Monthly Archives: May 2009

Writing Group Topic: Emotional Sobriety

Emotional sobriety isn’t something I tend to think of as being a problem for me. That is to say: I am sober of emotions, period. However, I would argue that this isn’t altogether a good thing!

To what degree that is simply a stoic personality and to what degree I am suppressing or just not receiving emotions, I don’t know – but it’s definitely a mix of both. I’m certainly an overall stable personality, not going through heights and valleys all the time. I always have been “level-headed and determined”, and I suppose these things mean that I can get very focused on outcomes, at the total expense of emotion along the way. In others as well, not just myself. I have a desired outcome; whatever my emotions along the way I either ignore or they just don’t exist (I don’t know) – but I have to consciously remind myself of the emotions of others. It would be easy for me to walk all over people; not doing it is a choice and I am very conscious of it. I have the capacity for incredible callousness – compassion is not in my nature – but I make that choice all the time, from the head rather than the heart.

So, emotional sobriety: check. However, there’s obviously a flip side to that coin, and that is, I don’t get close to people because I cannot connect on an emotional level with them. I connect through the mind, but that only gives a certain depth… so I’m aware of a lack in that area. I’m happy (not ecstatic; just comfortable) and have nothing to complain about, but mentally I’m also aware that I am probably missing out on positives.

Where does it come from on the “nurture” side? As I said, personality is part of it, but upbringing certainly is another part. My aunt, where I lived after my mother’s death while I was age 15-18 (then my aunt died), was emotionally abusive. In German the word for it could be literally translated as “psychological terror”. She knew what hurt, in terms of emotional pain, and used it with laser-sharp accuracy and relentless repetition. I believe that treatment on a daily basis taught me to live emotion-free, because if I had them, she would know and use them to hurt me. So I just learned not to care.

For example, after my mother’s death my aunt would use the guilt I felt about it (I was my mother’s primary caregiver during her illness and sometimes just absconded without telling her where I was – staying for a night at a friend’s house, for example – which made my mother’s illness worse because it was a psychosomatic disease which was worsened by distress. In effect, my behaviour killed her sooner than she would otherwise have died.) My aunt would use this, bring it up and discuss it like a bulldog with a bone for hours on end, over and over again, and the effect was that after a while I just learned not to feel pain about it. Today I can truly say I don’t care because it didn’t matter, she would have died anyway and the shorter her suffering the better it actually was for her (it’s an incurable, always fatal disease). Although I’m still sorry I caused her distress, of course.

There are many other examples – basically, whenever I had an emotion, or became attached to a person or thing (started to care), that would be used against me. After my mother’s death I used to go to a local horse stables, riding and helping with the horses, for several hours every day. I loved it, I loved the people, everything. It was an obvious target for my aunt. Over the course of months, she clipped my time there for various reasons, it was the standard punishment for anything I did wrong time at the stables was cut. The twist here is that it was cut permanently, not just for that day or that week. So gradually, my time at the stables was whittled down to something like an hour per week, at which point I said forget it and just quit it. So she didn’t have that leverage any more (nevermind, she moved on to the next thing I cared about).

Sorry to go on for this long… I’m finding things out as I write about them. I don’t know if any of those emotions are resurrect-able, as they have certainly been killed off very efficiently during my formative years. Plus, of course, it’s partly my personality as well. I guess more will be revealed as I remain abstinent…

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I choose my attitudes

I choose my attitudes. That is so true – but I’m not always aware that I have that option. I am getting more aware of it more often, though! This week there was a great example of this. I had to go to Birmingham for a week of studies. It’s about 2 hours 10 minutes to drive, or it should be, so I left about 3 hours before I was supposed to be there. It was a relaxed drive, but once I got to Birmingham I got hopelessly lost, and with no satellite navigation I was totally on my own. I drove around for a long time, getting stressed as time passed, but not yet too stressed because I had factored in that time. When I eventually found the place I had about 10 minutes left… and then I hit the parking lot. Which was packed full, they were letting cars in one at a time as others left, and the queue stretched for two blocks. I sat in it for about an hour before I got to park.

By the time I actually got out of my car and made my way to the building, I was thoroughly stressed as well as annoyed and desperately wanted to vent onto somebody – blame someone, find fault, hurt someone. Seriously. But as I walked toward the building I became aware that I could, alternatively, simply walk in there, decide to like the people who were there, take a light-hearted approach and laugh it off.

That’s what I did – I apologised for being late, explained what had happened, smiled a lot, and chose to interest myself in getting to know the people who were on the course with me. They are in fact a fascinating lot, from all over the world. The course has so far been demanding, exciting, stretching… and all because at the beginning I decided I was going to have a positive attitude and enjoy it.

I’m still in Birmingham. I stay with a couple with two young kids, and I had never met them before (I know the guy who leads the relating church here, and he arranged it). Why I’m always fearful of meeting new people I don’t know, but I was and I consciously chose, again, to believe the best; to get to know them and be interested in them; and to simply walk in there with an open attitude and BELIEVE that I was going to really like them, and they me. And so it is! They are wonderful, great to talk to, so interesting. And they are so great about having me in their home, I’ve got an ensuite room to myself and wireless Internet and they gave me a key to the house as well as lent me their satellite navigation (thank GOODNESS!).

So again – my natural inclination is always for the worst, anticipating and expecting bad things and getting them. Not believing the best will happen, not believing the best about people. As I become more aware of the fact that I have a CHOICE to make in this, I try to make it as much as possible and I find the concept – and the results – revolutionary.

The unexciting life

Somebody recently shared the saying, “carry water – chop wood”, meaning that we continue to do the boring stuff of life, that we can’t stop doing the basics. I’d never heard the phrase before but it got me thinking. I tend to expect some sort of excitement even from the most basic of tasks… or I’ll get bored… perhaps part of that leads back to the food, too. Even if I was satisfied with my diet of the week I kept tweaking it – why? To get more enjoyment… to speed up the weight loss… because I could…

Today I obviously don’t have a diet to tweak. In fact, in what I believe is a gift from God, I have been given such contentment with my food and the ability to take off the expectation of constant new thrills from food that I am perfectly content with eating the same thing over and over again, simply because I like it. But the issue hasn’t gone away, its focus has simply shifted.

I think it’s hedonism, for me personally. Sure, it’s in most people and the marketers play on it (otherwise, why would anyone ever use a different shampoo once they found one they like? It’s the need for a change, just for the sake of change). But in my case I believe that hedonism ran riot with the food and I can still be unreasonably looking for change without need. There’s another saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and I really need to learn that.

I really think I’m over the top with this sometimes… I got bored with brushing my teeth, so I bought an electric toothbrush. I get bored with the products I use on my body (toiletries) so I keep looking for different / better ones. Heck, I even get bored with showering but there’s no way out. 😉 I get bored with my commute and take different routes. I get bored with my desk setup and rearrange my stuff. Same for my room at home. I get bored with coffee and switch to tea, then back. I thrive on routine and I know it, yet at the same time I feel this need to break out of it and tweak it in some little ways until I end up with something unworkable and impractical!

Not sure why that is. Perhaps sustained abstinence over the long term will give me more clarity on that and it will work itself out. Right now I just thank God that the food is not the focus in this particular obsessive issue any more.

Writing Group Topic: Think – Do – Feel

I find it easy to apply think-do-feel in that order when it comes to food. Perhaps I have somehow managed to learn something along all this way, who’d believe it?! It’s abstinence, of course, that gives me this clarity – not that I would have it if I wasn’t abstinent. There is no amount of learning that would remain with me if I stopped being abstinent, but what I do learn now, I grow in as long as I stick around.

1 – Think
It’s the order of living, of action… thinking is what gets me to consider the action. Sure, I can over-think it and think myself out of it again (as with exercise) but it’s the calm, unemotional thought that considers my physical wellbeing and makes a rational choice that I should exercise. It tends to do that only when I’m NOT about to exercise. Once the time comes, a wholly different mental process kicks off… and that’s the one where I need to quickly jump to 2), or 2) won’t happen.

Case in point: I have struggled for weeks, months, years with getting into a regular exercise routine. Then, over the past eight weeks or so, I have been faithful and committed to a sane workout every other day and it has been, while not easy, simply something I *do* – not something I wonder about, negotiate on the day, reconsider. I just do it. What has changed? I don’t know, I truly don’t. Perhaps partly it is that I have a routine that I know I will simply follow through, no decisions to be made during it (i.e. should I do X, Y, or Z now?). All I need to do is show up physically and do what I committed myself to doing. A lot like abstinence really, I’ve pre-defined what it is I’ll be doing and that’s just that. Without a sponsor, however, that isn’t a 100% commitment like abstinence and for the moment I’m quite happy with that: I don’t have to exercise, no matter what. Nothing bad happens if I don’t do it one day. Whereas with food, that’s a whole different story…

2 – Do
The crunch, I believe, is the mental process that chooses to kick from thinking to doing. I have rationally decided to do something; so now I need to choose to do it, rather than wait for the feeling to kick in to make me do it. I’ll have a lot to share about this once I start my dissertation (later this month). I don’t ever feel like sitting down and doing the research and the work and so on. And I can’t say it makes me feel particularly good – compare and contrast with abstinence, which DOES make me feel very good on a daily basis. Writing a dissertation does not make me feel good. Finishing it doesn’t, either. I want the end product, that’s all. So there’s a choice to make, on an almost daily basis, to do what my thought processes have told me to do, despite a lack of feeling. I’m sure I will have insights to share about this soon enough…

3 – Feel
That’s the final thing… and feelings really are valid. If I did what I do, every day, without ever getting a reward that feels good, I’d be an idiot. I want to feel good, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Abstinence is the only thing that can lastingly make me feel good – there’s a momentary pleasure, surely, that I used to get from food, but abstinence gives me a sustained serenity, self-assurance because I know I look good and because I am looking after myself, discipline I can apply in any other areas of my life, self-respect… I could go on and on. It’s just the difference between feeling “now” and feeling “later” – I read somewhere that young children live for the “now” feel-good factor, because their horizons are short, and as we grow into adulthood we ought to learn to take a longer view. Well, I struggle with that, but perhaps I’m slowly growing into adulthood, one day, one issue at a time.

Abstinence is its own reward

Someone apparently found my blog by typing in a search for “abstinence is its own reward”. I don’t think I’ve ever used those words, but there’s certainly truth in that…

Abstinence has enabled me to have a life, quite simply. Because I am abstinent, I’ve been able to focus on living my life – moving continents, getting qualifications, building friendships, crafting my career. The rewards are endless. But, would I choose to be abstinent even if none of that ever materialised?

A resounding YES to that!!

I had a sponsee for a while who kept asking me why her life wasn’t getting any better now that she was abstinent. (mind you, she never made it to 90 days). Her life sucked, according to her, and she was disappointed with abstinence because it didn’t make everything better.

As for me, personally: I will take a life that sucks over a life consumed by food any day. When I ate, I despaired on a daily basis – I had no life, and I couldn’t die. I was merely existing. To me, no matter what life will still bring my way, abstinence has got to be first because no matter how bad my life gets, I can still have hope for it to get better – I’ll work on it, I’ll trust that circumstances will eventually change, I trust that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

That’s what I lose when I’m not abstinent: hope.

No matter how bad things get, I have hope because I know that “this too shall pass”. But the food never passes. If I drown in that, I lose hope, and that is the darkest place to be. I don’t want to go there today, so I’m abstinent – no matter what.