Thursday, August 27, 2020

Humility, Recovery and Self Care

This week it seemed like humility showed up everywhere: in my meetings and in conversations with people in recovery. Then it also showed up in non-recovery settings: in an article about management, and in a faith community publication, and finally in a tarot exercise that I was doing with a friend.

Well, that could only mean that I needed to pay attention to humility.

Luckily it’s a topic that crosses every stage of recovery. And our literature has a lot to offer. As we progress in recovery, and in our personal growth, we come to new layers of understanding of what humility means.

I remember in early recovery humility meant trying to not think about myself so much, and it was tied to uncovering the many episodes of self-centered fear. 

Then in a further stage of recovery I (mis)understood humility to mean not taking credit for anything or deflecting praise or compliments. “Oh, who me?” “Oh, this old rag?” 

It took my sponsor a long time to help me see that humility was not about being less than someone else (or pretending to be). And it was not about dropping my eyes or my head when I was with others. 

Later I came to understand that that kind of false humility is actually a kind of arrogance.

Like many things in recovery, the humility pendulum swings from “I’m  a big deal”  to  “I’m just nothing.”  Kind of like Goldilocks trying to find that “just right” chair.

Turns out that “just right” is humility. Humility from the word, hummus or earth: We walk on the earth not above it or below it. 

So this week I did some more reading about humility starting with Step Seven in The Twelve & Twelve book. Here is what I read:

“We saw failure and misery transformed by humility.”

“Humility had brought strength out of weakness.”

“Humility we discovered to be a healer of pain.”

Accessing true humility is like the discovery of an incredible medicine. Humility is a transformational agent; it changes weakness to strength and it heals us.

Why would we not all want that? 

When we don’t want it—or we fear it--it’s mainly because we misunderstand it, or we have confused humility with humiliation. But humility is freedom. It is the magic ingredient in being able to care about others and not care what other people think of me.

In another reading this week I dug into “The Way of Goodness” by Richard Gula—a Sulpician priest. I learned this: “The humble witness to gratitude because they know we are more gift than achievement.”  

He also said, “Humility is a quiet virtue.” Isn’t that nice? It reminds me of Dr. Bob who said, “Humility is perpetual quietness of the heart.” That’s one for the, “if I ever got a tattoo” list.

Gula lists these as practices that cultivate and express humility:

*admitting we don’t have an answer when we actually don’t.

*accepting a compliment without making excuses.

*acknowledging the accomplishments of another

*saying “no” when our plate is full.

Oh! Guilty.

But perhaps the most challenging expression and commitment to humility is being able to love and care for ourselves. 

I am ever challenged by this quote by French Philosopher, Simone Weil: “Compassion directed to oneself is Humility.”

Monday, August 03, 2020

Hearing Voices in the Pandemic

My recovery began in Baltimore, Maryland. An over achiever,  I jumped into OA and AA and ACOA and then accessorized that with some Alanon as well. As you can imagine, my whole  life was Twelve-step focused. But it turns out that it wasn’t such a bad thing. The alternative was my former life, which was painful and confusing—for me and for people around me. So, I was so thrilled and grateful to find a new life and new people as I dove deep and immersed myself in recovery.

When I tell my story now I admit that my character defects were a powerful help when I was a newcomer. I was ambitious and competitive --and a perfectionist. When told to get a sponsor I looked for the best one and selected two. When it was recommended that I do “90 in 90” I did that for five years. 

I read all the books about recovery and I read them all again. I helped to start a new meeting in Baltimore called Daybreak—it was every day at 7am. We joked that the meeting was good because we got up every day before our egos did. 

I was the secretary for the Tuesday 7am Daybreak meeting for 6 years. Every Tuesday  I brought donuts and Danish and made sure the coffee was good. I sponsored half a dozen women, and I said yes any time I was asked to speak at other Baltimore meetings.

Yes, it was about ego, but it turns out there was a big secondary gain. 

I filled my life with AA and recovery people—they became my friends, roommates, classmates, running pals, fellow dancers, and book group buddies. 

I went in deep and stayed. Baltimore was my home and the home of my recovery

Over time my sponsor pried my hands off the Tuesday meeting, and convinced me that while always saying “yes” was great in early recovery, by year 7 my progress could be better measured by the number of times I said “no”. 

And, surprisingly, she also said—at year 10—that maybe dating was an ok thing to do. So I did. Yes there were good dates and bad dates and good relationships and, “growth experiences.” And finally there was a man I loved who also loved me.

Just one wrinkle: He lived in Upstate New York—a place I had never heard of. But to quickly compress a very long story --I now live in Upstate New York.

I moved to Glens Falls, NY and then Greenwich, NY and then Valatie, NY and then Albany NY, which is now my home. 

Then, six months ago--COVID-19 came, and quarantine came, and shelter-at-home came. Going to work at an office stopped and going to yoga stopped and for a minute AA stopped too. But with stunning speed the international AA community embraced Zoom and conference call platforms. And within days there were meetings on line and on the phone. 

A friend from Baltimore texted me one day in March and said, “There is a Daybreak meeting every morning—and it’s on the phone. Call in.” So I did, and I was back. 

I had been away from Baltimore for 25 years, but I heard the same Preamble—the opening statement that sets the guidelines for discussion. I heard a dozen people that had been sitting in folding chairs near me in the Roland Park church 25 years ago, and I heard a lot of new voices and new stories too.

Since March I have been calling Daybreak at 7am every day—Monday through Friday. And kind of like jumping rope I figured out how to jump in to share my experience, strength and hope just as I would if the meeting were in person. 

I recognized the voices of my old friends and over time learned the voices of people I had never met in person but with whom I was now sharing daily fears, worries and celebrations. These new recovery friends—voices on the phone—I have not yet met in person, but I am learning and caring about their  kids, spouses, houses, finances and even pets. 

Most of us know the same slogans, and all the steps, but each day there is a new metaphor or interpretation.

I haven’t done “90 in 90” since those early recovery years, but now I’ve been at an AA meeting every day for six months. This is a solid gold silver lining of the COVID 19 pandemic.

For more on life in long-term recovery take a look at "Out of the Woods" by Central Recovery Press:

Thursday, July 23, 2020

It's Opening Day: Baseball and Your Spiritual Life

The first thing I learned about baseball is this: If you raise your hand a man will bring you food. I learned this at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, and in my first year as a fan I spent most of the game facing the wrong way. Raise my hand, get ice cream, raise my hand, get popcorn, raise my hand, get peanuts.  

It was 1958. 

Two years later I understood baseball was a game.  On summer afternoons I’d beg my brothers to take me with them to the ball park. I was falling in love with baseball.

If baseball has taken hold of you too, you know it’s about more than your team winning.  Sports, like religion, and like AA, offers consolations: A diversion from our daily routine, heroic examples to admire and emulate and a sense of drama and conflict in which nobody dies. 

John Gregory Dunne wrote that, “Baseball is the couch on which we examine our psyches”. George Will said, “Baseball is the universe”. And catcher Wes Westrum said, “Baseball is like church, many attend but few understand.”

We have these sayings and many more because baseball is one of the greatest sources of metaphor in American life. And understanding metaphor is important because having and using metaphor is what allows us to talk about intangibles like spiritual life.

The historian, E.H. Gombrich, wrote, “Every culture has its favored sources of metaphor which facilitate communication among its members. Any cultures religion is what provides the central area of metaphor.  The Olympus or Heaven of any nation will offer language and symbols of power and compassion, of good and evil, of menace and of consolation”.

Americans live so far inside the institution of baseball and so deeply in its metaphors that sometimes we can’t even see it.  You may say you’re not a sports fan, but have you ever said: “She’s always in there pitching”. “You can’t even get to first base with him.” He’s out in left field.” “She was born with two strikes against her.”  We talk baseball all day long. 

Bart Giamatti, former President of Yale and former Commissioner of Baseball said, “Baseball has no clock and indeed moves counterclockwise, so anxious is it to establish its own rhythms independent of clock time.”

Baseball is one of the few sports that remain timeless. A game can be fast or slow. In this one area of our lives the clock isn’t driving; we surrender the clock to the event.  But there is something else in this game that asserts the primordial and the spiritual: In baseball we begin and end at home.  Home plate is not fourth base. The goal of the game is to get home and to be safe. 

That is what we want. When we come to AA people say, “I felt safe and I was at home for the first time”. Home implies safety, accessibility, freedom, comfort. Home is where we learn to be both with others and separate.  That’s what baseball players are: individual athletes with distinct areas of responsibility but also and always a team. Kind of like a home group.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Codependence Can Kill You

Codependence can kill you. Being nice can kill you. Not wanting to upset someone can kill you. And, by being a very nice person you can kill someone you love. Now more than ever. 

We know about the drunk at the party.  We know that we should take the keys away. We know the painful awkwardness of that confrontation. But now we have another –possibly more painful—variation on “Codependence Kills.”

We are living through COVID-19
 and the Coronavirus pandemic. 

There are safety protocols

There are rules 

But it’s been so long—since March 11th --for most of us. 

And finally it’s summer and we want to go out and have parties and picnics. 

All those June and July and August weddings were planned so long ago, and the deposits were paid. 

All those graduation celebrations and family reunions. That’s a lot of family and friendship catching up to miss, and to ask our loved ones to miss. 

And you, like me, have friends at each point on the precautions continuum: from not leaving the house at all, to going out carefully and in masks, sanitizer at the ready, and all the way to “I’m sick of this”/It’s God’s Will/ “I’m young and healthy”/ to “This is all a big conspiracy”. 

And the people at each point on this continuum are people you like and care about.

So when you get invited to the backyard, socially-distanced dinner, or the inside the house dining room pot-luck, or the wedding in a crowded ballroom, or the picnic at the beach smashing crabs around small tables—what will you do?

Couples may say, “our practices are these” but what if spouses don’t agree? Maybe you tend to the safer, stricter side, but she says, “Oh, come on—it’s my sister, we’re safe”.

Remember years ago when we had to call the parents of our young kid’s friends and uncomfortably ask, “Are there any guns in your home?” Now  we need to ask our friends and relatives if they have been practicing safe COVID protocols. 

And if they have been going out or traveling—did they quarantine when they crossed the state line? And how do we feel about whatever their answer is? 

Example: If I am going to someone’s home can I say, “I prefer that we all wear masks” or  “I’m happy to sit in your backyard but not in your living room.”

Example: Everyone is going out to dinner at a restaurant that has advertised their careful COVID precautions of social distancing, and they have sanitation and plastic flatware. 

But something is nagging at you. Can you say, “I’m OK with take-out but not dining in”. 

Example: Will you say no to a hug when your friend rolls her eyes and says “Oh, come on!” 

Are you able to support your own choices and preferences? Can you withstand the pressure of others? 

Those of us who grew up in families where there was addiction or emotional dysfunction probably need to take a long time to sort out our own feelings. We didn’t have support in developing healthy boundaries. 

Our first instinct will be to doubt ourselves. People pleasers are likely to put their lives, and lives of loved ones, at risk, rather than be seen as “silly” “cautious” or “a problem.”

Social life during COVID and quarantine is going to be one of the biggest tests of your codependency and boundaries. 

Is your safety negotiable? Are your boundaries negotiable? 

What does self-care mean this year? 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

A Freedom Ap for My Mind

I  always thought that people who needed an external blocker to make them stop Googling or looking at Facebook had no discipline and no willpower. Couldn’t they just tell themselves, “I’m not going to look at Facebook today?” 

Yeah, that’s what I used to think until I’d “come to” hunched over my keyboard scrolling, scrolling…

And then, last week I saw my weekly summary of social media usage. 

Before the COVID -19 quarantine I was using more than two hours a day. That was pretty shocking. 

Two hours is a lot of time. It is time to write or exercise or time to spend with my husband. 

Then as we moved into the into COVID quarantine my daily usage jumped to 4 hours. That is almost half of my waking time.

 It really shocked me. I recognized the signs: I wanted to stop. I said I’d stop. “I won’t do that again tomorrow” I promised myself. It was an addiction. I needed help to stop.

So I wrote myself reminders and I put a sticky note on my laptop screen to remind myself. But I would still take a “quick peek” at Instagram and then five minutes became 25 minutes.

I asked a writer friend if she used an ap blocker and she told me about the ap called  Freedom. I took the plunge. Last week I installed Freedom on my phone. 

Now I can choose what to block and for how many hours. When the Freedom ap is engaged I can’t access my favorites: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. If I try to look at Twitter when Freedom is engaged it just spins and I get a message that says, “Tweets are not loading right now.” Dam. It works. So, I move on.

So, at the same time that I’m adjusting my social media behavior with the help of the Freedom Ap blocker I’m aware again of a longstanding, painful habit of  perseverating, persistent thoughts that race around in my head, and make me miserable. 

The thoughts are in two categories: “What is wrong with me” and “I’m gonna tell her.” The “her” could be a him or a her but always someone I am annoyed with or made at or—yes ugh—jealous of. You know those voices.

And I thought, “What if I could turn off those thoughts like I turn off social media?” Huh.

What if I  could install a resentment blocker in my brain to shut down my fear thoughts and resentment thoughts and those long  internal conversations that go like this, “Well if she does that then I am going to say this, but if she replies with that, then I will…” They are like little plays that are excruciatingly painful and distracting.

The weird thing about these imaginary mental scripts is that they are full of things I would never actually say, but I rehearse them and repeat them as If I am the boldest, bad ass in the world.

What if I had a Freedom blocker for my mind?

I pictured what that would be like. My mind would try to go to a fight, jealousy or resentment. It would try to make me angry, envious, or resentful, but it would stall out. That little spinning wheel of hell we see on our computer would spin.

I could choose the “people in my head” that I wanted to block for one day when I want some mental freedom or block those voices for four hours when I want to have a nice evening with my sweetheart—when I want to be present, fully present.

What if I could us this new mental ap to block my coworkers for the weekend or my mother-in-law for the day before we go to her house—that’s when I do my worst obsessing about what she is “probably going to say” but rarely ever does.

I love imagining this blocker. My “mental freedom ap”.  I’d try to worry, or maybe I’d try to stir up some fear or envy, and I’d feel the urge but then --just like with real social media—I’d see the little wheel spinning, the little dots hovering in place and it might say, “resentments are not loading right now.” It just wouldn't let me go there.

It would be like my mind was saying, “No, you can’t access your  fear and anger right now. Please come back later.”

I’d make a lot with the thought-stopping Freedom ap. And I bet it would be a bestseller.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Happy Birthday to AA

It is from June 10, 1935 when, as we say, “One alcoholic reached out to help another alcoholic,” that we date the birth of Alcoholics Anonymous.

From that rough beginning in Akron, Ohio when Bill Wilson talked through the night with Dr. Bob Smith, that a fellowship of millions grew into an international community with numerous step-children: OA, NA, DA, Al-Anon, CODA, ACOA and the list goes on and on. 

(There are 200 different fellowships that use the principles of the Twelve Steps.)

Millions of people (nearly 4 million) have discovered the wisdom of the Twelve Steps and how it can be applied to many troubling life problems and addictions. 

Today as we look back at that first date we also acknowledge the people that preceded Bill and Bob in Akron. We gladly welcome to the party those whose roles prepared Bill Wilson to get to that day and that historic phone call--figures like Rowland Hazzard, and Ebby Thacher, and even Carl Jung.

The success of our program is founded on the simple principle: “You can’t do it alone.” 

Make a wish. Have a cupcake.

Happy Birthday AA.

Friday, June 05, 2020

What Can You Do?

What can you do?
Writers use your words.
Yoga teachers use your platforms.
Artists use your art.
Musicians use your songs.
Poets use your poems--yours and others.
Friends talk to your friends.
Parents talk to your children.
Teachers teach.
Preachers preach.
And people in recovery, this is not an outside issue.
This is the very soul of recovery. Speak up.

Black Lives Matter.