Recently I read transcripts for a three-part podcast with coach Brooke Castillo about using brain science to stop over-drinking. I was finding that if I wasn’t careful I would always want at least one additional glass of wine. And then a link to Brooke’s podcast, "Stop Over-Drinking," popped up on my Facebook feed and I was like, “Let’s check this out.” It blew my mind. And her techniques can be used for overeating, trying to cut stuff out you don’t want to do, like shopping too much, etc.
Brooke's podcast in three parts:
I highly recommend listening to or reading all three podcast transcripts because Brooke breaks down why we choose to over-drink, why it’s so hard to stop doing that, and then a pretty easy way to re-teach your brain not to do that. In a nutshell the idea is that our animal brain is the older and more efficient part of the brain. The prefrontal cortex is a newer evolutionary trait. The animal brain (the amygdala) is the part responsible for the dopamine hit and choosing stuff based on that, like we would back in the day, for example, when we’d eat a berry or something and we’d know by the dopamine hit that it would help us survive (or how not having the berry would mean we might die). But then when you have something like alcohol it floods the system with dopamine and teaches the brain pretty quickly to go “MORE” (and that less means we feel like we might die if we don' have it). And since that part of the brain is the most efficient and knee-jerk, the prefrontal cortex doesn’t stand a chance when you’re in the situation and trying to choose not to drink more.
Brooke explains how it’s like Pavlov’s dogs. They started to drool when they’d hear the clogs of the scientists walking down the hall. They didn’t even have to hear the bell. But the scientists could also easily train them to stop drooling simply by teaching them through not giving them the food every time. Brooke goes on to show that with some planning we can do the same for ourselves. To take the decisions out of the hands of the animal brain we decide in advance: I’m going to have X number of drinks twenty-four hours from now. You get to decide how many and what. And then you stick to it. And eventually this way of doing things gets embedded (or whatever) in the animal brain and then THAT becomes the way that is knee-jerk and efficient — choosing in advance how much you’ll have.
Instead of resisting the urge or pretending it’s not there you just observe it, she explains. Like, “Oh, I have the desire to have another drink. How interesting you are, brain! How interesting.” You simply let the urge be there and you move through and on. And it gets easier because you are training this newer evolved part of the brain to make the choice and then the animal brain to efficiently process it. It’s hard to explain — hence my suggestion to read/listen. She also has a LOT of helpful hints, like how not to underestimate the number of drinks you want. Like, be realistic when you’re starting out, and this will make it easier to train. The point at the beginning isn’t so much to drink that much less, but to train the brain to choose how much you’re drinking so that soon you will drink less. It has been working for me.
So I’m totally in love with this way of being. And it has made me realize that there is so much mind-blowing stuff we can do by training the prefrontal cortex. I, personally, believe this might be the key to our shift in consciousness. Or “shift to consciousness,” as my friend Casey Erin Wood pointed out when I told her about how I think we can use brain science to usher in the shift all the new age people have been talking about. It perhaps isn’t just a big rainbow that’s coming and happening TO us, but something we choose to do. What if the shift to consciousness is because we are making conscious choices about what we want and how we want to think? Sounds powerful and sovereign to me.
Take institutionalized racism, for example. Whole lotta white people have been taught their whole lives and through hegemonic means that black people are to be feared. That they’re less than. They cannot even see why the Black Lives Matter movement is needed and why that is so sad. BECAUSE in part the animal brain has this shorthand embedded based on bullshit we were taught ages ago and that is continuing to be reinforced by a hegemonic white supremacist society. So! If we talk about and look at what we have been taught, what has become knee-jerk, what has embedded in there by no choice of our own, we can start to dismantle it. There’s the choice. We can use the prefrontal cortex to choose to be with people, to choose to hear people of color, to choose to make the decisions about races other than ours rather than allow the animal brain to continue to make us react. We have a choice.
We can use it for social media addiction. Like, instead of continuing to become automatons connected to our phones we can say, I’m taking Facebook off my phone and I will allow myself to look at it in the evening when I’m already done with my creative work and I’m already tired and have less energy to invest in it (or delete it altogether). And then we are automatically using the prefrontal cortex to make the choice instead of allowing the animal brain to get the adrenaline hit from the notification and have that all-too-efficient system rule our lives.
We can use this method for self-worth as well. Karen Noe, medium and Hay House author, was telling me during a recent session about Dr. Wayne Dyer’s daughter who had warts. She started saying, "I love you, thank you for what you’ve taught me, but you can leave now.” Karen was telling me this so that I could use it for my own swirling thoughts. I have been and it has been brilliant. Also, I feel like this is using the prefrontal cortex to cut the knee-jerk swirling thoughts off at the pass. What also works is this — deciding we’re going to look into the face of the efficient animal brain thoughts we have always believed because someone embedded them, or because of the patriarchy, or because society’s efficient systems thrive by our being held down — and what better way for us to be held down than by our own animal brains believing we are unworthy? Talk about an efficient system.
So these are some ideas I’ve been working with and interested in seeing where they go. I am very excited to trample the patriarchy starting literally from the inside out — with my brain! How cool is that?!
Tell me your thoughts on brain science! Have you been using any techniques to help you trample the patriarchy from the inside out? I would love to hear about it.
So much has healed around my father and my relationship since he had Alzheimer’s and since he passed in March. But for a long time, our relationship was tough as turkey jerky. He was certainly always a champion of my music and writing, but it often felt like nothing was good enough. Because he tried to control the world with his mind (and keep us, his kids, from getting hurt), I was always concerned he lived a tortured life. And that for all of his prosperity he always seemed so focused on everything that was wrong. I was seeing his life as half full (still, half full of Johnnie Walker Double Black, but half, nonetheless).
But then I had a magical reading and session with healer Liz Donahue last week. My last question was what she could tell me about my father’s life and if there was anything I should know for closure. We barely had any time left in the session, and normally I would not have imposed on her to take extra time, but I've been learning how to ask more lately.
“Your father had to hold a sharply angled personality line in order to achieve his life’s purpose, which was to change the paradigm of education on the planet. He had to take one for the team, in a way.”
Because I had always assumed he had achieved what he did in spite of his personality. Hearing that made so much click, like a really huge second hand coming to life after being stuck in the same position for years.
Liz also explained that my family’s purpose is about education and changing the ways in which education happens in our culture and how people are educated. I had always thought of my life as separate from “the school,” as we’ve always referred to the College of Westchester, which my sisters run today, but hearing this made sense, too. I’ve been thinking a lot about how I teach as well and how that’s a way I honor my dad, whose biggest passion was teaching. God knows I've been a student for most of my life, but hey, best case scenario, who isn't?
My father bought the Westchester Business Institute in the ’60s when it had only nineteen students. He built it into a two-year school which put the student first and was geared toward people having flexible schedules (many students work full time and have families) and reasonable financial aid options. Eventually it was accredited and now offers Bachelor degrees as well. I worked there as a teen, too, helping my sister Nancy in career services and loved it. When my sisters cleaned out my dad's house recently Nancy took all of his ties to the school to give to students for job interviews and work. That makes me feel really good to know the students have a piece of my dad with them.
When I told my sister what Liz had said about my dad changing the paradigm of education she told me she wasn't surprised and has been thinking about that and how suddenly now she hears the bigwigs at Harvard and whatnot talking about putting the student at the center of their education, and how our dad had talked about that our whole lives.
Liz also said my dad was very pleased with himself and his family, “well done,” he accomplished more than he had set out to do in this life, that my Uncle Mac helped him cross over and my mom was there to meet him. There is still integration and healing to do, but there are lots of roses, a beautiful tribute, and a lot of peace.
And now I feel more integration with my own purpose as well as how my dad and my relationship fits together in the grand scheme of things. I feel really lucky for so many reasons. But most of all that I was able to spend so much time with my dad before he passed and that our relationship improved so much. And I can appreciate on such a deep level now how much I learned (and continue to learn) from him. I was always afraid of being tough because at times he was too tough, but now I borrow some of that toughness and decisiveness when I need it. It's in my blood.
Recently I was playing music with my husband and our friend Steve (the three of us are in a band together and it’s a big part of why we moved to Boise). I was so thrilled with the resonant melody flowing from my hands onto the 1973 Rhodes electric piano. My heart swelled with pride for a moment and I realized it was my father’s pride I was feeling. We had a huge connection with music and now it’s as if I can just play and know what he would feel about it. It boosts my confidence and makes me feel tender as a day old puppy (which, granted, isn’t hard to do because I am generally tender as a week-old puppy).
And because I could not possibly write a piece for Ernie without mentioning Bing, here’s one for my dad. We used to sing this together sometimes. Well, really, he would sing "Put it there, pal," to me often (while putting his hand out for me to slap). I hope he knows I’m singing it in my heart to him all the days. I feel he does.
So grateful for everyone who reached out to support my family and me during this tough time. We are so appreciative. My dad would have been pleased with the celebration of his life as well as the outpouring of love.
Emily Taylor and Abigail Taylor made a sad time so much better by coming down from Boston and staying with Brent and me. You guys carted our tender bottoms around and made us laugh and cried along with us, too. I cannot express how lucky I feel to have friends like you. You are the ice to my Chardonnay, the Elkin spice to my wings, the everything to my bagel. (And so much more than food things.) I love you. BeYOND. 🎶🎶 Good time friends, bad time friends, all time FRIENDS! 🎶🎶
And so many old and beautiful friends and fam! Kendra Warmolts, Wil D'Amato, Lindsay Barth Ocasio, Stefane Golub, Jen Gaily, Tristen Muller Comey and Tippy Muller, Karen Skoglund, Kelli Miltner-Vogler, Suzanne Nappi, Susan Thornton Anderson, Patricia Zampieri, Michael Zampieri, Jeannie Zampieri Schlesinger, Ray Linehan, Christopher Joseph (this goes for Therese, too!), Melina Fotiu, Michelle Spages, you are my absolute heart.
I'm sure I'm forgetting some people and also there were so many who have reached out to me during this past week and that made me feel a lot better. Thank you. (Sara Alvarado, Casey Erin Wood, Nic Mehta Strack, how lucky I am to be in your bright and wonderful orbit. Just LOVE you. Thank you for seeing me through the past week, month, days.)
And of course Karen Smith (and Dale!), Mary Beth Del Balzo, Nancy Trim, Jim Del Balzo, Brian Trim (and Al, of course!), our brother Joe, Jess Cording, Julia Tsakalis, Marie Portalatin, Catie Smith (and Stephie!), Theo Tsakalis, so grateful to be family with you. Love you.
I'm writing this from the plane. Finally took off from Newark after an ordeal of a day yesterday, getting stuck there -- turns out the loud airport is not a great place when you're in the throes of grief. Speakers blaring Miley Cyrus' "Party in the USA" do not do a grieving body good. Nor do delays delays delays. But I'm turning that mood-frown upside-down with all of this gratitude. 💕💕💕💕
My dad managed to get this out to me: “You are perfect.” And then went on to talk about the loads of bright light he sees. And I asked him about the holy grail and he remembered that too. 😭
I have a lot more to write about this, such as the fact that I felt like the divine was talking directly through him to me, and not just to/for me but for all.
In NJ visiting my dad for probably the last time. There is no real way of knowing, though the hospice nurse thinks this is his last decline, and the fact that there is a hospice nurse is enough of an indication. So, spending loving time with my dad and family.
The first time I visited yesterday he was a little alert, so we held hands and he made prolonged eye contact with me, even though his dementia has progressed to the point that his speech is rare and hard to understand,though he knew it was me and he was glad I was there. I was hoping for that. Got to tell him I loved him a few more times.
“I found the holy grail,” he said, in his reverie, then reached out and said, “Father,” several times, so...there are “hallucinations,” but I watched my mother go through this similarly too. And I have my feelings/ideas about it. ✨
I took a picture of his tender socked feet in the hospital bed in the bedroom where I spent my teen years, but decided against posting it, since it’s such an intimate moment. But the sun was streaming in, Bing was singing and I felt my mom around. My sisters and I were all there and he continues to be well taken care of.
I started writing what will go in the paper, etc., Friday, thanks to a bunch of info my sisters amassed as well as from my heart and what I’ve learned from him. I wasn’t expecting to do it and it was hard but not as hard as I thought and it helped me, really. And it allowed me to contribute in a way I can. We like the part about how his peers named him “sports king,” having a .300 batting average (and playing basketball, baseball and football in college), as well as being inducted into his college’s Hall of Fame. Those are genes I did not inherit. But I admire them. We do share an intense belief in education, music, language and charity. And really a whole slew of other things on which I’ll reflect more later.
I could write a lot more (and will), but I’m going to get some breakfast and then go back over to see him one more time before I head back to Cambridge and then back to Boise. Thanks for reading and shooting some love beams our way during this New Moon and time of transition. ❤️
I was super nervous about doing this at first. I tossed and turned this morning. But then I got on there and it was super fun. I had several awesome questions from several awesome people and we were off to the races.
And the thing I never would have known (Hey, Marie Forleo, you're right: "Clarity comes from engagement, not thought") is that I got a lot of clarity on my own creativity and projects and perspective and shits by considering and answering these questions!
It was also super fun because right before I went on I pulled the "Counselor" card from my Doreen Virtual Archangels Oracle deck. Woohoo!
So my plan is to do this weekly and if anyone has questions they'd like me to answer let me know and I'll tag you on FB in the replay.
Yay! Happy to flex the courage muscle this way.
❤️ You Don't Have to Know Everything Before You Know Everything/You Don't Need to Ever Know Everything ❤️
Hey! Just popping on with video to talk about the creative process, my new (sweet little baby) book I've been working on and how the overarching theme arose from something I learned from having DCIS in 2016. And not having to know everything before we know everything. (Like what I was going to say on this video, for example.) And to see where you're at, too.
Hey! So my dear friend Casey Erin Wood started recently doing Facebook Live to share her creative process as she works on her memoir. This inspired me and seemed like a really cool way to stretch the courage muscle (and the inspiration muscle) and to get a little more comfortable on film while helping people with their projects.
So the inaugural launch is tomorrow over on my FB Live page! You can pop over there here!
I have a tendency to veer toward the spastic when I’m excited. And since I’m planning on having a memoir coming out not too long from now I want to work on being as comfortable as possible live and in front of people. Because best case scenario is I’m gonna be in front of people. And not too spastic.
Also I freaking LOVE talking creative projects with people! So my plan is to get on Facebook Live weekly on my Public Figure FB page (even saying that still stirs my Imposter Complex) at a set time, talk a little about what I’m working on, and share my brain and heart and woo-woo-ness on your creative projects! Intuitive hits, troubleshooting, what have you. Seriously, what have you? Bring it to me!
Does this sound like something you’d be interested in doing? I would love to have you join me as often as you’d like. But it’s super casual, too, so you don’t have to show up every time. But you can. Use me, use me, I ain’t your average groupie. (Thanks, Sir Mix-a-Lot).
Let me know! Maybe we can flex the courage muscle together! Because lord knows the world needs more beauty and creativity. What say you?
Again -- here's where I'll be tomorrow at noon going LIVE (and not NUDE!)
Last night the coaching program I’m in had a teaching call with Desiree Adaway: “Leading difficult conversations on race, class + gender. Writer. Speaker. Coach.” (From Desiree’s Facebook profile.)
Desiree talked with us about intersectional feminism and read pieces from Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider. We discussed anger as fuel, “accountability with care,” the fact that we’ve been socialized to fear each other (and it’s in our DNA), white people forging relationships with people of color, fixing our communities by caring for the person who needs the most help first (and then by default the most privileged will also be taken care of — THIS IS HUGE), that we need to decide what kind of world we want to build once we’ve dismantled the current patriarchy (like, where are we headed as opposed to what are we leaving), and this:
“What are you willing to give up so that your sisters can gain?”
And we’re not just talking cis-ters, Desiree made sure to point out.
Eventually some of us spoke up. I spoke up. And then had a vulnerability hangover, of course. This old refrain:
Am I saying the right thing? Am I saying the wrong thing? Jesus Christ, now I’m sacrificing my own integrity and authenticity by worrying about saying the right/wrong thing. And then. Breathe. We’ll get through this. There is so much to gain here.
But first — what to lose. I mentioned on the call that I had decided fairly young I was willing to give up Catholicism and the community there because I didn’t like how women aren’t considered as holy as men (or cannot hold authoritative positions in the church). I didn’t like how women’s rights aren’t considered. That men make decisions about women’s bodies. That homosexuality is considered a sin. Hell, that sexuality is considered a sin. That the people of other religions are looked upon as not “chosen," and I knew a lot of them — Jewish friends, Muslim friends, Jehovah’s Witness friends, and they were all beautiful and holy to me. And then there are some Christian religions where, for example, black people weren’t allowed to hold the priesthood until the 1970s.
The more I followed my own inner-rudder and what I still intrinsically believe is right and true the more it took me away from a place where I grew up, made the sacraments, felt safe. The image of that schism for me is that I’m floating out in the cold cosmos, beyond the stained glass windows looking in on the warm Saint Gabriel’s church where I grew up, but feeling right about it. Even if the beautifully powerful pipe organ I always loved the sound of seemed to ring out more righteously than my own small voice. I would just have to know in my heart and that would be enough.
I remember one day in my early twenties seeing footage of Pope John Paul II cupping the faces of young girls, who were crying at his touch. They felt safe and spiritually sound. Comforted. Like all would be OK. You could see it on their faces. And I longed for that comfort. But I decided in that moment I was willing to give up that comfort for my integrity and for all the people who weren’t treated how I’d like them to be treated by the Church. Don’t get me started on the children and how the Church dealt with those horrors. So, I wanted that comfort but the price was not worth it to me — being complicit in hypocrisy (and so much worse).
I am also willing to give up the comfort and safe feeling of not having the difficult conversations. Of not correcting people when they say something racist or ignorant. And then doing that with love, as Desiree suggested: “Accountability with care.”
Desiree talked about loving her community more than she hates racism. For me, part of what I’m willing to give up is the comfort of the tribe within some of my community circles in order to foster honesty and love for all without any guarantee I’ll be accepted by all. To continue to share that steadfast integrity that took me away from the Church as a young person (and to continue to dismantle what’s been systemically ingrained into me). I was willing to float out in the cosmos then, I’m willing to float out in the cosmos now. Though I suspect, as I have a blindingly bright community of women, I won’t be floating too much. I’m not even close to alone this time.
And when we ask, “What are we willing to lose so that our sisters can gain,” I think we also should consider: “What are we going to gain when we give up what we give up so that our sisters can gain?” I feel we will gain something far more profound than what we give up. Not that we need incentive to do this work. But it’s there. Because we’re just changing the world is all (and when I say “we” I mean people of color leading the way — because everyone benefits from that, whereas if it’s white women trying to lead the way, we don’t have the ingrained experience of oppression to know the exact spots that need to heal). Giving up the old systems that kept white people feeling the illusion of power. Healing.
I have some questions, like how do we use anger as fuel in the best way? And how do we learn to trust each other? As we’ve been afraid of each other due to how we’ve been socialized and centuries of oppression. I guess we start talking about it more. And stop talking. (As was also discussed on the call.) Listening. Compassion. The word “compassion” keeps coming back to me. But not expecting compassion from others. Taking care of ourselves with compassion so we are fed and ready.
And I’ll have more questions. And I pray for the strength to ask. But I see a glimmer of hope — the door that was built between women of color and white women by the patriarchy is cracked open, and I hope we can all see at least a sliver of light there. Because the truth is, together we are powerful as can be. Powerful enough to heal and thrive together. The truth is NOT what we’ve been socialized to believe. The truth is deeper and it lies in our shared traumas and joys — whether or not we know each other personally.
And of course it's not just about white people and people of color. It's also about classes and disabilities and LGBTQ people for lack of a better acronym and any number of mixtures therein. It behooves the patriarchy that we stay separate. I read a great piece today including a bit about "check your privilege," which said when you hear that, look down your ladder of privilege toward the chute where someone else might be at a disadvantage or marginalized and see where you can extend a hand and help.
Just because the hegemonic patriarchal systems that be say “You are separate” doesn’t mean it’s spiritually true. Yeah, there’s a lot of pain there. But just like women always do, we’ll figure it the hell out together and move this ship forward. And that’s going to light up the whole sky. I don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves, but it’s a future I want. And yet, it doesn’t matter what kind of future I want (except for any usefulness the heft of my intentions might hold). So I’ll listen and see what I can help tear down and where I can help build.
“Dear Sister(not just cister),
“At the center of liberation is love. Love of self, love of others, love of community, love of humanity.” Desiree Lynn Adaway
I have been reflecting additionally on the super moon we had last Wednesday. The end of the 1999-2000 cycle. And what I also realized is I have so much light around me these days it’s not even funny. When I lost my mom in 1999 it felt dark. I mean, I had my family and that was a bright spot. As were music, friends, etc. But everything felt so cold. So now that I’m facing my father going into palliative care (this happened yesterday) I feel so much light around me. I feel grace around me. And when I feel into the grace I think: Oh, that’s my mom. I feel her around helping.
I have forged so many light-filled friendships over the years with intention that I feel very held by that. And Sandy Walsh — who is an amazing massage therapist and lightworker of amazing proportions — was talking to me today about ushering in the new earth and how self-care and finding the light within that bolsters us, and by default, others, is the work.
Here we are, all connected and stuff. That wasn’t the case for me in 1999-2000. I remember it was a point of pride, actually (because I needed something to feel proud about), that I was not in a relationship at the time. I remember standing at my mother’s funeral, between my siblings (so not really alone, but not paired, for sure), and thinking: “Look at how strong I am. Standing here alone, not in a relationship, at my mother’s funeral, and dealing with it.” My ex and I had broken up a few months earlier but had been together for four years, so it was new. It felt clear, to be sure, but it also felt dark.
This time feels lighter. I’ll see how I feel when I get down there tomorrow and visit my dad. My sister called to say I should probably come sooner than I had originally planned (two weeks from now) if I want to have a somewhat lucid conversation with him. She said when he was sleeping his face looked slack and not good. And that he’s lost about thirty pounds since my niece’s wedding in September. He is out of the hospital, which is great, but he’s declined a lot even in the past week, my sisters have said.
So I’ll drive down to New Jersey tomorrow with Brent. We’ll stay at the Residence Inn as we always do. Still deciding whether to bring Oliver. I’ll see my sisters and my dad. These are all the smaller logistics-type things that will be fine.
And then I’ll see how it is to see him and I’ll do or feel what needs to be done or felt. And in the bigger sense, for now, I feel grace, and my mother, and light. And I’m repeating myself because I’m luxuriating in that difference from the last time my parent began to slip away.
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
• More details about my writing here.