Sunday, November 29, 2009


I was at an AA meeting this afternoon that reads from the book, “Experience, Strength & Hope”.
This book, published in 2003, is a compilation of the AA first-person stories that were part of the earlier editions of “Alcoholics Anonymous” or The Big Book. Now that the Big Book is in its fourth edition –and because that text is updated each time---just imagine the jury process!—the stories that were removed are here in “Experience, Strength & Hope.”

And these are amazing stories. Depending on how long you have been sober—which edition of the Big Book you came in on—you’ll find some old favorites and here and certainly some old gems that are new to you.

Today we read the first story in the book, “The Unbeliever”, a literary masterpiece of stream of consciousness story telling that frighteningly and perfectly captures the state of mind of an alcoholic in full confusion, fear, arrogance and regret. As we read this story outloud today I also imagined using it for my class in The Literature of Alcoholism and putting it right up against Raymond Carver and William Kennedy.

If you have not come across this story collection—published by AA World Service—ask your meeting literature person to order a few and enjoy some fabulous reading.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Deep Down I'm Shallow

Sometimes I think I should not care about certain things. If I am a truly spiritual person does it matter if I have a nice manicure or if I get gold highlights in my hair? Is it shallow to care about sending thank you notes and greeting cards and the small details of my life or someone else’s?

Today an answer. I’m still reading Oswald Chamber’s “My Utmost for His Highest”. This is one of the spiritual texts that our AA founders read before there was any AA literature. Today’s reading includes this wonderful sentence: “To be shallow is not a sign of being wicked, nor is shallowness a sign that there are no deeps: The ocean has a shore.”

I love that line: The ocean has a shore. Nature has both shallows and deeps. Me too. Even on those days when I start to think that deep down I’m shallow.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Grateful for Mixed Blessings

On Thursday many of us will be sitting down to dinner with family or friends and gratitude will be mentioned as we offer a blessing on the meal. It’s appropriate to the day of course; we know the Pilgrim’s story of thankfulness for surviving their first difficult year in the New World.

At many of our tables there will be a nod to the formerly religious aspect of the day as someone suggests, “Let’s go around the table and everyone say what they’re grateful for.”

It’s easy at times like this to name good health, career success, and our kid’s accomplishments, but we often forget that some of our best gifts don’t come in pretty wrapping. I suggest that we put a new spin on this tradition. This year ask your guests: What are the mixed blessings in your life this year?

Here are some examples: There was the day you were running late and therefore missed the big accident or traffic jam; or the day you skipped church but when channel surfing heard a speaker that gave you a new outlook on life; Maybe it was the day you got lost in a new part of town but in your wandering found a store that sold exactly what you had been hunting for months. Get the idea?

Then try upping the ante a bit: How about when you got fired but at out-placement you found the work you really want to do? Or maybe the person you wanted to marry said “No”, and broke your heart, but months later you met the one you were supposed to make a life with.

You get the idea, but let’s push it a bit farther. How about the serious illness that knocked you off your feet but having to stay in bed gave you time to recast your life? Or maybe the struggle to accept a more permanent disability made it plain who your friends really were or revealed a talent you didn’t know you had?

Okay, even harder now: What about the death of a loved one that devastated you but one day in the midst of grief you felt something other than pain and realized you were feeling joy like nothing you had ever felt and you knew that you could feel it because the grief had cracked you open. Similarly, you may have gotten a gift from someone else’s death when you saw just how short life is and you decided to quit with the worry/status/fear and get on with your life.

These mixed blessings are not easy to accept or admit, and sometimes it is just faith itself that is the gift. It can be in the midst of terrible things that we’re forced to develop trust, and then we find, when the crisis is over, that our new beliefs are ours to keep. Of course the graduate school level of this kind of gratitude is saying “Thank You” even before the good part comes. If you’ve had experience with mixed blessings you begin to know-- even while life is painful or unpleasant-- that there will be meaning in it. And so we say Thank You –purely on faith –even when we’re getting hit hard.

Yes, some of these blessings come in less than Hallmark moments. Maybe it was the painful feedback from a friend that clued you in on the truth about your personality flaws, or the DWI that was humiliating and expensive but it was also what made you look at your problem and change your life. Maybe it was an emotional breakdown that allowed you to put yourself back together in a new and stronger way.

As parents we coach our kids with, “What do you say?” when a gift is given. Can we learn to say that to ourselves when life hands us a package that isn’t very pretty? So when that, “What are you grateful for?” comes around at your Thanksgiving table this year don’t groan, but dig deep. Name the blessings that came from pain and grief or loss and trouble. When we can say Thanks for both the good and the bad, for the easy and hard times, then, just like the Pilgrims, we’ll have a real Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Feeding Chicken Little

A week of worry and the end result is having my head yap at me non-stop. This morning at the gym I visualized the scary thoughts as gremlins and mentally tossed them over the rail of the elevated track. I pictured them scurrying on the gym floor. Then, realizing that what these thoughts are always saying to me is a rotating medley of: “He’s bad; they’re bad; they don’t like you; it won’t work”. I thought, Oh, it’s Chicken Little running in circles saying, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling”.

So I changed my mental picture to see myself tossing squawking chickens over the rail and watching them flap and cluck and squawk out all the varied and constant fears that fill my head.

When I pulled on my sweatshirt to leave the gym I took one more look over the rail and said, “Here chickie, here chickie” and imagined tossing handfuls of corn to my fear-filled little chickens and hoping they stay at the gym today and out of my head!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


It comes around again. No matter how much I know and how much I change this one comes around again. Sneaky too; I call it by other names: I’m “annoyed”, “hurt”, “challenged”. Sometimes I play the “I’m too spiritual for my shirt” game and think about how sad it is that this other person is less spiritually evolved than me. Oh God! Yes, I even bring God into it. And then I pause: Oh, I’m resentful!

Last week I heard a woman share about dealing with resentment about her ex and about his ex who was the reason they are now ex and how when they were together she was resentful at him for not being more resentful of his ex. Hearing that made me laugh—which, in truth, is the real first step out of resentment.

Laugh: at myself for the crazy mental concoctions of my resentments and when I dare to say out loud the form some resentments can take like being resentful that someone else is not more resentful.

After laughing, then what?

Telling someone
Writing it down
Pray for the other person: It always works. Always.
Use a God box: drop that name in there.

Here is what always reminds me that I want to do all those things: From Alanon:
“Resentment is like setting yourself on fire and hoping the other person dies of smoke inhalation”.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


“You were not meant for pleasure, you were meant for joy.”

--Thomas Merton

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mary Karr "Lit"

I’m reading the new memoir, called “Lit”, written by poet Mary Karr. She is the author of The Liar’s Club, a book that set the alcoholic family memoir train in motion. This new book details her own life—Liar’s Club was her mother and father—as an alcoholic woman and mother. She tells all—including hospitalization, horrid relationships but what most drew me in was her ability to describe what being drunk felt like both emotionally and physically. She is excruciatingly articulate about that place when one realizes that you are just about to go over the edge, the nice drink is becoming a drunk. This book describes her fall and her break and her being put back together by God and psychiatry and AA.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day

Most of us have seen a child, who when given a gift, must be prompted by their parent with “What do you say?” The child’s rote response is “Thank you.” Only, later, with maturity, the child learns to connect what the giver has done with a sincere sense of gratitude.

That’s similar, I think, to how most people view Veterans Day which we celebrate today. We know that the holiday requires something of us, and that we should care. We know that when prompted by the calendar we are to offer words of appreciation for what our soldiers have done. It’s especially true this year as soldiers from our region leave for Iraq. We get to see up close now what its like for men and women to leave their children or aging parents and families behind. But we often miss the greater sacrifice: Soldiers stand in harms way for us and they kill other people for us, and by doing that they give up pieces of their psyche and their soul--for us.

The term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is common parlance now. What we forget is that this fancy name for “battle fatigue” wasn’t invented in the Vietnam War. That term and diagnosis came years later because of the activism of veterans who were criticized and whose patriotism was questioned.

Some history: In the late 60’s and early 70’s thousands of returning vets were turned away from the VA hospitals because their mental health problems did not fit a category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual—the “DSM”--the bible of the American Psychiatric Association. With no specific category there could be no reimbursement or payment. That meant that vets were turned away or dangerously misdiagnosed.
Thousands of vets committed suicide, died of addiction or were locked in mental hospitals and were numbed to zombie-like states by mis-prescribed anti-psychotic medications.

The Viet Nam Veterans Against the War, which staged the 1971 medal turn-in ceremony, demanded that the United States Government and the Veterans Administration respond. By bringing attention to the bureaucratic and political malfunction, the American Psychiatric Association was pressured to include “Vietnam Syndrome” and later, “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” in the DSM, which meant that vets could receive services. Interestingly, the American Psychiatric Association had dropped an earlier diagnostic category, “War Neurosis” from the DSM in the early 60’s out of fear that the demand for services could bankrupt the government.

Today we are in danger of making a mistake again as we try to deal with the current war’s veterans. Some have said that Iraq is “like Viet Nam”, when in fact this war’s veterans face different psychological injuries and will need still different treatments.

A pattern is clear. When considering the kind of psychic damage soldiers sustain, our government and medical systems first deny it, then exaggerate it, finally accept it, but then forget. The rest of us forget too. We forget how bad war is. We forget the lasting cost to those who go to fight and kill and then come home broken. We forget that this war’s casualty list will be doubled or tripled by psychological injuries. So what do we say to our soldiers for bearing all of that for us?

Oh yes; Thank you.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Design Your Life

Last week a visit to Baltimore where I got sober many years ago. This trip was for a wedding. The bride is a young woman I mentored when she was in high school—the many phone calls over the intervening years were often prompted by crises fueled by drugs and alcohol. Now she is sober too and has married a wonderful man.

A bonus of my Baltimore trip was visiting friends from my first home group. I stayed with my good friend S. who is always a source of great books and new ideas. She’s a professor of communication theory so we have wide ranging talks about media, TV—she loves soap operas—books, e-books, technology of all kinds. I played with her IPhone and her Kindle and had tech-toy lust for days.

Here’s one of the best take-aways: She had on her coffee table the coolest book about things. Yes, it’s a book about the role of things in our lives and how we make a life by choosing our things. This is worth reading:

DESIGN YOUR LIFE by Ellen and Julia Lupton. They also have a website and blog of the same name so take a look and you’ll look at your stuff very differently I assure you.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Technology Woes

I have been computer-less for a week. No crashes. I decided to upgrade to Office 2007 and do the right thing by having my local technology company do the installation and clean-up. What I always forget to account for are the glitches.

Nothing is seriously wrong, just tweaking and glitches! They did a snapshot back up, got rid of Outlook Express, installed the new stuff and I brought the baby home. Happily typing away and composing emails then realizing they were not going out of the mailbox. Ugh!

But here is why this is a recovery issue: I did not blame myself. I started to. I started to say, “You’re so dumb” and “You should know” and then I stopped. It’s a computer and when you get new software there are glitches. It looks different, it feels different and it makes me uneasy. But I’ll learn. I actually remember my first computer and being so scared of everything. Ditto cell phone. Ditto IPod. So OK…this will resolve too. For now I have to make another trip to the store.

For now I’ll be careful to save and save and save until I learn how this 2007 thing relay works.
But it’s a computer. It’s not me. It’s not a moral issue and it’s not my self-esteem. And God knows, “How important is it?”