Wednesday, February 29, 2012

AA as a Rule of Life

In the 5th Century Monastic orders began and part of their structure was around their “Rule of Life”. A monastery’s rule dictated times of day for prayer, for meditation, for gathering as a community, for meals and behavior during meals. Rules also—according to each monastic order—dictated or suggested how the monks behaved toward and with each other.
Some of those early rules have come down to us in church and spiritual practices. We know the Benedictine Rule—St Benedict—and the Ignation Rule from St Ignatius. Practices that many recovering people are introduced to on retreat or by a spiritual director come from these ancient rules of life.
In reading Margaret Guenther’s book, “A Home in the World”, I am seeing that AA itself may be one of the finest rules for life. Our steps and our traditions and our fellowship and our practices offer guidance on prayer, meditation, community life and a tradition of sponsorship and teaching. We jokingly say these are “suggestions” and they are, in the same way that the early monks received suggestions to pray five times each day.
Over time in recovery we incorporate these practices and suggestions—our guidelines for a way of life (we call it being sober) and for a relationship with God (we may say Higher Power to be most inclusive). The clue that this truly is a spiritual way of life given to us via our addiction is that our 12th step says that the point of the other eleven steps is so that we may have a spiritual awakening. The steps are not to get us sober but to get us to God. How often we miss that point.
And it makes sense. Our 12 steps of AA came from the six steps of the Oxford Group—the spiritual tradition that enabled Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob to get sober. Bill and Bob got sober in the Oxford Group—not in AA. After their recovery they adapted those six steps to be more inclusive—and more palatable—to men and women of wider faith.
But there is something lovely in thinking that we in AA share a tradition that monks lived by and still live by in their monastic lives. A Rule of Life costing not less than everything.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Academy Awards Tonight!

I’ll be in my pajamas early this evening but I’m prepared for the inevitable exhaustion tomorrow. I’ll be staying up late to watch the Oscars and I’m not alone. The Oscar ceremony is the highest-rated entertainment show of the year, second only to the Super Bowl.

Why such an audience to see movie stars walk across a stage? Well, we live in an awards culture in which everyone seems to be judging or being judged and Oscar night is the night to enjoy as much judgment as you want. From the purely cosmetic to the politically controversial, every kind of statement will be made—and critiqued. 
You can join in.  Make your self a set of Olympic-style score cards and rate everything: the hair-do’s, the dresses—best and worst-- and of course, the acceptance speeches.  We can expect to hear good, bad and ugly thank you speeches. We can hope for the outrĂ© and the tears, prayers and peace signs. That’s all part of the show .The Academy Awards is a show about shows. It’s style on steroids.  And part of the appeal is that this is one of the last remaining experiences we have of live television.  There are fewer of us now who remember when most television was performed live and therefore had the greater creativity that comes with spontaneity, improvisation, accident and recovery.
I know some people like to pretend they are too smart for the Oscars or that this is some kind of Culture-Lite.  I don’t buy it. As Yogi Berra taught us, “You can see a lot by watching”, and it’s truer than ever when watching the Oscars. After all, the Academy Awards is a television show about filmmaking which underscores the ultimate state of our visual culture. When the Motion Picture Academy Awards each year wins an Emmy award for television production we have the paramount example of a recursive universe. 
It’s also tempting to disdain movies as just entertainment, but we have to remember that movies, even bad ones, become part of us. They are now what plays or poems were in the past: important sources of metaphor and imagery that we draw on in our own identity formation. Human beings are always making stories and talking to themselves. Stories with pictures are even better.
The best movies, of course though, are the ones in which we star.  No need to be embarrassed, it’s a fact: Most of us are narrating our own story a lot of the time: “This is me shopping, this is me eating, this is me walking down the street.”
It’s one of the reasons that retailers—even outdoor shopping plazas-- have piped-in music –is that it facilitates this “story of me” narration that we constantly do in our heads. In the movie version of our lives we’re always seen from our best side so we deserve the car, the dress, the shoes, the meal. Having that little sound track helps the fantasy —and the spending.
Our need for stories and the editing of our own story come together this Oscar night. So pile on the rhinestones with your favorite pajamas. Serve up good snacks and be prepared: What will you say if they call your name tonight?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Addiction is on the Menu

You have heard the jokes. Shopping addiction, chocolate addiction, TV addiction, shoes too. And they are jokes. But they are not. Twelve-step recovery has given the rest of the world and popular culture the idea of addiction and recovery, “ Hi, I’m Max and I’m a Shoe Addict."
But stay in AA long enough and you learn that there is truth in every joke.
I’m re-reading “When Society Becomes an Addict” by Anne Wilson Schaef. Her ideas and concepts permeate our self-help vocabulary. One of her bold moves in this 1987 book was to describe Substance addictions and Process addictions. Substance—something taken into the body that is mood changing and almost always leads to physical addiction. Process--behaviors or interactions that can be used to change our mood.
We know this. Bill Wilson knew it too.  In early recovery many of us read that little pamphlet from Hazelden called, “Transferring Addictions.” I remember being so mad when a sponsor gave me that one but it hit home.
Here are some of the things Schaef lists as substance addictions: alcohol, drugs, nicotine and caffeine, sugar, sometimes salt, (Betcha can’t eat just one.) and all food –which can be a substance and/or process addiction. And her list of process addictions includes eating, dieting, exercise, television, gambling, sex, work, religion, worry and spending or saving money. We can add Facebook, LinkedIn, IPhone, Words with Friends, Angry Birds and on and on and on….
Here’s the tricky part, and why I continue to need ongoing discernment with other people in recovery: the process addictions are often things that have very good qualities. Think about exercise. We get in shape, we get a good habit of running or going to the gym, but what happens when we miss a day or can’t work out for an hour? Are we furious? In a bad mood? Change our behavior with others to get that workout back? Are we afraid? I’ve been there with exercise.
Shopping? Who doesn’t want to look nice or wear clothes that are becoming? But do we obsess? Spend money we don’t have? Wander the mall in a trance? I’ve done all that.
Ditto with food and work and worry. Does the behavior help me to not feel feelings I’d rather not feel? Feelings that, if I felt them all the way through, would help me to grow? Keeping very busy is my favorite and longest lasting addiction. My friend Brigid likes to remind me, “Feelings can’t hit a moving target.”
Here is something that helps me with this discernment: Marion Woodman, Jungian analyst and teacher said, “The natural gradient in us is toward growth. Whatever we use repeatedly and compulsively to stop that growth is our particular addiction."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Give It Up for Lent

In the Christian tradition tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. This day is the beginning of Lent—a forty-day period preceding Easter and the resurrection.

For all of my childhood, and many years after that, Lent meant giving something up. I gave up chewing gum, eating candy, fighting with my brothers, swearing. (None of those lasted but a few days) As an adult—before recovery-- I gave up substances, bad behaviors and even bad men.

Now I look at this 40-day window as a grace period and try to apply some new recovery to the “giving up” idea. Giving up cruel self-talk, or giving up missing my favorite meetings, etc. Sometimes I can turn it around: Read a few pages of the Big Book each day for Lent, or call my sponsor every day—new positive behaviors that I wanted to make into habits.

Now, as I work an AA and an Alanon program I’m thinking about giving up my unrealistic to-do list that I make each morning and punish myself for each night. And maybe I’ll give up staying up past 10pm when I know that I live and love best when I get eight hours sleep.

What will you let go of for Lent? What new behavior will you give to yourself? What goodness and recovery will you allow? All sober people have already experienced one resurrection. With new behavior and new layers of change we get to have our spirits lifted up again and again.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentines Day in Recovery

Even after all these years of recovery I catch myself having expectations for Valentine’s Day. How many resentments it has caused. Dates, boy friends, husbands. Even knowing that Valentine’s Day is a commercially created day, the cultural pressure exists.
How do recovering people practice loving kindness for ourselves and others on Valentine’s Day?  How does sobriety guide me to make a Happy Valentine’s Day in or out of a romantic relationship?  What does love really mean in the context of recovery?
One of the joys of sobriety is watching other people grow. For me, it has been particularly moving to observe sober men as they change their lives and beliefs.
Early in recovery—just shy of two years --and at that point where the fog is clearing, a man named Fred who was in his early 60’s came into my home group one morning. It was his first day out of treatment and he was in pain. His “bottom” involved devastation at both work and home. He hurt.  I listened as he spoke and I recognized his grief. Then, after the meeting ended, I watched as the men in our group surrounded Fred, gave him phone numbers and insisted that he come to breakfast with them. I watched as the men gathered him, taught him, and loved him.
Even though others in the group had had done that for me, it was then, with Fred, when I was just sober enough to understand that I was seeing love in action. I hold that moment as one of my sobriety treasures. It was the day that I could also see the love that surrounded me and I felt my heart open enough to want that love to surround another person.
Maybe it’s because one of my own wounds is about my father that this touches me so deeply.
This week at my home group I heard men talk about how recovery changed their lives. Tough guys were softened, fathers recommitted, lost men were found, partners tried again, new romances began and they were trying to do it all differently.
It makes me happy to see men change. To know that under different circumstances my father and my brothers might have changed too. To know that there is an endless supply of love in these rooms and that we are changed by that love.
In early recovery I used to hear, “Let us love you until you can love yourself.” It felt like a puzzle, a bafflement. I didn’t think you could love someone into change. Hadn’t I tried that all those years before with disastrous results?  I know now that I didn’t really love; I was just trying to control someone or to make him take care of me. In romantic relationships, and sometimes as parents, we mistakenly try to love people into changing. It generally doesn’t work.
But in AA it does. We can be loved by our AA fellows until we can love ourselves. And when we have learned to love ourselves, we can then truly love others.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sylvia Plath Bake-Off

Today is the anniversary of the death of poet, Sylvia Plath on February 11, 1963.
On that  bitter, cold, dark London evening Plath put her two small children to bed then turned on the gas stove in her kitchen, stuck her head in the oven and died. She was 30. She was talented. She was celebrated. She was heartsick. She was depressed.
Celebrate Plath today by baking something yummy. Make cookies for someone you love. Bake lasagna for dinner. Read a poem. Write a poem. Cherish your life.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Sex and Recovery

It’s what got many of us into recovery and it’s a marker of how far we’ve come. Sex. Pre-recovery we did it with too many people, the wrong people, the wrong gendered people or it was bad when we did it because we numbed out or didn’t have enough sense of self or self-esteem to get what we needed. In early recovery we may still have done it with the wrong people (the cute guy in our home group or the married guy who was 13th stepping.)
We finally found our way to women’s meetings where it was safer to talk about sex, sexuality and relationships. We made women friends in recovery who were in similar life stages: wanting to date, newly divorced, new baby at home, perio-menopausal or post menopause, (“Where’s my Estrogen?”) We could talk and learn about sex and sexuality as it changes over the course of a woman’s life and we could apply principles of recovery to those stages. (Ambien? Really?)
Some of us found that the booze was hiding a different sexual preference, and some of us found that booze was covering up long buried traumas and past sexual abuse. If we stayed sober thru that hard stuff we did come into—or out, as the case may be, the sunlight of the spirit in our sexual affairs as well.
That’s healing.
This month our magazine, The Grapevine, has a cover headline that says, “All About Sex” and feature stories about healing in our sexual lives, and some of the sexual issues that face us in recovery—and in our meetings. Read the one called, “Confessions of a 13th Stepper”.
We endeavor to practice these principles in all our affairs. Yes, all of our affairs.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Make Up Forever

In yesterday's New York Times there is an article about getting a make-up lesson. Many of us have done that at a department store or beauty salon. I have done it more than once--oh heck--I've done it a dozen times!

Looking good is part of a recovering woman's life; at some point we want the outsides to match our insides and we dress better and get a good haircut and yeah, we fine tune our make-up to fit our age.

But here's the crazy thing in yesterday's Times article. The gals in the story who were going to make-up artists to learn how to improve their looks with color and cream were not 50 or 40 or 30 or 20. They were not even 18 or 15. No, the story is about girls 8 and 9 and 11 whose mothers are signing them up for make-overs and make-up lessons.

One mother said she was "looking for beauty options for her 8-year-old daughter."

How friggin sad is that? It's like an engraved invitation to not like yourself. What are we saying to girls and young women? Who will be surprised if that little girl drinks at 12?