Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Faith and Fashion

Faith and Fashion

Maybe this is a recovering women’s issue? Maybe men have a version of this but I don’t know about that. What I do know is that throughout my recovery I’ve had a running internal debate that goes like this:

Voice One: I’m becoming a spiritual person now so clothing and make up and hair color does not matter.

Voice Two: But I’m a happier person now too because of recovery and feeling good about myself, I want my outsides to match my insides.

Voice One: God doesn’t care about hair color...

Voice Two: God cares about beauty and happiness so if being a blonde or having “warm” highlights makes me happy what’s the big deal?

Even after 20 years it continues. And throughout the 20-plus years of recovery I’ve tried following each voice...each to an extreme perhaps and then let the appearance-pendulum swing the other way.

In my first months of attending 12 step meetings I went shopping for “Meeting Clothes”. All of my life I had medicated with substances—food, booze, drugs and always with a corresponding adjustment to my appearance, so why wouldn’t recovery need its own attire? I heard many years later that some women had sponsors who told them to dress up to go to meetings, to look their best, to work recovery from the outside in. I suspect that for the addicted woman who got to the stage of never leaving her robe or sweats that’s a good suggestion, but I was of the breed that was overly invested in my appearance. So rather than learning to “suit up and show up” I really needed to experiment with “come as you are” and even “come at your worst” and see that you’ll be liked and accepted.

In very early recovery on my pink-holier-than-thou-cloud I decided to give up all make up and hair color, shop at resale stores and be the “real” me. Luckily I had a sponsor who shopped at Saks and who spent the equivalent of my weekly salary on her hair each month. When I professed my spiritual breakthrough she said, “I don’t think so…You didn’t get sober to wear sackcloth and ashes.” Oh.

Then a few years later I was in the throes of some success at work. Promotions came and I was in a good job and enjoying secular success as well as success in sobriety and recovery. I spent some big money on a personal shopper who advised that I needed a power suit, a silky red dress for dating and who went thru my closet with me in a kind of sartorial personal inventory. (I did tell her all my clothing stories and it was a kind of closet catharsis). But after buying all those shiny new clothes I felt a bit too exposed and well, too shiny, and found that those new items belonged more to an idea I had about myself than to the real self that was standing in front of my mirror. So the pendulum swung again.

Back and forth it’s gone over these recovering years. I have a great wardrobe and now most of it looks like it belongs to the same person….the stages of rock star, tweedy intellectual, corporate power leader and cute girlfriend have gradually integrated into a closet that—for the most part—reflects who I really am 85% of the time. The hook is still there though. My first thought when I contemplate an inner change is always to wonder what the external equivalent would be.

What does a sober, sane, happy woman look like? Herself and her best self. And sometimes that might mean cute high heels and great highlights.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Recovery is the Best Revenge

Recovery is the Best Revenge. That's one of my favorite sayings and a piece of 12-step wisdom I hold onto. It's not quite a slogan, but one of those pieces of wisdom heard in the rooms that just makes sense, and is so smart.

The related saying that I try to remember is "You are the one with the 12-step program." I heard that first in a meeting where people were talking about resentment and getting even and one-upping another person. "You are the one with the 12-step program" levels the field. It changes perspective. I don't have to get even..I get what makes it better for me by living my recovery and practicing a 12-step program.

Now that takes me back to my first few years in recovery when a sponsor, a smart sponsor, said to me: "Don't do anything that you going to have to make amends for." That sentence was especially powerful and reinforcing after I had begun to actually do some 9th step work and knew how awkward, painful, embarrassing and difficult some amends could be. There's a certain satisfaction in knowing that while I may not have gotten even, or had the satisfaction of a snappy comeback, or told some one what I fantasized telling them, that at least I don't have to slide further into misery by having to go back later and further humiliate myself by making amends for my barbs, smart words or stinging comment to them.

I think it may have been the same sponsor who also said to me once when I was telling her how hard it was to try the new things I was learning, "Max, just stop doing the old shit, and the new will take care of itself."

What gems, what wisdom. All this distilled to a few sentences. How lucky do we get?


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Paradox of Pain

Something that I became aware of after passing the ten year mark--and that became a certainty after the twenty year mark --is the paradox of pain in recovery. It is this: there is much less pain and crisis in our lives after a good chunk of time in recovery.

That is a good thing, no doubt about that. But, and here's the paradox, we know that it was pain and regular crises that kept us regulars at 12-step meetings in the early years. It was pain and having to learn from scratch how to live that kept us coming back and that assured us daily contact with sponsors and other program folks. So after ten years many women are asking: So what does it mean now, when life really is getting better, that we seem to fall away from the program? We have less pain so we don't HAVE to go to a meeting every day just to survive. We don't feel like we need to crawl to the phone to call our sponsors every night. In many ways we have internalized the wisdom of the rooms and the voices of our sponsors and the program folks whom believe are wise or who have what we want.

This is also confusing to others in the rooms too. Sometimes I hear at meetings: Where are the people with more than ten years? We might imagine that they have fallen away, that they have "slipped", or "gone out" or relapsed. But more often the truth is that they are well, and happy and they are out living life. What we forget is that people who have been in recovery for ten-plus years and who have remained sober a long time have added PTA and the Rotary and volunteer work and sports and travel and more education and maybe even having a second family to lives that were once filled with four meetings a week.

Is this a bad thing? It's very tempting to say that it is. But really. We don't get sober to go to meetings and this may be heresy but--we don't get sober to not drink. We get sober to grow and change and to live and love and to serve God and our fellow man. We can do that in a lot of ways and a lot of places. Pain dragged us to AA and pain kept us in those folding chairs in church basements for years so that as recovery progressed the pain could lessen and we could be freed from addiction--and church basements--to give of our selves in the wider world.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Spiritual Coincidence is for Everyone

The topic of spiritual coincidence came up today, and people told wonderful stories of finding things and meeting people and info they most needed falling into their hands at just the right time.

These are the days I marvel at the fact that for a buck or two we get to hear funny, poignant and inspiring stories that can make believers of all of us.

But the other thing that came to me today is this: That if I do belief in spiritual coincidence and if I do belief that God acts anonymously as we sometimes say, then I have to believe that it is happening in other people's lives too, and that's OK.

What I mean is that I can't see this "spiritual coincidence" thing only when I get all the green lights when I am late for work, or assume that God is acting anonymously when I find a twenty-dollar bill when I am broke. It also has to be true that God is also acting anonymously when I get all the red lights some day or when I lose a twenty-dollar bill because it means that it's someone elses turn.

The day that I get every red light on my way to work I have to remember that means that someone coming the other way is getting every green light. And maybe she left the house late and is distressed over the big meeting that morning or the fact that she's on notice to not be late one more time. And she gets all green lights. When she gets to work she thinks "Holy cow" maybe that was a spiritual coincidence? My sitting through every red light that same morning is part of the deal and a part of the "God acting anonymously" arrangement.

So to accept my belief and to accept the pleasure in spiritual coincidences when they go in my favor I have to be willing to accept the days when it feels just the opposite because that just means that day it's someone else's turn. Or as it says somewhere in the big blue book: There are no accidents in God's world.