Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Years Eve

When I was growing up my mother observed a tradition about the bells on New Years Eve. She would say to us, “Where you are when the bells ring on New Years Eve is where you will be for the rest of the New Year.” As a kid that meant that our house was clean, that our school work was done and our rooms were “red up” (meaning straighten in Pittsburgh-speak). Later it meant that who you were with or how you were emotionally was how the future year would unfold, so we watched funny movies and went out at midnight to toast the neighbors.

I carried this idea all of my life and New Years Eve has taken on great significance. One year when I knew that the relationship I was in would end soon I made sure that I was locked in my room alone at the very strike of midnight. Another year when I was trying to making my commitment to writing stick I made sure that I was at my typewriter and typing words when the bells rang in that new year.

This year I am home with the man in my life. We have had a lovely lunch and went to see the movie “Doubt”, with Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Tonight we’ll have a lot of chocolate and salt and watch The Wire. I don’t know what this year will bring but the most important thing that I am now and that I will be when the bells ring in a few hours is Sober.

What I want most of all today, in 2009, and beyond is a life of sobriety. I like this sober life and I am grateful to be out of the woods.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


The teacher talks to us about discernment. She says that discernment is always a choice between goods. In true discernment either choice is for something good: Go to Mexico or Go to Italy. Marry him or remain on your own. Study art history or study theology. Each one is good but you cannot do both. How to discern?

Some discernment advice:

Get the facts: Are their financial implications? Health requirements? Prerequisites?

Talk to smart people: Talk to those who have done these things.

Then live for two weeks as if you are making Choice A: I will marry him.
How does that feel?
Then live for two weeks as if you are making Choice B: I will leave him.
How does that feel?

Get quiet. Very quiet. Listen for God’s still, small voice. Stay quiet and pray.

What do you really want?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Step Two Restored to Sanity

My prayer has been to be restored to sanity. Working the program and steps and getting outside help and still I see myself caught. Caught in a web. Fear of abandonment and a feeling of my own defectiveness are woven together and I fight to get free. It’s hard to know whether my fears led me to a relationship that is not good for me or is it that my fears conspire to drive me away from someone who loves me? How do I know what is fear and what is God or good for me?

The answer that I know is that quiet and stillness will allow me to hear God, and that if I avoid all compulsive behavior I will feel what I need to feel. “Sit still and feel.” Isn’t that a slogan too? “Trust the process” and “Don’t leave before the miracle happens.” are also slogans that come to my struggling mind this morning.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Late Christmas Shopping

This is one of my favorite days of the year. This afternoon I’ll be heading out to start my Christmas shopping. For a long time I was ashamed to admit that I began holiday preparations with a few days to go, but the truth is this is my favorite part of the holidays.
When I do let it leak that I’m just starting my shopping there is always some very superior person happy to share that she was all done in July. Well goody, goody, but what fun is that? Nor need you tell me about those gifts you bought on sale last February. You saved how much money doing that? Well goody for you, but saving money is not the spirit of the season.

No, I did not procrastinate. I well know the advice about how to make Christmas shopping easier. But there are some things that don’t get better just by being easier. I’ve read many of those How to Get Organized books, but I’ve also lived through enough tragedy to know that organizing one’s life is an illusion.
I grant you that there may be a moment this week when I will envy those who had their gifts wrapped in July. But that’s kind of like having a good report from the dentist isn’t it? All very wholesome but where’s the fun?

And don’t even get me started on the people who buy their gifts online. How much holiday spirit does it take to point and click? Yes you meet the technical requirement of gift given, but where’s the spirit? Why not just hand everyone on your list a twenty-dollar bill, and say, “Hey, have a go at it”. I also hate that suggestion that you should have a stash of generic gifts in your closet just in case someone surprises you with a gift and you were not prepared to reciprocate. Think how mean that is. Someone is just about to feel big and generous by surprising you with a gift and you cut them off at the knees with a retaliatory box of bath salts. It’s the cruelest one-upmanship.

Those of us who begin our shopping this week may be enjoying the real spirit of Christmas. We get to watch humanity test itself and see kindness and patience and grace enacted –or honored in the breach--in toy stores and next to the stack of 30% off cashmere turtlenecks. We also know that the worst characters to run into at the mall now are the, “I was done in August” people who just learned they need one more thing and have to come out and play with the rest of us. They are usually the ones cutting in line or sighing heavily and making lots of eye contact wanting others to share their misery.

No, we who shop now are engaging in holiday ritual much closer to the original: It’s cold out , traffic is as slow as a lane of donkeys, and we get to watch the young family with a triple stroller searching the mall for a changing area. It makes you want to drop to your knees and pray. Yes, shopping in July could make Christmas nice and tidy. But real life is anything but that. Consider the story of the Holy Family: There was no advance planning; Mary was days away from delivery when they went on a road trip, and she had to give birth in a barn. Not exactly tidy and neat. The crux of that first Christmas story is that sometimes in the midst of mess and confusion and fear, angels show up and miracles happen.
But in order to experience that you have to be willing to join the fray and put yourself where humans happen to be. Relationships with people are like casinos: You must be present to win.

So today I’ll be where humanity is. I’m heading out to the mall, bundled up, grinning and bracing myself for encounters with my fellow man. I’ll be trekking in from the outerloop of the parking lot, looking for a few gifts and the real spirit of Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

No New Husbands

A wonderful book about alcoholism from a women’s perspective is “Drinking: A Love Story" by Caroline Knapp. One of my favorite stories of hers that describes how we have to change our thinking goes like this:

She is describing how alcoholics always want something new or different to fill that ever empty hole inside us. She says this is why you hear people in AA talk about thinking alcoholically long after they put down their last drink. “My husband is acting like an idiot,” a woman at a meeting shared. “I have to remember that the solution is not ‘Get a new husband.’”

Monday, December 22, 2008


Off we go trailing shopping lists and credit card receipts. Hanukkah and Christmas are this week. We may complain about our errands but we enjoy the festivity these holidays bring to our gray December days.
Hanukah and Christmas, these holidays that celebrate light, are aligned with the seasonal transit of the sun. It’s a leftover from earlier times when the nature religions led all of the others. There was good reason, then as now, to shun the darkness.
We know that as the seasons changed our ancient relatives feared that the sun had died. To coax the sun god back they created rituals that involved fire and light. The Druids lit bonfires. We celebrate with candles and lights on our trees.
In the Northern Hemisphere this is the time when we face our vulnerability. We saw this last week when bad weather took light and heat from many. But weather is the least of it. This time of year we have other darkness’s: grief, fears and regrets. We do our best to outrun them. Some of us go to the Caribbean and some to sunlamps; many pursue spirits, religious or distilled. Just like our ancestors we want the sun and warmth to come back, so we go to stores and burn up our credit cards; we sacrifice our savings.
But we still fear the dark. Much of what we do this time of year is for distraction. Not unlike whistling when we pass a graveyard, now we sing and shop and eat too much. And we complain. But maybe our railing against our holiday chores is itself a part of the solstice. Now when we are oppressed by darkness –when our primitive fears can be felt even through layers of advertising and anti-depressants-- we are drawn to the lights and to other people as our defense against the dark, just as our ancient relatives were drawn to stars and fires.
Religion and spirituality is a way out of darkness and into hope and joy. The coming holidays are about mystery and miracles; oil that lasts eight days and the birth of a baby in a barn. But the flip side of each story is about the dark just at the edge of the light. Hanukah and Christmas are also about darkness. Sometimes we miss that. There wasn’t enough oil. A small family was homeless. But the oil lasted and there was light. The child born in darkness was called the “light of the world”.
Just like these holidays our own stories don’t work if we don’t include the darkness too. We’re fighting something ancient, natural and necessary. But occasionally we need to feel the darkness—even symbolically--like we sometimes need a dark night or a wild storm.
The words of this carol could just as well be a Solstice song: Yet in the dark street shineth, the everlasting light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
On this day the sun is at the most southern point of its transit. Tonight is the longest night of the year. Starting tomorrow our days will grow longer again. The cycle is astronomical and holy. On this night we are as ancient as ever.
So maybe on this night we could allow the darkness. On this darkest night, what if we dared ourselves to wait before we light the candles. What if we sat a moment with the menorah unlit and the tree in darkness--and took a breath. That’s what solstice is about. We can enter the darkness and emerge transformed. We can stand it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Snow Storm

Big snow today following last week’s ice storm. What I remember is this: If I think I can’t get to a meeting because of the weather just remember when I used to go out in any kind of weather and at any hour for (a drink, some food, a man, a sale)—Insert appropriate addiction here. And then laugh, and go to a meeting!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Letting Go

Love is letting go. Peace comes from letting go. Let go and let God. We all know what that means and why it makes sense and that annoying as it is to hear those words that it is the truth. But, the person who can finally, at last, and someday describe HOW to let go will be a millionaire and a miracle worker.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Powerless and in Pain

For therapy I am doing a relationship history. Looking at patterns: the kind of men I pick, the kind I love, the kind I leave. I am here one more time asking: “Why this man?” I am full of insight but perhaps not wisdom. So much therapy. So much recovery. It can only be up to God now. That is what steps six and seven are about. Twenty-five years later I am again sick and tired of being sick and tired. So we say it’s Step One and that means powerless. Am I really powerless? So hard to imagine. I sought this, chose it, flirted, had coffee with him again. Reader, I kissed him. The rest is painful history.

So where is the powerlessness? Maybe if you believe in the schemas of cognitive therapy, that they are not just psychological but neural as well, that they engrave patterns on our nervous systems as well as add scent bait to the wrong partner, then yes powerless. Today it just hurts. I am powerless and in pain.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Be Grateful that You are Not on Fire

It’s a standard practice in self-help groups to suggest that, when life feels hard, the best thing you can do is make a gratitude list. In some groups, where the ethic is more tough love than tender nurture, that suggestion goes like this: “You need to make a list of things you are grateful for and start it with, “I am not on fire”.

I always thought that was a particularly harsh way of saying that your problems aren’t so bad, but that was only until I met Glenn McDole and Frenchy Dupont. I met the two former Marines while I was writing a book about China Marines –those who served in China before World War II. For these two men, and the families of their colleagues, today is an important day.

On December 14, 1944, 150 American Marines and sailors were killed on the Island of Palawan in the Philippines. In the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St Louis, Missouri a mass grave contains the remains of those men. The grave marker reads:

These U.S. prisoners of war of the Japanese were on the Island of Palawan, P.I. as slave laborers building an airfield for the Japanese military. Believing that an invasion by the U. S forces was imminent, the prisoners were forced into three tunnel shelters, thus following orders from the Japanese High Command to dispose of prisoners by any means available. Buckets of gasoline were thrown inside the shelters followed by flaming torches. Those not instantly killed by the explosions ran burning from the tunnels and were machine gunned and bayoneted to death.

Glenn and Frenchy were two of five men who escaped. Their story has been documented for military history, but their experience is also one of the most outstanding examples of human resilience.

The American prisoners on Palawan were part of a battalion that had surrendered to the Japanese at Corregidor. Arriving weak and injured they were stripped, starved and beaten. For almost three years on Palawan they received no medical attention and were forced to dig—by hand—an airstrip in the Philippine jungle. Naked and barefoot they worked for 14 hours each day. The men were allowed, at most, two meals per week from the garbage of the Japanese kitchens. Disease and starvation killed many, and most, like Frenchy, lost their sight as a result of beriberi and pellagra.

On December 14, as Americans planes approached, the prisoners experienced the immolation described on the grave marker. Glenn and Frenchy remembered the smell of roasting flesh mixed with gasoline and human excrement. But because they were at the end of the trench near an embankment seven men pushed out of the flaming tunnel, jumped over the cliff’s edge and rolled down a jagged rock slope. The Japanese shot at them as they fell. The men ran along the beach, bullets piercing their legs and backs, and then dove, bloody, into the sea and began to swim. Ten hours later, the exhausted, starved, blind, burned and shark bitten men crawled to shore on another island where they were rescued by Philippine guerillas.

Five years ago I stood in the National Cemetery in St Louis while Frenchy and Glenn told their story. I could not stop shaking my head. How did they survive? And, how did they live normal lives after surviving?

But they did. After returning to the states these men completed their military commitment and went on to have active civilian lives, careers and families.

Okay. What do you do with a story like that? On any given day my life is not perfect. I can easily grumble about the weather or writing or work. But today, on December 14, I can’t. On this day I remember the men who died on Palawan --and those few who survived. Tonight, at the top of my gratitude list I will happily write, “I am not on fire”.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Office Holiday Party

We are entering the time of year that makes seasoned managers cringe and human resource directors want to leave town. Fine words to the contrary, there is little Peace on Earth at the office now: It’s time for the office Christmas, oops, I mean “holiday” party. Yes, we’ve learned to choke on the word Christmas and insist that the December party where we dress in sparkles, bring wrapped gifts and drink eggnog standing next to an evergreen tree is just a winter event. But language games are the least of it when management has to plan the annual—“no one will be happy no matter what we do”--office holiday party.

This time of year career gurus remind us: you must attend, you should not drink, don’t dress like a stripper and do make small talk with many people. The warnings should certainly be heeded. The annual holiday party is ground zero for what is known in Human Resources as the CLM, or Career Limiting Move. CLM’s include Xeroxing body parts, getting tanked with co-workers and making jokes about the boss to his/her spouse. But love them --or leave them early-- the office holiday party is a ritual of the workplace.

The list of issues is long: do we go out on the town or stay in the building? Is the event during work or after hours? Will there be dancing? Music? And biggest bugaboo: booze or no booze? Divisiveness is in the details. One of the words tossed around liberally in the weeks leading up to the party is “they” as in they don’t have kids, they don’t like to drink, they drink too much, or they don’t have to pay a baby-sitter. Preferences also break down by personality type: Extroverts love the parties; Introverts want to die.

Some offices give money to charity instead but then end up bringing in a deli tray on December 22nd because it doesn’t feel right not to do something. I think it hits us that if we don’t have some kind of party, then we’re admitting that this is work and that these people are not really our family or our best friends. It’s one of the passive deceptions we engage in to smooth life along.

So what’s at the heart of this holiday ritual? Well, for starters we have strong cultural memories and it’s dark this time of year and we are longing for light. Workplaces have their own kind of darkness so it’s human to want to brighten that up too. But there’s more. The office party is really a throwback. Yes, that sushi with sparkles affair in the boardroom is a remnant from the Ebenezer Scrooge days. It’s a flashback to the days when Big Daddy Corporation rewarded its child-like workers with a decent meal and glass of bubbly they could not provide for themselves. The company party was also a time to reset any drifting notions of who owned the means of production.

I remember that kind of event. At the box factory where my Dad worked the assembly line was shut down once a year: the Saturday before Christmas. Hot dogs were served from the corrugator and Santa arrived on a forklift. There were no Bring Your Kids to Work days back then, so the Christmas Party was the chance to see where Dad went to work every day. It was simply understood that the family depended on this place and these people.

As our economy takes a turn we may have come full circle. So step up to the Holiday Office Event: Put on your sparkles, exclaim over the deli tray, and admit to your peers that you couldn’t have done it without them. That is the gift they will remember all year.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Praise and Blame are All the Same

Another lesson I come back to again and again: Praise and Blame are all the same. They are both about other people’s opinions of you. The tricky part of this is giving up both sides of the equation. When someone criticizes us we can easily say, “Don’t give that any merit or energy, it’s their opinion.” But in order for that to be true and in order to change how much we depend on the opinion of others we must also give up attaching any merit or energy to their praise or good opinion also.

To be free of feeling rocked by criticism we must also let go of being inflated or soothed by other people’s praise.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Steps Six and Seven

This separates the boys from the men and maybe it separates the women from the men too. In my case maybe that’s a good thing! I am looking at my patterns in relationships. That old, scared part of me that connect me to men who cannot be there in a committed way or who are unavailable: married, depressed, long distance, too busy, distracted or unavailable in some way. A wiser woman would walk away but I walk toward. The insight is not new, the grieving is not new but the impact of what this has cost me and others is overwhelming.

This makes steps six and seven so important. There is what I can do: inventory, therapy, amends, and changing my behavior when I can catch it but the old habits of thought and fear—so deeply ingrained they feel like simple reality. I need God’s help for that to change. Please remove these “defects of character” that get in the way of my relationship with you and others. That’s it.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Unchain My Heart

The idea that our perceptions determine the reality that we perceive is an old one. In a classic story, known as "Plato's Cave", Socrates describes how a group of men who are chained facing a wall observe shadows dancing across the wall in front of them. They have never known that these shadows are due to figures near the entrance to the cave moving behind them in front of a candle. To these men, the shadows are reality. One day one of the men turns around and sees that there are figures moving behind him casting their shadows across the wall. From that day on, the "reality" of the shadows no longer exists.

Changing my thinking—learning to and trying to --is my attempt to unchain myself and to see the reality of what is outside my cave. I realized this week that I have believed these shadows all of my life. I have made decisions about people and situations, about work and especially about love based on what I saw in the shadows. If my thinking and perceptions can change I will be able to unchain my heart.

Friday, December 05, 2008

New Meetings

I am trying new meetings and going back to old ones. I feel the need to connect, hear new voices, reenter my AA community. I have a home group and I do service but I do not feel connected. AA is the center of my recovery. I want to stay sober because that is the ground under all the other therapy, body work, healing and change. I feel like I am sitting just outside it now and I don’t like that. I know the answer: Go to meetings, raise my hand, speak to people, tell the truth.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Do Not Derange

I have a door knob hang tag from a motel that says Do Not Disturb on one side. On the other is the same phrase in French. But as my husband pointed out, the literal translation in French is “Do Not Derange”. I love that. It’s fair warning to anyone in my life.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Scary Voice

I’m thinking a lot about my thinking. This idea of two voices and the schema voice that trips me up so often. I’m reading a very helpful book called “Reinventing Your Life” which is about “life traps” or this schema voice or habit of thinking.

It strikes me that the schema habit or --the scary voice--is an old part of me. In fact it’s so old that it’s really a very young part of my self. It’s a kid’s voice. It is incredibly powerful and ingrained—persistent, resistant—but it is young. That voice is trying so hard—scary hard—to find stasis and familiarity. Even though the schema, scary voice is disrupting my life and has caused damage for years and years driving me out of relationships and into all kinds of pain—it does (if it can be personified) want to have safety. It thinks it is helping me. In its own weirdly misguided way it wants to help and protect me.

So the challenge is to change and redirect this schema or voice with out being violent to it. It needs to be changed with compassion; it needs to be lovingly thanked and then retired.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Two Voices

My earliest recovery began with A Course in Miracles. I was visiting my sister in California (I had run away from another relationship), and my sister came home from her job as Director of Education at a church and mentioned that a woman at work was teaching a class in how to make miracles happen. Something in her casual comment was just odd enough and just right enough that I had to know more. My sister brought me some articles from this woman and handouts from the class. It turned out that the woman was teaching a class in The Course in Miracles.

When I returned to Baltimore I found a Miracles study group at Ruscombe Mansion. In that group were people who participated in 12 step programs. Today I know how common that is but back then it felt like its own miracle that I should find in the group the ticket to the next stage of my recovery.

Recently I picked up the book, “Change Your Mind and Your Life Will Follow” by Karen Casey. Since I have been working on changing my thinking this title seemed to fit right in line. Of course, in a few minutes reading, I realized that Karen Casey is a Course in Miracles teacher and many of her thought changing concepts come from practicing The Course.

In one chapter she talks about learning to hear BOTH of the voices inside us. She says:

“There are always two voices present in our minds. One of them is quite loud and will always misdirect our thinking and our actions. It’s the voice that keeps us stuck in old behaviors and feeds our fears, our anger and constant discontent. The other voice, which is just as present but so much quieter, is ceaselessly conveying words of love and gratitude and hope and kindness. It’s the voice that comforts us. This voice makes us whole and ready to embrace the lessons we know are waiting for us.”

The challenge is how to tune out or turn down the volume of the louder voice and tune in the softer gentler voice. Casey says, “It’s not difficult to do but it requires breaking old, well-honed habits.”

I know now that we have many names for these voices. The first, loud one is the schema, the critical voice, the inner critic or the old tapes. The second, softer voice is the voice of recovery, healing, God and the small still voice of intuition and wisdom. It is also the voice that is built in to counter the schema. Someday we will learn that the small voice is installed at the same time as the scary schema voice. We are always given the solution when we are given the problem. Figure and ground may shift but they have both always been there.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Urges and Cravings

My therapist works with women who have or who have had eating disorders, alcoholism, and behavioral addictions like cutting. We have been talking about my habit—now starting to seem like an addiction—to fear thinking. I scare myself with “What if…?” scenarios. In the last few weeks as I have become more conscious of doing this I am noticing that it may correspond with times that I am feeling ok, or even—Good. Something in me needs to disrupt that?

Anyway, we’ve been talking about this way of thinking as a habit and that led to how do I change or disrupt that? Is there a way to not succumb to the part of me that wants to upset or scare me?

That’s when she said that she has a technique that she teaches women who binge eat, or purge or cut and that is to have some “urge distracters”. These are things they can turn to when the urge to indulge in their bad habit comes over them.

She said—this is the good part: “”We know from the research that any urge will pass in 15 to 20 minutes.”

Fifteen or 20 minutes! That’s not bad. When an urge to “use” hits an addict the feeling is always that this urge is going to last either forever or until I give in to it. But no—just 15 to 20 minutes. Now that is pretty manageable. Not easy but manageable.

The advice then is to be prepared ahead of time (the key to prepare ahead) with some activities or behaviors that will distract me for the necessary 15 to 20 minutes. I made a list: read Vogue, shop online, clean a closet or one drawer, call a friend, sing out loud etc.

Then it hit me. Alcoholics Anonymous—with out any research—knew this intuitively. When we talk about the craving to drink AA suggests:

Work with another alcoholic
Move a muscle change a thought
Call your sponsor
Call someone and ask them about them

This too shall pass.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Grateful for Mixed Blessings

Today many of us will be sitting down to dinner with family or friends and gratitude will be mentioned as we offer a blessing on the meal. It’s appropriate to the day of course; we know the Pilgrim’s story of thankfulness for surviving their first difficult year in the New World. At many of our tables there will be a nod to the formerly religious aspect of the day as someone suggests, “Let’s go around the table and everyone say what they’re grateful for.”

It’s easy at times like this to name good health, career success, and our kid’s accomplishments, but we often forget that some of our best gifts don’t come in pretty wrapping. I suggest that we put a new spin on this tradition. This year ask your guests: What are the mixed blessings in your life this year?

Here are some examples: There was the day you were running late and therefore missed the big accident or traffic jam; or the day you skipped church but when channel surfing heard a speaker that gave you a new outlook on life; Maybe it was the day you got lost in a new part of town but in your wandering found a store that sold exactly what you had been hunting for months. Get the idea?

Then try upping the ante a bit: How about when you got fired but at out-placement you found the work you really want to do? Or maybe the person you wanted to marry said “No”, and broke your heart, but months later you met the one you were supposed to make a life with. You get the idea, but let’s push it a bit farther. How about the serious illness that knocked you off your feet but having to stay in bed gave you time to recast your life? Or maybe the struggle to accept a more permanent disability made it plain who your friends really were or revealed a talent you didn’t know you had?

Okay, even harder now: What about the death of a loved one that devastated you but one day in the midst of grief you felt something other than pain and realized you were feeling joy like nothing you had ever felt and you knew that you could feel it because the grief had cracked you open. Similarly, you may have gotten a gift from someone else’s death when you saw just how short life is and you decided to quit with the worry/status/fear and get on with your life.

These mixed blessings are not easy to accept or admit, and sometimes it is just faith itself that is the gift. It can be in the midst of terrible things that we’re forced to develop trust, and then we find, when the crisis is over, that our new beliefs are ours to keep. Of course the graduate school level of this kind of gratitude is saying “Thank You” even before the good part comes. If you’ve had experience with mixed blessings you begin to know-- even while life is painful or unpleasant-- that there will be meaning in it. And so we say Thank You –purely on faith –even when we’re getting hit hard.

Yes, some of these blessings come in less than Hallmark moments. Maybe it was the painful feedback from a friend that clued you in on the truth about your personality flaws, or the DWI that was humiliating and expensive but it was also what made you look at your problem and change your life. Maybe it was an emotional breakdown that allowed you to put yourself back together in a new and stronger way.

As parents we coach our kids with, “What do you say?” when a gift is given. Can we learn to say that to ourselves when life hands us a package that isn’t very pretty?
So when that, “What are you grateful for?” comes around at your Thanksgiving table today don’t groan, but dig deep. Name the blessings that came from pain and grief or loss and trouble. When we can say Thanks for both the good and the bad, for the easy and hard times, then, just like the Pilgrims, we’ll have a real Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 24, 2008

If Nothing Changes Nothing Changes

Saturday my hair dresser told me about her love life. She’d been seeing a man for years and he’d come and go. One morning a few months ago he woke up and said “It’s over.” No discussion, no conversation. She suspected that he was seeing someone else or making space for someone else. She was devastated.

But, she told me, last week he called one day. He was in the neighborhood, he said, and could he stop by? Yes, she let him. He stayed two hours. The painter was there so they lay in her bed. Kissing. Touching. She told him she needed to hear him talk. Could he explain what had happened? Yes, he said, let’s have dinner tomorrow and talk about us.

The next day she did not hear from him. Nor the next day. When she called him he said he was sorry that he had stopped by, he really did not want to start up again. She suspected that he was going thru a bad patch with the other woman and came to her for comfort—again.

She sent him a text message saying she hated him. The next day she sent another one telling him his faults, and then one more text saying again that she hated him. She heard nothing from him.

I listened to her and I could see it all so clearly. No boundaries, no self-respect, actually believing that the angry text messages mattered to him. And then I had to ask myself: Why is it so easy to see it when another woman allows this in her life? What do others see when they look at my life?

If nothing changes nothing changes.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Codependent, Me?

Ok, I cannot write this without this preface: I have been in 12 step programs for more than 25 years—including Al-anon and ACOA. I have been in therapy even longer. I have pounded pillows, sobbed at graves, talked to dead people, written letters that I did not mail and many that I mailed. I have worked the steps and made amends and surrendered my life—in whole and part by part—numerous times. I have prayed, meditated, walked labyrinths, and even been to shamanic healers—four of them. I have read and read and read. I even teach this stuff! I have been healed and changed in the most amazing ways and I am so grateful for all that I had to feel and do and change.

BUT! But today, again in agony over a man, I thought: I really believe that if he changes his behavior I will feel different. Again: If he changes his behavior I will feel different. My happiness depends on what he says, does, thinks. Oh. My. God.

I think this is so deep in me that even with years of recovery and therapy and understanding the psychological dynamics of codependency, I really, really thought: If he changes his behavior I will feel different.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Will of God

Some people view the will of God as an elephant hanging overhead, ready to fall on them. Actually the word which we translate into English as “will” comes from both a Hebrew and a Greek word which means yearning. It is that yearning which lovers have for one another. Not a yearning of the mind alone or of the heart alone but of the whole being. Any yearning which we feel is only a glimmering of the depth of the yearning of God for us.

From: “Reading Thomas Merton” by Wilkie Au.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Desire and Expectations

We are concerned about the economy. We worry about the stock market, investments and retirement. We hesitate to open bank statements. We are told: It will get better. It will get worse. It will rebound. Some say it will be bad for another year and then it will improve.

How do we cope? We have to make do with less. Lots of articles offer advice: Eat at home. Take the bus. Rearrange don’t redecorate. At the heart is this question: Can we be happy with less? Can we do it when the American way is all about believing that we need and deserve more.

I keep thinking about is what it was like when I really did have less. In my 20’s I lived in Washington, DC and made $13,000. I had an apartment and a car. I packed my lunch and saved up to go out for dinner. Was I really as happy as I remember?

Yes, we all were. The reason isn’t complicated. We wanted less. I was proud to be paying rent. I wanted to drive instead of take the bus so making the car payment for my used 1971 VW Beetle was great. I bought clothes on sale or at consignment stores and when friends moved they passed along furniture they didn’t want. But over time, through reading and travel and meeting people, I learned about nicer cars, and better clothes. I began to want a real couch and a newer car and I began to fantasize about someday buying a house.

Later my hopes included owning a Subaru and –I laugh to remember this—I thought I’d have the perfect wardrobe when I could buy one (yeah, one) really good purse. Today, four houses later and many closets filled with shoes and purses, I can feel deprived simply by thinking about making my car last a couple more years. Everything I have now is nicer than what I had at 25 but it’s easy to feel poor. Why? Because I have seen --and imagined --better.

Wealth is relative to desire. Every time we yearn for something we can’t afford, we become poor--regardless of our resources. And when we are satisfied with what we have, we are rich. That second part is supposed to be true anyway. The hard part is to ignore knowing. We know there are nicer things and we know people who have them. In most cases we don’t really know those people but we think we do because we have seen them. For this you can blame television and magazines like Oprah and Vogue. We see what others buy and own and wear. Our appetites are continuously whetted. Every new thing whispers its promise of happiness then gradually slides into the background of everyday life. Then we notice that someone else has a different or nicer thing.

This is why many of us recall feeling better when we were younger. We felt like we had enough. We didn’t expect that we should have a lot more.

It’s our expectations that trip us up. We substitute one desire for another convinced each time that the next –whatever-- will make us happy. What we need is less desire not more money. The solution this year: Expect less and want less. It’s so anti-American, but so sane and so smart.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


It’s so hard to fight when you are a woman in recovery. Yes, you can still call names and make a fuss. But you know at some level that you have to care for your side of the street, and you know also that if you play out of bounds that you will have to make amends. You know that you really want to tell the emotional truth, you know that the truth you need to attend to is yours not his. You know you will have to talk to others about this so that keeps the really nasty stuff from coming out of your mouth. Recovery is the best revenge and you can hear an old sponsor laughing and saying, “You can do it in this relationship or the next one.” You can feel how much you hate that but you also know it’s true.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pray Your Experiences

This week I have been practicing a new form of prayer: pray your experiences. It is a form of surrender, a method of practicing the Third Step. In my prayer time I visualize an experience that I have had or one I am anticipating: a meeting at work, a conversation, an event and I hold this experience in my hands and lift it to God. It may include words but more typically it is just the visualizing of the experience held in my hands and held in God’s hands. Praying not for an outcome or a result. Just praying the experience.

The variation on this that I am trying this week because I’m tired and too busy and have –once again—overloaded my calendar: I lift up my calendar and hold the red leather book itself up to God.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

For God and Country

Donald was a Marine. He was a Marine a long ago in China and he was still a Marine fifty years later. Though he was active duty for only three years he did get the clear message that “once a Marine, always a Marine”.

It took me some time to catch on to just what this meant. At first I thought it was just a kind of a motto, like the Marine Battle Hymn, "From the Halls of Montezuma….”. Gratefully, early in my process of researching Donald’s past, another Marine tipped me off, “Diane, You’ll want to refer to Donald as a former-Marine, there are no EX-Marines.” It would seem that you can be discharged from all of the services for crimes of many kinds, but you never stop being a Marine.
The other layer of my realization about, “there are no Ex-Marines” came into full focus as I began to correspond with other men who were in China when Donald was. I began by subscribing to the Marine Gazette and Leatherneck magazine.

I laughed to imagine what my postman must think when my new Marine magazines arrive alongside my copies of Vogue and The New Yorker. I look at the pictures in the Leatherneck: men in camouflage and covered with mud. In the past I held men who looked like this apart. But now I can’t quite hold that separation. I feel my own class judgments and stereotypes creep in. Do I even understand what it means to be a soldier?

I placed a small ad in each of the Marine magazines. The notice said that I was trying to locate Marines who served in China 1937 to 1940. I gave my address, phone number and email address. I hoped was there might be someone alive who could help me with descriptions of setting, and tell me about the transport ship, the USS Chaumont. I expected to hear from family members who perhaps had their father’s scrapbooks or maybe an uncle’s clippings from China. I was unprepared for what happened.

The first ad appeared in the Leatherneck in September 2000 and the day that my copy of the magazine arrived I began to be drawn into the Marine world and into a very old world. The key word is old. I came home from work one day and my message machine was flashing that I had seven messages. I grabbed a pen to jot down numbers, but when I heard the first message I couldn’t write at all.

A firm male voice said, “This is Staff Sergeant Clifford Wells. I am responding to your notice in the Marine Gazette. I believe I can assist you. I served in China 1938 and departed Shanghai on the USS Truman 23 March 1940. Please call me”. He gave a number—I was sure this person was saluting as he spoke--and then he said; “Now I usually bowl on Monday and Wednesday so it’s best to call me on Friday.” I knew that no matter how young he had been in 1938, this was a really old guy, and he sounded like he was still “Staff Sergeant Wells”.

That week I had several messages like that. Most delivered in the clipped tones of radio bulletins. I also got a call from the son of a former-Marine, one from a nephew of someone who served in China during the war, and I got letters.
The letters echoed the phone calls:

“Dear Mam, I am writing in response to your recent notice in the Marine Gazette. I believe that I may be able to help you. I am… and they gave rank, name, duty assignment and location in China, which always included full date of arrival, and departure. The letters each described for several pages their assignment and duties, special services rendered—chauffeur to the Commander, chef for enlisted men, engineer or corpsman. Somewhere near the end of each letter the writer would tell me his current age—86, 87,88, 89---and how best to contact him. The closings were poignant: “I am happy to help you learn more, but please don’t call. I am extremely deaf.” Or “I will write back to you again but only when my son comes on Thursday to help me with the mail.”

But there was another face of former-Marines: I got email. The ghosts of China came to me through the Internet. The emails were slightly less formal: “Hi Diane. Rcvd ur email msg. My tour of duty in Shanghai was 3 Nov. 1938 thru 18 May 1940. Fourth Marines regimental Hdqtrs. I was C.W. radio operator. I have some phone books of Shanghai…”

That was the other wonder and a writer’s gift: Each man had documents.
Some had scrapbooks, or copies of the Walla Walla, a weekly newspaper put out by and for Marines in Shanghai in the late 1930’s. (The name Walla Walla was a joke, a mimicking of the sound of Chinese speech.) The former-Marines had saved 1938 Thanksgiving dinner programs that included the menu; they had box scores of Chinese ball games, with the roster of players. And they wanted to send it all to me.

Cliff Wells, Frenchy Dupont and George Howe became my phone and pen pals. Along with other former China Marines, these men became my friends and my teachers. They told me what it was like to be young and far from home, to see death all around them and then to have to kill. These men, older than the Greatest Generation, shared that group’s reluctance to talk to family about what they’d experienced, but they were willing, almost waiting, to tell me. It was Cliff who one day said, “Do you understand what “hand-to-hand combat” really means? And then told me in gruesome detail. It was Frenchy who explained what starvation felt like and his panic and fear when, as a prisoner, he realized he was going blind. And it was George who described seeing a guy “go off his rocker” when we talked about what it was like to see dead bodies every day and the strain of being surrounded by violence.

It did make me wonder, as it has since this began: Hadn’t any other historian or journalist stumbled across these guys? Had no one uncovered a group of men who could write the real “We Were There” story of events leading up to World War II? But no one had, and from the urgency I felt from these strangers, their push to get these materials into my hands, there weren’t a lot of people in their lives –not at their own Thanksgiving dinners or at the bowling alley who were willing to listen either. Here were the men who saw the Rape of Nanking and the bombing of the Panay, who lived the high life of Shanghai—“Paris of the Orient”—and the lowest of low life as prisoners in Battaan and Palawan, and who had survived. These men, who had been through all of that, and who still identified themselves first and always as US Marines, had been waiting 60 years to tell their story.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Wanting Three the Possible versus The Actual

Here’s another piece of this: The potential or possible new thing is always more alluring and better than the real or actual whatever: backpack, scarf, shoes, outfit, or job or man. Do I live a potential life rather than an actual or real life? I imagine when I get that whatever: job, man, purse, scarf, necklace then I will: feel good, be happy, impress someone, be at peace. It’s always out there, it’s always in the future, its always potential and possible but never here, never now, never real. The actual and the real (man, job, outfit, haircut) is always imperfect.) As long as it’s possible and potential then it remains perfect and cannot disillusion me. In my fantasy it will always deliver me. Real human beings and real jobs and real things don’t deliver, not perfectly anyway.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Wanting Part Two

There is another day that stands out in my self survey of wanting. This time it is early morning and I am dressing for work. It will be a full day and a tense one. I am looking through jewelry boxes (no I never bought the necklace, it lost its appeal after about 20 days) But I have lots of other badly wanted and had-to-have pieces. I look through dresser drawers, pick up and put down silk scarves, finger some very nice belts, but uncharacteristically I am stumped. I don’t know what I want to wear. I hear myself say out loud, “What am I looking for?” and it strikes me, this too is a kind of wanting. I am shopping in my own closet and wanting some perfect accessory to do something for me today.

I step back from the closet and sit down. What do I want, and why is the choice so hard today? I stop and picture the upcoming activities on today’s schedule. Oh, I see, it’s going to be a difficult day with lots of meetings and most of them with difficult people. There will be several Board meetings and a session with entitled and cranky volunteers. Now I know what it is I am looking for in my shelves and drawers. I want to hang something around my neck, some badge or scapular disguised by silk twill or 14K gold that says simply and clearly: “Do Not Fuck With Me.”

As my real need becomes clear I laugh. Maybe gangsta jewelry is not so bad after all.
Maybe rapper chains with tough words on them are more honest than the Hermes scarf or a John Hardy bracelet. Those designer pieces require translation. A nice fat chain with “Fuck Off” in block letters edged in rhinestones would communicate well even to those who are not trained in sartorial translation.

Lots and lots of words have been written accusing advertising for creating consumer demand. Yes, fine, they’re right, but that’s not the whole story. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him wear Hermes or drink Evian. I know that I am highly susceptible to the influence of advertising but I don’t believe that Madison Avenue is the all powerful and malevolent “other” who makes me want. There is something in me that reaches out to the wanting as much as the advertising reaches in; I am at best a partner and at worst an accomplice.

Friday, November 07, 2008


It was a Wednesday afternoon at 5pm; I left the office early to get my hair cut. I arrive early and my hairdresser is late. I don’t mind. One of the perks of coming to this nice salon is the waiting room. It’s filled with comfy chairs and has a coffee bar and snacks and best of all, the latest women’s magazines. I get a fill of junk food in every sense. I hand my coat, and sit down with some tea and cookies and I pick up the new Town and Country magazine.

If, in that very moment, the second I crack open this glossy magazine, you could see me and see into me, you would see a woman who is happy and content. My day was busy but not too hard. I have an interesting job. My home life is good. All is well. In that moment frozen in time all I need is to get my hair cut and buy some milk on the way home.

But in the next 90 seconds my experience of myself changes. I open the magazine on my lap and I am looking at a photo spread of the actress Renee Russo wearing a pretty necklace. The necklace is distinctive. Rather than having a full strand of pearls this necklace is strung and knotted in such a way as to keep individual pearls about an inch away from each other. The effect is that it gives the appearance that the pearls are floating on the wearer’s skin. It is called “The Illusion Necklace”. By now you have seen these…the expensive and costume versions are ubiquitous but that day it was new to me.

What was different for me that day as I sat in the salon waiting room was that I was oddly aware of myself as I read about Renee and her necklace. Maybe because it was a good day, or because I was tired, but for some reason that day, in that moment, I was aware of my body and mind at once. And what I felt was a series of physiological changes as I was reading about The Illusion Necklace.

The article says that the necklace is also called the “Tin Cup” necklace, because Russo wore these pearls in every scene in that light romantic comedy. I remember the movie. Had I noticed the necklace? No, but I look at the photos in the magazine and it is lovely. Do I care? Well, yes, inexplicably and suddenly I do seem to care. What I feel however is my body changing; I feel my respiration and heart accelerating while I am aware of what is going through my head: “This is a great necklace; This is the best necklace; This is the perfect necklace, and then I hear myself think: I WANT THIS NECKLACE.”

Absolutely no more than three minutes have passed from sitting down content with my life, to reading a few words and now—Wham!-- I feel myself wanting this necklace. The message in my head is subtle but it’s there just like background noise that’s always there humming behind my thoughts and what it says is this: “My life will be better, improved, or fixed if I get THIS; and in this case the “this” is a few pearls artfully knotted on a silk string.

Now, you may be well ahead of me, but it was not until I sat to write this that it struck me: the name of this necklace is perfect. It is an ILLUSION.

I tell this story not because this was the first time my mood was changed by an ad but because this was the first time that I was aware of it while it was happening. I was conscious of the process as it penetrated my body and mind. I also saw that my response to this self observation was not necessarily “Oh silly me”. No, even as I watched myself discount my own good life I began to believe that I had to have this necklace. But I knew that something had just happened inside me.

I flipped through a couple of pages in this magazine, wanting to look as inconspicuous as possible. I felt like a prisoner awaiting interrogation who looks down to see the key to her escape at her feet. I was breathing hard. But, as if it was nothing, as if it were no big deal, I tore out the page and picture of the necklace, coughing to cover the sound of my theft.

A few days later at home I looked again at this photo. This was not about a necklace. But what was it and why did I want this then? I made a deal with myself that if I still wanted this necklace so badly in 30 days, then I would give myself permission to buy it. And so the illusion necklace became the beginning of my study of wanting.

I still have the magazine page. Every now and then I get it out and look at it closely. When I find myself NEEDING a certain new red purse or a special shimery gray eye shadow or the perfect—and one more--pair of shoes I first take a look at my photo of pretty Rene and the Illusion necklace.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Willingness Again

I am back to willingness again. Am I willing to be restored to sanity? Am I willing to see things differently? Am I willing to let God change me? What part of willingness takes my effort and what part is a grace?

Here is what I find in a note I wrote to myself in 2005:

“Willingness is a grace. It is a softening. It is leaving the door slightly ajar. It is a movement of energy. It is a freedom.”

Today what I cling to is that image of leaving the door slightly ajar. I cannot swing the door wide open. I am too afraid and the open door feels too vulnerable. But I can leave it open a crack, a tiny bit, slightly ajar. God’s grace has an opening. I am willing to do that.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Go Vote

Part of recovery is entering the world as a responsible person and being part of a community. Today is Election Day and we are privileged to vote for a new president. Please vote today. Exercise your right and your privilege. It doesn’t matter who you vote for but it really does matter that you participate. Action. Service. This too is gratitude.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Amends Prevention

This weekend visiting family I recalled a piece of advice I heard early in recovery:
“Don’t do anything you’ll have to make amends for later.” That is a kind of a failsafe slogan. I remember that it had a lot of impact after I had been working the 9th step and remembered how grisly some amends can be. This slogan reminds me that it can be very selfish and very self-protective to NOT get the last word and NOT make my point.

If you can’t do anything else: Just don’t do anything you're gonna have to make amends for later.

Friday, October 31, 2008

What If the Opposite is True?

I had a powerful experience yesterday. I was—as I so often do—mentally rehearsing a situation in which I believed that I was going to have a big conflict with John. I was imagining a scene in which I would be left out, disrespected and not important. Given that I was gathering emotional ammunition and preparing both my attack and my defense”: “He should…” “It’s clear that…” “If you loved me…” etc. And in my mind I was going over this again and again working myself into a state of fear and frenzy.

And then—seemingly out of nowhere—I pictured the very scene happening as I thought he wanted and I saw that it was perfect; not only was he right but that if he did it the way he wanted it would meet my needs more clearly. It would make loving each other easier.

The contrast was so sharp and so startling that it really stopped me cold. There I was, ready to make a scene and let him have it-- and being the nice guy that he is he’d probably do it my way just to please me. And if I had my way I would be the loser.

The realization was so stunning and my error so dramatically off that I began to think: What if I have it backwards? What if other things that I object to or fear are like this too? What if the exact opposite is true?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Faith and Fear

Here is another AA heresy. One of the platitudes in AA is that “faith and fear cannot occupy the same place.” But it’s not true. We do people a disservice when we say that. People of faith also have fear. Moses had fear in the desert. Daniel had fear in the lion’s den. Jesus had fear; he sweated blood at Gethsemane. Faith is not the absence of fear. Faith is doing the next sober thing even while feeling terrible fear.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hysterical and Historical

Here is a slogan that should be tattooed on my hand:
“If it’s hysterical, it’s historical”.

This is so helpful in sorting out my reactions to people and situations, and I do need sorting. For example—like I need to look very far for an example—today I got mad at John because I heard him on the phone and he did not say “we”. I had a big reaction: “Why doesn’t he say we? Doesn’t he want to include me?” blah blah blah.

So, “If it’s hysterical, it’s historical”: My reaction was waaaaaay bigger than seemed relevant—even to me. So I knew that was an old family wound was getting hit. Sure enough, the old stuff about being left out and how my family sometimes forgot that I existed. Like the time they left me locked out of the house and went to buy a new car. I was on the porch for five hours. And it was February. In Pennsylvania. And I was 10. So I have some issues about being left out.

What a do-it-your-self therapy kit this is: If it’s hysterical, it’s historical.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


There is a description, a sort of accusation, in the Big Book about the restlessness of alcoholics. It is supposed that recovery will help us be less restless. We assume that our restlessness is a flaw and that with enough prayer, surrender or good works we can fix that. But what we are fighting is our humanness. Saint Augustine wrote that “we are restless until we rest in God.” Even the saints were restless. Fighting or trying to eliminate restlessness is not the point, accepting it is.

The best advice I ever got from a therapist is: “Humility is accepting your humanity.”

We are human. We struggle. We are restless.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Tough Slogans

In the meeting this morning Bill, with 35 years, talks about getting sober in Fall River. The men met informally in the back of a barber shop. “We didn’t have nice slogans like we do today,” he says. “We didn’t hear things like Easy Does It.”

Here are a couple of the slogans he remembers from those men’s meetings:

“Die you bastard but Don’t Drink”

“To get back on your feet you have to get off your ass.”

“This isn’t Burger King; you don’t get to have it your way.”

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Move a Muscle Change a Thought

James, who has a week of sobriety talks about taking walks at night to stay sober. He quotes this slogan: “Move a muscle; change a thought”. He describes feeling so crazy. He talks about “her.” I ask who she is and he says, “My ex, eleven years, really hard, over like that.” He makes a gesture as if a crumb is being brushed away. I think about how hard one week is. Yesterday he said he hit his bottom so hard it was like the space shuttle reentering and crashing and exploding on the ground. Now he’s walking at night, pumping his arms, talking out loud to God. The pain is so clear. I’m grateful I’m not him. “Don’t drink”, I think. And I mean this for him and for me.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Happy Anniversary to Me

I celebrated 22 years today at a meeting on Cape Cod. The First Light meeting in Eastham, Mass. meets daily at 6:30 am. I come to this meeting when I am on vacation. This is my beach AA home. Faces are familiar but I don’t remember names. But today in this group of eight people there are two others who have 22 years. I talk about getting sober in Baltimore. I tell them about being 12-stepped by a book, Robin Norwood’s, “Women Who Love Too Much”. I tell them about a moment of grace that October when I read that book and recognized myself and how the pin ball machine in my head went bing, bing, bing when Norwood wrote, at the end of the book, that if you found yourself relating to the stories in the book that the odds were good that you had a problem with alcohol, drugs or food. I had all that. And I had willingness. I had willingness to change, to get help, to want my self to be different.

I have that desire today but I wonder if I have the same willingness. Back then the pain was much greater, the losses more public and the shame and humiliation so acute. Pain was the bottle opener. Today I still want to be restored to sanity. There have been so many meetings, inventories, sponsors, phone calls and much service work too. There has also been a lot of outside help: therapy of all kinds, spiritual direction, retreats, workshops, body work and even shamanic healing. All to the good, all towards healing. The work continues and the journey continues. On the passenger seat of my car is another new book: Never Good Enough: Healing for Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers. Another layer. More growth. More will be revealed.

And the hair grows in...

A wonderful quote from Nora Ephron from her novel, "Heartburn":

"One thing I have never understood is how to work it so that when you’re married things keep happening to you. Things happen to you when you are single. You meet new men, you travel alone, you learn new tricks, you read Trollope, you try sushi, you buy nightgowns, you shave your legs. Then you get married and the hair grows in."

Friday, October 24, 2008

Recovering From Perfection

Yesterday talking to a colleague about the need to do it all and do it, well she shared with me something that helped her begin to move past her perfectionism. She was told that she “succeeded in spite of perfectionism not because of it.” I had to let that sink in over several hours. It seems impossible but I’m just starting to get the truth of that comment. My therapist talks to me about “good enough”. Can I be the “good enough” employee, coworker, partner, friend, student?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Addiction to Scary Thinking

I’ve been much more aware of my thinking recently. The slogan, “I came for the drinking but stayed for my thinking” is very true. Even with all—or most—substances removed it’s my thinking that causes me trouble. I find that I just slide into telling myself scary stories: He will leave me, I will get fired, they won’t like me, this or that bad thing will happen. The end of the story is always the same though: I am abandoned and I am defective. We all have some of these patterns or habits of faulty thinking that keep us form being happy. In cognitive therapy these would be my “schemas”.

But today walking around the track at the gym I was aware that my mind really wanted to scare me and upset me. I kept trying to shake the thoughts and redirect and distract myself but it was harder than ever. And then I got this idea: These persistent thoughts that seem to want to derail me are like cravings. I understand cravings and this is what these thoughts feel like, the tempting or insistent voice that says, “Come here” and “just one more” and now, “think about this.”

If I view these thought patterns as an addiction and I approach the change as if I am dealing with cravings then I can apply AA principles here too: When cravings strike what do we do?

We can: “Move a muscle change a thought”, pick up the phone and tell someone, and just agree to wait. We can decide to not “pick up” the thought for one day, one hour, one minute at a time. And Pray for this “craving” to be removed.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sonny's Blues

I teach a class on the Literature of Alcoholism and we are reading “Sonny’s Blue’s” by James Baldwin. Sonny’s drink, scotch and milk--his cup of trembling--sits on the piano. It is milk as nurture and whiskey as destruction. Sonny sips from that cup all night as he plays. As an artist he embraces suffering—his own and others—hoping to transform it through and into art. Is he successful? He sips and plays. And suffers.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Google Goggles

In yesterday’s New York Times is an article about a measure taken by Google Email to help prevent emailing while drunk. They have included a set of math problems that must be completed before one can email between 10pm and 4am on weekends. Apparently this is a key time for people who have had too much to drink and are in danger of sending off emails’ they will regret later. The article says that this is like having a breathalyzer on your car.

Now, think about this. If you are drinking that much, or you know that you have a danger period in which you tend to do stupid things after drinking, doesn’t that suggest that your problem is not one of email but rather one of drink?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Better Than the Verizon Network

Last day at the Cape and feeling so grateful for this week. A wonderful part has been making new friends in AA here. A daily meeting speeds up the process and a 6:30 am meeting makes it very real. I’m reminded that being part of AA has the additional benefit of providing travel advice and assistance that is so much better then AAA. I can go to any AA meeting in the world and ask where to eat, what to see, how to get tickets, what areas to avoid and I’ll often get offers of rides, meals, coffee and companionship if I want that. Wherever we go we have this huge family of relatively sane people available to us. It’s like that commercial for the Verizon network except that the group of people goes on for miles and miles.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Shoes I Will Not Wear

I see these shoes all over. They are sold through catalogs like, Modern Maturity and All About You, which are supposed to be celebrating mid-life. But now I’m also seeing these shoes here in the chic shoe shop on the Cape. These shoes have all kinds of euphemistic names like On the Move Comfort Footwear, but ya know what? These are old lady shoes.

A friend brought a catalog to show me a pair of these comfort shoes that she was considering for a special event. “They look so comfortable” she says, “but are they too dowdy?” How to answer? I look at the shoe and I say to my friend, “Maybe go for something a little more strappy; you don’t have to walk in them.” But what I want to say is, “Those are shoes for a woman who has forgotten what her vagina is for.”

Yes, I know that these shoes feel good but it is a slippery slope. One day you allow yourself to wear these “comfort shoes” and within a week you are buying a pink jogging suit decorated with gold embroidery emblems, and thinking, “That looks nice.” Or you buy a pair of these shoes with “manmade breathable uppers” and soft rubbery soles (so you don’t break a hip on the bocce court?) and soon after you are thinking, “Why spend all that money for someone else to put color on my hair; I could just buy a box of that hair dye that Sarah Jessica Parker uses. She always looks so nice.”

Maybe it’s a matter of chemistry: You buy a pair of comfort shoes in a “nice, practical” navy or worse, in ivory, and after a few wearings the chemicals in the shoe enter your brain and you begin to think that pants with an elastic waist make perfect sense. I mean, after all, you gain a little weight now and then so wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t need to buy new pants every time you gain a pound? A little elastic and you are all set. Or you begin to think that you don’t really need new underwear every year. You could buy one of those “bra extenders” and get more life out of the old bras. Did you really ever have to go to the hospital and have someone see your raggedy drawers? No, of course not.

This all begins with the shoes.

Guard yourself and help your friends too. Comfort shoes are a frightening thing. They are the end of sex and the end of independent thought. In these shoes you will give up reading new fiction and listening to public radio. You will claim that you don’t know who Arianna Huffington is and you will think the red string on Madonna’s wrist is to remind her to buy a birthday card for her brother. No, these are truly end-of-life footwear.

But even saying that I have this request: Even if I am to be buried and the law requires that corpses wear shoes, or even if I am going to be cremated, please do not put “comfort shoes” on my feet. Gold sandals, a simple Ferragamo pump if you have to, or rubber thongs. Wherever I go from here, it’s still about best foot forward.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Grow Your Own Mother

I’m reading the book, “Will I Ever Be Good Enough?” by Karyl McBride, PhD. It is about healing and recovery for daughters of narcissistic mothers. She writes about the wound, the patterns of behavior, the persistent never good enough and invisibility that accrue to women whose mother was somewhere on the continuum from self-absorbed to full-blown narcissist. Part of the recovery that McBride describes is developing an internal mother who is all the things one’s real mother was not able to be.

So today at the beach I began to envision what that mother would be like and I began to borrow parts of other women—and some men—to grow my own mother. To be fair I did include a lot of my real mother and many of her best qualities: passion, curiosity, interest in people, physical energy, humor. But, as I walked the beach, I began to name the others that I’d include in my internal mother. I could add in bits of Georgia O’Keefe, May Sarton, parts of my good friends that I’d want to have as part of the eternal mom-in-me. I also added in my two grandmothers: Josephine and Sophia—who I know of but didn’t really know. But could I pass up a grandmother named Sophia—wisdom—in building an inner mother? And Josephine, a poker player and “reproductive health advocate” (she was the neighborhood abortionist.) As I walked the beach I wrote their names in the sand, physically co-signing the new mother-in-me.

I can feel the new supportive, encouraging, powerful maternal presence growing. I picture it like one of those pills you drop in water to delight a child. After soaking in water they bloom into a seahorse or a dragon. Now soaked in lots of saltwater--ocean and tears—I am growing my own mother.

Thank you Karyl McBride for your great and healing book.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Reading and Writing

Being a writer will make you a better reader. Not because of some cognitive or intellectual process but simply because if you are supposed to be writing, and you are afraid to begin, the very best procrastination is reading. So if you promise yourself that you’ll do a lot of writing that’s a sure fire way to get a lot of reading done.

What If?

Most of my thoughts begin with “What if? What if I get sick? What if I get kidnapped? What if I get fired?” Why don’t my thoughts ask, “What if I won the lottery? and What if I get a call for a MacArthur prize?” This tells me that this is not about having an active imagination. This is about fear and fear as a habit.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

It's Vacation Time

I'm heading to Cape Cod for a week alone. Writing, beach walks and beach surrender. When I look at the ocean I always know that there is something bigger than me. I’ll also have a daily AA meeting at 6:30 am. There is an AA meeting everyday in Eastham, Mass. The beauty of these early meetings is that the meeting starts before our egos are awake. I’ll be back in a week. More to come.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

How Do We Know if it's God's Will?

The two best ansers I have heard to the question of how will we know if somehting is God's will:

1. God's will is what is.

2. Grace is the quality of God's will. No force, no fight, no insistence just grace and gracefullness.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Wisdom from the Ya Ya Sisterhood

You can see what someone is trying to hide by the way that they are trying to hide it.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Keep Out

I have never found anything in a man’s wallet, dresser drawer or medicine cabinet that made me feel better.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Came to Believe in Us and Sanity

For the past two weeks I have been actively praying to be restored to sanity. That intense desire came after a close look at what I do to myself with my own thinking and after a closer examination of how deep and pervasive this thinking addiction is.

After many attempts to restore myself to sanity I remembered that we are, in Step Two, asking God to restore us to sanity. God, not me. I also noticed that it is “us” that is being restored. Not me. Us. Now there is a thought: We are being restored to sanity is different than I am being restored to sanity. If my AA community and my home group and my recovery peers and my friends are being restored to sanity collectively then we must depend on each other to stay sane in any situation. That’s why we make phone calls and raise our hands and listen really hard. On any given day only one or some of us may be sane so they carry the “we” and the “us” for that day. The next day it may be my turn and the next day it’s yours. But “we” are restored.

The other startling realization that I had came yesterday sitting in a theater in New York City. I was watching Equus---the play by Peter Shaffer about a 17 year-old boy who is in a mental hospital in the care of a psychiatrist. He has blinded eight horses and the psychiatrist has to make sense of this and has to restore him to a normal life. But in the helping and the healing the question arises in the psychiatrist: what will be the cost to passion and individuality when the cure has occurred? The boy can be made to fit society and he could be one of us again but at what cost to the life energy, passion, and primitive force that are truly him—however destructive that may be.

I have been praying over and over, “restore me to sanity” and to my thinking God has not been working fast enough. But in one minute at The Broadhurst Theater in New York City I thought, “Trust God on this one. Trust him to restore what he will and leave what he will because only he can see what is happening in this surgery.”

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Happy, Joyous and Free

"Happy, Joyous and Free"

Joy comes from my relationship with God.
So I can be joyous even when I am not happy.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Examining our Thoughts

St. Ignatius wrote about the “examination of consciousness”. His recommendation is most often misinterpreted as an “examination of conscience” but what he was writing about was an examination of consciousness: “Where is God in my life and in the life of my mind?” and “What am I thinking”? And “What are my habits of thought?”

Richard Rohr speaks about addiction—all addiction—as being habits of thought.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Praise and Blame are All the Same

Praise and blame are all the same. It’s easy to remember that I don’t need to care about other people’s opinion of me when I am criticized but I need to remember this when I am praised or flattered. Praise and blame are two sides of the same coin. Being impressed by flattery is the same as being hurt by criticism. Fear of criticism is directly linked to desire for praise. I have to let go of desire for approval and recognition in order to let go of fear of criticism and disapproval. In both cases I use someone else’s opinion to knock me off my center

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Poise or Thinking Like a Quarterback

Harvey Mackay, the business columnist says that poise is “grace under pressure.” He says, “Poise is what makes you a master of situations. He suggests that as an example of poise we look to great football quarterbacks. Great quarterbacks, he says, don’t lose their cool even when they’re behind with two minutes to go. He quotes Terry Bradshaw, the Hall of Fame QB for the Pittsburgh Steelers. As a Pittsburgher who grew up in the winning years (“One for the thumb”) that got my attention.

Terry Bradshaw said:

“Quite often the mark of an experienced quarterback—one who has poise—is the amount of time he holds on to the ball before releasing it. The quarterback who can be patient enough for lanes to open and receivers to clear will be more successful. I played a long time before I had poise, and I suffered for it, and so did my team.”

Today I used this lesson. A volunteer sent me a snippy email and just as I was about to reply I saw Terry on the field at Three Rivers Stadium backing off, waiting and living his poise even as six, 300-pound men were about to topple him. His lesson on poise served me well. I waited. The anger passed. I was not a jerk. Better for me—and my team.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Under Anger is Fear

I heard this at a meeting ages ago and I keep this note in my tickle file: Under Anger is Fear. Boy does that change my thinking when I can remember that. If I catch myself feeling anger and can ask, “What am I afraid of?”

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Addiction to Fear

Last night I lay awake from 2am until 6am. In the first hour I was running an inventory of all the bad things that could go wrong in my relationship: he will do this or that; he will say this or that; he could get sick, die, leave me, love someone else. With each one I complete the thought with my possible response: I will say this or that; I will do this or that and always, always: I will feel terrible.

Now what is interesting is that I don’t need any of those things to happen to actually feel terrible. No, efficient gal that I am, I have already made myself feel terrible just by running through the scenarios and previewing or rehearsing the outcomes. The effect: I feel like shit.

It’s not new behavior. I have done this most of my life. I suspect I started this as a kid but then it was just background music. The sound track to a scared kid’s life. It was, I suppose, to be a kind of inoculation. If I can imagine it then I can be prepared for it maybe? But it took on a life of its own. Now it’s a habit.

It is an addiction too I realize because it actually produces a physical effect. I release adrenaline and cortisol into my body. Hence awake in the wee hours. That also is not new. I have been able to make myself crazy with rage or grief or terror with scenarios that never occurred. I produce the emotion and the physical effect.

You can imagine how good this is for the relationship.

But last night awake in bed and then in the living room I was able to see this from a slight angle. Maybe I was just tired enough to watch myself do this and I asked myself: If I spend 90% of my thinking time creating scenarios to scare myself what would I instead think or feel if I could reduce that by say 60%? I’m not sure I can stop this addiction to fear or this habit of shooting up my own adrenaline using only my mind but if I could interrupt it and reduce it what would that produce?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Shoes for Walking Out of the Woods

Women and shoes. Not every woman has the “shoe thing” but many do. We like them; we own more pairs than the average man. There are lots of reasons why women buy and love shoes. They are an easy reward, a prize, or a drug. Even when you have bad hair or a bloated waistline you can try on shoes. You don’t have to look at your face or hair or wrinkles or changing body when you try on shoes. And there’s a practical piece: new shoes can quickly update an outfit. The silhouette of your shoes can take you from shabby to chic and from dowdy to a doll. Yep, lots of reasons women love shoes.

But what do shoes have to do with recovery? What kind of footwear do we need to trudge the road of happy destiny?

Shoe story number one: Red High Heels: At 50 I began to think practical flats and low heels but I also longed for and lusted after some high-heeled, pointy toed shoes that would still mark me as a women with libido. That’s what certain shoes signal: “this is a woman who still likes sex”. So I bought red suede pointy toed and high-heeled mules. They had roses on the toe as well. These are shoes that say “I still like being a woman.” Later I gave them away. Now I’m looking at red shoes again.

Shoe story number two: Papagallo flats. This is a lesson that I learned from my husband’s therapist. While we know that nothing can fill a hole in us that exists in the past, and that no lover today can replace the love that our father didn’t give us and we are sure that no woman now can make right the hurt our mother caused, still, given that we know all that we often chase those very fixes throughout our adult lives.

We learn in AA and with outside help how to begin to heal some of those old wounds and we stop trying to recreate now what we really needed then. But the therapist, Dr. Bob, said to Peter one day, “Sometimes you can save time and money by just going out and buying the thing you longed for so long. He said, “If as an adult you can afford it and the longing is there, then go ahead and buy the 71 Camaro or the basketball hoop for the yard.”

When I heard this I knew what I needed to buy. I remembered the longing of my 9th grade year: that summer I sat in algebra class next to a girl wearing navy blue soft leather flats with lime green piping on the edges and a tiny bow on the vamp. I longed with all my heart for shoes like that and those shoes—I later learned they were Papagallo flats—became a symbol for all that hurt: the social class wounds and family dysfunction and not being able to ask for what I wanted. Girls from nicer neighborhoods and better schools wore Papagallo shoes. Those shoes became loaded with meaning.

How many years did I shop for shoes and how many other pairs of shoes did I buy to fill that ache for navy and green Papaagallos? Why not just go buy them. I could do and needed to do all the therapy and inventories and write letters to my parents to read on their graves all to exorcise the pain of the girl who didn’t think she was good enough for nice shoes. I did all those things and then one day I bought very expensive, glove leather navy flats and I thought, “Now, at age 50, I rule the 9th grade in my heart”.
Sometimes if the shoe fits you should just go buy it.

Friday, September 26, 2008


A friend called to talk. She was in agony. “I feel envy”, she said, “I’m envious of someone with a nicer house.” I listened. My friend has a very nice house but I understood. I have felt enough envy to know its acidy pain and the way that the shame of feeling it can silence us. Even those of us who swear to “feel all our feelings” step back from envy. I have envied people’s clothes, cars, jobs and success. It’s embarrassing; I have a nice life, but envy has little to do with having enough.

Philosopher, David Hume, writing of envy in 1739 said, “It is not a great disproportion between ourselves and others which produces envy, but on the contrary, a proximity. A common soldier bears no envy for his general compared to what he will feel for his sergeant. The greater number of people we compare ourselves to, the more there will be for us to envy”. It turns out that we compare ourselves most often to our friends. That’s what makes envy so painful. So what is envy good for?

My house-craving friend and I began to dig under our envies. What surfaced was a belief that the house, shoes, car, or whatever could fix us. But I have to keep relearning, you can’t fill a hole that exists in the past. What most of us want is connection and community, but we go to the wrong places to find it, and paradoxically we think that if we already have it, it’s not enough. Hence envy double-teams with marketing and we shop like addicts.

I look at my closet. Envy is the con man who tugs at my sleeve and says, “Listen, just for a second.” He points out the un-purchased shoes or bag and swears, “Come on, just one more.”
There is some truth to the accusation that advertising creates demand but that’s not the whole story. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him wear Hermes or drink Evian. The envy in me reaches out as much as advertising reaches in; I am at best a partner and at worst an accomplice.

Sharon Zukin, a sociology professor, and author of Point of Purchase writes that: “The appeal of a shopping spree is not that you’ll buy a lot of stuff; the appeal is that, among the stuff you buy, you’ll find what you truly desire.”

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Restored to Sanity

It’s not new but it’s been worse than ever lately: I scare myself. I imagine these scenarios of things going wrong. A lot of it boils down to abandonment: “He will leave me”. “They will fire me.” “She won’t like me”. But the bad part is I work thru big scenes adding details and the script: He says, then I say, then he says… until I am a wreck and I am in my car in tears talking to someone who is not in the car with me.

Nutty. Really, really nutty. And not very productive either.

So I raise this as a topic in the meeting: “How can I stop this? How can I stop doing this to myself?”

And what I hear is surprising and good: You can’t stop this. The second step says that God will restore us to sanity, not that we restore ourselves to sanity. So I get it. When I am talking myself into a painful emotional frenzy what I can do is stop and ask God to help me stop this. Heal this part of me that wants to scare myself. Help me kinder to myself. Remove my fear and help me.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Recovery is a Habit

Recovery is not an insight; it’s a habit.

Phone calls
Working the steps

These build the HABIT of recovery.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Swimming through Life

As a fish is swimming it takes in water through its gills and extracts the oxygen. It’s quite a miracle when you think about it. The water passes through. The fish extracts the oxygen and does not drown.

We live each day in the stream of events and experiences.
We take in those experiences through our hearts.

How can we extract what is life giving from all the experiences—and not drown?

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Glass of Water is Enough

I was listening to an essay on our local public radio station and a man was describing his experience of meeting Mr. Rogers and what it was like to be in his presence for an interview. The simplicity of him and the very simple centeredness. He described the impact of that brief meeting and how he later, after Mr. Rogers died found himself trying to be an entertaining dad to his own kids and it occurred to him that Mr. Rogers was simply himself, just himself and that was the message that he conveyed to little kids: It really, really is OK to be yourself. “There’s no one like you” Mr. Rogers would tell people, “no one just like you” and “I’m glad you’re my friend.”

Mr. Rogers landed on that paradox we know so well from being addicts and addicted people. That thing the Big Book talks about: the egomaniac with an inferiority complex. And this message from Mr. Rogers is the perfect antidote to that complex problem/situation/personality dilemma: we want to be special but we feel like shit. Or we know we are nothing so we try to puff up and be a big big deal. “There is no one just like you,” he says and it’s all there: no need to puff up, you are special but so is everyone else. It’s like the statistical improbability of Lake Woebegone: Where all the children are above average. In a sense we are all above average despite what that does to the averages.

This writer on the radio said that he caught himself being a clown to his own kids and buying them things and trying to be a “great dad” when he could simply be “their Dad”

He said, in his closing --and this shot me through to my core: “I realized I could simply be a glass of water instead of a can of Coke.”

A glass of water rather than a can of Coke. I think I need to be shiny and red and branded and sugar sweet instead of cool and clear and simply the most thirst-quenching thing on earth. Is there anything truly more thirst quenching than a glass of water? Anything more relaxing to be around than a person who just is?

I like this question: Am I trying to be a can of Coke or glass of water?
A glass of water is enough.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Our Daily Bread

In class the other night I heard this story:

After World War II a group of war orphans were being cared for in a refugee camp. They were dressed, fed and well cared for. But the staff noticed that the children could not sleep. A psychiatrist was brought to observe the children and to advise the staff.

What the psychiatrist told the staff was that these children had lost their “forward memory”. These children—even though they were well fed each day--could not conceive that they would be fed the next day and therefore could not let go into sleep.

The psychiatrist’s recommendation was to give each child a piece of bread at night to take to bed. They would then know that they had food and would be fed and would not experience hunger the next day. They would know. I could relate to those children. I too feel that I have lost my “forward memory” my assurance that I am cared for and that all will be well.

Alcoholics Anonymous gives me my daily bread—one day at a time—and assures me that I am OK and that I will be ok for one more day.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The God Who ...

Last night in my theology class we talked about prayer and how people can get caught up in “doing it right”: the right prayer, the right way, the right number of times etc. The instructor said, “Ritual can be helpful and consoling but we do have to ask, “Do we believe in the God who saves or the God who measures?”

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Today we had a “Salsa for Seniors” workshop. Carlos, the instructor, began with a prayer dedicating the class to God and peace. He explained that he did that because he felt nervous. It was a lesson to me. I was looking at an amazing dancer and dance instructor—a performer but here he was saying that even he gets nervous when he begins to teach. And what he learned—his remedy—is to dedicate the work, to put it in God’s hands and to do it for good. I want to remember to do that with my work.

Another gift from Carlos. He suggested that we should smile as we were learning the new dance steps because smiling has a neurological effect and it sends a message to the brain that all is well. Even if we make mistakes with our feet the smile tells the brain not to worry and then the body does not freeze up.

And another gem: Carlos said if what you see is small and grim then life is small and grim but if what you see is full and joy filled then your life is full and joy filled.

We get to choose. And smile.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Andre Dubus Body and Spirit

Andre Dubus (1936-1999)

Here’s a Salon review of his final essay collection:

“Much of Meditations From a Movable Chair, including its title, is haunted by the accident in 1986 when Dubus, then 49, was struck by a car [while stopping to help a stranded motorist], costing him one leg and severely damaging the other. He is too honest and brave a writer to pretend that the accident did not change him in fundamental ways (just as his marriages and divorces and the births of his six children have also changed him) or that he did not suffer from self-pity and despair as well as excruciating physical pain while recovering from it. He consistently describes himself as ‘crippled,’ and despises the journalistic clich├ęs that are invariably hauled out to discuss the disabled: ‘To view human suffering as an abstraction, as a statement about how plucky we all are,’ he writes in ‘Song of Pity,’ ‘is to blow air through brass while the boys and girls march in parade off to war. Seeing the flesh as only a challenge to the spirit is as false as seeing the spirit as only a challenge to the flesh.’”

Monday, September 15, 2008

Is God the Unavailable Man?

I know this emotional habit of mine: seeking the unavailable man. Over the years I have been attracted to men who are married, depressed, workaholics, or who are just emotionally very distant. I have a kind of Velcro for that kind of man and lots of therapy and 12 step recovery has helped. I know where I got this habit. My father was quiet, frightened of life, worked many hours and traveled. I longed for him as a kid and so have sought these unavailable men and tried to either change or win them. That insight isn’t new.

But today in my prayer time I had this thought: Do I also make God an unavailable man? I’m working with a spiritual director now and she encourages me to talk to God about my relationship with him. So when I pray I also say, “I’m not sure you hear me” and “I’m asking for your help and I wonder if you are avoiding me.”

I heard myself. The Unavailable man Velcro is showing up here too. I think God is a distant man who has to be won, coaxed, cajoled, enticed or bargained with. I have been assuming I have to please him and that he is cold with a short attention span.

What if I am wrong about God? Could I really change this relationship? Could I learn to seek the available God in the way that I have slowly—so slowly learned to seek the available man?

What would an available, emotionally resonant God look like? sound like and feel like?

What would it be like to have a warm, caring, available, listening and responding God in my life? What would be different if I lived assuming that is true?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Gratitude is a Behavior

Yesterday in a meeting the speaker said that acceptance is a process. That helps me remember that when I can’t really “get” acceptance I can still be in the process of acceptance. Similarly, I realized that gratitude is not just a state or an emotion; it’s also a behavior.

We make our selves notice things we are grateful for. We can make a gratitude list to further this noticing. We can say “Thanks” quietly or out loud and always we can recall that, “Service is gratitude in action.”

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Driving around yesterday I knew I was angry. I was having those “and then I’ll tell him…” conversations in my head. But every time I tried to say out loud what was bothering me the tears came. I pulled out my journal: “I’m tired” I wrote over and over. And “I’m lonely”…Hmmm, tired, lonely, angry and not eating very well either.

Sound familiar? I laughed at myself.

H.A.L.T. : Hungry Angry Lonely and Tired

What comes next?


Friday, September 12, 2008

Angels and Demons

There are so many ways of saying this and so many wise people have tried to remind us. But still we pray to have these defects removed and we pray to be relieved of these troubling parts of us.

Freud said: If our demons leave us our angels will leave us as well.

Jung said: Where you stumble and fall is where you find pure gold.

Julian of Norwich said: Our wounds become our trophies.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

How I Know I'm an Addict

The homeopathic remedy says “take three drops” and I take ten, three times a day.

When I leave the doctor’s office with estrogen and an antibiotic I think, “Look, I scored some meds.”

When I put on my new shirt and I like the way it looks I don't say, “Great choice, I look nice.” Instead I think, “I’ve got to get three more of these.”

When the one pound bag of coffee is half empty I panic and buy another. I need to keep at least one full package in the cupboard. (I live five minutes from a 24-hour grocery store.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What We Don't Tell the Newcomer

This is one of those days that I think: 25 years of recovery, an equal number of years of therapy, every self help book underlined and memorized and still...and still…

Working too hard, doing too much, feeling bad about a relationship, not letting go, trying to control, criticizing myself, worrying that I am unhealed and unfixable. I have all this and knowing I am changed and changing, loved and loveable, knowing that it is progress and not perfection. But still…and still. I wish I were different and I wish circumstances were different and I wish I had not caused pain or received pain.

We don’t tell the newcomer that you can hurt just as bad 25 years later, and in fact, maybe even more because you have fewer things to mute the pain.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Beautiful Swimmers

Beautiful Swimmers by William Warner is one of my favorite books. It’s is the story of the watermen on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and their counterpart, the blue crab.
It’s all here: how the crab lives, feeds, courts, mates, dies and is eaten. And how the waterman trains, dresses, plans, thinks, prays, eats, and yes, dies. These two --the crabs and the watermen-- are wonderfully and positively co-dependent.

Two of my favorite words in the English language come from Beautiful Swimmers: Autotomy is the remarkable crustacean attribute of dropping a limb, allowing a pincher or leg to fall away as a means of exiting a battle or a threatening situation. Autogeny is the related and accompanying attribute referring to a crab’s ability to grow a new limb to replace the one sacrificed for survival. I could not, the first time I read this, or now, years later, miss the comparison to humans. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know when to drop something or someone and just walk away, and yes, to also be able to naturally grow that part of oneself again, to make a choice and to be new again?

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Who Has You by the Throat?

A priest who is leading a retreat for women in recovery tells this story. He was a prison chaplain and talking with a man who was serving a life sentence for murder. The man told the priest that he had killed a man who had hurt him. The man had grabbed him by the throat and he retaliated by killing him. And now, eleven years later, he keeps dreaming that the dead man has a hand reaching out of his grave and he has the prisoner by the throat.

The priest says here is a question for your daily inventory:
“Who still has me by the throat?”

Then he goes on to say:
We serve a God who loves us and who forgives us. If we become aware of our God who loves us completely then no one can have us by the throat.

Friday, September 05, 2008

No Reason to Drink

It’s about not drinking.

In a meeting today the discussion was about reservations: Do you have any reservations about not drinking? The examples are plenty and the plus of being around a while is that you know that people have gone thru some horrendous stuff and did not drink.

The speaker asked, “Do you know that you will not drink even if your spouse leaves; you are diagnosed with cancer; you lose your job or your home; all your money; even if your child dies?

He told this story: After his son died he was crying in an AA meeting. After the meeting a woman came up to him and said, “You have the perfect excuse to drink but you don’t have a good reason.

We can have any number of good excuses to drink but we have no reason.

Thursday, September 04, 2008


Here is a new way of looking at sincerity. The Latin root of the word sincere is “sin-cere” meaning without wax. It comes from a time when selling marble to sculptors and stone masons was big business. Disreputable stone sellers would hide the flaws by filling cracks in their marble with wax so that a “sincere” dealer was one who did not cover over or hide flaws with wax.

What if the way that we are sincere is by not hiding or covering our flaws? To go as-is, as we are, allowing our flaws and yes our cracks, to show.

Sincerely yours,

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Before desiring anything that belongs to someone else

"Before strongly desiring anything,
we should look carefully into
the happiness of its present owner."

Francois Duc de la Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)

I found his words on a Quote-A-Day calendar years ago and saved them.
Today it hits me more strongly than ever. For me, this applies to desiring:

A house
A car
A dog
A job
A man

Especially a man.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Be Here Now

Be in this day.
Look down at your feet.
Be where your feet are.
(Codependence is looking down at someone else’s feet.)

Monday, September 01, 2008

Labor Day is New Year's Day

The new year has never entered with champagne and icy roads, nor begun in silver lame and silly hats. Though you may have spent many a January saying new years words, you know as well as I that the real new year begins now, as it always has, the day after Labor Day. It does not matter that it is hot outside or that you are still putting on shorts when you come home from work. The new year begins as it did for 12 critical years. It begins with back to school.

And it does not matter how long it has been since you went to school, or if you have kids of your own going off to school. You know in your bones that the new year begins now. And how could it not? For 12 most important years you went off on that first Tuesday in September to try out the new identity you had forged over the summer. Was your look changed this year? Had you let your hair grow long? Or cut it short? Would they recognize you right away? Would everyone sense the new sophistication gained at summer camp in New Jersey, or two weeks visiting your sister in L.A.? Yeah, you were that same old kid when you left on the last day of school in June, but every year in the fall there was a new you and it debuted the day after Labor Day.

Every September you promised yourself you'd be more popular, more friendly, more outgoing. Or you promised you'd play around less, make new friends, hang out with the good kids.

If it was a year of changing schools then there was more newness and more opportunity to be a new you. That was the beauty of the beginning of September. Every single year you could return from summer and try out a new identity. You could be a scholar this year after a past as the class clown. Or you could be the friendly one after years as the grind and curve setter. The opportunity to redo your image came every year the day after Labor Day. And it still does.

September is the time to not only promise yourself a new exercise program, but to start it. It's still light after work and it's not cold in the morning. You really can go exercise. September is the time to start a diet that will stick. You are coming off a summer of fresh foods, and you are not bloated by 30 days of holiday treats and booze. As for a new look; who can afford one in January? You've worn your name off all your plastic just trying to get through the holidays.

No, the new look and image you have been promising yourself comes in September just as it did when you were a kid. Remember how it worked in Junior High? You decided to wear a tie and tweed because that summer you discovered poetry (or an older girl who liked poets). Or you promised yourself that you would set your hair in a smooth flip every morning to look like those girls in the magazines.

In September you could try out in public all those looks you had been practicing in the mirror behind your bedroom door.

So what if the good intentions only lasted a few weeks. Some part of it always stuck, some part of the new you was the real you and real change and that's how you moved on.

And you still can. The chnages happen in September. Buy some new sox and a red plaid shirt. This is the time to be kinder, nicer, smarter, to listen more, eat less and to hang out with the good kids. The trees remind us how it's done; try some new colors, shed the old layers. It's September. Happy New Year!