Thursday, March 31, 2011

Letting Go of the Need to Be Secure

I continue to think about this idea that instead of praying to feel safe I could pray to accept insecurity. One reader asked whether we need to feel safe in order to grow. Maybe it’s a matter of degrees? I certainly was unsafe often as a kid and that made growing up hard, but then I did grow “strong in the broken places.” Unfortunately those strengths (people reading, ESP, mastering crisis situations) are both strengths and weaknesses as an adult.

I am as shocked as anyone that I even had this thought that I should pray to accept insecurity so I’m trusting that it could be an unexpected answer to a prayer. Life is not secure or stable and only relatively predictable so instead of fighting to make it lie down and obey maybe there’s a way to say, “There it goes again” and laugh?

I think it is a matter of degrees. At certain ages and in certain ways we need to be safe but then we have to learn to accept insecurity. But if you grow up in a family where it’s too insecure you just feel that any insecurity is wrong? I’m gonna be chewing on this one for a while.

But here are some rather mild ways to warm up to the idea of letting go of security. These are baby steps in embracing instability:

• Try new and exotic foods each week—a new cuisine in a new restaurant in a new part of town. Extra points if you let someone else order for you.

• Buy a new ingredient and cook with it without asking anyone how to use it. Extra points if you buy it in a store where you can’t decipher the language.

• Go to a movie that you do NOT know about. No reviews, no comments from friends.

• Deliberately get lost when driving: turn left, then left, then right etc. Do this in daylight and try to not pay attention to any directions or compass points. No GPS lady either.

• Listen to new music for a week--especially any radio stations that immediately seem annoying.

• Go to some event, location, or one-time class that seems “weird” “odd” or stupid when you see it listed in the paper.

• Each day do something that puts you physically off balance: stand on one foot, do a yoga pose, walk along a curb, lie on one of those great big exercise balls, sit on a ladder.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Negative Capability

Working the steps again I have come to realize that the basis of many of my character defects is fear. No surprise there. The book tells us that is the case, but it’s another thing to really get it—to really see and feel the connection at a gut level. So yes, fear and particularly fear that I am not safe in the world.

So, because I also know that the solution is spiritual, I began to pray. I prayed to feel safe and prayed to know that God loves me and prayed to really get it that I am cared for and loved by human friends and by God.

I also prayed for willingness. And that’s when a funny thing happened.

In three completely different and unrelated places: in a book about poetry; in a book about management and in a book about home organization I read about accepting insecurity and instability. One was a chapter titled: “Let Go of the Need to Feel Secure.”


Is God answering my prayer with a giggle? “I can’t make you feel safe but I can help you learn to embrace insecurity.” One writer says, “We can’t grow when we are in our comfort zones.” And that is exactly what I have been praying for—“Please, please, please make me feel comfortable.”

So should I pray to feel safe or should I pray for the courage to accept uncertainty? Even to like it?

The poet John Keats used the term “negative capability” to describe being with the unknown. He valued this in writers describing it like this:”That is, when man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after facts and reason.”

I have been irritable and I have been reaching after—and begging for—certainty and reason. It’s time for a new prayer.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Burn This Book

“The Little Engine That Could”, by Watty Piper was my favorite book as a little girl. I had the version of the book that came with a little 45 rpm record and I’d play the record on my kiddy turntable and turn the pages of the book. I loved the little train and his little smile and I loved that he could do what the big black locomotive could not.

This morning I realized that the “Little Engine” book is a demon. Of course, yes, the message hit the ripe and ready core of an ACOA girl in just the right (wrong) way but when I quiet down and listen to some of my inner voices this is what I hear:

You could do it all. If you just worked just a little harder. If you just applied yourself. If you just got yourself better organized. If you used all the features on your Smartphone…

These are the devil’s messages, I swear. They keep me running; keep me believing that perfection is just around the corner, one color-coded closet away, one 36-hour day jammed into 24.

Sorry Little Engine. I think I can’t.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Saying No

I’ve come to this place again and again in my recovery. I have a rich and active life with work, art, friends and community. There is always something more that I want to learn or try. And then I cross some line and wham! I am overwhelmed and I need to back off from some things. But, in truth, there is always a pretty ugly moment before I realize that I need to back off—and it’s a kind of denial: I want to believe that I can fit 36 hours into 24 and I say “Yes” too much and “No” not enough.

I’ve come to this place again. And so I am having to practice my “No’s”. So borrowing from the anti-clutter advice books I’ve set a daily goal of saying “No” to three things each day—they can be large –I resigned from a class today—or small—saying “no” to a tidy laundry room, or no to my “need” to send a birthday card on time.

Three NO’s a day. Like vitamins for sanity.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Remembering Ebby Thatcher

On March 21st, 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 thirty years earlier. Ebby’s role is documented in our Big Book in the chapter called “ Bill’s Story” and in the many history books about AA.

The message that Ebby brought to Bill that cold, damp night was not AA, of course—there was no AA until later that year. But Ebby offered Bill the message and practices of The Oxford Group—an evangelical Christian movement that saved drunks. Our AA 12 steps evolved from the six similar 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. In that way Ebby was well used by God

We never know the role we are playing in someone’s life or what our momentary actions might mean to something or someone much later.

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

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Married to Amazement

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

~ Mary Oliver ~

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Ides of March

When I was  little I had breakfast with my father on Sundays. It was a special time and part of that was the menu: we ate donuts. In our sugar-free house this indulgence was permitted only on Sundays for efficiency’s sake. My father hated to be late, and so, in theory, this simple breakfast was a way to get us to church on time. But as my father was prompt, my mother was not, and so I was alone at the table with my Dad on Sundays.

Part of this special time was a joke we shared every Sunday--and it was every Sunday for many years. My father loved the classics and he tried to teach his children Latin. So on Sundays as I would take my first powdered sugar donut from the white bakery box, he would say, “Did you know that Caesar liked donuts?”

And every week I’d say, “No, did he really?” And my Dad would say, “Yes, Caesar and Brutus had donuts for breakfast every day. But one day Brutus was late for breakfast and the donuts were all gone, so Brutus turned to Caesar and asked, “Hey, how many donuts did you eat? And Caesar replied,

“et tu Brute”.

Monday, March 14, 2011

It's All Relatives

Today is Albert Einstein’s Birthday. A good day to remember that energy cannot be created or destroyed—but we can destroy ourselves by not using our energy well. And the biggest energy drain: Insisting that I am right. About anything. A favorite I borrowed from AlAnon:

“You may be right.”

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Controlling Others

Reminder to me:
When I try to control him or her or them—it just makes me more dependent on them. Letting go is a gift to me and step toward my freedom.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Home Work

How important is it? You may be asked this when you are refolding the towels so that the nice curved edge lines up with all the others—or when you are searching again and again for the just right flatware—Ok, obsessing over finding the perfect flatware. But consider this:

“Home is a force that shapes our daily lives—Home is an emotional center that nourishes us and supports our innermost dreams.”

“By taking care of your home you are taking care of yourself—improving your home has a therapeutic effect…it makes a difference in the way you think and feel about yourself.”

From the book, “Apartment Therapy”

Friday, March 04, 2011

Thank You Lois Wilson

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.