They Like Me Better When I’m Drunk

Driving home from the gym and lost in thought, I came to a startling realization.

Years ago, my ex-husband made the very painful remark that people like me better when I’m drunk. Back then, this was just another reminder that I was too much and therefore unlovable.

As I was driving, though, it occurred to me that there is a positive to this. And I’m going to premise this with “this is not a glorification of alcohol”.

As we all know, alcohol is a great remover of inhibitions and, for most of us, a truth serum of sorts. What that looks like on me is unfiltered, raw, relaxed, and real.

I have spent most of my life hiding. There are briefs moments when I shine, those moments when my passion pours from my eyes and mouth or when I’m slightly inebriated.

I stop trying to hide and simply AM. I stop thinking so hard and simply AM. I stop trying to be proper, articulate, intelligent and just AM.

I stop trying and just AM, unapologetically, in all my glory, lit up like a Christmas tree.

The good/bad thing is that I don’t drink very often (it’s not in alignment with my health goals and it’s really superfluous). Addiction is something that occurs on both sides of my family so I’ve always been very aware of what, how much, and why I’m drinking. But for a brief period of time in my early adulthood, numbing was never in the why category. Neither was “because I’m more me when I’m a bit loopy”, but this is now my sad realization.

I’m reminded of that Maya Angelou quote “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” Except that I don’t know what “better” is. I now have to figure out how I remove the crutch I didn’t know I had been using (a handful of times per year).

I write all this as if the person I am when I’m sober isn’t also me. It is also me, just the me that finds the shadows safer but constricting. It’s the me that struggles HARD, that fights everything. It’s just not the me I was before the world told me I had to be different. It’s not the me that is joy and free.

That’s also not to say inebriated me is the best version of me. It’s not. Which is why being drunk all the time isn’t something I’m willing to try or be. But it does provide a glimpse at what is possible should I choose to point myself in the direction of less hiding, more living.

Which, of course, is exactly what I’m going to do.

“Always” + “Never” = Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Words are things.

Very powerful things.

Last night my mentor wondered aloud if I realized how often I made “always” and “never” statements. It’s been pointed out to me before how often I do this, but I hadn’t (nearly used “never” there) stopped to actually notice.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many people have stopped me recently to point out how often I use those two words. It’s no wonder I feel stuck, I’m creating and perpetuating myths of my own design, whether that’s what I consciously want to do or not.

Now I’m left wondering how I can be more conscious of my word choices. I’m usually pretty conscious, especially when I write. But when I’m just talking, especially from the heart, rambling, unfiltered, the truth always reveals itself. “Always” and “never” sprinkle themselves like salt and pepper through my speech and it is immediately constricting.

When I decided that I was going to complete Bigness Project, a strength training program designed around hypertrophy, I was adamant this be the one I finished. I was saying things like “I NEVER complete these programs” and “I ALWAYS get bored halfway through and quit”. For about 5 weeks after I started I was STILL making these statements, even though that wasn’t the reality I wanted to create. Even though I knew better. Then it was pointed out to me and I was a bit gobsmacked. Am I really saying those things?!

Today I ask you to consider your words, to notice them and how they feel when you say them. There is no need to judge them as correct or incorrect, right or wrong. But consider them within the context of the reality you are trying to create. Do they serve your intended creation? If not, how can you choose differently?

What to do when your sense of self is shaken

Recently, something occurred in my life that made me question things as I’d never had to. It’s made me look at who I am, what I will tolerate, and how I communicate my needs and expectations.

It has also turned back on the ruminating machine in my mind, with awful psycho-somatic effects. The stomach is a second brain and reacts to our emotions (ever heard of stress-related irritable bowel syndrome?) and mine has been a wreck.

But I’m not here to write about what happened and the physical effects of emotional stress. I want to talk about how to move through it without minimizing OR wallowing.

Something I talk about with people close to me is how I use writing as a processing tool. It’s such a powerful tool that it’s been suggested to me that I teach this in a workshop setting. I wrote consistently up to, through, and in the aftermath of a divorce and I say with no shred of theatrics that it saved my sanity AND it kept me from getting ill because I wrote the emotions OUT of me instead of letting them sit in my body and fester.

Emotions are big, hairy Yetis. Or they can be if we let them. The reason writing works as a processing tool is that you can take an emotion and put it back in its place. Sometimes it’s as simple as labeling it: I am feeling ____. Other times, it’s helpful to really break things down, peeling back the layers until you get to root hurt. Still other times, it’s helpful to have a framework to work within such as that of poetry.

I use a couple different forms, from a Morning Pages brain dump (this comes from The Artist’s Way and is something that highly successful people like Tim Ferriss do), to direct approach type of writing (taking a thought and expanding it), to poetry. Yes, I write poetry. I’m even a published poet. I use poetry for the really hard stuff though because it forces me to channel whatever it is I’m feeling into something beautiful even if what I’m feeling is ugly.

Words are things. Writing is my way of using words, bending them, crafting them into something I can use. Instead of saying I’m angry, I can use words, syllables, and stanzas to convey the nuances of that anger and in turn, releasing said anger from my body.

There’s one more trick I have up my sleeve though: Stoicism.

Stoicism gets a bad rap as being the absence of emotion when it is anything but. In perhaps overly simple terms, Stoicism is the ability to recognize an emotion and choosing something different.

“You don’t have to turn this into something. It doesn’t have to upset you”. ~ Marcus Aurelius

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.” ~ Victor Frankl

For me, writing and Stoicism go hand in hand. Writing works because I take a Stoic approach. I use it as my tool for choosing something different. I’m not saying it makes everything bad go away. Not at all. What it does do, though, is create space for healing, where my heart stays OPEN instead of closed, hurt, and wallowing in false beliefs.

Permission Granted

“Help me decide,” I said.

I don’t often ask for help. Very, VERY rarely do I outsource decision-making. I can’t actually remember the last time I asked someone to help me decide anything. These are not things I’m particularly proud of but are actually things I’m working on, so for me to ask for help deciding something is pretty monumental.

I’ve spent the past 3 months in complete overdrive. My decision to make a change in one area of my life has had a domino-like effect on the rest and not positively. You know the saying that goes sometimes things get worse before they get better? That’s the pickle I put myself in. And sure enough, pretty immediately my body started pumping out cortisol at the perceived threat.

Stress is the catalyst for my PCOS. The second my cortisol levels start to rise, I start to have symptoms again. The simplified explanation for this is:

Cortisol and Insulin are the two BIG hormones in the body. The production of both must be balanced and when one goes off kilter, so does the other. And these two master hormones have a cascading effect on all the other hormones in the body. This is so regardless of gender.

This is why people say stress kills. Ultimately, it does.

So when a very positive experience occurred last week, one that I believe will ultimately put me where I want to be, I started wondering if maybe I could slow down. Except that I could come up with a million and one reasons why I shouldn’t, even though my body was begging me to. I knew I was going to over-think this and make myself feel even worse. So I asked for help.

“I think you need a break,” he said. That was followed by a gentle plea to not make myself sick (interesting that this is something I hear often from people who love me: don’t make yourself sick, which is code for I love you, please slow down).

The decision made, I suddenly felt 50 lbs lighter. I might just be taking a break. I might have to start all over again in a month or so. But for now, I can breathe and allow my body to go back into homeostasis.

For now, I have time.

Things I’m Pondering

I’ve been MIA here of late and I apologize. My priorities are being pulled in multiple directions at the moment and stopping to write hasn’t been something I’ve been able to do.
While I usually come to you with fully formed ideas and solutions, today I’m going to share with you things I’m cogitating on.
I’ve recently subscribed to The Daily Stoic. A few days ago this quote landed in my inbox:
“He heard the warning of Marcus Aurelius; cease to be whirled about; and of Baudelaire: ‘Pleasure consumes us, work strengthens us. Let us choose.’”
It’s from Budd Schulberg’s novel about his time with F. Scott Fitzgerald. I keep coming back to it a couple times a day, turning it over and over in my mind. The rebel in me immediately said “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” but I KNOW that the point of the warning contained in that quote isn’t to abstain from pleasure, it’s to not be LED by it.
Time has been a serious pain point for me of late. Without going into too much detail, I’m in a spot where I need to stop doing some things so that I have time to do other things, except that I cannot stop doing said things because I don’t have what doing the things I want to do would bring me. Time has become something so elusive and precious. The reality is that it is THE only non-renewable resource we have. And when we don’t have enough of it, we suffer. One of the things I’ve finally realized though is that instead of reinforcing that I don’t have time, I’m reminding myself that I DO have time. I have enough time.
I have enough of everything I need. And so do you. We always do and always will.

Rewards, Habits and the “I Deserve It” Trap

Over the past several weeks, the subject of “rewards” has come up multiple times. Each instance was within the context of reinforcing a behavior, not an outcome. And each instance brought out varying degrees of resistance from me, so much so I exercised my “phone a friend” option to get some help unpacking what was going on.

I’m at the tail end of the last generation before everyone started receiving participation awards. Every single award I received, I earned, whether it be first place ribbons for music competitions (I played trumpet from the time I was 9 until I was 19), prize money for a poem I wrote about trash in the 6th grade or placing in the top three during a Speech competition.

But it goes further than being a generational thing: I was reared on outcome based rewarding. If I wanted my driver’s license, I had to give my parents straight A’s. 3 YEARS IN A ROW. And then I had to KEEP my grades where they were in order to keep driving. That’s actually the only example I can give because otherwise, all reinforcement was negative i.e. so I didn’t get yelled at.

So rewarding myself because I DID something I said I would feels very “participation award” to me. But as I dig deeper into the research I’m starting to understand something key: rewarding the behavior is like focusing on progress as opposed to the goal. You’re reinforcing pleasantly something you want to keep doing so that you eventually reach the goal. The goal is a reward in and of itself. It’s about progress, not perfection.

Eventually, in this conversation with my friend, I agreed to try rewarding myself though I didn’t do exactly what we talked about. By the end of the week, I knew I’d reached an obvious reward point: I completed the first week of a new strength training program. I want to reinforce this behavior because I want to complete the program, something I’ve never actually done. But the second I started thinking about how I could reward myself, I came up with my daily movement goal as a trump card.

I try to get some type of movement in every single day, whether it be a walk with my dog, yoga, or even 25 kettlebell swings. Because I missed a single day of movement due to my work schedule last week, I wanted to negate the fact that I’d completed the strength training program as prescribed – 4 days, each day with a different focus. I even managed to get in a mobility day and a walk. And yet, I didn’t want that to be enough.

Eventually, I saw reason and decided that I had done what I said I would. So I chose to paint my fingernails, something I rarely take the time to do anymore.

This is where we get into the “I deserve it” trap. Sometimes people take things too far and decide that EVERY behavior is worth reinforcing, including the negative. I hear an awful lot of “I deserve it” when it comes to unhealthy rewards. This often looks like rewarding with food/drink or spending money, two behaviors that often generate guilt and can be (and often are) forms of self-sabotage. As a matter of fact, one of my rules is no rewarding with food/alcohol or by spending money (though a small expenditure can be warranted and/or necessary sometimes).

Here’s why: most people have health goals they want to reach or financial goals they are working towards. By rewarding your week of no missed workouts with a donut, because let’s face it, we don’t reward ourselves with healthy food, you’ve already undone any positive emotional progress. The same goes for buying yourself a new $300 handbag because you just paid off one credit card while you still have $20k in student loans. And what you’ll almost always hear when something like this happens is “I deserve it”.

The question you should always ask when rewarding yourself is what am I rewarding? Am I rewarding a behavior I want to reinforce? The follow-up question should be how do I reinforce this in a way that is positive and not in a way that might set me back?

Ultimately, I ended up painting my nails while I had my Sunday night bath. That might sound risky but I assure you everything worked out just fine. Multitasking is something I kind of have to do presently, so I ran with it. I have no idea what I’ll do when I complete this week, but I will reward myself when I complete all the workouts for the week.

What’s your relationship with rewarding? Are there any behaviors you want to reinforce that you think might benefit from rewards? I’d be really interested in your thoughts and experiences.

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What Does It Feel Like When Stress Takes Over?

Have you ever noticed what stress feels like?

Yesterday I sat in a recliner at my acupuncture provider’s (it’s community acupuncture so we’re all in one big room of healing) and responded to her usual “how are you” with “extremely stressed”. She assured me she could help and set to work placing needles.

As I closed my eyes, several things occurred to me: I was reminded that the brain and body cannot tell the difference between real (being chased by a lion) and imagined (ruminating on an altercation at work); I suddenly became aware of how stress FELT in my body; and I became acutely aware of exactly how it is that stress kills.

I sat there with my eyes closed and did a full body scan. I began to realize that I have several physical tells when it comes to stress: I grit my teeth to the point of making my jaw sore; I cave in on myself, rounding my shoulders and spine; I stop breathing fully, instead taking very shallow and short breaths; and the hardest to ignore is the stress migraines.

Can you imagine living with these symptoms long term? Many of us do, without even noticing.

I could get into the science but instead, I’m going to invite you to do some self-investigation. Do you know what your tells are, how your body tells you you have too much stress? If you don’t, here’s your opportunity to consider it. I want you to do this for one reason: if you KNOW, you can do something about it and sooner.

Information is power. You cannot address something when you don’t know it’s going on. Stress is unavoidable, but it IS within our power to mitigate its effects. Mitigating those effects can be the difference between a long and healthy life and one of chronic illness.

Ultimately, it is up to you to know your body and do something about it.

Have a lovely weekend!

Barbara