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!