Chop Sticks

Uncover in the Mess

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.

Scales and FingeringWe 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.

Blessing CardI 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.


13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Littlesundog
    Apr 05, 2014 @ 08:24:05

    Bravo for sticking to it and finding alternative routes of changing behavior. My “go to” means has been physical work most of my life. When things got the best of me I worked it out with hard physical labor, putting my frustration to good use. As I’ve aged my body cannot perform as it did so when my ego pushes to work, my body cannot comply and I end up hurting myself. What once worked doesn’t work so well as a coping skill anymore. Finding what does work and starting anew changing behavior is tough work, but it can be achieved with diligence, much practice, and creative thinking. It is always a bonus to enjoy the fringe benefits along the way!


    • Sandy Sue
      Apr 05, 2014 @ 16:58:31

      It seems important to understand why we do what we do, and why we choose the coping behaviors we do. And then what happens when those don’t work any more. It’s all such a mystery.


  2. Dee Silbaugh
    Apr 05, 2014 @ 11:38:38

    I too am a compulsive eater. Is it an addiction? I think so. I have tried Over Eaters Anonymous with no real success. They seemed to rely so much on a higher power which I have never really been able to define for me. But reading your blog gives me comfort and makes me realize there are many ways to deal with issues in our lives. Keep up the great writing and keep smiling!


    • Sandy Sue
      Apr 05, 2014 @ 16:57:01

      I tried OA, too, years ago. Like everything else it worked for a while, but the compulsion always won. I go to TOPS now for the support. It helps to be with non-judgmental folks who are fighting the same fight.


  3. Linda
    Apr 05, 2014 @ 12:53:13

    MyGoodnessSandySue! Jeez — exactly what I’m focusing on. You mentioned the inadequacy of self-help books for CompulEat/Spending. These days I’m reading about Neuroscience, what goes on it our brains/chemistry/mind that is based in physical brain. Focusing on understanding the neuroscientific/physical explanations helps me StopDenigratingMySelf.
    “The Power Of Habit: Why we do what we do in Life and Business.” I know, I know, it sounds so typical for a self-help book but it Impacts me Tremendously by showing me concrete neuroscience reasons/explanations why/how my CompulsiveHabits kick in and great examples of Different Habits. The Cue/Routine/Reward and how Craving fits in.
    The other one is “Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain” by Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist/professor. It is Difficult, but I love this stuff, a theory how Biological Value (staying alive) which is in all Living Organisms is Basic, even to one-cell creatures…I am connecting it to my Habits intellectually for, as always, Greater Larger Perspective = Attitude and Action changes. Just a couple of thoughts. Sounds like your therapist+you focus is constructive!


    • Sandy Sue
      Apr 05, 2014 @ 16:53:35

      These both sound like useful books. We need all the information we can get—anything to help shift the perspective.
      I have one of Damasio’s books in my tiny library—”The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness.” It was one of those books that cracked me open.


  4. pegoleg
    Apr 07, 2014 @ 16:16:33

    Whoo hoo! Congratulations on all your practice and how it is paying off. I love the idea of showing gratitude, something I need to be reminded of.


  5. sf
    Apr 16, 2014 @ 21:06:07

    Lovely blessing cards! And your pics are colorfully creative too!


  6. TamrahJo
    Jun 01, 2014 @ 11:17:15

    Checked out your new additions to your Etsy shop! Awesome! Hopefully budget opens up before the ones I love are sold ! 🙂 (Still mourning the loss of the Merry F Christmas one….LOL)


    • Sandy Sue
      Jun 01, 2014 @ 13:47:07

      Hey! I’m always happy to do custom cards. If you see something you like, let me know. Or if you want a particular sentiment or message, I can do that, too. When, you know, the budget opens up. 🙂


      • TamrahJo
        Jun 01, 2014 @ 13:51:17

        Yes!!!! Doesn’t have to be the same exact picture/look – but last winter I ordered some cards and bemoaned the fact that the “Merry F***ing Christmas” with the stolid looking couple on the front was already gone! You ever do that one again, considered it pre-sold – I’ll have budget come July or when my Merry F***ing Customers pay their invoices – – LOL

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