Wednesday, April 04, 2018

A Frenchwoman's Guide to Sex After Sixty

One of the reason’s women in recovery say that they like to have at least one women’s meeting in their schedule is so that “we can talk about sex and relationships.” And it’s true—a women-only meeting is a place to feel somewhat more comfortable talking about past relationships, current relationships, bring up dating issues, admit to struggles with partners with less fear.

But it’s also true that there is still some trepidation, but maybe we take baby steps or talk in code or euphemism a little bit. 

Over time, we learn that the first place we’ll talk about sex and physical intimacy in detail is either in the parking lot of the coffee shop. Mostly we have questions. “I’m not attracted anymore.” “I don’t know how to tell him/her what I want in bed.” “Have you ever done…?”

And then, for women in long-term recovery we have the combo issue of sex and aging. Maybe someone makes a joke in the meeting or at the diner, and we tentatively follow up, “Did you mean?”

As women we have questions about our bodies, as recovering women we have more questions and as we age it adds in yet more and more layers.

 And then we have our pats to factor in. In you have any history of abuse, or let’s call it, sexual behavior that has some shame attached to it, what do you do with that.

Those questions are not generally answered in books like, “Our Bodies Our Selves” where we can get a lot of mechanical
questions answered.

So, I was thrilled to get a copy of the book, “A Frenchwoman’s Guide to Sex After 60” by Marie de Hennezel. Yes, a Frenchwoman and a psychologist and therapist in Paris. Her earlier book is, “The Art of Growing Old.” So here is her perfect next step. (I just keep thinking, “Wow a therapist I could talk to about relationships, sex and clothes!”

But you’ll love this brilliant paperback and her entre nous voice. Here’s a sex and aging sponsor in a book. And maybe this is a book to read with your sponsor or with a few recovering women friends. 

De Hennezel gives advice, tells stories and recounts the advice of other experts—and she is fun and funny. Great sex tip number one: Keep it fun! And she does in this book.

Happy, joyous and free are our goals in recovery—and one of the implied promises—and here is a way to find that happy, joyous and free in our bodies and our relationships.

And, don’t wait for 60 to read this book. Start now, be ready. Enjoy!

Monday, March 26, 2018

It's Not Always Depression

So here is a new, and very helpful book that feels just right for people in recovery. 
We so often hear people say, “I feel like I didn’t get the book that others got, and I’m always trying to figure things out.”

Well, therapist Hilary Jacobs Hendel has written this new book, "Its Not Always Depression",  and it offers a lot of what
many feel they are missing: What are these feelings; Should I try to feel them or not feel them; and What the heck do I do with all this emotion? We worry—do I feel too much? Not enough? The right stuff?

In our “using” days we didn’t actually feel much, not much that was authentic. In fact, there may have been a lot in us that wanted to be felt but we either didn’t have the emotional skills to do it, or we were afraid of feeling big emotions, or, maybe when we did embrace our feelings it backfired, and we mismanaged anger, sadness, or even happiness.

 So, what’s a girl to do?

Hendel says that she wrote this book because she got some of those “fix it don’t feel it” messages when she was growing up. Then in her therapeutic training she learned the “change triangle” and was excited to discover that practical tool. She is adamant that working the “Change Triangle” is a public health issue and a way to sort of translate mental states and bodily sensations into practical, normal, effective practices, and the result is always feeling better and being better in our relationships.

Sound good?

Of course, you have to practice. There is breath work and there is some journaling, and there are exercises to do in the book: fill in the blank exercises and questions to ask yourself, reflect on and write about.

The pay-off of doing the work? Well, we know the payoff of working the steps—our lives change. And similarly, here, Hendel leads us to emotional literacy, but even better, emotional acceptance. 

In addition to her professional bona fides—a degree in biochemistry and an MSW from Fordham, and certification as a psychoanalyst, Hendel was also a consultant on the psychological development of characters for the TV show, Mad Men. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

Jealousy –Don’t Be Ashamed

No, you do not have to be ashamed of jealous feelings. Just having them is punishment enough. 

There may not be a worse emotion to experience than jealousy. We all know anger, sadness, grief, even lust. But jealousy has the extra-special overlay of social shame. Jealousy is the one we whisper to friends if we tell them at all. Or when a friend suspects and asks, “Are you jealous?” we hem and haw and maybe lie: “No, I’m not jealous I’m just angry that she… or that he would….”.

Even in recovery, even in a women’s meeting, bring up jealousy as a topic and you’ll get a lot of platitudes, and some pseudo-spiritual advice about self-love and not comparing, but then if you are lucky, some brave woman—probably in longer recovery—will fess up that yes indeed she has felt this monster taking over her mind. Maybe she’ll tell a now-funny tale of really bad behavior fueled by alcohol and jealousy before her recovery. She keyed a car, she sent a note, she tossed a drink.

That laughter? It’s way better medicine than God talk and platitudes when you are in a full-blown jealousy attack. Jealousy tries to tell you that you are alone in your weirdness, so laughing with other women is the balm. 

Jealousy is awful. Admitting it is awful. So how does it get us? And what is it there for?

All emotions have a function. Anger gives us protective adrenaline is scary situations. Sadness softens us so we slow down in times of loss so we don’t get hurt. What does jealousy do?
Jealousy is a response to manage anxiety. How about that? Jealousy is connected to anxiety. Yeah, anxiety—the other most miserable feeling to feel. What a duo.

Think about this:
You get jealous when you are anxious about a relationship: Is he with me? Does she love me? Could I lose him or her? The anxious bubbles come over us and they start to weaken us. 

So, jealousy steps forward and says, “Need some energy to kick that feeling back?” Wearing all green jealousy attempts to manage your anxiety: “Feel this instead.”

Here’s how I’ve seen it play out in me: I’m unsure of him, and I start to feel anxious. I want to make myself feel safe again, so I want to control him—I want to close all the doors, so to speak, so he’s all mine.

Yep, I know it’s a creepy way to think, but it’s rarely a conscious thought. Jealousy moves underground and very fast. Jealousy is a way—a really bad and ineffective way --to manage my anxiety.  The flawed thinking (or not-thinking) is this: “If I can just control him/her and make her/him love me, only me, then I will be safe.” 

But it’s not true. What I’m doing when I succumb to jealousy’s whispered bad advice is to make myself less safe. I tie myself to a rock, and I begin to lose parts of my life: I monitor, watch, and control the other person. All that takes my energy and focus away from my own life and I begin— it happens so fast—to deteriorate.

So, what’s a girl to do when you start feeling green? (And oh, the reason for green was the belief that jealousy was caused by an excess of bile that can actually cause a slight green tinge in the skin). 

What to do? Do the exact opposite of what you feel: move away from the target and the subject, move toward your life and interests and passions quickly. Immediately invest in something that is very you, and—the big step: tell people. Tell your sponsor, recovery friends, even a stranger—who has no connection to the folks in your life. Find the humor quickly—telling other people your freakiest fantasies will move the humor up and forward. Tell your friends that you want them to help you find the funny. They can give you spiritual advice tomorrow. 

And remember that it’s anxiety that jealousy is trying to help you with, so go exercise, dance, breathwork and meditation and your other best tools for managing anxiety.

More on recovery and relationships in "Out of the Woods" published by Central Recovery Press. 

Monday, February 05, 2018

Russell Brand on Recovery

Russell Brand is a comedian, and an actor, and by his own admission, an addict. A recovering addict.

Also, he swears a lot. A whole lot. Like every other word starts with F. So that makes quoting him very hard, but I want you to trust me on this: Russell Brand is smart and funny, and he has a great recovery message.

His newest book is called, “Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions.” 
And it is his take on our program of recovery.

Basically, it is a memoir—his crazy story of being self-destructive and then recovering, and it’s also a work of translation: Brand takes the Twelve Steps and basic recovery principles and puts them into his own words, hence sentences filled with the word that starts with F.

Here’s an example: 

Step 4: “Write down all the things that are F-ing you up or have ever F-ed you up and don’t lie or leave anything out.”

Sound like a tough sponsor? Yeah, kinda like that.

Or Step Three: “Are you, on your own, going to un-F yourself?” 

Maybe this isn’t the first recovery book you want to give a newcomer, but then again, maybe it could be. No holds barred, no sweetness, and it is pretty dam funny. If you are later in your recovery you’ll be a teeny bit shocked at first, but then you’ll be calling your recovery friends and reading to them what Brand has to say about surrender, and meetings, and yeah….his version of Step Six.

Ok, yes, all that bad language. You can’t leave his book on your coffee table if you have kids (or a mother, mother-in-law, nosy neighbors etc.)  But you will find yourself dipping into Brand’s book for a fresh perspective or fast first aid in any emotional crisis.

 ...and yes, there is also this other great book about long-term recovery (my book, no swearing) published by Central Recovery Press:

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Taking Recovery to Work: The Political World

We are in a recession—or we’re not. Things are getting better—or they’re not.  We don’t know whether to get our hopes up or to hunker down.  The national and state politics are scary.  But it’s the political scene we enter tomorrow morning that will keep most of us tossing and turning tonight.

Office politics. Those are the hardest politics we face.

A young friend recently said to me, “I don’t want to work where there are politics.” 

I understood her distress, but I thought, “Then go home and make pot holders.”  There is no work without politics because there is no work without people.

Any time we organize ourselves into a business, a women’s club, a church group or a scout troop there will be politics. 

The trend toward making the workplace feel like home doesn’t help. By loosening the home and work boundary we get to have—at work—all the goodies that belong at home: sibling rivalry, parental intrusion, and fights about money, cleaning and table manners.  Maybe if work were less like home we’d go home to get the things we’re supposed to get there: love, companionship and intimacy.

Another complication we add at work is using the word “team”. I know it’s supposed to be a metaphor for playing nicely together, but we forget what really happens on teams: hierarchy, competition and rivalry. Do you watch March Madness? Then you see great teams –and great coaches-- and a lot of sweating and swearing and glaring. 

So, it’s inevitable that we have office politics.   Every day each of us carries our emotional baggage to work in an invisible tote bag and then we pick from it throughout the day. But this is not necessarily a bad thing.  Working with other human beings is a creative process—and that is always messy.

 Maybe the best we can do is to try not to draw blood, and to say we’re sorry when we do.  But like the sign in every casino says, “You must be present to win.”  We need the politics in our workplaces and in our communities to work out who we are and how we get better. 

I’m an optimist. I see the messiness of human beings as a good thing.  You might roll your eyes and call me a “Pollyanna”, but that fictional girl is not a bad role model. The Dali Lama has very little on the 11-year-old girl that Eleanor Porter created in 1912.

Pollyanna is the story of a girl who went through so many painful events with the most difficult people , and she was able to remain optimistic and make changes for the good.
It can feel safer to stay with the negative, but pessimism is actually lazy. To stay optimistic takes courage.  You have to keep believing that things will work out even if it’s not the way you hoped they would.    

Now in our nation and our workplaces we get to make that choice. We can moan and groan, or we can choose optimism.

Friday, January 12, 2018

What We can Learn from French Women

You have read the articles about how French women shop, dress, cook, flirt and even parent their children. We have been told that they are more elegant, chic and more mysterious than we “pursuit of happiness” American gals.

So, we wonder “Could I learn to be all of that?” Well, the mystery has been solved—or more accurately, we are being let in on the secrets. And it’s really good news. 

The “secret” to being charmingly French is not in the 100 splashes of cold water (on face and breasts), and it’s not in the wine with lunch and dinner (thank goodness, after all, we tried that), and it’s not even in having a collection of Birkin bags and Hermes scarves.

Author Jamie Cat Callan is touring the country right now to teach us that the big secret to French charm is in one’s thoughts and attitudes. 

And certainly, every woman in recovery, knows about “think it through” and “attitude adjustment”. We know how to do that.

Last week I drove to Chatham, New York—a beautiful village south of Albany and North of Manhattan—to see—and hear—Jamie kick off her book tour for “Parisian Charm School—French Secrets for Cultivating Love. Joy, and that certain je ne sais quoi”.

At the Chatham Bookstore Jamie kicked off the evening in a most French way with beautiful foods by Alexandra Stafford, and French music and a great deal of laughter. 

Then Jamie spoke about French style—fewer clothes, but clothes you absolutely love, French food—they eat much less than we do, but always the finest quality so they are more satisfied, and French dating—they don’t! French women have friends of both sexes and socialize in groups, and maybe a special relationship develops over time—over a long time.

The French spend time with their families –immediate and extended (yes, even if dysfunctional or troublesome), and they embrace their history—personal, cultural and national. 

The biggest take-away from Jamie Cat Callan and her years of French life and study and practice is that French women are different but we can borrow their qualities: savoring, thinking, moving—and speaking—slowly, and being more present in the world and in the day. It is those qualities that lead to their great wardrobes and great skincare and not the other way around. 

"Parisian Charm School" may not technically be a recovery book, but it is a book for recovering women-to help us recover a sense of self, self love and care, and a charming new life.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Happy Introvert Day!

It is January 2nd! The day that introverts get to breathe a sigh of relief.  We can come out of hiding; it’s safe to answer the phone and we can stop pretending we feel the flu coming on. Yes--the holidays are over. 

From mid-December through New Year’s Day, those of us with an introverted nature live in a state of perpetual dread. The weeks of office parties, neighborhood potlucks and open houses drain all our energy. But today we can relax; we made it through.

I speak from experience. I am an introvert. It surprises most people because I’m outgoing and friendly and very far from shy, but I prefer one person and one conversation at a time. 

I fought this for years, always trying to be someone else. I made myself go to parties; I tried to fix what I thought was “wrong” with me. It didn’t help that other people would press, “But you’re so good with people” as if being introverted meant living on the dark side. But I finally got it. 

This is also one of the blessings of long recovery. I no longer eat or drink in order to fit in or to numb the discomfort of social activities I don’t like. It’s a great relief. 

It’s no wonder that we introverts are sometimes defensive. Seventy-five percent of the population is extraverted; we’re outnumbered three-to-one, and the American culture tends to reward extraversion. 

Here’s what introverts are not: We’re not afraid and we’re not shy. Introversion has little to do with fear or reticence. We’re just focused, and we prefer one-on-one because we like to listen and we want to follow an idea all the way through to another interesting idea. Consequently small talk annoys us.

Many great leaders are introverts and many of our better presidents have been introverts: Lincoln, Carter and the John Adams—both father and son.  No, maybe I’m not being totally fair, but life isn’t fair to introverts. Introverted kids are pressured to “speak up” or we were hounded to “be more outgoing”. 

The philosopher Pascal wrote, “The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.”  Introverts do. So let’s make January 2nd, Happy Introvert Day. We’ll be quiet and happy. And grateful as another year of “Out of the Woods” recovery begins.