Category Archives: motherhood

3 Lessons From Writing That Help With Motherhood and Recovery

When I was pregnant, I was convinced that I was having a girl, and had already started planning accordingly. Of course I found out:

“Guess What? It’s a boy!”

Oh, Okay. I thought. Hmmm… Time to reset the expectations. Or better yet, let’s just allow what is being grown to emerge as it (or He) needs. 

1. Expectations are Resentments Waiting to Happen.

That is a recovery quote from Alcoholics Anonymous. Another is “Resentments are like eating rat poison yourself and then waiting for the rat to die.” A bit harsh, but applicable. Pregnancy, motherhood, and writing are all about letting go of your expectations and allowing what needs to emerge come forth in its own way.

My book is in that place. As Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in her fabulous book, Big Magic:

big magic 2

I had this plan: the title, the table of contents, the “target audience.” And now something else is emerging. The ideas come, and I channel them onto the paper. I have a plan, and then I chuck it (or the part that’s not working) out the window, as something else emerges. Writing a book is like birthing a baby.

I’m not talking about an epidural or 48 hours of convulsing with medication-free pain so intense you thought you were dying. That is reserved for actual labor and delivery. Motherhood, however, along with the creative process (and, of course, recovery), do share some similarities with the birth process.

2. You get to show up for the work, You don’t get to decide the timeline.

I have been writing a book since my little one was 3 months old (little one is now six. Years.) And, even though I would really like to be in control of the process, it is taking on a life of its own. It is emerging in its own timeline. The plan was finish the book when baby was 1 year. Ha! Just like the “birth plan” (note the quotes) for labor and delivery, the plan needs to change as needed. (Who wouldn’t love to have a three – or even six – hour labor and delivery experience? Pain-free with no complications? But that’s not how it works. We all have a birth plan, and then we all go through actual labor and delivery. It is rare that the two exactly match up.)

Your job is to show up for the process, one moment at a time and give your best effort. That’s it. That’s true in writing a book, birthing a baby, and the long journey of motherhood ahead. The thing I remember most about labor experience, despite the altar I had set up, the music, the doula, the whole rainbow-and-flowers plan I had, is the clock on the wall. Watching the second hands tick on the clock on the wall got me through every contraction. I didn’t have “look at the clock ticking” on my birth plan. But that is what helped me stay present, 1 second, 1 moment, 1 hour at a time.

 3. Don’t Let Fear Run the Show.

Here’s another great quote from Elizabeth Gilbert:
“Basically, your fear is like a mall cop who thinks he’s a Navy SEAL: He hasn’t slept in days, he’s all hopped up on Red Bull, and he’s liable to shoot at his own shadow in an absurd effort to keep everyone “safe.”

My little one and I often play a game called “walk through the fear.” Like many little ones, he’s afraid of the dark. So we set up one dark room (it may need a night-light on 🙂 ) and one light room. Then we walk through the dark room back into the light. Again and again. Fear is not allowed to run the show. It can join in and participate as we move. But it is not allowed to keep us paralyzed. In writing, that translates to keep writing. Write a lot of (what Anne Lamott calls) “shitty first drafts.” But keep writing. (Or working on our recovery or traveling through pregnancy, labor, delivery, and motherhood).

Also, when fear pops up (as in recently when a great idea emerged about a new direction that this book I’m writing probably needs to take), notice it. Fear has two jobs:  1) protect vulnerability and 2) prevent change. So whenever it arises, you can notice it, thank it, and continue moving in exactly that direction. That’s right: continue moving in the direction that fear is trying to get you to avoid. Let fear be your guide instead of your road block. What’s in the way is the way.  I will be with you in this walking-through-fear journey. And this new version of my book, which I thought was a “girl,” but apparently wants to be a “boy”!

The Doctor Within and Wild Medicine

 

Guest blogging today is Dr. Marilyn Steele, A Jungian psychologist, dream consultant, author and artist. Marilyn is a dear friend and colleague with whom I have consulted on my own dreams, in mining for wisdom. I am so excited to share some of her medicine with you!

The Doctor Within and Wild Medicine

A few weeks ago I dreamed I was in labor but my OB-GYN, Susan Griffin, was out-of-town on vacation. After an initial moment of panic, I remembered that I had already birthed three children naturally. I know how to do this.

Although now I am laboring to birth a book The Way of the Wild Feminine rather than a baby, the dream includes three themes of my own awakening to feminine power: Dreams. The creative process. And motherhood. I had not actually planned on growing up to be a woman, since it seemed they had very small, boring domestic lives without much power or freedom in the world. But in birthing my first baby forty years ago, I felt in every cell of my body a deep love for the lineage of birthing mothers, and the shocking revelation that we were magnificently powerful. Amazed and angry, I was determined to tell a new, truer story of the self in psychology from a woman’s point of view. Along my weaving life path have been brilliant thinkers like my dream doctor –visionary, feminist author of Woman and Nature (1979). Making art and writing began to root me in my own inner authority, and helped to open a channel to Spirit. My strongest medicine came from dreams. And so became my reclamation of the wild woman.

We begin our search for the wild, whether as girlchildren or as adult women, because in the midst of some wildish endeavor we felt that a wild and supportive presence was near…We sensed the sound of a familiar breath from afar, we felt tremors in the ground, and we knew that something powerful, someone important, some wild freedom within us was on the move.”     Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Because the Feminine has been in exile for so long, we must go down to the roots, to the realm of the imaginal, mythic and archetypal unconscious to retrieve her stories, her values, her visions. Dreams are a direct pathway to this realm.

There is intelligence in the Universe- call it the Great Mystery, Spirit, Higher Power, Goddess, the holy – that wants the best for us and calls us to healing, to wholeness, to holiness. To wake up, we dream. Dreams help us grow soul, strengthen body and mind to house the bigger Self, so that we may bring a new story to ourselves and the world.

We can learn to trust, too, that the symptom or illness, the uncontrollable or irritating or even dangerous behavior has some gift to bestow. Soul speaks through the body. These are signs of a future pulling us in the direction of our divine destiny.

One of the great cosmic jokes Spirit has made through me is developing me into a feminist, an artist who loves science when I had never planned on becoming a woman, certainly not a “feminine” one, and had nearly flunked out of UC Berkeley due to the science requirement. I have learned to trust my dreams, to strengthen the dialogue between ego and Self, and to continue to find and empty those stubborn pockets of perfectionism which squelch the joy from my life.

Some gifts you can find in your dreams:

  • A truthful self-portrait of your psyche
  • Meaningful dialogue between Ego and Self
  • Creative renewal
  • Animal allies and spirit guides
  •  The secret wishes of your soul
  • Initiation to your vocation and calling
  • The playful and loving presence of the Great Mystery

The archetypes of the collective unconscious function like strange attractors in a quantum field. Our brains are like tuning systems, tuned in to our collective memory and our collective becoming. We are not our past. We are not our present. We are always in the process of becoming and we carry this process into being. We wild women carry the emerging possible.

The journey to a wild Feminine wisdom is a weaving way, a sometimes harrowing path, until we can become self-earthed, rooted in our natural feminine sourceground. We are the weavers and Wayfinders for a different kind of world, one in which it will be easier to love.

Here are some practices to reclaim your own wild feminine power and wisdom:

   Welcome your dreams. Take action on them.

   Walk in Nature.

   Do yoga, dance, swim.

   Begin each day by writing three pages.

   Read inspiring spiritual prose or poetry.

   Be quiet for a half hour every day to listen for the still, small voice within.

   Create something, often. A poem, a song, a dance, a collage, a drawing.

   Be alert to the synchronicities around you.

The more you practice the more you can begin to trust and be peaceful, rooted in the faith Spirit will let you know what needs your attention, what is flourishing as well as offering creative possibilities for your future.

 

About the Author

Steele Bio

A Jungian psychologist, dream consultant, author and artist for over thirty years, Dr. Steele has taught extensively in the Bay Area and abroad on women’s psychology, the wisdom of dreams and the essential role of the wild and sacred Feminine archetype in the evolution of consciousness. Her office is in Lafayette, and she consults via telephone and Skype.

She has published creative nonfiction and spiritual memoir in numerous journals and anthologies such as Psychological Perspectives: A Jungian Journal, SageWoman, Zone 3, and Left Curve.              

In 2012 she published a deck of Wild Cards, poetry to empower and awaken women. A memoir, The Wild Feminine: Stories to Inspire and Embolden, was released in May 2013 and recently chosen as one of The Spirited Woman Foundation’s Top Book Picks. A second book, The Way of the Wild Feminine:Tell a New Story, Draw a New Map for the World, is forthcoming in 2016.

For further information, go to theWildFeminine

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Motherhood as Rite of Passage

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Motherhood and Mindful Eating: A Conundrum

co·nun·drum:
kəˈnəndrəm/
noun
  1. a confusing and difficult problem or question.
  2. a question asked for amusement, typically one with a pun in its answer; a riddle.

I was looking over a list of 10 Mindful Eating Questions asked by Susan Albers, PsyD (EatingMindfully.com):

  1. Do I tend to stop eating when I am full?
  2. Eat when I am hungry, rather than emotional?
  3. Not “pick” at my food?
  4. Taste each bite before reaching for the next?
  5. Think about how nourishing food is for my body?
  6. Be nonjudgemental of myself when I accidentally overeat?
  7. Not multitask when I eat: when I eat, just eat?
  8. Be able to leave some food on my plate if I don’t want it?
  9. Eat slowly, chewing each bite?
  10. Recognize when I slip into mindless eating (zoned out, popping food into my mouth)?

How did you do? Ummmmmmm, if you are like me, motherhood has slipped your “yes” answers from 10 to 3!mom and chocolate

The good news is that we can always come back to mindfulness. That is why mindfulness is a practice! And the gift of being an imperfect mother that chooses to continue to grow and become/stay conscious, again and again, is that we model this for our children! So if we eat emotionally (Um- are there any mothers out there that haven’t had a piece of birthday cake or goldfish crackers? That would be, by definition, emotional because the nutritional content would be nil), then we can notice this, and choose to be kind to ourselves. Notice I didn’t say stop doing this. All food has some emotional content. And saying to yourself Stop doing that is just another version of the Overdeveloped-Superego-for-Mommy guilt.

Here is my revised-for-moms list of 5 questions for Mindful Eating:

  1. Do I attempt to provide a variety (colors, textures, food groups) of foods for myself as well as my family without making any foods “bad”?
  2. Can I allow myself to sit down and eat with my children/family (rather than serving everyone but myself)?
  3. Would I consider forgiving myself if I eat something emotionally because I am tired, frustrated, or lonely?
  4. How about if I lower the bar and dedicate 1 bite of the meal to mindfulness (notice the texture, taste, savor it)?
  5. Can I model good boundaries by protecting my plate of food as mine and not allowing toddler crumbs to be thrown on it?

I threw that last one in as a conundrum 🙂

Surrender

sur·ren·der verb \sə-ˈren-dər\

  • : to agree to stop fighting, hiding, resisting, etc., because you know that you will not win or succeed
  • : to give the control or use of (something) to someone else
  • : to allow something (such as a habit or desire) to influence or control you

         I used to hate the word surrender. It sounded like giving up, waving the white flag, losing myself and my voice. And yet when I look at these 3 definitions in the context of eating disorder/addiction recovery, I get curious. Hmmmm, well the first one certainly applies to the willingness required to begin recovery: you have to be willing to stop repeating the same battle, again and again and again. As they say in 12-step Program, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.” The second definition is tougher, especially for people recovering from eating disorders…give up CONTROL to SOMEONE ELSE? But isn’t the problem feeling OUT of control, not feeling empowered, and/or early childhood wounds around someone else not helping regulate our food and feelings from a place of INTERNAL locus of control? This is where the third definition of surrender is, I think, actually an accurate description of an eating disorder or addiction: To allow a habit or desire to control you. Because when you get right town to it, when you are deep in it, IN the food (or whatever your “drug” or behavior of choose is) you know you are not in control and the “habit” has started to control YOU.

    Surrender and the Body

         One of my early eating disorder recovery mentors, someone who was much further along in their recovery when I was in my first year of exploring what-the-heck-surrender-had-to-do-with-recovery, said:

         “The size of your body is not your business.”

    “WHAT? I said. What do you mean?

         She repeated herself. “The size of your body is not your business.”

    I told her “if that’s recovery, I can’t do it.”

    She said “there isn’t anything you need to do here. Surrender is an internal process, not an external event.”

         On some deep level, I knew she was right. I knew it in the core of my being. My mind still fought it, but my heart; my gut knew it to be true. I’d love to say “And then everything changed and I became a licensed Psychologist helping everyone else recover the next day. The End.” But that’s not how growth and recovery work. I then continued to solidify my recovery for the next few years, went back to school to earn my master’s degree, began working professionally in recovery, then earned my doctorate degree, continued working professionally in recovery, etc etc… I tell my clients it is not a linear process, it is not a fast process, it is not an external process, and it is not an event. It is a slow transformation of willingness wrestling with willfulness and softening into surrender, again and again.

    How pregnancy is a good (literal) metaphor for surrender

         Pregnancy is a good metaphor for what it is like to find willingness and surrender in the body. When a woman is pregnant, there are all kinds of things she needs to be aware of and make choices about due to her growing a tiny being inside her body. Soft cheese, wine, even salami can cause miscarriage or a lifetime of harm if not avoided or eaten properly. Many medications are questionable in their safety, and, if a woman is diabetic, she has to be even more cautious about what, how and when she eats during pregnancy. These choices, along with the long list of bodily and emotional experiences that come with carrying a child for 9 months (breast tenderness, constipation, gas, nausea, bloating, fatigue, aches, mood swings, urinary incontinence) require a pregnant woman to surrender her own control and familiar experience of her body and feelings in the service of something else (her child). She actively chooses loving limits in her food choices (the right balance between bingeing and restricting) and she lets go of needing to control the size and shape of her body in the service of surrendering to something greater. This is similar in recovery from an eating disorder.

    I often have clients recovering from eating disorders ask me:

    “But what does that mean in terms of how many cookies I eat?”

         I tell them they need to find their own right answers that are the exact right balance of not restricting while not over indulging/bingeing. Unfortunately or fortunately, there is no list of “off-limits” foods like there is during pregnancy. However, finding the right loving limits in surrender in eating disorder recovery is similar to motherhood in that it is like working with a toddler. Power struggling will get you nowhere. You may win a few battles, but the war will continue to wage. Surrender is a flow and it is a willingness to continue to connect emotionally with yourself in the parts of you that weren’t met as a child. Eating cookies for lunch or never eating cookies aren’t what surrender is about. Asking questions such as “what do I really nRuby-Slipperseed right now?”  and “what is in the best service of my recovery?” are.

     It’s not always an easy journey. It can be like Dorothy traveling the road to Oz. There are many lions, tigers, and bears along the way. And Oz isn’t really the destination. And you are always already home. But you still need to go on the journey to discover that. Then you will actually believe and trust in your body whatever the size or shape that there’s no place like home.

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