Monday, September 26, 2016

Faith & Fear

Here is another AA heresy. One of the platitudes in AA is that “faith and fear cannot occupy the same place.” But it’s not true. We do people a disservice when we say that. 

People of faith also have fear.
Moses had fear in the desert.
Daniel had fear in the lion’s den.
Jesus had awful fear; he sweated blood at Gethsemane.

Faith is not the absence of fear. Faith is doing the next sober thing even while feeling terrible, awful fear.

Lots more on faith and fear in "Out of the Woods--A Guide to Long-term Recovery" published by Central Recovery Press.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Shopping for Clothes--Passion or Addiction?

More than two hundred years ago the poet, William Wordsworth, wrote, “The world is too much with us; getting and spending we lay waste our powers.” 

Many women in long-term recovery would agree with him. Long after we gave up the drink or pills or food we are still –maybe secretly—struggling with too many trips to the mall or late night online shopping carts--and painfully joking that, “My name is Diane and I am a
shoe addict.”

Yes, it may be true that no one dies from a shoe overdose but it’s also true that we are not “happy, joyous and free” when we are ashamed or afraid because of our money or shopping issues.

This time of year is a delight for those who love clothes, and maybe a minefield of triggers for those who over spend or who are still crafting an identity in recovery. The fall fashion magazines are fat with dreams and danger, and they, of course, luring us to shop.

In “Out of the Woods”, my book for women in long-term recovery, I write about clothes, and shoes and even how some women may use/overuse cosmetics in recovery. It’s light-hearted but also deadly serious. As our growth continues it can be easy to switch from a chemical addiction to a behavioral one. It’s all about our motives, and honesty, and self-care and how crucial it is to keep talking to other women in recovery.

(Yes, I too have spent time in a meeting checking out another woman’s clothes instead of listening to the speaker’s message.) 

I love clothes and that is no longer something I feel shame about. Style and fashion are art forms and passions, and like any other passion they have an exciting, enriching side and also a dark, worrisome side.  We need to have ongoing vigilance about all parts of our lives and that can mean both emotional and sartorial inventories. 

Shopping and clothing are women’s issues and that means they are issues for women in recovery as well. We are all included—my sisters who shop too much, and those who fear the mall and the mirror as well. The good news is that if we talk about it we can laugh and heal at the same time.


Sunday, September 04, 2016

Yoga and Recovery

Throughout my years of recovery I have always had a physical practice: I jogged, danced, swam, did aerobics and I walked, and walked and walked. I grew up doing yoga—My mother was a Lilias fan (the television yoga teacher) and we did yoga on the living room floor after school.

So it took me years to discover/rediscover yoga within my recovery. I mean, I had to let go of that old home-grown stuff right? Except that my mother, in addition to her Dexedrine habit, had a yoga habit too. (Yes, life and recovery have a lot of gray, and a lot of contradictions.) 

So I walked away and then I came back. 

I came back to yoga at about my 4th year of recovery. My friend Hilary was taking yoga
classes in our Baltimore, Maryland neighborhood and invited me. I went along and had some big surprises. This yoga teacher—Josephine—was doing some things that I had not seen before: she stopped after every couple of postures and invited us to close our eyes and “go inside”. Yikes—I was great at balance and stretch and the choreography but not so good at the “go inside” part. Yes, early recovery.

But on those Thursday nights I slept better and Fridays at work were always good, and when I went to therapy I talked about what I saw and heard when did “go inside” at yoga class.

Our yoga teacher would occasionally cancel her class to go to the Berkshires to study with her teacher. And that was news too—that yoga teachers had teachers, just like therapists had supervisors. It made sense. And when Josephine came back to Baltimore, each time she was a better teacher and our classes went deeper and there were new things to learn and try.

Flash forward thirty years. I learned that the place in the Berkshires was the Kripalu Yoga Center. I moved to Albany, New York and discovered that Kripalu Center was just a short drive away. I began to go there as a tourist—for classes and workshops and retreats. I loved it, and the yoga of years before, and the newer practice began to click.

Then this year I took a big—seemingly confusing—but inevitable step—I signed up for Yoga Teacher Training at Kripalu. And after nine incredible, scary, revealing, challenging and invigorating weeks I received my certification as a Registered Yoga Teacher.

I never saw that coming, just as I never saw a happy marriage coming, or a career that includes managing a nonprofit and writing three books, and three blogs. That’s the beauty of recovery, and a little bit of what we mean when we say, “Don’t leave before the miracle happens.” 

And now yoga is a central part of my recovery, and day-by-day they are integrated.

I see all the beautiful pictures that yogi’s post of elegant, elastic poses in nature—images on
the beach in tights and tanks, and balancing on one foot. And they do inspire me. But today I know that my truly powerful yoga poses are the pictures of me in a dress and blazer, balancing work and writing, and being stretched between marriage and the podium. That’s where I see the deepest results of my yoga—not on the mat, but deeply engaged in a teetering, challenging life. And I am so grateful.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Forgiveness--Letting Go of Revenge

It’s just so tempting to want revenge. Whether a supposed friend hurt you, or a partner cheated on you, or a coworker undermined your work—you want to get even. Betrayal is the
most awful feeling, and the thoughts and fantasies of revenge can indeed feel so sweet.
Certainly those initial thoughts of revenge may even be a little bit healthy. (I’m always suspicious of someone who forgives too soon, or who gets all gooey and spiritual the same day they get their butt kicked—I mean you gotta get mad first.) But that sweetness can become toxic after a while and that toxicity will end up hurting you much more than the one who caused the hurt.
In AA we learn a lot about the downside of holding onto grievances even as we hope to be forgiven for the things we did. (Yes, bumper sticker: “We are Not Saints”.)
When I get really stuck I go to a favorite book called, “How Can I Forgive You?” by Janis Abraham Spring, and read the questions that include:
*What am I really after? His destruction or my peace?
*Does it matter what happens to her so long as I restore my self-esteem and my good life?
*If he/she won’t acknowledge my pain, where else can I go for comfort and support?
And then I do a double batch of prayer and reading, and reading and prayer.
 Here is just one of the great things I’ve read this week on the topic of forgiveness: “Forgiveness is letting go of all hope for a better past.” –that’s from novelist Gina Berriault.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Two Roads Diverged…How Do We Discern?

You know the Robert Frost poem about the two roads. Often the poem is taught as if Frost meant to encourage the alternative path in life, even though he clearly says, “the passing there had worn them really about the same.”

Frost tells us that we have choices, and that we do wonder how it will look to us later, and that, yes; we will “look back with a sigh.” But how do we know which path to take? How, in our recovering lives do we discern—which means to choose between goods? How, as we come out of the woods with choices so luxurious once we are no longer using, how do we make our choices?

I like to remember this passage from Isaiah 30:21:
“And you will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the path. Walk ye in it.”

 That is why we have to get quiet at some point every day, or maybe more than once a day. That is why we need time alone, and time in nature. That is why we have to get still and quiet: so we can hear that voice saying, “This is the path. Walk ye in it.”

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Recovery Goes on Vacation

Well, of course recovery never really goes on 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 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 vacationing that the car ride and the airport and the
taxi rides were awful—for me and everyone around me. I wanted to get to the vacation place because I thought my adventure would begin then and there but that’s not true. Listen to the stories people tell about great trips…it includes the taxi and the airport and the train station and …

When I shifted my attitude—and it wasn’t easy at first—to say to myself, “This too is part of the vacation adventure”, then it became true and I began to have more fun. And then I could look for the good parts of that delayed plane and the weird taxi driver and the odd meal.

But the other reason that vacations get better with longer recovery is that 12 step meetings offer us an amazing resource: we have contacts in every city in the world.  People in twelve-step programs have instant travel assistance and access to great tourist advice anywhere we go.

Over the years I have been to meetings all over the United States and in France, Germany, Poland, Italy, England, Spain, 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. We also learn that twelve-step principles always prevail regardless of location, politics or language.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Baseball as a Spiritual Practice

Sports, like religion, offer these consolations: A diversion from the routine of daily life; a model of coherence and clarity; a heroic example to admire and emulate, and a sense of drama and conflict in which nobody dies.  

In baseball we begin and end at home.  Home plate is not fourth base. Home is a concept
rather than a place. Our goal in this game is to get home and be safe. Home implies safety, accessibility, freedom, comfort. It’s where we learn to be both part of and separate.  The object in baseball is to go home, and to be safe. 

When a runner charges home we lean forward hoping to see the home plate umpire slash his arms downward signaling that the runner who may have crashed onto the ground in, in fact, safe. Isn’t that what we all want? I do. In my daily life I want whatever is bigger than me to see how fast I run, and how precariously I slide, and to say boldly, “She’s safe!”  

Those who believe, whose faith is strong, accept that umpire/God at his gesture and stand up relieved. Some, like me, despite wanting it still struggle to trust. I have --over and over-- sensed that “safe” signal, but I am often still unsure. It’s as if I go back and run the bases again, skidding and scuffing. Again he signals, “Safe!” but again I go to bat.

What baseball offers that life does not is the agreement that we will believe it when we are told that we are home and that we really are safe.