Sunday, August 26, 2012

Retiring But Not Shy

Many of us in recovery get “outside help”—code for counseling or therapy. The combination of a great recovery practice and a great therapist has given me so much growth and so much support over these years. In the beginning there were things I didn’t talk about in therapy that seemed to belong only to recovery meetings—like my relationship with a sponsor or learning what surrender meant, and there were things that I saved for therapy rather than talk about in meetings—the specifics of food addiction or the darkest parts of my early life.

But now I find that the flow of issues and conversation is much more open. My current therapist has many 12- step clients so she knows our lingo and our meanings, and I talk about all parts of my life in my recovery world—either in meetings or with my close recovering women friends.

Over these many years I have had three extraordinary therapists, so of course I also wonder about their lives. As I have aged they have too, and as I have reconsidered new life for myself—they have as well. But how does that work when you are a therapist?

I’m finding out. This week I had the opportunity to read a new book, “Retiring But Not Shy” by Ellen Cole and Mary Gergen. Both women are therapists looking at new stages of life and work, and in this great book they have collected the stories of 21 feminist psychologists who have made and are making life changes.

These are wonderful personal stories by very smart and very interesting women who are psychologists. And the book is valuable reading just for that—all those things you’ve wondered about. These are smart, interesting women who just happen to be psychologists, but their choices, thinking, relationships-- and lives are relevant to all women over 40, maybe especially women in recovery, who are just old enough to know that there is more coming. And who know that we need role models every step of the way.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Recovery Goes on Vacation

Well, of course recovery never really goes on vacation but recovering people do. Going to meetings while vacationing is one of the smartest things we can do. It’s not just that we stay sober longer and better but vacations get better the longer we are sober.

One plus of vacation recovery is that we learn to stress less about the “stuff” of travel. One of the best pieces of vacation advice I ever received from a sponsor is that “The trip begins when you are packed.” I used to be so miserable all through the process of getting to the place where I was going to be vacationing that the car ride and the airport and the taxi rides were awful—for me and everyone around me. I wanted to get to the vacation place cause then the vacation would begin. When I shifted my attitude—and it wasn’t easy at first—to say to myself, “This too is part of the vacation adventure”, then sure enough it was…and then I could look for the good parts of the delayed plane and the weird taxi driver and the odd meal.

But the other reason that vacations get better with longer recovery is that I discovered that those of us in 12 step programs have an amazing resource that other travelers do not: we have contacts in every city and town in the world.

There is something so fun and so smart about asking a 12 step group for suggestions about where to eat, what to do, the best way to drive to the next city etc. I’ve been tipped off to bargain shopping, fabulous inexpensive restaurants, and we don’t need a guidebook to tell us where the locals eat or shop—we have local “family” that we can ask. This is where AA and AAA meet up and it is such a bonus to travelers.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Relapse is Worse in Longterm Recovery

I just love Renew Magazine—it’s all about recovery, treatment options, recovering people, with many surprising angles and approaches to recovery.

This week I read a piece in Renew by Tracey Dee Raub about relapse and it literally made me sit up and slow down. In the first paragraph she says the 90% of recovering people will have at least one relapse in the first four years. That’s scary. And maybe—here in Out of the Woods land—it’s just scary for folks we know…but here is what is scary for those of us with 10 or more years: “Those who move into long-term sobriety have this daunting reality to heed: People with more recovery time are less likely to return to a program of recovery after a relapse than those who are new to recovery.”

Ok—that is daunting. If we relapse we don’t go back…we suffer, struggle and die or even worse, don’t die—just live miserable lives again.

I do not want that Sam I Am. No I don’t.  

The article goes on to describe why people relapse: S.L.I.P.-- Sobriety Lost Its Priority. Raub did some great homework for this piece. She has powerful statistics on relapse. She quotes Deni Carise from Phoenix House who says that, “The predictors of relapse in substance abuse, diabetes, asthma and hypertension are all the same. With all of them, if you don’t take the medicine and you don’t follow professional guidance, you will relapse. The top relapse predictors are the same in all four chronic illnesses. And the more sobriety you have the less likely it is that you will survive a relapse.

Remember that AA quote that says, while you are sitting in the meeting your addiction is over in the corner doing pushups? Turns out it’s true and statistically valid.

So I am bookmarking this article to re-read every month. I haven’t thought of my addictions as illnesses in a long time but I’m back, and I want to stay back. Looking at the relapse stats for folks with longtime recovery has given me pause. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


I have always loved Helen Gurley Brown. I know the bad rap she has had esp. by the early feminist crowd, but it’s funny, even as a teenager I knew that Friedan and Company didn’t understand how radically feminist Helen was.

Yeah, she talked about sex when no one else would. And she didn’t think that having beautiful clothes, a great body, a terrific career, paying your own way, and orgasms was selling out to the “man”.

Maybe she was a post-feminist before feminism?

Ok, maybe being 5’4” and weighing 98 pounds suggests a hint of a problem, but Helen bought the Duchess of Windsor theory: “You can never be too rich or too thin.” We’ll, yes you can. But Helen was fierce about everything. Growing up in poverty she had a voice for women that rang true always.

Helen—from her first articles that later became “Sex and the Single Girl”—always talked about work first. Work hard, advance your career, use every skill you have, get as much training as you can, shine in the workplace, ask for opportunities. And after that hard work, using your voice, speaking up, taking care of other working women—yeah—then go buy a beautiful silk blouse and wear it three times a week, and say yes to great dinners, dates and sex.

And can you call a woman who says, “take care of your orgasm and teach him how to do it” not a feminist?

She was a fabulous writer. Take a look at the later books where she talks about how to age and how to be a political shaker. Also take a look at the recent biography of HGB—“Bad Girls Go Everywhere” by Jennifer Scanlon.

I miss her already.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

You Only Need One Summer Novel

The end of summer count down has begun. From here we push on to the finish line at Labor Day. The wish lists we made weeks ago now weigh on us: the outings, the trips, chores, projects and for many of us--the pile of books we promised to read this summer.

Each friend’s recommendation and each review adds another book to our pile. I make lists and I add more to the Kindle. The books pile up on the coffee table and the bed stand, and the library list is dog-eared and scribbled. 

So, where to begin? You’d like a good novel and a romance and some history too. You want some help with the relationship thing, and, now we certainly want a better understanding of politics and economics. But then there’s also that stack of business books you saved all year; you want some new ideas about management. You want to think about work differently. And then there are all those recovery memoirs. What’s the story with women and men and addiction?

I have a suggestion. There is one book that you can read now that will give you everything. There is one book for the boat and tote, the chaise lounge, the blanket and the bed. There is one, beautifully written book that illustrates the insidious connection between women and men and appearance and addiction.

Hands-down, the single best, summer book is Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. With Tolstoy’s tale you get everything: romance, history, a relationship how-to book, and the best management advice you’ll ever read. You’ll see how tiny choices add up to good lives and how tiny choices also add up to disaster. You’ll see a woman, a complex, decent woman—like you or me—undone by a subtle combination of pride, fear, ego, and restlessness. Don’t we know restlessness?

Don’t balk at the bulk. Yes, it’s a big book but every kid and maybe you too—have just knocked off the three Hunger Games books and/or Shades of Grey. Believe me you can do better! Besides by choosing Anna K. you only have to buy one book.  Here’s why:

Anna K. is the best relationship book ever written. It’s got examples of how to make a marriage work and how to how to ruin one from the start. Worried about infidelity? This is the book that, well, wrote the book on that topic. Tolstoy shows how couples get into that terrain and how you can get back out. Robin Norwood’s famous, Women Who Love Too Much, doesn’t even come close to what Tolstoy writes about emotional dependency and the impact of addiction on a family.  And he shows us how it’s not the big obvious decisions that are our undoing, it’s the small almost casual ones.

As for new ideas about work: Tolstoy offers the most compelling and insightful analysis of why people work, and how to motivate them. Tom Peters has written half a dozen books trying to get at what Tolstoy packs into just a few scenes. Levin, Anna’s cousin, is the best management consultant you could hire; by showing us Levin with his workers, Tolstoy articulates the subtleties of the relationship between worker and manager, and shows exactly how you can make a day’s work good or bad.

And addiction. It’s amazing how many years Anna has been dissected and most literary critics miss the fact that she is addicted. To meds and alcohol. And then her codependence. And the people that try to help her. It’s all here. Tolstoy knew.

But, you may insist, fiction can’t help your real life. With all due respect, you’re wrong. Fiction gives us the assurance that the story that we love most—our own—is worthy.

Besides, if you finish Anna K. before August runs into September, there is always Tolstoy’s other little book, War and Peace, which will bring us right back to this day and our very, very real lives.          

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Fighting and Freedom

I had a fight with my husband. It was one of those with the repeating theme. It was our same fight, but with different details. And, yes, me saying, “Why don’t you…?” and “You always…”

As much as I really wanted to enjoy my righteous rightness (and I am 89.5% right) I also felt the undeniable familiarity of this fight. That’s one of the downsides of longer recovery—you can’t hide from yourself so well anymore—knowing that you own part of it  takes the fun out of fighting in a flash.

So what was I going to do? How could I walk through a conflict that was hard and where I really did have hurt feelings?

I used some recovery tools. I sent email to my sponsor; called another sober woman and I also went to my bookshelf. I always go to books. I came to recovery by the grace of Robin Norwood’s books, so for me bibliotherapy is real.

I started with our Big Book. Step 3, yep, and surrender—yuck --but also yep. I added some Alice Miller—definitely—I have those issues for sure. But “how”—how could I move past hurt feelings? How could I shift the energy from fantasies of revenge to using this situation for growth?

I landed on the book called How Can I Forgive You? By Janis Abrahms Spring and I got relief. Spring writes about really hard stuff like overcoming infidelity and parental betrayal so I knew I could lean into her wisdom for this fuss we were having. Here’s what I read:

Your freedom lies not in protesting the unfairness of the violation or in getting the offender to care. Your freedom –perhaps your only freedom—is in deciding how to survive and transcend the injury. Don’t underestimate this freedom: it’s enormous. With it comes the power to decide how you’re going to live the rest of your life. As you take the task of healing into your own hands, you empower yourself and have peace.”

Bingo! It was peace that I really wanted…not to let my husband off he hook necessarily but to get me off my own hook and out of my spinning head. It’s that wonderful paradox of AA and Alanon—being selfish enough to take the focus off of being right and take back your own good life.

The rest of her book is even more wonderful and you can apply her Ten Principles of Acceptance to home and work. Check it out: “How Can I Forgive You” by Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph.D.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Heard and Overhead at BlogHer

Friday I was in New York City for the BlogHer Conference. It was a first and incredibly eye-opening. There was what I expected: thousands of bright, interesting women who love to write, and bunches of women who have turned blogs into businesses. That’s not my thing, but I was pretty inspired by the passion for the written word and the connections made by blogs. And there was the unexpected: Hundreds of vendors pitching their products and brands to women bloggers. I did think, “Well, duh.”

But also unexpected were what those products were: condiments, snack foods, cleaning supplies, paper products and vacuum cleaners. Yes, vacuum cleaners. I know. I thought, “Even here in the blogosphere stereotypes prevail.” But they are stereotypes supported by marketers who have crunched their numbers. We may be bringing home the gluten-free, faux bacon and microwaving it—but women are the decision makers for high priced appliances. But sad, ya know?

The most wonderful part of being in a crowd of smart word-loving women was listening to them. Here are some of the take-aways from formal sessions and just sitting and listening:

Blogging matters because this is the cyber-campfire. People come for the stories.

The truth about stories is that stories are all we are.

The whole story is the whole story.

I’m 50 years old; this is as nice as I’m going to get.

There is more than economic metrics; there are also the metrics of connection and friendship.

There is value in being uncomfortable. As Americans we are addicted to being comfortable.

When asked if having multiple blogs made it hard to have a clear identity, the speaker said, “All women have multiple identities and multiple personalities. We are teacher, parent, writer, partner, dancer, activist, vegan, employee, boss, friend, leader; that’s what makes being a woman hard.” She got a lot of applause.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

We Build New Muscles

I am asked by people outside of recovery why I "still go to meetings after so many years." Yeah, many people assume that once the drinking is done and the major issues are cleared up, why go back. They may be thinking of it like a medical issue. The skin is better or the cancer is gone or the surgery is over so go live your life. But recovery is about so much more--the kind of recovery I like is so much more.

I have been doing Pilates for a couple of years now. I love it, my body loves it, my posture is better, so much of my body has changed. So why go back? We wouldn't ask that question. In fact my 12 step recovery is a lot like my Pilates. This week in a Pilates class I found a new muscle. Well, I've apparently always had these really deep lower abs but I wasn't using them--the other muscles were overriding and doing all the work. But all of a sudden in one exercise (called Gyro Abs if you are into this) I felt something waaaay down there and it was a muscle group I hadn't been able to identify or isolate before. It was really hard, and now I'm aching, but it feels so good.

In the same way I continue to identify character defects, fears, nagging ideas and strengths and gifts-sometimes they are also waaaay down there, and there may be some aching at isolating them too. But later that also feels so good.