Saturday, January 31, 2009

Speaking at a Meeting

Tonight I will speak at a meeting for a friend. She is celebrating 31 years and has asked me to speak. All week she has emailed to say thanks, and looking forward to it and that she is inviting this one who needs to hear a powerful message and she is inviting that one who cannot stay sober and won’t it be good to hear my story.

The pressure is on.

I think—of course—that I want to say it all and be it all for all of them: to inspire the reluctant one, encourage the struggling one and praise the celebrating one. But what I will really do is pray this afternoon and again tonight before the meeting. I will say, “Please let me carry your message and not my ego. Please use me as your channel, please let others hear what they need to hear whether I say it or not. God, I surrender this meeting to you.”

After the meeting I will try very hard to remember that I said and meant that prayer.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Thinking About God

I talk to my therapist about how these “schema” or old beliefs intersect to create a perfect storm: I believe I am defective so I will be abandoned, to prevent that I subjugate myself to be “better” hoping that by pleasing you I can assure that you will like me. But I know I’m not being real so that reinforces the deprivation belief that no one would ever love the real me. And on and on. I have seen this play out in my 4th step inventories. When we talk about using the 4th and 5th steps to get at “the exact nature of our wrongs” we really are talking about these schema or old beliefs. We have that recovering person’s dilemma: I didn’t cause it, much was implanted and reinforced in childhood and I played it out over and over in my behavior and choices before—and yes, into, recovery. But I am responsible now. I wish it was as easy as that sounds. Knowing these are old beliefs, that these are errors in my thinking. But they are strong and deep and they fight for their own survival.

But there is another place these old beliefs trap me. I ask for help. I pray. I surrender to my Higher Power—God. “Do you believe in a loving God? I am asked. I always say yes and on a conscious level I think, yes. But when I am quiet and when I let my mind settle in prayer then I see. Even here, even with God, I think, “Not me, everyone else but not me.” Even with God—the one I am asking to restore me to sanity, I have the sinking feeling that miracles are for the good people, the loved ones.

So I back up and begin again. Before I ask God to restore me to sanity we have to have a talk about our relationship. Like the child in me I have to ask, again and again: Do you love me, as I am, now, here, with this very life, with these very “defects of character”—the antiquated language of trying to describe the schema. Like a child to a parent: “I broke everything; do you still love me?”

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thinking about Thinking

I begin this day in fear. The old “free floating anxiety”, though in truth there is enough real stuff to trigger these fears: the cold, the economy, people at work, health worries, my man, his health worries. The menu of middle age captures all of it.

But I do my Pilates and feel the fear.

Is there anything in this messy mix I can do anything about?

Anything in this one, specific day?

Then I remember reading this:

“You feel the way you do right now because of the thoughts you are thinking right now.”

That’s from David Burns.

So I review my thoughts since waking: he will die, I’ll get sick, I’m getting old, she is mad at me, she probably doesn’t like me anymore, I’ll lose my job, his family doesn’t approve, my writing will fail, God wants me to be better too. And the grand finale: I’ll be alone.

Hmmmmm…..Wonder why I feel bad?

Am I willing to work against those thoughts? It’s not as easy as changing my mind. This is like Pilates. I have to retrain my thinking muscles.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Partner with God

In my 20’s I returned to college as an older student. I had no money, and I lived on school loans. I sold my car, clothes, stereo and records to be able to go back to school. I was awarded an internship in Washington, DC. and I said yes even though I had no money. I borrowed some money for housing and ate as cheaply as possible. Every week I would measure out my peanut butter and crackers and instant oatmeal packets. Other women in my dorm who had family support and paid internships would bring me doggie bags from the Georgetown restaurants they went to at night. I was scared and hungry but I was happy. I was happy to be in school, happy to have an exciting internship, happy to be in DC and to be able to visit all the free museums and go to free lectures and concerts every weekend.

What sustained me in those months was a series of pamphlets from Norman Vincent Peale. They were the positive thinking, faith in God, personal story pamphlets. I hung onto them for dear life.

In some ways my recovery and my faith in a higher power were beginning then even as my addictions were still sending up their first shoots.

There was one message that I copied from one of the pamphlets. I carried this in my wallet and sometimes cried reading it when I got really scared because I was almost out of rent money or when I didn’t know how I’d get back to Pennsylvania. I had to change the word “man” to “woman” and “him” to “her” but here it is. I keep this in my daily meditation book and I need to read it today:

“A woman who works in partnership with her God becomes self-reliant, positive and optimistic and undertakes her work with the constant assurance of success. She therefore magnetizes her conditions. She draws to herself the creative powers of the universe.”

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Trust Your Gut

I had to make a work decision yesterday that came from pure gut. I wish I could say, “And then I felt great relief and knew I had made the right decision”. But it was not that. It was the nagging sense that going in a certain direction was not good. It was also the memory of another time that I did not listen to that small voice that said, “Wait.”

In the self-help, best-seller version of this story I should be getting a call that clarifies the wisdom of my decision. Or I should see a sign from God on my way to work today. Or the call offering me the perfect job should come later today. But alas, no.

Years ago I heard a speaker say, “If it’s not a YES!!!!, then it’s a no.”

That is my only consolation today.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Fear or Fatigue?

After a long weekend I headed out to a series of meetings today and I could feel the anxiety begin. It hit me that part of the fear is really fatigue…I’m tired from the weekend so I can’t be sure I have my best self on. I don’t feel mentally sharp enough, and the part of me that wants to turn around and go home really wants to go home to sit in the big chair with hot chocolate.

I’m tired!

Why does it take so long to accurately diagnose that?

How often does fear mask fatigue?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ted Shawn Modern Dance

Mark Nepo, poet and teacher, told this story at a writing retreat:

A man was in Divinity School when he was diagnosed with polio. He had this idea –an intuition--that if he moved more it would help him with his polio. He decided to learn how to dance. He took some classes and slowly began to integrate dance into his life. He danced every day. Through dance he cured himself of polio. Ted Shawn left Divinity School to dance and to choreograph. He became the “father of modern dance” and he founded Jacob’s Pillow.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Women of a Certain Age

There seem to be so many of us.

Last night at our regional theater I looked over the audience before the play began and we were filling the theater. Regional theater is the place where we congregate. Women 55 and up. Women are there with a friend or two. Some are with husbands and you can tell right away they are husbands and not dates. Something flat in the energy or affect signals the difference.

It’s about energy. It is not the wrinkles that give us away. It is our crisp, practical haircuts. Hair that is just one tone too dark for the face it surrounds. Hair too stiff because it is gray being covered with that brown, red or blonde. Some of us just cannot give up hair spray and embrace more pliable products.

It’s also about the “interesting” earrings. And the eyeglasses that are too bright or too big.

We add our all-weather coats with convenient zip off hoods which should be torn off and thrown away at the same time we throw away the price tags.

Our energy wanes so we stop trying. Then we add back some imitation resolve with strong hair and soft shoes.

No wonder libido wanes.

We must resolve to resist this. Revolution begins here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Just Be of Service

Workplace craziness this week and the Grapevine comes to my rescue.
I have this page from January 2003 that I keep in my tickle file, It’s a story from a member who describes his early days in recovery when he was, “complaining all the time to my sponsor about my job.”

He goes on to say that he noticed that he was doing a lot of service in the program: a food commitment at one meeting, a greeter at another, making coffee at another, and he was never complaining about any of that “work.”

His sponsor’s advice to him was, “that I go to my job and treat it like an AA commitment”, and “just be of service.”

He says he stated applying that principle at his job, being a worker among workers, sand doing anything that was asked with gratitude. And he throws in this reminder: Keep principles before personalities.

How is that for a workplace prescription?

Yes, I know. Simple but not easy. But if I can even do this part of the time how much better I’ll feel and how much nicer work could be.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Anger is the luxury of other men? So the Big Book tells me so. But I also know that anger sets a boundary. I know that too. I also know that when I point at someone else three fingers are pointing back at me. And—harder still—I know that when I am disturbed there is something wrong in me.

Oh. That dam Tenth Step Axiom. It shocks me back to self analysis every time.

Oh Ugh. What is it about me? in me?

Now I need to go write in the journal, look in the mirror and get on my knees.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Being One Self

From my journal January 11 2005:

It feels like the very hardest thing is to be one’s self and ONE self. Not what others expect or what others want for themselves, but to really be my own self and one self.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Cognitive Serenity Prayer

I’m in Cognitive Therapy mode and I’m facing the depth and consequence of my “schema” or deeply held beliefs. I see the ways I am held prisoner by them, the ways that others in my life are affected by them and the intransigence of these beliefs. There are days—today for example—when my belief in abandonment, defectiveness and emotional deprivation are like fossils or like anchors or like invisible operating systems. Choose your metaphor.

So looking thru the Cognitive Theory lens what if Reinhold Niehbor’s Serenity Prayer meant something like this:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
(The actual situation, the practical solution, the tangible: I have cancer; I lost my job; my husband left me; my retirement investments tanked; my lover died.)

The Courage to change the things I can.
(The internal, the elegant solution: This is not proof that I am bad or being punished; I have skills to apply to this situation; I am loveable even if not by this person at this time; I’m not stupid the economy is hurting; someone may leave or die but that does not mean they are abandoning me.)

And the wisdom to know the difference.
(Do I need to effect a practical solution or work through to an elegant one? Is this something to fix on the outside —like get a new job? Or is this something to change inside—grasp the difference between the grief of losing someone I loved versus the pain of believing that I have been left because that is my fate?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Love and Romance Later On

In early recovery the rules are pretty clear. Not that we follow them necessarily. Those funny stories, funny when they are told long after the fact, begin with, “They told me in my first year that I was not to date, but….”. The “But” and that ellipsis….are always the prelude to a heartbreakingly funny story. Some relationship gone awry, some undertaking with another newcomer or being snookered by an old timer bent on 13th stepping newcomers. The rules are there for a reason. We did better when we learned why the rule to not date or maybe not even divorce in that first crucial year. We moved on.

Some of us came in gun shy and guy shy. We had given up and had to be coaxed into dating. Others of us, like me, had to learn the difference between dating and planning a wedding. Three dates do not an engagement make. Some of us, endured the heartbreak, and it really does break harder when you are sober and think that now that you are you’ll do better or be wiser or surely a good relationship will be one of the rewards, (the unspoken promise my sponsor used to joke). We thought surely, certainly after we had done all that work on ourselves, learned the difference between cash register honesty and emotional honesty that we could make the relationship or marriage work this time.

In my case it was the sad misunderstanding about exactly what recovery promised and what learning new relationship skills meant. It meant that I might have them but not the other person.

I was so bound and determined to prove myself a good partner that I missed the basic instruction: Select as a partner a person who is committed to emotional growth and to making a relationship work. I was working so hard on my own recovery that I thought I could do it for both of us. I couldn’t. It didn’t, and I got hurt.

We, those of us who stay sober for a decade or more, do get to laugh later on, and even better, we get to cry with other women who are learning that one person, no matter how committed, can’t make a relationship. Later, after the tears and laughter, we sit back and wonder where the middle is? Some of us decide never to marry; some stay with the same person and do the heavy lifting in marriage counseling. Some of us decide to date and have serial but intact and decent relationships.

So what are the rules for love and romance for a woman who has more than ten years of recovery? Well, we know that some of what we thought earlier in our recovery isn’t necessarily true. Our partners don’t have to be 12 step people. What’s interesting in that case, for woman in post-ten recovery is that we don’t have to marry or date only people who can recite the twelve steps and the 12 promises. By this time many of us have integrated those values deeply enough that we recognize a spiritual and committed person and don’t require them to come wrapped in a 12-step package. It helps if they have some understanding of what that’s all about, and it helps if they too have a past that they are facing, processing, and are committed to some kind of personal or spiritual growth, but its no longer true, as I once imagined that I could only be with a man who shared my life commitment to AA. It’s even possible as I discovered that there are some fairly decent men out there who don’t have a lot to recover from. But what we do need is a partner who “gets” that this is important to us and will “get it” that we have some strong preferences around booze, bars, drinking in our home and that sort of thing.

It turns out, we are delighted to learn, that in this area we are like other woman. We’re a little older and we wonder where all the good ones went. Some of us date younger men, some come into (or come out to) our true sexual preference in recovery and find a female partner of whom we ask the same respect and commitment. What is crucial is that we find that just like with our participation in AA, love and romance can be a part of our lives but not the whole of it.

We also discover when we begin to date again or start a new marriage, that those women’s meetings are gold. It’s wonderful to have women who understand that we need to talk about sex and thighs and older bodies and hair loss and jealousy and be able to laugh and cry about all of it.

We discover that having ten or more years of recovery gives us a much-improved sense of humor. We learn that The Promises come true, even if the 13th step doesn’t, and we learn that we can have lives in community even when we don’t have romance in our lives.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cold Weather Style

This is the season that challenges even the most stylish sober woman. It is deeply cold in upstate New York. Hats are required which means you have to have a hair style that is based on the concepts of “messy” and “product”. That way “hat hair” becomes a “look” rather than a consequence.

Then pants—because you will be wearing long silk undies (Winter Silks makes the best.) Warm sweaters—but you don’t want to look like the librarian or a woman who has given up. So you must be thoughtful about accessories. A scarf, a pin, another layer plus scarf and pin? It must –like your hair—look unintentional and intentional at the same time. And it must be warm because your posture will go to hell if you are shivering or huddling.

What does this have to do with sobriety? Everything.
We no longer compare our insides to other people’s outsides, but we certainly take good care of our own outsides now.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Great Fact

In The Big Book there is a chapter called “There is a Solution”. In this section we read the clear statement that recovery is about a relationship with God or a Higher Power:

There is a solution…there was nothing left for us but to pick up the simple kit of spiritual tools laid at our feet. We have found much of heaven and we have been rocketed into a fourth dimension of existence of we had not even dreamed. The great fact is this, and nothing less: That we have had deep and effective spiritual experiences which have revolutionized our whole attitude toward life, toward our fellows and toward God’s Universe. The central fact of our lives today is the absolute certainty that our creator has entered into our hearts and lives in a way which is indeed miraculous.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Plane Crash

I was at the gym and heard a woman telling another that she was late because she could not stop watching the plane crash on TV. I interrupted them. I had not heard about today’s crash. When I heard that a plane had gone into the icy Hudson I felt such grief.

It is a memory. I lived in Washington DC when Air Florida crashed on take-off from National Airport and clipped the bridge before it hit the water taking cars into the freezing river along with the passengers on the plane.

Many of us watched the TV news and the footage over and over and over. The TV crews were right there and you could see cars on the bridge. People looked for the color and make of their loved ones cars. It was rush hour and people were late getting home from work. Were they on the bridge?

But the other piece of TV news film I saw hundreds of times in that week was the “rescue” of Patricia Triado by Lenny Skutnick. I will always know their names. A rescue plane was trying to get her out of the water—the Potomac River—but in the cold and hypothermia she could not hold onto the life ring and kept slipping and slipping…over and over we watch this frozen terrorized woman try to hold and then slip away.

What the film catches—almost in the background is a man walking toward the of the many bystanders. But this man is walking toward the river bank and we can see him as he sees Patricia Triado slip again back into the freezing water and the incredible thing is that there is no pause, no hesitation, no calculation. This man moving toward the river sees (we see him seeing) and he begins to run to the water and jumps in and begins to go to her. He gets her and is trying to get to shore…now he is quickly freezing and he is able to get them in reach of other rescuers who have been on the shore the whole time watching.

Lenny Skutnik never hesitated. He saw and he moved into the water.

Later we learned that Patricia Triado lost her husband and baby in that crash.

Would she be glad she was rescued? Would she always wish she had fallen from the ring and died with her family?

How do we ever know what is good and right?

But the image of Lenny Skutnick simply moving toward her without thought stays with me.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Seeking Approval

“Care about other people’s approval and you will be their prisoner.”

--from the Tao te Ching

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Nun Surrenders

A friend gave me the newsletter from The Community of the Holy Spirit in New York City. In the newsletter one sister, named Sister Catherine Grace, writes:

“This has been the heart of my spiritual journey this year: noticing carefully what each moment has brought into my life, and then accepting it without resistance or judgment. This kind of surrender brings the most amazing sense of peace.”

Doesn’t that make you want to sigh, and then surrender?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Controlling Other People

Karen Casey wrote a great book called, “Change Your Mind and Your Life Will Follow.” Karen had written about recovery for many years for Hazelden. You may have read her meditation book, “Each Day a New Beginning.”

Turns out that Karen studied The Course in Miracles for many years and has also written about the principles of the Course. This book, “Change Your Life…” is an integration of her work on Twelve Step recovery and The Course in Miracles.

One of my favorite take-aways from Karen Casey:

“Abandoning our attempts to control other people is a profound form of personal liberation.”

And this one too:

“Our lives are not, nor were they ever, secure or content as the result of someone else’s actions. Our lives become peaceful and secure in direct proportion to our awareness of the unconditional love of God.”

Saturday, January 10, 2009


We were talking about how we feel and someone says, “I have all these feelings and I guess that’s how I know I’m an alcoholic”. Someone else says, “I was feeling OK and then I started to feel sad and then I didn’t know why and I got upset because I didn’t know why and then I got mad at myself.” Then another person says, “We are alcoholics, that’s why we have all these feelings.”

I don’t think any of that is true. These feelings that all of us have are not about being alcoholics. They are about being human. The alcoholic part is thinking that we shouldn’t have feelings. Everyone has feelings and has feelings that shift and change for unknown reasons. We alcoholics make that into something more because we think we are not supposed to have feelings or feelings that change or feelings that don’t make sense to us. But all of that is just being human. The real symptom of alcoholism is that we fight that.

Friday, January 09, 2009


In a meeting this week I heard a woman say, “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.” Statements like that are what makes going to AA so worthwhile. It’s a life-saving bumper sticker, a platitude with punch. And it’s true.

In early recovery we have to learn to “Lower your expectations” and we learn that that our happiness is inversely proportional to our expectations: More expectations equals more misery, fewer expectations equals more peace of mind.

But here is the kicker for those of us with longer sobriety: There comes a time to actually have some expectations. I heard this stated so well in another meeting. A woman said that for many years any time she was upset with someone she’d say to herself, “Well, I shouldn’t have had any expectations about him or her.” But then—after some recovery and getting some self-esteem-- she realized that it was OK --and in fact a good thing-- to expect people in her life to: Tell the truth; show up on time; keep their commitments; reciprocate and to respect her. Some expectations are signs of our good recovery and self-respect.

This is one of those “Out of the Woods” moments when we have to unlearn what we learned in early recovery.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

When is a Cookie Just a Cookie?

Therapy today and home to write. Many old feelings stirred up and old beliefs are screaming at me. I don’t think of taking a drink but I think: hot chocolate with marshmallow cream; two Dunkin Donuts; one of those chewy cookies left over from Christmas dunked in a strong decaf.

When is it OK to soothe myself with food and when is it better to say “Don’t pick up” even to a cookie? When is it OK to take to my bed or to the couch or to the TV? When is buying new shoes an act of self-care and giving myself a treat and when is it a way to numb and block the feelings?

Years ago in Overeaters Anonymous I used to hear the difference between recovery in AA compared to recovery in OA explained like this:

In AA you put the tiger in his cage and keep him locked up. In OA you have to take the tiger for a walk three times a day.

I want to give the tiger a cookie. I want to let the tiger cry.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Our Deepest Wounds

Our deepest wounds are the lens through which we see the world.

--from my journal June 5 1994

Tap Tap Tap

I have begun to work with a woman who heals body and spirit. She is a natural healer, but she teaches a practice called Emotional Freedom Technique that involves tapping key points of the body’s meridians while affirming both difficulties and their release. I tap my head, my eyes, my collar bones, my solar plexus. I speak about my fears: abandonment, defectiveness, subjugation and emotional deprivation. I do this both as a kind of voodoo and with a faith in this alternative means of allowing God access to my spirit and my body. I know that my wounds are deep and my scars are both of the body and the spirit body.

Our deepest wounds are the lens through which we see the world. My wounds—which have become beliefs—are old and deep. Most often I have no idea how much they run me and how thoroughly they distort what I see and hear and believe even now.

In AA we say “don’t leave before the miracle happens.” I have experienced many miracles and now it seems I am on the brink of another. This emotional healing, this freedom from the old beliefs that run me ragged, this clearing of the lens through which I see the world, this is the miracle that I want and that I ask for and for which I wait while I tap and tap and tap.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Monday of the New Year

The first Monday of the New Year. Back to work. A new me? I make resolutions and goals and intentions. The hardest is an old one to “go as me”. In early recovery I would often ask of wonder, “Who do I go as?” the consequence of losing identity and authenticity and sense of self over so many years of pleasing others and pushing my own preferences, opinions and identity way below the surface and anchoring it there with alcohol, food and compulsive behavior. Years of being what alanon calls, “a chameleon on plaid”. How is that for stress...a chameleon on plaid? the first time I heard that I knew not just what it means but the exact lived experience of being that chameleon. Now again another year, another layer peeled away, another set of intentions and hopes, more layers of recovery, mining to find the me that once was and always is. Restored to sanity also means sifting thru the archeology of self and finding who is in here and under all that plaid. My new year. More will be revealed.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Healing My Thinking

I went to a meeting today and talked about my thinking. An AA friend named Bill says, whenever he speaks, “I didn’t have a drink all day.” For him it has been many many days but he makes the point that he didn’t drink today.

I have not had a drink today or for many many days, but as I said in the meeting, “I want to be able to say that I didn’t have a THINK all day.” It is my thinking that undoes me. It is my thinking that upsets me. It is my thinking that unravels me. It is my thinking that scares me. I scare myself coming and going.

That is the miracle of recovery that I most want: the evidence of being restored to sanity will be when I d not scan and sift and search for thoughts that will scare me. I am so ready for this change. So ready.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Addiction from Richard Rohr

Our addictions are the parts of ourselves that drain away our deepest desire. They use up our spiritual desire. They are the things that will NEVER satisfy.

Richard Rohr
from “How to Breath Underwater”