Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Community can be your God

In the rooms we say that the AA group can be your Higher Power if you don’t have or are uncomfortable with God or religion. But it works outside of AA too. The other day a friend gave me this idea: In any sentence substitute the word “community” for the word God. It works.

Community is love. The care of community. We can praise community and we can love and serve community with all our hearts.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Examen

There is a spiritual practice called The Examen that is a kind of daily inventory and gratitude list combined.

Each evening you take a few minutes of quiet time and sit with a journal and write down the answers to these questions:

What gave me energy today?
What drained my energy today?


What was I grateful for today?
What was I not grateful for today?

The idea of The Examen is that over time a pattern will be revealed that shows you where your real talents and gifts lie.

This idea of following pleasure or energy to discern one’s passions and talents is also described in Marion Milner’s book, “A Life of One’s Own.” Each night Milner looked over her day and asked herself what gave really her pleasure. A key insight that she shares in her book is that so often she—and we--try to enjoy something because others enjoy it rather than finding out what we really enjoy.

It strikes me that for women in recovery this may be a new kind of inventory and also a way to find where God is working in our lives.

It also reminds me of the fear I had early in recovery of turning my will over to God. I thought that if I did that God would want me to be a missionary in Africa or do something equally uncomfortable and hard. People with more recovery than me pointed out that God would not want me to be a missionary because I’d be a terrible, fussy one. God had other plans for me that more likely included the skills and preferences he designed into this model. Hard to get that. Even harder to believe it. But a practice like the Examen can tease this truth out.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Uncomfortable Feelings

There are certain lessons or themes that repeat in our recovery. Some apply to all of us and then we each have our favorites. Sometimes we call them issues or character defects. They are aspects of our best and worst selves.

Here is one I come back to again and again:

Healing lies on the other side of uncomfortable feelings—and going through unmedicated. Feeling these feelings is the way to get to the other side.

I know this, I believe this but when I am scared, mad, sad, jealous or more likely when I am those things but don’t know it yet then a cookie or a plate of cookies works like a charm. OK, it’s not a drink today but still. If I want to get to the “other side’ of a big issue I need to go through unmedicated.


Saturday, September 19, 2009


"What you believe in should be bigger than what you are afraid of."

--Kim Klein

Friday, September 18, 2009

So Sari

After years in recovery—teamed with years in therapy-- you can begin to believe that you have a handle on yourself. That you know some stuff and that you are onto your own tricks.

Part of recovery is about transferring addictions but if you’ve been around awhile that’s no surprise. I quit smoking, then overeating then drinking, then sugar again, then dieting, compulsive exercise, and living by the number of the scale. After most of that began to calm down I finally dealt with the ACOA stuff and surprise the relationship issues. Thank you Robin Norwood for Women Who Love Too Much….I had to stop relationships, not date and then I had to learn how to date. Probably the most shocking part of recovery: Dating.

Let me save you some time or shock you: Learning TO date: You go out with a nice somewhat boring man, you participate in a fun social activity together—often with other people—you are interested in assessing behavior with others—You share only the smallest amount of personal information, come home, say thank you at the door and do the same thing But with a different person the next week. That’s dating. Who knew?

OK, so there was that to work on: more therapy and alanon and ACOA. Then of course I noticed the shopping and spending…Hint: .addiction by any other name is addiction.

But here is the latest peek at myself. I’d been looking at handbags—an old love and a fashion object. About two weeks ago in the Sundance catalog I saw a tote bag that was described as being made from old Indian Sari’s...the photos showed three of this bag, different colors and prints, it had a long leather strap that looked like it could go across the body. Hmmm. Only $98. There was something about the soft fabric and the old saris, I mean it would have some other—older Indian—woman’s karma right? And for spring/summer...this soft bag across my body with jeans and sandals. A nice look.

So I order the bag...takes ten days days. I I’m already trying to manage my own desire. I wait the week and three days. I pass up other purses when I shop, “Nope, the old sari quilted bag, slouched just so across my body, the worn leather, --it will be burnished after several wearings—I can feel it all and UPS hasn’t arrived yet. But then it does. I come home to “the box”. Here it is. I’m excited. How soon should I wear it, I wonder. But then I open the box and there is a lumpy, kind of laundry-bag looking sack. It is made of old fabric yes, but the bag part is huge and the strap is cheap thin leather with a shiny surface. It will never soften or burnish. I sling it across my body and I recognize the look. I demonstrate for my husband: I bend and scoop, bend and scoop. It looks like the kind of cloth sling/sack that women wore to pick cotton. This is not chic, not cool, not very nice, has no Karma. I’m disappointed.

But it’s what happens next that surprises me. I know that I don’t want THIS bag, and I want my money back. That is clear. My husband, laughing at my cotton picking imitation says, “Send it back and get something you like.” Yes, of course. That makes sense, that’s the right thing to do. But something is holding me back. I try the Sari hunk of cloth bag again. I put all my regular purse contents inside it hoping that somehow my things inside will transform this into MY purse. Nope. It just looks even droopier and like an old laundry bag.

So what’s holding me back? It’s not until I am filing out the return form and packing the Sari bag in the carton to go back to Sundance that I realize: It’s not just the bag I have to return, it’s the new identity that I have constructed in my head. I get in: in the ten days from ordering the bag to seeing the actual object I had constructed a new me to go with the bag: I was going to be causally chic, I was going to BE the kind of woman who wore old sari cloth with khaki and denim and simple sandals, I was going to be the slightly bohemian, somewhat hippy-ish chick, who would toss that bag like this across her body and…And what? Laugh more, worry less, sit in coffee shops and didn’t sweat the to-do list, I’d be able to toss my hair back (my hair barely touches my ears) and laugh, listen, be still and be relaxed. I wanted to be relaxed and this silky sari-quilted bag was supposed to bring that to me.

In ten days I had created a new me and done a geographic cure without even leaving my house. And then the UPS man delivered reality right back to me.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Newcomer

We say it over and over: The newcomer is the most important person in the room. For years I thought that was a kind of generous or gracious statement, kind of a Junior-League-ish way of making an especially gushing welcome. Later I thought it was philosophical; a reminder that those of us with more time need to put ourselves aside and attend—with businesslike determination to the new person in the room.

Yesterday I was reminded that our focus on the newcomer is neither of these. It is in fact stunningly selfish and deeply rewarding. Again, the paradox of this program: a selfish program requiring selfless service.

In yesterday’s meeting we addressed the concerns of a woman with two days sober. She spoke of her physical discomfort and the flooding of emotions she was experiencing. One after another people with sobriety ranging from three months to 27 years spoke to those feelings, memories and crucially the strategies they learned in AA and used to manage all of that. It was a fabulous tool kit for anyone with any amount of sobriety. I took it all in while feeling the collective love in the room pulling for the newcomer and in awe of the collective wisdom available in a room full of drunks.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Don't Push

I love this saying that reminds me that while I must do the foot work, I do not have to muscle my way through my life. In fact, if I start to use muscle I am trying to go to a place I don’t belong:

“Only go through the door that is open. Do not push against a door that does not easily yield.”

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Oswald Chambers

A friend who is not in AA recommended a book that she reads as a daily devotional. It is called “My Utmost for His Highest”, by Oswald Chambers. When I heard his name I had a recollection that I had come across him in AA history.

It’s true. I got the book from the library and did some research. Oswald Chambers was a Scottish minister and military chaplain popular in spiritual circles of the early 1930’s. His books and sermons were read by Bill and Bob and The Oxford Group members. His ideas are forerunners of concepts we know today: Surrender, “abandon yourself”, God’s will not my will. None, of course, are unique to Chambers—they are Christian ideas but reading Chambers you’ll recognize the echo in our Big Book language and you’ll feel the rhythms in Bill’s other writings.

It’s worth a look and your library will have an old copy. Try a few of the daily readings for this fall. Different language for familiar ideas. What this reading of Chambers reminds me is that our program does not have a spiritual component; rather it is a spiritual program.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Eight Stages of Relapse

I recently heard a speaker discussing relapse: How it begins and what to watch out for. His list of the eight stages can work as a daily or weekly checklist. It’s another way to take a mini inventory for the heath of your sobriety.

Here are the Eight Stages of Relapse:

1. Beginnings of secret dissatisfaction.

2. Boredom or frustration at work or at home.

3. Relationships change.

4. Return of denial.

5. Emotional drift—(away from AA, friends, sponsor, supports.)

6. Anger and Resentment.

7. Depression and Dishonesty.

8. Relapse.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Happy New Year Today

Labor Day is the best holiday weekend, coming, as it does, with nice weather and no obvious family obligations. There is, however, a strum of anxiety that crosses these few precious days. This is the last call of summer and we want to order one more round of fun before the house lights come up on the day after Labor Day. In that harsh back-to-work glare we’ll have to take another look at the lists and the lives that summer’s warm intoxication allowed us to deny.

There is something good for us though in this Labor Day process. This is the time when many of us sort and discern and make our decisions for the coming year.
The New Year begins now, and we know that in our bones. For at least twelve years we started over on the first Tuesday in September. Back to school meant that we could try out a new identity forged over the summer. Maybe your look changed. Had you let your hair grow? Or cut it short? Would everyone sense the sophistication you gained visiting your sister in L.A.? Back in June you were that same old kid, but every September a new you debuted the day after Labor Day.

There were inner changes as well. In September you promised yourself you'd be more popular, more friendly, more outgoing. Or maybe you decided you'd study more and hang out with the good kids. Every single year you could try something new. You could be a scholar this year after a past as the class clown. Or you could be the friendly one after years as the grind and curve setter. The opportunity for a re-do came every year the day after Labor Day. And it still does.

No, January isn’t the right time for New Year’s resolutions. How could it be? We’re too busy with the holidays and broke from gift giving. Are you really going to create a new body or mind or spirit in the middle of all that? Come on.

September is the time to not only promise yourself a new exercise program, but to start it. It's light after work and it's not too cold in the morning. September is also much better than January for starting a diet. You are coming off a summer of fresh foods, and you’re not bloated by 30 days of holiday treats and booze. As for a new look; who can afford one in January? You wear your name off all your plastic just trying to get through the holidays, and then tax time is creeping in.

No, the new look and image and relationships you have been promising yourself come in September just as they did when you were a kid. Remember how it worked in Junior High? You decided to wear a tweed jacket because that summer you discovered poetry (or girls who liked poets). Or you promised yourself that you’d set your hair in a smooth flip every morning to look like those girls in the magazines.

In September you could try out in public all the looks you had practiced in the mirror behind your bedroom door. So what if the good intentions only last a few weeks. Some part of it always stuck, some part of the “new you” was the real you-- and real change-- and that's how you moved on.

You still can. The new you begins now as it always has. Go get some new sox, a red plaid shirt, a book of poems and a haircut. This is the time to be kinder, nicer, smarter, to listen more, eat less and hang out with the good kids. The trees show us how it's done: try new colors; shed the old layers. It's September. Happy New Year!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Pray the Room

Earlier this week I was given a great piece of spiritual advice. I was worried about an upcoming meeting at work and just agonizing over things I needed to say and how it would all go. I knew I wanted God to work through me and I was using the prayer that I use whenever I chair an AA meeting: “Please let me carry your message and not my ego.”

I mentioned this to a friend and she made this suggestion:

“Before the meeting go into the room where the meeting will take place and pray the room.” Pray in the actual room so that you have invited God into the space where you will need his guidance.”

It was amazing. I went down the hall to the empty conference room and sat for a few minutes praying that God be in the room with all of us and yes, keep my ego out of it. The meeting began 20 minutes later, I said what I needed to say, not perfectly but I remembered it was not all about me, and it was fine.

I can’t wait to use this again for staff meetings and Board meetings and any place where I may tip toward fear or ego.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Dating Discernment

Talking to a friend today and joking that I needed a panel of friends to interview the boyfriend and give me perspective. She said, “Wouldn’t that be a great service?” and it got me thinking. What if you could have a group of people—some friends and some just smart about people and relationships --assigned to interview someone you were dating?
They might be targeted to talk to him or her at events, at your house—casually—and then give you a rating on key factors.

It would be the Paramour Process. That is of course because you are not fully “amour” until the friends say Yes!

Thursday, September 03, 2009


This is a day that prayer is necessary and I have to pray without ceasing. I am unsettled and don’t know why. That’s the part I hate most. I want to figure it out so I can fix this mood. But that’s addict thinking isn’t it? I want to fix discomfort now. But OK, I can’t. It’s fall. It’s September and all those things I put off “until September” are tumbling out of the closet, calendar and to-do list. I’m achey and sore—is it from exercise or a new terrible illness? Yes, I go there in my head. Is it my job? My relationship? My age? Or just simple ennui?

I’m unsettled. It’s Thursday. I’m praying.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Audre Lord

“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

--Audre Lord

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Out of the Woods and Back Again

“When you start on a long journey, trees are trees, water is water, and mountains are mountains. After you have gone some distance, trees are no longer trees, water no longer water, mountains no longer mountains. But after you have traveled a great distance, trees are once again trees, water is once again water, mountains are once again mountains.”

This is a Zen teaching that I found in a wonderful book called “Art and Fear—The Perils and Rewards of Artmaking.”

It speaks to the process of any creative journey, any recovery.

It also reminds me of one of my favorite experiences in AA meetings when the topic for discussion begins with a metaphor—any metaphor—and the discussion plays it out in many serious and silly ways. Maybe driving and the members talk about their lives as cars or journeys or car repairs. Or climbing a mountain with tools and base camp and slipping and sliding. Or maybe as shopping and there are sales and bargains and disappointments and great finds.

After 20 years of recovery we have seen many trees, much water and lots of mountains.