Four days. Five national parks. 1400 miles. Utah.
I shared in an earlier episode that my son and I did a road trip this fall through Utah.
During our trip, we listened to Edward Abbey’s book, “Desert Solitaire.” After all, it is Abbey’s Country. Abbey can be a little crusty. Sort of a curmudgeon. My son and I were remarking that his suggestion that they limit entrance to the national parks to walkers, bicycles, horses, and pigs was stupid. We got it. He wrote his book in the 60’s when cars were becoming ubiquitous. He worried about the damage that automobiles would cause to the wilderness. Note: Most national parks use Entrance Reservations and shuttle buses to lessen the impact of people on the park. Abbey introduced us to the desert mice, the solitude of Arches National Park, the snakes, the trees, the flowers, and the uranium prospectors of the 50’s and 60’s of southeastern Utah.
Something jumped out at me in the first chapter that I had missed in previous readings. We had been listening to it on Audible. After a cup of coffee, on one of the cold high desert mornings, Abbey announced that he was going to go into his little ranger trailer and write a letter to himself.
The Lost Art of Letter Writing
When was the last time you wrote a letter? Not an email but a handwritten letter. I wrote and typed a few to my sons for Christmas several years ago. During my time in the Air Force, I was stationed at Ozan Air Base for about two years. It was 1976 to 1978. No cell phones. No email, not yet. I had just gotten married to my first wife; I wrote to her and my parents almost every week. I didn’t speak to them for nearly 2 years. Imagine that. Mom and Dad both wrote. I could hear their voices as I read those letters.
I’ve been reading a book about Herman Hesse, and his relationship with Carl Jung. They maintained their relationship with letters. The author of the book, Miguel Serrano maintained his relationship with Jung and Hesse with letters, mostly hand written.
Maybe it’s time to resurrect the art of letter writing. And maybe the place to start is writing a letter to yourself, your true self.
Abbey stepped into the little ranger trailer in the middle of Arches National Park to write a letter to himself, or as Carl Jung would say to his true self. People write letters to stay connected. People write letters to provide advice, help solve problems, and even to give hope and inspiration. They are called epistles in the Christian Scriptures. They are love letters and yes, Dear John letters, for breaking up.
What would a letter to your true self look like?
Writing a love letter to yourself would include sharing how you’re doing. It would include bearing your soul, sharing your struggles, avoiding the pretension and phoniness that you project out in the world, your persona. Letters to your true self would contain your dreams, your prayers, and also your frustrations, failures, and sorrows. And then your struggles and questions about all of those things. And after you’ve written a letter to your true self, maybe you can answer it by having your true self send you a letter. You open your heart and your mind, your conscious, and let the return letter flow to you from your true self.
We’ve been talking about breaking up with food and staying broke up. For some of you, it’s about learning to maintain a healthy weight, stepping away from alcohol, or like me, you’re trying to prepare for the last 10 years of your life. Breaking up with food is a struggle for you. But for some of you, breaking up with food is a life and death fight to avoid Type 2 Diabetes, the loss of mobility, heart disease, and even premature death.
Maybe your breakup is with alcohol.
I’ve struggled these past nine or 10 months with breaking up with alcohol. Don’t get me wrong. I follow the National Institute of Health guidelines for drinking 1 to 2 drinks if daily, three drinks, if less than daily. But I’ve looked at the effects of alcohol on my judgment. I haven’t decided to abstain from alcohol, but I am looking into ways of moderating my drinking. I’m in the middle of sober October as I write this. Maybe writing a letter to my true self would help settle it once and for all.
Sample letter to my true self about breaking up with food:
Dear True Self,
I know it’s been a while since I last wrote. It’s hard to find a time. But now I need your help. Maybe I’ve neglected asking for help because I have this pride that keeps me from asking for help. You know me, I think I can solve my problems by myself, I don’t need anyone. But you know that’s not true. I want to be kind. I want to be wise. I want to be strong. But I do things that I think could threaten my well-being. What are those? Things like alcohol. You know I don’t abuse alcohol. But I think I need to get it completely out of my life or at least learn how to moderate it. I go back-and-forth on and off again, mostly on. I need help. I need clarity. I need strength. I need your help. Hope to hear from you soon.
It was so good to hear from you. I know you struggle. We all struggle. Life is difficult. I know you’ve made mistakes. You’re human, I know you care about the people in your life. And I know you want to be strong, both mentally and physically. Think about a few things when it comes to alcohol. Why do you want to drink. I know you’ve developed a routine around alcohol. You typically drink from 5 to 7 PM. I know. And it’s become a way to relax. You feel bored. You feel anxious. You feel spent. And then you drink. It’s the same with food. Maybe pushing through those times would help. Maybe it’s time to be honest with yourself. Maybe it’s time to love yourself. I wonder what you would say to a friend or family member or client if they came to you with a struggle and wanted to quit drinking alcohol. Wouldn’t you want to know why? I think you would avoid giving advice. I think you would help them sort through the reasons, maybe get to the root of their desire to quit. So, I want you to stop and think. I think you struggle with quitting because alcohol is a much bigger part of your life then you’re willing to admit. I think you struggle because you don’t want to lose the relationship that you have with alcohol. You know what it does for you. And I think you struggle because it embarrasses you to admit that you have a problem with it, that you don’t have the willpower over it. It’s time to admit that you really enjoy something that is potentially harmful to you, both physically and mentally. Maybe that’s the place to start. I have more to say. Respond back with your feedback on my thoughts.
Your True Self
And now, maybe it’s time to write that Dear John letter.
Maybe it’s time to write that letter to food and break up with it once and for all. Be honest. The relationship that you have with it is killing you or maybe at best leading to some chronic problems that might not be life-threatening but will control your life for the rest of your life.
Go ahead and vent about that relationship with food. Tell food that it’s not your friend. Not anymore. And that you’re not going to depend on it for your emotional well-being. You’re not going to see it as a source of pleasure, because it’s killing you.
Write a letter to food, break up with it, and then find new relationships that will promote health and well-being in your life.
| To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.