Thursday, December 31, 2009

A New Way to end an Old Year

In my family New Year’s Eve was always a special occasion and wrought with meaning especially for my mother. Every year she would tell us, “Where you are when the bells ring on New Year’s Eve is where you will be for the rest of the year.” As a kid this meant that our house had to be clean, that we had baths and new pajamas, if there was homework or projects they had to be completed, and everything in our house was in perfect order.

Of course, in those years no one paid attention to the things that were slightly out of place like the growing tension between my parents or my mother’s addiction to Dexedrine. There was no thought to putting intra-personal or interpersonal order in our lives.

For years I carried forward this tradition making sure my house was clean, laundry done, hair and nails and toes perfected. I even chose my new years eve activities to meet the law of “when the bells ring”, one sad year locking myself in my room at the stroke of midnight to symbolize to myself that I would indeed end a painful relationship in the coming months. Another year I made sure I was sitting at my desk at 12:01 to ensure a year of commitment to writing.

Today as I prepare for this evening and the change to a new year I have a new take on my mother’s teaching. I will not do laundry and not clean the kitchen. I will leave the to-do list undone and I’ll enjoy the lights of our Christmas tree one more night.

My hope for myself when the bells ring tonight is that I am imperfect, undone and incomplete and that I will accept myself as a work in progress rather than a woman frozen in time. When the stroke of midnight comes I hope to be relaxed, laughing and pleased with myself and that is what I hope I will carry into 2010.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Gratitude A to Z

Here is another take on making a gratitude list. I got this from Mary Karr (new book, Lit, old book, The Liar’s Club—both books fabulous accounts of growing up in an alcoholic family and becoming an alcoholic and then—yea!—a recovering alcoholic).

Karr says that one of her early sponsor’s recommended making a gratitude list each day using each letter of the alphabet—A to Z.

For example:
I am grateful for AA meetings, Bus was on time, Cat was not lost, Donna my sponsor etc.
This is also one you can do with a friend out loud—or a good one to do in a boring meeting at work just listing your key words A to Z—and everyone will think you are making work-related notes.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

In Defense of Late Shoppers

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 just minutes 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 this week 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.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Solstice

Today is the darkest day and the beginning of the light. Pray for peace.

Monday, December 14, 2009

December 14 1934 Ebby and Bill

A special day in the history of AA. On this day, December 14, in 1934, Ebby Thatcher took Bill Wilson through steps 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. In the Oxford Group taking all of these steps could happen in an evening. The inventory, the confession, the examination, the asking and the list. Then sent out to make restitution—later amends. Ebby as sponsor, passing it on. Bill willing. From this day we get a Bill W. committed to sobriety. From a cold flat in Brooklyn to the rest of the world. Thank you Ebby.

Monday, December 07, 2009


Courage is fear that has said its prayers.

--Karl Barth, Swiss Theologian

Sunday, December 06, 2009

St. Nicholas Day

December 6th. St Nicholas Day. Later we borrow him to invent Santa. But girls this is the man for our holidays. Shoes. Shoes. Old Saint Nick is about shoes. Put out your shoes to get coal or candy. Gifts must be small enough for a shoe. That’s recession gifting and perfect this year. But also this year in honor of St. Nick --and in honor of the amazing sales and double coupons at Macys—go out and buy some wonderful new shoes.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Office Holiday Party

We are entering the time of year that makes seasoned managers cringe and human resource directors want to leave town. Despite fine words to the contrary, there is little Peace on Earth at the office around this time because we are getting ready 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 give us the regular reminders: 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? The tension produced along the way inevitably ends up in an annual review or with someone not forgiving someone else for months.

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 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 Childlike Workers with the decent meal and glass of bubbly that 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 how you saw where Dad went every day. It was understood that that place and those people held the key to our survival.

Today, in our workplaces, we play out that past. And despite all the tension it takes to get there, we’ll toast our teams this week with hopes for prosperity and peace at work.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Little Match Girl

I have had a “Little Match Girl” feeling for a long, long time. An alcoholic family, fear of not being loved, and social class issues swirled together with my own addictions and fears led to a bad case of always feeling on the outside looking in and way too much comparing my insides to other people’s outsides.

The rooms of AA are a great corrective. I get to hear about the insides of people and I get to see the disconnect between insides and outsides.

Yesterday I was telling folks in my home group about my current fears and how intimidated I am by someone at work and they all gave me that long look and said, “But you look so together, so competent and never scared.”

Outside looking in. Appearances are not reality.

But I was telling another friend about my ultimate fear and the way one scary thought can race down the hill taking me all the way to homelessness in three seconds. “It’s the bag lady thing” I told her. Someone doesn’t like me and in seconds my head convinces me that I’ll be a bag lady. Well, she said, A bag lady is just the little match girl, but grown up. Huh.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


I was at an AA meeting this afternoon that reads from the book, “Experience, Strength & Hope”.
This book, published in 2003, is a compilation of the AA first-person stories that were part of the earlier editions of “Alcoholics Anonymous” or The Big Book. Now that the Big Book is in its fourth edition –and because that text is updated each time---just imagine the jury process!—the stories that were removed are here in “Experience, Strength & Hope.”

And these are amazing stories. Depending on how long you have been sober—which edition of the Big Book you came in on—you’ll find some old favorites and here and certainly some old gems that are new to you.

Today we read the first story in the book, “The Unbeliever”, a literary masterpiece of stream of consciousness story telling that frighteningly and perfectly captures the state of mind of an alcoholic in full confusion, fear, arrogance and regret. As we read this story outloud today I also imagined using it for my class in The Literature of Alcoholism and putting it right up against Raymond Carver and William Kennedy.

If you have not come across this story collection—published by AA World Service—ask your meeting literature person to order a few and enjoy some fabulous reading.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Deep Down I'm Shallow

Sometimes I think I should not care about certain things. If I am a truly spiritual person does it matter if I have a nice manicure or if I get gold highlights in my hair? Is it shallow to care about sending thank you notes and greeting cards and the small details of my life or someone else’s?

Today an answer. I’m still reading Oswald Chamber’s “My Utmost for His Highest”. This is one of the spiritual texts that our AA founders read before there was any AA literature. Today’s reading includes this wonderful sentence: “To be shallow is not a sign of being wicked, nor is shallowness a sign that there are no deeps: The ocean has a shore.”

I love that line: The ocean has a shore. Nature has both shallows and deeps. Me too. Even on those days when I start to think that deep down I’m shallow.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Grateful for Mixed Blessings

On Thursday 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 this year 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.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Feeding Chicken Little

A week of worry and the end result is having my head yap at me non-stop. This morning at the gym I visualized the scary thoughts as gremlins and mentally tossed them over the rail of the elevated track. I pictured them scurrying on the gym floor. Then, realizing that what these thoughts are always saying to me is a rotating medley of: “He’s bad; they’re bad; they don’t like you; it won’t work”. I thought, Oh, it’s Chicken Little running in circles saying, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling”.

So I changed my mental picture to see myself tossing squawking chickens over the rail and watching them flap and cluck and squawk out all the varied and constant fears that fill my head.

When I pulled on my sweatshirt to leave the gym I took one more look over the rail and said, “Here chickie, here chickie” and imagined tossing handfuls of corn to my fear-filled little chickens and hoping they stay at the gym today and out of my head!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


It comes around again. No matter how much I know and how much I change this one comes around again. Sneaky too; I call it by other names: I’m “annoyed”, “hurt”, “challenged”. Sometimes I play the “I’m too spiritual for my shirt” game and think about how sad it is that this other person is less spiritually evolved than me. Oh God! Yes, I even bring God into it. And then I pause: Oh, I’m resentful!

Last week I heard a woman share about dealing with resentment about her ex and about his ex who was the reason they are now ex and how when they were together she was resentful at him for not being more resentful of his ex. Hearing that made me laugh—which, in truth, is the real first step out of resentment.

Laugh: at myself for the crazy mental concoctions of my resentments and when I dare to say out loud the form some resentments can take like being resentful that someone else is not more resentful.

After laughing, then what?

Telling someone
Writing it down
Pray for the other person: It always works. Always.
Use a God box: drop that name in there.

Here is what always reminds me that I want to do all those things: From Alanon:
“Resentment is like setting yourself on fire and hoping the other person dies of smoke inhalation”.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


“You were not meant for pleasure, you were meant for joy.”

--Thomas Merton

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mary Karr "Lit"

I’m reading the new memoir, called “Lit”, written by poet Mary Karr. She is the author of The Liar’s Club, a book that set the alcoholic family memoir train in motion. This new book details her own life—Liar’s Club was her mother and father—as an alcoholic woman and mother. She tells all—including hospitalization, horrid relationships but what most drew me in was her ability to describe what being drunk felt like both emotionally and physically. She is excruciatingly articulate about that place when one realizes that you are just about to go over the edge, the nice drink is becoming a drunk. This book describes her fall and her break and her being put back together by God and psychiatry and AA.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day

Most of us have seen a child, who when given a gift, must be prompted by their parent with “What do you say?” The child’s rote response is “Thank you.” Only, later, with maturity, the child learns to connect what the giver has done with a sincere sense of gratitude.

That’s similar, I think, to how most people view Veterans Day which we celebrate today. We know that the holiday requires something of us, and that we should care. We know that when prompted by the calendar we are to offer words of appreciation for what our soldiers have done. It’s especially true this year as soldiers from our region leave for Iraq. We get to see up close now what its like for men and women to leave their children or aging parents and families behind. But we often miss the greater sacrifice: Soldiers stand in harms way for us and they kill other people for us, and by doing that they give up pieces of their psyche and their soul--for us.

The term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is common parlance now. What we forget is that this fancy name for “battle fatigue” wasn’t invented in the Vietnam War. That term and diagnosis came years later because of the activism of veterans who were criticized and whose patriotism was questioned.

Some history: In the late 60’s and early 70’s thousands of returning vets were turned away from the VA hospitals because their mental health problems did not fit a category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual—the “DSM”--the bible of the American Psychiatric Association. With no specific category there could be no reimbursement or payment. That meant that vets were turned away or dangerously misdiagnosed.
Thousands of vets committed suicide, died of addiction or were locked in mental hospitals and were numbed to zombie-like states by mis-prescribed anti-psychotic medications.

The Viet Nam Veterans Against the War, which staged the 1971 medal turn-in ceremony, demanded that the United States Government and the Veterans Administration respond. By bringing attention to the bureaucratic and political malfunction, the American Psychiatric Association was pressured to include “Vietnam Syndrome” and later, “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” in the DSM, which meant that vets could receive services. Interestingly, the American Psychiatric Association had dropped an earlier diagnostic category, “War Neurosis” from the DSM in the early 60’s out of fear that the demand for services could bankrupt the government.

Today we are in danger of making a mistake again as we try to deal with the current war’s veterans. Some have said that Iraq is “like Viet Nam”, when in fact this war’s veterans face different psychological injuries and will need still different treatments.

A pattern is clear. When considering the kind of psychic damage soldiers sustain, our government and medical systems first deny it, then exaggerate it, finally accept it, but then forget. The rest of us forget too. We forget how bad war is. We forget the lasting cost to those who go to fight and kill and then come home broken. We forget that this war’s casualty list will be doubled or tripled by psychological injuries. So what do we say to our soldiers for bearing all of that for us?

Oh yes; Thank you.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Design Your Life

Last week a visit to Baltimore where I got sober many years ago. This trip was for a wedding. The bride is a young woman I mentored when she was in high school—the many phone calls over the intervening years were often prompted by crises fueled by drugs and alcohol. Now she is sober too and has married a wonderful man.

A bonus of my Baltimore trip was visiting friends from my first home group. I stayed with my good friend S. who is always a source of great books and new ideas. She’s a professor of communication theory so we have wide ranging talks about media, TV—she loves soap operas—books, e-books, technology of all kinds. I played with her IPhone and her Kindle and had tech-toy lust for days.

Here’s one of the best take-aways: She had on her coffee table the coolest book about things. Yes, it’s a book about the role of things in our lives and how we make a life by choosing our things. This is worth reading:

DESIGN YOUR LIFE by Ellen and Julia Lupton. They also have a website and blog of the same name so take a look and you’ll look at your stuff very differently I assure you.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Technology Woes

I have been computer-less for a week. No crashes. I decided to upgrade to Office 2007 and do the right thing by having my local technology company do the installation and clean-up. What I always forget to account for are the glitches.

Nothing is seriously wrong, just tweaking and glitches! They did a snapshot back up, got rid of Outlook Express, installed the new stuff and I brought the baby home. Happily typing away and composing emails then realizing they were not going out of the mailbox. Ugh!

But here is why this is a recovery issue: I did not blame myself. I started to. I started to say, “You’re so dumb” and “You should know” and then I stopped. It’s a computer and when you get new software there are glitches. It looks different, it feels different and it makes me uneasy. But I’ll learn. I actually remember my first computer and being so scared of everything. Ditto cell phone. Ditto IPod. So OK…this will resolve too. For now I have to make another trip to the store.

For now I’ll be careful to save and save and save until I learn how this 2007 thing relay works.
But it’s a computer. It’s not me. It’s not a moral issue and it’s not my self-esteem. And God knows, “How important is it?”

Thursday, October 29, 2009


This is Halloween: a time of spookiness and scary stories, horror movies and dire safety warnings. What we miss or forget in all this get-the-costume-get-the-candy rushing about is what we’re celebrating and where it comes from. Oh, the religious right will try to remind us: They ban Halloween because it’s pagan, devil-worship, evil etc. But even they forget their heritage on this dark holiday.

Halloween or some version of Souls Day Eve is celebrated all over the world and came to us when the Gaelic immigrants –Irish to us –came to America. In the same way that some places in the world Christmas is still a sacred holiday, there are some where All Hallows Eve is a solemn and austere time too.

Halloween as practiced here, is really a combination of Druid practice with a touch of other religious beliefs thrown in. This weekend as we help our kids to dress up and wear masks and we carve pumpkins and eat candy corn we’re following ancient customs. We wink at the Druidic past that underlies Irish Catholicism. It’s a part of our history that’s so easy to forget.

When the first settlers came to the New World there was no Halloween; It was only after the Irish immigrants came bringing their old customs that the ancient Druidic and Celtic customs joined our world. Bonfires and harvest suppers –even celebrated in churches –come directly from the dark night woods and the bare harvested fields. A nod, not so slight, to our belief in the nature gods in our midst.

As with many other holidays –and almost all Christian observances—new religious rites were deliberately laid on top of ancient pagan festivals. Halloween emerged from an act in the 8th Century when the All Saints Chapel in Rome was dedicated. That new holy day suppressed one of the oldest Celtic festivals called Samhein celebrated on the last day of October. Samhein celebrated harvest.

In Druidism, the ancient Celtic religion—underlying English, Irish and Scottish culture –the new year began November 1st so our Halloween was their New Year’s Eve.

Except for the candy, October 31st doesn’t leave much for grownups. Being scared of goblins and ghoulies lost its sway when I got old enough to lose people that I loved. The dead just aren’t scary in the same way anymore. I think that’s true for many of us. Hence the arrival of so many ghost and afterlife TV shows and classes on talking to the dead. It’s a demographic phenomenon as much as spiritual. We baby boomers are losing family and closing in on our own deaths, so like everything else we touch we want to manage this unmanageable part of life too. We are a generation that has always been able to stay in touch. And we still expect to even with our loved ones who have died.

That’s what this holiday is really about. There is a belief that in the days near the end of October the veil separating this world and the next is thinner and so it’s a time we can be closer to those who have died.
A ritual is a way of ordering life. Whether Purim or Advent, hearing Mass or saying Kaddish, small ceremonies help us sort and reframe our memories. When someone dies the relationship doesn’t stop, it’s renegotiated, literally re-conceived.

This isn’t a very American idea of death. Culturally our preferences are for efficiency and effectiveness; even with grief we use words like closure and process. I think this is why we can sometimes be so hard on the grieving, and why we want them to go through those stages and be done with it. We love closure and things that are sealed and settled. But death and grief, for all their seeming finality, are not as final as we would like.

The root of the word grieve is heavy. We carry our dead as a cherished burden. Death ends a life but not a relationship. Who would want to close the door on that?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Everybody

I have a bulletin board in my office on which I have posted pictures of women who inspire me. They are my “everybody”. I got this idea from Martha Beck (Finding Your North Star) who talked about how to get past being haunted by “everybody”, as in “everybody does that…” or “Everybody knows..” Create your own everybody” was her advice. She surrounded herself with other writers—living and dead—to create her own reference group.

On my wall are pictures of these women: Coco Chanel, Dorothy Day, Georgia O’Keefe, May Sarton, Wislawa Szymborska, Erma Bombeck, Helen Gurley Brown, Pema Chodron, Amelia Earhart and Audrey Tatou.

Each day when I look at those women I notice different things. Some days I am aware of their successes. Other days I might notice their creativity or their courage. Recently –struggling with a relationship question—I noticed that they had all had heartbreaks and big challenges in relationships—and survived. Today I noticed that these are women who defied what was expected, who risked—often quietly—what was expected of them by society and by those near to them.

These are my everybody. Who is yours?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Make a List Make a Life

I have been reading the new book, Creating Your Best Life, by Caroline Adams Miller. Miller’s book takes the idea of the “bucket list”—all the things you want to do before you die—and adds to it by giving us tools and handy research-based techniques to help make the items on the list happen.

It will not surprise you that making a commitment to another person is one of the steps. We know that in recovery. Caroline provides the why and the how to back up that step. Reading her book got me so excited that I began to make my list which includes: Being sober a long, long time and Having a personal relationship with a God who loves me. Then I added some career goals, relationship goals and even intrapersonal goals—like getting rid of the scary schema that twist my mind into painful pretzels.

You can check out Caroline Millers book and ideas at her website:

What is on your list? Let’s support each other by naming what we want as a first step in making it happen.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Byron Katie Loving What Is

A few weeks ago I attended a workshop at Kripalu Center with Byron Katie who teaches a self-knowledge and self-change process called The Work. Katie teaches a method that invites us to judge others and then turn around those judgments to look deeply into our own thoughts and beliefs—and ultimately to free ourselves by seeing our projections.

At Kripalu Katie worked with individuals on stage asking them to voice judgments about family and friends and then she walked them through her inquiry process by asking them to answer these questions about each judgment:

Is it true?
Can you absolutely know it’s true?
How do you react when you believe that thought?
Who would you be without that thought?

And then: Turn each thought around to it’s opposite.

Doing the “Work” provides a kind of fast-track to seeing inside of me. The idea behind it is that we make our own suffering by projecting all of ourselves onto others and then being mad at them for the things we projected. That is not so new. Many spiritual teachers and The Course in Miracles have pointed out how we create our world by projecting what we cannot accept in ourselves. But Byron Katie has given us a fast way to actually do it:
Judge your neighbor. Write it down. Ask four questions. Turn it around.

What I found this week after finally doing the exercises—called worksheets—is that of course it's me, of course it’s my thoughts, and the best part is that I can laugh at myself. In some cases writing out a worksheet was enough for me to shift my thinking about another person and in other stickier cases I could at least loosen my grip.

What struck me today is that for those of us in 12 step recovery—the lessons of The Work correlate nicely with our amazing 12 steps. The Tenth Step Axiom says that when I am disturbed there is something wrong in me. Doing a Byron Katie worksheet shows me this is true each time. The process also speaks to acceptance: what is, is. All my fussing and fighting and judging and insisting don’t change what is. And only when I face the truth about myself or a situation, only then can I begin to change—me!

Saturday, October 24, 2009


This morning the discussion topic in our meetings was denial. The first few speakers were bashing denial. Denial is bad, bad, bad. How silly is that? Would any of us be in recovery if it were not for denial? I know that my denial was really important and even life saving. If I had to grasp the whole picture of my addictions, the reasons behind my addictions and the consequences of my addictive behavior early on I would have killed myself. Even in early recovery denial was a life saver. If I had any clue what recovery would ask of me over the next twenty years I would have walked out the door in my first month.

No, denial kept me coming back. I thought perfect recovery was right around the corner. I thought my “cure” was in the next step, the next meeting and of course when I got that next chip: one year, five years, ten and yes, even the 20 year chip. Even now as I continue to work on my relationship with God and on my thinking it’s still true—some amount of denial is allowing me to stay with this process.

Melody Beatty –Codependent No More—writes about the importance of denial. She describes it as a warm blanket that we keep around us to keep us safe. We don’t run around tearing off people’s blankies—for their own good. But when we get warm and feel safe—slowly, slowly (by attending meetings and being loved in recovery) —then we loosen our own blanket and slowly let it drop.

In the meantime it is denial that lets us laugh and gossip and raise our hands to offer our experience strength and hope, and it is denial that comforts us as we trudge the road of happy destiny.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Scarlet Letter: A is for Able

I’m re-reading The Scarlet Letter and I find myself most moved by what I did not notice when I read this as a younger woman. Hester is transformed by her experience of being an outcast and she becomes a “sister of charity” writes Hawthorne, helping the sick and dying of the community. In a most moving passage Hawthorne writes that her Scarlet “A” intended to signify adultery became “transformed to mean Able, so capable was she of helping and caring”. It made me laugh; Hester is a caregiver!

Again this idea that we can go through very hard things and come out the other side--changed and transformed—and better for the experience.

As to how Hester’s transformation occurred Hawthorne writes, “Shame, despair, solitude; these had been her teachers. The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dare not tread.”

Yes, we know this as: No matter how far down the scale we have gone…

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sartre Day

“Hell is other people." That famous line comes from the play “No Exit” by Jean Paul Sartre. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature on this day in 1964. Many of us have certainly felt that sentiment at times and-- truth be told—when we were drinking we were, in fact, some of those hellish people.

My favorite line from Sartre’s play is this: “I am a gaze observing you, a formless thought that thinks you.” As a teenager I loved rolling those words around in my mouth enjoying the sensuality of his language. As a recovering woman I am reminded that my thoughts create my reality and that I can, in fact, think you.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Rushing and Doing

Maybe Moody blues and maybe Monday blues but I woke with a start and began working thru the list this morning. Then I remembered something I read in “MY Utmost for His Highest”—the old devotional book that was used by Bill W. and Dr. Bob and other early AA’s.

In the “Utmost” devotion for October 19th is says that “The press and rush of tremendous activity that we regard so highly is not for the Master. The central thing about the Kingdom of God is our personal relationship with Himself, not public usefulness.”

Ouch! I am so very invested in my “press and rush” and in the “public usefulness” part of my identity. Dare I reframe that to do less and be more?

It’s not the first time this question has come around, but to see it right there and to know surrendering doesn’t mean do more, it means let God do the doing.

Let’s see how I do the rest of this week.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Happy Birthday Friedrich Nietzsche

Take a twirl around the living room today in honor of the philosopher who said:

“And we should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Throw Them Over the Edge

Managing my own thinking—and not scaring myself to pieces –is one of my ongoing challenges. Here is my new strategy to deal with scary thoughts.

Every morning I walk at the YMCA. The track is elevated and overlooks the large gym floor below. That’s a help often because I get to watch the Pilates class or the killer Boot Camp group grunting and puffing thru a workout that would kill most Marines. Watching them makes me very happy to be walking or jogging on the track.

Today as the fear thoughts started in on me I had a new thought, “Throw them over”. So each time my head cooked up a new “What if…” scenario I’d say “Nope, over you go.” and toss that thought and picture over the railing and onto the gym floor below. It also helped to imagine these scary thoughts as scared, bratty little kids so when they land on the gym floor they can run around and wear them selves out—away from me!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Beach Surrender

We went to the beach this weekend. I go alone in the morning to pray, writing the names of each person on the edge of the shore and watching to see the water come up and take the prayer away.

This weekend I wrote the names of all of our family members his and mine, spouses and kids, siblings also. I wrote his name and my name and I wrote my workplace too. I live in the gap between wanting to make a complete surrender, making that surrender for an instant or a moment and then, seeing, even as I walk aback to my car fear returns and my wish to control something or someone is already back in my head.

Surrender is such an imperfect process but I do think it is a process. I really do wonder about people who say they have done it and it’s done. Do they really never worry again? Worry means I still think I can affect an outcome. Curiosity might be the antithesis of worry. Being able after surrender, to wonder: “I wonder how God is going to play this one out?”

These are the things I surrender and later worry: His health, our relationship, his family, having time together, my health, money, my job, my stepdaughter, my granddaughter, his sons, my ex-husband, his ex-wife.

Maybe this worry of mine too is something I need to surrender.

Over and over I surrender and return to these things.

The ocean’s rhythm is familiar; in and out, in and out, washing, soothing, wearing me down.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Imagine John Lennon

A couple of years ago I was in a chocolate store on Madison Avenue and as I was leaving the store I realized that the couple in front of me was Sean Lennon, John’s son, and his girlfriend. I was so curious that I walked up Madison Avenue behind them and when they turned into Central Park I did too. I was on my way back to the West Side so my path kept me right behind them. After a few blocks I noticed that the girl friend kept looking back and then whispering to Sean. I’m embarrassed to say that it took me many more minutes to realize what it must have seemed like from their point of view: Another creepy celebrity stalker!

Oh God...and in Central Park no less.

I think about that today—John Lennon’s birthday. Imagine if he had lived. Just Imagine.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Intensive Care Lessons

The first time I was in an Intensive Care waiting room I was 18 years old. It was a Wednesday night in July. I had come home from ballet class and my mother called to say that my father was on the living room floor and she could not wake him up. An hour later the family was gathered in the Intensive Care waiting room at Alleghney General Hospital on Pittsburgh's Northside. My father had had a stroke; he never regained consciousness, and within a few days he was dead. My strongest memories of those few days are the details of that small room and the strangers with whom my family shared that space.

Now, sadly, many years later, I have become a kind of expert on these rooms. Over these years, I have waited for and watched as four brothers and sisters died, and I have learned many things from Intensive Care.

I know how a hospital works and how to work one. I know what to pack and how to dress for this experience. I know what to say to nurses and what not to say to doctors. Like a traveling salesman who knows exactly what hotel room to book in any city or how to create an office in an airplane seat, I know how to "do" Intensive Care.

I have thought, in my more practical moments, that I might write a guide to the practicalities of the ICU, ways of making this difficult experience less stressful. In my more bitter moments I have thought of writing a critical piece lambasting medical personnel and the business part of hospitals for what sometimes is less than humane policy. I have even made lists to help me organize and give order to the chaotic experience of the Intensive Care waiting room.

Physically, most of these rooms are the same: small sitting rooms with an adjoining private bath. There is a TV that is always on and there is a black board and a phone on the wall. Usually there is a round table for eating and a coffee table with old magazines. Once you enter this room nothing else exists. Your world becomes the patient and the four, fifteen minute intervals that you can see him or her. There is no visiting in the regular sense; We are waiters, not visitors in Intensive Care. Those who visit intensive care wait for doctors, wait for news, wait for visiting times, wait for other family to arrive, wait for phone calls, wait for answers and wait to, someday, take another full breath again.

Among the practical advice I might share is the etiquette; how to live among the strangers you meet in this room. You will spend hours and days with them and there is a code of behavior: Take accurate messages, don't hog the phone, you can openly eavesdrop but don't interrupt. You may bring sweets to share and take a turn making coffee, but never ever offer hope to another family. That is their business. Yours is yours. This is a life raft of sorts, and you must be careful in this small space where everyone is filled with fear and tension.

If I did give advice to a newcomer to ICU I’d provide a primer on terminology. There are so many code words ( "codes" being one of them) and specialized terms. You listen to medical explanations and become conversant with medical jargon that is both meaningful and meaningless: "Counts are up (or down)", checking "N.G.'s" platelets, and vitals." You care about all of these things intensely and you don't really give a damn. Will he live? Will she die?

There is also a lesson on human relations I have learned in ICU, an insightful paradox I have observed over and over in my days in these waiting rooms. At the very time when a person - or a family - must turn fully inward to care for themselves and to will the survival of their loved one, there also emerges a most generous compassion. I have seen race, class and age differences dissolve instantly. I have watched people change diapers and tires for, and share food and fears with, others who, in any other setting, might be spurned or shunned.

But these are not the real lesson of the ICU waiting room. The real lesson is something that is harder to put in a handbook. Each time I sit for days or nights (they are the same) in Intensive Care, I relearn this. Sometimes I wonder if that is why I have to go back. I'm still trying to get the lesson.

This big lesson is not about medicine or any scientific fact. It’s about relativity and priorities. I have seen it each time as the details of “life” are left outside the ICU door. Most of what we care about when we are engaged in the rest of our lives, in what we erroneously think of as "real" - that is, the life we were living before we got the call that said, "Come to the hospital" - stops at this doorway. What people in Intensive Care waiting rooms know with certainty is that this is real life, not what we left at home by the phone.

I also know that few of us are wise enough to learn from someone else's experience and so we live our lives as if the day-to-day is real and that we will have time to do things later. It's not until that phone call and it is your mother/sister/brother or child that you get to see how fast "later" can show up.

The big lesson of Intensive Care is just what doesn't matter after all. For example: grade point average, where you went to school, what you drive, credit rating, house size, annual income, clothes and not even work. No one in Intensive Care talks of these things.

And so in one screech of tires, one lump, one scream, or one unexpected bit of blood, priorities change. In a single afternoon in Intensive Care, watching life drain out of someone you love, you get it.

It would be a gift to package the power of this perspective changing experience, but it doesn't work that way. I have tried, but it's a slippery lesson. It only comes when it does and only when we are open to it.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Addiction in Fiction

Over the years there have been many great novels that show what addiction—and sometimes recovery—are like. John Cheever’s stories are among the best. In a future blog I’ll write about some other novels and plays that I include in my “Literature of Addiction” class.

Last night I finished a new book that I recommend highly. It is “BLAME” by Michelle Huneven. Just published by Sarah Chrichton Books, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, “Blame” tells the story of a young college professor with too many alcohol-induced problems and a shocking accident that almost gets her attention. The book feels true to both drinking and recovery and Huneven makes the reader want more page after page. There are twists and turns in the plot just as there are twists and turns in recovery.

In many parts of the book I found myself saying, compare yourself in not out. The behaviors may vary but we recognize a real women in real recovery in this exceptional book and well told story. This would be a great book for a recovery book group.

Friday, October 02, 2009

God's Will

Again and again, this question comes around:

How do I know God’s will?

Here’s an answer I like and that I can use to decide if something is God’s will or I’m trying to make it mine:

Grace is the quality of God’s will.

That means there is no sense of force, no fight, no insistence, only grace and ease.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Community can be your God

In the rooms we say that the AA group can be your Higher Power if you don’t have or are uncomfortable with God or religion. But it works outside of AA too. The other day a friend gave me this idea: In any sentence substitute the word “community” for the word God. It works.

Community is love. The care of community. We can praise community and we can love and serve community with all our hearts.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Examen

There is a spiritual practice called The Examen that is a kind of daily inventory and gratitude list combined.

Each evening you take a few minutes of quiet time and sit with a journal and write down the answers to these questions:

What gave me energy today?
What drained my energy today?


What was I grateful for today?
What was I not grateful for today?

The idea of The Examen is that over time a pattern will be revealed that shows you where your real talents and gifts lie.

This idea of following pleasure or energy to discern one’s passions and talents is also described in Marion Milner’s book, “A Life of One’s Own.” Each night Milner looked over her day and asked herself what gave really her pleasure. A key insight that she shares in her book is that so often she—and we--try to enjoy something because others enjoy it rather than finding out what we really enjoy.

It strikes me that for women in recovery this may be a new kind of inventory and also a way to find where God is working in our lives.

It also reminds me of the fear I had early in recovery of turning my will over to God. I thought that if I did that God would want me to be a missionary in Africa or do something equally uncomfortable and hard. People with more recovery than me pointed out that God would not want me to be a missionary because I’d be a terrible, fussy one. God had other plans for me that more likely included the skills and preferences he designed into this model. Hard to get that. Even harder to believe it. But a practice like the Examen can tease this truth out.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Uncomfortable Feelings

There are certain lessons or themes that repeat in our recovery. Some apply to all of us and then we each have our favorites. Sometimes we call them issues or character defects. They are aspects of our best and worst selves.

Here is one I come back to again and again:

Healing lies on the other side of uncomfortable feelings—and going through unmedicated. Feeling these feelings is the way to get to the other side.

I know this, I believe this but when I am scared, mad, sad, jealous or more likely when I am those things but don’t know it yet then a cookie or a plate of cookies works like a charm. OK, it’s not a drink today but still. If I want to get to the “other side’ of a big issue I need to go through unmedicated.


Saturday, September 19, 2009


"What you believe in should be bigger than what you are afraid of."

--Kim Klein

Friday, September 18, 2009

So Sari

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

Part of recovery is about transferring addictions but if you’ve been around awhile that’s no surprise. I quit smoking, then overeating then drinking, then sugar again, then dieting, compulsive exercise, and living by the number of the scale. After most of that began to calm down I finally dealt with the ACOA stuff and surprise the relationship issues. Thank you Robin Norwood for Women Who Love Too Much….I had to stop relationships, not date and then I had to learn how to date. Probably the most shocking part of recovery: Dating.

Let me save you some time or shock you: Learning TO date: You go out with a nice somewhat boring man, you participate in a fun social activity together—often with other people—you are interested in assessing behavior with others—You share only the smallest amount of personal information, come home, say thank you at the door and do the same thing But with a different person the next week. That’s dating. Who knew?

OK, so there was that to work on: more therapy and alanon and ACOA. Then of course I noticed the shopping and spending…Hint: .addiction by any other name is addiction.

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

So I order the bag...takes ten days days. I I’m already trying to manage my own desire. I wait the week and three days. I pass up other purses when I shop, “Nope, the old sari quilted bag, slouched just so across my body, the worn leather, --it will be burnished after several wearings—I can feel it all and UPS hasn’t arrived yet. But then it does. I come home to “the box”. Here it is. I’m excited. How soon should I wear it, I wonder. But then I open the box and there is a lumpy, kind of laundry-bag looking sack. It is made of old fabric yes, but the bag part is huge and the strap is cheap thin leather with a shiny surface. It will never soften or burnish. I sling it across my body and I recognize the look. I demonstrate for my husband: I bend and scoop, bend and scoop. It looks like the kind of cloth sling/sack that women wore to pick cotton. This is not chic, not cool, not very nice, has no Karma. I’m disappointed.

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

So what’s holding me back? It’s not until I am filing out the return form and packing the Sari bag in the carton to go back to Sundance that I realize: It’s not just the bag I have to return, it’s the new identity that I have constructed in my head. I get in: in the ten days from ordering the bag to seeing the actual object I had constructed a new me to go with the bag: I was going to be causally chic, I was going to BE the kind of woman who wore old sari cloth with khaki and denim and simple sandals, I was going to be the slightly bohemian, somewhat hippy-ish chick, who would toss that bag like this across her body and…And what? Laugh more, worry less, sit in coffee shops and didn’t sweat the to-do list, I’d be able to toss my hair back (my hair barely touches my ears) and laugh, listen, be still and be relaxed. I wanted to be relaxed and this silky sari-quilted bag was supposed to bring that to me.

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

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Newcomer

We say it over and over: The newcomer is the most important person in the room. For years I thought that was a kind of generous or gracious statement, kind of a Junior-League-ish way of making an especially gushing welcome. Later I thought it was philosophical; a reminder that those of us with more time need to put ourselves aside and attend—with businesslike determination to the new person in the room.

Yesterday I was reminded that our focus on the newcomer is neither of these. It is in fact stunningly selfish and deeply rewarding. Again, the paradox of this program: a selfish program requiring selfless service.

In yesterday’s meeting we addressed the concerns of a woman with two days sober. She spoke of her physical discomfort and the flooding of emotions she was experiencing. One after another people with sobriety ranging from three months to 27 years spoke to those feelings, memories and crucially the strategies they learned in AA and used to manage all of that. It was a fabulous tool kit for anyone with any amount of sobriety. I took it all in while feeling the collective love in the room pulling for the newcomer and in awe of the collective wisdom available in a room full of drunks.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Don't Push

I love this saying that reminds me that while I must do the foot work, I do not have to muscle my way through my life. In fact, if I start to use muscle I am trying to go to a place I don’t belong:

“Only go through the door that is open. Do not push against a door that does not easily yield.”

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Oswald Chambers

A friend who is not in AA recommended a book that she reads as a daily devotional. It is called “My Utmost for His Highest”, by Oswald Chambers. When I heard his name I had a recollection that I had come across him in AA history.

It’s true. I got the book from the library and did some research. Oswald Chambers was a Scottish minister and military chaplain popular in spiritual circles of the early 1930’s. His books and sermons were read by Bill and Bob and The Oxford Group members. His ideas are forerunners of concepts we know today: Surrender, “abandon yourself”, God’s will not my will. None, of course, are unique to Chambers—they are Christian ideas but reading Chambers you’ll recognize the echo in our Big Book language and you’ll feel the rhythms in Bill’s other writings.

It’s worth a look and your library will have an old copy. Try a few of the daily readings for this fall. Different language for familiar ideas. What this reading of Chambers reminds me is that our program does not have a spiritual component; rather it is a spiritual program.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Eight Stages of Relapse

I recently heard a speaker discussing relapse: How it begins and what to watch out for. His list of the eight stages can work as a daily or weekly checklist. It’s another way to take a mini inventory for the heath of your sobriety.

Here are the Eight Stages of Relapse:

1. Beginnings of secret dissatisfaction.

2. Boredom or frustration at work or at home.

3. Relationships change.

4. Return of denial.

5. Emotional drift—(away from AA, friends, sponsor, supports.)

6. Anger and Resentment.

7. Depression and Dishonesty.

8. Relapse.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Happy New Year Today

Labor Day is the best holiday weekend, coming, as it does, with nice weather and no obvious family obligations. There is, however, a strum of anxiety that crosses these few precious days. This is the last call of summer and we want to order one more round of fun before the house lights come up on the day after Labor Day. In that harsh back-to-work glare we’ll have to take another look at the lists and the lives that summer’s warm intoxication allowed us to deny.

There is something good for us though in this Labor Day process. This is the time when many of us sort and discern and make our decisions for the coming year.
The New Year begins now, and we know that in our bones. For at least twelve years we started over on the first Tuesday in September. Back to school meant that we could try out a new identity forged over the summer. Maybe your look changed. Had you let your hair grow? Or cut it short? Would everyone sense the sophistication you gained visiting your sister in L.A.? Back in June you were that same old kid, but every September a new you debuted the day after Labor Day.

There were inner changes as well. In September you promised yourself you'd be more popular, more friendly, more outgoing. Or maybe you decided you'd study more and hang out with the good kids. Every single year you could try something new. 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 for a re-do came every year the day after Labor Day. And it still does.

No, January isn’t the right time for New Year’s resolutions. How could it be? We’re too busy with the holidays and broke from gift giving. Are you really going to create a new body or mind or spirit in the middle of all that? Come on.

September is the time to not only promise yourself a new exercise program, but to start it. It's light after work and it's not too cold in the morning. September is also much better than January for starting a diet. You are coming off a summer of fresh foods, and you’re not bloated by 30 days of holiday treats and booze. As for a new look; who can afford one in January? You wear your name off all your plastic just trying to get through the holidays, and then tax time is creeping in.

No, the new look and image and relationships you have been promising yourself come in September just as they did when you were a kid. Remember how it worked in Junior High? You decided to wear a tweed jacket because that summer you discovered poetry (or girls who liked poets). Or you promised yourself that you’d 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 the looks you had practiced in the mirror behind your bedroom door. So what if the good intentions only last 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.

You still can. The new you begins now as it always has. Go get some new sox, a red plaid shirt, a book of poems and a haircut. This is the time to be kinder, nicer, smarter, to listen more, eat less and hang out with the good kids. The trees show us how it's done: try new colors; shed the old layers. It's September. Happy New Year!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Pray the Room

Earlier this week I was given a great piece of spiritual advice. I was worried about an upcoming meeting at work and just agonizing over things I needed to say and how it would all go. I knew I wanted God to work through me and I was using the prayer that I use whenever I chair an AA meeting: “Please let me carry your message and not my ego.”

I mentioned this to a friend and she made this suggestion:

“Before the meeting go into the room where the meeting will take place and pray the room.” Pray in the actual room so that you have invited God into the space where you will need his guidance.”

It was amazing. I went down the hall to the empty conference room and sat for a few minutes praying that God be in the room with all of us and yes, keep my ego out of it. The meeting began 20 minutes later, I said what I needed to say, not perfectly but I remembered it was not all about me, and it was fine.

I can’t wait to use this again for staff meetings and Board meetings and any place where I may tip toward fear or ego.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Dating Discernment

Talking to a friend today and joking that I needed a panel of friends to interview the boyfriend and give me perspective. She said, “Wouldn’t that be a great service?” and it got me thinking. What if you could have a group of people—some friends and some just smart about people and relationships --assigned to interview someone you were dating?
They might be targeted to talk to him or her at events, at your house—casually—and then give you a rating on key factors.

It would be the Paramour Process. That is of course because you are not fully “amour” until the friends say Yes!

Thursday, September 03, 2009


This is a day that prayer is necessary and I have to pray without ceasing. I am unsettled and don’t know why. That’s the part I hate most. I want to figure it out so I can fix this mood. But that’s addict thinking isn’t it? I want to fix discomfort now. But OK, I can’t. It’s fall. It’s September and all those things I put off “until September” are tumbling out of the closet, calendar and to-do list. I’m achey and sore—is it from exercise or a new terrible illness? Yes, I go there in my head. Is it my job? My relationship? My age? Or just simple ennui?

I’m unsettled. It’s Thursday. I’m praying.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Audre Lord

“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

--Audre Lord

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Out of the Woods and Back Again

“When you start on a long journey, trees are trees, water is water, and mountains are mountains. After you have gone some distance, trees are no longer trees, water no longer water, mountains no longer mountains. But after you have traveled a great distance, trees are once again trees, water is once again water, mountains are once again mountains.”

This is a Zen teaching that I found in a wonderful book called “Art and Fear—The Perils and Rewards of Artmaking.”

It speaks to the process of any creative journey, any recovery.

It also reminds me of one of my favorite experiences in AA meetings when the topic for discussion begins with a metaphor—any metaphor—and the discussion plays it out in many serious and silly ways. Maybe driving and the members talk about their lives as cars or journeys or car repairs. Or climbing a mountain with tools and base camp and slipping and sliding. Or maybe as shopping and there are sales and bargains and disappointments and great finds.

After 20 years of recovery we have seen many trees, much water and lots of mountains.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Dantes Woods

"In the middle of the journey of our life, I came
to myself in a dark wood where straight the
way was lost.
Ah! How hard a thing to tell what a wild.
and rough, and stubborn wood this was, which
in my thought renews the fear."

These words are from the poet Dante, writing the Inferno.
Doesn’t it sound familiar? He wrote in 1302. But here are the woods which we know as this recovery path we are on together, and look, he says in the middle of “our life”. Yes it is himself but that “our” includes us too.
“A dark wood where straight the way was lost.”
We know that as well
and then he says, “Which in my thought renews the fear”.
When you think about your life before recovery, when you “keep it green”
Doesn’t that renew your fear?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Beach Vacation

I leave tomorrow for a week of vacation. Two city days for museums and food and then four beach days for ocean goddess time and reading, beach walking and especially beach prayer.

Since early recovery I have taken all of my biggest surrenders at the beach. When I sit on the beach and talk to God and look at the ocean I am very clear that there is something bigger than me. I also do a prayer ritual at the shore. I take a stick or a piece of shell and just above the tide line I write the names of all those that I need to turn over to God. When the ocean moves and tide rises those names and my intentions are taken to sea, dissolved in salt water and taken from me.

As a mermaid at heart, this works for me.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Bob Fosse at Jacob's Pillow

At Jacob’s Pillow I saw a video interview with jazz choreographer Bob Fosse. His work includes A Chorus Line and Chicago as well as many ballets and jazz pieces for concert and Broadway.

In the interview he talked about the development of his distinctive style. He said that he had very bad posture for a dancer so when he choreographed he created moves for his dancers with his now signature curved and turned-in shoulders. He talked about having “bad legs” for a dancer--and so rather than use traditional turn-out as in ballet he turned his dancer’s legs inward. He also mentioned that he had started to go bald when he was only 25 years old and so he wore hats all the time hence his incredible use of hats as props in all of his major works. He said: "All of my gifts have come from my defects."

What if all of the things we are trying to fix and hide and change are the things that are part of our distictive style and that could become our creative signature?

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Oldie but Goodie

“Become the man that you want to marry.”

-----------------------------------------Gloria Steinem

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Integration or Insight is the Booby Prize

Today I am in that painful place of having insight and understanding but not change. I’ve been working through some things and had great moments of “Aha, now I’ve got it.” I see why I do it; I know where it comes from; I know what change would look like, but grrrr…I’m not doing the new behavior. Frustrating.

It’s not integrated. It feels like I have the understanding in my head but it has not “dropped down” into my heart or body.

My prayer is to get what is in my mind to integrate with my body and behavior.

I think this is also the “X” factor in Steps 6 and 7.

In this equation “X” equals God.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Pride and Shame

In the program we say, “It’s not what you think of yourself but that you think of yourself.” It’s a way of getting at this partnership between pride and shame. Though they look different on the outside they are sisters and they work in terrible tandem.

Pride puffs up and shame hangs down.
Pride boasts and shame hides.
But they come from the same parents.
Pride says, “You’re too good.”
Shame says, “You’re too bad.”

Pride goes before a fall, and then shame keeps you from getting up afterward.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Bag Lady

Yesterday I had lunch with a writing friend. I was telling her about work, John, money worries and I said, “I just always imagine I’ll end up a bag lady.”

She looked at me and said, “Are you saving your good bags? I always save bags from Saks just for when that day comes.”

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Temp for God

Here is a spiritual strategy that I began practicing a couple of years ago. I wish I remembered to do this every day because when I do, my days are so much better.

This came to me when I was working in an organization that hired temps to get thru busy times. I noticed that most of the temps were pleasant, hard working and very willing to do whatever needed to be done. They showed up each day and did what was on that day’s list. There was no sense of right, wrong, should, shouldn’t, not-my-job or why me? I thought, “What if I came to work like that each day?”

So now, when I remember, I think of myself as a temporary worker. The temp agency that I work for is God. In my morning prayer I say, “OK, God I’m temping for you today; whatever shows up is what you are asking me to do and like a good temp I’ll do it pleasantly, willingly and without debate. Where are you sending me today God?”

Maybe this new agency needs plastic mugs that say: Temp for God.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


“The tulip is the introvert of flowers”. I wish I had written that, but alas. I believe it though. Solitary, strong, still, existing briefly, bold color but never spilling, enclosing mystery, but never shy. Quiet, still, observing. But never shy.

This is my flower, the tulip. In recovery I had to give up feeding them gin, which the bulb flowers like crocus and paper white and tulips love so much. (It does give them excellent posture) but still, even a sober tulip is pure elegance.

What is your recovery flower?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Just My Face

No make up today. This happens about once a month; I just don’t want to do it. Something about seeing my own real face, and maybe it’s also that while I do like make-up and all things girly—I want it to remain an option, my choice. I admire woman who never leave the house without lipstick or eyeliner. Very French, very polished. But I never want to reach the point where I can’t leave the house with out lipstick.

It’s also interesting to see other people’s reactions. On my no make-up days I forget that it’s an unadulterated face but then I see someone looking too carefully at me and I watch their careful reactions.

Today someone said, “You look tired.” and I said, “No, this is just my face.”

Monday, July 27, 2009

Making Lists

I have always been a list maker. A friend once teased that, “Her lists have lists.” But the joke was true. I even have a master list of packing lists for all kinds of trips: there is the New York City Packing list and the Cape Cod list and the Kripalu or Retreat list and the Camping Trip list. I mean, really, these are vastly different undertakings, no?

Another list memory: my first husband—and this may be why he is an ex-husband—once wrote on my daily to-do list: “Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale….”.

But even at that I have defended my lists. Outer order balancing inner chaos perhaps. But my defense has always been that I get a lot done.

But yesterday reading a new wonderful novel called “April & Oliver” by Tess Callahan I read this line:

“Lists are for people who don’t do what they want.”

It struck me to the core. If I was doing what I relay wanted would I need a list?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Tip Toe Past Your Fear

This week I read about taking baby steps to accomplish goals. Nothing new there; we’ve heard this: take baby steps; chunk it down; break your goal into manageable pieces. But what was new to me was this: When we set a big goal, the flight or fight part of our brain is activated. The reason to take teensy tiny steps is to bypass the fear center of the brain—so it doesn’t react by scaring us into procrastination or into over-drive in the wrong direction.

So sneak up on yourself. Teensy tiny baby steps. Sneak past the fear.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Growth or Addiction

Marion Woodman, the fabulous Jungian analyst, says that the natural gradient in us is toward growth. Whatever we use repeatedly, and compulsively to stop that growth is our addiction.

So in addition to alcohol and food I am also using worry and work and fear thoughts as my addiction. They stop me from growing and they distract me from my natural gradient toward growth.

What stops you? Even after years of recovery from drugs and alcohol is there a behavior or thing or way of being that is stopping your growth?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

No Becomes Yes

Today a setback at work. A company that I thought would be a good partner said no. My coworker was disappointed, but I said to her, “Better a clear No than a maybe; No gets us closer to Yes.”

It’s true in my personal life too. He says no, or I say no. Maybe its time to end a relationship, or I try for a client and the answer is no. Not fun to hear but a clear no is always better than maybe.

Every no gets me closer to Yes!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Why Women Love Bull Durham

The past couple of nights I have been watching Bull Durham. This is the movie from 1988 with Kevin Costner playing an aging catcher in the minor leagues. This is a movie that appears to be about baseball life with its travails and hopes and the desperate desires of men who want to play ball for a living. It is seemingly a men’s movie with all the swearing, ass slapping and drinking and real life baseball lore. But no, this is really THE all time best chick flick.

Yes, we love Kevin Costner from the first moment he arrives in the locker room wearing his navy blazer, rumpled white shirt and khakis that are the perfect shade of tan with a hint of olive. He’s a manly man who in the first 20 minutes gives the fabulous, if too artful, monologue about his beliefs which includes, “I believe in the cock, the pussy,, the small of a woman’s back…that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap”, and which ends with his belief in “long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days”.

Yes! You had us at “long, slow and deep”—and yes, at the Susan Sontag part too.

But there is a later scene that truly grabs woman because it’s something we really want.
“Do you want to dance?” Sarandon asks Costner, sitting in the kitchen late at night. He says yes, but surprises her by not dancing but instead by sweeping all the food and dishes off the kitchen table onto the floor. He spins Sarandon onto that now empty table and they go at it rolling and clutching.

Oh, yes, what he does is part of it; We want a man to want us that much; we want a man who wants to make love a second time and who will go for it on the kitchen table. We want that kind of passion in our lives. But, there is something else in this scene that is a woman’s dream come true. What most women truly desire is not what Costner does, but what Sarandon does NOT do. As all of her dishes and the leftover food crash onto the floor Sarandon allows herself to be swept onto that table instead of diving for a broom, or a dish cloth and saying to her lover, “Hold on a second, I’ll clean up this mess and then meet you in the bedroom.”

No, she is in the moment and desires this man and this sex more than she desires a clean floor or neat kitchen. She wants the rapture of this man and his body even with cereal and milk oozing under the fridge. And she is not saying, “Oh dear God that was my mother’s china bowl.” Nope, she’s on that table screwing her brains out.

Oh, to be that kind of woman. We assume the power is in the man, that to be taken that way would free us. But what we see in Bull Durham is a woman who CAN be taken. She is not thinking, “When did we last wash these sheets?” while a man is dutifully going down on her.

Oh, we may wish for a partner to love us with such sweet abandon, but Sarandon, in Bull Durham, shows us a woman who can abandon herself.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Home Making

“Home is a force that shapes our daily lives—Home is an emotional center that nourishes us and supports our innermost dreams. By taking care of your home you are taking care of yourself. Improving your home has a therapeutic effect. It makes a difference in the way you think and feel about your self.”

from the book Apartment Therapy

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Stop Signs

I’m still working on stopping the fear. I don’t believe the saying that God and fear cannot occupy the same space. I know people mean well when they say that but I can believe in God and be scared at the same time. So can you. So what’s a girl—with a million years of recovery—to do?

This is also humility folks: I looked up obsessive thinking and found tons of resources on yes, thought-stopping.

Now I’m making this into a game. This is a way to use my character defects to improve my character. I like to compete and I like to win and yes just a teeny tad of perfectionism here too. So apply that to thought stopping and you get a contest:
Can I catch the scary thoughts when they are forming or overtaking my head?
Can I interrupt them in creative ways: stop sign, airplane, ocean waves, man running up to tell me I won a MacArthur Grant and the New York State Lottery
Shift my thinking to what I’ll do with all that money and all that time.
Reward myself—oooh the rewards—when I am successful at stopping the fear.

Friday, July 03, 2009


“The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think.”

--David Foster Wallace, Commencement address Kenyon College, 2005

Thursday, July 02, 2009


Compassion directed to oneself is Humility.

--Simone Weil, First and Last Notebooks

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Lessons from Drumming

In 1994 until 1996 I studied African dance and had the opportunity to dance with live drummers. It is the best way to dance—feeling the percussion as it enters the body not just the ears.

In my notes from 1994 I found this note to myself that I wrote down after an African dance class at Omega Institute. It says:

Listen for the beat under the beat.
Listen for the break—for the signs and signals that tell you to change or to stop what you are doing.

There is a dance lesson for the heart, for the lover and for making choices in a relationship.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Eat Dessert First

I do not want to miss my own life. I do not want to keep putting off the good and the fun and the caring until I get my “work” all done. I do not want to keep thinking that I’ll do the things I love and make time for the people I love—later.

I do not want to be one of the women who refused dessert that night at dinner on the Titanic. And we are all on the Titanic.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Best Beach Book in the World

We are sliding into the final third of summer. From here we push on to the finish line at Labor Day. The wish lists we made in June weigh on us: the outings, the visitors, trips, chores, projects and for many the pile of books we promised we’d read this summer.

Each friend’s recommendation and each review adds another book to our pile. Our motivations are good; we want to grow and better understand ourselves and the world around us. The books pile up on the coffee table and the bed stand, and our library list is dog-eared and scribbled. Even worse there are new categories. There’s more “Chick Lit” and new graphic novels too, each offering more literary ways of seeing the world. Then, too, many of us have our ongoing side list of “issues” we’re working on: parenting or relationship skills. That comes with more books to read.

So, where to begin? You’d like a good novel and a romance and some history too. You want some help with the relationship thing, and, these days, you want a better understanding of politics and economics. But then there is also that stack of business books you saved all year; you want some new ideas about management and to think about work differently.

But with four weeks to go is it worth trying to dig into all that? Maybe you should just throw up your hands and go to the movies. There’s not going to be enough time to read it all anyway. So how to choose? I have the answer. There is one book that you can read now that will give you everything you’re wishing and hoping for. There is only one book you need for the boat and tote, the chaise lounge, the blanket or the bed.

Hands-down, the single best, summer book is Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. With Tolstoy’s tale you get everything in one: romance, history, a relationship how-to book, and the best management advice you’ll ever read. Now, don’t balk at the bulk. Yes, it’s a big book but every kid you know has just knocked off the latest Harry Potter weighing in at 800-plus pages. If they can do it you can too. Besides by choosing Anna K. you only have to buy one book. Here’s why:

Anna K. is the best relationship book ever written. It’s got examples of how to make a marriage work and how to how to ruin one from the start. Worried about infidelity? This is the book that, well, wrote the book on that topic. Tolstoy shows how couples get into that terrain and how you can get back out. Robin Norwood’s famous, Women Who Love Too Much, doesn’t even come close to what Tolstoy writes about emotional dependency and the impact of addiction on a family.

As for new ideas about work: Tolstoy offers the most compelling and insightful analysis of why people work, and how to motivate them. Tom Peters has written half a dozen books trying to get at what Tolstoy packs into just a few scenes. Levin, Anna’s cousin, is the best management consultant you could hire; by showing us Levin in the field with his workers, Tolstoy articulates the subtleties of the relationship between worker and manager, and shows exactly how you can make a day’s work good or bad.

But, you may insist, fiction can’t help your real life. With all due respect, you’re wrong. When we read, “to escape”, it’s not from life but to life. Fiction gives us the assurance that the story that we love most—our own—is worthy.

Besides, if you finish Anna K. before August runs into Fall, there’s always Tolstoy’s other little book, War and Peace, which brings us right back to this day and our very, very real lives.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Driving in Fog

Good advice for fiction writers: One page at a time, one scene at a time. “But I can’t write a whole book.” Just do one page each day. “I can’t figure out the whole story”. Write like you are driving on a foggy night: you just keep driving as far as the headlights allow you to see. It can be nerve wracking but you’ll get there.

It’s the same in recovery. “How will I ever get a year? Five years?” One day at a time. "How will I ever get a degree, buy a house, move to California?” One step at a time. First buy the catalog, look at the ads, call a mover. One step. You can’t know the whole process but you can live and drive as far as your headlights will allow. Yes, this can be nerve wracking too. But we’re not alone and we are writing our own stories and we have the comfort and support of others who are also living one day at a time.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

My Hamster Life

A cartoon this week showed the headline of a fake newspaper. It read:
“Hamster Found Dead: Police say he fell asleep at the wheel.”

That’s my life this week. Running, racing, hurrying, scurrying and all on my own self-made hamster wheel. Work, projects, people, self-care even begins to feel like pressure and yes, even recovery begins to feel like something to dash to and from and check off my list. (I just wrote “life” instead of “list). Freud? Yes. Thank you.

I am checking off my life like it’s a long list of things to do before I get to live.

Whose life is this? The pain of long recovery is that I don’t even have the satisfaction of blaming someone lese. I make these choices. I choose this life. No victims only volunteers. Dam.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Don't Worry Be Happy

Last week I walked across the street to look through piles of phonograph records and bins of old dishes spread across our neighbor’s lawn. Their grown children were cleaning out the house and having a sale. Just weeks before we’d taken our own boxes of similar things to the thrift store and felt well pleased to have those odds and ends gone. Now we were looking through someone else’s stuff, and delighting in finding a “very useful” mixing bowl, and some “these could be handy” small wooden shelves.

The things that most often find their way back to our house are books, and I found myself sitting on the neighbor’s porch sifting through boxes of hardbacks and paperbacks. There were the usual yard sale staples: mysteries and romances and a big pile of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. I have a fondness for those; I grew up with them and met many great authors in those striped, four-in-one hardbacks.

In my neighbor’s stash was something else that I recognized from childhood; a set of books by Dale Carnegie, the grand master of personal improvement. There was a copy of his famous, How to Make Friends and Influence People, but the book that I reached for was How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. I asked a nearby teenager, “How much?” “Ten cents”, said the girl. I gave her a quarter and walked back to my porch to read the familiar text.

When I was a kid, Dale Carnegie’s books were on the top shelf of my father’s bookshelf. As a quintessential first-generation, self-improving, education-valuing, always striving, Depression survivor, my father read these books over and over. And, like the typical second-generation, take-achievement-for-granted, life-is-easier kids that we were, my brothers and I made fun of Dale Carnegie every chance we got.

I have to tell on myself now, though. I am my father’s daughter. His drive for self-improvement and habit of worry was passed to me by nature or nurture. Over the years I’ve spent thousands on classes, courses, workshops and retreats. I’ve tried every remedy and herb that promises peace. I even gave a huge wad of cash and an armload of flowers to get a secret mantra from Transcendental Meditation.

Now I laugh. I could have just looked at my father’s books. Opening How to Stop Worrying I skim the table of contents. The message—in stories and quotes-- is this: Change your thinking. Change your mind. Be in this day. Dale Carnegie seemed to know what the Beatles learned in India: Let it be. I flip to the title page and see that “Worry” was written in 1950, and my copy is from the 46th printing.

If Dale Carnegie wrote this today he’d be a guru and superstar; Oprah would have him on her show and he’d do the celebrity workshop circuit. I grin to imagine a scenario in which Dale Carnegie would be rumored to be the man that changed Madonna’s life. She’d wear a gold “DC” necklace instead of a red kabala string, and, when pushed, she’d whine that no one really understood her devotion to Dale.

Though he was successful in his day, Dale Carnegie wrote his books for the post-WWII, GI Bill, self-improving, house-buying, ladder-of-success fathers of the fifties. His was a male message since it was presumed that the man of the house was the one who was worrying about the bills and the bosses and how to pay for the babies. That too was my Dad.

My father is not around to thank today. He died before I started my own journey of self-improvement. So I’ll claim this musty book as a gift from my father’s spirit. There is nothing new under the sun. Be here now; live in this day; laugh at yourself and grow up.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


On this day in 980 BC the Law of Karma is discovered. At least that’s what it says in my Pilgrim Daily Calendar. It makes you wonder how a spiritual concept can be “discovered” but there it is.

Karma may be crudely translated as “what goes around comes around.” and is underlying “Do unto others.” But it’s also the motivation for recovery. Whether you believe in reincarnation—that the karma plays out over lifetimes or just effects how you live now, we know it’s part of the 12 step life.

We have the tenth step axiom: whenever I am upset I must look within, there is something in me; we have the psychological principle of projection: what I most hate in another person is almost always something I dislike and won’t face in myself.

The Course in Miracles says when we judge others we are always projecting our own fears, and real forgiveness is letting go of judgment.

All these ways over so many lifetimes of trying to understand what makes us tick and what makes us hurt. It’s not complicated. But it’s not easy.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Don't be a Victim

Here is an exercise that I use in writing classes. It's a great daily practice and works especially well when I feel self-pity or that other people are responsible for my pain. It's called "Don't Be a Victim" and the exercise goes like this:

Complete each sentence in your notebook with your first thought.

I HAVE TO_____________________________

I CAN’T__________________________________

After you have done that then:
Then go back and cross out “Have” and replace it with “Choose”
Then go back and cross out “Can’t” and replace it with “Don’t want to ”.

Read them again.

Teach yourself not to be a victim:

If you don’t like your life fix it.
Don’t feel sorry for yourself; it will destroy you.
Accept responsibility for your own life.
Stop lying to yourself.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Living Life on AA Terms

In today’s meeting we talked about what it means to “work the program”. Lots of ideas--go to meetings, be there for others, be there for yourself, work the steps and use the tools. Funny, no one said “don’t drink.” We take that for granted maybe? But what I liked most was the suggestion to ask: “How am I doing in my life?” And ask this like a daily inventory: How am I doing at work? At home? With friends? With God? What seems significant is that the question is NOT, How is my life going in these realms but how am I doing in them.

It reminds me of advice I heard years ago when sorting out what to do in difficult situations with others. My sponsor told me “You are the one with the 12 step program” So what others do doesn’t matter, I am the one who is applying these principles in my life and to my affairs. I am the one with the twelve-step program, so how am I doing in these parts of my life?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Negative Capability

Poet John Keats first used the term “negative capability” to describe the state and the process of being with the unknown. He valued this ability in writers and thinkers describing it like this, “that is, when man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after facts and reason.”

I think this is also something that we strive for in recovery and use less elegant language to describe. Being comfortably in the unknown, accepting doubts is not far from being in the day and the moment and being in the process of living life on life’s terms.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Happy Birthday AA

June 10th 1935. From that date—when one alcoholic reached out to help another alcoholic—we date the birth of our fellowship. From that rough beginning by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith in Akron has grown an international community and numerous step-children: OA, NA, DA, Al-Anon, CODA, ACOA and the list goes on as more people discover the basic wisdom of the 12 steps to address all kinds of life problems and addictions. Happy Birthday to AA and deep thanks to our founders.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Step Three

In Step Three we surrender. We turn our lives over to God. We take a leap of faith. Over the years when this becomes hard again—and it is an “again” process—I sometimes will watch the Harrison Ford movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. Near the end of that movie Ford, as Indian Jones, has to leap into the void to cross over in search of the grail. He stands on the edge of a great crevasse and –what I love—he says “Oh shit” before he steps into what he believes is pure emptiness. And then the bridge appears.

Step Three is inspiring and uplifting—after the bridge appears. It is also “Oh shit”.

Monday, June 08, 2009

St. Teresa of Avila Prayer

Let nothing upset you.
Let nothing frighten you.
Everything is changing;
God alone is changeless
Patience obtains the goal.
Who has God lacks nothing,
God alone fills all her needs.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Golf Lessons

I am learning to play golf and with this new hobby I am learning that I can borrow from the wisdom of AA:

One day at a time can become one shot or one hole at a time.
Keep your head down comes right from keep your head where your feet are.
Never Up never in aligns nicely with the first drink will get you drunk.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Dressing the Part

In early recovery I went shopping to buy new clothes just for meetings. It was going to be a new part of my life and I needed to have the right stuff. I had an idea that AA was kind of like Rotary or the Kiwanis: one dressed up, met folks, did service—got sober—and that there was probably an awards banquet at the end of the year. Being ambitious and self-serving I thought I needed to look good to be a member—I also figured that pretty quickly I’d figure out the hierarchy of this organization and become an officer. I knew that I couldn’t be quite that direct and out—that whole humility thing to master and be really good at—but I’d work that out.

The dressing part has come and gone over the years. By the end of year two my pendulum had swung the other way and I stopped coloring my hair and wearing make-up. Then a new sponsor said, “Recovery does not mean wearing sackcloth an ashes—go get some highlights.” And I was back.

Today, it’s true that when I am shopping and trying on clothes, I’ll think, “Where will I wear this?” Sometimes the answer is: “On weekends, for casual and to go to meetings.” AA is part of my life and part of my wardrobe.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

What If?

All day today I am at my worst. Torturing myself with, “What if?”
What if I get fired? What if he loves someone else? What if she moves away? What if it’s bad news from the doctor? My imagination is experienced and powerful. I give my whole self to these questions that leave me in a puddle of anxiety and fear. I do the dialogue, sets and costumes and then I edit, edit, edit.

The energy that goes into this. The distraction from my own good life. The creativity misused.

Late in the day, as I tell a friend what I have been doing, she says, “Don’t try to stop this cold. You have too much of a habit and your ego just loves to make up these stories and deliver them to you. So work with it; ask your head to give you new versions of each story.”

So now, tired from a day of self-terrorizing I ask:

What if he proposes?
What if the MacArthur Foundation calls?
What if I have to give an award acceptance speech?
And yes:
What if I win the lottery?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Can You Say These Things?

I was wrong.

I don’t know.

I made a mistake.

I’m sorry.

It’s my fault.

You’re right.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Just say No..Or Yes

“No is a complete sentence.”
(That’s a little something that AlAnon taught AA. But we have added these extra spins):
I learned to say No.
I learned to say No, and then to say Yes!
Yes is also a complete sentence, and so is Maybe.
Unless it’s a Yes!, it’s a No.
I can listen and then say No.
Validate and then say No.
(That too is from AlAnon...and then this, the ultimate weapon of black-belt Alanon members:
“You may be right”.
And this too, the all-purpose “AlAnon, Oh.”

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Making Myself Crazy

This morning I sat alone in my living room, drinking coffee and reading the paper. Everything was fine. Slowly I began to think about the man in my life and began to imagine a scenario where in which my feelings don’t matter. I began to write the script in my head and fill in the details: what he’d say and then what I’d say. Pretty soon I had one hand on my hip and I was telling him exactly what he could do with his life without me in it.

I looked around and I was still on the couch, newspaper on my lap and a cold cup of coffee. My body was flooded with adrenaline and cortisol and the day had begun to feel different.

I did that all by myself. My own little mind-body chemistry set. Mind and mood altering chemicals with out a pill or a glass or a needle.

If there is any good news in this crazy scenario is it that I saw this; I realized what I had just done and the very uncomfortable effect on my body and my mood and I got up and went to pray.

Please restore me to sanity. Please help me to change the things I can—which include the fantasy stories I tell myself and the movies I make up just to rock my own world.

Holy cow—it’s the thinking more than the drinking!