How Counting the Omer is a (very) Little Bit Like an AWOL

This morning, blessedly, I was at an OA meeting.  It had been a week (and a day) since the last meeting I’d attended, having been out of town for school vacation week.  It was the first time I have felt ‘at home’ since I’ve returned–not that it hasn’t been nice to be in my own home again with my own family and own scale and measuring cups and tablespoons…but the first time I have felt at ease, really and truly at ease, in a way that being in an OA meeting can allow.

While I was sitting, at my ease, I realized I had not counted the omer last night.  Counting the omer* (the Hebrew, in transliteration, for this is known as the mitzvah of sefirat ha’omer) is a strange little tradition that begins the night of the second seder and continues every night until the harvest holiday Shavu’ot (there are 49 days between the second day of Pesach and Shavu’ot).

So much for my ease.  It is not nothing to forget counting.  We count at night–and before counting there is a blessing (the usual one for commanded things, with the asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu {who has made us holy with your commandments and commands us to}).  The rule is that if one forgets to count the omer at night, s/he can count the next day without a blessing, during the day, which I did.  However, if one forgets two days in a row, the whole thing is off.  No more counting for you.  I do not know why, but there is so much I do not know, I know longer worry about what I don’t know.  (That, honestly, is a lie.  I still worry.)

That’s what made me think that counting the omer is like an AWOL.  If you miss more than two meetings in a row, you are done.  No more AWOL for you.  That and there are a lot of rules for the AWOL and there are a lot of rules for omer counting.  For a very strict look at omer counting, click here.

Tonight I have an AWOL meeting and an omer counting to do.  And I will do my best to do both of them.


Just a little  more on Sefriat Ha’Omer.  There is some very cool stuff around the counting of the omer:  mystical, Kabbalistic stuff.  My favorite website for counting the omer is the Homer calendar.  What could be more fun than counting the omer with Homer Simpson?  Beneath the calendar there are tons of fabulous links that will keep you reading and uber-knowledgeable about everything omer.

*While there was still a Temple in Jerusalem, people would bring a barley offering, a sheaf of barley, an omer, on the second day of Passover.  Since the fall of the Temple, the counting ritual has continued.  Traditionally observant Jews treat the days between Pesach and Shavu’ot as kind of mourning days–no haircuts, no parties, no marriages.  There is a holiday within the counting, Lag B’omer, the 33rd day of the counting (in Hebrew, the word lag means 33).  Actually, I’m not sure it’s really a holiday so much as a break in the mourning customs for that day.  There is a lot of information out there on the web.  For more Lag B’omer information than you could possibly want, click here.


© 2011, Raphella. All rights reserved.

Posted in AWOL, Counting the Omer, Holidays | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Going AWOL

This week I went to my first AWOL meeting.  AWOL, which stands for A Way Of Life, is not part of OA because there are leaders and rules. (Overeaters Anonymous have traditions that clearly state the only requirement is ‘the desire to stop eating compulsively’ and that ‘leaders are trusted servants, they do not govern.’)  This AWOL is being led by a pair of long-term members of OA who have led a few AWOLs before.  The rules for this particular one seem reasonable and benign, very much in line with how I already work my program.

Quite frankly, I’m not sure I would be all that inclined to take this on, but the people I know in program who have what I want have participated in at least one AWOL.  There are several people I have met who have been in many (many) AWOLs–they do not seem to have what I want.   We each need to work the program the way it works best for ourselves.  I am still working on my knee-jerk responses and judgments about ways I see others working the program.  I wish it were as clear/clean as thinking, well, that works for them, not the way I want to rather than, dang, that is just crazy.  Progress, not perfection…

At the meeting, one of the keys (a passage for discussion) came from the first step in the OA 12 & 12, was about ‘controlled eating.’  The passage, from page 1 read as follows:

For all of us, however, the days of controlled eating grew fewer and farther apart, untill at last we came to OA, looking for a new solution.

Four people shared on this key: one of the leaders and then three of the participants.  Most of them talked about how for years they’d been able to  modify their weight by controlling/restricting food–if they’d binge, then they’d not binge/under eat/not eat.  What was striking to me was that no one described following a food plan or being abstinent as controlled eating.  It seemed to me that people were saying they no longer controlled their eating… .  I think one of the things someone said was ‘I no longer have to control how I eat.’

When I think of the way I eat now, the way I have been eating for the last 10 1/2 – 11 months, I think of it as disciplined or practiced.  When I talk to non-program people about food and weight loss, people with whom I do not break my anonymity, I tell them (in part) that I have taken on a disciplined practice of eating.  And that seems very controlled to me.

On the other hand, there is that whole giving over thing, and surrendering.  But no one used those words, either.  No one said, I have surrendered my eating (or my food) so I no longer control my eating.  No one said, I eat whatever I want.  People talked about weighing and measuring their food–which I do.  But that seems like control.  It is certainly awareness.  Merriam-Webster defines controlled as restrained, organized according to certain rules, instructions, procedures.  In this manner, my eating is absolutely controlled.

From the OA pamphlet called “The Dignity of Choice”, and with input of a sponsor and my primary care physician,  we came up with a food plan that I follow.  There are certain rules: no flours, no wheat, no sugar; specific amounts of protein, fruits, vegetables, and fats; when to eat, etc.  And that’s what I eat.

Recently I had an opportunity to visit with some family I had not seen in some time.  My weight loss has been remarkable and was indeed remarked on–in very nice ways.  For the most part I stuck to the ‘very disciplined practice of eating’ line, not sharing with most the 12-steps aspect (although making sure people understood I had a lot of support).  Several people mentioned willpower and self-control, which I said I could not claim, as I am not sure I have either.  I tried to explain that by not eating sugar and flour, I did not want sugar or flour. Later, rereading Laura S.’s fabulous memoir 12 Steps on Buddha’s Path: Bill, Buddha, and We, I realized I was, to use her phrase (with the Pali word), free from the dukkha (suffering) of craving the foods that cause me to compulsively overeat.  When I do not eat flour and sugar–and I believe it needs to be the combination, not just one or the other–at least for today, I am free:  free from compulsive overeating; free from eating foods that make me sick and cloudy; free from the desire to eat food made from sugar and flour.

So, do I need to control my eating?  Yes, still.  Because even though I am not today being called to eat the foods I used to crave and never get enough of, I still, most likely, could/would over eat the food on my food plan.  I do not doubt that I would eat more than my allotted ounces of protein–and vegetables, and fruits, and grains, and fats.  So I weigh and/or measure what I eat and am aware of when I am eating.


© 2011, Raphella. All rights reserved.

Posted in Abstinent Eating, AWOL, Buddhism and Recovery, Step 1, Suffering/Dukkha | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Step 5–Relief with the Help of Mikveh

I have been in a 12-step program for almost a year now.  It became clear to me that my issues around food could not be handled with self-restraint, willpower, or commercial diets, though Gd knows I tried all of that.  Facing probable health issues was one thing, vanity another, and the exhaustion of carrying around the additional weight of self-loathing and despair brought me to Overeaters Anonymous.

None of the steps are particularly easy—most of them are incredibly daunting.  Some people seem to be able to do well enough without ‘working the steps’ but the people who have what I want (serenity, energy to do things, slim bodies) have worked them, so I have been, too.  Also, I like to think of each of the steps as one of the stones in the breastplate of the High Priest.  Each one is beautiful in its own way and has its own unique qualities.

Just like every large organization, there are different ‘denominations’—90-day meetings, Big Book Step Study, Primary Purpose, to name a few.  My favorite is the HOW, which stands for honesty, openness, and willingness.  The meetings are always interesting and I like the way the work the steps—there is a lot of writing (I like writing).

Step 4 is to make “a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”  For the HOW method, there are 173 questions to answer, divided into three sections, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.  Unlike the questions for steps 1-3 where each question is shared with a sponsor upon completion, in step 4 one answers all the questions in a section before reading them to a sponsor.  Reading the answers to a sponsor is part of step 5, “admitting to Gd, ourselves, and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

I began the 4th step questions in early October and finished them last week, late March.  There were only 36 questions but I could only do a few at a time and not for more than a day or so in a row.  Each time I became very agitated.  It isn’t like I haven’t explored this time in my life ad nauseum in my years (and years and years) of therapy.  The main difference is that I always had food to fall back to, on, to soothe feelings of shame or discomfort.  And I don’t think these are even the hard questions…adolescence should be a joy.  Anyone ever notice that joy is just ‘oy’ with a j?

It is one thing to admit to Gd and myself the ‘exact nature of my wrongs’ and quite another to give over to another human being, another person who is not a therapist or member of the clergy or anyone other than a kind and loving witness to give of her time.

This week I shared the first section of my 4th step with my HOW sponsor.  It was very scary at first, but once I got started, it was okay.  My sponsor was kind and patient and listened without comment—except at the end to thank me for honoring her by sharing this part of my life.

Afterwards I told her I was going to the mikveh.  It was time for my monthly immersion, but in that moment I knew the real reason to immerse was to express gratitude—to Gd, to this sponsor (and my other sponsor), the program and my better health and relationships with my family.  There was no better place to head to than Mayyim Hayyim.

I prepared with care and focus.  I entered the water—which was warm and clean and silky feeling.  I opened the bor cap.  I immersed.  Again and again and again.  Bouyed by the water, held by Gd’s Grace, surrounded by the beauty of the pool and walls.  I felt whole.  I felt serene.  I felt as though I was on a blessed path of recovery.

© 2011, Raphella. All rights reserved.

Posted in HOW Program, Step 4, Step 5 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Me, with no Aaron to Speak in My Stead

This week’s Torah portion is Bo.  We get the last of the plagues and after the excruciating tenth plague, Pharaoh tells Moses to get out of Egypt. Hebrew slaves are told to mark their lintels, make their feast, eat matzah for seven days.

Last week, as Moses was still trying to convince Gd he was not the man for the job, playing the speech-impediment card, Gd told him to find his older brother Aaron and get him to be the spokesperson.  There is a lot of ‘Gd said to Moses to say to Aaron’ in the chapters 7 and 8.  Gd was not letting Moses off the hook.  Gd gave Moses help, but kept him in the game.

This week has been difficult.  Physically, I had a blessedly short-lived back spasm that pretty much resolved itself within 24 hours.  While experiencing it was brutal and it was difficult to move around, I also had the opportunity to rest and take care of myself.  Emotionally I have felt raw, and spiritually deficient.  The holiday school break was long and there was no space from family, save for about four hours one evening.  Tomorrow will be the first day that the rest of  my family will be at their schools all day (which means til 3 or 3:30, just about the same time I get home from work).

Yesterday I made my program calls.  I had decided not to go to my 7:15 am meeting to take advantage of a little extra sleep and score a few points with my daughter by driving her to school myself (as opposed to the person who usually takes her on Wednesdays).  The first person I called noticed that I had also decided to sleep in and miss the Saturday 7:15 am meeting.  She was clear about not being judgmental, just something to be aware of–especially since I was having such a hard time.  I knew as soon as I said I’d gone to the Sunday night and Monday morning meetings that I sounded defensive.  She was right to point it out to me–and to make sure I was careful.  Just the day before I had spoken to my sponsor about the possibility of adding an extra tablespoon of oil/fat a day.  “I wouldn’t do it,” she told me.  She didn’t say, no, you can’t, but she wouldn’t so I won’t.  She has what I want.  She also said something I’d never heard before, something a pilot friend had told her:  plan your flight, then fly your plan.  It’s so perfect for program.  I have a plan, I just need to keep flying it.

That afternoon I went to a meeting I’d never attended before.  It was hard to walk into this new meeting!  Everyone was sitting around a bunch of tables that had been pushed together; no one was talking; everyone was much older.  I took a seat next to the only person who smiled at me and we started to chat a bit.  No one said a word–it was a little weird, but eventually people I knew showed up and things got started.  And I shared after the person qualified.  I said I’d been having a hard day.  It had been a tough week, the morning was rough, but I knew I could get to the meeting, and looking forward to it had helped me.  Attending it had helped even more.

I made another program call in the afternoon.  When the woman answered the phone, seemingly glad to hear from me, and asked how I was, I almost said fine, just making my calls.  But I didn’t.  I said, you know?  I’m having a bad day.  She let me talk and cry and didn’t try to fix or change anything.  I apologized for dumping on her, and she gave me a gift.  She said that the beauty of program is that she can take my call, hold space for my stuff, and when we finish talking, she doesn’t have to carry it with her.  She likes me and we are program friends, but I’m not in her every-day real life, what I tell her isn’t about her, her family, her work, her friends…she can care about me without getting sucked into whatever it is I’m experiencing.  And I realized that I can and do that for other people, too.  But I hadn’t made a call quite like this one–it was hard and scary and I felt like a baby and weak.  And when we hung up I felt better.  And knowing I hadn’t wrecked her day was so relieving.

Today was much better.  The morning was really good, and it was because the program’s structure really held me yesterday.  As the day progressed and an issue about a project I’m in charge of became more problematic, I started to slide back a bit.  I needed to talk to a friend who has not been very available–for completely not-about-me reasons.  But I needed her help with the project.  I didn’t really want to call because I’d called her home to wish her a happy new year and hadn’t heard back from her.  After that I got some news about some mutual friends–and the combination of things just made me feel out of touch.  These are way old feelings, and it put me right back in Jr. High (or earlier, or later)–wondering where my place in this group of people is.

It turns out she’d never gotten the message I’d called  (so perhaps she’d been feeling ignored by me as well).  And she was very gracious and helpful, as she always is, about the project and taking on more than she probably needed to.  And then I told her how out of touch I felt–we used to speak on the phone very regularly, at least once a week.  That, in combination with the other things with a few of our mutual friends, and in conjunction with the bleakness of the week, made me sad–and childish for feeling that way, let alone expressing it.

I wish I’d had an Aaron to do the speaking for me.  I didn’t have to say anything at all.  I could have just talked about the project, but, really, I couldn’t.  It had been my intention *not* to say anything…but I did want her to know I’d called at New Years.  I wanted her to know I still wanted our friendship and wanted to hear/know that our friendship was still important to her as well.  And I felt foolish for wanting that.

I am not in the food.  Not being in the food means there is nothing between me and my feelings.  Some of my feelings suck.  But they pass–the good ones and the sucky ones.  Last night I did some service and was witness to beauty and spirit and holiness.  When I got home and said my prayers of thanks, I was thankful, as I have been these past 6 months, for this program.  And last night I was thankful for being open to the possibility of having Gd really in my life because that possibility, that Inner Presence, is what connects me to the rest of the Gdliness in the Universe.

So maybe it’s a good thing I don’t have an Aaron to speak for me.  Because maybe then I would be missing out.

© 2011, Raphella. All rights reserved.

Posted in Gd Concept, Working the Program | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Box of Old Photographs–Trying Not to Regret the Past

There has been a box of photographs that has been moved from attic to basement to sun room to dining room and back and across for years.  Two days ago I went through them.  There are a few albums that seem to have been hastily put together at some point, marking a visit or a birthday, but many of the pictures are bound together in envelopes.  Most of the photos are duplicates, some of them are of people we no longer are in touch with and will have no meaning for our children when they look at them, should they be so inclined, years from now.

There were photos of birthday parties, celebrations, trips to Maine.  There were an astounding number of birthday cake photos, and there is one of me sitting on some green space in Bar Harbor, ME holding an ice cream cone.  As soon as I saw the picture, I could name the flavor.  That made me tear up.

Many of the images were painful to see–because I was fat, because I was a smidge too thin, because someone I loved had died, because I couldn’t place the occasion, because I was left out of an occasion…but mostly because of my children.  I was sorry not to have found the program sooner–I am a better mother now and I am sorry I wasn’t a better mother then.  The promises say we will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.  I am not quite past regretting what I could have been for my children and husband, and I am thankful that I am on the long and winding road of recovery, but I do wish I could do things again.

Since I began writing this post I had a wonderful evening with my older child and then a horrendous morning.  It was a bit crushing to have this tidal wave of her hurt and anger rush at me, seemingly from out of nowhere.  When I could think about it later, when discussing it with my mother who wanted to know what had happened, I could recognize that I had reacted to the content of what she was saying, rather than the context.  I had changed some plans and she reacted out of fear and frustration, but presented as pissy and spoiled.  We quickly/instantaneously took our usual positions, she railed and cried, and I raised my voice and eventually stopped engaging.  She was hurt, angry, and resentful (and has continued to be so for the rest of the day); I was angry, sick at my bad response, and tired of feeling two steps back.  Sometimes I think she cannot tolerate getting along as we have been getting along.  But that is not the issue.

The issue is how I parent my children.  I have been a better parent these last 6 months.  Since I am not in the food, my thinking is clearer–the fog is gone.  It’s not like I can be present with and to them 100% of the time.  I’m not even sure I’d want to be–maybe I should want to.  But anyhow, I am more present, calmer, lighter in spirit (and girth), and often more patient.  There were often more mornings like today than not, so there has been a vast improvement.  It is shocking, alarming, and disappointing when it happens again.  But it is also not exactly the same.

What is different is that I apologize more quickly, and certainly more sincerely.  What is different is that I let it go, not always completely and not always immediately, but it does not ruin my whole day (or night or day and night and next day).  What is different is that I have faith that we will have that good connection again and that just because we had this flare up it does not mean we have returned to daily anger.  What is different is that I do not stand in front of the sink and shove thick square after thick square of Trader Joe’s chocolate (milk and/or dark), or any other food, into my mouth  What is different is that I make a program call, say the serenity prayer, and breathe deeply.

But it is hard and unpleasant and challenging when it happens.  And while it is going on I do fear that the good times are gone for good, but that passes when I calm down.  I do want to be a good mother, a better mother, the mother my children deserve.  I may not be that yet, but I am certainly closer.  And that is the best and biggest blessing of program.

© 2010, Raphella. All rights reserved.

Posted in Parenting, Working the Program | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Manna from Heaven and the Rhode Island Food Bank

Last Monday, December 13, 2010 President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids ActCallie Crossley had Andrew Schiff, head of the Rhode Island Food Bank and Mary Flynn, a researcher at a hospital in Providence, RI and a professor at Brown University, on her show.  They were talking about how hard it is for families these days to feed their children.  Andrew Schiff was saying that more people who had never needed help before were showing up at pantries–people who never thought they’d have trouble feeding their own kids.  The statistics are disheartening.  Mary Flynn talked about teaching people how to make healthy and tasty food on a budget.  The food bank has a lot of resources, links, and recipes for families.  There is even a special section for kids.

The Callie Crossley show is often on while I am eating lunch.  I  like her show when she is talking about issues, but when she gets going about food–not hunger, but recipes and sweets and what wine to go with what, I turn it off.  I don’t need to hear it (and I think she has too many of them, but then, I am here, writing an anonymous blog about food addiction, so, duh).

Last Monday, I had my bowl of 4 oz of protein, 16 oz of vegetables, and 1 tbl of olive oil mixed with vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper.  Mary Flynn was talking about how most of her recipes use olive oil–it’s good for you, it’s filling, it’s tasty.  She did say that it was a more expensive oil, but since the recipes call for such small amounts, it was worth paying for.  i tried to calculate the cost of my meal:  1 4-oz frozen Trader Joe’s chicken patty, ~$1; 1 package Whole Foods California Blend (16 oz. medley of cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots), $1.79; 1 tbl fair trade olive oil, ~$0.34; the  mustard, salt and pepper could not have been more than pennies.

This is not to brag about what a thrifty shopper I am or how frugally I live–because neither of those statements are true.  I was struck by how inexpensive and delicious and colorful and filling and healthy my lunch was.  And most of my meals are most of those things–sometimes more expensive than others and I eat more deli meats than one ought, probably.  But since I have started program (just shy of 7 months ago, now), I have been very aware of the wholeness of the foods I eat.  Except for the deli meats and mustard, most of the foods I eat are made up of a single-ingredient.

The other thing that struck me while listening to the show was that I was not eating more than my share.  Some may argue that a pound of vegetables in one sitting is more than one’s share (and since then I have adjusted my serving to suit my needs for a particular day.  Now sometimes I will have 12 oz instead). But sitting in my kitchen, listening to people talk about food scarcity–not because food is not available, but because people’s resources are diminished, I was glad to be eating my portion.

While I was eating my lunch last week, I thought of the story in Exodus, where Gd sends down the manna (chapter 16)–and of course the Children of Israel don’t listen, and take more than they need, and it gets maggoty, and they get whiny, and the Lord gets annoyed, and Moses intervenes, and then they take their portion and everything is hunky-dory until the next crisis.

So often, as in nightly, before I started program, I ate more than my share, more than my portion.  I finished the food on my plate, my children’s plates, the serving platter.  Gd forbid my gentle husband leave any meat on the bones from his dinner of chicken.  I would gnaw on them too.  And I would feel sick, over-full, bloated, and often disgusted with myself and full of shame.  If the only benefit of having joined this program had been to eliminate the nightly, self-induced bloat and shame, dayenu!  I hadn’t even really thought about how nights used to be until I began this paragraph.  I have been so focused on the physical and spiritual and emotional recovery, and so much has changed, that I’d forgotten that part of the disease.  I hadn’t forgotten about the over-eating, just the feelings around them.  No wonder I feel so much lighter–it is not just weight that I have been losing.

Compulsive over eating was my maggoty story.  I ate too much, took more than my portion.  Now I eat my share, my portion.  And I give thanks for our good fortune so that we can buy healthy, good foods–and also that we have the means to be able to contribute to our local food bank, so they can help others get the nourishment they need.

© 2010, Raphella. All rights reserved.

Posted in Abstinent Eating, Food Plans, Hunger, Working the Program | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just Because Something Isn’t a Miracle Does Not Mean It’s Not Pretty Fabulous

The darkness this season seems darker.  I have been talking about getting one of those SAD lights for a few years now.  I dither, look at the many brands, read reviews, occasionally ask people about them, and by then it is spring.  I think it’s different this year because I am not in the food.  Not only am I feeling my feelings more acutely, it is as if my brain is on msg and just being is more being.

I have been abstinent for six and a half months (202 2/3rds day, and counting).  My thinking is clearer–at a meeting recently, I described it as feeling as though I had wiped the Vaseline-like substance from the inside of my head.  I can see better and more; hear better and more; feel better and more.

This is extraordinary.  It is a little scary–my favorite, tried-and-true coping mechanisms are gone.  Don’t get me wrong, I still use things for numbing–too much computer surfing, stupid computer games, shopping and buying things we don’t really need, or more of whatever it is that we do need.  But the flour and sugar are gone.

I sometimes feel too exposed, like a wire that has had it’s insulation cut and unwound away.  This allows me to connect, but also to spark, and be open to the elements, which are  not always calm.  So this darkness, this thick, cold blackness of the day feels closer this year.  I want to stay inside more in the evenings.  I want to  light candles.  I want to get under the covers.

This is not always in retreat–a lot of the time it is just a response to the end of a day and a desire to be warm and have light.  But sometimes it is retreat, a desire to cocoon rather than engage.

Last night I had to drive my younger child to an event.  The school where the event was being held is a not so far as the crow flies, but during rush-hour traffic on the turnpike and then past a major shopping mall with many last(ish)-minute shoppers, the drive took longer than I’d anticipated.  As I was sitting in traffic, in my safe car, with gas in my tank, with heated seats to keep my ample tush and my child’s minute tush (and bare legs) warm, I was feeling defensive for being late and resentful for having to be in this unpleasant situation.  I began imagining getting crap from a teacher and thinking of rejoinders when I switched gears (mentally, my car is an automatic), took a breath, and said out loud in my head: unpleasant.  This is unpleasant.

In a meditation class my rabbi taught, she talked about feelings being either pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant.  We put labels and associations on feelings, but there are basically these three feelings:  pleasant, neutral, and unpleasant.  The rabbi went on to tell the story of her meditation teachers describing a very turbulent plane ride where the teachers spent most of the flight repeating the word unpleasant.

So what I was feeling was unpleasant.

Something I’ve heard in OA is that feelings aren’t facts.  Also, I have heard and learned, I have choices.  Over the past six months I’ve made some really good choices–about food, eating, not eating, right actions, more frequent right speech, listening, being present.

In that line of cars waiting for the light to change, in a line so long I knew it would go through at least another full rotation for us to get through, after I’d said unpleasant a few times and gone back to the more interesting and fun self-pity, I realized I had a choice.  I could continue to dwell in the house of bitterness, anger, and resentment, or I could stop the mental hamster-wheel spinning and relax.  Or, in my case, practice breathing with the understanding that breath work has brought about relaxation for others more skilled than I.

And so I let it go.  Not completely, there was still some concern about being late and then parking was an issue–but I was so impressed with program.  This is what people mean when they say program works.  This is what some people would describe as a miracle of program.  I am not sure I am ready to embrace that language to describe this particular event–but it is something I would not have been able to do before program.  I might have been able to understand what was happening and try to redirect my thinking, but it never would have stuck.  While that is no well of water following a timbrel-playing prophet through the desert, it’s not nothing.  In fact, it’s way more than nothing.  It’s a big thing.  Just maybe not really a miracle.

© 2010, Raphella. All rights reserved.

Posted in Abstinent Eating, Buddhism and Recovery, Working the Program | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Va’yera–Looking for the Ram

Today I was talking with one of my new OA friends about Thanksgiving, which is right around the corner, kind of.  Last year, this holiday set off a binge that lasted through New Year’s Day.  After the actual Thanksgiving meal, which did include vegetables, I do not think I ingested anything other than sugar, flour, fats, dairy, and on New Year’s Day, all of it washed down with champagne (as in only champagne).  As a rule I have not been much of a drinker, although there have been brief periods in my life when I drank more than others.  Now I only drink a little wine (like a tablespoon or two), and bad wine at that, at kiddush.  Occasionally I miss having a glass of wine, but one glass had often led to two, and with wine, or a cocktail, I would inevitably eat more than I would have planned, intended, wanted, or needed to.

I found myself tearing up when I told my friend about last year.  I’m not really worried about Thanksgiving day itself.  There are all kinds of meetings around, we’re having it at our house, so I have my scale available, we’re making foods I can eat (as well as others I can’t/don’t want to/won’t).  But we are having guests stay with us and that always raises my anxiety.  We are having someone who often seems to find things I do unnecessary (as in: you are fine the way you are, or, that is extreme–all given as loving support, but still).  So I am uneasy.

My friend said something about looking for Gd’s presence or direction–I can’t remember exactly what, but it got me going on my usual looking for the ram in the thicket.  After I went on for a bit, she said, you are talking about the binding of Isaac, right?  Just so I’m with you.

I’m always talking about the binding of Isaac.  I didn’t say that, but it often feels that way.  Today I had a new thought (which was kind of cool, having been thinking and studying this text for the past 13  years or so):  I bet the ram was hard to see.  A ram caught in a thicket–a shaggy, brown sheep caught in a dense shrub might not be as easy to see as I’d always thought.  When I have read this story, and quite frankly, the ram part was never the part I concentrated on much, the whole sacrificing the child thing seemed to catch my attention, I have wondered how Abraham could have missed the sheep.  On the other hand, he was probably preoccupied with the whole sacrificing the child thing himself.

When I began studying this story several years ago with a group of women, we often joked about having to look for the ram every day.  For some of us in the group, parenting was challenging and our finding the ram that would save the day was a constant reminder that there is Grace in this world.  That is not the language our group used and it is not language I would have been comfortable with at the time, but it seems very fitting now.

My prayers, which have changed dramatically since then–since before program, almost 6 months ago now, always include the possibility of being open to seeing Gd’s will and plan for me to follow.  I do not expect angels and messengers or bolts of lightning.  I do not expect anything.  But I want to be open to the possibility of finding Gd’s path and following it and making the next right step.

The Torah portion Va’yera has the root of the word to see in it at least 15 times (by my counting in the translation by Fox).  There are dozens of hundreds of commentaries on this portion and nothing I can say about it hasn’t been said before and better.  The one thing I can contribute to clogging of the blogosphere is that I live to see the ram.  Not just about saving my kids (from myself) anymore–but to deal with food addiction, the feelings that come up that are no longer being stuffed out of existence, and finding a new way of being in this world without my coping mechanism–compulsive overeating.

This Thanksgiving, I have much to be thankful for:  the good health of my family, our comfortable shelter, access to clean running water/indoor plumbing and hot water, the ability to be able to afford nourishing food, the luck of having been born in a time and place where we are free and can worship without fear, and not the least for my abstinence and this fellowship/sisterhood.  I face the anniversary of some of my worst eating with awareness and hope and lots of friends I can call if I need to.  The trick will be remembering that my phone, meetings, writing, and literature are all rams.  I just have to be willing to open my eyes and seem them.

© 2010, Raphella. All rights reserved.

Posted in Abstinent Eating, Eating/Drinking in Social Situations, Holidays, Parenting, Thanksgiving, Working the Program | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Michael Prager’s Book Helped Me Make Lunch for My Kid

I recently read Michael Prager‘s new book, Fat Boy, Thin Man.  It is his story of his struggle with food addiction and compulsive overeating.  He bravely and articulately (and with humor) describes what it was like to be in the throes of food addiction, how depression and compulsive overeating often trigger each other, admitting himself into rehab programs, and finally coming to the realization that he was (as the saying goes) powerless over food.  With therapy, support groups, a mentor, and a nutritionist, Michael Prager has kept off his 160-pound weight loss over the past 20 years.

I thought of Michael Prager tonight while I was making my daughter’s lunch for tomorrow.  I got a shmear of mayonnaise on my left thumb.  Just thinking about it is making my hand hum and vibrate a little. I quickly washed my hands and wiped up the glop on the counter (hand is still humming), and thought about something he’d written in the book.

Michael’s second stint in rehab was through an organization called ACORN.  While he was there, some practical advice the co-leader Phil Werdell gave was this:  “If, when you measure out your yogurt and you get a smear on your finger, wipe it off instead of licking it off.” (pg. 90)  It’s not like I was really going to lick the mayonnaise off my thumb, it’s not like I was in the mood for mayonnaise, it’s not like anything horrible would have happened–I wouldn’t (I don’t think) begin to eat out of control… . Just like tonight at dinner I didn’t eat the cherry tomato my daughter (the one I was making lunch for) threw at me (for a good reason, actually).  I had my weighed and measured food in my bowl and it wasn’t part of my dinner.  Again, I don’t think an extra cherry tomato would have set me down the path paved with munchkins (not the Wizard of Oz kind), but I have taken on a disciplined eating practice and I am sticking with it.

However, getting food on the fingers triggers something that is less rational than not eating food thrown across a table.  When I recently cut myself chopping vegetables, the first thing I did was put my finger in my mouth to staunch the blood.  There is something about licking food on fingers that feels kind of primal.  A reaction, not a response–certainly not a mindful response.

So, while it does not sound like a big deal to not like a smidge of mayo off my thumb, it really was.

Michael Prager’s book, along with the fellowship/sisterhood of OA, reminds me that little things like that matter, and, more importantly, that I am not alone in this.

© 2010, Raphella. All rights reserved.

Posted in Abstinent Eating, Working the Program | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Paying Bills and Thoughts of Financial Insecurity

I have not been keeping up with this blog the way I had envisioned when starting it.  This is not the only thing I write for, but I had imagined more balance.  Mah nish tah nah?  Why should there be balance in my writing life when it is lacking in every other area?  Okay, that is a gross over-generalization, so it would be accurate to ask, when it is lacking in most every other area.

When I was thinking about why I haven’t written here lately, two other things came up–first, I was having a dickens of a time coming up with a title for a post, and second, the things I was struggling with when I started writing this aren’t the same.  Those first three steps, the language people use, the fear of being swallowed up by this large fish of a new way of living–not problems anymore.  I have come to believe and accept and understand that I am powerless over food and that a power greater than myself could and would help me; now, it is often less the language that people choose to use and what they actually mean and say that can make me uncomfortable, but that’s okay; and living within the whale’s belly of this program is where I am comfortable living my life.  What’s left to say?

It seems that as long as I am breathing, I have more to say.  Maybe nothing new or enlightening or amusing, but that has not stopped me before, so why now.

Recently I have been reading and completely enthralled with a book by Laura S. called 12 Steps on the Buddha’s Path.  Her particular drug of choice was alcohol, not food.  This has been the most accessible book on Buddhist practice I have encountered (not that I have read all that many); it’s also been the most helpful of the meta-literature around recovery I’ve read so far.  Her use of non-judgmental language has been an extremely useful tool in helping me, by example, be more skillful, as she would say in how I speak and relate to others.  Since studying this book, I have been watching my behavior and speech with a new awareness.  That, combined with hearing other people share (and in particular someone today) has helped me identify areas of concern that seemed either benign or too diffuse to be able to see.

Today in  a meeting two people spoke of clinging to/smashing delusions (from chapter 3 in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous).  Later, this afternoon, while I was paying bills, I became almost panicked because when I subtracted how much money was going to flow out of the account from the amount of money in the account, the remaining cashola looked pretty paltry–and it will only be  mid-November.  A month and a half more to go.

My physical response was immediate and uncomfortable:  muscles contracted; eyes watered; stomach clenched; rate of breathing increased; the urge to transfer money from an account not my own (but under my control) manifested in an itchy mouse-finger (my own, but seemingly no longer under my control).  I was able to push myself half an inch farther from my desk and take a breath and log out of the bank’s website.

It is my job in our household to see that the bills get paid on time.  Now that we do most of our banking online, it is a much less onerous task.  The other thing that is different is being able to see how much money is in each account and how much will be left after the bills are paid.  Seeing this dwindling amount, especially at the end of the year, is a good reminder/kick in the pants about remembering why we weren’t doing as much take out, stopping at Starbucks, or buying so many books–all things that have begun to happen more frequently lately.

My financial insecurity is a delusion.  It is not a delusion that the  numbers are low, or, certainly lower than I am comfortable with, but it is a delusion that I will not have enough money.  Well, more money.  I have yet to feel like there is enough of much, but I am getting there.  This happens every October (it’s way worse when it happens in June!).  It looks like we will not have enough money to get through the end of the year.  We always do.  But we should still cut back on the Starbucks, and Gd knows the book buying.

When I think about this (the money, the idea of delusion around money), and I try to put it into what Laura S. talked about, suffering/dukkha and impermanence, it (along with the breathing) helped stop the panic.  I was able to recognize an old fear, see that it was false, understand that my ‘clinging’ to money was neither useful or necessary, and here’s the best part–not eat over it.  Because what I wanted was to feel better and safe, and in the past, eating something would have calmed me down–with an illusion of feeling better and safer.  And today I didn’t have to.  I just had to breathe.

© 2010, Raphella. All rights reserved.

Posted in Buddhism and Recovery, Fear of Economic Insecurity, Fear of Scarcity, Four Noble Truths, Impermanence, Suffering/Dukkha | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment