Wednesday, July 28, 2010

It's Not About Who You Are

Here is one more delightful bit of wisdom I brought home from the International Conference in San Antonio:

A woman shared the guidance from her sponsor when she was a newcomer and starting to work the steps:

“You don’t need to spend any time finding out who you really are. We’re gonna take away all the things that you are not and who you are will show up.”

Monday, July 26, 2010

Recovery When Life is Really Hard

Over the last year my good friend Meg has written a book about her life in the year after the death of her daughter Maggie. Meg’s book, “Standing at the Edge” has just been published. It is a stunning book about death and life and grief and recovery. It is a day book—a small gemlike entry each day—the end result showing us what 12 step recovery is like and how it works in the trenches. How a woman lives her recovery in the face of the hardest things we have to live thru sober, abstinent, clean and one day at a time.
Below is a snippet from January 12 called Letting Go:

“I rarely have trouble sleeping, but when I do lie awake in the darkest and coldest hours, it takes awhile for me to realize that I am holding on, keeping my body tight against the pain of grief. I don’t know what this resistance to the mourning is about, whether it is instinct to avoid pain or some habit of my upbringing or personality. Nonetheless, it never fails that when I relax and let go, give myself to the great powers that are carrying me, and soften to the loss, then I am comforted and I can fall asleep. This has been the greatest lesson I have had to learn and relearn in my long recovery through the twelve steps: that I can let go and trust a power greater than myself.”

“Standing at the Edge” by Meg Tipper is available on Amazon.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

July 22 Mary Magdalene Day

Now here is a feast day in the Roman Catholic Church that sober women can celebrate. She was a real woman and she appears in stories in the New Testament Gospels. The good news is that Mary Mag was the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus, one of his first and most ardent followers and it was she who brought the news of the Resurrection to the Apostles.

But here is more interesting news about Mary Magdalene. Most scholars agree that she is the same Mary that used her wealth to support Jesus mission and teaching and she most likely is the same woman that Jesus healed by casting out seven demons.

It’s not a far stretch to understand “demons” as addictions and what it is like when one day we have them and the next day we don’t. Sober women can imagine this woman, like us, so grateful for the person who carried a message of healing and grace to her.

You can read more about this amazing Jewish woman who became part of the Christian story through her healing and then by her service in the book, “Alone of All Her Sex” by the historian Marina Warner.

But think about this: She had seven “demons” or “devils” or “infirmities” and a miracle happened. In a life of long sobriety we each have at least that many that need healing. I have alcohol, drugs, food, work, shopping, relationships and my thinking. How happy I am to have a program that can “cast these out” of me.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Uncomfortable Feelings

Today I’m remembering something that my first sponsor used to say to me when I would tell her how hard it was to go through my day with all kinds of uncomfortable feelings coursing through me.

She’d say, “Yes, those are very uncomfortable feelings, and they are simply that:

Feelings, and uncomfortable.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Temp for God

(This entry is back by popular request. Many readers asked for this again for themselves and for friends).

Here is a spiritual strategy that I began practicing a couple of years ago. I wish I remembered to do this every day because when I do, my days are so much better.

This came to me when I was working in an organization that hired temps to get through busy times. I noticed that most of the temps were pleasant, hard working and willing to do whatever needed to be done. They showed up each day and did what was on that day’s list. There was no sense of right, wrong, should, shouldn’t, not-my-job or why me? I thought, “What if I came to work like that each day?”

So now-- when I remember-- I think of myself as a temporary worker and that the temp agency that I work for is God. In my morning prayer I say, “OK, God I’m temping for you today; whatever shows up is what you are asking me to do and like a good temp I’ll do it pleasantly, willingly and without debate; where are you sending me today God?”

Maybe this new agency needs mugs that say: Temp for God.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Baseball, Recovery and Spiritual Life

The first thing I learned about baseball is this: If you raise your hand a man will bring you food. I learned this at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, and in my first year as a fan I spent most of the game facing the wrong way. Raise my hand, get ice cream, raise my hand, get popcorn, raise my hand, get peanuts. It was 1958.

Two years later I understood baseball was a game. On summer afternoons I’d beg my brothers to take me with them to the ball park. I was falling in love with baseball.

If baseball has taken hold of you too, you know it’s about more than your team winning. Sports, like religion, and like AA, offers consolations: A diversion from our daily routine, heroic examples to admire and emulate and a sense of drama and conflict in which nobody dies.

John Gregory Dunne wrote that, “Baseball is the couch on which we examine our psyches”. George Will said, “Baseball is the universe”. And catcher Wes Westrum said, “Baseball is like church, many attend but few understand.”

We have these sayings and many more because baseball is one of the greatest sources of metaphor in American life. And understanding metaphor is important because having and using metaphor is what allows us to talk about intangibles like spiritual life.

The historian, E.H. Gombrich, wrote, “Every culture has its favored sources of metaphor which facilitate communication among its members. Any cultures religion is what provides the central area of metaphor. The Olympus or Heaven of any nation will offer language and symbols of power and compassion, of good and evil, of menace and of consolation”.

Americans live so far inside the institution of baseball and so deeply in its metaphors that sometimes we can’t even see it. You may say you’re not a sports fan, but have you ever said: “She’s always in there pitching”. “You can’t even get to first base with him.” He’s out in left field.” “She was born with two strikes against her.” We talk baseball all day long.

Bart Giamatti, former President of Yale and former Commissioner of Baseball said, “Baseball has no clock and indeed moves counterclockwise, so anxious is it to establish its own rhythms independent of clock time.”

Baseball is one of the few sports that remain timeless. A game can be fast or slow. In this one area of our lives the clock isn’t driving; we surrender the clock to the event. But there is something else in this game that asserts the primordial and the spiritual: In baseball we begin and end at home. Home plate is not fourth base. The goal of the game is to get home and to be safe.

That is what we want. When we come to AA people say, “I felt safe and I was at home”. Home implies safety, accessibility, freedom, comfort. Home is where we learn to be both with others and separate. That’s what baseball players are: individual athletes with distinct areas of responsibility but also and always a team. Kind of like a home group.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Sweet Moment in San Antonio

For the four days of the convention we—along with 50,000 others-- wore our green lanyard nametags at all times. It was fun to look at the tags to see first names and home towns, Albany, Phoenix, Paris, Beirut etc.

On our last night in San Antonio we decided to go out for a really nice dinner. We picked a restaurant on the River Walk and made a reservation. When we arrived for dinner we were welcomed and assigned a waiter. As the waiter began to lead us to our table the maitre d’ stepped over to our waiter and discreetly said, “No, our guests with the name tags do not get the wine list”, as he took the leather volume from the waiter.

It was misguided, but well-intentioned, and very sweet.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Paradox of Time or One Day at a Time Maybe

In San Antonio I saw 50,000 AA members play out one of our major paradoxes. As AA members counted down their years of sobriety we cheered like mad for the man with one day and the woman with three weeks. Then when the old timers stood up we screamed again.

We do this in our home groups too. We are thrilled for the person with 24 hours, five days or one month. We say, “All that any of us has is today”, and “The person who got up earliest today has the most sobriety.” Then we brag that our sponsor has 28 years or that our sponsor’s sponsor has 35.

A contradiction? A paradox? I think the reason we are in awe of old timers is that we know that if they have been sober that long then it has to be true that they have been through it all: love, loss, illness, death, success, failure, more success, more failure, new love and more heartbreak—and they stayed sober through those things that we desire and fear.

And that is what we want for ourselves—one day at a time.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

An Intimate Gathering of 50,000

So “Why?” I’ve been asked, “Would you go to Texas in the summer to spend five days with 50,000 people?”

Simple answer: Because they are 50,000 sober people.

Better answer: Because with 20-plus years of sobriety I can sometimes begin to think I know some stuff; I can sometimes feel like a senior member of my group; I can smile knowingly at newcomers and I can forget that I am just at the beginning of making a sober and sane life.

But in San Antonio I was a baby again. Yes there were folks there with one year or maybe 5 five years but the typical attendee had 10 to 20 years of recovery. The speakers had 18, 28, 38 and 52 years of sobriety. One evening five speakers each had more than 40 years. Folks with that kind of history have been sober long enough to change careers several times, have more than one marriage or divorce or death –in sobriety. They have seen AA change and they have changed. They have had many sponsors and home groups and sponsees and worked the steps a variety of ways and their immersion and transformation shows.

Being with those folks doesn’t make me more sober or make time move faster but it is a powerful reminder that there are lots of people who still have what I want and it makes me recommit to this life out of the woods.

Monday, July 05, 2010

San Antonio and Back

I am back from San Antonio and the 2010 International Convention of Alcoholics Anonymous. I went prepared for masses of people and extreme heat and good AA, and I got good AA, very decent weather—high’s in the 80s thanks to hurricane Alex which cooled things down and masses of wonderful sober people. The convention was so extraordinarily well planned, managed and produced that I am now a San Antonio fan!

The unofficial count of participants at the convention was 52,000 to 54,000 people. Fifty countries were represented. The count is unofficial because it includes AA members, Al-Anon and Alateen members, and family and friends of 12-step folks. Still this is under the all time high of 55,000 people who came together in Toronto in 2005.

So, yes, AA people everywhere. Hotels, restaurants, tourist sites, on the River Walk, at plays and concerts and uh huh, in meetings. And on buses. The transportation alone was a stunning achievement. We never waited more than three minutes for a ride. And San Antonio is such a great walking city that we walked to and from the convention center, Alamodome, restaurants, museums and markets.

I heard great things in the marathon meetings and in the special topic conferences and wonderful things on the bus, at dinner and just eavesdropping—one of my favorite hobbies. With 50,000 sober people around you just hear amazing things all day long and I noted how many of them included, “And then my sponsor told me…”

In the next few days I’ll include some of my highlights here but let me offer you this right now. If you have never been to an AA International Convention do consider attending one. They are every five years so there is plenty of time to plan and to save up. It is not expensive: there are great hotel and airfare deals and AA makes sure there are options for every budget. When a host city agrees to entertain upwards of 50,000 people there are great prices and services.

The next convention is 2015 and it will be in Atlanta Georgia. June 30 to July 4. Mark your calendar and make a plan with your AA friends. Yeah, we do this thing one day at a time but on the side?-- I’m planning to be sober and in Atlanta in 2015.