Pen and Moon

from the writing nook of Theresa Jarosz Alberti

Tag: feelings (page 1 of 2)

How to Rebuild a Life in 3 Easy Steps

Hi folks, it’s been awhile. I’ve been wanting to write but the summer somehow passed in a blur, and I’ve been unsure about what I want to say.  After this wild year, I think I’ve needed time to catch my breath and digest what I’ve been through.

 

But yes, it is a year this September since Bob told me he wanted a divorce.  It’s hard to believe that much time has passed already.  It’s been a period of chaos, commotion, heartbreak and loss, but also growth, discovery, healing and connection.  My life is so different from where it was a year ago, and I am different too.  It’s a good time to look at where I am now, and where I’m heading.

 

But first, where was I a year ago?  I can see now I was stuck in many areas of my life. I was stuck at 305 lbs and using food daily to manage my feelings.  I couldn’t handle fear and anxiety (among other things), and I wasn’t able to face things I needed to move forward on– getting a job, writing, promoting myself, dealing with my clutter issues.  After years of obesity, my body was suffering from disabling pain every day and this kept limiting me.  I was able to do less and less, and I hated that.

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100 lbs: Lessons in Less of Me

A few weeks ago, I reached a big milestone —I stepped on the scale, ecstatic to realize I’ve lost 100 lbs. since 2005. I used to watch The Biggest Loser and I remember how exciting that moment was for contestants, achieving that goal. It boggled my mind to think of doing such a thing myself. What would that feel like? Now I know…

 

Pretty damn good! 🙂11072306_10153139153744431_1028452397_n

 

     My friend Serena tells me that my weight loss is great, but it’s one of the least interesting things about me, especially after the tumultuous year I’ve had, and the many changes I’ve made. After a lifetime of focusing on weight and feeling fat (whether or not I actually was fat), I love that comment of hers. I’m starting to believe it. Losing weight is really good for me because it’s improving the quality of my life and my health so much. But I am so much more than this.

 

But in honor of this milestone, I’ll share the story of how I got to where I am and what I’ve learned along the way.

 

     For the first half of my life, I had a pretty normal body size. I was a bit chubby, but as I look back at photos of myself, I’m surprised at how average I looked compared to how I felt about myself. I was bigger than my thin sisters and I developed a butt and hips early. I was sturdy, but I was full of body shame early in life, felt fat, grotesque, unacceptable. I know this isn’t uncommon for a lot of girls and women, which is really sad, and such a waste.

 

     My mom and a few others were preoccupied with my weight, and I became self-conscious and awkward, and this added another link to my low self-esteem. Our home life was chaotic and dysfunctional with addiction issues, and I didn’t have the security or support to cope, so by age 11 I was well underway to an eating disorder. After a little dabbling in anorexia, I became a binge eater (which wasn’t recognized as an eating disorder at the time, so when I tried to get help as a teen I couldn’t get treatment). My old journals from my teens (and my 20s, 30s and 40s) are full of angst about food, weight, my body, bingeing and my attempts to fix that part of my life.

 

wedding     I look back on the photos of my wedding and honeymoon, and in retrospect, I can see how normal-sized and lovely I was. But I remember how fat and unacceptable I felt on my honeymoon—too big, bloated and out of control.

 

I’d spent most of my life feeling fat, but I had no idea of what it was like to actually BE fat. That soon changed.

 

     I started gaining some weight after I got married. I was finishing my college degree while working and adjusting to married life. I was completely stressed out. Then I got pregnant with twins and had a tough pregnancy with preterm labor, was on hospitalized bed rest for 6 weeks and gained a lot of weight. We became parents of preemies, dealt with the NICU, then brought them home and I became a stay-at-home mom.

 

For me, food was my primary coping mechanism to get through all the stress and challenges of my life. I’d been in therapy for years but suffered a lot of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. I didn’t know how to feel or handle my feelings. I didn’t know how to get out of these traps that kept me stuck.

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Cut to the quick—by 2005, I’d gained 200 lbs. since our wedding day in 1989. I remember stepping on the scale and seeing the number 348, my highest weight ever. I realize that if I took 3 more steps forward I would be closer to 400 lbs. than 300, and I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t do that. Also, we were planning our month-long trip to swap homes with a family in Germany. I wanted to be able to walk around with my family to see sights, I wanted to fit on the plane better. At the time, I could barely walk 2 blocks.

 

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I started walking on the track at the Y, once around at first, then increasing little by little. I rode the stationary bike too. I gave up a few of my addictions, like replacing my frequent habit of McDonald’s biscuit breakfast sandwiches with a homemade healthier version of a whole wheat muffin, an egg, Canadian bacon and spinach.

 

     By the time we went on our trip, I had lost over 30 lbs. and could walk 2 miles. It was a great trip! I was still morbidly obese, but now I had an exercise habit.

 

Over the years since then, I had times of achieving some healthy success followed by relapses. I still struggled with my eating disorder and all the personal issues that kept me stuck. My weight yo-yoed, mostly staying around 300 lbs. I sought help in many places and always kept trying—I had a personal trainer and started running, even made it through a 5K race once even though I was incredibly slow. I took many classes like Zumba, step and spinning. I read books and took online workshops trying to deal with my eating. It was always a struggle.

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Gradually my extreme weight began to greatly affect the quality of my life beyond just the usual frustrations and annoyances of being big. My body couldn’t handle it anymore and I began to live with daily debilitating pain. My feet and knees hurt constantly, my legs stiffened up with arthritis; I hobbled around and received many comments about my limping. I had to give up the exercise classes I loved because they hurt too much. Even walking hurt. When Bob and I had our wonderful 2 week trip to England and Iceland last year to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, we walked a lot and I did my best to keep going. I was in great pain every day despite pain killers, and we had to stop frequently so I could rest. It was so discouraging.

 

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know what caused all the great change in my life. When people ask me how I’ve lost weight in the last 7 months (down 62 lbs. since then), I ruefully tell them, “Well, first my husband told me he wanted a divorce, and then I lost my appetite…” That’s the simple version. I was so blown away by immense grief and overwhelming anxiety that I couldn’t eat or sleep for quite a while. That was the beginning. And in the process, I ended up taking a good hard look at my life and realized that I really hadn’t been happy with so much of it. I’d just been existing and complacent. With my new magnifying lens, I saw that my eating disorder and my extreme weight were ruining my life. I was handicapped with pain and could do less and less. My obsession with food was a factor in Bob wanting a divorce (it wasn’t the main thing, but it was part of it); it had affected our relationship. It was a raw, hard truth, and I was finally waking up to it. And I saw and acknowledged for the first time that It Just Wasn’t Worth It. I had looked to food with some excitement and anticipation for most of my life, and now I saw that what it had given me wasn’t anything I wanted anymore. Numbed out on food, afraid to reach for goals in my life, afraid of my own feelings, I wasn’t really living. And I decided then and there, I didn’t want it anymore.

 

10981798_10155369677360545_5085440350496665717_n     It may sound strange to say it, but dealing with food and losing weight became easy after that. I suppose easy isn’t the right word, but I no longer struggled with the compulsive urge to eat because I didn’t expect it to be anything more than nourishment anymore. Having a treat, having something taste great was no longer a priority. And since I could no longer hold back my feelings anymore because they were too big, now I didn’t need food to cope with them anymore. Now I cried and screamed and yelled. I talked to Bob and friends about my grief and pain. I opened myself up through blogging, sharing my story and asking online friends for help. I was and am basically living a whole new life. And I got help from The Emily Program, and local eating disorder clinic as well, which has given me a lot of support.

 

As I lost weight, my pain levels started to go down drastically and I began to be able to exercise and walk again. Clothes started fitting better, and then I began to pull out things from the back of my closet that had been too small for a long time. I started feeling attractive for the first time in a long time—but part of this was all the work I’ve been doing to heal my heart and my self-esteem too. I am aiming to move beyond all the things that have gotten in my way before, and I’ve been plumbing the depths of painful issues from my past that I’ve carried around. Not only am I lighter physically now… I’m getting lighter mentally and emotionally too.

 

Over the years of being so interested in food, I have amassed a lot of knowledge about nutrition, fitness and health. These are topics that have always interested me, so I’ve read a lot and learned a lot as I’ve gone. Now that I’m not bingeing on junk food (as was my frequent habit), I’m able to eat for health most of the time. Pleasure is a factor and it’s nice to eat tasty food, but it just isn’t such a priority for me anymore.

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There’s an old saying I heard when I went to Weight Watchers many years ago: “Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels.” I don’t really like that saying—it sounds smug and patronizing. But I do have to say that for me, nothing tastes as good as being alive feels. Nothing tastes as good as finally letting my authentic self come out to engage with the world. I have been given a great gift though this whole painful process—ME! I’m finally able to love myself, to have a body that feels good, to feel my feelings and be vulnerable with people. Even with all the pain, I wouldn’t go back to where I was last summer.

 

Looking at these old photos of myself makes me very sad. I know all the pain that was hidden under all that weight, and I deeply regret how much time I wasted and how I felt about myself then. But I’m coming into a new compassion for Old Me now. I know how hard she worked, how she never gave up despite not being able to make lasting changes. And she did all the ground work for me to be able to move forward now.

 

I still have a long way to go on my journey to get down to a normal, healthy size. Another 100 lbs.! It doesn’t seem so daunting anymore, since I’ve already done it once. I’m so grateful to be where I’m at in my life right now. I still have a lot of painful emotions to work through and many challenges to face in my life, but I feel so much better now. Physically better, and better about myself as I really come to love myself. This is a good place to be. Thanks for all your support, my friends!

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(Many photos by Bob Alberti)

 

Divorce Lesson #10

I’m sitting out here at the almost-6-month mark.  It’s been quite a journey, and my life is basically unrecognizable from what it used to be– mentally, emotionally and physically. I’m crossing a landscape of intense feelings I never knew existed before.  It’s weird.  It’s good. It’s hard. It’s my life.

I know I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been on a voracious knowledge-seeking quest (hence my Hermione nickname).  I haven’t been able to read fiction hardly at all–  I’ve been absorbing self-help and relationship books at a fast pace.  Because of the intensity of my situation, I’ve been on a steep learning curve and I’m racing to keep up.  I want to know everything NOW—  which sounds a bit desperate, and maybe it is, but it’s been fueling huge growth for me.

The relationship between Bob and me is continuing to change and grow.  It can never go back to what it was before, and that’s good.  In many ways, we were stifled in our marriage, and it took this blowout for me to wake up and see it.  I wasn’t really happy, not with our relationship or with myself. Even though this whole process has been terribly, sometimes unbearably, painful, there are many great and hopeful things coming out of it.  To name a few– I’ve lost 50 lbs so far, my eating disorder is no longer crippling me, my physical pain has diminished, my activity has increased, I’m feeling a whole world of feelings that I used to numb, I’ve opened myself up to people and have received tons of support, and I’m finally able to connect with and be my authentic self now– the one I’d buried under all this shit for so many years.

And things have been pretty wonderful between Bob and me, too.  Yes, despite the difficulties, there were many good things about our relationship during our marriage and we put a lot of work into it, which is why we’ve been able to make so many changes so quickly. The parts that weren’t great have improved remarkably–  we are more open, honest and vulnerable with each other.  We’re examining old patterns that kept us stuck and speaking up about them and working them through.  There’s deeper communication going on now.  We’re “dating” or whatever you want to call it, and more changes are coming in our future, with their own issues and challenges to deal with.  Our path is not an easy one, but the potential for rewards is great.

One thing I’ve had some struggles with is Doubt.  I’m gathering info and making some emotionally-laden choices, and I question myself about what I’m doing.  There’s angst, there’s uncertainty, and I’m looking closely at my motives.  What am I doing?  Why am I doing it?  I can bend myself into a pretzel over choices.

worry crop

I’ve also felt the heavy weight of others doubting me.  As I’ve talked with people, I’ve been questioned by a few friends and professionals about why I’m doing what I’m doing.  Is it good for me?  What are my motives?  Am I acting out of irrational feelings?

All this doubt can turn me in circles, leaving me more anxious than I was.

However, lately as I take a deep breath and settle down into the center of me, I’ve been coming to a new realization.  I’m looking at myself and my processes over the last few months, all the work I’ve done and the knowledge I’ve acquired.  I see some real strength in myself, bravery too.  And even in this time of uncertainty, I’m finding a calm sureness in myself.

 

Divorce Lesson #10:  Learning to Trust Myself

Feelings.  As a child growing up in an emotionally-charged difficult household, I learned that feelings weren’t safe. At around age 11, I started in with an eating disorder to manage it all– from sadness, happiness and anger to feeling bad about myself. I lost track of my emotional landscape for a long time.  One moment stands out for me as a teenager:  I went to see Terms of Endearment with my cousin, and she and everyone else in the theater was sobbing over the sad story.  I sat there dry-eyed, unable to feel. I didn’t even know how.

When the divorce first came up, I lost my appetite and my eating disorder, blown away by the raw hurricane of grief.  Without food– my old coping mechanism– now I had no buffer between me and all the feelings.  I’ve written before about what I went through those first few months, so I won’t repeat here.  I’ll just say that now, being in touch with my feelings is a whole new world.

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Part of my journey lately has been to actively work on processing my emotions and my experiences– past stuff that keeps haunting me and present stuff that feeds on that.  I’ve just had this sense that I don’t want to be stuck anymore in my l life– weighed down by old obstacles and beliefs, too afraid of feelings to move forward. I’m going with my gut instinct to find ways to help me do this.  Here’s some of what I’ve been doing:

–Sitting in front of a candle and mentally poking my finger into painful childhood memories and feelings.  I opened myself to the floodgates of grief, really getting in touch with the scared and overwhelmed little girl I was.  Lots of weeping.

Finding the letters written to me by an old boyfriend and reading them again.  I’ve carried deep wounds from that for a long time.  It was an emotionally abusive relationship and he cheated on me– all this during a very vulnerable time for me.  And this old stuff did have an impact on how I related to Bob; it made things harder for us both. I examined the core issues that relationship unearthed for me. Weeping!

–Doing some psycho-drama work with a wonderful friend who is an energy worker.  This involved us re-enacting a scene from my childhood, with each of us taking turns being little-girl me and my mother. I felt like I was that child again, and it was raw and cathartic.  We also did some work with a doll, me holding her, cuddling her, saying to little-me what she needed to hear. Weeping!

Writing in my journal almost every day, posing hard questions to myself about my life, my issues, and the choices I’ve been making.  I give myself the space to examine what’s going on for me, explore my doubts, feel what comes up for me.  Often weeping.

I created a ritual to help me mourn the loss of my marriage.  Not surprisingly, I’ve had a huge pile of feelings about this loss, despite our continuing relationship.  First, I decided to wear black for a week, as a reminder to myself, a symbol of mygrief.  That felt heavy and appropriate.  Next, I decided I wanted to burn something.  I had recently found the garter my mother-in-law had made me for our wedding.  It was still pretty and lacy, but the elastic no longer functioned.  I cut off the engraved medallion to save, tucked the garter into its tissue paper wraps and closed the box.  I wrote some phrases on paper that highlighted things I was giving upand losing in not being married.  Then I bundled up for January and went out to the firepit and lit a fire, burning it all.  It was hard, I cried, but it felt cathartic.  Here’s a slideshow I made of the ritual.

 

These are just a few of the experiments I’ve been trying in processing my feelings.  None of this has been easy, but giving myself a little push to wade through the deep stuff has resulted in a lot of shifting going on for me.  And when I think about the doubts coming my way– from myself or others– I’ve realized that I really can trust myself.  I’ve been willing to do hard work, I’m willing to question, and then I’m making the best decisions I can out of that self-knowledge.  I have my own process in figuring things out for myself, and I can trust that process.  That doesn’t mean my decisions are rock-solid, that I won’t have to re-evaluate and change as I go, but I’ve really come to respect myself in all this.

I’m also realizing that this is indeed a process for me, and it will take time for me to get where I want to go.  I do want to be differentiated and independent, I do want to get to places on this journey that I can’t quite envision yet.  But I don’t have to get there by tomorrow, I don’t have to be fully evolved next week.  I can trust the process and take my time, and be utterly kind and compassionate to myself along the way.

F%&# you, Doubts!

F%&# you, Doubts!

So I’m not going to be tossed away by doubts anymore– mine or others.  This is not to say that I’ll stop questioning myself, but I’m going to give up the angst and flagellation around it (at least I’ll try to; I’ll give myself permission to).  I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last 6 months.  I’m tough and I’m vulnerable. I can face the challenges ahead. I can ask for help.  And at last, I know I can trust myself.

Catch up on any previous Lessons you’ve missed:

Divorce Lesson #1: Stay in the Present Moment

Divorce Lesson #2: Love Is All Around

Divorce Lesson #3:  The Freedom in Hopelessness

Divorce Lesson #4:  Do It Your Own Way

Divorce Lesson #5: Thanksgiving– Changing It Up

Divorce Lesson #6: Don’t Pre-Suffer (or Post-Suffer, Either)

Divorce Lesson #7:  Re-(Blank)-ing Myself

Divorce Lesson #8: The Elevator Speech

Divorce Lesson #9: The Great Relationship Tool

**To get email updates on upcoming blog posts, please subscribe in the sidebar, or scroll down to the dark area at the bottom.

(Photos by Bob Alberti and Ayanna Muata, during a fabulous photo shoot they did of me last November.)

Divorce Lesson #6

December has been a ridiculously busy month. I worked hard on finishing a children’s nonfiction book on Russia that I was hired to write. We had a holiday arts & craft sale at our art gallery that took a lot of work. Bob and I took a 2-night trip out of town for R&R. Someone in the family had surgery, requiring days of recovery and care-taking. Plenty of social events too. Also gearing up for big changes in our living situations (hard). And oh yeah, all that getting-ready-for-Christmas business.

It’s still an emotional time around here, too. While my feelings aren’t as raw as the first month, I still feel the roller-coaster effect of riding high for a while and then plummeting down, and increasing calm spells. I’m learning to allow ALL the feelings to flow in a way I never have before— sadness, anger, grief, fear, and yes, even joy. The mask that I wore for so much of my life, the one that covered all my feelings so I could keep up a pleasing façade—that mask has fallen to the ground and shattered. I’m feeling rather oddly new.

Last year I got to study with Brene Brown during an e-course. She’s the author of the fabulous books “The Gifts of Imperfection” and “Daring Greatly.” If you haven’t seen her excellent Ted Talk on “The Power of Vulnerability,” please do yourself a favor and watch it soon. One of the many valuable things I’ve learned from her is about Numbing Feelings. As an emotional eater and a survivor of an alcoholic/dysfunctional household, I had really mastered numbing my feelings. It was a daily practice for me (using food, the Internet and other distractions), since feelings didn’t feel safe and I didn’t know how to handle them. Brene taught us that you can’t just numb the “bad” feelings. Every feeling gets numbed, even happiness and pleasure . Hearing that, I saw the truth in my own experience, the flatness that numbing brings, the inability to really absorb the good times. And now that I’m not numbing—because I just can’t anymore– all the feelings are flowing. And that means, in this mixed bag, I’m finally experiencing joy too.

 

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What I’m learning, however, is that experiencing joy, happiness, pleasure or delight takes some practice, at least for me. As paradoxical as it sounds, it’s not easy for me to stay with feeling good– my mind wants to run away to the more familiar neural pathways of anxiety and fear. These reactions became my default throughout my life as a survival tactic— predicting the worst or catastophizing how bad it was going to be helped me feel like I was in control, that I would be prepared for anything. It’s a false sense of security, and as you can guess, not really a great way to live.

And oh, these days my mind especially wants to leap to the future, and every time it does, I seize up with such a tightness in my gut and chest. I haven’t written fiction in a while, but my mind is sure good at telling stories. For instance, Bob and I were on our mini-trip a week ago and having a wonderfully lovely time, and my thoughts would suddenly veer far left: “Oh no, what’s it going to be like next month? What will it be like when this change happens? Where will we be a year from now? What about this and that?” Stomach clenching, heart pounding, my mind lurking in dark alleys with shadows in every corner. Tragic, dramatic, sad, frightening stories. And all of them Complete Works of Fiction.

Of course, any of these stories might come to pass, but honestly, the greater chance is that they might not. When I think of all the things I’ve worried about in my life, the vast majority have not actually happened. So what use was all that worry? What good did it do me? Did it help me in any way? Or did it basically make me miserable for no good reason?

This brings me to my latest lesson…

 

Divorce Lesson #6: Don’t Pre-Suffer (or Post-Suffer, Either)

 

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Bob came up with the term Pre-Suffer during one of our recent discussions. I’d previously been thinking in terms of “telling myself bad stories,” but the concept of Pre-Suffering has been really helpful. I know there may be a hard event looming in the future, and I may actually suffer during that event, but do I really need or want to suffer about it NOW, in advance, as well? Do I want to add to my suffering, especially given my track record that the things I worry about may not actually happen?

When I wake up and get aware that I’m pre-suffering about something, suddenly I know I have a choice. I can continue to stay with the story I’m making up, or I can take a sharp U-turn back to the present moment. (Yes, this directly relates to Divorce Lesson #1. Refining the concept has been even more helpful.)

I’ve added in Post-Suffering to my checklist of things to be aware of, too. It can be easy for me to look back and—especially in this current separation process—bemoan what I did or didn’t do in the past. Regret, self-recrimination, old shoulds… none of these are helpful NOW. What happened has already happened, and I can’t change the past. I can make changes in the future and go forward with awareness, but beating myself up and suffering about it after the fact won’t change anything. Suffering about it now is useless.

I’ve also discovered the concept of Detachment as a helpful way to examine my suffering. Months ago, the painfulness of my own thought processes led me on a search. I found solace in what Deepak Chopra had to say about Detachment, that there was freedom to be found in giving up the story, in letting go of the outcome. I’ve repeated his intentions to myself many times (read the whole essay here). Here are a few:

“I will allow myself and those around me the freedom to be as they are. I will not rigidly impose my idea of how things should be. I will not force solutions on problems, thereby creating new problems.”

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And I especially love this:

“I will step into the field of all possibilities and anticipate the excitement that can occur when I remain open to an infinity of choices. When I step into the field of all possibilities, I will experience all the fun, adventure, magic and mystery of life.”

Hmm… what an appealing argument for openness.

 

Giving up Pre-Suffering and Post-Suffering to land back in the present moment is really a gift. The present moment isn’t always fun, but it’s real, not fiction. While it’s probably easier for many, I’m finding that with practice, I can more often stay with the joy when it comes up and bask in it a little. With awareness of my own thought processes, I can learn to recognize when I’m Pre- or Post-Suffering and make a choice. I can detach myself from trying to control or worry about future outcomes. I can learn to ride the waves of emotion and surf my way through daily life. I don’t want to deprive myself of what I DO have in the present moment. It might be joy. But even in hard times, there is something to be grateful for.

Right here, right now, life is okay. I can hang on to that and not leap forward or backward. Really, why would I want to suffer if I don’t have to?

 

**Want to catch up? You can read previous Divorce Lessons  by clicking on the titles:

Divorce Lesson #1: Stay in the Present Moment

Divorce Lesson #2: Love Is All Around

Divorce Lesson #3:  The Freedom in Hopelessness

Divorce Lesson #4:  Do It Your Own Way

Divorce Lesson #5: Thanksgiving– Changing It Up

**To get email updates on upcoming blog posts, please subscribe in the sidebar, or scroll down to the dark area at the bottom.

[Photos used are in the public domain unless otherwise credited.  Photo of me by the talented Ayanna Muata of Waning Moon Photography. Photo of Buddha’s eyes by me.]

 

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