Tuesday, March 30, 2010


When I was new in recovery I heard: “Find someone who has what you want and ask them to be your sponsor.” I always laugh at things we tell the newcomer. How would I know what someone had? So the first woman I picked as a sponsor was tall, blonde, had a degree from Harvard and was a published author: She had all the things I wanted! God laughed though, because she also had a great program of recovery—I had no idea about that -and she had grit! She took me grocery shopping, came to my house many times and took my phone calls at night, on her vacation and while nursing her newborn baby. And she made me read and write and work the steps.

Over the years I’ve had maybe ten sponsors, step sponsors and sponsors in other 12 step programs. Each one the perfect teacher, guide and gift for that stage of my recovery.

Tonight I had dinner with my sponsor and some of what we share is having a long career in AA and –God remains good—she also has experience in building a business while working an equally important day job, she’s an artist, wife, stepmother and a woman who loves clothes and style.

How lucky did I get? That very first sponsor told me one day, after I suggested that my new life in recovery probably meant I should not color my hair anymore: “You did not get sober to wear sackcloth and ashes: buy some new clothes and make an appointment to get some blonde highlights.”

We are met at the level of our needs in this program.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


In my therapist’s office I read a back issue of Psychology Today from August 2009.

Here was the fascinating tidbit I learned about jealousy:

French Psychiatrist, Marcianne Blevis,—(It really helps that she is French I think) wrote a book called, “Jealousy—True Stories of Love’s Favorite Decoy”. She insists that jealousy is a signal—not to blame a partner—but to look within. Inside ourselves, she says, we will find the source of insecurity that makes a rival seem superior to us. What’s at stake in jealousy—she suggests—is not the partner or the relationship—but the survival of our sense of self.

What is exciting about this idea is that it follows another of Blevis’ assertions: All human emotions exist to help us figure out who we are in the world. So jealousy too is a productive emotion for us. This very thing we cringe to feel or are shameful to admit is trying to help us claim a self. Jealousy is a resource that we call on when we feel at risk, when our sense of self is in jeopardy. “When we are jealous we are in the grip of an identity crisis.”

But invariably, according to Blevis, we misdirect our attention. We imagine our so-called rival with an aura of magical attributes—yet we are the one who assigned those attributes to the rival!—and they represent (hello projection!) something unrealized in ourselves.

I love thinking like this and ideas like this that turn it all upside down.

Think about the kind of people who trigger jealousy for you. Pretty? Young? Sexy? Smart? Successful? Children? Travel?

They are shouting thru a megaphone—This is what I want! They are invitations to take a step toward something that YOU want.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


I have been looking at a poster in the Ballard Designs catalog. A poster by Rodney White—his painting of two plump red cherries and these –also his-words:

“We tend to see happiness, when happiness is actually a Choice.”

I want to buy that poster and hang it over my bed.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Do You See Angels?

Today, March 24th is The feast of Saint Gabriel—messenger to Daniel and John the Baptist and to Mary—Gabe was the angel who delivered Mary’s big, shocking news at the annunciation. Whether your faith considers that story a myth, fairy tale or a fact the point is that there are holy messengers in our lives. In AA we meet many of them—they appear to us in our home groups, as sponsors or newcomers and in that person who speaks at a meeting whom we never see again but who leave us with a perspective or slogan or phrase that changes how we think.

Bob E., AA conference speaker from new Mexico always told his Eskimo story—he was talking about angels.

Yesterday I was struggling again with my thinking—how I scare myself into fear and worry. I prayed for help and happened to add to my prayer, “Angels and guides, if you are there, please help me.”

At noon I walked into a clothing store and while browsing the shirts and shoes I saw some little renaissance angels on a shelf—I moved closer and saw that the three little cherubs were holding their pudgy angelic hands: over eyes, over ears and the last one held a tiny hand over her mouth:

These were angels saying: See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Speak No Evil.

I just had to laugh. And I had to buy them!

Who are your messengers? Where are your angels?

Monday, March 22, 2010

First Book Day

The first printed book--The Gutenberg Bible—was printed on this day in 1457. Printing changed history and books change lives. What books have changed your life? A nod to all of our recovery literature but what else?

Robin Norwood’s, “Women Who Love Too Much”, is one that changed mine. And “The Wisdom of Yoga” by Stephen Cope, and “Anna Karenina” by Tolstoy and Trollope’s “Autobiography” and I love to re-read Diane Schoemperlen’s, “Our Lady of the Lost and Found.”

What book is your guide? Compass? Favorite?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ebby Dies in 1966

On this day in 1966 Ebby Thacher died in Ballston Spa New York. Ebby was Bill Wilson’s sponsor and the man who first carried the recovery message to a very ill Bill W. in Brooklyn 30 years earlier. Ebby’s role is documented in our Big Book in Bill’s story and of course in the many history books about AA.

The message that Ebby brought to Bill that cold, drunk night was not AA, of course—there was no AA until later that year. But Ebby brought the message and practices of The Oxford Group—an evangelical Christian movement that also saved drunks. Our 12 steps evolved from the six steps of the Oxford Group.

Ebby struggled to stay sober while Bill and then Bob went on to “found” Alcoholics Anonymous. But on this day we must remember there would be no AA and no Bill or Dr Bob without Ebby.

We never know the role we are playing in someone’s life or what our momentary good might someday be part of.

Thank you Ebby for carrying what you could and doing what you did.

Monday, March 15, 2010


I’m reading a new book about AA called “Undrunk”. It’s about being a newcomer and what happened in the first year. Funny to those of us who have been around a bit—all those impressions and misperceptions: Cult, God talk etc. But one great part of the new book is the description of the slogans: one by one he walks thru: “One Day at a Time”, and “All you need to know about God is that you are not it”. Some I have not heard for a while like, “Nobody ever got sober confessing the other guys sins.” (That is a help with my “her” work.)

But tools: literature, phone calls, sponsorship, working the steps, service. They are tools, and like the other kind you have to pick them up and use them. Some we’ll use more than others, we’ll have favorites and ones we prefer. But it helps to have at least a little bit of experience with all of the tools. I like the saying that comes also from the business world: “If your only tool is a hammer then every problem will be a nail.” We need to develop skills with tools.

But we also need to use them and to practice with them.

Recently I heard the artist Larry Poons speak and he was talking about using artist’s tools and the tools of any kind of creative work. “The creative process means”, he said, “that you trust your reactions with the tools in your hands.”

Also true in recovery. First get a well stocked recovery tool box. Then trust your reactions with the tools in your hands. That too is a creative process.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Habit is a Gift of Recovery

This week I am reminded of this lesson: Habit is a gift of recovery. Last week I had a “resentment relapse”. All the old fears and my head yakking at me. I was working up all my old fear scenarios—practicing my “I’m so smart” dialogues in my head, where I say the most cutting and the most clever remarks. Reminder: Insanity is talking to people who are not there. Another reminder from Alanon: resentment is giving up rent-free space in my head.

And perhaps the best reminder: resentment is like setting yourself on fire and hoping the other person dies of smoke inhalation.

But even with all that knowledge from years of recovery I was into it: My mental hand on my hip, my focus anywhere but on myself.

But here is the gift of recovery: Even as all of that was happening I was also praying, writing in my journal, calling friends to tell on myself, and going thru my lessons. Not the first day, but by day two I knew I had to pray for the person I was resenting. I wrote out my prayers—even while I was grumbling internally—and I started to pray for her happiness, heath, success and peace.

I find it helps me to write out the prayer and the numbers one to 14 and each day cross off a number as I offer the prayer. That way I do it whether I feel like it or not.

The habit of recovery saves my butt. It didn’t stop me from having resentment—but it got me started on letting it go even as I was playing with the matches.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Lois Wilson and AlAnon

March 4th is a special day to millions of people in 12 step programs. It is the birthday of Lois Wilson who might, with great affection, be called the most famous co-dependent. She was the wife of Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.

It was Ebby T., son of a prominent Albany family, who first “carried the message” to a very deteriorated Bill Wilson. The message Ebby brought to Bill and Lois was that he had gotten sober through the help of the Oxford Group, an evangelical Christian movement. The six steps of reformation in the Oxford Group were the forerunner of today’s 12 steps.

At Ebby’s urging Lois and Bill began to attend Oxford Group meetings and a few months later, on a trip to Akron, Bill reached out to members there and met Dr. Bob Smith. From the date of their meeting--one drinker helping another--we date the birth of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Those early meetings were held in private homes. Wives accompanied their husbands and took charge of the refreshments. While the men coached each other through confession and repentance in the parlor, the wives sat in the kitchen, confessing their own frustrations as they discovered the common impact that alcohol had on their families. To her dismay, Lois later wrote, Bill’s sobriety didn’t bring the happiness she expected. While he was drinking, Lois had played a central if troubled role in Bill’s life. Now, as he recovered she felt less important. This resentment over Bill finally achieving sobriety without her help troubled Lois. She and other wives, who had lived on the edge emotionally and financially, realized that the 12 steps “could also work for the wives”.

Every organization has history and myth. History tells us that the very first meetings in which the wives of alcoholics began to study the 12 steps began in San Francisco, but the myth, always more powerful, says that Lois Wilson began the program in New York.

The truth is somewhere in the middle. All over the country, as AA grew, it was women who often were first to seek help for their families. Lois and other wives offered support and promoted a spiritual program. At conventions Lois took the podium to tell her side of the Wilson family story, sharing with humor the lengths she went to control Bill’s drinking and the humiliation she endured as she realized she could not.

As Bill W. took on the role of father of AA, it added a nice symmetry to have Lois as the mother of Al-Anon. Positioning Lois atop the recovery pantheon was strategic; She was a doctor’s daughter, with a college education. Lois gave a respectable face to a problem that was shameful and secretive.

In 1957 Al-Anon gained broad public recognition when Lois Wilson appeared on the Loretta Young television show bringing the problem of alcoholism and its impact on the family directly into America’s living rooms.

But there is always danger when one is placed on a pedestal. Lois was criticized because she couldn’t do in her own home what she advocated for others: setting limits on bad behavior. While Bill did stay sober for many years he was also a chronic womanizer. The fact of his adultery was made public when in his will, he left part of the royalties from “the Big Book”, AA’s text, to his last mistress.

It may be that in this very personal and painful way Lois Wilson left us her finest legacy of recovery. Al-Anon with its mission of respectability for families affected by alcoholism, has today more than 30,000 groups in 100 countries. She also, by her graceful life and the imperfection in her marriage, gave us an embodiment of AA’s slogan, “Progress not perfection”.

Thank you Lois.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Learning and Re-learning

I am reminded that we learn in spiraling circles. We make progress and move forward but we also reach back into territory or lessons we’ve learned before. Maybe these are refresher courses? Or maybe they are new levels of the same lesson.

Today my new-old lesson is this: Tell someone. Tell someone how I feel and what is bothering me.

In early recovery this was a big one and something I had to practice daily. That’s why we learned to call our sponsor or another woman in recovery. To say, “This is what happened today and this is how I feel, or this is how I think I feel”. And sure enough that small step will start the shift of thinking/feeling/healing.

Further into recovery I sometimes forget that and I think that I can figure out my own feelings or that I am supposed to. But no, the sorting and discernment happens when I tell someone.

What does change is who I tell. Today I have many friends in recovery and many friends who are not in recovery but who happen to be more-or-less sane. So I can also talk with them. Or talk to my partner! Now there’s a wild idea: tell my partner what I feel. Which also allows me to be known by him, and me to know him, and it creates-- you guessed it—intimacy.

Ok, relearning underway.

What lesson from early recovery are you relearning this week?

Monday, March 01, 2010

All of It

A friend of mine told me what a wise friend of hers told her when she was contemplating marriage to the man she had been living with.

The friend told her to get very quiet and “make a list of all the things that upset you, annoy you and that you don’t like about him”. Then very carefully look at that list and ask yourself: “Can you accept each item on that list?”

If you can, then you can marry him because those things will not change.