A Morning Run in San Francisco

SunriseWaking up at dawn, tying up my shoes, and running in the cold morning air was not what I wanted to be doing.  I climbed a small footbridge to get up to the running route where I was meeting a new friend.  At the top I turned around and the sky was lit up magenta and purple.  Suddenly it was all worth getting out of bed for.  I’m getting back to running after a long hiatus.  The San Francisco hills did my running in when I moved here a few years ago from the Midwest.

I forgot how strong I feel after running, the feeling that I’ve accomplished something, the greater appreciation I have for my body and what it can do, how my skin fits better, and the way I’m more okay during the day and able to go with the flow.  Exercise, I’m discovering, is critical to my recovery and is keeping my depression at bay better than anything else I’ve tried.

Building in ways to keep myself accountable is the only thing that works for me. Arranging a time to meet a friend for a run, getting a babysitter, whatever it takes so that there’s something else I’m on the hook for besides just running for myself.  I logged 14 miles last week.  Hopefully I’ll get in a few more this week!

 

 

 

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Finding Calm

Captiva Blue(c) Open Hearted

I spent the other week on a little island in the Gulf of Mexico, a place that holds a lot of magic and healing for me.  The sunshine and humidity warmed and brightened up my spirit from the inside.  The salt water washed away the sadness, grief and depression that had been plaguing me in San Francisco.  It was a little staggering how quickly my depression receded.  I felt like myself again – real laughter, real rest at night, moments of real joy, and real love in the arms of my daughter and husband.  While I’m so grateful to have had that time in Florida to find myself again, it made coming back to San Francisco unbearable.  This angry, overtired, mean and grumpy person, I felt desperate not to let her take hold again. The answer is that I need to put taking care of myself (and my sobriety) at the top of my list.

I’ve been plodding along in recovery from alcohol for the past two years with the help of a twelve step program, and now that I’m solid in my sobriety I’m feeling a nudge to go further.  I found a psychiatrist that deals with depression and anxiety, a counselor who works with addiction and now it’s time to make the changes that I’ve been avoiding.  In the beginning, I did whatever I needed to not to drink. Everything else could wait, and I’m so glad I did that because it let me find freedom from drinking. Now, the things that I have been looking to for relief – sugar, comfort eating, TV – aren’t helping me. They’re keeping me stuck. I want to get back to that joyful, easy going girl I remembered on that island. So I’m posting here for some accountability.  These are the main stays of my self-care.  (Not to mention, the holidays are here so having bullet proof self-care is a good plan.)

Casting a Spell

Essentially setting an intention is always the beginning for me.  The inner witch in me likes to thing of it as casting a spell. I want to heal from the emotional pain I’ve picked up over the course of my life and move through it, rather than drag it behind me.  That’s why I’m doing this.

Sleep

At minimum, 7-8 hours of sleep keeps me on an even keel.  With a toddler that often wakes up at night that’s not always possible.  In that case, I nap whenever I can.

Exercise

Running, yoga, dancing anything that gets my body moving and my heart rate going I count.  For some accountability, I took a little risk and reached out to find a running buddy.  Now I have two women that I meet twice a week to run and it’s the only thing that gets me out the door on the cold, dark nights of winter.

Eating Well

I have a lot of issues around food.  In the past I’ve obsessed about calorie counting, restricted and binged, and stuffed my face with food hoping it would make me feel better.  What’s working for the moment is focusing on structure – three meals and one snack – as well as getting enough protein.  These two pieces have been helping the most.  My energy is better and I feel like I’m eating for nourishment.

Spiritual Growth

I try to do one little thing every day that makes my spirit happy – reading a poem, going to recovery meetings, or reading recovery literature.

Creativity

Maybe it’s a strange one but when I’m not creating something I feel really angry, like there’s something inside clawing at me to get out.  Writing in a journal, cooking a new meal, writing a blog post, singing anything that helps me feel like I’m living a creative life.

Meditation

This is the one I don’t do, but makes me feel immeasurably better when I do.  Time to start doing it…

Gratitude

Every morning I write a list of the things I’m grateful for right when I wake up.  I’m also part of a private gratitude group on Facebook.  A small group of women friends all post each day about one thing they’re grateful for.  It’s been a really powerful way to connect and stay grounded no matter what happens.  Each day I’m reminded that I have everything I need, and a lot of things that I want.

 

A Favorite Poem

Being Boring

‘May you live in interesting times.’ Chinese curse

If you ask me ‘What’s new?’, I have nothing to say

Except that the garden is growing.

I had a slight cold but it’s better today.

I’m content with the way things are going.

Yes, he is the same as he usually is,

Still eating and sleeping and snoring.

I get on with my work. He gets on with his.

I know this is all very boring.

There was drama enough in my turbulent past:

Tears and passion – I’ve used up a tankful.

No news is good news, and long may it last.

If nothing much happens, I’m thankful.

A happier cabbage you never did see,

My vegetable spirits are soaring.

If you’re after excitement, steer well clear of me.

I want to go on being boring.

I don’t go to parties. Well, what are they for,

If you don’t need to find a new lover?

You drink and you listen and drink a bit more

And you take the next day to recover.

Someone to stay home with was all my desire

And, now that I’ve found a safe mooring,

I’ve just one ambition in life: I aspire

To go on and on being boring.

– “Being Boring,” by Wendy Cope from If I Don’t Know

In the Summer Time

“In the Summer Time When the Weather is High, You Can Reach Right Up and Touch the Sky…” – Mungo Jerry

San Francisco summer = fog.  Chilly, windy, fog that makes me curl up and make chicken pot pie most nights to warm me up from the inside out.  I’ve been longing for the hot, sweaty Chicago days doused in humidity that I grew up with.  The days stretched on forever and I couldn’t believe it could still be light out at bedtime. My little kid mind was blown! What I miss most is the promise of a completely empty day waiting to be filled with play.

The options were endless.  Did I ride my purple, banana seat bike in my bathing suit all day? Sprinkler hopping down the block? (That’s me above on the right – how I loved that it was okay to run around with no clothes on.) Did I relocate all of the toys from our basement out into the front yard for the fresh air I thought they needed? Or did I wait for a summer afternoon thunderstorm knowing that I would  walk through the puddles with my mom when the moon came out?

The possibilities only grew in middle school – nothing planned, nothing scheduled – weeks and weeks of freedom.  My favorite memories turn to spontaneous water balloon fights and Super Soaker battles with my very best friend and the boys that lived on the block.

Then camp (full disclosure: horse camp) a month of summer away from my family for the first time. It was also an all girls camp.  I lived the truest possible version of myself I ever have at 10, 11, 12 and up until 16 at this tiny camp in Mazomanie, Wisconsin.  I found my voice at camp and owned it like never before.  The filter that was as reflexive as swallowing, measuring each and every word I uttered, was gone. My somberness gone.  My worry about whether I was good enough dried up and blew away. I was who I was and that was okay.  Fear, shyness, insecurity evaporated and I felt free.  This freedom to play and discover let me figure out who I was at my core.

I found my voice I did. I know I did.  But I manage to lose it more often now, and have never lived it as much as I did then.  So I’m adding more play into my life this summer. Clearly my cube-mates at the office probably wouldn’t appreciate a spontaneous Super Soaker fight…  I think it’s more about leaving a day entirely untouched, unscheduled and following my nose.  Doing whatever I feel like doing, and not worrying about it. (My only rule is turning the TV off. I watch so much it must be rotting my brain.) This New York Times article on busyness underscores the importance of idleness, and it was shared on Facebook so many times that I think it’s something we’re all aching for.  So go play.

Confession: I listened to Mariah Carey’s entire Daydream album while writing this post. If you were 10 when it came out it would also be one of your life anthems.

Finding an Opening in a Song

A string of chords, a wisp of lyrics, an intrinsic rhythm of a song can rip your heart wide open when you least expect it.  Sometimes it’s a song you’ve never heard before.  Sometimes it’s a song that’s worn itself well into the tiny crevices of your heart, hiding so deeply you wouldn’t even know you remember it until you do.  I’m a sensitive person, so much so that it can overwhelm me.  Music helps me float in that sensitivity without drowning, coast with it, overcome it, or open up when I’ve shoved everything I feel way down deep.

Things were pretty rocky growing up in my house.  My parents were deeply unhappy in their marriage in the early years of my childhood.  Certain albums cast shadows in my past.  When I heard Carly Simon’s Have You Seen Me Lately, the sense of betrayal and despair that swept the house was palpable, even to a seven year old child.  The notes of Jackson Browne could cast a spell of sadness in a moment that transfixed all of us.

The pain of those years is still so accessible that as I prepared to marry my husband I was haunted by Coming Around Again. It got stuck in my head, around and around, warning me that I was signing myself up for some sort of inescapable disappointment.  The lyrics hit at the core of my fear: “I know nothing stays the same… but if you’re willing to play the game… it’s coming around again… so don’t mind if I fall apart… there’s more room in a broken heart… and I believe in love… but what else can I do… I’m so in love with you…” I thought that no matter how happy I was with my partner now, in a marriage you inevitably doomed yourself to decades of unhappiness.  Eventually I worked my way through by remembering that I was making my own choices and not destined to reap the same pain I saw my parents grapple with.

When I was young there were also the nights when Buckwheat Zydeco blared loudly out of the giant speakers in their bulky wooden cases, pumping out through the open sun room and out through the glass slatted windows opened wide to the muggy Chicago summer air.  My dad making us laugh wildly as he danced around the house. Or Baby Now That I Found You which we sang with our mom on every family trip until our adolescence crept in and made us reluctant to join her.  Those memories come back as vividly as the painful ones.

Those are the songs at my core. They’ve shaped in one way or another the role music plays in my life now.  I’ve created my own soundtrack too, certain albums and playlists represent whole periods of time, disappointment in love, loneliness, newly found independence, new jobs, new cities, new friends, new chapters.

As I sat down to write tonight I longed for the perfect song for the first time in a long time.  I realized it had been ages since I’d bought any new music, much less thought about it.  So I followed the nudge and started browsing through new music.  The waves of emotion that rolled through me as I found one song after another I understood how long it’s been since I’ve had my heart open.  This week I’m listening to more music to create more openings for however I’m feeling.  You pour what you’re feeling into the music, but it offers something back to you too.  It’s no wonder they say that music can have a profound influence on our moods.   Depending on what I choose to listen to it’s wondrous how hopeful, heartsick, pumped up, or nostalgic can feel after listening. In a song, I can find the emotional opening I need.  Keep listening.

Decluttering, Or Easing Into Action

I’ve been hit by spring cleaning. Well, that’s actually a lie.  I’m a complete and total freak and love spring cleaning.

When I feel overwhelmed about making any change in my life or taking action (sensing a theme here?) sometimes the only thing I can do is unclutter.  It seems like the most manageable task.  Something I can actually tackle.  So far I’ve got my inbox done – deleting most of the email subscriptions I signed up for.  Instead of being inspired by the content flowing to my finger tips each day I was beginning to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it.  I’m a bit obsessive compulsive and have to read every email I get.  Turns out it was making me a whole lot less productive…  Instead of an inspiration it was distraction.  I also deactivated my Facebook account.  (I don’t think we need any explanation on that one.  Though be warned it makes it a whole lot harder for friends to remember your birthdays.)

I also have a penchant for self -help books. It *might* be an addiction of sort.  I know I’ve hit my limits when I can’t access any original thoughts in my brain.  Instead all I have access to are euphemisms, famous quotes, mantras, affirmations, metaphors, meditations, breathing exercises.  They all get jumbled around together and turn into useless garbage, blundering around my head.  I piled up the towers of books to give away and held on only to those few gems I couldn’t live without.  Simplify.  Focus. Calm.  I’m already feeling so much better.  I have space in my head for my own thoughts.  I have moments on the train when I can let my imagination wander, keeping my cell phone in my purse instead of my hand.  This space always feels so good.

I’ve been talking about needing to take action, do something.  Fear has been holding me up.  I have to say decluttering is about the best first step you can take for any creative endeavor.  With the space I found in my head, my home, my heart, I left room for my intuition.  The funny thing is the action became more effortless.  Suddenly the next steps are right there in front of me.  I have to say, I’m really, really excited about most of them.  Guess what?  With enthusiasm, comes ease.

The magic spell:

Decluttering leads to space, which leads to calm, which lets intuition speak up, and voila.  The path is illuminated.

I love the saying “do without doing and everything gets done.” I guess some of those quotes are permanently programmed into my mind regardless of whether or not I kept the book it came from.  This is a good one though.

I have more decluttering on the agenda for the next few weeks – bookshelves, kitchen, bedroom, living room, study.  Here we go!

Getting It Done…

Go get shit done.” I should have this tatooed on my forehead.  I have such a hard time with just doing things.  I ponder, question, analyze, over analyze, reevaluate, think some more, and I’m lucky if I actually make one change or do one thing.  It’s a pretty good flipping day when I get anything done.  This quality has some advantages. I’m usually pretty prepared, have a back-up plan (or twelve), and really know all of  my options.  I mean really know them.

More often than not, I get paralyzed in thinking and never actually get to the doing part.  It’s a really big problem. So the post I linked to was a much needed kick in the pants.  Time for the doing of things… I’m clearing out some space, and instead of spending so much time and energy figuring out what I want to do, just winging it.  (I’m such a rebel, I know!)

I’m not talking about being aggressive or forceful with myself.  The truth is, if I stop and listen to my intuition for a minute, I know what needs to happen next.  Whether it’s with writing or improving my marriage or friendships, I know what to do.  When I let the self-doubt come in the procrastination takes hold.

Less (over) thinking, more doing.  Go do something.  Whether it’s attacking the pile of dishes in the sink, or finishing up a chapter in your novel. Do it, now.