Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Still Still and Feel

We hear it said many different ways in our recovery programs. "Sit still and feel" was the injunction to slow down and allow ourselves to experience the full weight of our inner lives.

But even in later recovery this is a tough task. We are still afraid of what we might have to feel.

Isn't that what so many of our addictions were about? We all had so many ways to mask feelings: alcohol, drugs, numbing out with food, working and worrying about others, all kinds of codependency and yes, even cutting or using sex.

In the New York Times yesterday I read a great article that shows that we are not alone. The article highlights research on this topic showing how people--all kinds of people not just addicts--use busyness and other painful distractions to avoid negative thoughts and feelings.

 The study found that people struggled if they had to be alone with their thoughts for just 6 to fifteen minutes, and  in one of the experiments 64% of the participants gave themselves electric shocks when left alone to think.  We might think that's extreme until we remember that we gave ourselves (maybe still give ourselves) shocks of food, work, worry or tiredness to avoid thinking or feeling.

My former sponsor says it best in this succinct way: "Feelings can't hit a moving target."

The full article from the New York Times is in the link below. Do take a look and then take a few minutes to really think about your life.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Letting Go

What are we now but voices
who promise each other a life
neither one can deliver
not for lack of wanting
but wanting won’t make it so
We cling to a vine
at the cliff’s edge.
There are tigers above
and below. Let us love
one another and let go.
-Eliza Griswold

Monday, July 21, 2014

Pain is the Touchstone of Growth--and Music

I was out for my evening walk tonight and listening to music on my iShuffle. It's kind of the Third Step way to listen--I take what the shuffle delivers. I noticed that song after song --many old timey favorites --are songs that we associate with good times.

But maybe it was walking at dusk that shifted my perception but I began to notice that some of the most beautiful love songs were written in World War II and they were written for and by people who would never see their beloved again. Today we cherish these as sweetheart songs forgetting they were actually  songs of grief.

Similarly music from The Great Depression. I have the sound track to "Oh Brother Where Art Thou" (Coen Brothers masterpiece movie) on the iShuffle and I kept hitting repeat to sing along to "Keep on the Sunny Side."

Often today we speed up that song and sing it like a happy dance when it was in fact a song of lost hope and last resort for people who had lost everything and who were starving.

Maybe we do know the pathos under those loves songs and the heartfelt melancholy embedded in Depression Era music. A part of us--the part we reclaim in recovery--can feel joy even in grief and hope even in fear.

Here's a sample: Click the link below to hear The Whites sing, "Keep on the Sunnyside" . This is close to the beautiful version they performed for "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou."


Monday, July 14, 2014

Recovery Rocks-Veronica Valli and More Stories of Amazing Recovery

I am so honored this week to be featured on Veronica Valli's wonderful website and blog: Recovery Rocks. You know that recovery does rock--it just does. We see dreams come true and lives change. Seeing other people's lives change in recovery is just as awesome as seeing your own.

Many times we can see the changes in others before we grasp what is happening in our own. So I got a kick out of writing this mini version of my story for Veronica and I'm putting the link here for you to take a look. It's my story and yours too I know.

Here is Recovery Rocks by Veronica Valli:


Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Positive Partnership With God

Earlier this week I wrote about Norman Vincent Peale and positive thinking, and how we now know there is a neurological basis for that practice. I didn’t know that back in the day when I was clinging—yes, clinging—for dear life to his positive words and inspirational writings.

Here is a quote, a scrap really, that I carried in my wallet and planner for years. He truly was getting me ready for recovery:

“A woman who works in partnership with her God becomes self-reliant, positive and optimistic and undertakes her work with the constant assurance of success. She therefore magnetizes her conditions. She draws to herself the creative powers of the universe.”

                                    --Norman Vincent Peale

Monday, July 07, 2014

The Power--and Science--of Positive Thinking

Oh, I just love it when something once thought to be old-fashioned turns out to be true and even better when we learn that it is scientifically valid. For me, this latest news goes deep.

Long before my recovery began I was holding on to my fragile sanity and my spirit by reading Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. He was a minister and a best-selling author, and his books had that “boot-strapping,” positive thinking kind of feel. In fact, his best-selling book written in 1952  is called “The Power of Positive Thinking.”

I had his books because my father read them. Looking back, my father probably had the same kind of anxiety that  I do and he probably had layers of shame and fear. He came from an immigrant family that struggled in poverty, he raised his siblings because his father died and his mother was mentally ill.  My father never talked about it but I sensed he got some comfort from Peale so when I left home at 19, and all of my “isms" were driving me, I read Peale too.

Yeah I supplemented my spiritual reading with alcohol, food and bad relationships but it’s interesting to look back 40 years and see the younger me trying to find relief in all those ways but always with some “help me change” book in her hand. Oh that girl. I didn’t know, of course that the books could have done me some good if I wasn’t simultaneously trying to kill every feeling I had. Thank God for recovery.

But thank God for this news too: It turns out that all the practices that Norman Vincent Peale was teaching are valid. According to the Neuroscience Center at University of California Berkeley and Rick Hanson, Ph.D.  the Center’s founder, we can in fact rewire our brains to increase our happiness by—here it comes—positive thinking.

No not by looking at puppies and kittens and not by ignoring the hard things that happen to us but by a deliberate practice of shifting focus and deliberately encouraging the brain to “absorb” the resonance of the dozens of small good things that happen each day. We can, in Hanson’s words, “rewire the brain, capitalizing on what is now known as neuroplasticity.

Not only does this validate what Peale was trying to teach us  ages ago but it also gives scientific ground to many recovery practices we’ve been taught by our sponsors: make a gratitude list, count the positives in each day, do good for and to others and you will be changed. If you think about the “pink cloud” stage of recovery when everything looks good and we are amazed that we can change so much that was us starting to experience the new wiring of our old brains.

If you want to learn more about this take a look at Rick Hanson’s new book where he describes the research and how to create a practice of re-wiring your brain. His book is called, “Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence.”

I can just imagine how happy Norman Vincent Peale would be to see this new book.

Here is more information on Rick Hanson's work:

Friday, July 04, 2014

Ambient Addiction--More from Mark Muldoon

 A week ago I wrote about Mark Muldoon’s powerful article in Presence Magazine in which he writes about the complexity of addiction within humanity. He quoted Gerald May in saying, “All people are addicts…to be alive is to be addicted, and to be alive and addicted is to stand in the need of grace.”

I wrote to Muldoon to thank him for the article and I learned that his book, “The Addicted Pilgrim” will be published later this year. It is sure to be a must-read for all people in recovery, and people in spiritual and faith communities.

In his work Muldoon presents this term, “ambient addiction”, which he describes this way: “An ambient addiction is a misguided but seemingly acceptable strategy to gain control over debilitating feelings of inadequacy and shame disguised as anxiety.”

He’s talking about the everyday stuff we all—or we each—do, in most cases things we joke about but for which there is a hint of angst. Too much TV, reading, shopping, Internet and social media, and all kinds of busyness—even seemingly good things like exercising, volunteering, and work.

People in long-term recovery recognize this immediately, perhaps with a tinge of discomfort or defensiveness. We have knocked off the biggies: alcohol, drugs, eating disorders or a sex addiction so we are reluctant to now have to consider our closets, kitchens, garages and calendars. We might rightfully say, “It’s my money” or “It’s my time” or even “It’s my body.” And certainly we are not doing the kind of damage we did years ago but this is where long-term recovery requires discernment.

Do we want to keep growing? Do we want to truly feel our feelings and know the truth about ourselves? We have that choice each time we get a second bowl of ice cream (been there), bought more shoes (done that) or insisted that working so hard is someone else’s decision not our own (that’s me most days).

The early AA writers knew this; they talked about our restlessness and our low-level, ongoing and terribly human anxiety. They called it fear and talked about it all the time. They also knew—from the wisdom of Carl Jung and The Oxford Group’s deep religious roots—that only be a deep spiritual experience could displace that fear.

Unfortunately we misunderstood the message and came to a misguided idea that fear/anxiety is bad and that acknowledging it or feeling it meant flawed recovery instead of what it really means: that we are fully human.

Mark Muldoon knows this and reminds us. Using scholarship and spirituality he makes the case for the humanness of addiction and of fear, and for the spiritual “solution”. Again, from his article in Presence Magazine:

“Viewed correctly, addictions are a vital aspect of the spiritual journey. They are, in fact, doors to the sacred that facilitate a deep and unique conversation with our deepest selves—that is, with Mystery and the Holy.”