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Archive for July, 2012

I remember Games past, when the pace and tenor of evenings would change for two weeks, slow down and expand to focus just on these amazing athletic events being broadcast from far-flung locales. I remember watching the Lillehammer Games every night with my dad my senior year of high school and how that two week period took on an ethereal quality because we took the time to enjoy watching these sports together – we had the time, and these games were more interesting and motivating than our disparate interests, our responsibilities to work and school, other offerings on the TV.

Now I have trouble remembering how I ever had so much time. It’s not just because I was in high school either. I watched a lot of the Beijing Games; seeing a picture of the Bird’s Nest Stadium still stirs fond memories of long days and nights of Olympics binging for summers ago.

But now, I just can’t keep up. I want to watch the Games; I really enjoy the Olympics. But it’s so much time! Just to watch the nightly broadcast, which already feels like a hurried summary, leaving out so much. And yet, I can’t begin to get through it all, even with DVR to speed me through the commercials and boring clip packages.

The difference now is that my life is much more regimented than it used to be. I used to just float through my days. I went to work, of course, and I made plans – so many plans – I’ve been a near-compulsive plan-maker for all of my adulthood, always saying yes, always looking for some activity to plug into any chunk of free time. It was easier to fill my life with social plans then because, aside from work, I had nothing but time. And my anxiety, which is often louder when I’m alone. I slept until I need to go to work, unless I could make plans for breakfast or brunch beforehand (I started work at noon). If I didn’t have plans after my late release from work, I went home and ate while watching TV until I got tired and could go to sleep. I worked Saturdays, so I was always trying to fit as much weekend into Saturday night and Sunday as I could to make up for what I missed while at work on Saturday. And Monday, oh Monday, I was always trying to find something to give my Mondays shape and purpose.

In contrast, my life is so planned now that I know what I’ll be doing any given morning, except perhaps Sunday, and half the nights of the week. The primary cause of this change has been working out. And not in the bullshit, wander to the gym once or twice a week way that I used to work out. I’m talking about my daily 45 minute to 2 hour commitment to fitness. Monday and Wednesday I am always up at 5:15am to make it to my trainer’s gym in time to do cardio before our 7:00am appointment time, and this means that Sunday and Tuesday nights I have to be in bed early and would rather not do anything after 9:00pm. Tuesday I get to sleep a little later because I hike at lunch with Laura – if I can’t do the lunch hike; I get up earlier and go to the gym before work. Thursday mornings, I meet my friends to write, which means I have to workout at lunch. Friday, I’m back in the gym, on my own this time for cardio and my third day of strength training for the week. Saturday I hike with my trainer, and she usually tries to convince me to do it again on Sunday. And thus, my week is structured. Add in a weekly body-mind therapy session on Thursdays and a writing workshop every other Wednesday, and what’s left is a very good opportunity to practice saying yes judiciously, only to the things I most want to do, and to work at maintaining time for myself and my own needs – time spent cooking, cleaning, writing, reading, being with Stephen and our dog. I can barely keep up with “Breaking Bad,” which averages 12 episodes a season. It’s impossible then to watch so many hours of Olympic sports.

I can’t even stay up that late. But it’s a good thing really. In the days when I was floating, I always wanted more structure. But I looked outside myself – to friends, to hobbies, to everything else – to find that structure. I wanted structure because I wanted purpose. But the only real place to find purpose is within. No matter how many dinners or movie outings or classes I scheduled, I couldn’t find what I was looking for until I looked inward. I had to find a purpose for myself, something that I was willing to put time and effort into working towards. And once I did, I found that my days had structure – some times bordering on too much. But it always feels purposeful and productive. It feels like I am living my life, with purpose and with presence. And that’s my own victory.

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This past weekend I ate cake. And I do not mean sugar-dairy-gluten-free “cake” that has been specially made for people like me. No, I mean an honest-to-god sugar and butter and white flour confection of icing and layers and hazy deliciousness.

I was at a wedding. The groom had told me the cake was good. It was lemon flavored, and I love citrus.

The offending (beautiful and delicious) cake

I have avoided wedding cake before. I have avoided cake that by all accounts would be much more delicious than wedding cake. But not many people were dancing (read: no one I knew well enough to dance with). Everyone I knew, including my fiance, was sitting at our table. I had had some wine (something else I’m not supposed to do). I had gotten to the point in the night – a bit tired, a bit antsy – where I would really benefit from dancing to keep my energy going through the rest of the party. But instead I was sitting. I was talking to people but not to the point of true engrossment. Basically, I was looking for something to keep me amused. And then the waiters started bringing out cake.

I have been eating for entertainment for most of my life. It started when I was very young, I know; I clearly remember my favorite babysitter from when I was about seven bringing a bag of candy every time she came to stay with my brother and me while my parents went out on Friday night. I could probably name any event in my life and think of an association with food. College graduation: celebration dinners the night before and after; the death of my grandmother: fridges full of food brought by neighbors; moving to California: Mike and Ikes and Nutterbutters bought at Rite Aid as I drove around the city looking for an apartment; my first job after grad school: ordering curry or dumplings every day for lunch. It just goes on and on… and I’m not even thinking about the associate drinks.

So I have a lot of experience associating food with entertainment. And it has been constant, daily work to break that association. It is often painful. When other people are engaging in the association of food as entertainment – whether it be at a work lunch or a birthday dinner – I have to consciously choose not to order what others are eating, to pass up the proffered desserts or shared items. It’s doable. In fact, as I’ve gotten used to it, it’s become easier. The M&Ms kept in a giant vat at work, always available and on display in the kitchen, used to be impossible for me to resist. Now I just don’t consider them. And it can be like that with everything. I can just choose not to eat it. In that sense it is easy. And freeing. But of course, as anyone who has ever said no to the fries or dessert knows, it’s also hard.

And some days, as it turns out, it’s too hard for me. It seems to happen most when I forget that I am working on something. When I decide to just be cool about things, treat it all like it’s easy. That’s when I end up accepting a piece of cake and tucking into it just like the people sitting at the table around me. I took one bite because it’s a wedding, after all; it’s a special occasion (so special that I have three more to attend in the next five weeks…). And it’s just one bite.

Really, if it had been just one bite, it would have been fine.  But I ate half the piece. And I knew what I was doing. I knew I shouldn’t keep eating it, but I pushed that voice to the side, shoved it in a small room and forcibly held shut the door so it wouldn’t get in the way of my rendezvous with cake. Because I wanted to have those other bites. I wanted to shove it all in. It tasted good; it tasted like fun and distraction and purpose. And I liked being just like everyone else and also getting to be all alone with the pleasure centers activated by the sugar and butter going off in my brain. For the moment I was eating the cake, I wasn’t tired or antsy, I wasn’t worried that I was a bad conversationalist or thinking about how my feet hurt. It was just me and the sugar and the rush it gave me.

And then I stopped. I thought when I had dessert like this again, it would taste too sweet. But it didn’t. I thought it would make me feel ill, but it didn’t do that either. I liked how it tasted, and my body processed it just fine. All that happened was that the part of my brain that is in full control of who I truly am and how I want to live my life – the ways I want to care for myself and honor my body and my health – caught up with the furious hound dog of desire – and reeled it back in.

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