out of fat, sugar, and cigarettes.  Now I’m building ladders out of karate, yoga, and community.

So, credit where it’s due.  It’s been four weeks since my last cigarette, and I miss them less and less every day.  I’m sure some gut-wrenching stressor will come up at some point in my future, during which I will have to resist the temptation to drive to any one of the four convenience stores within less than a mile of my house that sell my favorite brand and style, but I’ll just have to deal with that when it comes along.  So far a healthy dose of “be here now” has helped a great deal and I hope it continues to do so.  Not being afraid to have a good cry every now and then also helps a lot, something else our culture seems to have a lot of trouble with.  Mostly, though, I had to think I was worth the effort and give myself enough carrots to keep me going on the path.  And even if I had NOT successfully quit these last few weeks, telling myself I was worth the effort was a remarkable exercise in and of itself, because I still have trouble believing I’m as awesome as people tell me I am.

Insomnia


I hate insomnia.  It’s one of those perks I get as a woman with bad PMS which is probably bad enough to qualify as PMDD (premenstrual dysphoria disorder: not just irritable at “that time of the month”, downright psychotic on occasion).  Hence the fairly dour tone of my post.  Move along if you’re not in the mood.  I know I’m not.

Actually, I’ve had trouble sleeping since I was a child.  I remember asking my mother when I was about six who I needed to write to to add more hours to the day.  Too bad it’s not that easy.  Now, if I could figure out who to write to to just move the Sun about 8 hours, that would be fabulous.  Because I also have delayed sleep phase disorder.  Which is Western medicine‘s fancy term for a night owl who really can’t help it.  Really, I function best on a schedule that lets me go to sleep around 2-3am and get up around 10-11am.  It doesn’t matter if I get those same 8 hours of sleep at another time of day or night, I don’t feel as rested or feel like I have as much useful time during the day.  Such is my life.

Unfortunately, our world doesn’t work on this schedule, and is fairly harsh to anyone who can’t adopt the standard 8-5 routine that our culture and society demands of us.  When I had a child in 2003, it became painfully evident how out of sync I am with the rest of the world.  If you have a baby, every activity you can take the tot to happens at 9am, almost without fail.  Certainly not after lunchtime, when you should be putting your baby down for a nap like a good mama.  I’m sorry, did I drip some sarcasm on your shoes there?  My apologies, let me clean that up.

Buddhism has helped me somewhat in the acceptance department.  I can either bellyache continually about being off sync with the society I was born into, or I can try to accept it and do as much as I can about it myself.  I’d rather not take sleeping pills continually, mostly because, well, I like them too damn much.  I’m also just as likely to wander around my house finding ridiculous projects to work on in an OCD haze under the influence of things like Ambien as I am to do what I’m supposed to do, which is lay down and try to calm myself.  A love of mind-altering chemicals is one of those things I regrettably inherited from my parents and I learned long ago, and blessedly without becoming addicted to anything other than cigarettes, that I should just stay away from certain things.

Besides, long-term, they don’t work.  Not for me anyway.  Not just sleeping pills, but any kind of psychiatric medication.  I suffered from fairly severe postpartum depression after my daughter was born, for about three years.  The last year and a half of that I spent heavily medicated, largely as a result of trying to counteract the various side effects I had from the various drugs.  First it was Zoloft, which did indeed lend some “loft” to my mood and helped me lose some weight, but kept me from sleeping.  It also did nothing to address my anxiety.  Enter Buspar, which is marketed as a “safe” tranquilizer/sedative but which fucked me up far more than any benzodiazepine I had ever taken.  It took me two years to realize that it was the Buspar that prevented me from driving for a year and a half, not the other suspect: Seroquel.

Now, Seroquel is for psychotic manic depressives and schizophrenics/schizotypals.  Why on Earth my idiotic GP decided that was a good antidote to what was bothering me with the Zoloft, I will never know, though I suspect it had a lot to do with Seroquel being a new drug that its maker really wanted the doctors to ferret out to their patients (don’t get me going on the evils of our disease care system, I’ll set your ears on fire).  Seroquel turned me into a zombified eating machine.  Sure, I could sleep, but I was utterly compelled to eat in the evenings.  I literally could not stop myself from going into the kitchen and engaging in the worst kind of munchies possible, switching between sweet and salty until I finally passed out for the evening.  I put on 40 pounds in a month on that horrible stuff.  I’d probably kill myself before taking that drug again.

The worst part?  I lost a year and a half of my life while I was taking Zoloft, Buspar, Seroquel, Ambien, and Valium (the last two tacked on to address lingering anxiety and sleep issues).  A year and a half of my baby’s life.  It’s all a blur that makes me incredibly sad when I think about it too much and I’m really grateful that I was at least taking pictures of that time of her life.  Otherwise, I might not remember a goddamned thing about her from the time she was 18 months old to the time she was 3.  Yay for Western medicine!  *eyeroll*

So, yeah, homegirl’s not too hip on the Western brain meds anymore, not between my own experiences and watching doctors try to treat my mother’s mental illness to no avail.  Hence my deep and abiding interest in Buddhism, Buddhist psychology, mindfulness, meditation, and the other things I’ve taken up in the last three or four years to counteract my lifelong headmeat troubles, which thankfully pale in comparison to those of my parents’.  I still believe that awareness is the most powerful tool available to anyone suffering from mental difficulties (though I certainly don’t condone going off one’s meds without some deep introspection and guidance from a qualified health practitioner, nor do I believe that meds are unnecessary for everyone).  I’ve also come to appreciate the places that my brain will take me when it’s insomniac and too tired for its own good.  It’s almost trancelike in its quality, and if I just follow the meandering path that it’s on, I’ll usually learn something very interesting.

For the other bad spots my life hits from time to time, I’ve learned the value of a good cry and just being with my feelings.

Hey there, anger, how’s it going?  Not well, I can see.  What pissed you off?  Can you fix it?  Work on that tomorrow.  Or just accept that you can’t.  Let’s just sit here and feel how much this sucks for a little while.  And remember, this moment sucks, NOT you.

And when I do that, it doesn’t last nearly as long as it does when I try to put on my bravest face and just pluck through life the way we’re taught we’re supposed to.

See?  Insomnia takes me strange places.  Now it is 3am and I should really go and sit on a pillow and stare at a candle or something until I get tired enough to fall asleep.  Mother Nature will turn my cycle soon enough and I’ll be able to slumber normally.  And think normally.  Mostly.  🙂

A Difficult Morning


I was asleep surprisingly early last night.  Usually I’m up until at least midnight or after, but I was asleep by 11:15.  I drifted off happy with the knowledge I’d get nearly seven hours of sleep.

Mother Nature had other things in mind around 4:30, of course, as did my daughter, who came padding into the bedroom not long after I laid back down.  She’s been having some bad dreams lately, so she comes to get in bed with us.  Unfortunately she’s still extremely wiggly, as are many child sleepers.  So that means one or both of us don’t rest very well after she gets in bed.  Today that was me.  It wasn’t entirely her fault.  I’ve always had a bad case of hamster wheel brain, and it likes to get going as soon as I wake up some days, despite my best efforts.

Dude, you’re awake!  Sweet!  So what was I saying when you so rudely started watching Doctor Who last night?  How many times can you watch that show?  Anyway, there’s a bunch of stuff bothering me I want to talk to you about, and there’s so much to do, and FUCK it’s almost Christmas! And…..

Dude.  We should go back to sleep now.  There’s lots more snoozing time.  We can deal with this shit in a few hours.

But, I’m busy thinking about everything I didn’t think about yesterday and everything I’m supposed to think about today and how can you sleep when there’s so much to be worried about anyway?!

I can’t deal with that crap until I get enough sleep.  Shutup and go to sleep.  Pretty please.  With a fucking cherry on top.

But…but….and don’t you really want a cigarette now?  It’s morning!  You’re supposed to get up and make coffee and smoke now!

*sigh*  We don’t DO that anymore.  We’ve had this discussion.  We’ll keep having it until you get it.  We.do.not.smoke.any.more.

On and on ad nauseum, until I finally got up in frustration, as well as hunger, since my stomach had also woken up and was chiming in by that point.

Dude, you’re up!  Awesome.  Let’s eat!

I’m going to kill both of you.  Wait, that’s me.  Gah!  *tries not to break things*

Welcome to my brain.  This is how I start many days.  Especially since I stopped smoking.  My resilience against irritation is extremely low at the moment, which itself annoys me.  So I’m always annoyed right now.  I bet it’s lots of fun for my family.  Not.  Today, though, I did try to just be accepting of the circumstance, be here now dude, don’t be attached.  My inner Buddhist tries hard to console me in the morning when I am undoubtedly at my worst.  Get up, make tea, begin reading email, Facebook, and so on as I wait for everyone else to wake up.  I probably should have gone to sit on a pillow and stare at a candle instead of a flatscreen monitor, and I’ll try to remember the lesson from the rest of the morning and do that next time I’m up early.  I didn’t, though.

I thought I was in a fine mood until I actually started interacting with my family, when I became incredibly irritated and angry about very small, silly things almost without warning.  Just, BAM!  Then everyone felt bad and I felt stupid and just wanted to smoke even more.  I hate having to apologize to people before 7am, it’s just a bad setup for the rest of the day (though it’s better than just not apologizing at all).  Of course, then I had to figure out why and how the morning took a wrong turn, because I hate starting the day that way and would like to avoid it whenever possible (understanding that everyone has a shitty morning every now and then).

I never classified the addiction of smoking the same way I classified other addictions, like alcoholism.  That is, I never viewed smoking as the kind of “covering up other things” addiction the way drinking or other drug abuse often indicates.  I was quite incorrect.  I’ve discovered a myriad of ways that I was using cigarettes to cope with, avoid, or outright ignore a variety of annoying aspects of my life.  Including not thinking about things that bother me, and not coming up with better ways of dealing with those things.  It also means discovering precisely what annoys me, because every time something annoys me, I want a cigarette.  Sometimes I don’t know I’m annoyed until I discover I’m having a craving.

Fuck, I really want to smoke.  Why?  Because I’m really annoyed.  What’s annoying me?  That doesn’t usually annoy me.

Yes it does. You just usually go smoke instead of dealing with it.

*opens mouth to retort and then shuts it*

This has been an extremely humbling experience, needless to say.  I’m having to STFU an awful lot as I discover new things about myself that somehow got wrapped up in my smoking habit.  I suppose it’s much the same way when any ingrained habit is discarded, whether it’s shopping, smoking, or playing too many video games.  They’re all avoidance techniques to cope with life’s stressors.  Which makes me sound like a fucking rehab manual, I know, but I see that now.  It is what it is.

In this morning’s case, I was having a bad time coping with a chronic lack of sleep, blood sugar that probably hadn’t yet recovered despite eating breakfast, some underlying stress regarding the holidays, money, and family, and only being on day ten of not smoking after having been so on and off for the last 25 years or so.  I should really treat everyone, particularly myself, with a lot more kindness and patience.  That’s a lot to deal with and I forget that because of how I grew up.  I’m used to chronically having too much to deal with all at once and am conditioned to do so without realizing it until I’m cracking at the edges.  Like this morning.

This post probably makes a lot of sense to some people, and absolutely none to others.  However, I’m really tired after only five hours of sleep instead of closer to seven.  I just know I’m really determined to figure out all of my feelings that relate to smoking so that I don’t go back to doing it, so I pretty much just follow my brain around and document what it’s doing.  This was the path it took this morning.  I think it needs more rest, so I think I’ll do that for it.  Then it’s time to plan for Christmas cookies.  🙂

Incongruous


The incongruity is not lost on me that my first public blog post, in a blog at least partly about Buddhism and Buddhist-type things, was a wish list of material things.  I’m sure there’s no shortage of forum discussions on the internet about how Westerners seem to gloss over the teachings regarding non-attachment in their zeal to be enlightened.  The whole point is to discover that you don’t need the thneeds* of our society in order to find enlightenment.  It’s all between your ears waiting to be discovered.  I get that.  I also get that I’m on a path, not a single point.  I’m relatively distant from my destination yet, and I’m willing to bet shedding the less desirable trappings of my Western life is going to take some time as I proceed upon my path.  Small steps.  Getting rid of old habits, bad behaviors, and negative patterns takes time, and I know personally that it can be potentially damaging to do so too quickly.

I recently quit smoking about a week and a half ago.  Long enough for the nicotine to have been finally processed out by my body, but not long enough for my brain receptors to return to normal.  That may take weeks.  This time quitting, I know that, and expect it.  The last time I tried to quit about a year and a half ago, I didn’t expect that, and I tried to change too many habits all at once in a very well-meaning effort to manifest some very broad change in my life.  It was a little bit like learning how to drive and doing really well at low speeds, then suddenly deciding I could drive 80, with predictable results.  I wasn’t just going to quit smoking, I was going to do it in the middle of a fairly intense dietary shift that involved not drinking coffee anymore (a really huge thing all by itself, as any Javacrucian will tell you) not to mention restricting a number of other areas of my diet that had been important to me.  If I could go back, I would point and laugh at my hubris.

The day I tried to quit was devastatingly unpleasant to the point that my husband pointed out that this was far from the goal I had in mind and that trying to do that for much longer would be way more detrimental than getting a pack of smokes and re-evaluating what was turning out to be a disastrous plan.  That’s the polite way to say it.  Really, there was something of a look of desperation on his face as he plaintively asked if I might not want him to go get me some cigarettes since this didn’t seem to be turning out very well.  At all.  By any stretch of the imagination.  Anyone who specializes in helping people quit smoking or any other addictive behavior will tell you that a positive setup is everything.  Without it, you’re doomed.  As I was.

Now, I’m certainly not equating the severity of nicotine withdrawal with trying to be less materialistic, but they can conjure the same feelings, because they’re both addictions.  Addictions have claws.  They like to dig in.  If you want to get free of them, you have to treat them like freaked out cats and slowly pry their claws out of you to minimize damage, preferably with the help of a gloved friend.  At least I needed help anyway.  Not to mention time and patience, and if you can chill out the cat in the process, that’s even better.  Willful dislodging of the offending addiction is so much better than ripping it out.  I don’t know about you, but I’m just whiny and resentful when I’m in pain and am not very likely to get the gist of whatever lesson it is I’m supposed to learn.  More specifically, I would never have been able to quit if I hadn’t engaged in a lot of inner and outer preparation so that when the time came, the lesson would not be lost in the roar of withdrawal.  I didn’t do enough of that the first time, so when I tried to rip the angry cat off me, it really fucking hurt and it didn’t take long for me to give up.

I’m sure the same thing would happen if I suddenly tried to be a teetotaler with Stuff.  Whatever lesson I would be trying to learn would be lost in my feelings of discomfort.  Which tells me I’ll probably never be one of those people who goes off to northern India with nothing but my toothbrush in search of samadhi.  It will take time, patience, and a lot of preparation, and I’m never going to be completely devoid of Stuff.  Even the owner of my favorite yoga studio, which is based in Tibetan Buddhism, has a house.

So I’m trying to do with myself and my Stuff what I did with the cigarettes, which has been largely successful so far.  That starts with a lot of introspection and radical honesty with myself.  Why do I like my Stuff?  Does it serve some purpose?  What are those purposes?  Do I have needs or do I have thneeds?  See, I think a lot of more enlightened folk get upset when Westerners relegate that which is very important to them to the level of being a thneed.  A statue of Buddha purchased so that he will complete the decor of a room is a thneed; a Buddha purchased so that his face helps instill peace inside you is not.  A meditation pillow purchased because it was the most beautiful and the most expensive is a thneed; a plain one that assists you in being more comfortable and therefore more able to reach a heightened state of mind is not.

Maybe someday I’ll be the sort of person who needs nothing more than my yoga mat for doing yoga, meditating, karate, and napping in the Sun at the park.  At the moment, though, I like having Stuff around that helps jolt me out of my usual zombiefied state of complete non-awareness.  A teapot that reminds me to stop for fifteen minutes and enjoy the quiet stillness of preparing, steeping, and drinking a cup of tea.  A pillow that sits in a prominent place that reminds me to sit down and meditate, if only for a few minutes.  Sure, there are probably a couple of thneeds on my list, but they’re the sort of thneeds that give me that jolt, even the pen holder (slow down, write, don’t type).  I’m a fan of anything that helps me remember what I’m supposed to be focusing on, even if it seems incongruous at the moment.

*A ‘thneed’ is a “thing-need”, a Dr. Seuss-ism from his story The Lorax, an almost frightening foreshadowing of our decreasingly vegetal and increasingly concrete, material world.