Monday, October 01, 2018

Black Out Drinking--What it is and What It Isn't

So, there's been a lot of conversation and media discussion about drinking this week: What is youthful drinking versus alcohol abuse versus alcoholism.

A question that comes up over and over is about drinking and memory loss--and from there to black out drinking.

Folks in recovery know what this is--even if our drinking experience never took us there, we know from listening to our comrades in the rooms that people can do all kinds of things in a black out and have some, little or no recall.

Today I read this great article explaining what black out drinking is--and what it isn't. I was surprised
to see that--after I posted Hepola's article on Facebook--how many people thought that a "black out" was the same as passing out or going to sleep. Not at all!

Thanks to The New York Times and to Sarah Hepola author of the powerful memoir, "Black Out".

Here's the link:

For more on drinking, alcoholism and recovery check out my book, "Out of the Woods" published by Central Recovery Press:

Saturday, September 22, 2018

You Have to Learn Their Language--Nelson Mandela on Robben Island

Last week I was a guest on the island of Nantucket, in Massachusetts. I was participating in a program called The Nantucket Project (TNP) which brings together people of differing backgrounds and points of view and creates a “container” of sorts—physical, emotional and spiritual—in which people can talk about their commonalities rather than differences.

Many of us are trying to attempt this kind of communication now—all of us who are fed up with the anger and blame and harsh judgments that we witness and experience on social media.

The Nantucket Project (TNP) is like a high-end version of Quaker meeting, or maybe, more familiar, it is like what those of us in recovery understand from conversations in our fellowship.

Several times during my four days on Nantucket I sensed that TNP was replicating the deep conversations that people in recovery have the luxury of experiencing regularly, because our traditions and guidelines help us to care about each other through our differences. And it is a gift.

One of the speakers I heard on Nantucket last week was Ndabe Mandela, the grandson of Nelson Mandela. Ndabe was a boy when he came to live with his grandfather and he began to learn the ways—both fierce and compassionate—of being in the world and being a man.

Ndabe Mandela told the audience the story of Nelson Mandela’s time as a prisoner on Robben Island. Mandela was there for 27 years in isolation--cold, hungry, aching and aging. He knew that he would be there a long time—expecting to end his life imprisoned—and had every reason and expectation to be hateful and hated.

But what Nelson Mandela did was to become fluent in the Afrikaans language, the language that his guards and captors spoke. He taught himself to speak and read and write Afrikaans, and it happened that, over time, the guards—many of them less literate than Mandela—would come to him to have him read them their letters from home and have his help in writing back to their families.

As you can imagine, when you are reading another person’s correspondence and helping them sort out their family situations, it is a very intimate experience. You quickly find your shared humanity as you discuss another person’s children or in-laws or marriage or money. Mandela quickly cared for his captors and they in turn, for him.

This was an enormous frustration for the prison managers who wanted Mandela to suffer and to feel isolation. The detail of guards surrounding Mandela had to be changed every three months because they would—each time—begin to care for the old man, and when they cared they would start to bring a little extra food, or extra blanket etc.

And so, his conditions, which were intended to be quite harsh, kept improving much to the consternation of the wardens.

What was so striking to me about this story was that change came about because Nelson Mandela learned the language of his captors.

Relationships were forever changed because he made the effort to change toward them without an expectation of them changing toward him.

The take away is this:
Wherever we have conflict in our lives, wherever we are insisting on our rightness, that is when we have to learn the other person’s language and they (any “they”) do not have to learn ours.

Monday, September 03, 2018

Roots and Wings--Parenting Wisdom in Recovery

As a woman in long recovery I have a “before and after” story of how parenting relates to my recovery. I was a step parent before I found twelve-step programs—thank goodness for Steps 6 to 9--and I was a step-parent again after years of recovery—and therapy. And so, I got to see how working a program of recovery affects everyone in a family.

Parenting is hard--no-matter-what--but the difference was startling. 

In Dan Mager’s new book, “Roots and Wings—Mindful Parenting in Recovery” I see so much that I wish I knew back then. I’m also so moved that we are now including this work to recognize that being a recovering parent is also part of “In all our affairs.”

Dan’s book is a gem. It’s designed for parents in recovery, but it’s applicable to all of us. It’s helpful as we are learning about mindfulness, and it’s helpful to doing the “inner-child” work that comes with Alanon, ACOA or CODA recovery. 

I’ve also found that looking through the lens of Mager’s “Roots and Wings” that it can help us who are looking back to make peace with our past behaviors. And reading this book may be a very useful part of making an amend to parents. 

Mager is a social worker and psychotherapist, and he’s worked in a wide array of behavioral health and addiction treatment settings. He also has a helpful column at Psychology Today magazine—where he provides practical and very accessible ideas and tools for everyone trying to grow and change.

“Roots and Wings” is an excellent combination of theory and practical advice. Mager frames parenting as a form of service and shows us how that is a natural fit as we learn recovery as service as well. For many of us –especially in earlier recovery—we are learning to be parented (or re-parent ourselves) at the same time we are being parents to our children. Not an easy task but Mager’s wisdom and practical steps and stories are a hand’s-on guide to carry that out.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Sobriety on the Rocks

Well, sobriety on “the Rock” to be accurate. 

I’m just back from a wonderful vacation in Bermuda, and there were so many things that made this an especially great vacation and one of them was getting to AA meetings on “the rock”. The island of Bermuda is a great big rock sitting in warm, turquoise water—hence that nickname.

But of course, the folks there in recovery have fun with that. In fact, the annual recovery conference each year is called “Recovery on the Rock.” There are so many things I love about Bermuda that I am determined to go to that conference next year.

One of the many benefits we have in long recovery is our additional travel benefit—we have family and friends everywhere we go in the world. Just find an AA meeting, say, “HI, I’m visiting from XYZ….” and you’ll get travel tips, restaurant recommendations, invites to dinner and rides back to your hotel.

So, that happened in Bermuda too…and because it’s such an international spot –It’s British but visitors come from all over the world—for the beaches but also for the big draw—the re-insurance industry—so you learn a ton in the 59 minutes you are in a meeting.

The other big plus for a trip to Bermuda (No, I am not getting paid—I just love Bermuda) is that it’s so easy to get to. Unlike the Bahamas, Bermuda is only 2 hours from the east coast. That means you get a full beach day on day one and a beach day on your departure day as well.

And, thank you Mother Nature—Bermuda is 85 degrees every day, ten months of the year. So, warm water, big waves, great food…and wonderful, strong recovery—make a great sober vacation. 

Yep, it’s true that the booze flows fast on that island—the Dark & Stormy is a powerful drink. But I think there is a fierce kind of AA in places where drink is part of the culture. Las Vegas is like that too—fiercely powerful recovery and meetings 24/7.

So, our hotel was walking distance from St Paul’s Church in Paget—three meetings a day,
and one at “happy hour” so I got my fill of body surfing, seafood, sticky pudding, and powerful recovery messages every day.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

When Recovery Takes a Vacation

Well, of course recovery never really takes a vacation but recovering people do.

Going to meetings while traveling is one of the smartest things we can do. It’s not just that we get to stay sober or abstinent longer and better, but vacations get better the longer we are in recovery.

One advantage of vacation recovery is that we learn to stress less about the “stuff” of travel. One of the best pieces of vacation advice I ever received from a sponsor is that “The trip begins when you are packing.” I used to be so miserable all through the process of getting to the place where I was going to be having my vacation that the car ride and the airport and the hotel check-in were miserable--for me and everyone around me. I wanted to get to the vacation place because I thought that that’s when my adventure would begin. But that’s not true. Listen to the stories people tell about their favorite trips…it always includes the taxi and the airport and the jitney and …

So, I began to shift my attitude to say to myself, “This too is part of the vacation adventure”, then it became true and I began to have more fun.  I was then able to look for the good in the delayed flight, and the funny staff, and the weird taxi driver and the odd meal.

But the other reason that vacations get better as your recovery gets longer is that those of us in 12 step programs have an amazing resource that other travelers don’t have: We have helpful contacts in every city and town in the world.

One of the best kept secrets is that people in twelve-step programs have instant travel assistance and access to great tourist advice any where we go.

Over the years I have been to meetings all over the United States and in France, Germany, Poland, Italy, England, The Czech Republic and Bermuda. I've gotten directions, restaurant advice, suggestions on local sites, invites to performances, guidance on public transportation, sometimes rides and always smiles, encouragement and patience with the language barrier.

There is something so fun and smart about asking a new twelve-step group for suggestions about where to eat, what to do, the best way to drive to the next city etc. I’ve been tipped off to bargain shopping, fabulous inexpensive restaurants, and the places to avoid. We don’t need a guidebook to tell us where the locals eat or shop—we have local “family” that we can ask. This is where AA and AAA meet up and it is such a bonus. 

One of the coolest things that happened to me recently was on a trip to Chicago. I love Chicago—art, music, beach, river, architecture, shopping and the food! 

On my recent trip I checked the Chicago AA directory before I left home and, because it’s a big city, I put in the address of my hotel and clicked the button that said “One-mile distance to meetings” hoping to be able to walk to a few.

To my surprise there were several choices less than a mile from my hotel, and crazy surprise—when I looked closer, the address of the meetings was the very same address as my hotel! Was it possible?

Turns out it was true. When I arrived, I asked the concierge about the location of meetings and he directed me to a beautiful conference room on the lower level of the hotel where there was a daily AA meeting. Go figure, and Go Gratitude!

It also gives you just a clue about how big our fellowship is, and just how acceptable and normal it is to ask about AA just as you might ask where the nearest sushi place or nail salon might be.

When you travel with recovery you learn that twelve-step principles prevail regardless of location, politics or language.

Read more about long-term recovery in "Out of the Woods" published by Central Recovery Press:

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Balancing Work and Play in Recovery

I have to give myself this little reminder every day, ”Don’t miss summer.” That’s written on a sticky note in my calendar and in my very own voice on the micro recorder I use in my
car to track my “to-do” list as I drive.

Yes, perhaps you can see that Work is way ahead of Play in my life. I have an abundance of lists, reminders, recorders. It’s all about productivity. 

I’m looking more closely at that drive this year. I’ve finally come to see what others have seen: I work hard, I do a lot, and yes, I get a lot done. I neither defend or apologize for this part of me. I recognize that my super work ethic is a gift of recovery—and a consequence of the time before recovery. I’ve been making up for lost time for a long time.

I don’t regret the past—exactly. But I do wish I’d started writing earlier, and sending work out sooner, and getting published ages ago. Working hard at my career in nonprofits, and at my writing career brings me so much joy. 

There is a little bit of grief in this too. Back in the days before recovery, I was buried in both substances and in fear, and I couldn’t focus or dare, and couldn’t find what I now know to be my dharma.

But even in my hard-working, ultra-productivity, there is this voice in my ear this year that says: “Don’t miss summer.” 
Winters are long in Upstate New York, and my long recovery is stable. I can trust a day off now and then, or a weekend away, and I can trust that stepping away from my desk doesn’t mean that my writing will go down a ten-year rabbit hole as it did once long ago.

So, one gift of recovery is meeting my hard-working self, and the second gift is meeting that parallel part of me that I think can still learn to relax and play. And I want to do both of those this very summer.

Read more on making a life in long-term recovery in "Out of the Woods--A Guide to Long-term Recovery, published by Central Recovery Press.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Can We Talk About Alcoholism and Suicide?

Here's an important article from The Chicago Tribune inviting readers to at least be willing to open the conversation about alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide.

We are, and maybe rightfully so, careful in how we talk about people who have died. But celebrity also comes with responsibility. The public eye is in public. So, rather than whisper, some folks are talking about the role of alcohol in Anthony Bourdain's life and death.

Here's the article:

 I hope you will share it with others, and that you'll share your comments here too. We can't talk too much about addiction.