Sunday, December 31, 2006

Sit Still & Feel

New Year’s Eve Day. From Christmas through New Year’s its been a light week at work. A graceful period with days off and shorter days and easier days as the phone rings less because everyone else is traveling or doing holiday things. The kind of days and weeks I hope for at other times of the year. I recall looking forward to a stretch like this.being able to come home early or stay home and the best holiday days when we are just at home and not visiting family. This week there have been many of those longed for days.

And I have been nutty.

All that time when life was too busy and I longed for these shorter days. Oh the things I imagined I’d do: I’d read, I read harder books that require concentration. I’d learn to use my I-POD. I’d learn to use my digital camera correctly. I’d learn to sue the new medium camera I wanted so badly but now suspect that I wanted because its way cooler than a digital camera. I am afraid to line up all these technology toys I have acquired in 30 months and realize I wanted them because I want to be the kind of woman who can use a digital camera, video camera, I-Pod, medium format camera and a Treo.

But there is something else going on this week too. I’m not sitting still to play with or learn any of these things. I am home; I have less work and fewer obligations. It’s not like I’m going to extra meetings or doing service instead. What I am not doing is sitting still.

Why does it take so long to catch on? To notice that while I say “sit still and feel” and I grasp that when work is busy and I am racing thru a work day that there is a bit of “feelings can’t hit a moving target”, now, when I do have time and space to be still, I am NOT. One of the reasons that sitting still hides or I hide the truth from myself is the Internet. I have the illusion that I am sitting and doing intellectual work when I look up say, The Lord’s Prayer in Latin. I think, hey I’ll learn this; I’ll learn to pray the Lords Prayer in Latin this year. I also now grasp what an addiction EBay can be. No, I’m not selling my clothes or buying someone else’s but I’m looking, looking, looking. It’s fantasy shopping. It’s living in the realm of possibility rather than reality and in fact it’s another—yet one more—way to not feel.

Twenty-plus years of recovery, therapy and likely a million hours of self-help thinking and the most basic piece still eludes me: Sit still and feel.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Looking for Signs

I laugh now at how many times in my life I have prayed for a sign to let me know if I was on the right path or for help in making a decision. In very difficult moments I have begged for skywriting from the universe and just last week I told a friend that I’m still waiting for an envelope from God with my name on it. Maybe I watched too many episodes of Mission Impossible as a kid, but part of me wants instructions that spell out clearly what I should do with my life.
I know God doesn’t work that way, but I also know I’m not alone in wanting him to. Some people flip coins or watch birds or follow the crude metals index. Others keep psychics in business and ensure that books on spiritual guidance top the bestseller lists. I’ve tried it all and I’ve been to Tarot readers, thrown the I Ching and I have a well-worn set of Rune stones.
Years ago when people close to me were dying and I was tearfully demanding to know God’s will, a friend who was more experienced in grief chastised and reassured me by saying, “Gods will is what is”. The simplicity and profundity of that statement silenced me for a while.
But I come back again to wanting to know, and often it’s at this time of year and there’s a good reason. As the winter begins and we are faced with dark and cold there is a pull from deep in our bones that drive us to seek light and answers. The need for light at this time of year is so great that we adapted culturally to give it to ourselves. We have Solstice and now Hanukkah and then Christmas, all great stories about finding light.
The part of the Christmas story that has always meant the most to me is that of the three wise men making their journey, traveling on a hunch, a belief, and their deep wanting. They had studied the sky for years and then they saw their sign.
In his poem, Journey of the Magi T.S. Eliot wrote: “At the end we preferred to travel all night, sleeping in snatches, with the voices singing in our ears, that this was all folly.”
Of course that is the problem with star following. You just don’t know. We see this most painfully now looking at the news. Stories of young men and women as heroes in Iraq and others, the same age who commit terrible crimes. All of them following their stars. But how do you know until you show up whether there’s going to be a baby or a bullet?
So the wise men’s lesson is all about faith: We do our best, we study, we consult with others, we try to be wise men and women, but we have to get on our camels, bring our gifts and hope we are doing good.
This is solstice week and these are our darkest days. We cope in the most ancient of ways. We go toward the light--to neon and the mall, to crowds of shoppers, even as our ancient relatives were drawn to stars and the fire.
Through all of this we’ll read our horoscopes. We’ll hope our loved ones will be spared the only thing that no one can be, which is death. We’ll look at the night sky and try to believe. No wonder a baby born in a barn is a great story. No wonder we look for signs.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I Coulda Been A Contenda

I read the literature, I go to meetings, I talk in therapy and I pray earnestly the third and seventh step prayers. I ask for my “somebody-ness” and my ego manic to be removed or at least lessened. I am sincere. I have humor about this too. I talk to others and to God and I mean it when I say, “Thy will not mine be done.” And I mean it when I say, “Help me to carry your message and not my ego.” Inside I am secretly proud of this good spiritual intention of mine, also, humorously, observing the pride of my own humility.

And then, ah, and then.

And then at work I bristle when the Board questions my decisions. I smile but tighten when someone asks why I need this or that in the budget. That would be the organization’s budget, but I am thinking of it as “my” budget.

Oh, I catch myself and I think, “Not mine, not mine, God’s will, carry your message, not my ego.”

I talk to my self as if I am training a dog: “Ego down, down ego, down girl.”

How deeply embedded is this ME and MINE. How intractable this will to be recognized, to be somebody. There’s a juvenile tone voice in this that I recognize as a stereotype from a bad teen gang movie: “He disrespected me, man.”

Jesus, who is this in me?

I can imagine that with just a touch of senility, or a teensy bite of dementia and I will be parroting an even worse movie line, “I coulda been somebody. I coulda been a contenda.”

Sunday, December 10, 2006


For years I’ve heard the comparisons. We are told to think of going to AA as a necessary life-saving practice, as our treatment and we are offered comparisons to other serious illnesses. We talk about needing AA the way that a diabetic needs insulin or the way that someone with cancer needs chemotherapy. Now, as I see more people with serious illnesses in my day job, I’m learning that the need for AA may best be compared to Dialysis.

Dialysis is the regular—three to five day a week --treatment that is used to clean the blood and remove toxins from the body when a person has experienced kidney failure. There are many causes of kidney failure, high blood pressure being one and it can also occur in conjunction with other illness or disability. Before dialysis was invented people died. Now they go to a Dialysis Center and have their blood cleaned. It takes a couple of hours and it has to be repeated in a day or two to keep the body functioning and to keep the patient alive.

Well, this Saturday I had errands—Ok I was having my brows done and it’s hard to get an appointment with Ruth—so I chose to miss my regular home group meeting. It meant no Saturday meeting or—what a thought—it meant that I could go to a different meeting, a less familiar one. I decided that I needed a meeting more than familiarity so I went. Sitting there I had this thought: I need to be here to clean up my thinking and to change-up my attitude and to have a bit of soul cleansing as well. Takes an hour—an hour and a half with the commute-- And I need to repeat this at least twice a week.

Now I have gone longer without a meeting and I’m still alive. And after 20 years I don’t start craving a drink when I miss a meeting, but something in me does get unhealthy, something in me is less clear, and I know that I don’t function quite as well as when I attend two meetings a week.

So it hit me: Going to AA a couple of times a week—the prescription may require more or less for each of us—is spiritual dialysis. And like dialysis treatment, some of the places are nicer than others, some have grumpy staff and some have newer magazines and nicer snacks, but that’s not the most important factor. What matters is that I get there as much as my recovery requires so I can stay clean and sober.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Lindsay Lohan Goes To AA

Today my newspaper headed the people section with the news that Lindsay Lohan has attended AA meetings. My first reaction, “well so much for anonymity.” Then I thought, “What happened to the good old days when the news media had respect for AA and complied with the request that last names not be used.

I figured that those days are over…and besides does anyone really want to say instead that “Lindsay L. went to AA”...that doesn’t actually help does it. So do we care?
After much mulling I decided that I do care and not so much for Lindsay—though I do care that even this young celebrity is not going to be able to attend an AA meeting in peace and that—shame on us—someone in those AA meetings was gossiping and violating our tradition of anonymity—but it’s the other less famous young women that I care about.

Think about it. Young women who emulate the “It” girls whether in NYC or LA or Madison Wisconsin are getting lots of messages about drinking and drugs and eating disorders and other abuses. Now, even what might be a positive, this celeb young woman trying to clean up her act, is announced in a way that would scare a young person off. “Oh, I see, this AA has people who gossip, who care more about whispering about a famous person in the room than about the sobriety and one day at a time that we profess to believe is the most important thing. What happened to “the one who got up earliest today is the one with the most sobriety”? And what happened to, “I just want to be another Bozo on the bus”?

Shame on the media for not thinking through what it means when AA attendees are exposed, but really, shame on people in AA rooms who whisper and gossip and talk outside about who they saw there and what they heard.