I am playing the violin, that’s all I know, nothing else, no education, no nothing. You just practice every day.—Itzhak Perlman
Changing behavior. That’s the Work in front of me these days. How do I pull the power plug from my life-long companion, Compulsive Eating and her little sister Compulsive Spending? How do I change personally destructive behaviors that have actually served me by easing the emotional turbulence of bipolar disorder?
The short answer is slowly. With lots of help from my therapist.
It’s a painful process, waking up. And that’s basically what’s called for in changing behavior. The whole point of compulsive eating and spending is to go to sleep, to numb the pain and shut down the barbed, twisted thinking. Nothing hurts when you’re unconscious. But, nothing changes, either.
I’ve always believed the path to change and to a healthier life was through mindfulness. I’ve tried my best to raise my consciousness and to pay attention. But these two compulsive behaviors have been stronger than me for a long time. I knew I needed help, and more than what I found in meditation and self-help books. Once my therapist and I decided to focus our attention here, I felt real hope for the first time.
We work in baby steps, and in a spirit of Practice. It’s a lot like when I learned to play the piano. I do my drills every day. I play my simple pieces, missing notes and flubbing the rhythm. I get frustrated and have little tantrums. I rebel and skip practice, then have to spend extra time at the keyboard the next day.
We watch and pay attention to what happens. My moods flop around and my thinking strangles itself in convoluted knots. Then, that all evens out for a day or two before starting in again. It’s hard to choose to stay awake through all of it. It’s painful. It’s humiliating. It’s ugly. Megan reminds me that this is practice. Every small success is just that. And every fall back into old behavior is just that. Perfection and failure are not words we use.
What seems to help is to stay busy with projects, especially creative work. I’ve long understood the connection between watching TV and overeating, so anything that can keep me away from that is helpful. Playing with my junk and pretties fosters joy and a sense of mastery. I can use a little of that right now.
To point me in a positive direction, I decided to make something out of gratitude. And what do I have the hardest time being grateful for? People. What better target for this project than the people who brighten my days with small gifts of kindness—the baristas at my Starbucks, the grill cook at the cafe who makes my toast, the group at my UU fellowship who sponsored my Peer Support training, the friends who consistently schedule time to be with me, the virtual friends who lift me with their words and images, the actors and actresses who sit in the dark with me when I’m at my worst.
I sat at my table, creating little Blessing cards, holding each face in my mind, generating positive juju. I decided to purposely use up a lot of my favorite materials—an antique German prayer book, purple card stock and ribbon that are no longer available, fibers from a company that went out of business. I used my favorite things to prove to myself that I have all I need. Plenty and more.
I ended up making more cards than I needed. I could have sent them to a lot more people—the folks on the fringes of my life—but I decided to trust my first take on the purpose of this project. To keep it simple and immediate. So, I put the rest of the cards in my Etsy shop. Maybe someone else can use them.
And while I worked on this project, I kept my budget and lost 7 pounds.
Okay. That’s lovely. Now. Back to the keyboard.