Saturday, October 22, 2016

An Open Heart

“My ability to be present in the world with an open heart depends on my ability to be present to myself with an open heart.”

             --Sylvia Boorstein

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Power of Rituals

A ritual is a way of ordering life. And so people in recovery—where it takes a long time to return order to our lives—often create and value rituals. Rituals have power. Our faith communities teach us rituals to help us find faith and meaning in our lives. Almost all professional athletes have rituals—the order in which they dress, the things they do on game day, the special movements or gestures that precede their competition. Performers and artists have rituals. Dancers are governed by ritual. And after many years of recovery our rituals help us too.  

Many of us have rituals for our prayer and meditation practices. I light a candle each
morning at my little altar in my bedroom—that altar is also part of my ritual. The altar makes it clear to me—only me—that this is prayer time. I’m sure my higher power does not care about the location or the accessories but having the altar, small prayer rug and that candle help me to pay attention to what I’m doing.

For meditation I have a small brass chime that makes a soft sound. I use the chime to start my ten minutes of meditation each day. It’s a reminder to my brain, “Oh that’s what we’re doing now.” Recently I began to use the timer on my phone to alert me when my sitting time is over. It’s a ritual and a helper: I don’t have to keep peeking at my watch when I’m meditating. 

Do you write a gratitude list? Do you write your tenth step inventory at night? Or do you say it out loud in the car as one friend does.  For many years in Overeaters Anonymous I called my sponsor every morning to commit my food. That external monitoring helped me get clear about my choices, and making the call was a daily ritual of commitment --and humility. I still write down my food every day. It is a ritual of  honesty with myself, and a commitment to my good health.

Do you have any rituals you use at meetings? I know a woman who tried to always sit in the same chair, and another who always sits in the front row to make herself pay attention. Years ago someone taught me to, “Always look at each person as they speak, it will help you hear them.” Do you have something you do as your gesture of being present at a meeting?

Rituals reinforce habits --and recovery is really a series of positive, healthy habits. Having a ritual erases any  question of, “Should I or shouldn’t I?” The renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp talks about her artistic rituals in her book, “The Creative Habit”. 

She writes, “Rituals are the mechanism by which we convert the chemistry of pessimism into optimism.”

More on creating good habits, practices and rituals in recovery in the book, "Out of the Woods" published by Central Recovery Press.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Fear of Financial Insecurity

Yesterday I had lunch with another writer. We were talking about our work, and aging, and the perils of writing books, and I said,  “I just always imagine I’ll end up a bag lady.”

She looked at me levelly and said, “Are you saving your good bags? I always save bags from the better stores just for when that day comes.”

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.