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.

Monday, January 02, 2017

The Other Program

Here is another one of those changes that happens to us in long-term recovery: Many of us start to go to --or go back to –Alanon. Some times a sponsor makes the suggestion, or maybe we start to notice some women who have as many years in recovery as we do but it seems like they struggle less at home, or at work, or with themselves. When we ask them we found out that they were practicing an AA program and Alanon.
It’s a funny thing about recovery from addiction. In the early years we had to learn to be less selfish. We learned to consider the impact of our behavior on other people. 

We identified with the Big Book story about the man who comes out of the storm cellar, surveys all the damage and declares, “Look Ma, ain’t it grand the wind stopped blowing.” We laughed. Oh yeah, no one—especially those near and dear-- is applauding that we simply stopped drinking. 
So we learned to listen more, and to consider the needs of others, to concede, to compromise.
But then, if we keep at our recovery, we reach a point where we actually have to learn to be selfish again. You may hate that word and prefer “self-caring”, but really selfish can be a good thing. It’s almost like we have to go back over the old ground again and say, “So what do I want?” and, “What do I need—even if it makes someone else unhappy?” 
And now, with some sober time, we can learn to take care of ourselves and let other people be unhappy—or deal with their own feelings.  Yes, it’s another one of those paradoxes in the program. 
And when we find that it’s hard to know what we want, or to ask for what we want, someone near us—maybe sponsor or a friend in our home group notices. They see that we don’t take care of our needs and we are invited—or sent—to an Alanon meeting.
This is another reason why we want to keep going to meetings even after years and years of recovery—we want to keep growing in all the ways that—on the surface—have little to do with consuming alcohol, but which have everything to do with living a sober life.
And this too: After many years in AA most of us have friends and probably partners who are, yeah, alcoholics—they may be sober but still it’s our thinking as much as our drinking that keeps all of us coming back.
Rules for beginners in Alanon are the same as in other twelve-step programs: try six meetings, try different meetings, raise your hand, listen to the people with experience, read the literature and even do service. And try not to compare.
It’s hard to be a beginner again, but the big payoff is that there’s a real multiplier effect when we are working both programs.  It’s the best of both worlds: To be able to care for yourself and for others with honesty and peace. Detaching with love. Continuing to grow. One Day at a Time.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Preparing for New Year's Eve

We are getting ready for New Year’s Eve. I’ll shop for yummy snacks and we’ll stay up late—or not. Go to parties, or not. We might dress in sparkles or just relax in flannel as 2016 officially ends. And then…

And then it is a new year and the very first day of 2017. A new year is a blank slate, and while we love that it is also just a little unnerving.

Maybe part of the over-drinking and over-eating we’ll indulge in later this week happens not so much because of what we are leaving behind but rather because of what lies ahead. Maybe, like me, you have been saying, “I’ll deal with that after the holidays.” 

And now, suddenly, January 1st approaches bringing this uncomfortable combination of agitation and malaise.  Expectation does that. The arrival of this delayed reality is also the arrival of what are, in the best sense, our ordinary lives.
In the Christian liturgical calendar the days that are not Advent, Christmas, Lent or Easter are called Ordinary Time. While we delight in holidays we know that our ordinary time is much more precious. Our ordinary days, though they don’t make it into photo albums, are the days in which we live our real lives. 

The older we get the faster time seems to move. We might assume that this is because we are more aware of our mortality, but there is also research that suggests that the shift in how we experience time is neurological and results from lowering dopamine levels in the brain which occurs as we age. On New Year’s Day we grab at time: If time is limited, and the slate is clean, how will I choose what goes into my new year?

Our fantasies run to perfection, and the new calendars we start now collude with us. A calendar is an organizational tool, but it is also a hedge against despair. For one day we enjoy the promise of those 365 empty, numbered squares. And then, pen in hand, we strike: How to fill it? (This is why using a phone calendar is so unsatisfying: there is no demarcation, no old versus new, and no regret versus hope.

Even if we don’t formally write out New Year resolutions, most of us hope for improvement to body, mind or spirit in 2017. Whatever our goals, what we hope for is always something better: better relationships, better health, better work, and we rail against the imperfect. But in ordinary time, and in our real lives, all that we have-- and that we can have-- is imperfection. 

Still, we try to wrestle time into submission. We talk about how we will spend time in the New Year and that metaphor is a good one: Time is precious. It can be served, stolen, borrowed and squandered. It flies and flows and runs out. Without time we can’t even tell the simplest story. All narrative depends on it. Beginning, middle, end. Past, present, future. 

When we choose a verb we are saying something about time. There is a bit of wisdom from the ancient Latin grammar that we can borrow for this day. It is the verb tense called “past imperfect,” used for actions still uncompleted, and for stories continuing to unfold. 

That is the tense--and perhaps the tension--of New Year’s Eve.   

And so for your New year’s Eve, whether in sparkles or flannel pajamas, let us welcome 2017 by relaxing our vigilance and allow our stories to unfold in blessed, imperfect, and ordinary time.