Sunday, June 10, 2018

When You Want to Be Like Everybody

You know that thing that parents say when a kid
begs, "But everybody's doing it." And Mom or Dad say, "Well, if everybody jumped off the bridge, would you jump too?"

They were trying to be helpful and squash that
sense we had of wanting to fit in, and be like everybody else.

Well, that feeling doesn't go away just because we get older. And, if we are trying to do something new or risky, that wanting to be like  "everybody" can often haunt or hinder us.

Well, I found an adult way of helping myself through that sticky, insecure spot. I made myself an "Everybody Wall".

Since I struggled with believing in myself as a writer and artist and performer--I had to redefine who my "everybody" is.

When I would get stuck thinking that I was supposed to be different, or successful in some other way, I knew that I needed some peers. And in the beginning--and even now--I had to find those peers in people I loved but had not met. And that's who went on my "Everybody Wall."

I needed reminders that there were many women who heard that different drummer, or who were called to do less traditional work, or who turned out to be just fine even though they were not liked, or understood, or even truly known.

Here are my pals, my sacred sisterhood, my everybody:

Dorothy Day, Helen Gurley Brown, Pema Chodron, Wislawa Szymborska, May Sarton, Amelia Earhart, Erma Bombeck, Georgia O'Keefe  and Coco Chanel.

Who are your sisters--your sacred mentors--and your "everybody"?

Sunday, May 27, 2018

If There are Two Roads Diverged...

You know the famous Robert Frost poem about the two roads. Maybe you memorized it in Junior High, maybe you rolled your eyes every time it was misquoted.

So often that poem is taught or referenced as if Frost was trying to encourage the reader to take the alternative path in life, (quit your job, be an artist, move to Portland) even though he clearly says, “the passing there had worn them really about the same.”
Frost is saying that we have choices, and that we often worry over them, and that yes, we will wonder how it will all look to us later, and we’ll “look back with a sigh.”

It seems that, especially in recovery, we do have to make a lot of choices. Will we know which path to take? How, in our recovering lives do we discern—discernment meaning to choose between goods—the best path? How, as we come out of the woods of addiction, with choices so seemingly luxurious, will we know what to do? How do we make our choices? 

I like to remember this passage from Isaiah 30:21:
“And you will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the path. Walk ye in it.”

We can indeed hear a voice. And that’s a good thing. But we also know that our Higher Power whispers and doesn’t scream.

That is why we have to get quiet at some point every day, or maybe several times a day. And that is why, especially when we have a decision to make, we need more time in quiet. That is why we need time alone, and time in nature. That is why we have to get very still: so we can hear that voice saying, “This is the path. Walk ye in it.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Treat Addiction Like Cancer by Laura Hilgers

I want  to share with you a great opinion piece from yesterday's New York Times. Laura Hilgers, makes the case that we should be treating addiction like other serious, chronic, possibly fatal illnesses.

Hilgers shares that she was a caregiver for one family member with cancer at the same time she was the caregiver for another loved one with addiction.

But that the way each serious illness is
treated, and the way each caregiver role is experienced, is very different.

Here's a fact that jumped out at me: "Addiction, like cancer, is a complex disease that requires a multi-pronged approach. It also affects 1.5 times as many people as those with all cancers combined..."

Sometimes those of us with long-term recovery forget that part of our work, and our path, is to live the gratitude for our own recovery by reaching out--and reaching back--to advocate for others who need or who are seeking recovery. We need to relate rather than compare. Alcohol, drugs, opioids--all of it is addiction, and we know about that. Which also means that we can be voices for education and advocacy.

Please read Hilgers op-ed. I've attached the link below. Please share this with folks you know--folks in recovery, in healthcare and your public servants.

Here's the link:

Sunday, May 06, 2018

A Little Bit About Me

I have been writing about women and recovery and personal growth and spirituality for more than 30 years. Folks who read this blog often ask, "What else do you do?" So, I thought maybe it's time to share a little more.
I am, of course, a recovering woman. And a writer. I'm also a speaker, teacher, coach and spiritual director. The center of my being is about sharing information and helping others. In addition to this blog, I also blog about couples and caregiving over at www.LoveintheTimeofCancer (Love in the Time of Cancer) where I cover all of it: the logistics, the resources, the feelings and the relationship dynamics around caregiving--even intimacy and sex.

Another blog I play with occasionally is called "Never Up Never In..Love" That's one for women who golf or who want to golf, and there too I write about relationships, emotions, psychology etc.

I write in other venues as well: I'm a columnist with the Albany Times Union, and other newspapers across the U.S. And I have books--three of them. It still amazes me that I went from a stricken, envious (of other writers), addicted woman to a women with almost 35 years of recovery and three books and a writing life. 

Here are those books:

I also do a lot of public speaking, and I lead workshops and retreats. And I love that work.
In my work as a spiritual/creativity coach I help people sort out their creative lives or spiritual lives--and you know, those two are always inextricably connected.

With all this I also have a long career in human services, marketing & development work. I'm the director of Development & Grants at Unity House of Troy, and a development and board consultant and trainer. In these ways too, I support people and teach and coach--and I learn every day--another big value of mine.
If there is ever a way that I can help you with a talk or workshop or retreat or a speech, please call me. I am happy to help you with your work too.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Celebrating Graduations and Long Recovery

It is the season of commencement speeches. High schools and colleges near and far are celebrating their graduates by hosting celebrity speechmakers. We listen for sound bites from CEO’s and novelists, college presidents and politicians. Most of their talks inspire, but there has come to be an underlying message linking education, graduation and material

For people in recovery—there is another experience. The degree is wonderful, the greater earning power is important, but watching a new life blossom is incredible. And there is also the experience of doing another hard thing one-day-at-a-time.

College graduations along with job promotions and weddings and baby blessings are a joy to all of us in recovery.  Certainly we love our own accomplishments, but watching our fellows grow and change and reach public milestones is equally a delight. The recovery experience is one of the rising tide raising all boats.

But there is something about a college graduation. We’re Americans after all, and a college degree is a marker of so much. For many of us it’s the thing we couldn’t get through in our using days.

So many recovery stories include making a mess of education, or of studying some subject to please family or because it sounded good when we were under the influence.

But then, after a period of recovery—when the mental fog clears there is a deeper clarity that comes. 

Often we get that clarity from people around us in the rooms: “Hey,” someone tells us, “you are good with people (or numbers, or cars or languages or music).”  Then we might tearfully tell our sponsor in a whispery voice that, “When I was younger I wanted to be a nurse (or a vet, or a teacher, or a writer or designer.) 

And a wise sponsor will remind us that we already have started our life over so why not take an accounting class or get a part-time job with animals, or go talk to someone about the pre-requisites for nursing.

And then the true barometer measures both our head and our heart: Do I really like this thing? Could I do more, take another class, maybe get a degree?

And does it take a long time? Yes, it does, but so does long-term recovery and we want that just as much and recovery takes a long time and has a certain amount of drudgery too.

So when someone in your home group meeting announces that they have completed their Associates degree or their GED or invites everyone to the open house at their new boutique, you will want to be there. 

The best commencement speech will come later on, and it will be in a church basement with folding chairs and bad coffee, but the cheering will be loud and strong.

For more on long-term recovery take a look at my book, "Out of the Woods" published by Central Recovery Press. 

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.