Friday, February 27, 2009

Speak the Language

A new friend gave me this great reminder today:

“Speak the language of the country you are in.” For her it means use business language with business people and recovery language with those in recovery, and spiritual idioms only with those whom you know to have an active spiritual life. It doesn’t mean you can’t talk about recovery ideas or spiritual matters with others but use their language when you do.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


The president says we will recover. We shake our heads. Friends laid off. Neighbors foreclosed. Pets abandoned. Normal expenses seem scary. “What if?” floats through our heads.

Maybe those of us who know the other meaning of recover can remind ourselves that there was a time in early recovery that we didn’t believe we really would. We didn’t think it could happen for us. We thought recovery would be grim and gray. But we showed up and we did the footwork and we prayed. Our prayers were not for rescue, no deus ex machina, but for faith in one more day, this day.

The president says the country will recover. We know about recovery. And we will.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Academy Awards

I stayed up until midnight to see the final award go to Slumdog. I like to see the dresses and hair and now of course we also assess the work done on the faces. Bravo to those who have done just enough to look good for their age but whoa to Goldie; too far gone I fear. Botox yes but too much Restylene is not pretty.

Kate Winslet said that she had practiced her acceptance speech in the bathroom mirror when she was 8, holding a shampoo bottle as her Oscar. Tells you something about the power of visualization yes? But it raises this question: Who would you thank if you had the opportunity to take 45 seconds to say something to your peers?

Today in my thanks I’d have to include these:

Ebby Thatcher for getting Bill Wilson sober. Because of Ebby Bill could create AA so it would be there when I needed it. Ebby got the ball rolling and from that we got AA and OA and Alanon and ACOA, all of which saved my life.

I’d also have to thank the therapists who played more than supporting roles in getting and keeping me sane. Thank you Mary, Nancy, Susan and Johnel.

I’d have to thank sponsors and recovery friends. The posse that over 25 years that took phone calls at all hours, listened to tape after tape of answering machine messages, and showed up: Caroline, Brigid, Barbara, Sondra, Miriam, Meg, Stephanie. This includes the women I sponsored who also showed me what it’s like to be a woman on this journey.

And yes, like the stars at the Oscars, I have to thank God. Even when I’m not sure he sees or hears me some tiny part of me knows I have been carried and for that I am grateful.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


I have just started reading a great new book called “Redeemed” by Heather King. It’s great already and I have only read the Introduction where she makes a fast and funny case for why alcoholics and addicts need God--and Jesus in particular—and she describes the lived, alcoholic difference between pleasure and joy.

So check this out. Go to your local (preferably independent) bookstore and read the introduction. You’ll laugh with your coat on.

And please, buy this and all your books from an independent (non-chain, non-Amazon) bookstore. Think of it as supporting a really important nonprofit. (There is hardly any profit anyway) and having locally owned bookstores is so important to the literary and cultural life of a community. The people in those stores read actual books and they know literature. Your spending in those stores is your vote for the life of the mind and for intelligent thought.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Good Enough for God?

I’m working on these old beliefs and these “voices” that try to convince me that I am not good enough and that I will be abandoned. Using the tools of Cognitive Therapy helps a lot. And the Tapping (see the January 7 2009 entry) helps too. I know that this new work could only have come after some sobriety because I get to see what’s really behind the “ism”.

I have been working Step Two—asking God to restore me to sanity. These old persistent beliefs –schema in cognitive therapy talk--certainly are a kind of insanity. Today I realized that one of the problems is that my fear that I am not good enough applies not just to how I am in relationships but also with God. I think that I even fear that I am not good enough for God. Other people will be restored to sanity but not me? Other people will be healed but not me? Here is the real pain of these old beliefs. They interfere not only with friends, lovers and family but they attempt to cut me off from God as well.

My solution then has to come from God. To take this fear and this old belief and say—as I would in any important relationship---“my head is trying to convince me that I’m not good enough for you, and these old deep beliefs want me to believe I can't have your care for my life, so we gotta talk about this.”

This is certainly one of the things I cannot fix myself. This is where I turn to the 7th step prayer: “…remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows.”

I assure you, all of the fellows in my life have been affected by my schema/old beliefs/defects of character.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wonder Woman Poems

In writing class we read Lucille Clifton’s Superman poems. Then we each selected a super hero that we liked and wrote notes to them. Here is what I wrote to Wonder Woman:

Wonder Woman’s Bracelets

At the end of the day
It’s your bracelets I want.
Not your hair
Or that silly headband
Not the girdle
Belting your abs of steel.
Not even your courage
But the bracelets?
Yes, the bracelets
that can stop death.

Wonder Woman’s Hair

I’ve always wondered about
your hair.
Is that your natural color?
Ever tried blonde? Or even
Highlights—something like “Flaxen Mist”
(Clairol #425)
As an admirer I have to say
I could see you
with more light, you know
just a few highlights to perk you up—
Sort of like the bullets now
toward your heart.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Barbie is Turning 50

I was eight years old when I first met Barbie and I wanted a life just like hers. She had a boyfriend, Ken; a best friend Midge; and a lot of clothes. From Barbie I learned a sartorial approach to life: You need only to have the right outfit and the life to go with it will appear. Buy a poofy dress and you get a date for the prom; plan a trousseau and marriage will follow; buy the right suit and a career would materialize. But in a few weeks Barbie is going to turn 50 and I don’t think she’s prepared. Most women know that a closet full of cute outfits --or even a dream house-- isn’t enough for this time of life. So here are some things I’d offer Barbie for 50.

The first thing she needs is a new best friend. In the 1960’s Midge was the perfect friend for a pretty girl: friendly, loyal and slightly less attractive. Barbie now needs friends with flesh on their hips and shoulders she can cry on. In our 50’s we cry for each other, pray for each other and show up when the bad stuff happens.

This leads to another essential for Mid-Life Barbie. Mattel could offer, “Barbie’s 12 Step Program”. Every woman eventually needs a support group. But which program for Barbie? Clearly she has a compulsive shopping problem. But it’s also possible that Overeaters Anonymous would be her group. That’s for anyone with an eating disorder. Maybe AA? I’ve never seen Barbie drunk but she does have a lot of cocktail dresses. Al-anon might help too. Barbie was always kind of rigid and she could never settle on a career. She’s tried to be so many different things at the same time; she’s like a chameleon on plaid. Al-anon could help with that. This package could come with accessories like a tiny coffee pot and ten folding chairs. It will be easy for Barbie to fit in; she doesn’t have a last name anyway.

Even though dating was Barbie’s main preoccupation she’s always had a job. She was a nurse, a doctor, even an astronaut but like most women I know Barbie is still trying to decide what to be when she grows up. But at this important birthday I have to tell Barbie that there is another kind of work coming her way. In her 50’s it’s time for community service. At this age it’s no longer about adding to the resume. She won’t need to buy new clothes for this; there is no “Barbie’s Day at the Food Pantry” ensemble. Service looks and feels good all by itself.

What else would I include in my toast to Barbie’s birthday? I’d thank her for her fashion guidance. Barbie taught me about matching purses and shoes--even if the shoes were kind of slutty, but I’ve learned some things of my own about putting yourself together after 50: Barb, the good stuff is not in your closet. At our age it’s the heartbreaks and the losses and the mistakes that make you an original. I’m not talking about any pastel faux pas here; I’m talking horrid, messy, head-shaking mistakes. Those, when worn with a little self-forgiveness and a lot of gratitude, are what become the finest accessories for a woman in her 50’s.

Granted, this may be asking a lot of a former fashion doll. But Barbie has hung in there for 50 years. She has knees that bend now. And she’ll need them. It isn’t easy being plastic.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Day

This morning at my regular meeting I heard men talk about how recovery changed their lives. Tough guys were softened, fathers recommitted, lost men were found, partners tried again, new romances began and they tried to do it differently.

It makes my heart happy to see men change. To know that my father and my brothers might have changed too. To know that there is an endless supply of love in these rooms and we are changed by that love.

In early recovery I used to hear, “Let us love you until you can love yourself.” It felt like a koan, a bafflement. I didn’t think you could love someone into change. We mistakenly try to do that in romantic relationships and sometimes as parents. It doesn’t work.

But in AA it does. We can be loved by our AA fellows until we can love ourselves.

That is quite a Valentine.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Chopin's Heart

Today, February 13th is the birthday of the Polish composer Frederic Chopin. When he died in 1849 his body was buried in Paris. But his heart, at his special request, was placed in the wall at the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw. When you die where do you want your heart to be? Where is it now?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Girlfriends Tell the Truth

I saw the new movie, “He’s Just not Into You” last week. I went the day it opened. The reviews from New York were already saying it was terrible but I knew this was a cast of cool actresses no matter what the content was. The opening sequence nails it when a mom at the playground tells her little girl that the little boy who just hit her “really likes you. He’s being mean to you because he likes you.” This is followed by the scenes where woman tell their girlfriends, “Oh I’m sure he loves you” and “I’m sure he’ll call.” and “Of course he doesn’t think you’re a slut he thinks you’re sexy.”

Girlfriends, just say it: No. He doesn’t love you. No. He won’t call. And Yes. You are a slut.

I’m guilty of this too. I have said, “Give him time.” and “Men are different.” But maybe tough love is the kindest cut of all.

Make a pact with your girl friends to tell the truth. It’s always “Take what you like and leave the rest.” You know you can’t really change her mind or stop the train till it comes back to the station. But at least you may shorten her pain.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sylvia Plath Bake Off

Today is the anniversary of the death of poet, Sylvia Plath. In London, February 11th 1963, Plath put her two small children to bed, then turned on the gas stove in her kitchen, stuck her head in the oven and died. She was 30. She was talented. She was celebrated. She was heartsick. She was depressed.

Celebrate Plath today by baking something yummy. Make cookies for someone who loves you. Bake lasagna for dinner. Read a poem. Write a poem. Cherish your life.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Get out of Gods Way

When I was very new to AA I heard a woman speak in a meeting and what she said made me truly want recovery. The woman was telling the group that the day before her daughter had been hurt in an accident near their house. The woman said that got into the ambulance with her daughter and she began to pray that her daughter would be okay and that God fix this situation. And then, she said that she stopped and changed her prayer. Instead she began to pray, “God help me to get out of your way.”

I was stunned by her words and I knew then that I wanted what AA people had and I understood that what this woman had came from being in this program.
That was more than 20 years ago. I still want it.

God help me to get out of your way.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Emotional Pilates

A friend emails me and says, “I want new insides”. I tell her, “Me too.” This is one of those days that I just want relief from the fear. After all this time, years of recovery, therapy, healing and I get blindsided by fear. It happens that I am home sick today—an “experiment” my therapist calls it: Take time off and take care of yourself. So I cancel my weekend plans and I take this day. I get a massage and I read. The boyfriend calls and he says “Go to New York” and I think, “He wants me to go away.” I check my email from work and the bookkeeper says, We need more money”, and I think, “This is it, I’ll get fired.”

But I go for a walk and I wrestle with the angel of fear: Fear wants me to believe that bad things will happen. The shred of recovery that I have today says, “Hold on”. So I talk back. I pray. I think it through. There is some relief but these muscles are weak. This is like emotional Pilates. I have to strengthen my core beliefs. My habit is to succumb to the fear. But I make a tiny stride, a tiny advance this time.

Here is what I come to: I am determined NOT to be run ragged by fear even if the thing I fear actually happens (which it never does: get fired, man leaves me, friends desert me) it is still better than living in fear.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Clothes can be Fun

Poet, Mary Karr, who wrote “The Liar’s Club”, A terrific memoir about growing up in a crazy family wrote one of my favorite lines about dressing. She credits her father with this comment:

“There is a fine line between an outfit and a get-up.”

Today I was wearing a get-up. Pink vintage Peck & Peck wool coat. (It has little fringes on the four perfectly placed pockets). A wool scarf with polka dots and blocks of red, green, yellow and pink. A pink ball cap with a flower in green on the bill and my Obama green gloves—so named because they are THE gloves that Michelle Obama wore at the Inauguration and which I had been wearing for years. (I bought them on sale because no one wanted that weird green—until now.)

I felt festive and happy in this little get-up as I ran errands.

It is sobriety that lets me have this kind of happy, get-up day. To care and not care what I look like. To know that tomorrow I can wear a navy suit and pearls and big-girl shoes, and still be me.

We are told in recovery not to compare out insides to someone else’s outsides, but we must also learn to align our insides and our own outsides—and to allow both get-ups and outfits as we dress for these good lives.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Have A Heart Today

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women. How many women know that? and really get it? Most women think that breast cancer is their biggest threat. That is, of course, because breast cancer and breast surgery scares us most: visible scars, visible changes, losing an outward –and sexually related--part of your body. But I wonder if the all too Pink World of breast cancer needs to bear some of the responsibility for this misunderstanding? If you consider the visual proportions and the pink bath that women are dunked in by breast cancer marketing it makes sense that women would assume that breast cancer is what they should most fear.

But it’s not.

Heart disease annually kills SIX TIMES as many women than breast cancer.

And 80% is preventable.

Pink or Red?

Let’s get the proportions right.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

February's Cold

I wake in the night and listen. The reassuring rumble tells me that the furnace is still on. It’s good news and bad. It means we have heat but at this hour I visualize the dollar bills that might just as well be fuel. I don’t fall back to sleep easily. A glass of water, and check on the dogs, curled like Danish pastries on their pillows; I’m awake and afraid in the cold night.

With only 28 days, February is the longest month, and we secretly count it down. February is to winter what Wednesday is to the workweek: If we can get through February, even snow in April won’t rock us.

My fear of cold has an ancient echo. I listen for the furnace at night the way my Polish ancestors woke in their huts to check on the fire. In many wedding albums there is a picture of the groom carrying the bride over the threshold. That odd custom is also about staying warm. In ancient times when a woman left her father’s home and was set down on the hearth in her new house she was in the most important spot in any ancient home. She literally kept the home fires burning.

Temperature is part of my own married romance. Coming to New York from Baltimore –where there is just one decent snowstorm each year--I too was set down on a new hearth. I married a man who came from Northern Ontario where winter runs from September to May and wind chill is scoffed at. So I had to learn to dress for cold.

But physical acclimation is real. That first winter, living in upstate New York, I thought I’d die. My boots were good below freezing but my fingers could barely tie them. Each year it gets easier. Now I complain about the cold, but no longer imagine myself part of the Donner party.

But there is also an emotional acclimation to cold. A quote from Camus is taped inside the cabinet where I get my coffee mug each morning. It says: “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” The word “invincible” that reminds me that living cold does indeed build character.

But having a warm house is important. I can’t swear that my first marriage ended solely over the thermostat setting, but for years I never went on a second date with a man whose response to my “I’m cold”, was “Put on a sweater”. The tundra man had to learn that cold hands do not mean a warm heart, and that a big oil bill is better than roses. But I’ve grown too. I am willing, in this new life, to go and put on that cost-saving sweater.

The word comfortable did not originally refer to being contented. Its Latin root, confortare, means to strengthen. Hence it’s use in theology: the Holy Spirit is Comforter; not to make us comfy, but to make us strong. This then is February’s task. We may not be warm but we are indeed comforted; we are strong and we are counting the days.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Talking About the Past

A passage I have always loved from William Maxwell’s novel, “So Long, See You Tomorrow”:

“What we, or I, confidently refer to as memory, meaning a moment or a scene that has been subjected to a fixative and thereby rescued from oblivion—is really a form of storytelling that goes on continually in the mind and often changes with the telling. Too many conflicting emotional interests are involved for life to ever be wholly acceptable, and possible the work of the storyteller to arrange things so that they conform to this end. In any case, in talking about the past we lie with every breath we take.”

Monday, February 02, 2009

Sick Day

When are you sick enough for a sick day?

This is one that has plagued me since early recovery and still catches me. Part of it is perfectionism. Part of it is being unique. Other people take time off for colds and flu and stomach bugs. But I am never sure. Today I’m tired, aching, coughing. I’ve been up all night, but what I think of is the work on my desk and the appointments that would need to be cancelled.

This too is about being a worker among workers. Can I accept that I’m human, that I get sick and that the world would not end? These are the words I say to others. I say, “Take care of yourself.” But when it is my turn I am never sure if I am sick enough for a sick day.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


Today I am reminded again of the gift of being a sponsor. Even though sometimes I have to make myself take time for the phone calls or schedule the coffee dates I am always the beneficiary. I listen, I ask questions and then I hear a woman younger than me describing some feeling, situation or struggle in her life that I have or have had in mine. I offer a suggestion for her situation and then realize that what I have told her is exactly what I need to try as well.

We talk about the “gifts of sponsorship” and often mean receiving the generosity of a sponsor, but being the sponsor is receiving the gift too.