Tag Archives: compassion

Temptation, trying, failing, trying

Mini Napoleon by sweetfixNYC

I ate my own Napoleon(s) too fast to photograph. They looked like this though. But with more filling.

Sugar is not my friend.

I know this, I know this, I KNOW THIS, and if I have any doubts whatsoever, I need only touch my tender, itchy skin.

And yet this afternoon I ate a cannoli, half a Napoleon, something that looked like a ball of meringue but was crunchy amaretto instead, two coconut cookies with rasberry jam, and finally, another Napoleon.

I am not writing about this occurrence in order to guilt trip shame myself. I’m just confused, and I want to understand.

Nearly ten months ago I found out that if I stopped eating sugar, dairy, and gluten, my chronically itchy skin would stop causing me pain. At the time I made this discovery, I was in a great deal of discomfort.

eczema evidence

This is what my chest and shoulder looked like.

I’ve had eczema most of my life. When I was a child it was severe, but after I hit adolescence the rash faded to an annoyance. A persistent patch here and there, but nothing I couldn’t easily endure or ignore. And then came last summer. Suddenly, at age twenty-nine, I was overcome with an outbreak that rivaled the eruptions of my childhood.

The itching was relentless, and my scratching as destructive as it was unstoppable. Nighttime was torture. I tried wearing gloves, wearing socks over gloves, wrapping fabric and bandages mummy-style over my hands–anything to keep me from tearing up my skin as I slept. Nothing worked. Each morning I woke to freshly clawed wounds; no matter how short I cut my nails or how hard I tried to confine them, my unconscious hands found a way to do damage.

Then I stopped being able to sleep. Instead, I’d sit up for hours, scratching and worrying, experiencing flashbacks of long, lonely nights and futile frustration. In a way, I was grateful to be reliving my youth. I hadn’t realized how bad things had been, and connecting to the suffering of my younger self allowed me to show up with compassion, to heal distress that had not been acknowledged. It made me want to take action as an adult, to help her/me in a way I couldn’t before.

Having long ago maxed out the (in)effectiveness of steroid creams, I decided to try something different. I visited a friend who is a healer, and I surrendered my inflamed self into her care. Entirely desperate, I was willing to try whatever she suggested.

I immediately changed my diet. No sugar, no dairy, no gluten. No coffee, no chocolate. No chicken, no shrimp. No onions, no garlic, no spices; nothing raw, nothing frozen. I ate eggs, cucumbers, walnuts, apples. Salmon, quinoa, and kale. Hot lemon water in the morning, berries once a day, steamed arugula as much as I could manage.

I got better. The new diet, and my friend’s unique approach to acupuncture, was working. Two weeks into the treatment plan, I slept through the night for the first time. A month after that, my skin had almost completely cleared.

eczema improvement

Six weeks of solid self-care paid off.

And then I started to slip. A bowl of lobster bisque at a wedding. Some gluten-free gingersnaps at Thanksgiving. A few buttermilk bacon pecan pralines at a holiday party. As the new year progressed, I coasted along a gradual slope of occasional indulgence…that turned into a freefall.

Coffee became a daily habit. A couple weeks ago I had a Twix bar for lunch two days in a row, followed by a Friday breakfast of bagels and cream cheese and a Saturday night milk shake with a generous helping of cookies. I had a friend in town, and when we got groceries, I encouraged her to put shortbread biscuits with chocolate medallions in the cart and added ice cream sandwiches. When she asked about my restricted diet, I waved her off.

I knew I was pushing my limits, eating whatever and dismissing the consequences. I figured I’d get back on track eventually, but I was waiting for a sign.

I thought the sign would be jeans that were too tight, or a belly unfit for a bathing suit. And I’m sure those indicators are en route. But what showed up first were welts. All along my torso, my chest, and under my arms. Not quite as bad as last summer, but close enough to remind me where I’ve been. The itching is back too. I woke up scratching the other night.

“Food is either medicine or poison,” my friend told me last fall, and I know that she is right. I’m back to hot lemon water in the mornings, and steering clear of coffee and chocolate and everything else I’m not supposed to have. Last night I baked sugar-free, dairy-free, gluten-free muffins.

And today I ate a truckload of Italian pastries.

People change at the pace of pain. I’ve heard that before, and it seems to be true for me. Apparently I’m hurting enough to buy better groceries, but not so much that I can pass up free sweets.

I pray for patience and compassion; there is no place for shame. It is too easy to say, “What were you thinking, eating those desserts! You know better—and it’s not like you had one cookie. Have you no self-control? Do you not care that you’re harming your health?”

It is a little harder, but not hard, to say, “Oh hon, oh dear. I feel sad that you did that, but I understand. Sugar is not your friend, but I know how it pretends. I know it was very tough to resist that unexpected temptation. Yes, you lost control, and I know you feel bad. But you are making progress. Next time can be different.”

I ate a lot of sugar this afternoon, but I also passed up pizza at lunchtime, and instead splurged on carrot-celery-apple-ginger-beet juice to go with my arugula and walnuts and eggs. I am making progress. Next time can be different.

It’s already okay

you-are-enough butterfly

I had a whole elaborate blog post planned. I was prepared to tell you all about my latest bout with insecurity, and how I was hoping to overcome it quickly. (I was on a deadline.)

So to start, I tracked down an image that contained the message “you are enough,” and I composed the title of “it’s already okay.” And to my pleasant surprise, I felt like I was finished.

I could take more space and time to detail the specifics of today’s low-grade anxiety. Maybe I even will.

But for now, I am resting in the reassurance of two simple phrases, and in the relief and comfort it gives me to share their truth.

Self-care on the slopes

diamond snowflake sample2

“Treating myself like a precious object will make me strong.” I learned that affirmation in Week 7 of The Artist’s Way, and I have made use of it often since.

But last Sunday I felt strong already, and I didn’t want to listen to my bruising body. I wanted to treat myself like a sturdy object rather than a precious one. I wanted to go skiing.

I wanted to ignore the fact that my knee was sprained. After all, it wasn’t a bad sprain. I wasn’t in much pain, and the joint could bear weight, and it wasn’t nearly as swollen as the day before. So why not make use of my lift ticket?

Because my knee was sprained, of course. The smart part of me knew this–understood as soon as I saw the swelling that my time on the slopes was over. But the rest of me desired a different outcome, wanted permission to push myself, to prove my resilience and ability.

The day before I’d been rewarded for boldness and bravery: I’d intended to start out slow on the beginner slopes since I hadn’t skied in six years, but a rush of come-what-may confidence prompted me to launch myself onto an intermediate run instead.

To my exhilarated delight, muscle memory and courage kept me on course, and soon I was dashing down a black diamond. It felt good to face my fear of steep and icy terrain, and even though I fell a couple times, I was impressed with my performance.

The final descent of the black diamond slope I skied.

The final descent of the black diamond slope I skied.

And then I got punished for taking it easy: I next decided to take a break and glide down a long and winding beginner trail, and as I cruised around a curve, I crashed into a snowboarder who was standing still.

I knew something was wrong right away. Thankfully she was okay, and I said I was too, but I also said something like, “I’m pretty sure my knee isn’t supposed to twist out like this.”

Turns out I was correct. Within two hours the tissue above my kneecap was the size of a golf ball, and I wisely accepted a friend’s lunchtime assessment that I was done for the day.

I was less willing to accept that I was done for the weekend. But the group of great people on my ski trip included an ER doctor, and after assessing my injury that night, her diagnosis was clear: It was a sprain, and additional skiing was absolutely inadvisable.

And yet Sunday morning found me justifying, rationalizing, and minimizing. Yes, I had a sprain, but it was a very mild one. I could walk with no trouble–so why not a wee bit of skiing, on only the easiest of trails? It would be a serious shame for already-rented equipment to sit idle, and as long as I was extra careful…

If I was extra careful, I would stay inside. I would not make a minor pain worse. I would treat myself like a precious object, and I would grow stronger. The truth was I had nothing to prove, to myself or anyone else, and as soon as I accepted reality, I was able to focus on self-care with compassion.

Looking at my phone also helped.

VT ski temp

Because inside, it was a lot warmer than zero degrees. And I’m very okay with not feeling numb.

Rightly wrong

mistake

I like to be right. I’ll admit it: Not being wrong feels amazing. But being right is not important.

In truth, it’s acting rightly that matters, choosing to be “in accordance with what is just, good, or proper.” It’s actions that make a difference. And sometimes I act wrong.

Just now, for example, I should have said “wrongly”–that’s the correct way to use an adverb. But I didn’t care, because I liked the sound of the sentence better when I wrote it my way.

“My way” and “wrong” have a knack for finding each other.

Most recently my selfish will–which I’m still striving to let go of–tricked me into making a mighty mistake, one that has caused a lot of pain. Fortunately, pain is not pointless. Unfortunately, knowing this does not make it less painful.

What helps with the pain is compassion. Because there is a right way to be wrong–a loving way to accept mistakes. Feeling sad sucks, but this too shall pass. As long as I don’t harbor self-hate.

Self-hate wants me to suffer. It believes in punishment, in penance, in perpetuating pain.

Self-hate needs healing too, I know. I won’t banish it from my  “Guest House”–but I don’t have to offer it a cozy chair in which to curl up. I can give compassion the seat of honor.

I made a mistake, it’s true. I acted wrongly. And compassion says, okay.

Compassion says, be kind. It says, you tried. You did your best to be just, to be good, to be proper. And you failed. It’s all right. You are still worthy. You are still loved. Always, anyway, no matter what.

What a relief, amen.