Friday, March 17, 2017

Why Take Our Recovery to Work

I’ve been writing about “taking recovery to work” for several months now. This morning in my quiet time I found myself—again—praying about a situation in my workplace, and I thought, “Hmmm, I don’t hear a lot of people talking about this.”

We do hear recovering people talk about resentments that kick up at work, or jobs they got or jobs they lost. Sponsees call me when they want a new job or maybe about money worries connected to their ability to earn. And we also hear a lot of joking about work, “Boy, I would love to say XYZ to my boss.” Etc.

But why is it we don’t –often enough—bring our recovery to work?

Early in recovery we focus recovery on our physical health—“help me to stop using/bingeing/drinking/smoking. And then, soon after we start to apply recovery principles to our relationships—the most urgent ones first: our partner, our kids, our ex-partners, and then maybe to other relatives and then to friendships too.

We, if we are lucky and diligent, see the patterns in our own behavior. And we know, when we face our role in those relationships, that we cannot do it alone. We need to have the help of a loving sponsor and maybe a small group of dedicated recovering friends. Folks who will not enable us.

But, it seems, bringing this same focus on ourselves and with recovery principles, to who we are at work comes very late if at all. You may have thought, as I have at times, listening to an old-timer in recovery—speaking truth, humility, love and gratitude—“I could never be that person’s coworker”, as they reveal how opposite all of that they are in the workplace. 

So what’s going on? Maybe it is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: we take care of ourselves, then partners, then kids, then social life first. Or maybe we imagine that work falls into some other category, or that people at work are outside recovery? But can that really be?

I think bringing a focus to recovery at work is crucial if only for the simple, self-serving reason that work is where we spend most of our time, and where so much of our stress comes from.

Now, to be clear, I don’t write about recovery at work because I have it figured out. Nope. I don’t have answers as much as I have questions. And because even with 32 years in Twelve-step programs I am still baffled on many days and genuinely tortured on some.

I try to sort out what recovery suggests to me as an employee, as a boss and supervisor, as a colleague, and as a team member, and what does recovery mean when I am successful and also when I am unsuccessful, and when things at work are fair or unfair? And would I know the truth of that with out deep recovery work?

So please join me in this. Ask questions, make suggestions and please share ways that you bring your recovery principles and practices to your workplace.

Read more about long-term recovery in "Out of the Woods--A Woman's Guide to Long-term Recovery". Published by Central Recovery Press.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

What They Read When AA Began--Oswald Chambers

It’s often a shock when people in recovery realize that the early members of AA did not have the Twelve Steps and The Big Book. We sometimes take for granted that the language we speak in recovery today must have been the mother tongue of the recovery movement but it was not.

We know from our Alcoholics Anonymous history books that the first guidelines presented to guide personal change were the six steps of The Oxford Group, which was the organization that gave birth to AA. This was the basis used as Bill and Bob began to form the new organization, and the Big Book—initially intended as the first business venture of the new organization.

 (You may recall that Bill was selling stock in AA before the others were able to rein in the natural instincts of Bill the stockbroker and dealmaker. Thank Goodness for Doctor Bob and his insistence on anonymity and humility.)

So, what did those earliest members read and study? Primarily the Christian Bible, and the writings of Christian theologians and preachers,. They also read, almost a counter balance, the works of psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Today we know that so many of the practices and directives that we live and prescribe,  are from Jung.

But the “big” book that all of the early Oxford Group members, and early AA’s,  read was a daily devotional called, “My Utmost for His Highest,” by Oswald Chambers. This small blue book is still available and can be found in l recovery bookstores, and, interestingly, in every bedroom at The Wilson House –Bill Wilson’s birthplace and recovery retreat center in East Dorset, Vermont.

Oswald Chambers was an evangelical minister, writer, teacher and World War I chaplain. His small book promoted surrender, faith, trusting God with your life, and daily practices of private prayer and meditation. The Oxford Group in Europe found him and his book, “My Utmost for His Highest” became their daily reading, hence becoming daily reading for the early AA’s.

The osmosis of Chambers powerful messages fed the development of language and literature through The Oxford Group and then into the next generation of evangelical advocates who worked with “drunks and drinkers.” From them it came into the language and habits of today’s Alcoholics Anonymous—and from there into all those groups that end with an “A”—OA, NA, DA, etc.

What did Chambers ultimately contribute to our recovery movement? He gave us much of our practices and thinking around how to know God’s will, and how to understand God in your life, though today we substitute “Higher Power” for the word “God”. 

Chambers also promoted “The Quiet Time” for his followers—that is, daily, private prayer and meditation.  Chambers also wrote about “the fellowship of the Sprit” --not the kind of social fellowship we speak of today, but as an internal way of being with the Holy Spirit of God. But his language transcended to our use today. 

I came back to Chambers recently and his “My Utmost for His Highest” because of a powerful new memoir written by Macy Halford and published by Knopf this year. Halford, a writer for the New Yorker, was raised in an evangelical home in Texas where her family read “My Utmost” daily and kept those practices.

 In her memoir, "My Utmost", Halford explores what it means to have that kind of early evangelical upbringing, and what it means to leave it, questioning whether and what has been left with her and the value of those pieces of faith she keeps today. Her writing is beautiful, and she shows us how to explore whatever religion we met as a child and how to make sense of that as an adult.

In a quote from Chambers that closes Macy Halford’s memoir you will feel the rhythmic echo of page 164 of our Big Book, where we read, “Abandon yourself to God…clear away the wreckage of your past..” 

So many years before our book, Oswald Chambers wrote to his followers:

 “Leave the Irreparable Past in His hands, and step into the Irresistible Future with him.”

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Our Deepest Wounds

“Our deepest wounds are the lens through which we see the world.”

I wrote that in my journal on June 5th 1994. I was working through yet another layer of healing. Recovery has been layer after layer. There have been many AHa! moments, and
also many sad but happy days of realizing that as wounds are revealed so are layers of distorted thinking.

My wounds were old and deep, and as my friend Susan tells me, “You came by these honestly.” But for a long time I had no idea how much those wounds were running my life, and how thoroughly—almost elegantly, they distorted what I saw and heard and believed. And yes, even now too.

We can’t get there any faster than we get there.

Last year, when I was writing, “Never Leave Your Dead” my book about military trauma, I had the chance to spend time with—and learn from—William P. Nash, MD, who is the Director of Psychological Health for the United States Marine Corps. One of the things that Bill told me is this:

“One of the most ancient principles of medicine is this: ‘Where the tenderness is the greatest is also where the injury is worst.”

It is true of our emotions and our soul as well. Our wounds shape us, and our pain helps to diagnose our injuries, and to prescribe the healing experiences that we need.

More on trauma and injury in my new book: "Never Leave Your Dead" published by Central Recovery Press.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Recovery As a Rule of Life

Long ago, back in the 5th century, monks began to live and worship together in communities. They were called Monastic Orders and they followed various schools of thought on how to live a spiritual life. They called their plans, or sets of instructions, a “Rule of Life”.

A monastery’s “rule” organized the monk’s daily life and it dictated times for prayer, for meditation, for gathering together as a community, for meals and for how to behave during meals etc. The monastic rule of each Order also dictated how the monks should behave with each other. 

Some of those early rules have come down to us in church and spiritual practices. For
example we know the Benedictine Rule—from Saint Benedict—and the Ignation Rule from Saint Ignatius. Some of the spiritual practices that recovering people use today are taught to us on retreats or by a spiritual director and they come from these ancient rules of life.

Recently I have been reading Margaret Guenther’s book, “A Home in the World” which is about how to make spirituality a part of daily life and I now see that recovery—via Twelve-step programs—is itself one of the finest rules for life. Our steps and our traditions offer guidance on prayer, meditation, community life and a tradition of sponsorship and teaching. We jokingly say these are “suggestions” and they are, in the same way that the early monks received suggestions to pray five times each day. 

Over time in recovery we incorporate these practices into our recovering lives. We also follow the suggestions to improve our relationship with God or a Higher Power. The reminder that this program of ours is ultimately about a spiritual way is noted in our Twelfth Step, which reminds us that the previous eleven steps are intended to result in a “spiritual awakening”. The steps are not to get us abstinent or sober but rather to get us to God. But sometimes we miss that point.

It makes sense that we have ancient roots. Our 12 steps come from the six steps of the Oxford Group—the spiritual tradition that enabled Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob to get sober.  We sometimes forget that Bill and Bob got sober through the Oxford Group—not in AA. There was no AA when they first got sober. It was after their recovery began that they adapted those six Oxford steps to be more inclusive—and more palatable—to men and women of wider faith. 

There is something lovely in realizing that we in Twelve Step recovery share a tradition that monks lived by ages ago. It is a rule of life costing not less than everything.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Are You Addicted to Technology?

Are you a “technoholic”? Ask yourself these questions:

Is your reliance on technology increasing?
Do you experience withdrawal when not using your phone or tablet?
Have you ever/never taken a break from your phone or social media?
Have you given up people or activities because your time is spent on a device/social media?
Have you ever lied about the extent of your Internet use?
Have you ever pretended you are working when you are actually using social media/Internet shopping etc?

Did any of those questions make you even the teeniest bit uncomfortable?

I understand. The Internet and social media, which started out as fun or convenience, have taken over our lives. Those of us who have other addictions may see a new additive pattern developing and may have additional concerns when it comes to our devices.

Those of us in recovery from drugs or alcohol or food may have tested ourselves years ago on the diagnostic Twenty Questions similar to those above and it began a process of puncturing our denial.

And now this. Yes, technology can affect us just like a substance: it masks feelings, interferes with relationships, and can even affect our physical health by disrupting sleep or keeping us from exercise.

Don’t you hate this? We gave up so much and have done so many recoveries, and now my phone and fun too? Well, yes…especially if it is preventing your happiness, peace or good health.

A great new book has been my guide to taking a closer look at “technoholism”. “The Power of Off” by Nancy Colier has inspired me to take a look at the place of technology and social media in my life.

What is especially helpful is that Colier does not suggest giving up social media or any devices rather her approach is about mindfulness while making choices about time and technology. The tagline for her book says, “The mindful way to stay sane in a virtual world.”

Most of us who are committed to recovery want a holistic recovery: substances, food, money and behaviors. Here is a gentle way to look at how we can approach technology in a very sober, recovered life.

Read more about all-emcompassing recovery in "Out of the Woods" published by Central Recovery Press. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Those Who Simply Help

An image kept coming to me this week and I didn’t know why. When I Goggled the incident  that I kept remembering it turned out that it was an anniversary.

Years ago I lived in Washington, DC. I was there on the cold January day in 1982 when the Air Florida flight crashed on take off from National Airport, not far from The White House, and clipped the bridge before it hit the water dragging cars from the bridge into the freezing Potomac River along with many passengers from the plane.

That terrible day many of us watched the local TV news footage over and over and over. The TV crews were right there as it happened and you could see cars on the bridge and in the water.  People all over the DC Metro Area were looking at the TV reports for hours and studying the film and trying to identify the color and make of their loved ones cars. It was rush hour and everyone was late getting home from work. Were they on the bridge? In the water? Hurt? There were no cell phones. The desperation was terrible.

But the other piece of TV news film I saw hundreds of times in that week was the “rescue” of Patricia Triado by Lenny Skutnick. I will always know their names. A police rescue plane was trying to get Triado out of the water—the Potomac River—but in the cold and hypothermia she could not hold onto the life ring the plane dangled over her and she kept slipping and slipping…as TV viewers we watched over and over as this frozen terrified woman try to hold on and then slipped away. 

What the film catches—almost in the background --is a man walking toward the crash...he one of the many bystanders. But this man is walking toward the riverbank and we can see him as he sees Patricia Triado slip again and again back into the freezing water. The incredible thing is that the man does not pause, there is no hesitation, no calculation. This man who is moving toward the river sees (the video is so good that we can see him seeing) and he begins to run to the water and jumps in and begins to swim to her. He gets her and is trying to pull her to shore…now he is quickly freezing and paralyzed too but he is able to get her in reach of other rescuers who have been on the shore the whole time.

Lenny Skutnik never hesitated. He saw her struggle and he moved into the water.

Later we learned that Patricia Triado lost her husband and baby in that plane crash. The survival must have been awful for her. Would she always wish she had fallen from the rescue ring and died with her family?

The image of Lenny Skutnick simply moving toward Patricia Triado without thought or calculation stays with me. This week, seeing a family near me struggle with grief, and trying to be of some help, also triggered the image of Lenny. I want to be someone who doesn’t say, “Looks like she needs help" but who simply moves forward, even if the water is too cold.

***More on service and how life changes in recovery in the book, "Out of the Woods" published by Central Recovery Press. 

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Prayer & Meditation, but How?

We get lots of advice on how to work the Eleventh Step. 

Those of us who grew up in a faith tradition had the preliminaries of prayer. Maybe we knew how to say grace at dinner, or a bedtime prayer from childhood, or if we had religious training we knew about the Christian prayer formula: ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. Something like, “I love you God, and I did some bad stuff, but I’m also grateful for a lot of stuff, and here’s what I need today.” Friends who grew up in Muslim or Jewish families learned lots of prayers as well.

But meditation? Not so much. We were told to be quiet in church or temple, and maybe we were shown icons or religious symbols to focus on, but did anyone actually teach meditation?

Then we join a Twelve Step program and doing meditation is strongly encouraged. So we try. We sit down and think about nothing. Ha! Most of us are off that chair or pillow in less than a minute. How, exactly how, is this medication thing supposed to work?

Yes you can get an ap for your phone. But still…it’s the being still that is the hard part.

But this week I read a new book that breaks down the entire why and how and when. The book is called “The Mind Illuminated” By Culadasa (also known as John Yates, PhD.) The unique aspect of this treatise on meditation is that it brings Buddhist meditation and neuroscience together—so its got the best of the ancient and the most modern thinking and concepts. 

This is a book to read from front-to-back if you are that kind of learner, or one to scan for the parts you need: where to meditate and what is a mantra? Etc.

If you want to have a very direct experience of these principles and this teacher, Dr Yates will be doing a workshop at the NYC Insight Meditation Center on January 20 to 22nd. 28 West 27th Street.  It’s a weekend workshop, so contact them to sign up. He will also be speaking/signing in Beacon, NY on Sunday January 29th 2:30 pm at BeBhakti Yoga, 89 DeWindt Street.