Hello, my name is Alyson…

Enlight352 2

My son left for college last fall. He’s not coming home – not really. He has become an occasional visitor, no longer a resident. I’m very excited for him as he’s heading straight from school to a fabulous summer job in NM, but the loss of his presence is hitting me all over again, maybe even harder than it did in September.

He is one of my favorite people and one of my closest friends, and he was woven into the fabric of my daily life for 18 years.

I have been super busy with my girls, my saving graces (also my dear ones), so I have not had much time to sit around and contemplate feeling lonely. But as the emptiness hits me anew this week, I realize that it has been lurking under the surface causing chronic, mild (sometimes not so mild) depression. I have struggled with this sadness in my body, because in order to get through my days, it was not convenient for my body to be sad.

My brain and my heart obviously colluded in my subconscious and decided that a numb body was better than a sad body, and that deep desire to be numb took me straight into my addictive struggles. Instead of picking one single addictive vice and ending up in rehab, I take a more “controlled” approach and engage in moderately addictive behavior across a broad spectrum – eating, drinking, Netflix, and shopping for cool sneakers and sharp t-shirts. 

I don’t eat a sleeve of Oreos in one sitting, but I might eat twice the recommended serving size – and maybe I eat them right before my dinner, so the second piece of dark chocolate after dinner is just a normal dessert as the Oreos can technically be categorized as a snack. I might sip on enough wine to keep me a little relaxed between 6 and 10 while never being tipsy. I can spend 2 hours browsing Marshalls and come out with a $7 t-shirt, but those 2 hours are brainless bliss. 4 or 5 Doctor Who episodes in a sitting? Well, I’m just trying to catch up with my daughter.

With my deft addiction management, I appear socially acceptable, an addict undercover. Any one of my given vices is completely understandable to most people. However, the cumulative effect is quite deadly. I don’t type that phrase that lightly – if I maintain my current course, I will end my life earlier via heart disease and diabetes.

This is a very personal confession, so I hope you stopped reading a while back if it’s TMI, but it’s helpful to me to bring it into the light. It makes it real, and I’m tired of the social media showcase where we all appear to have it all together. Now for the good part…

My past response when coming to grips with deep struggle was to feel shame and self-contempt. There is a generally agreed upon list of responsible, grown-up behaviors, and I somehow cannot manage to follow that list.

A year ago, I would have berated myself as a childish hypocrite, but what I’ve discovered is that my shame response is actually pride in disguise. Hating myself means I think I’m too good to fail. Humbly embracing my whole self brings acceptance of my humanity – my shared humanity. It makes me seek community and support instead of withdraw into my shell and deeper into my addictive cycles.

This morning, while working out (yay me!), I listened to a brief podcast – Krista Tippett on Becoming Wise, was interviewing Matthew Sanford. The subject? Compassion for our bodies. Oh, my goodness. Here is the first sentence of the podcast:


“Grief and gladness, sickness and health, are not separate passages. They’re entwined and grow from and through each other, planting us, if we’ll let them, more profoundly in our bodies, in all their flaws and their grace.”

~Krista Tippett


 

Now stop reading and listen to this (it’s less than 10 minutes): https://onbeing.org/blog/compassion-for-our-bodies-matthew-sanford/

There I was huffing away on the stairclimber, and instead of judging my lack of stamina, I chose to notice how well my muscles were still working for me. Yes, my heart rate was higher than it should be and I bench pressed 15 pounds less than I did in September, but my body kept me going through a really hard year! It did not give up on me. And the few extra pounds that have accumulated are the evidence that I have been grieving because I LOVE my kids like crazy. 

I do want to be around for my kids, however. Rejecting shame is how I break free and return to better self care. And taking care of myself is one of the best gifts I can give my family.

As I left the gym this morning, I could feel more keenly how my intake of breath makes the tips of my fingers feel connected to the rest of me, how my ears are more attuned to the joyful birdsongs than they were a year ago, how I really need to get to the eye doctor because I cherish seeing the beauty around me and can’t do that as well as I could a year ago.

 

Yes, my body is declining, but it’s a good body. My heart has been numbing itself, but it’s good, too. It was simply trying to find a safe place. The more compassion I find for myself exactly as I am right now, the more compassion I automatically extend to every other declining human body and vulnerable heart.

My body will eventually fall apart and stop breathing – might be 40 years from now, might be this afternoon. But while it’s still moving me along, I will live in a more connected way than I did yesterday. And as the other bodies and hearts that I love so dearly leave me over time, and I grieve again and again, I will remember the tender, softer grief of this year and the compassion I felt towards myself. In the future, I will be deeper, kinder, and more present in my grief and remember that it is intricately entwined with my joy.

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Bringing Nature to You

Open this link and let me give you a gift. I am learning yoga (sort of), I’ve downloaded my deep breathing app and am contemplating a more serious practice of meditation. I am not switching religions or running off to a commune. I simply find that the more time I spend quieting myself, the more joyful and efficient I am when I’m back on the move.

The exercises and techniques are all fine and good, but the best way for me to find this calmer state is to be in nature. My brain seriously never stops. It’s tiring. The only time I can completely relax and stop thinking is when my senses are immersed in the outdoors. Topping the list is picking up shells at the beach; next best is the mountains or forest with my camera. I will look up after hours of wandering and realize I did not have an anxious or serious thought about anything.

And if that sounds like as waste of time, what happens next is magical. For even though I am not experiencing conscious thoughts, my brain is doing far deeper work than usual. I emerge from those times with new melodies, new words, new connections. But as a busy Mom of 3 kids – those times in nature are often few and far between.

I heard Krista Tippett’s interview with Gordon Hempton on her On Being podcast – here’s the link: Silence and the Presence of Everything. I was mesmerized.  I then went directly to Gordon Hempton’s lovely webpage: soundtracker.com. I put all of his soundscapes in my cart, purchased them, and gleefully watched as the zipped files popped into my e-mail inbox.

I imported them all into iTunes and have them set to play on a loop. As I type this, I can close my eyes (thanks to whoever the nutty lady was that taught me to type in high school) – I am deep in the forest with a soft rain falling – there is a steady, low hum underneath with the occasional drip from the leaves, distant bird calls, and oh, the tree frog just joined in.

Of course, I’d rather actually be sitting in the forest feeling the rain fall on my head. But, alas, I have a voice recital to attend, and 1,000 words to write and chores to do. So, I have imported a little nature and will vacuum with my good headphones on. Just having this on in the background slows down the cadence of my breath and I naturally take more air in and let it all out.  My body responds with no effort on my part.

So, there’s your gift – skip Chick Fil A and spend a few bucks supporting Mr. Hempton’s important work. Do all the steps – download and import everything, make a playlist, put it on your phone and computer, and press play. You’re welcome.

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