Sunday, March 03, 2019

Don't Stay on the Edge

I was talking with a friend today. Though we’ve known each other a long time, she’s new to recovery. It’s an honor to be welcoming her aboard the USS Recovery.

When we talked I asked her what her recovery looks like, and you’ll not be surprised to hear that she’s fallen in love with the program—the meetings, and the humor, and what people talk about, and the slogans and sayings—they are all fresh and new and surprising to her.

But when I asked how she was building her support team, and did she have a sponsor yet and a home group, and was she gathering a team of sober woman around her? she said, “No, not yet, but I’m going to a ton of meetings.” 

I remember that time of surprise and wonderment—all these people and all this recovery, and all this language and lingo and new concepts. And the thrill of being in meetings where people share such intimate details and –mostly—let go of pretending. 

But I also found myself saying to her, “If you like that part of recovery, come on in to the deeper end.”

I told her that meetings are great and going out for coffee is great but really being a member comes from moving to the center.

What I wanted to say was, “Sitting on the edge of the pool with your feet in the water is cool—and even refreshing --but jump in—all the way in—and swim with us.” 

What I mean is: get a sponsor, sign up to do service, go to at least 3 or four meetings a week, make one of them your home group, and read the Grapevine Magazine, the Big Book, As Bill Sees It, and other literature about recovery and about AA. And go to regional round-ups, and conferences. These are your people now. Show up where they are, make sure they get to notice you and to know you.

The same advice applies if later in recovery you move to a new town. Even after many years of recovery you have to start over in a sense and dive into the center of your new recovery community. 

The water’s great. Jump in!

Saturday, February 23, 2019

A Glass of Water is Enough

I was listening to a man read his listener essay on my local public radio station and a man was describing his experience of meeting the children’s television celebrity, Mr. Rogers. 

The man was telling what it was like to be in Fred Rogers presence. He talked about how straightforward Rogers was and how very present and centered. He described the impact of that brief meeting.

The man described how, after Mr. Rogers died, he began to notice that when he was with his own kids he was always trying to be such an entertaining dad. It then occurred to him that Mr. Rogers wasn’t necessarily entertaining, rather he was simply himself. Mr. Rogers just was-- and that was the message that he conveyed to little kids: It really, really is OK to be yourself. 

“There’s no one like you” Mr. Rogers would say, “No one just like you.” And, “I’m glad you’re my friend.” 

Mr. Rogers lived inside that paradox we know so well from being people with addiction. That thing the Big Book talks about: the egomaniac with an inferiority complex.

That simple message from Mr. Rogers is the perfect antidote to that dilemma: We want to be special, but we feel like we’re nothing. Or when we feel “less-than” we try to puff up and look like a big deal. 

“There is no one just like you,” Mr. Rogers says and it’s all there: no need to puff up, you are special, and so is everyone else. It’s like the statistical improbability of Lake Woebegone: Where all the children are above average. 

The man who wrote the listener essay said that he now caught himself trying to entertain his kids, to be a clown, and to buying them things to be a “great dad” when, he realized that he could simply be “their Dad” 
He said in his closing--and this shot straight to my heart-- “I realized I could simply be a glass of water instead of a can of Coke.” 

I got it. I so often want to be a can of Coke because I think it’s better or expected. And because, even after so many years, there is still a part of me that does not believe that I am enough. 
A glass of water instead of a can of Coke. I too often reach for shiny and red and sugar sweet instead of cool and clear and refreshing. Is there anything more truly thirst quenching than a glass of water? Anything more relaxing to be around than a person who just is naturally simple and clear?  

This is another way to say, “Be yourself” and “You are enough.”
But I like this question:
Am I trying to be a can of Coke today or glass of water?

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Valentine's Day in Recovery

Even after all these years of recovery I catch myself having expectations for Valentine’s Day.
How many resentments this day has caused: Dates, boyfriends, husbands. Even knowing that Valentine’s Day is a commercially created day, the pressure persists.

How do recovering people practice loving-kindness for ourselves and others on Valentine’s Day?
How does recovery guide me to make Valentine’s Day a happy day whether I am in or out of a romantic relationship?  
And what does love really mean in the context of recovery?
One of the joys of being in recovery is watching other people grow. For me, it has been particularly moving to observe sober men as they change their lives and beliefs.
Early in recovery—just shy of two years --and at that point where the fog was clearing –a man named Fred who was in his late 50’s came to my home group one morning. It was his first day out of treatment and he was in pain. His “bottom” involved devastation at both work and at home. He was hurting.
I listened as he spoke, and I recognized his grief. Then, after the meeting ended, I watched as the men in our group surrounded Fred, they gave him phone numbers and insisted that he come to breakfast with them. I watched as the men taught him and loved him.
Even though others in the group had had done that for me two years before, it was then, with Fred--when I was just sober enough to understand what I was seeing-- that I recognized love in action.
That moment is one of my recovery treasures. That day I felt my heart open enough to care for and give love for another person in recovery.
It makes me happy to see men change. To know that under different circumstances my father and my brothers might have changed too. I love knowing that there is an endless supply of love in these rooms and that we are all changed by that love.
In early recovery I used to hear, “Let us love you until you can love yourself.” It felt like a puzzle, a bafflement. I didn’t think you could love someone into change.
I mean, hadn’t I tried that for years with disastrous results?  I understand now that it wasn’t really love I was proffering, more like control. I was just trying to control someone or trying to make him love me.
In romantic relationships, and sometimes as parents, we mistakenly try to love people into changing. And it generally doesn’t work.
But in our Twelve-step fellowships it does. Our friends in recovery can love us until we can love ourselves. And when we have learned to love ourselves, we can then truly love others.
That changes the meaning of Valentine’s Day for me, and it makes it a special day of gratitude.

To read more about love and relationships in recovery take a look at "Out of the Woods" published by Central Recovery Press.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Jackie Robinson Inspires All of Us Today

Today is Jackie Robinson’s Birthday. He was born 100 years ago on January 31st. 

All day news stories and sports trivia will help to celebrate this extraordinary ball player. Jackie Robinson deserves his place in baseball history.

 Jack Roosevelt Robinson was not only the man who was the subject of  “baseball’s greatest experiment”, who put a face on the color change in baseball, he also changed the chemistry of America’s pastime as well as its color. 

Sports writer Mike Lupica says of Robinson: “He played with flash and made ferocity an art. Baseball did not look the same after Jackie Robinson.”

But we have to remember that history rarely happens in big events and single moments. There were other people who were critical to Robinson’s being able to do take those courageous steps on April 15, 1947.

 Jackie Robinson was not the first black to play professional baseball. It might be more correct to say that he was the first black to cross the color line who was allowed to stay.  

The very first black to play professional baseball in America was Moses Fleetwood Walker. Walker holds the dubious honor of being the first black to play pro ball and the last to still be playing before the final shut out of blacks in baseball by Jim Crow laws.  Walker, a catcher from Ohio, was educated at Oberlin College and the University of Michigan and played ball at both schools before joining Toledo’s professional team in 1884.  Moses Fleetwood Walker set a precedent.

The refusal to allow blacks in pro ball meant that black ball players had to form their own teams and their own leagues. This formation of all black teams led to one of the most glorious periods in baseball history.

 There is a tendency I think for baseball fans to look at the Negro Leagues as the poor cousin to “real” baseball. Stories of barnstorming days give the sense that black baseball was an inferior game and organization. This could not be farther from the truth.

Most of the bad conditions for Negro leaguers came after integration of the game. In their prime The Negro Leagues were multi-million dollar operations, among the largest black businesses in the United States, which sent millions of dollars into and through the community. .

Negro League star Josh Gibson was the greatest player of that time. He is now considered by most baseball historians to be the greatest baseball player of all time. One of the games most natural hitters, Gibson played for Pittsburgh’s Homestead Grays. Gibson’s hitting prowess outshined Babe Ruth. In one season Gibson hit 89 home runs, 29 more than Ruth’s record. And Gibson is the only player to ever hit a home run out of Yankee Stadium.

Without Josh Gibson Jackie Robinson’s moment would never have come. Josh Gibson showed fans what black ball players could do and he showed major league owners what black fans could mean to the business of baseball.  The Homestead Grays, who played in any town that had a ballpark available for rent, set attendance records in most of the big league parks along the east coast and through the mid west. Josh Gibson was the hot draw and fans- black and white -- came from all over and sold out every game to see him play.

Those sold out houses were not lost on another important baseball man, Branch Rickey, president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Rickey had been managing baseball teams all of his adult life, and when he came to the Dodgers he inherited an aging team and declining audience.

He wanted to win a pennant and he knew that the hottest talent in the game was in the Negro Leagues. Rickey knew that the draw for those games while mostly black included white fans who loved the more energetic brand of baseball played by the all black teams. 

Rickey spent more than two years orchestrating Robinson’s first step onto Ebbets Field. Rickey was willing to endure the scorn of all of the other major league owners and managers.

But ultimately it was Jackie Robinson who had to step onto that field, and who agreed to Rickey’s offer and Rickey’s terms. And the terms were tough: Robinson promised, “no reaction, no matter what” for three years. That was not easy for Jackie. He had to put up with bean balls aimed at his head, spikes aimed at his shins and the ugly names aimed at him and at his family.

Rickey admitted later that, “Jackie had to turn the other cheek so often that he had no other cheek left – both were beaten off.” But Jackie Robinson was not Jesus and not Gandhi. It is unfair to characterize him as a man of superior spiritual character who took his enemies racist hatred and returned compassion and forgiveness. He did not. 

Robinson swallowed a lot of that hatred. He was smart enough to know that this was the only way the “experiment” would work and he was wise enough to know that the men waiting behind him in the Negro Leagues depended on his fitting in. 

Robinson was the man who took the risk, who played the game and who changed its play in so many ways. But Branch Rickey can also be a role model for showing us that winning and making a profit do not have to be separate from making important social change.

Looking at these others who set the stage for Jackie Robinson doesn’t take anything away from him on this special day. Rather it may let us take away something that we can apply to our lives. There are many parts to play in making great social change. Most of them come without recognition and they can, like Rickey’s, come with very mixed motivations.

Few of us will have the opportunity to be the man or woman of the moment, to publicly enact history in such a dramatic way, but we all have opportunities to be one of the unnamed others, who, though unrecognized, are necessary to building the momentum and critical mass that allows the historical moment to happen.