Thursday, February 25, 2016

Our Deepest Wounds

I have begun to work with a woman who helps with both body and spirit. She is a natural healer, and she teaches a practice called Emotional Freedom Technique that involves tapping key points of the body’s meridians while affirming both difficulties and their release.

I tap my head, my eyes, my collarbones, my solar plexus. I speak my fears out loud: abandonment, defectiveness, subjugation and emotional deprivation. I do this both as a kind of voodoo and with faith in this alternative means of allowing God access to my spirit and my body. I know that my wounds are deep and that I have scars in both my physical body and the spirit body.

Our deepest wounds are the lens through which we see the world.

My wounds—which have become beliefs—are old and deep. For a long time I was unaware of how much they run my life, and how thoroughly they distort what I see and hear and believe. Even now.

In Twelve Step programs we say, “Don’t leave before the miracle happens”, and I have experienced many miracles. Now, it seems, I am on the brink of another. This emotional healing, this freedom from the old beliefs that run me ragged, this clearing of the lens through which I see the world--this is the miracle.

I created Gods of Woundedness and I worshiped them for years. I am ready to relinquish these false Gods and let you love me now.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Recovery is a Subtle Game

My favorite bumper sticker has always been, “I didn’t quit I surrendered", and I loved sayings like, “Give time time” and “Trust the process”. But now, at more than 30 years in recovery, I feel a kind of sadness that time has indeed passed and that the doors that opened so widely and generously years ago to welcome me into AA, now open again and deliver me--sober, sane, healed and still healing-- back into the world. It’s like one of those elevators that open on both sides, you get in, and it goes up but you have to turn around and face the other way to get out. This is what it feels like to be a sober woman who is in long-term recovery.

There is, and this is the nice part, an ease and grace to it. It’s what the newcomers mostly
see when they say, “I want what you have.”  Not that there aren’t days that I hurt like hell, or act like a brat, or can still find myself breathless with emotional pain. The difference is that on those days--like when my brother died or when I learned that my husband was very ill--even then, sobbing on the floor, there was a part of me who could watch and say, “Go ahead, cry, it’s OK; you’ll be OK”.

Another plus of having long recovery: I no longer automatically assume that when something bad happens—and recovery doesn’t stop life from happening--I no longer assume that I did something wrong or that I am being punished or that God is testing me. 

Years ago, before I came into these rooms, when something bad happened it was very likely that it did have to do with something I had done. I drank to excess, lied about it, made crummy decisions about everything, and drank more to tolerate the shame and guilt. On top of that I swung back and forth between compulsive work and sloth, tried compulsive eating, and made a mess of most relationships. My first attempt at fixing what ailed me was men. I tried hard to make people love me. But even love and romance were little comfort. 

I remember going to see a therapist in those painful days just before I got sober. She listened to me pour out my pain, asked me a few questions and then looked me and said that I would need to do a lot of work. She thought I ought to be in therapy twice a week and maybe for about five years. I left her office in tears. Some of the things she said did get through my defenses but I was hopeless with her prescription. I thought I might as well just die because how could I possibly do anything for five years.  Five years? Just shoot me.

Then one day at work I heard some women gossiping about a Board member, a woman I admired. I didn’t know her very well but she seemed smart and kind and had a refreshing sense of humor. The gals at work were whispering, “Well, you know, she goes to AA”. I know they thought they were saying something awful about her, but I thought, “Oh my God, she goes to AA, she goes to AA!” It was my first experience of “If you want what we have…” I wanted what she had and I hadn’t even been to a meeting yet.

I think of that experience when ever I hear someone say, “You may be the only Big Book someone reads”. It was a gift. I was 12-stepped by gossip!

So I went to my first AA meeting. In a church basement of course, and the rest is history. My history, actually. I remember how in those first months I would hear people with three years and 5 years talking about their lives and “working a program”. I could see that they had so much that I wanted: they smiled and laughed and told stories on themselves. 

I look at my friends today. So many years later I am gifted with a group of women friends who have between 20 to 35 years of recovery. Sometimes when we have dinner or take a walk we talk about the changes, the tools we still use and those we depend on less now. We talk about what stays the same and what doesn’t. 

I notice how subtle recovery can be. After a period of years we really are different people. Sometimes we tell stories about the things we struggle with today –yes, struggle remains as long as our commitment to growth remains. I laugh about how shopping has replaced all other drugs. I see that my ways in the workplace still have the echo of a woman haunted by fear. But the big glaring chunks have been removed, shifted, and rearranged. 

What does remain? Questions. There are still so many questions: how do we keep growing?

The good news and the bad is that with double-digit recovery there is a lot less pain. The bad news part is that pain has always been what motivated me. Motivated me for change, for truth, for spiritual growth and motivated me to just plain cut out the crap. So when we get better, and life is easier, and there is less pain, so we just might drift in a way we might not have done in early recovery.

In earlier stages of recovery our shifts of mind and attitude were mirrored by external changes. We saw people gain or lose weight or cut and color their hair. We dressed differently, dated differently, took jobs, quit jobs, changed fields, got married and got divorced and sometimes got married again. Change was obvious and dramatic. If you laid the photos of our first year next to the photos from year five and seven you could see that growth and change had happened.

In later recovery the work we do is less obvious from the outside. In a sense we find our stride and our style, but if we could X-ray the mind, heart and soul of a woman in later recovery we’d see that dramatic change still continues and now more than ever, it is an inside job.

Lots more on long-term recovery in my book, "Out of the Woods" published by Central Recovery Press.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Girl Behind the Door--Attachment Disorder

Maybe this book is not a Valentine but it is definitely a love story.

John Brooks spent years trying to understand the suicide of his daughter Casey. That in itself a tragedy, but also that her diagnosis of an attachment disorder was delayed by so many years.

Casey was adopted from a Polish orphanage. She experienced extreme deprivation as an infant and, in a sense, never recovered from that attachment disorder. That despite loving parents, a good home and many benefits of an upper middle class life. What happens to us early does matter.

I spoke to John Brooks last week about his life with and after Casey and his long journey of research and writing. His discovery of the impact of early emotional deprivation and the resulting attachment deficit will interest all of us because attachment disorders—there is a spectrum—can touch lives of people with addictions as well. It is not a phenomenon of people who were adopted only.

Brook’s book is very powerful as he details Casey’s life, struggles, her death at San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge—which also has its own history related to depression and death, and then Brook’s research offering new information to adoptive parents.

Importantly Brook’s story inspires any parent who has a child struggling with a mental illness or behavioral disorder. His is a caution and instruction to keep searching for answers and expertise. 

Simon and Schuster published “The Girl Behind the Door—A Father’s Quest to Understand His Daughters Suicide” this week.

You can read more about the book and even see a video of John discussing Casey’s story at

Friday, February 05, 2016

Something is Rotten in Recovery

Last week we talked about the Dark Night of the Soul and the upside of spiritual darkness in our recovery journey. This week I want to say a little more about balancing darkness and goodness.
Granted, this is a conversation for women in long-term recovery. It would just be too darn hard to explain in a newcomer’s group. And, remembering my own early recovery, the proportions were off—there was too much that was dark and rotten.

My big insight this week comes not from The Big Book but rather from Vogue, my fashion

I was reading an article about perfume, which included an interview with legendary perfumer Frederic Malle. He was explaining what goes into creating a truly great perfume.
He’s had his hand (and nose) in many of the world’s great enduring and seductive scents. Malle said, “You always have to have some darkness in a scent, even if it is way in the back.” That penetrating and usually very expensive darkness in perfume turns out to be something rotten. (Think sweat, sex, wet dog, dirt.)

Malle continued, “It’s like in your intimate relationships. I think everybody wants someone who is nice, but too nice becomes miserably boring. A little darkness and mystery make things so much more interesting.” In the language of the perfumer, the rotten element in a perfume is called “animalic” or “skatolic”. Yes, does that word make you think of skunk? Exactly. 

For a fragrance to seduce and endure it has to have a touch of something rotten at the core. And, maybe, this is true in our own lives—our recovery lives. “We are not saints,” the book and the tee shirt proclaim, and we should never seek to be saints. Again, boring, and worse: not attractive. And since ours is a program of “attraction rather than promotion” don’t we want those who may be attracted to see (maybe smell) our imperfection?

This embracing of our rottenness—in just the right proportion—makes us whole and desirable and enduring in recovery.