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