Saturday, March 24, 2007

So Sari, A New Me

After years in recovery—teamed with years in therapy-- you can begin to believe that you have a handle on yourself. That you know some stuff and that you are onto your own tricks.

Part of this is about transferring addictions but if you’ve been around awhile that’s no surprise. I quit smoking, then drinking, then starving, getting weighed, diet pills, exercise bulimia, obsessing over wearing a certain size or the number of the scale. After most of that felt calm I saw the men stuff, the relationship issues were there all along of course, but then not dating or actually learning TO date: go out with a nice somewhat boring man, participate in a fun social activity together, share only the smallest amount of personal information, come home, say thank you at the door and do the same with a different person the next week. Dating. Who knew?

OK, so there was that to work on: more therapy and alanon and ACOA. Then of course noticing the money and the shopping and not earning enough money and not saving any money...addiction by any other name is addiction.

But here is the latest peek at myself. I’ve been looking at handbags—an old love and a fashion object. About two weeks ago in the Sundance catalog I saw a tote bag that was described as being made from old Indian Sari’s...the photos showed theree of this bag, different colors and prints, it had a long leather strap that looked like it could go across the body. Hmmm. Only $98. Of course that’s over $100 with tax and delivery but still I had paid much more and there was something about the soft fabric and the old saris, I mean it would have some other—older Indian—woman’s karma right? And for spring/summer...this soft bag across my body with kahiskirts and jeans and sandals. A nice look.

So I order the bag...takes seven days. I say “expect it in ten”…I’m already trying to manage my own desire. I wait the week and three days. I pass up other purses when I shop, “Nope, the old sari quilted bag, slouched just so across my body, the worn leather, --it will be burnished after several wearings"—I can feel it all and UPS hasn’t arrived yet.

But then it does. I come home to “the box”. Here it is. I’m excited. How soon should I wear it, I wonder. But then I open the box and there is a lumpy, kind of laundry-bag looking sack. It is made of old fabric yes, but the bag part is huge and the strap is cheap thin leather with a shiny surface. It will never soften or burnish. I sling it across my body and I recognize the look. I demonstrate for my husband: I bend and scoop, bend and scoop. It looks like the kind of cloth sling/sack that women wore to pick cotton. This is not chic, not cool, not very nice, has no Karma. I’m disappointed.

But it’s what happens next that surprises me. I know that I don’t want THIS bag, and I want my money back. That is clear. My husband, laughing at my cotton picking imitation says, “Send it back and get something you like.” Yes, of course. That makes sense, that’s the right thing to do. But something is holding me back. I try the Sari hunk of cloth bag again. I put all my regular purse contents inside it hoping that somehow my things inside will transform this into MY purse. Nope. It just looks even droopier and like an old laundry bag.

So what’s holding me back? It’s not until I am filling out the return form and packing the Sari bag in the carton to go back to Sundance that I realize. It’s not just the bag I have to return, it’s the new identity that I have constructed in my head. I get it: in the ten days from ordering the bag to seeing the actual object, I had constructed a new me to go with the bag: I was going to be causally chic, I was going to BE the kind of woman who wore old sari cloth with khaki and denim and simple sandals, I was going to be the slightly bohemian, somewhat hippy-ish chick, that tossed a bag like this across her body and…

And what? Laughed more, worried less, sat in coffee shops and didn’t sweat the to-do list, was able to toss my hair back (my hair barely touches my ears) and laugh, listen, be still and relaxed. I wanted to be relaxed and this silky sari-quilted bag was supposed to bring that to me.

And now I had to send that and her back with the frumpy, lumpy bag.

In ten days I had created a new me and done a kind of geographic cure without even leaving my house. And then the UPS man delivered reality right back to me.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Celebrate Lois Wilson This Week

March 4th is a special day to millions of people in 12 step programs. It is the birthday of Lois Wilson who might, with great affection, be called the most famous co-dependent. She was the wife of Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Their story is chronicled in AA history books.
It was Ebby T., son of a prominent Albany family, who first “carried the message” to a very deteriorated Bill Wilson. The message Ebby brought to Bill and Lois was that he had gotten sober through the help of the Oxford Group, an evangelical Christian movement. The six steps of reformation in the Oxford Group were the forerunner of today’s 12 steps.
At Ebby’s urging Lois and Bill began to attend Oxford Group meetings and a few months later, on a trip to Akron, Bill reached out to members there and met Dr. Bob Smith. From the date of their meeting--one drinker helping another--we date the birth of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Those early meetings were held in private homes. Wives accompanied their husbands and took charge of the refreshments. While the men coached each other through confession and repentance in the parlor, the wives sat in the kitchen, confessing their own frustrations as they discovered the common impact that alcohol had on their families.
To her dismay, Lois later wrote, Bill’s sobriety didn’t bring the happiness she expected. While he was drinking, Lois had played a central if troubled role in Bill’s life. Now, as he recovered she felt less important. This resentment over Bill finally achieving sobriety without her help troubled Lois. She and other wives, who had lived on the edge emotionally and financially, realized that the 12 steps “could also work for the wives”.
Every organization has history and myth. History tells us that the very first meetings in which the wives of alcoholics began to study the 12 steps began in San Francisco, but the myth, always more powerful, says that Lois Wilson began the program in New York.
The truth is somewhere in the middle. All over the country, as AA grew, it was women who often were the first to seek help for their families. In New York, Lois and other wives offered support and promoted a spiritual program. At conventions Lois took the podium to tell her side of the Wilson family story, sharing with great humor the lengths she went to control Bill’s drinking and the humiliations she endured as she realized she could not.
As Bill W. took on the role of father of AA, it added a nice symmetry to have Lois as the mother of Al-Anon. Positioning Lois Wilson atop the recovery pantheon was strategic; She was a doctor’s daughter, with a college education. Lois gave a respectable face to a problem that was shameful and secretive.
In 1957 Al-Anon gained broad public recognition when Lois Wilson appeared on the Loretta Young television show bringing the problem of alcoholism and its impact on the family directly into America’s living rooms.
But there is always some danger when one is placed on a pedestal. Lois was criticized because she could not do in her own home what she advocated for others: setting limits on bad behavior. While Bill did stay sober for many years he was also a chronic womanizer. The fact of his adultery was made public when in his will, he left part of the royalties from “the Big Book”, AA’s text, to his last mistress.
It may be that in this very personal and painful way Lois Wilson left us her legacy of recovery. Al-Anon with its mission of respectability for families affected by alcoholism, has today more than 30,000 groups in 100 countries. She also, by her graceful life and the imperfection in her marriage, gave us an embodiment of AA’s slogan, “progress not perfection”. Thank you Lois.