Forgiveness Without Remorse

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about relationships and forgiveness. This past week was an anniversary of sorts for me, marking a year since I decided to stop drinking. Although I’d already started to make other changes like running more and eating better, the decision to stop drinking was when everything started to click. But it didn’t come without a cost. I stopped drinking because I didn’t like who I was when I drank. I stopped because I needed to prove to myself and to others around me that I could. I stopped because I never again wanted someone I loved to use alcohol as an excuse (and it was an excuse, not a reason) for turning their back on me.

An important part of changing my life in 2012 was learning to forgive myself: for drinking too much, for not being richer or prettier, more successful or married or finished with my Ph.D. But forgiving myself wasn’t really that hard, because I had felt so awful about my faults and misdeeds (real and imagined) for so long that, looking at myself with compassion, I understood it was time to let go of that suffering. What do you do when it comes to forgiving someone who isn’t sorry?

Visual aid

The other thing that made me think of forgiveness tonight is that I learned this week that my former fiance has moved to Algeria. It’s been nearly nine years since we met, just over six since we broke up, and about that long since we’ve had any form of communication. We still had a mutual friend, and I would occasionally get pointed feedback from her about how he was living in the same apartment, working the same job as when we broke up. My reaction to these reports was something like Schadenfreude mixed with validation. He broke up with me in a cruel way. He took his time doing it, and in the meantime he spent nearly three months verbally and emotionally abusing me. I was called fat, told that I was unattractive, and he told me he was embarrassed to go to nice places with me because I didn’t dress well enough or have good table manners. He disappeared on me for days when it was convenient. He made me believe that my plans to get a Ph.D. would ruin him financially, and made it clear that he thought I was keeping him from some better future. These things would be terrible to say to anyone, but to say them to someone who had just been through a rape and a trial less than a year earlier–events he knew full well of–were ruinous to me. When it was finally over, I was suicidal. A friend literally drove me to a therapist on my lunch hour because I believed I would kill myself. I believed that I was totally beyond redemption, damaged to a point where I would never be loved by anyone. It has taken me years and many other bad relationships where I put up with bad treatment to get past some of these statements… And even now I still believe some of it might be true, in my darkest hours.

He never apologized to me for what he did. He never showed any remorse, not even to mutual friends. In fact, I found out months later that he’d led his friends to believe that had been the one to break up with him. Years later, I don’t know how to forgive that. I had a lot of emotions when I found out he’d left the country. While he was still living in my hometown, there was always a chance our paths would cross again. I’ve long since left behind any feelings I had for him, but I always had the hope that maybe some day I would see him on the street or at a party, and he’d apologize. I wanted to believe that a person I once loved was capable of empathy and remorse for what he had done to me. But it seems our paths are unlikely to ever cross that way again. In some sense, I was happy that he was gone. I regained some respect for him knowing that he finally did take a leap and do something with his life. But can I forgive him? Sometimes, in life, actually saying the words “I’m sorry” is the only form of justice we get. It’s the only thing that truly heals a wound. Sometimes, forgiveness just can’t be given without being asked for.

One year ago, something else was broken. It was broken by both sides. I apologized for what I did wrong because I knew it was the right thing to do, and I changed. But, once again, I never heard the words that I wanted to hear. I always want someone I loved to redeem themselves. I want to take that cloud off the memory of our time together. I want to know I wasn’t wrong to believe that the other person had a heart, or that it hurt them to break mine.

Perhaps I should just give forgiveness freely. I reflect on my resentments every time I meditate. But some resentments are as hard as stone, and wear away just as slowly.

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2012 in Review: Food, Glorious Food (and Drink)

Pizza with fresh basil and black olives, with a strawberry and baby spinach salad.

Pizza with fresh basil and black olives, with a strawberry and baby spinach salad.

In my continuing series on things I did right this year, I’d like to focus on one of my favorite things: eating. I started 2012 with a week-long vegan challenge, which ended with my decision to go vegetarian again after a several year hiatus. Since then, I’ve really embraced the meat-free life. There’s such a variety of meat-free dishes from cultures all around the world, and if you’re really stuck on eating animals, the wide availability of meat substitutes can help you make the transition. My decision to go vegetarian was primarily influenced by my compassion for animals and ethical concerns, but the health benefits are also clear. I’ve lost just over 50 pounds since last Christmas, and I still get enough calories and nutrients to fuel me through 20+ mile weeks of running.

If weight loss is a goal for you in 2013, here are some tips I’d share from my experience:

  1. Give up meat, at least part of the time. If you’re not ready to make the vegetarian commitment, consider becoming a weekday vegetarian or giving up meat a few days at a time. Meat certainly can have a place in a healthy diet, but especially in the U.S. our portion sizes are out-of-control and concerns about the environment in which meat is produced cannot be ignored. If you’re concerned about a lack of variety in meat-free diets, check out my posts on vegetarian living.
  2. Cook more. This can go hand-in-hand with number one. I’ve always enjoyed cooking and was never one to eat at restaurants every day, but becoming vegetarian really forced me to become engaged in meal planning to ensure variety, proper nutrition, and because the menus at some of my favorite restaurants just didn’t have many options. By cooking at home you can prepare foods with better portion sizes, less salt/fat/preservatives, and you can also share the joy of cooking with family and friends. Cooking to me means love, and it also is a creative outlet. I look forward to every trip to the grocery store these days because of the possibility of finding something new. Some of my favorite sources of meal ideas this year have been Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run, The Pampered Chef’s The Vegetarian Table cookbook, Giada de Laurentiis’ Everyday Italian, and of course a variety of Internet sites. The more you cook, the more you’ll find that you also learn tricks to improve every recipe and make it your own.
  3. photo-16Drink less. Giving up booze was harder for me than giving up meat, but ultimately it came down to the same issue: compassion. I gave up meat because of my compassion for animals; I gave up alcohol because of my compassion for myself. Given my struggles with depression and emotional health, I finally had to acknowledge this year that I just drink too much and it makes me too emotionally volatile. Even if you consider yourself an average drinker, consider the double-whammy that alcohol does on you: Every drink is extra calories you take in, and it also slows your metabolism over time so that your other calories burn more slowly. While I haven’t been perfect on this by a long shot, I’m proud to say that I’ve only drank once in the past six months. I know there are people in my life who would never believe that I could do that, but I truly believe that anyone who has the right knowledge, a good reason, and a dedicated will can also kick the habit. If you need some baby steps, I recommend toasting 2013 with sparkling cider or grape juice. The variety pictured here is an affordable $2.99 at Trader Joe’s. A ginger ale or soda from the bar is also indistinguishable from the real thing if you’re worried about looking cool in front of your friends.
  4. Don’t skip dessert. In case I sound like some sort of foodie saint, I’m not. I may have given up alcohol and meat, but I’m a total junkie for pastries and cheese, and you can pry my Starbucks from my cold, dead hands. It’s just a matter of moderation. Make what you eat so you understand portions and calorie counts. Read every label. Share treats with friends. Exercise. If you have to, download a smartphone app (I enjoy the Livestrong calorie tracker, which has an extensive food database and syncs your mobile data with your online profile) or keep a food journal to ensure balance. As Buddha would say, the Middle Way is best. Total deprivation, just like total indulgence, is a path to failure.

I hope these tips will help some folks looking for success in 2013. In the days to come, I’ll also talk about exercise and particularly running, which has been a major part of my life this year. In the meantime, stay warm out there and enjoy some food porn–courtesy of my holiday baking frenzy.

Brown sugar cookies with white chocolate chips and almonds.

Brown sugar cookies with white chocolate chips and almonds.

Chocolate Chip Muffins, recipe from Food.com

Chocolate Chip Muffins, recipe from Food.com

photo-17

Last known photo of my Cocoa Brownies (recipe by Alton Brown) before they were scarfed up by me and my two friends. Lousy photo, delicious food.

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.

Gloomy Sunday

I knew today was going to be a lousy day when I started off with a lousy run. Well, actually it started a few hours before that when I was awakened around 3AM by the sirens and shouting of police breaking up a neighborhood Halloween party. I got up a few hours later to run on too little sleep, too little food, too little motivation, and some knee pain left over from last week. Unsurprisingly, I struggled and cut things short just shy of 6 miles, much less than I was hoping to run today.

Though I tried not to be too hard on myself after the poor showing this morning, I failed at that too. Nothing with me is ever as simple as, “I had a bad run, I’ll do better next time.” A day like today reminds me of how out of shape I used to be. It makes me feel like a pudgy girl again. It reminds me of when my fiance, who broke up with me almost exactly six years ago now, told me I’d put on too much weight and how I was unattractive and lazy. It reminds me of how much heavier I was when I was drinking, and how the last guy who broke my heart told me he didn’t want to deal with me because I drank too much and had too many “issues.” Maybe it doesn’t make sense that I lump these things together, but if you’ve been depressed or know someone with depression, I think you’ll understand what I mean. It’s hard to forget those words. Even if you believe they aren’t true or if you’ve moved past that point in your life, the messages never go away. In your worst moments you let them attack you over and over. What is said can never be unsaid. And even a bad run creates the opening for those voices to remind me how worthless and damaged I am, and the extent to which I have failed to create the life that I wanted.

Today I meditated on the disordered thinking. I tried to practice forgiveness for myself and compassion to others, even to the guys who have hurt me and left these messages that haunt me. I cooked myself a good meal. I managed to get just a little work done. I gave some old clothes to charity. I’m not going to say I turned things around, but I survived that one little moment where I wondered if life is worth living. I had a bad run. And now I move on.

Football Sunday (and Spending it Without Alcohol)

Well, it’s Week 1 Sunday of the football season. I have some mixed feelings about this… and not just because I’m a Bills fan. Football Sundays for the past few years have been marked by weekly trips to my favorite local bar for snacks and beers and hanging out with the football regulars. Today was different.

I decided to stop drinking waaay back in January and, although I have given myself a few exceptions (such as a beer on my birthday and wine at my friend’s wedding), I haven’t had a drink in months. Not drinking is not particularly hard anymore, but I did feel wistful for the “old me” today. The roommate and I did, in fact, go to the bar because he wanted to watch the Packers play and I wanted to eat a gigantic pizza after running 9.5 miles this morning. I saw all the old regulars there and got a few hugs; two people told me they almost didn’t recognize me because I’d lost so much weight. But socializing wasn’t the same as it used to be.

Why did I stop drinking? I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. Ultimately, I stopped because I knew I had a problem. I stopped because I felt I had hurt someone I loved, and I stopped because I didn’t want someone I cared about to use alcohol as an excuse for not being with me. Equally important, though, are the things that are not reasons why I stopped drinking. I did not stop because I wanted to win someone back, I did not stop because I believe the drinking is why we were no longer together (I don’t), and I did not stop because I believe I am or was an alcoholic. I do believe that I drank for the wrong reasons, and I do believe that I abused it, but I’ve talked to a number of people about this decision–friends who are recovering alcoholics, friends who still drink, my therapist. It is notable to me that the only person who seems to think “alcoholic” is an appropriate term is the person who had a reason to find fault and who, incidentally, is guilty on his own part of some genuinely shitty behavior that he has yet to acknowledge or apologize for.

This is not totally about bashing someone else or abdicating responsibility for my own actions, but I did take those words seriously enough to seek out the opinions of others and to research the issue. I even went to a support group for a while, but I stopped because I realized I just couldn’t relate to alcoholics. I am not the person who can’t wake up in the morning without a drink, can’t go a day without a drink, skips work or school or shirks responsibilities in favor of drinking, has physical withdrawal symptoms when they don’t drink. I never was. Most importantly, I am the person who stopped and changed when someone I loved told me I had a problem, and I am the person who doesn’t pick up a drink day after day because I remember the commitment I made to myself.

I didn’t drink because I was an alcoholic. And I’m not sure whether I even believe that he truly thinks I was an alcoholic. I did, however, drink because I have depression and I am an introvert and I was lonely. When I moved to Arizona and had no friends, department happy hours and football Sundays and Meetup pub crawls were how I met people and how I made friends. I felt popular with the drinking crowd (though I know a few people just came to the conclusion that I was an ass) and alcohol helped me talk to strangers and overcome the social anxiety I’ve had for a very long time. But those are terrible reasons to drink, and years of drinking that way made me act stupid, gain weight, and probably put me into a lot of situations that I was too damn smart to be in.

What is life like after drinking? I guess I look a lot better, because I’ve been told so by two people today and by two others on Friday at happy hour. I’m proud of myself for having willpower. I’m a bit less depressed overall, and I try to use the time I don’t spend drinking productively. But I’m still lonely, I still sometimes feel like I’m punishing myself for no good reason, and I feel like I avoid certain social situations because I don’t want to deal with “the alcohol question.” Life is never perfect. On Friday at happy hour two of my friends asked me why I stopped drinking. I tried to avoid answering at first, but I finally said this: “I stopped drinking after the man I loved called me an alcoholic and moved out-of-state without telling me.” The female friend who had asked me said nothing at first, but she actually had tears in her eyes.

Yeah… just imagine how I’ve felt.

California Report

Well, here’s a brief write-up and some pictures from my trip to Anaheim/San Diego last week. Unfortunately I’m still suffering from my cold and feeling a bit achy and sluggish, which means I haven’t been working out or running since I’ve been back. However, I can’t complain too much about getting ill after looking at this for a week.

San Diego skyline

The ship Lord Hornblower, on which my friend and I took a harbor cruise.

Commemorative statue and the USS Midway

2012 is the year of the water dragon, so I thought it was lucky to spot one!

I only got to run once while I was in San Diego, but I made it count with 4.1 miles along the Embarcadero along the bay. Other than that, I worked out a little at the hotel gym and did plenty of walking. I also stuck to my meat-free diet, which was not a challenge given how many seafood and veggie options were on the menu almost everywhere, but I did break my streak of not drinking. I gave myself permission to drink while I was away, knowing that I would face a lot of temptation to drink with relatives and colleagues. I mostly stuck to red wine, but I did drink a couple of margaritas one night. Long story made short, my hiatus from drinking has made me a lot more aware of what happens when I do drink. It made me feel sluggish and depressed the next day, which I guess was always true, but not drinking for nearly three months showed me that I have other options. I haven’t had a drink since I got home to Tucson, and I hope to keep it that way for a while! Now, if I can just kick the cold and get running again…

Foodie Finds of the Week

Seems like it’s been a while since I blogged. This week has been totally chaotic. In addition to the usual classes and research, I also had to complete a presentation for a conference next week and practice it in front of the department (always super unnerving), deal with some family issues, work on an event I’m planning on Monday for 50 people, and on top of all that there was a six-hour long hostage standoff yesterday that closed down my street. Seriously. Gotta love Tucson.

But let’s talk instead about something I love: food. It’s been nearly three months that I’ve been living almost totally meat-free (I’ve gotten down to eating meat once monthly or less, though I still eat fish and seafood) and without alcohol, and I can hardly believe the results. I am down 22 pounds since last Christmas, my mood is improved, I look really fit, and I don’t particularly miss those things anymore. Yesterday I went to happy hour with my friends, had a veggie quesadilla and an iced tea, and didn’t get the “wet blanket” feeling or peer pressure that I would’ve had two months ago. This has given me a huge infusion of pride in my body and in my willpower. Even better is that I keep finding new and delicious things to add to my healthy diet. Here are a couple of recent Trader Joe’s finds:

1. Kimchi Fried Rice

If I hadn’t tried a sample of this in-store, I never would have thought to purchase this item. I’ve never been a fan of kimchi, but this rice is delicious and has just the right balance of spice. I bought it to pair with shrimp as a main course, but it could be good as a side dish all on its own.

2. Chickenless Crispy Tenders

Imitation meat products are a real mixed bag, and that is doubly true of things that pretend to be chicken. For instance, Morningstar Farms makes meatless buffalo wings that are great, but their chick’n strips meal starters did not wow me at all. However, these chickenless tenders from Trader Joes are sooo good, I didn’t believe that I wasn’t eating meat. They actually taste like chicken! I don’t know how they did it, since the main ingredients are basically the same as all meat substitutes: soy proteins and wheat gluten. Perhaps what makes the difference here is the inclusion of “ancient grains,” which I found rather amusing. Is quinoa any less ancient than your average rice? And can the copyrighted brand Kamut be considered all that “ancient” if it has a copyright?

Anyway, with a side of ranch or BBQ sauce, these are just as tasty as real chicken. You will want more than the recommended serving size of three pieces. Also, I suggest preparing these in the oven or toaster oven, but use a nonstick baking sheet. On my sheet, a couple of them got stuck and I lost some of the delicious coating. Bon appetit!