Changing the narrative, Part II

It happens this way …

I never know what’s going to resonant with readers when I post a blog. My original intent was to share whatever comes up in my life that may be of value to others. Because the personal is the universal, last week’s theme of changing the narrative proved that to be true.

One of the most personal, therefore universal, narratives that challenge many women deals with body image. Back in the ‘70s, I knew a talented, educated young woman who was beautiful – Sandra-Bullock-like beautiful. However, when she looked in the mirror, she saw “ugly.” That was what her brothers called her during childhood and that was the narrative she carried into adulthood. No argument to the contrary could change her mind.

I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman who was happy with the way she looks. Ask her about the childhood stories she was told about her body and you’ll discover those narratives still color her self-perception – detrimentally ­– today.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve chatted with a number of women friends – ok, five to be exact – about body image. One friend says she’d like to lose some weight so she can feel better, but childhood memories of being thin and sickly give her pause. Her narrative? Thin = sick. Who would want that?

A few remember how their mothers required they live up to high social standards in their attire because, of course, daughters are a reflection of their mothers. Self-conscious about how they appear in public, they still put unnecessary pressure on themselves to live up to those standards.

I grew up being taunted by my slender brothers and father for being overweight. I often left the table in tears and found myself sneaking food from the refrigerator when no one was home. Although I slimmed down when I was in the convent, I gradually gained more and more weight over the past 20 years. Last May 14, I weighed a whopping 200 lbs.

Maybe it was part of my adolescent rebellion still playing out, but I had settled on the narrative that I was fat and that’s the way it was going to be. For some reason, I was inspired to share concerns about the “elephant in the room” with my doctor during that May visit. She recommended I try phentermine, a pill that would reduce appetite. But, I said, I don’t eat because I’m hungry – I couldn’t remember the last time I felt hunger pains. I eat to allay stress or anxiety or to reward myself for something or another.

The upshot is I tried the pills. To date I have 13 of the 30 pills still sitting in a drawer and I have lost 40 pounds. The miracle for me is my narrative has changed. I love that I feel ten years younger and have more energy. I’m not on a diet – been there, done that dozens of times. For me, diet = deprivation = failure. With the initial jump-start of a pill I no longer need, I’ve transformed my eating habits and the pounds are still slowly slipping off 6 ½ months later.

I write about this experience knowing it’s a big risk. What if I fail again? What if I have to go back to the mall and upsize my clothes after spending so much time and effort and money downsizing?

Here’s hoping I can stick to the new narrative and I promise I’ll be honest with you if I don’t. Lessons will be learned no matter what!


Changing the narrative …

It happens this way …

I’ve never believed in setting goals or making New Year’s resolutions. Too much pressure to succeed and too many disappointments when I failed. However, this week I’ve come up with a new approach: making an “intention.” The intention for 2019 is to change – chapter by chapter – the narratives from the past that have governed – and often limited  – my life.

Do you know what I mean? Think of all the stories – true or not – we were told about ourselves growing up. You’re too fat/thin. You’re not smart enough/too smart for your own good. Settle for what you have and don’t expect more. You’ll never make a living at that, so study something practical. Why can’t you be like the other kids/your siblings/me?    You’re too shy/awkward/ outspoken/brash. etc., etc., etc.

Add your own narratives. I realized recently that, like revising a poem where I can change the details and infuse it with new, unexpected energy, I can reframe any chapter of my life and reclaim it in new and healthier ways.

One example that’s been on my mind this holiday season: I avoid going to social events where I don’t know people. I’ve used the old “I’m an introvert” as a rationale for years. Yet, who am I missing? What opportunities to share and connect am I losing? So, I intend to reframe that avoidance behavior by walking into future events pretending I’m in charge of getting people to engage with me and with one another.

In her book, Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People, Vanessa Van Edwards talks about being a conversational “spark.” Rather than the old standbys we often use when meeting someone for the first time – “What brings you here?”, “Where are you from?”, “What do you do?” – she suggests “sparkers” like “Working on any exciting projects right now?”, “What was the highlight of your day/week?”, “Any vacation/travel plans in the near future?”

A friend of mine used some of these sparkers at a recent brunch with eleven retired teacher/friends. She reports that people just loved talking about themselves and story led to story led to story. She left the event empowered and energized rather than feeling on the periphery of conversations. I’m going to follow her good example the next time I’m out socializing.

So, this is the first step in my 2019 intention is to examine the narratives that need revising. That very thought is already empowering and energizing me! Stay tuned!

PS: If you have any “sparkers” that have worked for you, let me know. I’d love to add them to my repertoire.


Waiting for the MAX in rainy, downtown Portland on Tuesday.  Riding public transportation gave me the chance to engage a young woman in conversation. A learning experience!

‘Twas the Morning Before Christmas

It happens this way …

Last Christmas Eve morning, it started to snow. Anyone who lives in this part of the world knows that three flakes are cause for panic. Why? So few snow plows and drivers who have difficulties navigating the inclines of many streets.

In fact, my first winter out here in 1990, we had a significant snow event and I had to get to the airport. My scheduled taxi never arrived and I finally drove myself to a nearby hotel that had its own shuttle service. Along the way, I was flabbergasted at the number of cars abandoned on roadways. People just walked away in frustration, I guess. What did they think would happen to their cars that looked like scattered legos covering the streets?

Anyway, back to last Christmas Eve. Since the forecast called for more snow, I grabbed a coat, threw it over my red-plaid pajama bottoms and braless gray sweatshirt, semi-combed my hair, and headed to the grocery store. To say I looked like a bag lady would be accurate, but I wasn’t worried about looks when the white stuff was coming down.

I was walking down an aisle in Grocery Outlet when a well-dressed woman approached me. I was certain she was going to ask me where she could find shrimp or a rib roast. Wrong. Rather, she smiled and handed me a card with her “Merry Christmas.” She walked away before I could process that I had a $25 gift card for this store in my hands.

I ran after her, tempted to return it and tell her to give it to someone who really needed it. But as I approached, I had another thought: How rude to return a gift so graciously given. It wasn’t about me. It was about her generosity and how it made her feel to select someone “so obviously in need.” So, I thanked her profusely and kept shopping.

My next impulse was to give the card to someone else. That old “better to give than receive” saying popped into my head and I was amazed about how uncomfortable I was to be on the receiving end. It took me several days and retellings of this story to friends for me to process one key fact: How I deflect compliments, affection, gifts, whatever, when they are gracefully given. I’ve pondered that habit over the ensuing months and, although I’ve not been able to break it completely, at least I’m more aware when I’m doing it. Awareness: The first step to change, no?

To say the least, I got more than a gift card last Christmas Eve. I got a new saying: “Receiving honors the giver.”

The doctor’s doing fine …

It happens this way …

There’s nothing like filling out the annual “Medicare Wellness Checkup” list to make me feel great. Here are some of the questions that gave me a kick this morning:

  1. During the past four weeks, has your physical and emotional health limited your social activities with family friends, neighbors, or groups?

I checked “Not at all,” but there was no white space to explain that I have no family friends out here. (Maybe someone forgot the comma after “family”?) Or that my neighbors are wonderful, but we rarely socialize other than meeting outside to rake leaves and chew the fat about who’s feeding the feral cats and what’s causing the latest ruts on our street. As for “groups,” I’ve been to several poetry readings that were fun, but, as soon after they were over, I headed for the exit because the crowds were overwhelming. An introvert’s challenge!

  1. Can you go shopping for groceries or clothes without someone’s help?

“Yes,” I checked, although Kathy does most of the grocery shopping and I hate shopping for clothes.

  1. During the past four weeks, how many drinks of wine, beer, or other alcoholic beverages did you have?

Although I checked the “No alcohol at all,” I did have 1/3 glass of champagne with two neighbors the other night. (Oops, I forgot. We did our annual holiday socializing with these folks for two hours last week!)

But here’s the thing about drinking, even a few sips of wine go right to my brain and disconnect it from my tongue. The fact is I’ve never been drunk, except maybe once: when I was in the convent at Georgian Court in the late 70s. We were having a Passover meal and I must have downed a whole glass of Manischewitz too quickly. I started to laugh uncontrollably and had to leave the table. I ran to the garden outside the kitchen door and, I’d like to think, delighted the stars. Sister Sheila finally came out to see if I was all right. She used to call me “The Kid,” and I certainly felt like one after I calmed down. So much for drinking!

I’m happy to report “things have been going well [for me] during the past four weeks,” I’m having no difficulty driving my car, and I’m confident I “can control and manage most of [my] health problems.” That is, if I had any.

I can’t wait to share the list with my doctor at my appointment on Christmas Eve. We’ll have several great guffaws about the fact that I can prepare my own meals, do housework without help, and have had no denture problems.