Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Happy Birthday Ebby

On April 29 1896 Ebby (Edwin) Thacher was born into a prominent and well-to-do family in Albany, New York. His grandfather was the main supplier of wheels for the New York Central Railroad and the Mayor of Albany. Two other members of Ebby’s family were Albany mayors, including his brother Jack. Ebby and his brothers all attended the Albany Academy, which is where evidence of his future role in American social and spiritual history would first appear. Twice he was suspended from the Academy for drinking and school records show that his struggle with alcohol began at a very early age.

In Alcoholics Anonymous we know Ebby as the man (described in “As Bill Sees It”) who carried the message of recovery to Bill Wilson. It was Ebby T.—whom Bill Wilson calls, “my old friend” who came that cold late night to his Brooklyn kitchen, his eyes shining, telling Bill he was no longer drinking. A month later Ebby visited Bill in Towns Hospital and took Bill through the Six Steps of the Oxford Group—which would, in Bill’s hands, become The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith are credited with the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous but it was Ebby Thacher, the man Bill called his sponsor who was the first to carry the message of the steps to another alcoholic laying to corner stone of what has been called “the most important social and spiritual transformation of the 20th century.”

Today millions of lives have been saved and changed through Alcoholics Anonymous and the other 12 step programs (NA, OA, Al-Anon, etc.) that built on the simple message that Ebby Thacher brought to Bill Wilson in 1934.

Ebby Thacher died sober in Ballston Spa, New York March 21st, 1966.

Happy Birthday Ebby and Thank you!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bigger than Fear

“What you believe in must be bigger than what you are afraid of.”

This quote from Kim Klein came to me years ago in a work setting. I keep it as a reminder to not be intimidated by bosses, board members or people that scare me. Today I think it also applies to recovery. Do I believe in recovery? The process of recovery? If I do then I can make that bigger than my fear about the economy, aging and even swine fluJ.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

WYSIWYG

What you see is what you get.

This is also known as “WizzyWig” from the acronym WYSIWYG.
It applies to computers and design but I think it also might be a good way to think about relationships—especially new ones.

What you see is what you get:

Does he cheat at golf? Not point out an error in his favor at a store or restaurant? Is he rude to a clerk or waitress? Lie at work? Cheat on his taxes –and brag about it? Does he talk about how he trashed an ex? Does he say mean things about other women’s bodies?

What you see is what you get or what you will get. Take this caution seriously.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Depression in Recovery

This is something that is not talked about in the rooms but it part of long recovery and part of the process, I think, of getting out of the woods. Just like in a fairy tale the heroine has to go thru tests and trials. In long term recovery one of those may be serious depression.

We don’t talk about it enough in the rooms because there is the “don’t scare the newcomer” and there is also some shame I think. We tend to describe recovery as an upward and forward moving trajectory…worse—better—best—till what? The Good Life? and so how can it be that after years of recovery we start to feel relay really bad? Those with les experience will begin to pick apart someone’s program: not enough meetings, needs to work the steps, younger members still on a pink cloud may cluck about what someone else “needs to do.”

Not quite. There comes a point in long-term recovery where we face depression. It may be life event related or maybe a clinical/biologic-based depression. Thank God we know now not to be telling people that they are slipping if they use medication. Anti-depressants can save lives of people in recovery. Many people need them but there is another element.

When I went thru a big depression at year nine I was told it was “God or Grow” time. The ten year mark is about making another decision about faith, belief and sober life. By then you know the program, have worked the steps, have reaped many rewards and now what are you going to do? It’s also possible that somewhere between years five and ten any underlying ACOA issues come out or come back with force, especially if there has been any early sexual abuse issues that got swept under the rug. What ever has not been talked about or dealt with so far pushes forward and I have to believe, for our good.

It’s not pretty and it’s not fun but when depression comes it can be part of recovery. WE get help of all kinds: medical, psychological and we raise our hands and talk about it and talk through it. It won’t hurt the newcomer to know all of this is part of recovery life

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Meetings

Yesterday, still struggling with my ever present fears, I had this thought:
What if I went to more meetings?

It’s kind of like that, “I could’ve had a V-8” commercial.

Someone had asked me how, in early recovery, I dealt with the ever-present fears then as I was beginning to let go of additions to alcohol and food—and I thought: “Well, I went to a meeting every day, talked about what was going on almost every day, called someone—or several some ones—in the program every day”. What I did in my first three, five and ten years was to use the program...all the tools. And now so many years later I think I have to think my way through my fears and depend on myself to rout these fear related thoughts.

What if I went to more meetings?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Belief and Fear

I have been thinking a lot about old beliefs and how they feed my fears. Yes, old childhood stuff—beliefs that I am not loveable, will be abandoned, am defective and must subjugate myself to redress all of the above. The schema—as they are called in cognitive therapy—do scheme. They conspire and work together. The fear of being unlovable is built on the belief of being defective, so how could you love me? Therefore you’ll abandon me. To try to prevent that I subjugate myself and then I get mad at you and at me. A merry-go-round of bad beliefs and bad feelings.

To break the cycle I have to have new beliefs. We say “old tapes” but now I know they are so deeply imbedded that they are closer to subliminal messages. I do the work of catching and changing those messages when I am aware of them but so often I seem to “come to” in the middle of being convinced of one of the fear thoughts: “he doesn’t love me” or “they want to fire me” or “I’ll be alone and broke”.

There is so much that I can do about this but after that it really is God’s work. I think that’s what steps six and seven are about…do what I can to change these underlying beliefs—they are after all what leads to lying, cheating, gossiping and being mean.

But I also need God to help me and heal me and that is my ongoing prayer.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Prayer of St. Francis

A couple of weeks ago I was telling a woman I know from program about some of my worries and she said, “Do you read the Prayer of St. Francis?” I made a face and she laughed and said, “Read it, read it.”

I have always balked at that prayer. I have resisted the way it puts others first and offers up humility and generosity. I have felt way too selfish for that prayer. The third step prayer and the seventh step prayer are asking for god’s help...but it’s God’s help to fix me. It’s about me having peace and me being sane. The St. Francis prayer is about serving others and giving peace and good to others.

But I felt that balk in me and I knew that was a sign. So I have been reading the Prayer of St. Francis. I’m giving myself three weeks. I do balk still. Am I really supposed to comfort others more than I seek comfort for myself? And to “understand than to be understood”? This is hard. Hard to say it and hard to mean it.

But like many other things in recovery I am doing this without believing it. I am on my knees and reading the prayer and trying not to choke on the words.

I’m giving it 21 days. God help me.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Live and Let Live

I heard Live and Let Live first in Al-anon and then in AA. For a long time I thought it meant, “Leave other people alone; mind your own business; stay out of their lives.” But that is only the “Let live” part of the slogan.

Over time I have come to understand the first part: “Live…”. Live your own life. Have a life. Have a life of your own.

Now I am coming to understand the “and” in the middle of that slogan. Live is first because we have to have a life of our own or we have no choice but to tumble into someone else’s life. We have to create and sustain and nurture our own complete and complex life and by doing that –almost by default--we have much less desire, interest or time to subsume or intrude into someone else’s.

When I am regularly investing in MY work life, social life, spiritual life, creative life, physical life and intellectual life then I’m not interested in yours or his or hers. Making MY life better and adding more good to my life—friends, hobbies, spiritual practices, new experiences, skills and people is the antidote to jealousy or trying to manage or mind someone else’s life.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Peeps

Today I bought five small packets of foamy, sugar-coated, artificially colored and flavored candy Peeps. This is one of my Easter rituals and as sacred to me for this holiday as remembering Jesus Passover supper tonight and having reverence for silence tomorrow afternoon on Good Friday.

These wondrous sugar creations that melt in your mouth --or explode when micro waved --are of course best served a month from now when they have stiffened with staleness. If you need to speed up the process you can poke holes in the cellophane wrapper and sit the Peeps on a window sill for a few weeks. Doing that also provides an easy and festive holiday decoration throughout April. Try that Martha Stewart!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Easter Brother

I consider the following to be quite telling about my own personality: I never believed in Santa Claus. I never, even as a little kid, imagined or believed that a man would go house to house in a red suit and bring toys and stockings to boys and girls.

I did, however, believe, until I was ten or maybe even older, in the Easter Bunny. In my own defense I have to explain that we lived near the woods and I saw all kinds of rabbits, little baby bunnies and distance-covering jack rabbits, all the time. But I also had two older brothers who, as only big brothers can, facilitated, my belief. Sig and Larry would talk just slightly out of my earshot about The Bunny. “Don’t let her see him”, and “Did you see the basket he left next door?” They also, to make it more convincing, put bite marks on the handles of our Easter baskets.

My brothers died when they were 42 and 48. Now I’m the oldest. At Easter I miss them. I miss having an Easter basket from Lar who –even as an adult—made me one that included the bunny’s teeth marks to remind me just how na├»ve I had been. And I miss our sibling tradition of finding the family “King Egg”. As Easter approached we would each decorate our own hard-boiled egg, fortifying them with dye and crayon and competed (Sig and Lar were both went on to become engineers) by ramming our colored eggs together to see whose broke first.

I also miss dressing up for Easter services, complete with new dress and corsage. The three of us continued to go to church on Easter even when we had walked away from organized religion. We kept this holiday because we all liked the uplifting Easter hymns like “Up From the Grave He Arose”.

I kept going to church on Easter even as, and after, Sig and Larry were dying because those Easter hymns gave me a weird hope. It was not a hope of miraculous recovery for either brother, or necessarily for a reunion in the “Great Beyond”, but hope for my own “arose” from the heartache of losing my brothers, my playmates, co-conspirators and occasional torturers.

One of my final conversations with Sig was about my car. I was 40 years old but still easily defeated by my car worries. Larry, who was then sick, was caring for Sig who was dying, and I called their house in tears to report the impending death of my car. Larry, who was on the phone with me, relayed the mechanic’s opinion to Sig who was lying in what would soon be his deathbed.

Lar said to me, “Sig wants to talk to you”. I was surprised because Sig’s speech had become painful and very difficult for him. I waited until Larry positioned the phone for Sig to talk. “Here’s what you tell them….”, he began, and he proceeded to dictate a set of car repair instructions to convince any mechanic that I knew a nut from a bolt, and that this girl had a brother who would not see his sister taken for a ride.

At Easter I have the best memories of a girl with brothers—of a basket-carrying rabbit who was “just here a second ago” and of making faces to spoil the, “Come on; Say cheese” Brownie snapshots that Dad took of our Easter outfits.

Apart from any theology, Easter lets me believe in the resurrection of my family, of my all too gullible girlhood self, and in a life that rises, falls, rises and dies over and over as we each cycle through layers of loss and gain.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Sunday Night Feeling

If you are reading this on a Sunday afternoon it may have already begun. You may have felt its first symptoms, sensed the first wave of gloom spreading across your day. What is the cause of this odd feeling? Simply Sunday.

I call this the “Sunday Night feeling”. It is a troubling combination of agitation and malaise, not quite a real depression, but a kind of dismay or dread. There is historic precedent for the melancholy of this day. In medieval times Sundays were holy days with no work but festivals, pageants, and public feasts made Sunday a joyous day. With the Reformation, Calvin and Luther knocked all the fun out of Sunday; there was still no work but holiness became a kind of labor. In the Protestant faith Sunday became a day for worship and study only. English settlers brought this Sunday custom to the colonies. In Virginia, in 1610, all you could do on Sunday was go to church and study the catechism. This was law; the penalty for a first offense was loss of a week’s food; for the second, whipping; and, for the third, death.

Of course we’ve lightened up over time but “Blue laws” – named for the blue paper on which Sunday edicts were written in New Hampshire, are not gone from our national consciousness.

Part of the Sunday night feeling is regret. Once again the weekend did not live up to our hopes and expectations. The weekend we’d hoped for, the one we imagine when we say, “TGIF” never really comes. What we crave on Sundays is more freedom, but what we experience is the collision of two great American values: freedom and work. We keep thinking that we can work our way to freedom, but the Sunday night feeling belies the truth. On Sunday, it feels like the more we work, the more we are trapped as Monday morning approaches.

The frenzy of each week often feels like a roller-coaster ride. On Sunday night we are pulling out of the station; the cable engages to pull us into another week, chug-a-chug-a-chug; Monday morning we crest the hill and here comes the week’s wild ride: commuting, committees, decisions, difficult people, strained budgets, office politics, and balancing home and work. There are wild swings and sharp corners; and no matter how many times you’ve been around this course that last whipping curve feels like a surprise each time. We fly through it and then it slows again…chug-a-chug-a-chug…you’re back to the station; it’s Friday and the attendant is saying, “Push the bar forward and exit to your left.” We are free.

Then suddenly it’s Sunday again and it feels way too soon to be back in that car. Once you get to the top of the first hill there is no stopping; it’s just a matter of style. You may close your eyes and grip the bar, or throw your arms up and scream, but whatever you do, you’re on this ride till Friday.

No wonder people are walking away, leaving jobs, and choosing voluntary simplicity; that stomach dropping feeling stops being fun by the 100th ride; the mortgage and credit card bills feel like the bar holding you in your seat forever. At about six PM on Sunday night, when the anxiety about the upcoming week starts to gnaw at you, you want off.

Even those of us who like our jobs get this feeling, but I think this is also why the want-ads are so fat on Sundays. On Sundays we are in the mood to fantasize, to do a bit of grass-is-greener imagining: Maybe a different job, a different field, more money? But Sunday gloom is an equal opportunity employer. It comes to those who make lots of money and those who don’t make enough.

This is why Sunday night TV is so popular. We watch the big made-for-TV movies, the tear-jerkers and melodramas. We want distraction from what will come with the ringing alarm we set so reluctantly tonight. It’s Monday we are dreading. This is not all in your head. Consider this: Almost half of all illnesses begin on Monday and Monday is the busiest day in hospital emergency rooms; and most distressing, of all seven days of the week, Monday has the highest rate of suicide.

Maybe instead of gearing up on Sunday nights we need to wind down. Maybe we could get up a little earlier and step outside to see the dawn or listen to music instead of the news. Maybe we can go more gently into this good week.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Step Four with Love

Last night I heard someone speak about the Fourth Step. She referenced the principles of The Oxford Group that fed the development of AA’s 12 Steps. As she described how they join she said that a fourth step should be a deep look at where we are today made with honesty, courage and absolute love.

The love struck me. I have made many step four inventories and tried to be as brutally honest as I could, but never have I been deeply loving as I considered who and how I am. What would it be like to do that? To look at myself very lovingly as I note what is hurting me and others, what is blocking my connection to God and what is keeping me in fear

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Courage and Fear

Here is a quote that I love and try to remember:


“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