Once in a While…

…it occurs to me that I could walk into the bar I used to go to any time and order a cheeseburger and a beer and they would give it to me for a nominal fee. Absolutely nothing prevents me from going back to who I used to be a year ago. When I am at home alone again, when a “friend” has cancelled plans with me again, when I wonder if I will ever be loved again, I very often miss the taste of a beer and a late night burger. Only my own willpower stands between me and this.

What holds us to the paths we choose, in the end, is almost nothing.

Envy

Envy is one of the ugliest of all emotions, and I often feel like I’ve got it bad. What’s awful about envy is that it seems to affect us most just when we should be most happy for people around us. We should be happy for those around us when they do well, even if our own lives happen to suck at the time. If we do feel deeply jealous, if their misfortunes just make us feel worse about ourselves and if, God forbid, we kind of wish that some people wouldn’t have such happy, perfect lives, it means you are a terrible person.

There's something they're not telling us!

Last year, I was unhappily single and no less than thirteen of my friends got married at a time when I couldn’t even afford to give all of them wedding gifts. (Yeah, I still haven’t done that.) Two of my friends had babies. Meanwhile, I was living on grad student money, working three jobs to make under $20K/year, 20 pounds overweight, and crazy for a man who didn’t want to be in a relationship with me. I deeply empathized with Kristin Wiig in Bridesmaids. If one more of my friends announced an engagement, I would genuinely have gone bat-shit, cookie-smashing, colonial-woman-on-the-wing crazy. I was happy for some of my friends in their success, but I have to admit to not being happy for all of them and that made me feel a bit sick about myself.

This year was supposed to be the year things turned around. If I’m honest with myself, things have gotten a little better. I’m in the very nascent stages of going out with a couple of nice guys who I consider “prospects,” my dissertation has been progressing, I’ve stuck with some healthy resolutions and lost a lot of weight. And yet, the envy is still there. It was there today when I got a fancy invitation (sans butterflies) to a very dear friend’s June wedding. It was there yesterday when I found out that I’d been rejected, without further explanation, from receiving a major work-related opportunity that my friends were accepted for. It’s there every time my friends post pictures of their new houses and new babies on Facebook.

I’m not sure what to do with envy, but I’d at least like to talk about it. The Buddhists would say that my envy stems from attachments, and of course they are right. It’s my attachment to wanting love, to wanting a home, to wanting financial security that creates these negative emotions. It’s the pressure I put on myself to live a very idealized life. I think Buddhism would say we are not supposed to judge ourselves or those around us for being envious, because it is a natural emotion and it’s one that brings suffering and inner conflict to the person who has it. But can envy and its attendant attachments ever be overcome? When I look at my future, the ideal outcome is to get the things I want. To have an “enlightened” future where I don’t have a home, a significant other, a successful career, or a child and I’m just going to be content with that? It seems unrealistic and unfulfilling. It runs to a basic question of human nature: What do we live for? Do we live to pursue progress, success, to love one another and create something for the next generation? Or do we live for personal growth, to see beyond lesser qualities that always leave us sad and confused and mired in the mud? I’ve been stuck on these questions a lot lately. It bothers me tremendously that I can’t come up with the answers.

The Post-Romantic World

I’m tired of being told that there’s someone out there for me.

It’s now been five and a half years since I was with anyone who actually wanted to acknowledge being in a relationship with me. That was the man I was engaged to, a man who was kind enough to absolutely eviscerate my self-esteem before ending things. People told me even then, “you’ll find someone else, someone better, in no time.” I doubted it, knowing my own patchy dating resume: That I never went to my prom or a high school dance, never dated as a teen, and was almost a senior in college before I even had a boyfriend. Back then, in 2006, I found an Internet message board for women with broken engagements, and I was cheered by the stories of women who got out of bad relationships and within six months or a year they had met “the one.” Deep down, I still wondered if I would find anyone else, but those stories gave me a sliver of hope. Maybe I wouldn’t be waiting so long, after all.

It was well over six months before I even tried dating again. In the year following that, I dated a lot. In fact, it’s the only year of my life that I ever felt desired, popular, and that I ever enjoyed just dating as many guys as possible without really looking for love. That being said, I also made some questionable choices about who I spent my time with. A couple of those guys remain friends, none of them were “keepers” for sure.

Nearly two years after “the” breakup, I quit my office job, moved to Arizona, and started life over from the ground up. I think I needed that, but I also desperately wanted to be in a relationship again. In my first year here, I found three different guys who I thought were “nice” guys, all of them intelligent and men who I viewed as real potential mates. And every one of them proved a disappointment. One of them would continue to break my heart over and over intermittently for the next three years.

Now that I’m on the outs with that one again and maybe for good, I’m taking stock of my situation. Last time I was in a relationship with someone who could be described as a significant other, I was 26 years old. I am soon to be 32. I don’t remember what it’s like to wake up next to someone. Valentine’s Day is so hopeless that I pretend not to notice it. When my friends get married, they don’t even ask me if I have a guest; they already know. And don’t get me started on sex, or the lack thereof. I’ve thrown good money after bad on online dating, and have been on at least half a dozen sites. I’ve speed dated, joined groups, and begged my friends for fix-ups. And yet my dating has been steadily on the decline for the past several years. In the last year, I’ve only been out with two men. It can’t seem to fall much farther than that.

My therapist has told me that I need to keep thinking positively. I need to get over the guys who give me crumbs, and periodically tell myself that I will find someone who will truly love me, the right person at the right time, and I’ll have the life that I want. The problem is, every time I say it, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m lying to myself. Those words don’t feel like the thing I believe is true, they feel like the thing I say just to keep myself going. I hate feeling like I’m once again buying into false hope. I’ve come to the point in my life where I wish I could learn to just be happy with my career path and my dog and the friends that I have, and stop craving more. Wouldn’t that be the Buddhist thing to do? Isn’t it better to accept my current reality, rather than fixate on an uncertain future outcome? And, if so, why is it that I can’t let go of that desire for love and a family of my own, in spite of the ache it gives me on a lonely night like this?

The Magical Month of Not Drinking

No boozeWell, as of Monday I have completed a full month of not drinking. For those who know me in real life (as some of you do) you may recognize this as highly uncharacteristic behavior. I’ve tried to think back, and my best estimate is that this is the longest I’ve been booze free since sometime around the turn of the millennium. That’s not to say I have been a total lush, or even that I drank every day. But alcohol was something of a hobby.

In the right setting I could tie one on, and in front of an open bar… just watch out.
Why did I quit? I could say it’s because I like a good challenge (which is true), or because I am trying to be healthier (which is also true), but that may sound like it’s not the whole truth, because it’s not. As I alluded to in an earlier post, I made some personal choices at the beginning of January that I was not too proud of, and that caused me to reflect. When someone I care about insinuates that I have a drinking problem and advises me to “try being sober,” I actually take it under consideration.
Not drinking sometimes feels awesome, and at other times it feels like I’ve been exiled from a magical funland I used to love visiting. It’s certainly tough when you’re touring wine country with friends, or when another friend lovingly (drunkenly) texts you from the bar every Friday to tell you how much your company is missed. Self-control is also a double-edged sword. Part of the reason I drink is because I consider myself quite introverted in real life. I’m much more likely to express my opinion when I drink, and I’m much more likely to stand up for myself. I’ve caught myself withdrawing when I’m out with my friends sober. I get bored, I get annoyed and frustrated about not drinking, and when someone makes a tasteless joke or talks to me the wrong way, I swallow it rather than saying anything. Yet now, I also don’t get into shouting matches or send angry texts, and most delightfully I am always able to drive myself home at the end of the night. The thing is, can’t I find a happy medium?
I’m not sure I’m thrilled with who I am when I’m not drinking either, but maybe that’s the point. Pema Chodron discusses the importance of mindfulness, and the need to not hide behind addictions of whatever sort. When we’re not distracting ourselves with drugs or booze or sex, we have the opportunity to view who we really are, to accept ourselves in this moment, and to work on our own growth. And there has been growth this month. Since Christmas, I’ve lost 15 lbs.–Due not only to not drinking, but also to working out, running, and the mostly vegetarian diet I’ve been on since the start of 2012. I’ve been meditating most days, reading and talking a lot about substance abuse with professionals and others who share the same problems. I’ve also been thinking in a more rational way about things that scare me, fears about my career and my future. I don’t know that thinking has resulted in any more productive response to those fears yet, but perhaps in the future it will.
Much like how I felt at the end of the Vegan Challenge, I’m going to continue not drinking for a while because I like the effect. I like fitting into my old clothes, I like having extra money, I like feeling healthier, I like never waking up hung over or with the feeling I did something I shouldn’t have.
That’s not to say this is permanent. It’s still hard to imagine never taking a drink again. Maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t. But I will continue doing it for now, for myself. I am not going to do it for someone else, or in the hopes that the person whose comments started all this will come back into my life. That’s the other weird thing about sobriety and mindfulness: Clarity. It turns out, most of us have our own issues and vices. People who really love each other tend to do so in spite of all that. It’s sometimes only when you step away from a situation or a relationship that you see what the pot is doing to the kettle. I do recognize when I’ve done something wrong, I miss the person in question every day, and I feel sorry about behaving in a way that was childish at best. However, all this has caused me to look at myself and take control of my problems. It’s easy to tell someone else what their problems are and to use those words as a weapon. It’s a lot harder to look at your own problems and make a change.

Temecula Valley Half Marathon and 5K

One of my big-time hobbies is running. I try to run at least 10 miles per week, but I rarely “race.” I generally push myself to meet my own goals: run under 10-minute miles, increase my weekly mileage by X amount, complete a half marathon, etc. I realize that I am not in danger of being a contender for any competitive running awards, so I get out there, have fun, and do my thing.

This weekend, however, I had the opportunity to travel for a race. My lovely friend “Bean,” who blogs at Just Plodding Along, has a goal of completing 30 half marathons before she turns 30. In pursuit of that goal, she signed up for this past weekend’s Temecula Valley Half Marathon and 5K. I love to travel, and Bean and I ran a half marathon together in 2010, so I was invited along as a travel companion and driver. The half marathon seemed a bit ambitious to me at this time, though I have been adding mileage in pursuit of the goal of running a 10K soon, but I settled on the 5K this time around. Sure, 400+ miles is a lot of driving for a 5K, but Southern California Wine Country beckoned.

Temecula Finish

Just to give you an idea of the weather, this was when it had started to clear up.

Considering that this was a first-time race, I give this event high marks. The organizers of this race are also the organizers of the Havasu Half Marathon, so they are experienced in the business. Race day weather conditions were bad, but they responded appropriately. Start times for both races were delayed to give folks time to drive in and find a place to park and to allow the weather to improve (maybe a tiny bit, but it was still cold and rainy), and we were given places to wait indoors before the race started. I still didn’t envy my friend running 13.1 miles in these conditions, but at least everyone had a chance to get to the starting line on time. A couple of complaints: It was irritating that main roads were not completely closed for this event. Running on a road shoulder may be fine in good conditions, but with hundreds of runners and lots of rain, the dirt shoulder turns to mush and it is hard to pass slower runners/walkers. It also doesn’t help to have California Highway Patrol driving up and down next to us, yelling at us to stay in the cones. Jerks. Who is driving to wineries at 8AM on Saturday, anyway? The goodie bags/”expo” were also very minimalist, with only a couple of exhibitors at the race, and about two free samples to pick up. It irked me that even the winery itself didn’t offer a coupon or a free tasting for runners. Not even of the $25/bottle commemorative race wine? Some positive aspects, though: $5 engraving for medals and souvenir wine bottles were nice, and the medals and race tees were quite stylish.

Race medalThere was a finisher’s medal for the 5K, which ordinarily I would not keep, however it turns out that I had my best competitive finish ever. In spite of wind, rain, poor course conditions, and an unimpressive time of just over 32 minutes, I was 10th in my age group. This was quite a surprise to me, but times were slow for this race overall, and I like to believe that years of experience running in upstate New York weather conditions served me well here. I didn’t feel like I stopped or slowed down the entire way, not even when I had to run carrying my glasses because I couldn’t see a damn thing. Bean, who arrived back soaked after 13.1 miles, also met a time goal for the event, though it was not a PR.

As an epilogue to the race, we had a great time brunching at the South Coast Winery and touring Old Town Temecula in the evening, when weather conditions cleared up. We also discovered that on Sunday, the Carlsbad Marathon was going on a short ways away along the coast. Since we had planned a detour on our route home to see the ocean anyway, we decided to go watch. (OK, actually we got a little crazy and tried to buy race numbers off Craigslist, but that wasn’t in the cards, so then we decided to watch.) I’m glad we did. The weather on Sunday was beautiful, and I really enjoyed being able to stand at the finish and watch the elite runners come in. We saw the first, second, and third place women finishers, and a number of sub-3:00 marathon men. Folks who have that kind of speed amaze me.

I’m not in a position to review a race I didn’t run, but from time spent at the finish line and walking along the course, and based on our visit to the expo, this looked like another well-run event. I was impressed by the crowd at the finish and along the last two miles of the course, shirts and medals were very nice, and there were a lot of bands along the course for entertainment. I’d definitely consider doing this race in the future, when I’m in half marathon shape.

In all, this was a successful running weekend. A bit more driving than I would like, but that just means I should plan to stay longer next time! In closing, here is a moment of Zen: The Pacific Ocean.