What is EMDR and does it work? I personal experience with eye direction movement reprocessing therapy and how it helps reprogram your past memories to help your present.

What the F#$% is EMDR and Does it Work?

What is EMDR and does it work? I personal experience with eye direction movement reprocessing therapy and how it helps reprogram your past memories to help your present.“Here’s the thing,” my therapist begins, after a particularly anxiety-filled session discussing my focus on outcomes and relationships, “You’re aware. You’re so aware. You know that how you are feeling is not rational, but there’s something missing …”

“Yeah,” I sigh, defeated.

“You just need a click.”

“Yeah,” I repeat, looking down at my hands as they grip the plush pillow.

Over the past two years, I’ve worked long. I’ve worked hard. I’ve transformed from a girl who was so unsure of her footing in regards to adult decisions, to adult relationships, to my entire being, to a woman who is keenly aware of what makes me who I am and why. I’ve navigated the tumultuous (and often times ridiculous) dating minefield in Las Vegas. I’ve navigated the same minefield of friendships. I’ve navigated my own minefield.

And, I’ve arrived.

Basically.

Except the anxiety. The being overcome with doubt. With fear.

It’s been bred in me since my childhood (note: not from the way I was raised, my parents are sensational and loving and empowering, it’s from life), this idea of not being enough. Not loving enough. Not being worthy. I know it. I can talk about it openly. But, as much as knowledge is power, this knowledge and acceptance doesn’t make those deep-seeded beliefs disappear. No amount of meditation, mantras, affirmations, crystals, manifesting, make those things go away.

I’ve tried.

“I think you’re the perfect candidate for EMDR,” she announces. “I think it’s the click you need.”

I sit upright on the couch as she continues. EM what?

“EMDR works for people who have suffered emotional traumas in the past. It uses an eye direction technique to essentially reprocess events in your past which have somehow hidden out in your brain and stuck around and impacted you far beyond how they should,” she explains. “You are cognizant of everything … now you just need to reprogram some key instances in your past so they don’t impact you the way they currently are.”

I feel a warm light wash over me.

Reprogram my past? It sounds like an episode of the Vampire Diaries where a heartbroken Elena tries to remove her love and change her memories after Damian gets stuck in some weird other world (I used to love that show). Will EMDR change me? Is it some witch-y thing that shakes up my core and makes the pain from past experiences go away?

Yes. And no.

What is EMDR?

EMDR is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Whattttttt?

Simply put, EMDR is:

“A psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences.”

The EMDR Institute goes on to explain:

“Repeated studies show that by using EMDR therapy people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years to make a difference. It is widely assumed that severe emotional pain requires a long time to heal.  EMDR therapy shows that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma. When you cut your hand, your body works to close the wound.  If a foreign object or repeated injury irritates the wound, it festers and causes pain.  Once the block is removed, healing resumes.  EMDR therapy demonstrates that a similar sequence of events occurs with mental processes.  The brain’s information processing system naturally moves toward mental health.  If the system is blocked or imbalanced by the impact of a disturbing event, the emotional wound festers and can cause intense suffering.  Once the block is removed, healing resumes.”

The therapy uses bilateral stimulation or eye movements during a part of the session to examine an event in the past and then works to transform them on an emotional level. It delivers the power of change to the patient, and rather than continue to cling to the negative events of the past, they are reprocessed to become empowering.

Click.

How EMDR Helped Me Heal

The first time I walk into my therapist’s office, I’m excited. After years of working on myself and untangling my past to understand my present, this is my last step. My first session is an intake, where I explain the traumatic experiences from my past (including my numerous sexual assaults which have left their nasty scars in my heart and mind) and then am given a quick intro to EMDR.

My therapist places two little pulsars in my hand, connected to a box which controls the pulses. She guides me through a quick meditation, asking me to recall a time when I felt truly peaceful. As I close my eyes and recall the memory (Mexico, this year, sitting on the beach and feeling the warmth from the October sun hit my face and radiate over my body), the pulsars buzz back and forth alternating between my left and right hand.

I feel the warmth. I feel the peace I felt on the beach. Deeper than I’ve ever felt it before.

The next week, we dive in and tackle those monsters of my past that still linger as gray clouds threatening to dump rain on me and impacting my psyche.

The first memory I have is also one of my first memories. It’s one which I’ve talked about for years but never realized how big a role it has played in my self-love (or lack thereof).

First, I walk through the old memory.

“I want you to feel it, really feel it,” she instructs as I close my eyes and the pulses begin.

The emotional pain starts in my sinuses, stinging them as my chest constricts and my stomach tenses. I don’t struggle for more than a brief moment and then let the tears flow. I don’t know where all of the pain comes from, but it is there and flowing. And flowing. And flowing.

She has me relive it for a bit, as I replay in my head the memory over and over, letting those feelings rise, rise, rise to the surface.

We stop and discuss the situation. How my body reacted to it. What I felt emotionally.

Then, we dive back in. This time, we focus on letting my mind protect myself and envisioning either someone I love and trust insert themselves into my memory, or inserting myself as an adult into it.

I once again dive in, but this time, I alter it. I let the person I love help. From there, my brain takes over. It builds a loving shield, bursting with affirmations I practice today into my childhood memory. Those kind words, kind beliefs, plant their roots into my old story.

The tears cease. Then, she asks me to recall the event to her and focus on my body.

“How do you feel?” She asks.

I scan down, starting at my head, recalling the memory as I go.

“Weird,” I report back.

The tension, the tightness, the stinging … they’re gone.

My therapist hands me a log sheet to note any issues I may have post-processing and between appointments.

I don’t even pull it out of my purse.

A few days later, EMDR is put to the test.

An instance where I normally would be hyper-focused and anxious is rendered silent.

“There’s a difference in you,” my friend reports after hearing my experience. “It’s working.”

She’s right.

Where there should be anxiety and fear — at least according to 30 years of experience — there is a blessed silence in my brain.

I should be feeling something. I should be feeling … anything. But that negativity is nowhere to be found. There’s an odd numbness/peace which takes the space of the pain.

I think to myself:

“This is what life must feel like to normal people without the emotional scars I carry.”

And, I no longer carry them.

We go through another three sessions of reprocessing. Each session is painful, digging up and reopening gaping wounds which had long since scarred over in the ugliest of ways (you know, what scars look like without vitamin E). Then, they re-heal seamlessly.

I try to conjure up the old pain. The old Diana. But, she doesn’t exist anymore.

“It’s like there is this gaping hole where pain used to be, and it’s just not there any longer,” I explain to a friend over drinks one night. “It is a weird feeling, to know how I used to feel. To be able to recount how my thought process was, but that turmoil that was raging inside … it’s simply vanished.”

The EMDR Test

I’m not content with knowing that the old feelings are gone without putting my new self to a test. So, my last session with my therapist, we work to reprocess a trauma that doesn’t deal with emotions, but a deep-seeded fear.

When I was in sixth grade, my ears were pierced. But, I was irresponsible and didn’t take care of them so they became grossly infected. The night before my birthday my mom went to clean the earrings.

“I can’t find the backings,” she had said, telling me I would be reporting to the doctor as soon as possible.

The next morning, after being chased around the doctor’s office for a hot minute (I blocked this part out, my mom reminded me), I stood clenching my hands tightly as the doctors ripped the skin on my ears apart, the backings having been swallowed up as the infection attempted to heal.

For 25 years, I couldn’t so much as look at another person’s ear piercings, let alone fathom putting an earring through any lobe. The sight of holes made me sick to my stomach. It made my knees tingle. It made my heart race in the most uncomfortable of ways.

Then, at the start of 2016, I decided to re-pierce my ears. With a friend holding my hand, the needle pierced my lobe.

I will be good this time. I will take care of them.

I twirled the earrings like I was supposed to. I washed them. But, when it came time to replace the studs with other earrings, I couldn’t do it.

My brain would literally not allow my arms to lift to my ears or my hands to pull off the backings.

After seven months of not being able to change them, my mom finally switched the earrings out in her kitchen. I stood there, sweating, anxiety-attack looming as she replaced the studs.

“D, you really need to learn how to do this,” she said as I questioned how the holes looked.

“I know, I know,” I responded.

But, I still couldn’t do it. I’d always put it off. Promising myself next week. Next month. When she was in town.

So, I decided to introduce the traumatic memory into my EMDR session.

First, I relive the experience at the doctors. Then, I am instructed to talk to myself now and explain that my ears are fine. That the backings are there, not covered by skin. That changing my earrings will be pain-free. That nothing bad will happen. I tell myself that I was young when that happened, but it won’t happen again.

We go through the memory and reprocessing for about 15 minutes.

Then, peace.

I walk out, head held high.

Let’s put this EMDR to the test.

I get in my car and think about changing them. And I don’t get sick. My heart gets a little flutter-y, but it’s the anticipation … not the fear.

“Come over and we will do it together,” my friend messages me later that night. “I’ve got lots of holes in my ears. I think you practice on me and then do it yourself.”

So, I go.

We sit at the table, earrings laid out on a paper towel. Rubbing alcohol next to it, along with cotton swabs. It looks like a makeshift doctors office, with all of the instruments laid out and sterile on the dining/operating table.

“OK, you ready?” She asks. Her hand goes to her ear and removes the earring. I watch as she pulls it out.

It doesn’t make me sick.

I pick up an earring.

“Put it in,” she instructs.

I close my eyes, swallow and then grab the tiny post, cautiously putting it through the hole in her ear.

I did it. 

A smile erupts on my face.

“I didn’t puke! I didn’t get scared! I did it!”

“You did!” She echoes my excitement.

I continue practicing on my human guinea pig, placing earring after earring in her ear, hooks, posts, whatever.

“Now it’s time for you,” she says.

“I don’t even know how to take off a backing,” I sigh.

So, she does it for me, pulling the earring out.

I grab another earring and hold on to it tight. My palm doesn’t get sweaty. I stand up.

“I’m going to do it,” I announce, walking to her mirror.

I look at the hole in my ear. It’s so tiny. Then, I put the earring in.

I turn to her, slowly, my heart bursting with happy.

“I fucking did it! I didn’t freak out. I didn’t get sick. I didn’t even feel like getting sick. I. Fucking. Did. It.”

I continue on for another 20 minutes, putting a variety of earrings in my ears and taking them out. I do it until my ears are scarlet and sore.

Then, I look in the mirror at the silver jewelry dangling from my ears. And, I cry. I let go of 20 years of fear. Twenty years of anxiety.

“I don’t know how this works, but it works,” I tell her and continue sobbing. “This … I can’t … my life … it worked.”

I can’t explain how it felt to be able to do something which used to paralyze me. To be able to have that fear removed from my life. It’s … astonishing. Unfathomable. But, more than anything, it gives me peace.

So, Does EMDR Work?

Yes. So much yes.

The earrings were the easy-to-see-success test, but I’ve also noticed how the EMDR works in the other areas I needed it to make a change. It’s a surreal feeling to know how I used to be, to know the way my brain worked, and to no longer have that thought process take place. To no longer have those feelings pulse through me. To feel empowered. To feel good about myself when I didn’t think (in certain regards) it was possible. Those fears and doubts and negative stories which were so ingrained in my body, my mind, my heart, have vanished and been replaced by a positive story.

Should I try EMDR?

EMDR isn’t right for everyone.

And, trust me when I say this — it isn’t a quick fix in the way you may think. You have to dig and truly get in touch with shit in order for it to work. It’s not a substitute for getting your shit together, or the tough work you need to do be able to address the situations which have led to the need for EMDR.

The reason I was a prime candidate was because I had been working on myself long and hard. I had implemented daily practices of self-love and care. I had worked with an amazing therapist for a long time to get me to the point where this was the final step.

But … those steps to get to EMDR, and the EMDR itself are so very worth it.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment.

Diary Get Your Shit Together

The Wildfire and Rebirth

An essay about getting over heartbreak and learning self love.

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons: Daniel Stark

Hi.

I’ve missed you. Seriously. Missed.

“So, if you’ve missed TCZP so much, Miss, why have you not penned a damn thing in almost a whopping year?”

I call Life.

See, after garnering more consecutive days of sobriety since I was 18, I realized some stuff. Not because I kicked the sauce. After I headed to Thailand to speak at a conference (where, yes, I drank a copious amount of seriously shitty Thai beer and wine), I realized all the things.

Actually, it wasn’t so much realized, but more like admitted shit to myself.

And, what did I admit?

Oh, you know, the basic stuff: I was absolutely fucking miserable in Spain.

Yup. Mis.er.able.

Gut-wrenchingly, devastatingly, miserable.

Long story: Why I said adios to being an expat.

So …

I returned to my desert roots of Las Vegas. It’s been my home more than any other city in my adult life. And, for some reason, despite how many times I utter under my breath “I loathe you,” it’s always wrapped its dry heat and strip malls firmly around my heart.

I arrived, fresh-eyed and ready to tackle Sin City. Except I had baggage. About 160 pounds (give or take) of it. Stuff I never talked about anywhere.

Baggage that kept me from really living. From really experiencing, because that weight constantly had my mind, had my eye, and, yes, had my heart.

I could never be firmly present, firmly anywhere, because my mind (and that annoying beating thing in my chest that always took over the mind) was never present. It was living in some world I imagined, where every little piece of the puzzle was perfectly placed and those romantic movies come true.

Spoiler alert for any of those who are in love with your best friend: life is not “Just Friends” or “When Harry Met Sally” or even “One Day.” You are not Mindy and he is not Danny (not this season, obviously). Or any of those other movies where the camera encircles a couple, realizing their love, locked in that passionate first kiss.

It’s far sloppier than that. And not really true.

Here’s the thing about an unrequited love: it destroys. Like a wildfire raging out of control through the parched land, it crackles and burns and then wind comes and makes it grow even larger until it burns everything in it’s path (oh hai, heart).

But, often times, those wildfires are necessary because they nourish the soil, making way for new growth. For new life.

Minus the burn being (at times) catastrophic, in the end, there is some good that comes out of it. (Folks, it’s an analogy, I certainly don’t wish wildfires to destroy anything.)

So, my Wildfire came in March. And again a month later because sometimes you think the fire is out, but then some embers reignite the shit and it’s even worse.

But, finally, I put it out.

It was heartbreaking. It was tragic. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. And then, it was over.

Like any period of mourning, you grieve. You miss. You yearn. You look at the phone number of the ghost and toy with deleting or keeping it alive. Your eyes search over old photos, letting memories pop up and linger until that hole in your heart becomes almost unbearable.

Then, you stand up, dust your shoulders off, hold your head up high and tackle the shit out of life because you’ve got no choice.

That end ended up freeing me. And being the best thing to happen in my life.

Why?

Because (with some therapy, natch), I realized it wasn’t about me. That I’m not this deeply flawed person who is not loveable. It’s human nature to want to feel good. To feel validated, and damned if that validation didn’t turn out to be a legit thing.

I mean, of course you love someone and keep them around when they make you feel so good. They make you feel happy. They make you feel special. Loved.

Until they don’t.

That validation I felt/no longer felt, turned to anger. And then, acceptance and gratitude for the past.

Validation became a theme for me as I moved forward.

Not consciously … at that point … but still.

For the first time in years, I truly wanted to date. I wanted to meet a good guy. So, I downloaded Bumble. OK Cupid. Even as I still cried over my loss, I dated with vigor.

Begrudgingly at times, but I did it because I knew I needed to. I knew I needed to know – nay, to prove – that I was, indeed loveable. Pretty. Funny. And whatever other stupid fucking words I needed to feel via a first kiss.

I can’t even recount all of the dates I went on (although my friends and I definitely came up for nicknames for some of the ones who made more than one or two appearances. It’s coming.). The shallow promises of second dates. The drunken first kisses (although I always firmly told my therapist the right guy for me would be a sober first kiss … or one glass of wine versus four). The text messages. Then, the teetering out of communication or straight ghosting mid-conversation for reasons unbeknownst (not by me, I’ll tell someone it’s not working).

There were even a few in the mix I genuinely liked. Cared about. But, always knew there was zero chance of it ever being more than dating.

Then, after a particularly draining, boundary-ignoring man entered my life and refused to leave it, I decided something: I had it.

“I don’t understand why I continue to do this,” I explained to my therapist, curled up on her couch. “I don’t even like this guy, I told him as much and now that he hasn’t responded, I sit here wondering if maybe I made a mistake. Although, I know I don’t want to be with him. If I wanted to be with him, I wouldn’t have ever told him to back off or complain that every word he says drives me batshit and literally feel my jaw clench when his name pops up on my screen and feel the urge to throw my phone like a hot potato across the room. And yet …”

My voice trails off as she and I both go back to that Wildfire.

And, that word: validation.

We had tossed around the word before. It ended in her referring a book to me, Radical Acceptance, which I ordered immediately, read the first chapter and then tucked it under my bed.

But, there we were again.

Fucking. Validation.

I dated. And dated. And dated. Looking for someone … anyone … to make me feel good about myself.

So, on that couch that day, my therapist and I decide it’s time.

“You have to learn how to validate yourself. To really love yourself. You’ve told yourself this horrible story for so long [Ed. Note: that’s what happens when you have a love/hate relationship with yourself aka depression] now you need to rewrite it, Diana.”

Of course, the tears flow because, fuck, I’ve never been happier in my life than I have been since I moved back to Vegas, since I moved on from that unrequited heart suck, since I’ve worked so hard on me. I even started a Gratitude Journal and every night before bed, would turn on my salt lamp, light a candle, and document at least five things which I was grateful for each day.

I’m obsessive when I get into things, so even the days I didn’t write, I’d make it up the following, sometimes literally going back four days and writing 20 things I was grateful for.

However, it wasn’t enough.

“You need to rewrite your story,” she said reaffirming. “You need to love yourself, truly love yourself. You need to tell yourself every day …”

Then, it hit me: “I’m done dating,” I state, proudly, sitting up on the couch. “I want to do kind things for me. I want to love me. I have to learn how to do that. I have to retell my story because the shit I have been putting out into the universe for the past 36 years has led me to where I am, and it isn’t where I really want to be.”

“What do you want?”

“Me. I want to love me. And then, I really want to be open to love. I want to meet a man who loves me as much as I love him. To have a relationship that is good and kind and loving and nothing like the shitty relationships I have had.”

I walked out of that office that evening knowing it was time to make a change. I delete Bumble. OK Cupid. Any phone number in my phone of a guy whose last name is “Bumble” or “OKC” or any derivative/identifier of who they may be since I was still nurturing communications with a handful.

Of course, not even 24 hours later, I met someone who ended up derailing me for a moment. But, even that derail didn’t cause catastrophic results. It opened me up even more.

Over dinner a few nights after that, I sat with my good friend, Jen, telling her my ideas about not dating, but also my feelings about what had happened with this man.

“It’s not like anything can happen,” I explain. “He’s not even a match for me. And yet, I feel so sad about it.”

“Diana,” she said, her blue eyes focusing in on me, “You have to replace that shit.”

I blink, moving the Thai food around on my plate.

“Change your story. When you start to feel sad, or bad, or lonely, tell yourself this: I have everything I need.

“But, I don’t …”

“Yes, you do,” she argued. “You absolutely do. You just don’t believe it.”

So, I open Radical Acceptance that night and start to read it. Then, the next day, I try the affirmation.

I tell myself “I have everything I need” so many fucking times. And, a funny thing starts to happen. When I repeat it in my head, I can feel a tingle in my heart. Every. Single. Time. And it feels fantastic.

I start telling myself anytime my mind wanders to doubt about who I am.

The company I now keep in Vegas is very energy- and manifest-focused, so I started a manifest journal and my friend sent me a video she did explaining how to do it. I decided I want to really start meditating.

Then, a few days later, Jen came over with gifts for me. She pulled out a tiny bag filled with a few relics to put on my mediation altar, and a rose quartz bracelet.

“You have to practice self-love,” she says, handing it to me. Then, she had me lay on the floor and do a reiki session.

Of course, my chakras were out-of-whack, namely my heart and throat ones.

She instructed me to imagine pink glowing from my heart and tell myself I love me, and love others, and am open to love from myself and others. And, for the throat, she instructed me to write letters to people of things I haven’t said and then burn them.

That week, I started to meditate. To manifest journal. To retell my story in words and thoughts.

Then, magic started to happen.

My thought process began to slowly change. I started to vibrate happiness. I actually felt my heart opening. I felt peaceful. I felt powerful. And, somewhere in there, the idea that the universe is going to give me exactly what I needed really, truly, hits home. In those brief moments of doubt, that thought comforted me, gently. Empowered me. Made my heart flutter.

The universe is giving me what I need.

So, what do I need right now? Me. That’s it. Me.

I need to believe in myself – truly believe in myself. To love myself. Truly love myself and be aware of it.

Let me tell you something – it’s a lot easier said than done.

As I grow, I’m going to grow here, because I want to show that anyone can change their story. Anyone can come out of their shells. Can find love and happiness within themselves.

The past few weeks have opened my eyes as life has literally changed because of the things I have manifested. As I have felt free. Weightless. Blissful.

This isn’t TCZP of old. It’s new. I haven’t laid it all out in terms of how I’m going to break it down, but I am going to say this: TCZP is truly going to be about getting out of my comfort zone. About opening up to loving me and others. To being kind. To being compassionate. And to learn more about how I can attract what I need and want in my life.

I’ll be sharing it all here, along with bringing in experts to shed some light on how to change old thought patterns.

I envision TCZP to be part holistic health, meditation, energy, wellness and also the other goodies life brings, like relationships.

Welcome back to TCZP.

 

Diary Get Your Shit Together

Sober in Spain?

A personal story about going booze-free (and eating clean and working out all the time) for a month ... while living in Spain“So, my good friends are leaving tomorrow, and then it is basically just me … alone in Spain,” I explain to my therapist. “I know I’m going to be so lonely.”

She listens patiently, casting a sympathetic glance at her computer screen, thousands of miles away from me. I sit, sprawled on my bed in Madrid, Lucky in my lap, as I fight the fear of once again being alone in a foreign country.

It’s a shitty feeling, sometimes, being an expat and starting a new life in a foreign land.

“What are you going to do?” she asks me from Las Vegas.

I ponder for a moment, looking down and stroking Lucky’s soft orange and white fur. I sigh.

“I guess I can just focus on me,” I announce. After reading The Power of Now, I’ve had a reawakening of sorts, getting out of the mindfuck I constantly let play out in my head. “I can work on being the present and working on me and becoming comfortable with me.”

I quickly calculate how long it will be until my friend returns to Spain.

“So, it’s like 40 days of really only having one or two people in my life. And they have lives, so I need to learn how to operate without looking to anyone else for entertainment or my happiness.”

“I love it,” she says, smiling. “Like 40 days and 40 nights … of just focusing on doing things for you.”

We disconnect from Skype and I feel … better. Not great, but better. Resolved. The next 40 days will be about me. If I’m alone, it is because I choose to be alone. Not because I am alone.

That night, over wine, I tell my Madrid friend about my plan.

“That’s good,” he says. “I like it. What are you going to do?”

“I guess I will just focus on me?” I muse, sipping my wine.

The next day, he messages me. “I’m doing this with you. Let’s not drink starting now. Eat clean. Work out. I’m in.”

Wait. What? Not drink? Eat clean? Work out?

A personal story about going booze-free (and eating clean and working out all the time) for a month ... while living in Spain

Me and my best friend. And the guy who works at Hedonism in London.

I think to the pizza I was dreaming of ordering in a few hours. The wine I was going to buy to wash it down. A weekend of lazing around … because I can. Forty days with no pizza? With no wine? What the actual fuck is that?

“We’ll start Monday,” I type back.

“No. Now, or you won’t do it.”

And, he’s got a point. Over the weekend, I teeter. I don’t drink, I don’t work out, but I order pizza as my parting comfort food for the next bit.

Can I really go a month without drinking? Since I’ve been of legal drinking age (and before), drinking has been a part of my life. Going out with friends? Beer. A girls night-in lamenting about being single? Wine. A party? Shots. Hell, the longest I have gone without booze was a few months earlier, and that only lasted two weeks. And that was because I was in Delaware with my parents and they don’t really drink. A month? In Spain? Yeah, right.

That Sunday night, my friend and I meet at an intercambio. I arrive early.

If I get one glass of wine before he gets here, he won’t know. Plus, it’s an intercambio. Everyone drinks. I have to have a glass of wine if I’m going to be social.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown more introverted. The idea of massive gatherings with people talking from all directions actually gives me a knot in the pit of my stomach. I’ve never done a gathering like that without alcohol to alleviate that feeling. Even in small groups, I tend to go off in my own mind when things get too hectic. The idea of being at an event like this without alcohol makes me not want to even be there.

Yet, for some reason, I don’t order the glass of wine. I’m not sure if it is because I don’t want him to disapprove, but I know part of it is we’ve got a deal, and I want to hold up my end … even if I don’t want to.

When he arrives, he asks if I’m getting wine.

“No,” I sigh, scowling. “I’ll have a stupid fruit smoothie.”

You know what? I make it through that intercambio without a drop of alcohol.

Three days. Done.

Getting through the week without going out to drink is pretty easy. I’ve got him, and he’s not drinking, so instead we go out and drink water and just talk. It’s a weird feeling at first. People look at me when I decline a drink.

“Seriously?” They ask, and then try to convince me to have just one glass of wine or beer.

“Nah,” I always respond. “I’m not drinking this month. I’m getting healthy.”

The more I say it, the more I believe it. Suddenly, I’m hitting the gym five days a week, doing at least a spin class every day, and then arms/legs a few times a week.

I’m eating clean. I’m eating vegan. I’m going to bed at a normal hour. I’m learning Spanish. I’m declining invites out because I’d rather (gasp) stay in and write. Or work.

I look in the mirror and watch as my face grows thinner. As the alcohol padding around my stomach begins to whittle away. As my arms become more defined.

About half-way through the month, something strange happens. One day, while I’m sitting on a spin bike, getting ready for class, that feeling of embarking on torture for 50 minutes disappears. I’m excited. I look forward to the class. To getting off the bike, covered in sweat, walking outside into the Madrid heat and feeling it evaporate in the air. To going home, to writing, to hanging out at home, making a smoothie …

Then, it isn’t about counting down the days until I can drink again, it is celebrating how long I haven’t drunk and marveling at how easy it has been.

What have I learned about myself the past month?

For starters, I have willpower. When I want set a goal, even if it is hard (like not drinking, eating clean and working out five days a week), I attack it. The people who tell me I have “amazing willpower” make me smile. Part of it is willpower, but more of it is how incredible I feel being so kind to myself.

It’s the first time in, well, ever, I’ve been so incredibly good to myself. I feel energized. I feel strong. I feel … happy.

I’ve also learned I can be social without alcohol. Granted, I don’t really enjoy being around super drunk people and having them ask me the same question repeatedly because they are too drunk to remember they’ve already asked me a billion times, but I can go out. I can sit around as everyone else sips wine and enjoy the refreshing, cold water I drink.

Even better, I’ve learned I can live in Spain and not drink. When I first arrived here, when I told another friend of mine I wanted to stop drinking, she looked at me with shock.

“Um, it’s Spain, that’s impossible,” she had said. “Everyone drinks.”

It basically gave me permission to just go out and get shit-faced. Because Spain.

So, today marks one month of being sober. Am I going to go celebrate with a glass of wine? Or go catch a nice buzz? Nope. I’m going to hop in the shower (because I’m gross from my two-hour workout), make a fruit and veggie drink in my NurtiBullet, and then do some writing.

Will I drink again? Sure. But, after this month of not drinking, I’ve decided it doesn’t need to be as big part of my life anymore. I’m so much happier feeling good. And not hung over. And knowing instead of hurting my body, I’m doing something good for it.

Will I continue to work out like a fiend? Yup. I love it.

As for the pizza … well, I had one slice the other day. Hey, there are some things I just don’t want to give up.

Diary Featured Get Your Shit Together

Gracefully letting go

let go

 

In the two-plus years I have lived in Thailand, there is one woman I have marveled at continuously — for her strength; for her passion; for her never-ending love; for how gently she lives; and, for her ability to gracefully let go of things not meant for her, for us, for this world.

Lek Chailert.

Despite all of the things she has seen, how much she has experienced, there are few moments I have ever seen those instances eclipse the smile on her face.

She is a person I strive to be like, a person who I admire with all of my being.

For the first time in two years, I did something I didn’t think I would ever be able to do because of her: I sat with an abused cat, Belle, as she was released from this world. It was one of the hardest, most uncomfortable things I have ever done. That ache in my heart, that spread to my stomach and made it tense. The tears that flowed without apology, without regard for being in a culture which does not encourage the showing of emotions (even though I desperately tried to reign it in).

All my life, when animals I have loved have reached the end to their time in this world, I cried. I sobbed. I bawled. I said my thanks, whispered love into their ears, hugged them for the last time, and then stepped away. I could never bring myself to go with them to be put down. I could never let the thought even replay in my mind more than a few minutes without becoming paralyzed with emotion for my loss.

But, yesterday was different. Something inside of me has changed. Maybe it is this project. Maybe it is this job. Maybe it is this life. Or, maybe it is just being grown up.

I knew it was coming with Belle. The poor girl, who had been brought in to the vets and was the team’s treatment for a month while she was rehabilitated from a brain injury and back fracture from her owner, had shown promising signs. So much so that she was released from the vets and taken to my office where I quickly fell in love with her clumsy, timid steps as she learned how to put paw-to-ground and walk again. Late last week, she started to become stiff and lost her ability to stand. And then, she began to have seizures. Multiple seizures which destroyed all of the hard work she had accomplished in the month she was being cared for.

Saturday when I went to the vet to see her (she had to be readmitted because of her seizures and to try to control the attacks), she could not walk. She was not eating. Then, yesterday morning, the vet called me to tell me she had another one and that I should come in.

I went immediately and what I saw broke my heart. The little cat I had been with the week before was gone. Her eyes were empty. She laid in her cage, not being able to move anything but her head. I sat with her and the vet and tried to wipe the tears from my eyes as I gently stroked her face.

I thought of Lek and how she would handle this. With grace. With love. With compassion.

“If you have to put her down today, please call me,” I said to the vet. “I would like to be with her when the time comes.”

She agreed and said I would get a phone call later in the evening.

The call came earlier than I expected. Belle had suffered another attack and was suffering.

“You need to come right now if you want to be with her,” the vet explained to me on the phone.

“OK, ok,” I said through the tears I could feel, that choking of my throat, “I am on my way.”

I stood over her as her spirit left her body and moved on. I stroked her face, apologized to her for the life she was given here, and told her she was loved and that I could only hope her next life was better. I hated being there. I hated having to put this memory in my head. But, she deserved it. She deserved to have that love bestowed upon her after all of the pain she suffered. It was the least I could do.

How gracefully you let go of things not meant for you …

Yeah, I cried. Hell, you should see the tears spewing from my eyes right now, but I want to feel this. I don’t want to forget her. Her story, her life, deserved better and who am I to not honor her because I simply don’t want to feel pain?

It wasn’t about what I wanted, or what I didn’t want; it was all about her and giving her the respect and love she deserved. I finally got it. I finally understood why it is important to be with animals at the end of their lives. Because it is about them.

In loving memory of Belle.

Diary Get Your Shit Together

Because nothing is permanent

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Because ice melts. Photo via Flickr Creative Commons: net_efekt

They say animals love you, unconditionally. And us, them. But, beat up an animal enough, and that animal will eventually (and hopefully) bite the shit out of us; get bitten by an animal we love one too many times, and we’ll likely get rid of the abuser.

Even those unconditional notions … they aren’t aways here to stay. Unconditional love is not permanent; it is a privilege which, with abuse, can be rescinded.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about permanence.

When I take body pump at the gym, my friend and I always are in the very back, facing away from the others working out so we can watch our form (and see how good we look when we sweat) in the mirrors. I see those wrinkles around my eyes. The lines in my forehead. I watch as I age before that mirror, trying to become a healthier person, but knowing, at the end of the day, my life is not permanent. And, that youthful appearance (what remains of it) will go from crows feet to deep crevices cutting into the heart of my face.

And, I’m ok with that.

As I have aged (hell, I’m basically 35 now), this idea of permanence has ebbed and flowed. The first idea of permanence was growing up when I was asked what I wanted for my future. A job, a house, a family. All of those things seemed like my God-given right; these were ideas which were placed into my mind and ones which clearly spelled my future. A future where my career was my career, my house was my house, my husband was my husband until death do us part: permanence.

Then, it was Vegas. I remember so clearly walking the aisles of Macy’s looking for furniture.

“Get something quality,” my dad had said. “You want it to last.”

Because at that time, this move to Vegas, this furniture, it was the start of my new life. Of this new permanent because my future was Vegas and that was all I saw. It had to last as long as I was going to last. Or, as long as it took to get married, buy a new house and get all new furniture for kids to destroy.

Of course, if you follow along on d travels ’round, then you know that permanent life was politely exchanged not once, but three times. The first, to Atlanta, the second to Europe and then the third, back to Vegas.

Enter the fourth act: Chiang Mai.

For me, this city is about as permanent as they come. I know I love it because when I walk down the street, when I sit with Lek and the elephants, when I hop in a songthaew, the thought of not having these things in my life on a regular basis literally brings tears to my eyes. This city overwhelms me with emotion, with love, but also that yearning to either make it my place or find another one.

It is something I regularly battle with as I get older, my friends get married and have kids, and the mileage between my family doesn’t shrink. I never expected this stop to be permanent, so I never gave myself permission to truly settle in here. I have always refused to go to the Baan & Beyond and buy home goods because I know nothing is permanent, and that has been my thought process for too long now to correct.

 

But do I really want to be permanent anywhere?  I can hardly make a commitment on the color of hair I want, let alone  decide to hunker down for the long haul in one single, solitary location. There is always that desire to see. To learn. To soak up as much as possible before I no longer have that ability to soak things up anymore.

No, I’m not leaving Chiang Mai anytime in the near future. This project, with all of its “dig deeper” moments, has just dug up this idea lately about permanence, and that it doesn’t exist in my world.

Does it exist in yours?

Diary Get Your Shit Together

I heart boundaries

Peter Castelton

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons: Peter Castleton

Boundaries.

Let’s talk today about boundaries because they rock. And I say this as a person who, at nearly 35, has only recently learned to put them up without coming off as a total bitch. (Although lately the boundaries I have been having to establish have warranted downright bitchy behavior. Please refer to Dating in Thailand and FOF for reference of said TOTALLY WARRANTED bitchy behavior.)

I used to not have boundaries. It sucked.

Why?

Because I don’t think it is possible to live a happy existence constantly letting other people mow a person over. Or constantly passing on what makes me comfortable or happy because I am so scared to hurt the other person/people or disappoint the other person/people, that I just bend over and take it.

I like to make other people happy, don’t get me wrong. I am one hell of a loyal friend and would cancel a gym session for a friend in need (and at this point in my life, canceling the gym is, like, HUGE. I might as well put up a sign that says “I love you” because, I truly do love you if I am pulled away from spin class or body pump or (gasp!) both.)

Boundaries aren’t just about setting up guidelines and expectations; they are also about cutting bullshit from lives. You know, the toxic shit that we, perhaps, used to accept.

Like the excuse or defensive statement we sometimes take to justify a person’s not-so-good behavior. Maybe this rings a bell?

“So and so is just an asshole …”

Well, you know what?

I. Don’t. Like. Assholes.

In fact, I don’t want assholes in my life.

Boundary? Yes. Removal from my brain matter? Yes. Removal from my life? Oh, hell yes.

And it feels amazing.

But, there are those other boundaries, too. The boundaries we put up in response to how we expect to be treated. How we live our lives. What we will and won’t sacrifice.

These are all incredibly important. As I have come along with this project and become more secure in myself and what it is want, I have not only cut those jerk faces from my life, but I have also laid boundaries as to what I will and won’t accept.

How do you set up boundaries?

Diary Get Your Shit Together

I F$%^d Up

I went to Europe for five weeks. Five weeks of gallivanting around gorgeous countryside, quaint seaside towns, stunning landscapes and metropolitan cities.

And guess what?

I fucked up.

Hardcore.

Eating pizza in Italy

Pizza covered in olives. With olive oil drizzled on top. Not pictured: the bottle of wine to wash it down.

See, I was toying with whether or not I even talk about the fuck up on here (also called the elegant belly flop back into the comfort zone of old), but what’s the point of having a project and documenting the experiences if I leave the important shit out? The shit where I tell you that while I had every intention of working out along the way — hell, I even bought ankle weights and a resistance band, and looked up where spin classes were in the cities I was visiting — I worked out twice.

Yup. Twice.

The first full day in Bangkok and my first full day in Prague. That is it.

Oh, and I ate all the pasta, and foccacia and pizza. ALL OF IT.

And, I drank all of the wine. And amazing coconut beer (yes, it is a thing). And even dappled in some sensational honey brandy in Slovenia.

But, the mother of all fuck ups isn’t that I didn’t work out, because hell, I was walking across what seemed to be entire cities during my trip. And I was carrying a bajillion kilos of luggage up thousands of stairs. And I was trekking up hills overlooking cities. And hiking through wine terraces along the Ligurian Sea.

And the mother of all fuck ups isn’t that I ate whatever I wanted because I was exercising, even if it wasn’t dedicated cardio, I was moving. Nearly constantly. Like Shana from Fitweek suggested to me earlier in my European planning, I opted to stand whenever I could instead of sit, take stairs instead of elevators (even when my body was becoming bruised from hauling awkward luggage up stairs at train stations).

And the mother of all fuck ups isn’t that I drank because it is Europe and not drinking in Europe would be criminal. Criminal, I tell you.

No, the mother of all fuck ups is I lit up that first cigarette. In Milan, when I was coming down from a week of being with my friends and embarking on being solo and not really wanting to be solo and wanting my sweet old nicotine friend to join me while I waited for the train to take me to Trieste.

And, the fuck up continued the next morning when I was wandering Trieste and came across the Adriatic because the Adriatic has some serious heartbreaking memories for me, which flooded me as soon as I saw the sparkling sea. And then, it continued even more when I got to Ljulbjana and was alone and wanted to make friends. By then, the cigarette damage had been done. I had reasoned my way into smoking again.

“It’s like what you wrote about — the cigarette and travel just go together,” I said.

“It’s how you meet people at a hostel,” I told myself when the first night at Hostel Celica I met two girls traveling and immediately joined them at their table, bonding over rollies and wine (’cause I was totally drinking).

So it went from there. The rest of the trip. What started out so innocent, so disgusting tasting, so ill-feeling, once again became my stupid sidekick. My break from writing. My filler in between ordering food and eating. My wasting five minutes while I wait for a bus/train/boat.

The thing is this, I got mad, but not mad enough. Because, when I returned to Thailand a few days ago, I decided I was going to keep on being Fun Diana for the weekend. Seemingly, in the moment, I thought Fun Diana only comes out when beer, wine and cigarettes are involved. So, I drank. And I smoked. And I partied.

This afternoon when I went to the gym, I nearly cried.

I couldn’t do three sets of 15 tricep dips against my weight. My trainer smiled, laughed a little and said “Ah, Diana, today you only do 12 each set.”

My body, which had become accustomed to holding a plank for almost 40 seconds without collapsing, could barely make it to 25 without shaking. And my arms, my arms which I have looked at from every angle as deltoids and biceps and triceps emerge, well, they let me down.

No.

I let myself down.

I’m not even going to get started talking about spin class, because that was just an embarrassment.

So, yes, I crashed. Yes, I burned. Yes, I didn’t work out. I drank. I ate all the good food. But, I had one hell of a time doing it. And, I wouldn’t take back those experiences in Europe for anything.

I would certainly take back the cigarettes though. But, that’s what TCZP is about. It isn’t just about triumphs, it is about trials, too. It’s about falling down, and then standing back up, brushing your knees off and holding your head high and saying, “Yeah, I fucked up, but it’s OK. I’m back on track.”

Today starts another Day One for me. But, tomorrow is Day Two and that will be easier. And spin class tomorrow night won’t be as hard as tonight. And my lungs won’t hurt as bad. And, I will go from there … because this the ride I’m on. Thank goodness I’m driving.

Diary Get Your Shit Together