Monday, December 29, 2014

The Right Book at the Right Time

It has been true across the years of my recovery, and maybe in yours too? When I am in need of growth and change, or it’s time to address a persistent issue, the right book will come to me.

Yes, books. My first step into recovery was through the intervention of a book. “Women Who Love Too Much” by Robin Norwood saved my life and jump-started my recovery. I was dying of disordered eating, body dysmorphia, and alcoholism. But it was all very secret and hidden. The alcoholism was hidden even from me because of my low quantities, and my preference for sweet drinks and pretty glasses gave me nothing to compare to what I believed an “alcoholic” looked like.

But what was painfully obvious to me, and to people around me, was my inability to be present in a relationship. Consequently I tore through them like pages of an old-fashioned movie calendar. I hurt people and I got hurt. People who loved me were hurt to see it happening over and over. And so I was given books, multiple copies of Robin Norwood’s “relationship” book.

Except that “Women Who Love Too Much” really isn’t just a “relationship” book. It’s also about the addictions practiced by women who grew up in abusive and addicted homes. Ding! And the kinds of partners those of us who are ACOA or were abused will inevitably be drawn to, and will re-create. Ding! And Norwood famously says, “If you have these kinds of relationship issues it’s most likely that you have a problem with food, alcohol or drugs.” Ding! Ding! Ding!

My recovery began as I –in a moment of absolute grace—called OA and AA and Alanon and ACOA twelve-step programs.

Later, after years of recovery had made miraculous changes in my life and feelings and my relationships, I struggled again. The belief in my incompetence and the ever-present belief that I was damaged felt impossible to shake. 

I went back to therapy hoping to mine a few more seams of the old family business, but instead I landed in the competent hands of a Cognitive therapist and was handed yet another book, “Reinventing Your Life” by Jeffrey Young, Ph.D. and Janet Klosko, Ph.D. and I began to learn about “schemas” or patterns of thought that actually created the feelings I was having.

The big breakthrough here was understanding that it is my thoughts that create my feelings, not the other way around. And that there was a way to catch and change the thoughts. It’s hard work—no joke --and somewhat uncomfortable, but so worth it in experiencing yet another layer of deep change. And of course, it goes on and on and on. We’re human after all.

Now, this year, a new book has come to me from a colleague. Talking about work and workplace issues (always a bedevilment) and this woman that I knew for maybe a month tells me about a great book about work. Again, maybe a moment of grace, I hear her and borrow the book. In two days I knew I needed my own copy of “Leadership and Self-Deception” by The Arbinger Institute. 

Arbinger Institute is a corporate consulting firm that brings the principles of Alanon to facilitate team building, conflict resolution and personal growth for managers. I felt those same “Ding’s” as I read, wrestled with and tried to surrender to these recovery principles in the workplace.

We say, in our Twelve-step programs, that God works through other people, and I think it is also true that God works through books, and when we are open and ready we may get the right book at the right time.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Recovering Christmas

Christmas in long-term recovery: It changes every year. It involves negotiation and discernment. While some of the holiday habits are always black and white (alcohol) some are grey (food) and some are passionately colorful (relationships).

Holidays have changed so much over these recovering years. From white-knuckled not drinking, to staying away from places and people who drank, to staying away from all family—two years of not speaking to my family of origin while I did the heavy lifting work in Alanon. Then backing into the grey—seeing folks, learning not to lecture (and torture) them, bringing my own beverages and for some years even my own food.

The years of crying when my family sent gifts of alcohol and candy ignoring my abstinence and sobriety, and then years of just crying because I was watching them die—and not me. And then more years of laughing, sighing and just accepting.

Relationships on and off and on again. Marriage and divorce through the holidays. More addictions uncovered, dreaded, accepted, recovered. Crying over all that and then, much later, laughing too.

Now it’s clear that I don’t drink. Guests are welcome to bring their own alcohol if they take it when they leave. It’s not a temptation.
Food is different. It’s less an issue of back and white but always a consciousness. It’s about awareness and honesty: What am I eating—and why? Am I hungry or is there something or someone I don’t want to deal with? And what is in my house: no alcohol but I no longer demand that other people change their lives for my food plan.

Holidays are much like other days: lots of prayer and an ongoing program. A wonderful sponsor, a recovering family of choice, a spiritual director, sober friends, Alanon friends, OA friends, wise friends who’ve never had any addictions. And lots of gratitude. And now, years later I can let holidays be special too observing traditions and taking breaks.

Now celebrating the New Year doesn’t require big promises and lists of Do’s and Don’ts. The only resolution is keeping my recovery first. Long-term recovery: It’s a wonderful life.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

In Defense of Late Shoppers

This is one of my favorite days of the year. I’m going Christmas shopping.  For a long time I was ashamed to admit that I prepared for the holidays with less than a week to go, but the truth is, this is the best part of Christmas.

No, I didn’t procrastinate.  I know all the advice about how to make Christmas shopping easier. But there are some things that don’t get better just by being easier. I’ve read those How to Get Organized books, but I’ve also lived through enough tragedy to know that trying to organize one’s life is an illusion.

I grant you that yes, there will be a moment when I’ll envy those who had their gifts wrapped in August.  But that’s kind of like having a good report from the dentist isn’t it? All very wholesome but where’s the fun?

No, those of us who began shopping this week are enjoying the real spirit of Christmas: We get to watch humanity test itself and we’ll see kindness and patience and grace enacted –or honored in the breach-- next to the stack of 30% off cashmere cardigans.  We will also endure the “I was done in August” folks who last night realized that they need one more gift; and they are typically the ones sighing heavily or making lots of eye contact inviting everyone to share their misery.

We who start our shopping now know that we are engaging in a holiday ritual that is closest to the original: It’s cold out, traffic is as slow as a lane of donkeys, there is no room in the parking lot, and we get to watch a young family with a triple stroller searching the mall for a baby changing area. It makes you want to drop to your knees and pray.

Yes, shopping in August could make Christmas nice and tidy. But real life is anything but that. Consider the Holy Family: There was no plan; Mary was days away from delivering a baby; they had to go on a long trip, and then she had to give birth in a barn. No tidy and not neat. 

The crux of that first Christmas is that sometimes in the midst of mess and stress and fear, angels show up and miracles happen.

But in order to experience the miracles you have to be willing to put yourself where human beings are being human. Yes, it’s a gamble, but relationships are like casinos: You must be present to win.

So tonight I’ll be where humanity is. I’m heading out to the mall, bundled up, and bracing myself for mixed encounters with my fellow man. I’ll be trekking in from the outerloop of the parking lot, looking for a few gifts and the real spirit of Christmas.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Ebby and Bill Work the Steps 80 Years Ago Today

Today is a special day in AA history. On this day, December 14, 1934, --80 years ago--Ebby Thatcher came to visit his old drinking buddy, Bill Wilson, and in Bill and Lois’s Brooklyn kitchen Ebby gave his testimony and took Bill Wilson through the Oxford Group conversion process.

This is what, today in AA, we call steps 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. It was Ebby’s gift to Bill and that gift that has been passed on to all of us, and on to the millions of people in twelve-step programs.

In the Oxford Group members would take all of those steps in one evening: The inventory, the confession, the examination, and then making the list of people harmed. Then, encouraged by a sponsor, new members went out to make restitution—later called amends.

 Ebby was Bill’s sponsor. It began there December 14th—one drunk helping another. Bill was willing. He saw something in Ebby. He wanted what Ebby had.  From this start we get Bill W. committed to sobriety. And you know the rest of the story.

Eighty years ago--from a cold flat in Brooklyn to the rest of the world.  We know that Ebby later struggled. But we also know that there would be no Bill Wilson, and no Alcoholics Anonymous, with out Ebby. He was was well used by God. Thank you Ebby.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Do You Remember to Surrender?

I bet that you, like me, have had one of those experiences where you worry and sweat and fuss over some situation (or person) in your life and then you go to a meeting or talk to a sponsor or a recovery friend and you remember that you could have surrendered sooner. It’s that old, “I could have had a V-8!” experience.

So how do you remember to turn things over? And how can you remember that you have a Higher Power: God, Goodness, Grace, or the Group that you can rely on. I often think that having a 12-step bumper sticker on the back of the car is a terrific service to others. The driver behind you gets a jolt of remembering his/her commitment to recovery—but what about you?

Yes, in early recovery you may have (I did) piled your desk with recovery slogans and pamphlets, and little recovery mottos etc. But maybe you’d like to be a little bit more discreet now? That’s smart actually—we are maturing and no longer broadcasting our membershipJ

I love a great reminder tool a good friend taught me. I noticed that she had frog figurines and some frog
pictures in her car, desk calendar, kitchen etc. I thought it was just one of those “collector” things until she explained that her frogs were her reminders to Fully Rely On God. Yeah, F.R.O.G.

Cute? Yeah. Corny? Maybe. Discreet? Definitely. And does it work? Oh yes it does. So I have learned to keep a few frogs where I can see them. And yes—it works even if your HP is not a “God”—you still get the good reminder to take a breath, surrender and turn things over.

Recently I was buying some kid’s toys and I saw a bright green, plush Beanie Baby frog. My first reaction was “that’s cute but a bit cornball” but when I put him on my desk he immediately dropped (flopped) into a yoga pose so I knew this frog would be a perfect reminder to fully rely on my higher power, and to “move a muscle change a thought.”

And yes, he is also very playful and that’s another good reminder for my usual busy, important, serious girl self.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Can You GIve Yourself a Day Off?

I agree, it may seem like the craziest time of year to bring this up, and maybe it is, but let’s just plant the seed now and begin to grow toward the practice of having one day off every week.

I know, most of us in traditional jobs think we have two days off—called the weekend—but you know better. I know better. If you have kids, in-laws, a fabulous hobby or you want to write a book or start a small business then you know the truth: you have no days off.

That’s my life too—great job, plus writing, teaching, caregiving, family who live far away but who need attention, and my aspirations: eating better, being more fit and even being more relaxed means doing more stuff: Yoga class, meditation group, church, and taking workshops. Recovery means another list of things I want and need to do.

Yeah, all that “make life better” stuff can contribute to making life stressful.

So now I’m getting the messages: I hear a panel by a group of women I admire –all super high achievers-- and they have committed to taking Friday’s off. I read a “Shortcuts to Happiness” article in a women’s magazine and it says, “Take one day off-with no errands.” Then I pick up an article on Christian theology and there it is again, “Take a sabbatical—once a week.” It’s the idea of Sabbath, a day of rest, a real weekend, no-tech days.

Can I do this? Can you? Can we try?

I know that can’t do it all at once but in the coming New Year I’d like to get there. My baby steps are these: computer off at 9pm on school nights, then get in bed with a book by 9:30. No email after 6pm on Fridays—when I’m home with my man really be home with him—not in the next room clicking away. And social media? Yes, it has snuck up on me and now I need to sneak away. I’m not reading every post, not following every link, and the pressure to use every mode? (You must Pinterest! You must Instragram!)
 Hmmmm..No I don’t.

It’s that old “wants” and “needs” thing: What do you need to do? What do you want to do? What do you have to do? And what are you choosing to do? Most of the time when we say, “I have to do X”, the truth is that we are making a choice…and seeing our decisions as choices means we are not victims.

So can you give yourself a free day? An evening? Or an hour? Begin now to baby-step it, see yourself making choices. Take a breath, say no, and ask the Mary Oliver question:

“What will you do with your one, wild and precious life?