Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Shoes Shoes Shoes

Can shoes be an addiction? It’s one of those things that you have to sort out for yourself. Maybe asking yourself if your shopping feels compulsive? Secret? Shameful? Is it hurting you? Getting in the way of something else you want? Or is it fashionable? Frivoulous? Fun? Sometimes a shoe is just a shoe. Not really. For men shoes are just shoes. But even then, no. Shoes are always screaming billboards of personal identity.

In Chris Cleave’s new novel, “Incendiary” one of the lead characters is explaining to her new friend why she has to change her shoes in order to change her life and she says, “Good luck adores good shoes.”

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Voice

I picked up Geneen Roth again today. Her newest book is called “Women, Food and God”. In the section I opened to she is writing about The Voice.

This isn’t unique to people with food issues or eating addictions. All addicts have a version of The Voice. Many non-addicted people have The Voice too—those of us in recovery recognized somewhere along the way that we were eating, drinking, shopping, starving, exercising or manically pleasing other people to quiet or mollify The Voice.

Roth writes that, “The Voice feels and sounds so much like you that you believe it is you. You think you are telling yourself the truth…the intention of the Voice is to stun you not to activate your intelligence…Its intent is to keep you from being thrown out of whatever it perceives as the circle of love.”

I’ve come to understand that my Voice is young—a younger part of me—kind of mixed with my mother’s fears and some crazy reasoning I cooked up as a kid—a young part of me that figured out—in a kid’s way of figuring—that if I could be prettier, thinner, smarter, then I would be loved. If loved then not left. If not left then safe.

Of course that young self only had access to limited experience and experiences that I saw thru its eyes and didn’t really understand. So I concocted a set of ideas that are still broadcasting into a 57 year-old head. It’s kind of charming and sweet in a way—that is when it’s not making me quite crazy or insisting that I have to keep EVERYBODY happy or else just use whatever is handy to not feel at all.

In AA we sometimes hear comments like, “My head will try to kill me”, or “My best thinking got me here.” Both true but not because the Voice is malevolent—it’s young, it thinks it can help, but we know better. That’s why we don’t give car keys and chain saws to six year olds.

Roth writes, “The Voice usurps your strength, passion and energy.”

Is there an antidote? Harry Potter learned one: Don’t listen to The Dementors. Don’t believe what they say; change your thinking when the dementors are around.

Writer Byron Katie has another way. She says, “I love my thoughts. I’m just not tempted to believe them.”

In AA when we hear someone new or a bit misguided we laugh and say, “Thanks for sharing” We can say that to the Voice also, and “Keep coming back.”

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Montaigne on Death

I’m reading Sarah Bakewell’s new biography of Montaigne. Wonderful format: she writes one question: How to live? And answers it in 20 essays giving glimpses into Montaigne’s life and writing and thinking.

A near death experience was a key to his life and thinking. He wrote:

“If you don’t know how to die don’t worry; Nature will tell you what to do on the spot, fully and adequately. She will do this job perfectly for you; don’t bother your head about it. Life is more difficult than death; instead of passive surrender, it takes attention and management. It can also be more painful.”

Monday, November 22, 2010

Get Ready for Thanksgiving

This week we are preparing for Thanksgiving. There is a lot of shopping and cooking in the next few days --but there are also emotional preparations to be undertaken this week. Like many, you may be torn between the happy anticipation of a good meal and seeing family, but also the dread of family feuds that leave you wishing to hide in a corner of the living room.

Along with the usual “issues” that each family faces around the turkey table—the in-laws, sibling rivalries, and adolescents with attitude—we can stir in some raw feelings about national politics and a debate on the economy. It’s Thanksgiving in the REAL America and nobody’s very happy.

So many of us so want it to be the other Thanksgiving, the one we imagine that other families have, but which really only happens in made-for-TV movies. WE think that Thanksgiving’s just not what it used to be-- But then again, it never was.

It seems that we can’t shake our romantic idea about that first one with the grateful Pilgrims and the wise Indians, but it’s safe to say that most of us wouldn’t have been comfortable at that dinner either. The truth is that the Pilgrims, with their cute buckled shoes, weren’t innocent refugees from persecution. Rather they were religious zealots and not exactly tolerant.

Here’s the history: After the Protestant Reformation and the split from Catholicism—creating the Church of England--there were many who felt the church still needed to be “purified” of Rome’s influence. Those were the Puritans. Among the Puritans were some folks who were even more extreme and who wanted complete separation. These were the Separatists--we know them as the Pilgrims. These were not folks who believed in freedom of religion. What the Pilgrims believed was that the Church of England was corrupt, that Catholics were the Devil’s spawn and that they were superior in knowing God’s truth.

We still have some emotional resonance of those ancestors and their vibe is with us at Thanksgiving. So be prepared.

Part of the problem is that religion permeates this day directly or indirectly; someone or something is being thanked for the good in our lives, but there are political tripwires from the stuffing all the way through to dessert. Most of us will be sharing a meal with folks who not only mix their potatoes with their peas but who mix politics with their religion: Every current event, everything in the headlines--war, terrorism, same-sex marriage, the war and the Middle East—touches religion in some way. And that intersection of religion and current affairs will cut right through the dining room table on Thursday.

Even saying grace is tricky. When the blessing includes a prayer for peace someone at the table will be listening for what kind of peace? Do you mean Get-out-of-Afghanistan peace or the bomb them into submission kind?

On Thursday we may be humming, “We gather together…” but in our heart of hearts we want to insist that OUR team should win, that OUR recipe for stuffing is the best, and that OUR candidate was right.

So if you find yourself dreading the doorbell, or if Uncle Harvey mentions the President when he says grace, you may want to retreat to the kid’s table or sit in the den to watch the game. But Instead, give thanks that this holiday comes only once a year, and remember--- it’s all in the spirit of the day.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Whack-a-Mole Ego

Just when I think I have it right it pops up again. The past few weeks in my new job my mantra has been, “Keep my ego out of it.” I’m paying attention to how many times in a day I need to be important or special or noticed or smart or good—yes, even good. Sometimes I talk to myself like a little puppy, “OK, ego down, ego down.” Oh my, the training required.

And then just as I am thinking, “My, aren’t I good at this no-ego, humble thing, it hits me: That’s ego too. I catch it here and it pops up there, I get that ego moment to soften and notice another place where little ego is waving its hand like a third grader who has the answer.

Ah, I think good intention and gentleness are required here. My ego is a little puppy, third-grader, hoping the teacher, and mommy and the person with the treats will see Me! Me! Me!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I friend recommended the blog “AddictionLand.com” to me this week and I have been reading non-stop. I think you will like this too. AddictionLand covers all kinds of addictions: food, sex, drugs and anger addiction too and the stories are powerful.

Another woman’s story of addiction and recovery—and lots of expert resources here as well.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Books Books and More Books

My recovery began with a book. It was “Women Who Love Too Much” by Robin Norwood. Over the years I have been helped by many other books: personal stories, memoirs, self-help books and spiritual books. All of these in addition to “conference approved” literature like the Big Book and the 12 & 12.

Some of the other books that stand out as especially helpful—books that came to me at the right time or that moved me along on a particular issue are these:

“My Name is Caroline”, by Caroline Adams Miller—one of the first and best books about 12 step recovery for women with eating disorders. A revelation that nice, smart women can have bulimia and anorexia and recovery.

“Seeds of Grace”, by Sister Molly Monahan—a first person description of the spirituality of AA. I love this book and I’ve given it to so many women. A nun who had to find belief, faith and a Higher Power. She describes how she works—actually works—each of the steps.

“The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron—How to be an artist, recover as an artist, and find the creative—often hiding under addiction. I “did” this book over and over. My copy is scribbled in, dog-eared, worn out. Morning pages start here.

Three years ago I added: “Reinventing Your Life” by Jeffrey Young and Janet Klosko. This is cognitive therapy for the lay person. Most easily digestible and most directly applicable. This really helped me when mining the past no longer felt productive and I realized it was my thinking rather than my drinking that was the issue.

This year it has been these two:

“Creating Your Best Life” by Caroline Adams Miller—Yes, this is the same Caroline who wrote about eating disorders—now she’s looking at what makes life good rather than what made it bad. Filled with fabulous research-based tactics and tools to achieve goals. Incredibly helpful; this book led to joining an accountability group.


“The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin—the women who tried almost everything to get happier. She blogged about all of it and then made it into this book. I have to say I’m sorry I waited so long to read this and try some of her great advice.

So please share: What books helped you in recovery? What books do you recommend to friends?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Military Mental Illness

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 the midst of another war with yet newer factors. In Afghanistan and Iraq our troops face guerilla combat with the added stress of suicide bombers and armed civilians. These increase the psychological difficulties, and we are now seeing 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’ll will label our broken soldiers, how we will care for them-- and what will be changed, now and later.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Jill Clayburgh The Unmarried Woman

I read today that actress Jill Clayburgh has died. Her great breakthrough role was in the movie, “An Unmarried Woman.” Maybe you remember this film? Clayburgh’s character was a woman in a kind of recovery—her husband leaves her and she is devastated and then slowly with therapy, good friends and a love of art she changes. She changes so much she glows. She dances.

So many things stand out from the movie and Clayburgh’s role. The art she collected, her dancing in her white tank top and undies, the great clothes, the Coach bag!

Part of Clayburgh’s genius in this film was the subtle changes of body and movement as her therapy and consciousness-raising (yeah 1971) took hold.

I remember watching this movie over and over in the year before my recovery began. Yes, true-- I was drinking glasses of wine and crying as I watched the movie but I wanted what this woman had. Maybe in some way Jill Clayburgh got inside of me and helped me to believe that I could change too.

“An Unmarried Woman” is a great woman’s classic. If you haven’t seen this you’re missing Jill Clayburgh at her very best—and some inspiration for whatever you want to change in your life. Put this on your Netflix list for sure.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Invite Your own Everybody

Over the area where I sit to mediate I have a whiteboard with pictures of women –and one man--who inspire me. It’s kind of a personal pantheon. I started doing this when I read the book “Your North Star” by Martha Beck and realized that she like me, like many of us, can be tormented by the “everybodys”. This idea that “Everybody knows…” or “Everybody does…” Beck was trying to become a writer and didn’t know many writers so she gave herself writer friends made of well-known writers and read their bios and stories to get a new “everybody” in her life. She surrounded herself with other writers—living and dead—to create her own reference group. "Create your own everybody” was her advice.

On my wall are pictures of these women: Coco Chanel, Dorothy Day, Georgia O’Keefe, May Sarton, Wislawa Szymborska, Erma Bombeck, Helen Gurley Brown, Pema Chodron, Amelia Earhart and Audrey Tatou and the one man: Alain deBotton.

The pictures have been up for a while and some days I don’t pay attention but sometimes when I am praying or meditating I’ll look up and realize that there is a bit of guidance available from my “friends”. Some days I am aware of their successes. Other days I’m reminded of their failures in the midst of their successes. I might note their outspokenness, their creativity or their courage. Or how they aged. Sometimes when I take a poll of their experience I see that all of them had heartbreaks and challenges in intimate relationships. And then too I notice that they struggled often to have their work understood or accepted. All of them had equally strong friends and enemies.

Today I am aware that they were—isn’t this a surprise—women with a distinctive sense of style—yes even poet May Sarton and poverty advocate Dorothy Day.

I’m keeping an eye out for new members of my “everybody”. Should William James be allowed to join? Frida Kahlo? We’ll see.

But tell me please, who are the members of your “everybody”?