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Anniversary Gifts

June 2nd, 2015

Gift (free)If you have ever endured a loss—of a loved one, a relationship, your health—you have one: An Anniversary. You might even call it The Anniversary if you have a really big one. It is the unforgettable date etched into your brain that marks when you made the decision, got the news, knew it was over or received the diagnosis.

One of mine is today.

Thirty years ago, on June 1, 1985, I became an entrepreneur. I joined forces with someone I also had a romantic relationship with and we became, by every measure, very successful. I ultimately chronicled the painful decision for that relationship—and the business—to end in another post, but my thoughts today are not about the actual closing of Sayles Graphic Design. Today I am thinking more about how the process of closure—of letting go and moving on—is indeed, a process. And it ain’t over ’til it’s over.

My former life and business partner John and I have remained cool-but-cordial over the past five years since the business split. We are friendly and respectful but don’t go out of our way to see each other. That’s part of why what happened last night—on the eve of today’s Anniversary—was particularly hard. Here’s the story:

I was outside on my second floor deck reading a book. My Maine coon kitten, Lotus, was at my side. I decided that it was a good time to perform the final chore on my weekend list, so I went inside to clean the bathroom. I let Lotus stay out on the deck.

Then I heard it. The thud. The I-know-that-sound noise made by a cat leaping onto a spot on my rooftop that is humanly inaccessible, except by an extension ladder. I knew the sound because while we lived together, John had retrieved three previous felines from the same exact place. My heart dropped as I raced to the deck for a confirmation. Sure enough, there was Lotus, a good six feet from my grasp, and two stories above the concrete driveway.

So I called John, and I’ll admit that in the back of my head I was thinking about what I would do when he turned down my request to come over and help. But he didn’t turn me down. He was there in less than five minutes.

Lotus had never met John, and while the cat was not afraid, he was nonetheless aloof. When John got to the top of the ladder, Lotus was not convinced he wanted to join the descent. Long story short: John took Lotus’ carrier up to the rooftop ledge and left it there. It was then up to me to climb the ladder and corral the cat into the carrier, which I did. But my not-so-great upper body strength, combined with a lack of ladder confidence, meant John needed to re-ascend and actually bring Lotus down. He did it and I was—am—grateful, although not happy to feel indebted to an ex.

After John left and I had Lotus cleaned up (and scolded!), I sat down on the sofa and began to cry. As any Mom (cat or otherwise) knows, once the sheer adrenalin-fueled terror of the moment has passed, a wave of relief, tinged with every other emotion from anger to guilt sets in. And my emotional furnace was already stoked by the timing of the event and the fact that, the very day prior, I had cleaned out all the old photographs and records I had remaining from the now-closed business. So, honestly, the tears were about 15% because of the cat. The rest was the all other stuff.

My usual method of handling this sort of a situation would have been to suck it up and get back to work. Finish cleaning the bathroom. “Forget it, ignore it, get over it,” I’d likely have said to myself as recently as last year. Instead I honored The Anniversary and that important part of my life and my history. I let myself have a good cry and then I cleaned the bathroom. And then I took a long, lavender-infused soak. I stayed with it: the pain, the memories. I asked myself if I was romanticizing the past. And in that process, I realized that much of my anxiety from the experience was rooted in the past—and as a result I was missing the joy of the present.

By the end of the bath I had concluded that An Anniversary doesn’t have to mark a negative chapter or event in your life. It can also commemorate the beginning of something new: Something as simple as a new way of framing or experiencing emotions. Something you don’t have to wait a whole year to do again.

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Proof: Reflections on a year without drinking

May 27th, 2015

ScanThe following is from the June 2015 issue of my ezine, That’s Forkin’ Amazing! (If you like this, you can subscribe and receive it monthly!)

Alcohol is a ubiquitous part of modern life. We toast the bride, ring in the New Year and celebrate communion by partaking in alcoholic beverages. If you’ve ever vowed to hop on the wagon—for the week, a month or even for just for one day—you’re not alone. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that over 30% of adults in the U.S. did not drink alcohol last year.

So, whether a break from alcohol is your New Year’s resolution, a mandate from a partner or the result of a DUI, the feelings you experience will probably run the gamut. You can expect to feel alternately anxious, excited, resigned, deprived, smug, bored, elated and more. Believe me, I know.

It started innocently enough
My most recent cocktail was June 23, 2014. My goal was a simple one: take the week off from booze. I had been “celebrating” the second season of my television show Fork in the Road with Sheree Clark, since before our June first premiere and I had noticed the toll that my merriment was taking. I felt tired. Looked bloated. Slept like shit.

The truth is my alcohol consumption had been steadily climbing over the last couple of years. Once I left my former career behind—the one that demanded that I fly over 100,000 miles a year for business—I had more time for socializing. I could accept more dinner party invitations and say yes to more social events. I no longer had to be up to catch 5:50 a.m. flights to Chicago. And now that my career involved food, it also involved…wine! Little by little, I realized, I had begun to drink wine nearly every day. Yes, it was mostly organic. Yes, I balanced with my healthy eating habits. Still, I was starting to feel out of control. I needed to knock it off. Just for a week, I said. Make it through a weekend, I told myself. Then, I would be back to normal. I just needed a breather.

But something happened. After a few days of not having drinks after work, I realized that feeling tired and bloated were just the surface conditions of over-indulging. I also had developed some bad habits: I was using alcohol to numb-out, and to “take the edge off” of just about every activity where it would be considered acceptable. I was getting less done. My yoga practice had reached a plateau. I was settling for “good enough” in a lot of ways. And I didn’t like it. So, I moved the finish line: I’d go alcohol-free for thirty days: until July 24.

Making substitutions
When I look back at my journal from that time, I am amazed I made it through that first month. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that the change was not easy for me. I wrote about feeling depressed and anxious, and how I was having trouble falling asleep. I felt awkward at certain social events (they’re all about the drink, have you ever noticed?). I deliberately arrived late for a few get-togethers, just to avoid the cocktail hour.

I knew that the best way to break a habit is to replace it with a different one, so I started doing new things, including a daily morning meditation and writing in my long-neglected journal. I revisited counseling. I participated in (and also led) several group experiences. None of these activities was specifically alcohol—or abstinence—related. They were just things I did in the name of personal growth. And being sober, I think, made the effects more pronounced and more rapid.

So when July 24 rolled around I was faced with a decision: do I resume drinking, or don’t I? After a month of abstinence, things had settled into a new normal. I didn’t think, “I’d love a glass of wine” so often anymore. I had figured out how to navigate social situations, either by simply not calling attention to my choice, or by faking it, depending on whom I was with. (Faking it meant I walked around with the same glass of wine as a prop the entire evening.) My sleep had become more refreshing. My yoga stretches deeper. I liked where I was headed. So…the new finish line was December 24. Yes, I thought: Christmas Eve, how perfect!

Where does the time go?
On the morning of Christmas Eve I received word that the presenting sponsor for the third season of my TV show had been deemed insolvent. The show’s new season would be delayed or possibly even cancelled. And so I had the perfect storm: I had crossed the six-month finish line, it was a holiday and I had every good reason to drown my sorrows. Which is precisely why I didn’t.

Now, as I write this, I am practically moments away from the one-year mark. I don’t know what will come next and the best part is that it doesn’t even matter anymore. I could never, ever have imagined saying that last summer. What I also could not have anticipated is the reaction I have received from others. Responses from people upon discovering that I am alcohol free have ranged from a curiosity bordering on fascination to being practically shunned. (Please remember, when you run into someone like me who is abstaining, whether temporarily or for the long-term, that it’s not a commentary on your drinking and nobody is trying to ruin anyone’s fun!) But most people—especially my partying friends—are intrigued. Many feel they “should take a break” but they don’t know how or are afraid to try. Some of them look to me, hoping to summon the courage to move forward into unfamiliar terrain.

If you’re one of those who are evaluating your relationship with alcohol, it is no coincidence you are reading this. I don’t have answers for you (I barely have them for me!). But I can tell you this: there are scores of ways to quit drinking, if that is what you want to do, and there is no single right way. In my case, I do believe that thinking about “never” drinking again would have gotten me stuck. In the early days of abstinence, everything was already hard, so the idea of never was just too much. Today I can entertain the thought that I never need to drink again. But that may change. I can tell you this much: in the past year I have never once gotten up for my 5:00 a.m. yoga class and thought “Damn, I wish I’d had a few drinks last night.”

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An outlet. For energy.

March 17th, 2015

outletI don’t remember exactly when it happened, but sometime before Christmas (yes, that long ago), the outlet in my upstairs bathroom let out a puff of smoke and then simply ceased to function. I wasn’t alarmed or worried about safety; I just felt annoyed and a little inconvenienced. But I found a workaround pretty quickly: I got an extension cord and plugged it into an outlet in the next room.

The problem is, my workaround worked so well that there was no real urgency to actually get the outlet fixed. My “temporary” remedy created only a bit of an eyesore, but not a genuine nuisance. Well, I guess on Fridays when the cleaning lady came I did have to unplug stuff get the cord out of her way. And, I suppose I also needed to jostle the bathroom door for it to close around the cord. But, in my mind anyway, compared to finding an electrician—and having to be there when he came—the outlet didn’t seem to be a big deal.

I admit I thought about it every time I was in the bathroom. I’d see the extension cord and I’d think, “I need to deal with that.” Or my kitten Lotus would tug at the cord on the floor and I’d distract him with a toy. Now that I think about it, I guess I did spend a lot of energy on the broken outlet. I lost time thinking about it and feeling guilty for not dealing with it. I kept promising myself I’d make a call tomorrow. Or the next day, for sure. And all the while, in the back of my mind, I was hoping it wouldn’t end up being a major hassle. My house was built in 1939. Some of the wiring is new, but some is still the original. I didn’t want to hear that I needed to upgrade my electrical. I didn’t want to make decisions, and I sure didn’t care to spend money on something as unglamorous as electrical supplies.

Then, one day last week, I met a friend for a drink after work. The outlet must’ve been top of mind for me, because it actually came up in the conversation. While I was lamenting, my friend picked up his cell phone and—before I knew what he was actually doing—was talking to an electrician friend of his on the phone (he’s in the construction business). And I had an appointment for a service call the very next morning.

Sure enough, and right on time, Mr. electrician arrived. It turns out the outlet simply needed replacing. Not the wiring. Not the whole house. Just that one outlet.

And then the funniest thing happened. In addition to having power in the bathroom—from a source that was actually in the bathroom—I found that I too, had more…energy. I woke up earlier the next day, and I actually felt a little lighter. I didn’t have a sense of shame or guilt every time I was in the bathroom. I didn’t need to shoo Lotus away from an extension cord any more. I could close the door to the bathroom effortlessly. And all of this made me think about some of the other “energy leaks” in my world, and about the slow drip, drip, drip of vitality that happens with procrastination. Last year I experienced it during tax season (I eventually applied for an extension which made that whole energy drain even worse). I’ve done it with all kinds of things from dentist appointments to touch up paint, from tire rotation to oven cleaning. And I know that every time I put something off, I am costing myself. Sometimes the price of procrastinating is money, but there is another, more insidious cost: the loss of precious and unrecoverable energy.

So, after this outlet incident, I am committed to taking my power back. I am not going to merely think about writing a blog about what I’ve learned, I’m going to write it. And then…I am going to post it.

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