Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Run With Purpose

Over the course of many years of yoga, I've become familiar with the concept of dedicating your practice. By bringing some kind of focus to a yoga session, one gains more from the experience. This dedication can be anything really, from a general "end to suffering" to a personal feeling of stillness. It can even be more physiological in nature. One could devote a yoga session to "hip opening" or "strength".

I've recently come across a similar idea about running. There are four key objectives for training: speed, endurance, distance, and stamina. Successful training sessions target one or two of these items. It is impossible to make progress on all four at a time. I really had not considered this before, which means that I often spent my runs trying to go faster and further and harness more energy. I was running with competing objectives and setting myself up for failure. By pausing for a moment before a run to set an objective, I'm able to enjoy it more. I'm less likely to feel a sense of failure. Beyond the four physiological objectives of running, there can be emotional dedications too. Sometimes I run simply to stave off madness. Or to think about a problem. Or to clear my head so I can do the next right thing, instead of acting from ego.

As someone with a tendency to drive harder all the time, often without any notion of where I'm going, keeping things simple really helps. Life is like this too. By stepping back each day to think about my goals, to make them reasonable, really makes it easier to deal with...uh...the bullshit we're faced with every day. In some ways it's obvious, but for someone like me, who has spend much of this life not feeling good enough, it's a real blessing to have these physical lessons begin to spill over into the rest of my life.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The People Speak

It's interesting to me that the post that is consistently at the top of my "read" list is also the one that causes me the most embarrassment. It's the I Don't Want to be Married post. I just checked google and it is fourth on the search results page (right after Kim Kardashian). Great.

Anyway, I'm not complaining. I just find it interesting and wonder if people who read it are married to alcoholics, or if they're simply trapped in a marriage that makes them unhappy. I wonder if what I wrote helps. I also think about the changes that have come since I wrote it. In Alanon we're told that our lives can improve whether or not our qualifier stops drinking. I think this is true, though I would add that there are limits for as long as we stay in those relationships. In my experience, it was possible to carve out a small space for myself, but it was not possible for me to find lasting peace while we were in the same household. So, I would re-write the Alanon claim to state that it is possible to find happiness whether your qualifier stops drinking or continues, but that it may be necessary to stop contact so that their crazy and destructive behavior is no longer front and center.

I may have written this before. I can't remember, but again and again I return to the belief that it's much harder to be with an alcoholic than it is to be an alcoholic. When you are the problem, you feel nasty and guilty and fearful, but you also are anesthetized to your own life and the effects of your behavior. Denial is a blanket. When you are sober and watch someone you love deeply (or at least, used to love deeply) destroy themselves and everyone around you, it hurts like a bitch.

I am surprised to be one of the "lucky" ones. Still. After six months. I never thought my life would turn out this way. It took me a long time to get to the point where, in surrender, I was no longer willing to fight for my marriage. I hold onto a part of that resolve in my heart even now, so that if I need to I will get out much sooner next time. But for today, things are so much better than they've been in years. I feel blessed.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Power of Stupidity

A week? I can't believe a week has gone by since my last post. As the days pass by, I'm often struck by a sense of strangeness that people drink at all. To me, there is little difference whether there's a bottle of wine on the table or a box of pills. All take you somewhere else when consumed.

This morning while I was walking the dog a memory came back to me. We used to have dinner frequently with a couple and their two kids. After dinner, we'd put the kids in the living room with blankets and a movie. The adults would sit in the dining room and drink. We all got drunk. Every single time they came over. Sometimes they would have us over for brunch. We'd all get drunk then too. I thought this was great fun at the time. It meant escape and good humor. Now, I wonder what we were thinking. I wonder why they got drunk. I guess I got drunk because I was an alcoholic, but to me that begins to sound like, "It's a circle because it's circular."

Now, I look at those experiences and I think about opportunities wasted - I missed out on the potential to experience real friendship and true intimacy. Now, when I attend dinners and everyone drinks, I find it a bit sad. Because it is sad that we associate a good time with checking out. It is sad that we all get a little stupid instead of making our own fun.

I'm really so glad I don't drink anymore. Although I will admit that yesterday I briefly missed my holiday in a bottle as I tried to fit in all of my obligations and responsibilities. Booze has a way of making the time stretch out endlessly and part of me wished I still had that ability. Then, I snapped out of it, remembering that time wasn't actually stretched....I just used to go to bed at two o'clock in the morning.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Real and Imaginary Limits

It's very cold here. So cold that running seems like a bad idea. Unfortunately, I've come to rely on running to maintain a semblance of sanity. Running has effectively replaced my previous reliance on candy. Candy has its upsides, but the downsides are many - weight gain, sore teeth, sick stomach. However, my ability to eat it is not dependent on the weather, so yesterday I decided to return to my old friend to deal with the stresses in my life. Unfortunately, it did nothing but deliver on the stomach ache. My irritability grew as the day progressed and the weather refused to let up.

A smart person would realize that it is better and easier to sit with irritability than to try to "get over it" by displacing it with candy... or running for that matter. I know this intellectually. The issue I have with being irritated and "sitting with it" is that it always seems to happen when I need to "keep it together." I am sure it will get easier with practice. In the meantime, I went running last night, despite the subzero temperatures.

As I ran along, it occurred to me that we often limit ourselves unthinkingly. These limits aren't "real", instead they're based on our perceptions. I saw a bumper sticker yesterday that said: "Don't believe everything you think." and it seemed very appropriate. As this percolated, I came to the conclusion that we really don't know what can't be done until we try. Trying once is not enough either - we need to gather more evidence, try other strategies, and keep going. It is only with multiple attempts and more data that we can really come to real conclusions. The rest is simply an imaginary limit, enforced by what we think is true.

With that, I'm going to plunge myself back into the sub-zero temperatures and see what emerges from the experience.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Shoes Make the Woman

When I started running I started reading every book I could find about running. I did the same thing when I quit drinking. For me, there's something about research that grounds my beliefs and proves my goals are attainable. There are several things I learned that have contributed to my success and I wanted to share them with anyone who wants to start running:
  1. The shoe debate: most shoes on the market have incredible cushioning and motion control built into them. Most books make shoe recommendations based on gait and foot structure. Research has shown that this technology has done nothing to reduce the rate of injury in runners. The latest research suggests that one should buy the most comfortable shoe. I inadvertently bought a shoe with minimal support, minimal cushioning, and no stability control and my knee problems disappeared (this is a long standing problem for me). When I replaced those shoes based on the recommendations at the running store (the shoe I'd been wearing wasn't made any longer) I had near-instant knee pain. Trust your instincts here - blame the shoe first. Most shoe stores will allow you to exchange your shoes if there are no signs of wear - I took five different pairs for a run, cleaned them, and returned them. Yes - it was embarrassing to go back to the store for the fourth time. On the plus side, I found shoes I really love. One other thing: don't tie your shoes too tightly - pain in your arches signifies that the shoe is too tight. And lastly, buy non-cotton running socks.
  2. Running form: here too, I found multiple conflicting perspectives. Some advise aiming for a heel strike and a wide stride to reduce injury, while others argue for a mid-strike. Bio-mechanics indicate that a heel strike (hitting the ground with your heel first) increases the overall stress on your body, suggesting that the mid-foot people are right. For me, heel strike feels unnatural and increases my knee pain. Keep in mind that a shoe with alot of cushion will force the heel strike. Go with what feels natural.
  3. MP3 or No? When I started running I believed music made it easier to run. When I tried without it, I found it much easier. I can't explain why, but it seems like the music overwhelmed my ability to concentrate on what I was doing. My brain was screaming instructions (like: "WTF?" "Stop running before you pass out") at the same time the beat was blasting away in my ears. Now I do use music on longer runs because I get bored, but I find it easier to stay focused and relax when there's no music. 
  4. Start Now: You don't have to change or improve yourself before you start running. Whether you're still drinking or still smoking or whatever, you can still take this one step.
  5. Winter training: I started running while it was still warm out and was really worried about the snow and cold weather. Now, I really love it. (Of course, winter has been mild so far.) One fun fact about running outside in winter: you burn significantly more calories in the cold. There are a few keys to success:
  • Don't overdress: I overdress every single time I go out, because I'm a complete baby about being cold. The key is to wear layers that will hold body heat that keeps you warm - you are actually supposed to be cold for the first ten minutes - after that, you'll be warm as toast. I always end up running with two layers tied around my waist because I get so hot.
  • Wear performance clothing: When I started, I wore cotton. This is not a great idea in general, but in winter you'll freeze to death. Sporting stores seem to charge a lot for clothing, so I go to REI/MEC or Marshalls/Winners/TJMax.
  • Wear a hat and gloves: It makes an obvious, but huge difference.
  • Buy crampons: I usually just wear my runners and stick to areas where I know people keep their walks clean, but on icy days with a lot of snow, I attach crampons to my runners. Make sure you buy tight fitting ones with small spikes.
For all the runners out there - what did I miss?

Close to the Precipice

I had my birthday last week and it was truly a wonderful day. It was peaceful and I felt appreciated and cherished. Right before I fell asleep it suddenly occurred to me (again) how close I really came to losing it all. When I was drinking I was not responsible or trustworthy. I could not be relied upon to take care of things. My husband used to drive me a bit nuts because he would often take over tasks and imply that I couldn't do them correctly. I was always offended by this subtle indication that I wasn't good enough. Especially when the tasks were simple.

From this vantage point, I am able to see that I did need to be managed. My willingness to "throw caution to the wind," (translation: have another drink or six, even though it's Tuesday) came and went. Some days I was responsible, while other days I couldn't even take care of myself. There was always a continual stream of negativity flowing through my brain from the moment I woke up until I passed out.

One thing that alarms me is that I didn't think things were so bad at the time. I really didn't. I came within an inch of losing everything, including my life, and seeing that was a gigantic surprise to me at the time. I was so completely out of touch that I had no idea. It's difficult to articulate, but it's the one thing that scares me about the whole alcoholic self-diagnosis. In some ways, it would be like saying that we cannot diagnose a schizophrenic - they must diagnose themselves. It's likely that not everyone was in as much denial as I was, but holy hell! I really couldn't have been more out of touch with reality.

Anyway - I'm glad (really glad) that I'm here now. I'm thrilled that my ability to delude myself is much more limited in sobriety. I'm thrilled to have my family around me - to appreciate them and to feel I deserve their love too.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Running Diary - Part 1

 Over the years I've tried to get into running multiple times. Each time, my strategy was to run as far as I could without dropping. I assumed that over time I would be able to run farther and farther. Instead, (without measuring distance or time) it always felt like I made no progress. Each run felt as difficult as the last one and over time I developed a real aversion to running. It's somewhat funny that when people ask me how I stay fit, they don't blink when I tell them I don't drink, but when I say I run, they tell me fitness just isn't worth it. I think at base, most people understand that alcohol makes a person fat, but running seems a punishment too intense to contemplate.

There are many excellent books/programs out there for anyone who wishes to start running - most of them say the same two things:
  •  Most people go too hard to fast and eventually give up hating running.
  • Success will come if you alternate walking and running (in the beginning you walk far more than you run)
I used The Beginning Runners Handbook. The thirteen week program enabled me to go from running for 1 minute/walking for 3 to the point where I was running 30 minutes at a time. Some sessions felt easy, while others felt really difficult. Each time I worked my way through a difficult session, I felt like a super hero. Somehow, I was able to get through. The second thing I did was to measure my time and distance. In doing so, I had an objective measure as to how I was doing. On days when I felt the run was impossibly difficult, it often coincided with the days when my pace was faster than normal - I learned to slow down a bit. For this, I use RunKeeper. Sometimes the GPS drops out, but overall, its a great app that sends you an email each time you beat your personal record (on time, distance, duration, elevation, etc). This positive feedback really helped me in the beginning and continues to inspire.

I'm at the end of the first week of an 18-week Marathon training plan. I've only been running for four months now, but am inspired by the challenge. It may be too soon (as I don't have a long base of training) to do really well, but I don't have to do well. I only have to finish. I know this is possible.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Gratitude List 2011

A key part of planning new goals is taking time to look back to see how far you've come. It takes some amount of time to find enough objectivity and compassion to make the exercise beneficial (if you're like me and have a tendency to minimize success and maximize punishment over perceived failure). However, from this vantage point I can see that 2011 was a year of significant growth and change. Here is my gratitude list - unlike the list of goals I put together, this list is not as concrete.
  1. I was able to maintain my sobriety for a full calendar year (still on-going):  as a result my clarity improved. I was slowly able to see things and people from a more compassionate place. In part, I think this is solely the result of removing the physiological and chemical poison. In part, it is the result of continuing to strive to a place of peace.
  2. I read so many fabulous books and blog posts: I am astonished at the wisdom out there. I read so many things that helped me, allowed me to keep going, and provided comfort over the past year.
  3. I survived the near breaking point of living with someone else's addiction: regardless of how it's turned out I have learned about my bottom lines and the importance of making choices that work in the long term. I've learned that I'm worth it - that happiness and peace are down to the choices we make each day. We can't choose our circumstances, but we do have the power to change things - even if the immediate options suck.
  4. My marriage is so much better: there is still a lot of work to do - building trust takes time. Re-building a relationship takes time. That said, I feel closer to my husband than I have in a decade, maybe ever. I am grateful for that for today, regardless what happens in six months or six years.
  5. I discovered running: ah joy. Sweet joy. Nothing brings me more peace and more pain. I'm learning about my own physical limits and how permeable they are. I'm discovering moving meditation and the thrill of sweaty pain.
  6. My career is more in perspective: my job (and how people felt about my performance) used to define me. This is no longer the case. I'm not sure where I will end up in the next year or two, but I finally feel like I have a more realistic attitude. I'm not defined by the job I get paid to do.
  7. My kids are thriving: this is related to 3 and 4 and 1. I see evidence every day that life in an alcohol-free house allows them to be real kids. They trust us more and also (not coincidentally) misbehave more. They're louder and more giggly simply because they don't have to protect themselves so fiercely.
  8. I'm building a support system: compared to this time last year, I have so many more people I rely on to help me through difficult times. I'm continuing to seek out ways to immerse myself in community. It's so nice to feel less alone.
There is likely more to say on these topics, but the list captures most of what I wanted to say. It's still true that without my sobriety none of the above would be true. It is foundational to my growth and potential. It's foundational to the changes in my confidence, general happiness, optimism, and trust. It all started there.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Goals for 2012

I hadn't planned to take a week off from writing, however, my days were packed with kids and activities and errands. In the end, I was grateful for what little time I had to lie around on the couch. The break went far too quickly - I wish I could rewind it to get a few extra days. This morning when I woke up I tested out a cough to see if I was getting sick. Pathetic really. It's not going to happen.

Many plans have been percolating around my mind in a half-baked state. For most of 2011 I felt there was so much I wanted to accomplish, so much to do, that most things simply festered. This year I want to be more mindful about how I spend my time. This year I want to get specific about my goals. So here's the list:

Running
  1. Run a Half-Marathon in less than 2 hours.
  2. Run a Marathon in less than 4:30 hours.
  3. Listen to my body so that I can avoid over-training and injury.

Writing
  1. Work through the Artist's Way series
  2. Write more on this blog and worry less about what people think about it.
  3. Complete my half-finished novel.
  4. Publish two short pieces.

Work
  1. Find peace in my current job or move onto something else.
  2. Hit my sales targets.
Family
  1. Continue getting closer and more intimate, while respecting my own bottom lines.
  2. Take more risks in my personal life.
I tried to make as many of these specific and measurable as possible. For some, it wasn't really possible, but I wanted to capture my own sentiments. One obvious glaring omission isn't really an omission, but is an underlying condition for meeting any of the items listed above: I will maintain my sobriety over the next year. I am still often astonished at the difference it makes to my daily life.

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