Thoughts On Gardening

Image Copyright 2015 by A. Catherine Noon All Rights Reserved

It’s difficult to quantify, “What is anorexia?”  When you go online and look for answers, there aren’t many.  I found lots of sites by anorexics on how to practice their anorexia more effectively, i.e. by people who need treatment themselves.  The sites with information are scary: they say, essentially, this is a serious disorder/disease and if you or someone you know has it, seek medical/psychiatric care immediately or go to the nearest hospital.

Which, of course, is true: if you, or someone you know, is in crisis and needs help, then by all means seek counseling and treatment immediately.

But that disclaimer aside, what are those of us who live with this on a daily basis do, on a daily basis?  If we, and by “we” I mean anorexics, if we survive past age twenty-five, then it’s likely we’ll live full and productive lives.  And yes, that is a true statement as well, and not hyperbole:  anorexia and bulimia are life-threatening, especially for teenagers.  But as an adult, I haven’t found much help if one isn’t acute – i.e., how do you go about the activities of daily living?

While that question could be answered by a book-length manuscript, today I want to talk about something seemingly simple – gardening.

I read recently that Morita therapy uses light physical labor and journaling as part of its treatment.  I have not tried the therapy, nor am I familiar with it, but the part that caught my attention was the “light physical labor.”  If you’re curious about the therapy, Shoma Morita, the founder, wrote a book about it, available here.  The idea of using physical labor resonated with me, and reminds me of the ideas in Chop Wood, Carry Water, a book with which I am more familiar (and recommend, by the way).

Those of you old enough to remember the movie Karate Kid, which stars, ironically, an actor by the name of Pat Morita (same family?), will remember the part where Mister Miyagi has the young hero paint the fence, wax the car, and polish the floor.  “Wax on, wax off.  Wax on, wax off.”  The boy is frustrated by such tasks and finally loses his patience with the master, complaining that he’d learned nothing.  Mister Miyagi barks, paint the fence!  And the boy blocks a punch with the move he’d been practicing.  Wax on! Block.  Wax off! Block.  The light bulb turns on.  Physical labor.  Zen.  The art of being in the moment, but on different planes simultaneously.  Enlightenment, and a clean car/house/fence.

Is it any coincidence that Zen practitioners often keep gardens, or that those gardens are often magnificent?  There is a peace in working a garden, but also frustration – it’s real, it’s now, and dirt is dirt.  We cannot change it with our minds; it’s concrete reality.  I can’t speak for other anorexics, but I know that for myself, being in my body and dealing with concrete, this-plane reality is difficult.  It’s scary, threatening, and frustrating.  It’s also useful, necessary, and real.

I remember hearing once that there are two kinds of gardeners:  those who, after hours of gardening, come out looking well-put-together and serene; and those who come out looking mud-spattered and sweaty.  I am the latter kind.  My favorite piece of gardening advice is, “Plant it green side up.”  While I own a large collection of gardening books, and have even read them, I am a casual gardener.  It’s hard enough to get in there regularly, to weed, water, and do the other daily maintenance activities required.

But this I know:  home-grown tomatoes do taste better, and fresh basil is yummy.  Mint tea from fresh spearmint turns your pee green and settles your stomach, and marigolds are apparently good for the skin but I haven’t yet planted enough to find out.  I find harvesting difficult and have wasted a lot of produce in the process of trying to learn to “chop wood and carry water.”  Yet I come back to it, year after year.  Why?

Because gardening is now.  It’s grounded, quite literally.  When you garden, you come out covered in dirt, with blisters and wet shoes.  But more importantly, you come out satisfied.  Not necessarily big “S” satisfied, but even the little “s’s” are useful.

Anorexia and Journaling

©2015 A. Catherine Noon

Voice.

Silence.

When we go through trauma, particularly childhood trauma, our voice is silenced. For some of us, it may take decades to rediscover it. Some never do, and they become the statistics that we see in the news. Sad. Wrenching. Tragic.

Unnecessary.

If I could wave a magic wand and make child abuse punishable by serious jail time, or worse, I would.  There are those who would rebut, but it is punishable.  I’ll give you a personal anecdote: the police were called to my house on three separate occasions, and nothing was done – no automatic call to Child Protective Services, no magic fairy police officer to take me away in the squad car, no protection, nothing.  I stood there, silent, because in the eyes of the law a minor has no voice.  The police would look at my mother for information but they didn’t know what I knew: she was the abuser. The hidden monster in the thicket, able to hide in plain sight.  The bruises they couldn’t see on my body, because they were underneath clothing, were her doing and not her boyfriend’s.  Though he was the violent alcoholic and the precipitating reason for calling the police in the first place, it was she that was the core cause.

What has been a much better rescue is the tools I’ve learned over the years from journaling.  While not a panacea, it helped me contact myself on the page.  It’s only now, at the age of 42, that I’ve begun to realize what psychologists already know:  abuse survivors frequently don’t know who they are.  This person I am is unknown to me because I was told my entire life that she was dangerous, weird, abnormal, not worth being.  So the journey of becoming is that much more frightening because we worry what we will become when we arrive at who we really are.

Journaling can help provide a container for that fear.  Let me be clear: if you need psychological or psychiatric care, then seek it.  I’m merely saying that journaling is a tool I have used in conjunction with counseling and it has made a huge, life-changing, difference.

A couple tools I’ve found useful:

Deena Metzger, Writing for Your Life: A Guide and Companion to the Inner Worlds.  This is a terrific book on journaling and helped me find poetry again after a decade of silence.

Tristine Rainer, two books in specific:  The New Diary; and Your Life As Story.  I found the first one to be more helpful with the craft of journaling and it offers a lot of tools and different approaches for self-discovery.  The second one is an excellent manual on how to craft a story out of ourselves and our lives.  I found it liberating to work with and instrumental in giving me back my voice – or, more accurately, beginning, at last, to speak my Truth.

I hope you, Dear Reader, find your way along your path and that the tools you need are readily at hand.

Write on.

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”
– E.E. Cummings

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Welcome to the World of the Yellow Bikini!

As 2011 winds to a close and 2012 dawns, it’s a natural time to think about new beginnings.  Rather than write resolutions that, let’s face it, will be dead by January 2nd, we decided instead to think about deeper change and bring about the positive life we know we deserve.

We will focus on four pillars as we navigate this experience:  Body, Mind, Spirit, and Space.  Small, incremental, maintained changes in each of these four areas will yield dividends well beyond the New Year.

My own personal goal is to fit comfortably into a yellow bikini for my Florida trip in February.  We leave on the 17th by train, so that gives me 11 weeks to prepare.  I will not use a scale, since I have an awful relationship with them as a recovering anorexic.  Instead, I will focus on positive, daily steps that I can take to change my relationship with my body gently and, I hope, permanently.

What about you?  What are your goals and thoughts for the coming months?  Are there changes you want to make between now and the advent of Spring?  I’d love to know!