Sunday, September 29, 2019

Stay in Your Lane

“Stay in Your Lane.” I’ve been saying that to myself a lot recently. It’s a great mantra and a reminder, and it comes with an easy visual.

We know, as drivers, that it’s dangerous to weave back and forth lane to lane, and even more dangerous to drift into an oncoming lane. It’s also true—though maybe not quite as life-threatening, that it’s dangerous to drift into someone else’s lane—at work, at home, in friendships and in romantic relationships.

Staying in your own lane is a combination of boundaries and discernment: What is my business? What is not my business? It’s not always clear. But—continuing the metaphor—that’s what the broken line on the highway is for.

A couple things can help us stay in our lane. One is watching for the red flags.
One tool is listening carefully to what you are saying, especially how you preface any comments.

If you hear yourself saying, “It may not be my business, but…” You are correct. Stop right there and get back in your lane. Ditto, for “I’ve never been (a parent, married, seriously ill, faced with infidelity, a boss, laid off…etc.) but I know that I would….(Insert unsubstantiated advice here.)”  No, you wouldn’t. And, you have no idea so cruise back to your own lane. 

Anytime we say things like, “If my husband ever..” or  “If my kid ever…” we’re blowing hot air. We might fantasize about what we’d do, but in reality there are so many ways to live thru hard things that none of us actually knows what we’d do. Turn that wheel.

Another red flag to tell you that you are drifting is to pay attention to your body. Is your heart racing, breathing accelerating, temperature rising, voice raising? You have left your lane and what you say next is 99% most likely to be a mistake or an over-reaction. Gently bring your lips together and take a seat, get a glass of water. Wait a minute or 30. 

We almost never regret what we did not say. If it turns out that you have had a related experience (You directly, not your sister-in-law) then maybe share that privately, one-on-one. 

A good friend of mine likes to remind me: “Diane, if the other person did not specifically say, “Diane, I want your advice”, then you have not been asked for your advice so don’t offer any. At all.”

Most days, I count myself good if I feel myself drifting out of my lane and pull back just in time. 

Monday, August 26, 2019

Letting Go--Just Throw the Ball

Letting Go is a topic I can never hear about enough. I love it when it’s the topic at meetings, and I really love it when people talk about how they let go—what exactly they do that helps them. 

Letting go is probably the answer to 99% of my questions. (What should I do in my relationship? Let go. What should I do about that cranky relative? Let go. What about the future I am worried about? Yes, let go of that too.
But still, and often, just as in my newcomer days, I can sigh and say, “But how?” and I try to keep the whiney tone out of my voice.

So, I love the advice on letting go from the amazing Melody Beatty. Beatty is a recovering woman, recovery writer, and a recovery role model. I highly recommend her books especially the day meditation book called, “The Language of Letting Go.” My first sponsor gave me that book in 1983 and I still read from that dog-eared, underlined, tear-stained copy every day. 

So here is her advice on how to let go:

*If you are holding onto a worry or a problem or a person—think of that as holding onto a baseball.

* If you have tried to solve a problem three times (and worry doesn’t count) then stop yourself. Let go. Throw the ball.

*If someone asks you for advice, you give them the advice one time. Then throw the ball to them. Let go. Say nothing more.

*If a person has not asked for your advice, or if you offered some advice and the answer was “No thanks,” there is nothing to throw. Let go. The ball is not in your hands.

It might be helpful—if you are really struggling with an issue or a person—to get a small ball to hold, use a ballpoint pen to write the issue you’re struggling with on that ball, and then let it fly. Throw that ball off a cliff, into a river, roll it down a hill away from you, and say out loud, “I am letting go of….and name it.”

That’s what letting go looks like. Let it go.

More on life in long-term recovery--see "Out of the Woods" published by Central Recovery Press.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

On the Shore--The Glorious Debris


“Every one of us
 is called upon, probably many
 times, to start a new life.
A frightening diagnosis, a
marriage, a move, loss of a job…
And onward full tilt we go,
pitched and wrecked and absurdly
resolute, driven in spite of
everything to make good on a
new shore. To be hopeful, to
embrace one possibility after
another—that surely is the basic
instinct…..Crying out: High tide!
Time to move out into the
glorious debris. Time to take
this life for what it is.”

--Barbara Kingsolver, from High Tide in Tucson

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Father's Day Time

One of the central attractions in the city of Prague is the clock tower in the main square. There is a certain irony that vacationers, supposedly freed from clock watching, are drawn to this tower clock.

They arrive five minutes before each hour to stare upward at the moving hands and the parade of carved wooden puppets that mark each changing hour. Tours guides offer stern warnings that the area near the tower is notorious for petty crime. While tourists are transfixed by the clock and its puppets, pickpockets help themselves to money, passports and yes, watches.

The tradition of village clock towers evolved from the practice of having a man stand guard to keep watch and periodically ring a bell to mark the hour. The name of that profession is the origin of the watch we now wear on our wrist. 

Timepieces gradually moved from the public clocks of the middle ages, to clocks inside the home, to pocket watches, to ones now strapped on our arm, getting closer to us all the time. While convenience has advantages, we no longer enjoy the communal reminder of passing time.

Time is an important topic for Father’s Day. This week’s newspaper ads show this deep connection.

From Timex to Rolex, wristwatches are the number one gift for Dad. It may be the perfect gift too. Fatherhood is a short season and it flies by.

My father died when he was 56 and I was 18. His death was sudden and unexpected. It wasn’t until I crossed the 50 threshold that I understood that my father had died young. I knew, of course, that I was young when he died, but now I understand that he was young too.

Time was an important part of my father’s life. He was an industrial engineer, a “time and motion study man”. His work was about efficiency and calculation.  He carried a clipboard and wore an elegant gold Hamilton watch.  

Whether due to nature or nurture, I too have an overly developed sense of time. I multi-task, write daily to-do lists, and I lust after organizing systems. But I also resist being tethered to time. Maybe it’s because I watched my father save so much time, which he never got a chance to use, that I have a love/hate relationship with “time management”.

My own calendar shocks people. It’s an oversized month-at-a-glance book in which I track tasks by scribbling through the borders and across the lines intended to demarcate the days. Each month’s page becomes an abstract work of scribbles and swirls and then it’s torn away. I don’t look back.

Death isn’t the only way that dads go missing from their kid’s lives. Divorce or drinking can do it too, but most often it’s work. That’s not new. Fathers of the 1950’s didn’t come to school plays or Girl Scout ceremonies; Mom went to those things and told Dad about it at dinner.

Are today’s Dads wiser? It seems so. Last year fathers reported spending four hours a day with their kids, compared with just 2.7 hours in 1965. But I wonder, are those hours together real leisure and pleasure or are we multi-tasking the homework and the errands with the quality time?

It’s a cliché to say how fast childhood goes and how fast fatherhood disappears too, but it’s true.

With our lists and calendars-- and even our watches—we can pick our own pockets. In trying to better organize them our lives can be stolen away.

Next week summer begins. Will the livin’ be easy? Or will we tick it off and time it out? Fathers, keep watch. Just look at the time.

For more on families and recovery you'll want to read: 

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Are We Restless or Are We Just Human?

You will hear this sometimes at twelve-step meetings— “We are just restless and discontent.”  The basis of that idea comes from the Big Book and recovering people often turn that into a self-blaming statement and turn it on themselves and others.

Sometimes I hear this injunction against restlessness said with a suggestion that if one’s sobriety was better they’d not be restless anymore. 

Or sometimes, even more damming, if one worked the steps the “right” way then that the damned restlessness would slip away.

But that attitude and belief disregards what philosophers and great theologians have taught us about being human. We’ve learned from Epictetus and Aristotle and even Saint Augustine. Augustine was just one thinker who described restlessness as part of the human condition. He famously wrote, “God you made us as we are, and we are restless until we rest in you.” Augustine was not writing about addicts. He was describing the people that God created.

So, I wonder sometimes if it isn’t a bit arrogant to suggest that if we alcoholics just did our program right then our restlessness would disappear? But we forget to ask, if it left us then we’d be…what? —better than other human beings? Where’s the humility in that? 

And I also wonder if we attempt to chase the removal of restlessness like we used to try to chase away uncomfortable feelings-and we did that by using drugs, alcohol, food, work…. you know the list. That’s just addictive “fix me” thinking.

If restlessness is part of God’s creation for human beings, and if we are to be restless until we rest in God, then we might not want to suggest that we have a special path or that we are somehow smarter than God.

Perhaps the wiser, more humbler, and more faith-filled course is to note our restlessness as a sign that we are human and be very grateful for that.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

We Are Easter People

I have an Easter memory from years ago. I was living in Washington, DC, and that year was a low point in my life. My older sister had recently died, and both of my brothers were seriously ill; my best friend was leaving town, and on top of that I was questioning my work.

In my journal that April I wrote, “Am I depressed?” When I read those pages now I laugh and shake my head. “Depressed?” That I even had to ask. In that long year I thought I’d never laugh again, just as I thought I’d never again feel love, the joy of easy friendship, or the satisfaction of good work.

I went to church that Easter out of both habit and desperation. I had grown up in a church-going family. It was what we did. And so to honor the family that I was losing I went. I chose a big downtown church for Easter services—one with hundreds in the congregation--not daring to visit a smaller church where I might have to speak to people or be embarrassed by my own tears. I wanted the paradoxical safety and anonymity of being in a crowd.  

The minister that Easter Sunday said many things that I don’t remember but one sentence stood out. He said, "we live in a Good Friday world."   That I understood. A Good Friday world is a world full of suffering, questioning, unfairness, trouble, mistakes, hurts, losses and grief. That was certainly confirmation of my life that day. “But,” he continued, “We are Easter people.” Those words stopped me cold. I was stunned to be reminded that painful morning that there was something other than what I was feeling. 
has stayed with me all these years. He said, “We live in a Good Friday world…”

My life was not instantly transformed; his words did not change the course of my brothers’ illnesses; nor give me answers to my questions. But the idea of being “Easter people” gave me a pause in my grief and the teeniest hope that there really did exist something other than pain.

Today all of the things that hurt so much back then have changed. As my brothers died friends came forward to help. I began to write and publish. Months later I fell in love and moved to upstate New York where a new life began with new friends, new work and yes, of course, new problems. 

What strikes me now is that this believing in “Easter” in the midst of “Good Friday” is as much about being an American as it is about being Christian.  Americans are, by character, a people of reinvention. There is an extra layer of intention that we bring to “new life” that isn’t true even in other predominately Christian cultures.  As Americans we are future oriented, we look forward not back, and we are, for the most part, a culture of optimistic, hopeful people. 

The gift from that Easter service many years ago was the reminder that we are, by religion or culture, a people who believe in possibility. When our hearts are shattered we are sometimes shocked to discover that there is joy as well as pain inside.

Out of the ashes of our mistakes, from our defeats, and even our despair, we rise again in better lives.