Monday, March 22, 2021

Reading What They Read

When we have been in recovery a long time—(in our “Out of the Woods” years)—we have done a lot of reading. 

Most likely we have worn copies of “The Big Book”, and “The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions”. We probably have also been through, “As Bill Sees It” and several daily meditation books for people in recovery.

There are the specialty books for women and also for men. The Hazelden catalog and Central Recovery Press are favorite places to shop. 

Most of us, after years of recovery, discover another addiction or two, so we probably have some Alanon books on our shelves and maybe literature from OA or ACOA. As we progress in recovery we are looking for root causes, so we look at our family and our childhood for those factors.

And then, in the mainstream press, we find more and more self-help books and memoirs that offer us support and inspiration and compassion. 

So much good reading.

But there is another place to turn when we want inspiration and deeper insights into addiction and recovery and -how exactly—this program works. Those are the books that the early AA’s read. Those folks who started our program and who influenced what it looks like today read many books that we don’t talk about anymore. It can be insightful and fun to read what they read.

What we sometimes forget is that the early AA members stayed sober without any AA literature at all. Our fellowship was almost five years old before Alcoholics Anonymous (The Big Book) went to press. And it took a while for that book to reach most members of our new organization.
So, where did their ideas come from?

Well, because The Oxford Group preceded AA—and was responsible for getting Ebby and Bill and Dr. Bob and early members sober, many of them read The Bible—(Old Testament and New Testament). Hard to imagine talking about that in a meeting today

But they also read a lot of psychology. Two of the most important early reads for AA members were: “The Varieties of Religious Experience” by psychologist –and psychology great—William James, and “Modern Man in Search of a Soul” by psychologist and analyst, Carl Jung. You may recall that Carl Jung figures prominently in the earliest story and in the thinking of our founders. 

Two other classics that were considered modern thought in those years were also passed hand to hand in the AA communities were, “Man, The Unknown” by Alexis Carrel, and “The Sermon On the Mount” by Emmett Fox. In my home group there is a women’s study group that reads Fox’s “Sermon”  over and over. 

If you want to build your AA history reading and get some new inspiration give some of these older works a try. Especially William James and Carl Jung. You’ll find yourself saying, “Hey, that sounds like AA!” Because, in fact, AA sounds a lot like them. 

Monday, March 08, 2021

Getting Your Buttons Pushed

You know what it’s like to get your buttons pushed. No matter how long we are in recovery we can get tangled up. Suddenly in a conversation or a situation we are flooded with feelings that come from a past experience that is totally unrelated to the situation at hand.

That can be annoying or embarrassing or damaging if we are not aware that the feelings in the present belong to a situation in the past. But it happens, and it is an opportunity to grow. You’ll find a rich mine of material here for steps six and seven. 

You are going along, having a perfectly nice day, then in a seemingly benign conversation—or an email or a text—suddenly you are furious, or hurt or scared. What just happened?

You got your buttons pushed! 

It’s not comfortable and not fun but with the right attitude you can see the gift that this is. 

It is NORMAL to have this experience. The key is to watch for patterns. Is there a pattern in the type of person you spoke to? In their manner of speech? In certain words they used? In the issue you were discussing?

Here is what I tell people in my Workplace Communication class, but it also applies in our home life and our social lives:

If you want to be a good communicator you need to know where YOUR buttons are.

People can only push your buttons if YOU are not aware that they are YOUR buttons. This may be the most uncomfortable leadership skill you can acquire, but it’s ultimately more important than using the fanciest technology in your industry. 

If you don't recognize your own buttons you will always be tempted to say, "It's his fault or "It’s her fault." 

Always be willing to go back and look at your childhood experiences: 

Because that's where your buttons were installed.

When you have an experience of having your buttons pushed you CAN do more than react or repress. You can notice your patterns. Exactly what button was that? Who else pushed that? Who pushed it earlier in your life? 

The answers to those  questions will give you a lot of insight but don’t stop there. Take that pattern—and your insight--to your sponsor, wise friend or counselor. 

Sometimes our buttons get pushed at work, and that’s tricky territory. We don’t want to be unprofessional, but we can all get tripped up when a family wound shows up at work. We can forget ourselves and say or do—or believe—the wrong thing.

In that case you may want to talk to someone you worked with at another organization. If you are still good friends with a former colleague they can be a big help to your growth and change. They will help you remember how you were in that past job, and who pushed your buttons there. Again, look for the patterns. 

You’ll want to remember the safe sharing guideline: “Share. Check. Share.”  (Share a little. Check out the reaction. If you feel safe and supported, only then share a little bit more.) 

And keep it out of the realm of gossip. Gossip, even though it might feel good in the moment, doesn’t help us to grow.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Insecurity is My Superpower

Yesterday I was doing a new Daily Om Tarot class with Gina Spriggs. As part of the “clearing” process she had us write down ten of our negative beliefs. Mine went like this: I’m not enough. I’m not good enough. I am dismissed. I’m not seen. I don’t fit in. I’m a fraud.

So defeating.

And especially defeating because I have been in therapy and twelve-step programs and done so many self-help courses for decades. Dam, I write self help books!

So, I asked myself, “What is this?”

I read that list of negative beliefs again and I thought: Those babies are strong and really powerful. Look at all that insecurity. And then it hit me:

Insecurity is my Superpower.

I heard it. I said it out loud, and I laughed as the deep truth of it hit me in the belly. I heard the loud CLICK! in my head. It is weirdly true and very funny.

Insecurity is My Superpower.

Here’s why:

Insecurity gives me empathy. I immediately lean toward anyone who feels like they are not enough in any situation. Oh, I got you Cheryl Sandberg, I am leaning in on any actor with stage fright, and on any student who can’t find the midpoint between an A and an F, and on every manager who feels bad driving home, and on every single woman who feels like a fraud in any area of her life: work, art, motherhood etc.

Insecurity is like an invisibility cloak. God, that was my Harry Potter envy, and I had one of my own the whole time. Insecurity lets me slide down the wall in any setting and just take a time out. Those girls who are confidant and outgoing—they can’t hide; they are just so seen all the time. Exhausting.

Insecurity is a free pass to learn anything: No bravado, no need to pretend you know something, no need to act like you are OK. You don’t and you’re not. So I can just join the class, take the workshop, talk to the expert. I’m a blank slate. Write all over me.

Insecurity is a tool. Fear—(it’s basically fear)—can, ironically, trigger alertness and courage. Insecurity is not something to get rid of, but to embrace. It’s a kind of fuel. Ok, maybe you get a tummy ache from it, but I also get a tummy ache from Pulled Pork Super Nachos, and I’d never stop eating them.

Years ago I saw an interview with the great choreographer, Bob Fosse. You know his work: Pajama Game, Pippen, Chicago, Cabaret... those super stylized movements.

The interviewer asked him about his very distinctive style and choreography, and Fosse said this: “When I started to dance I had bad posture, so I created my dances with the (now signature) rounded shoulders. And I had “bad” legs so rather than use turn-out like in ballet I turned the dancers legs inward.” 

“And,” he said, “I started to go bald at 25 so I always wore hats to dance.” Hence his incredible use of hats as props in all of his major works.

And then he said this: “All of my gifts have come from my defects.”


Read that again: “All of my gifts have come from my defects.”

So yeah, I have been able to do so many things and go so many places because I am ultra-insecure. Hence:

Insecurity is My Super Power.

Wait till you see my bracelets.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Humility, Recovery and Self Care

This week it seemed like humility showed up everywhere: in my meetings and in conversations with people in recovery. Then it also showed up in non-recovery settings: in an article about management, and in a faith community publication, and finally in a tarot exercise that I was doing with a friend.

Well, that could only mean that I needed to pay attention to humility.

Luckily it’s a topic that crosses every stage of recovery. And our literature has a lot to offer. As we progress in recovery, and in our personal growth, we come to new layers of understanding of what humility means.

I remember in early recovery humility meant trying to not think about myself so much, and it was tied to uncovering the many episodes of self-centered fear. 

Then in a further stage of recovery I (mis)understood humility to mean not taking credit for anything or deflecting praise or compliments. “Oh, who me?” “Oh, this old rag?” 

It took my sponsor a long time to help me see that humility was not about being less than someone else (or pretending to be). And it was not about dropping my eyes or my head when I was with others. 

Later I came to understand that that kind of false humility is actually a kind of arrogance.

Like many things in recovery, the humility pendulum swings from “I’m  a big deal”  to  “I’m just nothing.”  Kind of like Goldilocks trying to find that “just right” chair.

Turns out that “just right” is humility. Humility from the word, hummus or earth: We walk on the earth not above it or below it. 

So this week I did some more reading about humility starting with Step Seven in The Twelve & Twelve book. Here is what I read:

“We saw failure and misery transformed by humility.”

“Humility had brought strength out of weakness.”

“Humility we discovered to be a healer of pain.”

Accessing true humility is like the discovery of an incredible medicine. Humility is a transformational agent; it changes weakness to strength and it heals us.

Why would we not all want that? 

When we don’t want it—or we fear it--it’s mainly because we misunderstand it, or we have confused humility with humiliation. But humility is freedom. It is the magic ingredient in being able to care about others and not care what other people think of me.

In another reading this week I dug into “The Way of Goodness” by Richard Gula—a Sulpician priest. I learned this: “The humble witness to gratitude because they know we are more gift than achievement.”  

He also said, “Humility is a quiet virtue.” Isn’t that nice? It reminds me of Dr. Bob who said, “Humility is perpetual quietness of the heart.” That’s one for the, “if I ever got a tattoo” list.

Gula lists these as practices that cultivate and express humility:

*admitting we don’t have an answer when we actually don’t.

*accepting a compliment without making excuses.

*acknowledging the accomplishments of another

*saying “no” when our plate is full.

Oh! Guilty.

But perhaps the most challenging expression and commitment to humility is being able to love and care for ourselves. 

I am ever challenged by this quote by French Philosopher, Simone Weil: “Compassion directed to oneself is Humility.”

Monday, August 03, 2020

Hearing Voices in the Pandemic

My recovery began in Baltimore, Maryland. An over achiever,  I jumped into OA and AA and ACOA and then accessorized that with some Alanon as well. As you can imagine, my whole  life was Twelve-step focused. But it turns out that it wasn’t such a bad thing. The alternative was my former life, which was painful and confusing—for me and for people around me. So, I was so thrilled and grateful to find a new life and new people as I dove deep and immersed myself in recovery.

When I tell my story now I admit that my character defects were a powerful help when I was a newcomer. I was ambitious and competitive --and a perfectionist. When told to get a sponsor I looked for the best one and selected two. When it was recommended that I do “90 in 90” I did that for five years. 

I read all the books about recovery and I read them all again. I helped to start a new meeting in Baltimore called Daybreak—it was every day at 7am. We joked that the meeting was good because we got up every day before our egos did. 

I was the secretary for the Tuesday 7am Daybreak meeting for 6 years. Every Tuesday  I brought donuts and Danish and made sure the coffee was good. I sponsored half a dozen women, and I said yes any time I was asked to speak at other Baltimore meetings.

Yes, it was about ego, but it turns out there was a big secondary gain. 

I filled my life with AA and recovery people—they became my friends, roommates, classmates, running pals, fellow dancers, and book group buddies. 

I went in deep and stayed. Baltimore was my home and the home of my recovery

Over time my sponsor pried my hands off the Tuesday meeting, and convinced me that while always saying “yes” was great in early recovery, by year 7 my progress could be better measured by the number of times I said “no”. 

And, surprisingly, she also said—at year 10—that maybe dating was an ok thing to do. So I did. Yes there were good dates and bad dates and good relationships and, “growth experiences.” And finally there was a man I loved who also loved me.

Just one wrinkle: He lived in Upstate New York—a place I had never heard of. But to quickly compress a very long story --I now live in Upstate New York.

I moved to Glens Falls, NY and then Greenwich, NY and then Valatie, NY and then Albany NY, which is now my home. 

Then, six months ago--COVID-19 came, and quarantine came, and shelter-at-home came. Going to work at an office stopped and going to yoga stopped and for a minute AA stopped too. But with stunning speed the international AA community embraced Zoom and conference call platforms. And within days there were meetings on line and on the phone. 

A friend from Baltimore texted me one day in March and said, “There is a Daybreak meeting every morning—and it’s on the phone. Call in.” So I did, and I was back. 

I had been away from Baltimore for 25 years, but I heard the same Preamble—the opening statement that sets the guidelines for discussion. I heard a dozen people that had been sitting in folding chairs near me in the Roland Park church 25 years ago, and I heard a lot of new voices and new stories too.

Since March I have been calling Daybreak at 7am every day—Monday through Friday. And kind of like jumping rope I figured out how to jump in to share my experience, strength and hope just as I would if the meeting were in person. 

I recognized the voices of my old friends and over time learned the voices of people I had never met in person but with whom I was now sharing daily fears, worries and celebrations. These new recovery friends—voices on the phone—I have not yet met in person, but I am learning and caring about their  kids, spouses, houses, finances and even pets. 

Most of us know the same slogans, and all the steps, but each day there is a new metaphor or interpretation.

I haven’t done “90 in 90” since those early recovery years, but now I’ve been at an AA meeting every day for six months. This is a solid gold silver lining of the COVID 19 pandemic.

For more on life in long-term recovery take a look at "Out of the Woods" by Central Recovery Press:

Thursday, July 23, 2020

It's Opening Day: Baseball and Your Spiritual Life

The first thing I learned about baseball is this: If you raise your hand a man will bring you food. I learned this at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, and in my first year as a fan I spent most of the game facing the wrong way. Raise my hand, get ice cream, raise my hand, get popcorn, raise my hand, get peanuts.  

It was 1958. 

Two years later I understood baseball was a game.  On summer afternoons I’d beg my brothers to take me with them to the ball park. I was falling in love with baseball.

If baseball has taken hold of you too, you know it’s about more than your team winning.  Sports, like religion, and like AA, offers consolations: A diversion from our daily routine, heroic examples to admire and emulate and a sense of drama and conflict in which nobody dies. 

John Gregory Dunne wrote that, “Baseball is the couch on which we examine our psyches”. George Will said, “Baseball is the universe”. And catcher Wes Westrum said, “Baseball is like church, many attend but few understand.”

We have these sayings and many more because baseball is one of the greatest sources of metaphor in American life. And understanding metaphor is important because having and using metaphor is what allows us to talk about intangibles like spiritual life.

The historian, E.H. Gombrich, wrote, “Every culture has its favored sources of metaphor which facilitate communication among its members. Any cultures religion is what provides the central area of metaphor.  The Olympus or Heaven of any nation will offer language and symbols of power and compassion, of good and evil, of menace and of consolation”.

Americans live so far inside the institution of baseball and so deeply in its metaphors that sometimes we can’t even see it.  You may say you’re not a sports fan, but have you ever said: “She’s always in there pitching”. “You can’t even get to first base with him.” He’s out in left field.” “She was born with two strikes against her.”  We talk baseball all day long. 

Bart Giamatti, former President of Yale and former Commissioner of Baseball said, “Baseball has no clock and indeed moves counterclockwise, so anxious is it to establish its own rhythms independent of clock time.”

Baseball is one of the few sports that remain timeless. A game can be fast or slow. In this one area of our lives the clock isn’t driving; we surrender the clock to the event.  But there is something else in this game that asserts the primordial and the spiritual: In baseball we begin and end at home.  Home plate is not fourth base. The goal of the game is to get home and to be safe. 

That is what we want. When we come to AA people say, “I felt safe and I was at home for the first time”. Home implies safety, accessibility, freedom, comfort. Home is where we learn to be both with others and separate.  That’s what baseball players are: individual athletes with distinct areas of responsibility but also and always a team. Kind of like a home group.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Codependence Can Kill You

Codependence can kill you. Being nice can kill you. Not wanting to upset someone can kill you. And, by being a very nice person you can kill someone you love. Now more than ever. 

We know about the drunk at the party.  We know that we should take the keys away. We know the painful awkwardness of that confrontation. But now we have another –possibly more painful—variation on “Codependence Kills.”

We are living through COVID-19
 and the Coronavirus pandemic. 

There are safety protocols

There are rules 

But it’s been so long—since March 11th --for most of us. 

And finally it’s summer and we want to go out and have parties and picnics. 

All those June and July and August weddings were planned so long ago, and the deposits were paid. 

All those graduation celebrations and family reunions. That’s a lot of family and friendship catching up to miss, and to ask our loved ones to miss. 

And you, like me, have friends at each point on the precautions continuum: from not leaving the house at all, to going out carefully and in masks, sanitizer at the ready, and all the way to “I’m sick of this”/It’s God’s Will/ “I’m young and healthy”/ to “This is all a big conspiracy”. 

And the people at each point on this continuum are people you like and care about.

So when you get invited to the backyard, socially-distanced dinner, or the inside the house dining room pot-luck, or the wedding in a crowded ballroom, or the picnic at the beach smashing crabs around small tables—what will you do?

Couples may say, “our practices are these” but what if spouses don’t agree? Maybe you tend to the safer, stricter side, but she says, “Oh, come on—it’s my sister, we’re safe”.

Remember years ago when we had to call the parents of our young kid’s friends and uncomfortably ask, “Are there any guns in your home?” Now  we need to ask our friends and relatives if they have been practicing safe COVID protocols. 

And if they have been going out or traveling—did they quarantine when they crossed the state line? And how do we feel about whatever their answer is? 

Example: If I am going to someone’s home can I say, “I prefer that we all wear masks” or  “I’m happy to sit in your backyard but not in your living room.”

Example: Everyone is going out to dinner at a restaurant that has advertised their careful COVID precautions of social distancing, and they have sanitation and plastic flatware. 

But something is nagging at you. Can you say, “I’m OK with take-out but not dining in”. 

Example: Will you say no to a hug when your friend rolls her eyes and says “Oh, come on!” 

Are you able to support your own choices and preferences? Can you withstand the pressure of others? 

Those of us who grew up in families where there was addiction or emotional dysfunction probably need to take a long time to sort out our own feelings. We didn’t have support in developing healthy boundaries. 

Our first instinct will be to doubt ourselves. People pleasers are likely to put their lives, and lives of loved ones, at risk, rather than be seen as “silly” “cautious” or “a problem.”

Social life during COVID and quarantine is going to be one of the biggest tests of your codependency and boundaries. 

Is your safety negotiable? Are your boundaries negotiable? 

What does self-care mean this year?