Saturday, March 21, 2020

Ebby Thacher Died March 21, 1996

On March 21st, 1966 Ebby Thacher died in Ballston Spa New York. Ebby was Bill Wilson’s sponsor and the man who first carried the recovery message to a very ill Bill W. in Brooklyn thirty years earlier. Ebby’s role is documented in our Big Book in the chapter called “ Bill’s Story” and in the many history books about AA.
The message that Ebby brought to Bill that cold, damp night was not AA, of course—there was no AA until later that year. 

But Ebby offered Bill the message and the practices of The Oxford Group—an evangelical Christian movement that saved souls and saved “drunks”. 
Our AA twelve steps evolved from the six similar steps of the Oxford Group.
Ebby struggled to stay sober while Bill and then Bob went on to become the “founders” of Alcoholics Anonymous. 

But on this day we must remember that there would be no AA, and no Bill W and Dr. Bob, without Ebby. In that way Ebby was well used by God
We never know the role we are playing in someone’s life or what our momentary actions might mean to something or someone much later. 
Thank you Ebby for carrying what you could and doing what you did.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Recovery in the Time of Virus--Online Meetings

Folks--in my community meetings are canceling and closing in light of the virus and to respect the suggestion for "social distancing". Smart thing to do, but where's a meeting?

It's time to try some new technologies--and some old ones.

Take a look at the link below to see some options for online meetings, phone meetings, conference calla and  Zoom (video) meetings too.

And, it's important to remember right now: newcomers will be having a much harder time and we all know that our substances and behaviors are more tempting.

Use these methods for your own recovery and maybe reach out to one or more new-ish people as well each day.

Remember how it worked when you were new? You called your sponsor every day--or you left voicemail messages just to check in. You said things and trusted you were heard. Your sponsor called back as needed.

Make those same deals now with friends in recovery. Make your voicemail available to others.

And, pull that big blue book off your shelf. What a great time to commit to reading The Big Book cover to cover again. I guarantee you'll see things there you never saw before.

Double the effect by making that commitment with a sober friend and keep checking in, "What page are you on?"

Here's the link below:
http://aa-intergroup.org/directory.php?goal=0_4d61d72b2e-1d9f0849bd-49728727&mc_cid=1d9f0849bd&mc_eid=433e44dfa4

And please, add your suggestions in the comments suggestion.

Monday, March 09, 2020

Quit Like a Woman, by Holly Whitaker

So, Holly Whitaker’s book about alcohol and how to quit is on the market. There has been a lot of press and a lot of talking. The talking has tripped into AA meetings, and without naming names it’s been discussed. I’ve been asked, “Have you seen that book by that woman?” Yep. And I knew just who they meant. 

I have the book right here, and it’s great.

I know, I know…she says some things about AA, and she says AA didn’t work for her, and some people in AA have taken that personally. I know.

But here’s the thing: It’s OK to not like AA. 

Whitaker’s book, “Quit Like a Woman—The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol” is about—get this—Not Drinking. 

I think that is very OK. She tells her story, and she did a ton of research, and she comes down on the side of not drinking. Huh. 

And she talks about why she/we are better off without excesses of alcohol and mind-altering substances. She talks about her jobs, and relationships, and her relationship with herself all being trashed by her drinking. 

So, if you are sober or love someone who is, you just got to be going, “Go, Girl—tell them.”

Whitaker quotes a lot of Alcoholics Anonymous literature including the Big Book in her book. And I loved seeing all those very familiar words and phrases right there in her pages. 

Again, “Go girl.”

Here’s what I really think: If you are in this “Out of the Woods” club…and that means you have ten or more years of sobriety, you can only say, “Thank God there is another book to help some women stop drinking.” And, “Thank goodness, this Holly Whitaker, is offering an alternative to AA.” Because really, this book is an “outside issue” but don’t we all want lots of people to understand that alcohol abuse and misuse hurts lives and families? And we all know that AA isn’t for everyone. As “old-timers” we are OK with that.

If you’ve been around awhile it means that AA mostly does work for you, and you have plenty of friends for whom it just did not click. So, don’t we all want someone to find their way to their recovery—whatever they call it?

I know, I know....You may be mad because “She said she didn’t like AA”  Most newcomers don’t like AA. Remember when you were new, and you said things like, “It’s a cult” and “they pray” and “It’s about God and I don’t do God.” 

So, cut her a break. 

The most important part of this very important book is in the subtitle: “The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol.”

I think we can all agree she’s got that right, and she makes an excellent and eloquent case for that “radical choice” and that culture and that obsession. 

So, read this book. You’ll learn a lot, and you’ll appreciate that she is reaching and educating people that those of us who love AA are probably not able to do.

You go, Holly Whitaker. You wrote an important book.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The History of Military Trauma--Veterans Day


On April 6th, 1917 the US Congress declared war and we entered WWI. It was our first full-scale entry into armed conflict on European soil. War has changed since then, and we have changed but there is one constant, which is the sad fact of psychological injuries sustained by soldiers in war.  

Various authorities—military and psychiatric—put the estimate of “stress casualties” between 25 and 60 percent, though the words we use to describe them has changed over time. Terms have included: Battle fatigue, war neurosis, shell shock, military hysteria, trench suicide and  “LMF” or “lacking moral fiber”. These labels reflect the cultural attitudes of each time period, but they are also influenced by military strategy and even demographics.

In 1917 the US population was at an all-time high. In supply terms this meant there were plenty of soldiers. In that war, where supply met demand, it was not uncommon to find that those who broke down, who froze on the field, who hesitated to shoot, retreated or exhibited any other detrimental behavior were considered to have problems of character rather than injuries. 

 By contrast in World War II, with fighting in both Europe and Asia putting more than 16 million Americans in uniform, the condition of a struggling soldier was framed very differently. War trauma became an illness which could be treated or cured. 

But beyond the words we use, it’s important to note that there has always been a civilian hand-me-down from the military and the psychiatric casualties of war. The need to keep soldiers on the battlefield or to return them to combat in World War II saw one of the United State’s largest investments in psychology and psychiatry. Through the 1940’s the Pentagon spent millions of dollars for psychological research. 

That has had a lasting impact on all of our lives.

The research for that war’s soldiers spilled over and into the fields of advertising, education and even design. 1946 saw the first National Mental Health Act; in 1948 The Snake Pit –a movie about shock treatment and psychoanalysis won 7 Academy Awards, and also that year Psychology Today magazine was launched for the general public. 

In 1949, the Nobel Prize for medicine went to Dr. Egas Moniz, who “invented” the pre-frontal lobotomy. Today our casual talk of “issues” and “processing feelings” has its roots in the Pentagon’s need. 

 Of course, each succeeding war has added research and changes to how we view our psychological selves. In the Korean War, the Army created mobile psych units that focused on cognitive treatments which attend to how one processes thoughts. 

Out of this came civilian interest in mind control, positive thinking and yes, that old stuff about subliminal persuasion. Then we went to Viet Nam and saw the military test new methods of replacing troops --not as units but as individuals. We know that the style of jungle warfare along with the media coverage of that war—and the tricky politics of the time—all contributed to the total impact on soldier’s health.  

 More than any other war Viet Nam redefined our beliefs about mental health.  Five years after the fall of Saigon, “Viet Nam Syndrome” was identified, which morphed into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which rapidly generalized to civilians who suffered trauma. 

Now, we are in danger of more war—and wars with yet newer factors. In Afghanistan and Iraq our troops faced guerilla combat with the added stress of suicide bombers and armed civilians. More chemical warfare seems to be approaching. These increase the psychological difficulties, and as this changes we see another reframing of the resulting psychiatric casualties. 

Especially today on Veterans Day--we must remember to factor in these injuries when we talk about the costs of war. We must  ask how we will label our broken soldiers, how we will care for them and their families. What will be changed, now and later.

***
For more on the history of military trauma you may want to see my book:



Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Preparing for Day of the Dead


 This week I’ll be celebrating Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.  It’s not a holiday I grew up with but one I’ve borrowed from the Southwest and Mexico.

And it’s become one of my favorite holidays –in part because it’s a good spiritual counterpart to Halloween. Except for the candy, October 31st doesn’t leave much for grownups.

Being scared of goblins and ghoulies lost its sway when I got old enough to lose people that I loved. The dead just aren’t scary in the same way anymore. In fact, I’d welcome a visit from many of them.

  
That’s what Day of the Dead is about.

There is a belief that on this day the veil separating this world and the next is thinner and so it’s a time we can be closer to those that we love who are dead.

Day of the Dead celebration centers on rituals for remembering loved ones. We can visit them in our imagination or feel their presence. It can mean prayer or conversation, writing a letter or looking at old photos.

The tradition that I use includes making an ofrenda, or altar, something as simple as putting photos and candles on the coffee table and taking time to talk about these loved ones and remember them. We also have spicy hot chocolate as a symbol of the sweet and bitter separation from those we love.

A ritual is a way of ordering life. Whether Purim or Advent, hearing Mass or saying Kaddish, small ceremonies help us sort and reframe our memories.

When someone dies the relationship doesn’t stop, it’s renegotiated, literally re-conceived.

No, this isn’t a very American idea. Culturally our preferences are for efficiency and effectiveness; even with grief we use words like closure and process.

I remember my frustration when I was grieving the loss of my brothers and sisters and my truly well-intentioned friends would suggest I move along in my process and they quoted (actually, misquoted) Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.

The simplified version of her theory lists stages: Denial--Bargaining--Anger--Depression, and Acceptance.

But it’s false to create that expectation of five discrete steps. That listing implies order, and that a person can move from point A to point B and be done. That makes grief into an emotional Monopoly game where you go around the board, collect points and get to a distinct and certain end.

This false notion of linearity is apparent when we hear people judge someone who is grieving, “Oh, she missed the anger stage”, or “He hasn’t reached acceptance yet.”

I always thought that “losing a loved one” was a euphemism used by people who were afraid to say the words dead or died, but after losing my brother Larry I know that lost is the perfect word to describe that feeling of something just out of reach, still here, but also gone.

Though he died years ago my feeling about my brother is that I have misplaced him; I have that sensation of knowing that my book or that letter I was just reading, are around here somewhere…if I could just remember where I left him. 

I think this is why we can be so hard on the grieving, and why we want them to go through those stages and be done with it. We love closure and things that are sealed and settled.

But death and grief, for all their seeming finality, are not as final as we would like.

So tonight, I’ll make cocoa and light candles; we’ll take family pictures into the living room and tell stories. And we’ll laugh.

The root of the word grieve is heavy. We carry our dead as a cherished burden.

Death may end a life but not a relationship. Who would want to close the door on that?

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.