Archives for Recovery

Mentoring

The Real Story Behind Whiplash

Yup.

Former career-minded musician that I used to be, I finally watched the movie "Whiplash."

I had been told to watch it because I might be able to relate from my own years of intense musical practice.

In this, my best friend in particular warned it might have a "few scenes" I might find disturbing.

After about five minutes, I assumed she was referring to all the scenes.

I loathed this film from the start.

I hated everything about it - from the inaccurate portrayals of drumming and musicianship, to the seeming decision by screenwriters and producers alike to skip over meaningless steps like fact-checking jazz history, to the gratuitous displays of vile meanness that are already so prevalent in society today. However, in the midst of all this, one important actual fact did stand out.

In the opening scene, we meet the main protagonist, first-year aspiring jazz drummer Andrew Neyman.

Neyman desperately wants to rise above the mediocrity he sees in his family and those around him. To achieve this, he practices until his hands literally bleed.

His drive attracts the attention of the story's main antagonist, Shaffer Music Conservatory conductor and bandleader Terence Fletcher.

As a teacher and mentor, Terence Fletcher is as vicious and abusive as it gets. He quickly singles out Neyman for special attention.

At first, young Andrew seems to fold under the pressure. But then he surprises us (or at least me) by coming back for more....and more....and more.

Somewhat late in the development of Andrew's story, a minor character named "Sean Casey" is introduced.

We don't ever actually meet Casey...this is because he is dead by the time we first hear his name. 
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Mentoring

Seeing the Light in Dark News

A few days ago, I got a pile of news all at once.

Some of the news was awesome.

Some, not so much.

But all jumbled up together, it felt challenging to organize which was which all on my own.

At times like these, I crave conversation with a certain type of person - that rare confidante who can look into the jumble of seemingly conflicting information and reliably pull out the light. What I learned from sharing this last jumble with various confidantes is that this is a rare gift....or perhaps a skill...or both.

In other words, not everyone has it - and those who do have it tend to be rarer than those who don't.

I have also learned that often parents don't have it - at least when it comes to their own spouses, parents, kids, pets, and grandkids.

In other words, just as my worry setting seems permanently stuck on "high" when it comes to Pearl, my parrot, and Malti, my baby tortoise, my own parents exhibit the same for me.

So if I share some good news and some bad news with my folks - for example's sake, let's say it is an unexpected sudden reduction in my freelance income - my mom, as self-appointed SpokesParent for them both, will translate that in her head to mean, "My daughter is going to be a homeless bag lady by tomorrow morning!!"

Then she will begin peppering me with questions and ideas (until, frankly, being homeless and living out of a bag begins sound both peaceful and freeing).

What is particularly ironic is that I DO have this gift for reliably finding the light in the jumble - or, in my case, I have this as a skill which I have consciously and deliberately developed for myself through much prayer, meditation, and daily self-effort.

I have taught myself to take in any news, and then instantly look for the bright spot in that news, no matter how hard it may be to locate.

For instance, let's say I am looking at the aforementioned unexpected reduction in freelance income. Instead of automatically heading towards "OMG - I'm a homeless bag lady!," I will say to myself, "How exciting! I wonder what kind of work I will be doing next! I'll bet it will be something even better than what I was doing until now!"

If - as such news sometimes does - it comes with compliments to myself included - I will read and re-read those compliments and allow them to soak in.

If there are no compliments I will compliment myself (after all, somebody has to do it.) 
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Mentoring

As the Pendulum Swings to the “Binge” Setting

I logged into my Amazon.com account today, and what did I see?

One word: "BINGE."

Each letter was decorated with television characters. First of all, as a Business/Marketing major, I must give kudos to Amazon for what is most likely already a very effective marketing strategy (I say this because before I saw it on Amazon, I saw the same strategy being used on Hulu to advertise their "Hulu Plus" TV streaming service).

But now what I thought (hoped) was going to be a very limited, localized ad campaign is spreading.

We - all of us - are being encouraged to "binge" on a variety of things besides substances and so-called "junk" or "bad" food.

Television, exercise, health foods and supplements (aka "orthorexia"), life hacks, anything is fair game for bingeing these days.

Sadly.

While clearly this doesn't apply in certain situations (heroin abuse, for example), in most cases a big facet of my ongoing recovery work is to replace words like "binge" with a phrase my mom has always used:

Everything in moderation.

Unfortunately for those of us on the moderation bandwagon, moderation doesn't sell.

This is because moderation doesn't have "star appeal."

It isn't glitzy or glamorous or extreme.

It won't make news headlines.

It won't sell anything to anybody (unless perhaps it comes attractively - if deceptively - packaged as "life balance"). 
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Emotions

Steering Clear of Needy Greedy “Love”


At times, I ask the wrong people for advice about the wrong things.

When I do this, I tend to get, well, bad advice.

As my mentor has often reminded me, the key to getting good advice is to ask the right people about the right things.

Here are three examples:

If I need advice about a recovery issue, I want to ask someone who is a few steps ahead of me on the recovery journey and/or has professional expertise in recovery matters.
If I need advice of a romantic nature, I want to ask someone who is now/has been in the past in the kind of healthy romantic partnership I aspire to also be in.
If I need advice about my career, I want to ask someone who has expertise in my line of work or a similar profession.

You probably get the idea right away. But often I still don't.

Recently I ill-advisedly shared news-in-progress about some possible choices my significant other and I were talking over with someone who (frankly) didn't meet the criteria to offer advice in this area.

Yet I got advice anyway....and the advice was along the lines of "but what if you don't get everything you want and need by making this or that choice?" 
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Celebrity Mentors

John Nash and How He Changed My Life


On Saturday, May 23, 2015, John Nash & his wife, Alicia, were riding through New Jersey in a taxi.

They had just returned from the Abel Prize awards ceremony in Oslo, Norway, where Dr. Nash had accepted his prize from the King of Norway himself.

For those of you who may not know this, I dedicated a whole chapter and several more pages of my first book, "Beating Ana: how to outsmart your eating disorder and take your life back," to Dr. Nash's story.

Even though I consider him one of my longtime mentors, we never met, but he and his wife were instrumental in stabilizing me in recovery nevertheless.

From Dr. Nash, I learned there really is such a thing as "mind over matter" (at least my personal matter, that is), and that it can be life-saving.

In this, he helped me increase my daily practice of "putting my mind on a diet," a regimen he credits with helping him overcome the effects of paranoid schizophrenia.

And reading and watching his story (through Sylvia Nasar's biographical book, "A Beautiful Mind," and then the Ron Howard movie by the same name), forever cemented my commitment to keeping my own counsel - about my chances for a successful recovery AND a successful life.

My whole life is better because John & Alicia Nash refused to listen to anyone who claimed he could never overcome his mental illness. 
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Mentoring Book Reviews

The Specific Scent of Snakes


I have a friend named Laura who is very afraid of snakes.

She has a husband, two kids, and a Masters degree in Forestry and Wildlife Management.

Laura has been bitten by monkeys and rabbits and has faced down a whole room of Congresspeople without quailing.

But she becomes literally paralyzed with fear at the sight....or even the scent....of snakes.

Her full name is Laura Collins Lyster-Mensh, and I know about her fear of snakes not because she is my longtime friend, colleague, and mentor, but because I recently read her memoir, titled (wait for it) "The Specific Scent of Snakes."

While reading her memoir, I also learned about her life in rural Virginia, where she and her family lived in a house with (her words) "fallible electricity" and a party phone line, as well as a fairly eclectic assortment of animals including goats, rabbits, chickens, foxes, and, well, snakes.

I learned about her three heart-wrenching miscarriages - each losses that occurred long before she and I met, but which affected me perhaps even more deeply because of this.

I also learned how she began to make and sell her own soap and how, in the course of her healing process post-miscarriages, she came to adopt a baby son.

And I learned how amazingly good she became at denying the undeniable presence of snakes in her country home...until one day  when she finally met one of the household's scalier residents face to face. 
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Animal Mentors

The Face of Unconditional Love


It has taken nearly half my life to realize unconditional love is a very achievable experience that I really can have.

I can receive it. I can give it.

However, being me, at first I tried to tackle unconditional love the same way I try to tackle everything new - the hard way.

I tried to give it long before I knew what it felt like to receive it (no experience = no ability).

I also tried to find it with people first (in a word - whoops).

And I tried to find it in big chunks rather than in fleeting moments (which was all I could sustain at first).

Later I learned it is much easier to find unconditional love in nature before seeking it amongst my own kind. 
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Mentoring

My Body, My Self-Worth


It happened again.

Even while I was still happily occupied with consuming my morning carbs, two brunching friends began discussing dieting.

One was on Adkins, the other just beginning some new diet focused on counting (and then subtracting) sugar calories.

Irked, I piped up with a gentle, "I hate diets. No diets!"

One friend (let's call her Ms. Sugar Calories) replied, "This isn't a diet. It is an eating plan."

The other friend (let's call her Ms. Protein) reinforced, "And the cravings really do go away after the first two weeks."

And we wonder why I don't get out much these days.

I mean, with all the pain and struggle in the world today, what IS it about whittling down our thighs (butt, belly, etc.) that has us so riveted?

I have a few friends who are further up in years than I am (I'm in my 40's, and they're in their 60's-70's) and STILL the obsession remains.

I don't want to be 70-something and still contemplating a tummy tuck.

I mean, to be perfectly frank, I don't want to be contemplating a tummy tuck at any age, but by the time I reach age 70, IF I reach age 70, I definitely plan to exempt myself from any further such contemplations.

I also don't want to diet. ever. again. And I don't plan to either.

Unfortunately - if I must admit it - this actually makes me feel left out sometimes.

This is because I don't have anything to add to this still-favorite topic amongst practically everyone I know....and my attempts to shut down the topic typically lead to equally unwelcome side conversations where I am simply left out entirely.

It is like the whole world is still happily sucking down heroin and I'm the sole token abstainer....and I'm also the only one who seems to be aware that the stuff is bad news, toxic, not to be trusted for, well, anything at all.

Worst of all, the part of my mind that is still recovering from my own 3-decade obsession with body shape and size often feels fragile enough to get sucked in, wondering if perhaps I should at least hear my friends out before assuming their shape and size issues don't apply to me.

What if they do?

The other day I tried to be companionable as my mom was talking about her new "healthy eating plan." I told her it sounded interesting and she should send me the link to learn more.

Really, I just wanted to check out this book and its author to be sure there wasn't anything dangerous about what my mom planned to try.

But in the process, somehow I communicated the idea that I was also interested in reducing belly fat and reshaping whatever remains.

It is all so frustrating.

Because it is not as if there isn't - potentially - belly fat to reduce or other areas to reshape. There certainly is that, if I wanted to go there.

And a part of my mind will probably always be interested in - and concerned about - this exact issue....and wanting to go there.

But here's the thing.
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Mentoring

If I Had Only Known


Today I went to the chiropractor, like I always do on Thursdays.

Afterwards (like I always do on Thursdays) I stopped at the cupcake shop.

I got my usual - hot chocolate (with whip) and a cupcake.

I love going in the cupcake shop.

The people are always so happy in there.

The counter staff, the customers, even the "frosters" - visible through a glass wall as they work hard to frost and decorate cupcake after cupcake - everyone is smiling.

And why not - we are all there for a sweet treat, whether for ourselves, for others, or both. No one is there to have a root canal or pay their taxes.

We are all happy, anticipating something tasty we don't get every day.

But today for some reason, as I left I remembered a time (actually a whole decade or two) when a visit to a cupcake shop wouldn't have made me happy at all.

I would have been anxious, miserable, stressed out.

I would have felt like all eyes were on me (instead of on the delicious colorful cupcakes in their little display cases).

I would have been oh-so-conscious of my body as it carried me into the cupcake shop, moved around, looked at everything, stressed some more.

And this would have been because, during these years, I didn't know there was any other path to happiness than through changing my body shape and size.

I didn't know I could be happy - ridiculously happy, actually - without being smaller too.

I had no idea I could live a totally happy, totally fulfilling life at a healthy weight, shape, and size for me.

If I had known this - had known that "happy" and "thinner" had nothing to do with each other - I don't think I would have tried so hard to change the way my body looked.

But I didn't know. 
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Mentoring

Having a Body is Hard Work


A couple months ago I got very, very sick.

It was the kind of sick where you walk around the house muttering to yourself, "I am soooo sick," because you are so sick you are afraid you will forget how sick you are and attempt to do something stupid (like go to make tea and accidentally burn the house down instead).

I was so sick that even the tiniest, simplest daily tasks felt monumental.

Get out of bed. Whew. Check.

Brush teeth. Give me a minute on this one.

Shower. Not gonna happen.

Get back in bed. Whew. Check.

Making meals, brushing hair, changing clothes, answering emails (lucidly), applying deodorant....mostly, these things had to wait.

And in the couple of weeks it took to begin to heal, I found myself meditating daily on what a big responsibility it is to have a body to take care of! 
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