Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Sugar Monkey

The Sugar Monkey – Together

There is always another layer and perhaps another addiction worth looking at. Click on the link above to read a great article in Together about sugar and candy addiction. And how perfect for this week. Peppermint Bark anyone?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

God's Voice

I wrote this in my journal in 1995. I heard this from the woman who was my spiritual director at the time. She said: “God’s voice is very subtle. Each day in prayer look for the one thing in the day before that struck you as an impulse, a thought, an image or an idea. Train yourself to see and hear and feel the subtle.”

To do this, she said, you have to get quiet. Get a more quiet life.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


After a while we begin to see recovery messages everywhere. This week I finished reading the new book, “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. She writes about World War II and the American Pacific soldiers and prisoners of war. It’s a tremendous piece of history and a page turning narrative.

It’s also—surprise—a book about spiritual change and miracles and belief and faith. The title’s keyword, unbroken, has multiple meanings as the story unfolds. And there is also a most moving section on becoming free of addiction.

Hillenbrand delivers some great bites of wisdom that we might hear in any 12 step room. Here’s one we could add to any meeting on resentment:

“Resentment nails every one of us to the cross of his (her) ruined past.”

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ebby and Bill

Today is a special day in AA history. On this day, December 14, in 1934, Ebby Thatcher came to visit his old drinking buddy, Bill Wilson, and in Bill and Lois’s Brooklyn kitchen Ebby gave his testimony and took Bill Wilson through the Oxford Group conversion process. What we today call steps 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. It was Ebby’s gift to Bill and the gift that has been passed on to all of us. In the Oxford Group one could take all of those steps in one evening: The inventory, the confession, the examination, and then making the list of people harmed. Then one went out to make restitution—later called amends. Ebby was Bill’s sponsor. It began here—one drunk helping another. Bill was willing. He saw something in Ebby. He wanted what Ebby had. From this start we get Bill W. committed to sobriety. From a cold flat in Brooklyn to the rest of the world. We know that Ebby later struggled. But he was well used by God. Thank you Ebby.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Looking for Signs

I laugh now at how many times in my life I have prayed for a sign to let me know if I was on the right path or for help in making a decision. In very difficult moments I have begged for skywriting from the universe and just last week I told a friend that I’m still waiting for an envelope from God with my name on it. Maybe I watched too many episodes of Mission Impossible as a kid, but part of me wants instructions that spell out exactly what I should do with my life.

I know God doesn’t work that way, but I also know I’m not alone in wanting him to. Some people flip coins or watch birds or follow the crude metals index. Others keep psychics in business and ensure that books on spiritual guidance top the bestseller lists. I’ve tried it all and I’ve been to Tarot readers, thrown the I Ching and I have a well-worn set of Rune stones.

Years ago when people close to me were dying and I was tearfully demanding to know God’s will, a friend who was more experienced in grief chastised and reassured me by saying, “Gods will is what is”. The simplicity and profundity of that statement silenced me for a while.

But I come back again to wanting to know, and often it’s at this time of year and there’s a good reason. As the winter begins and we are faced with dark and cold there is a pull from deep in our bones that drive us to seek light and answers. The need for light at this time of year is so great that we adapted culturally to give it to ourselves. We've had Hanukkah, now Solstice and  soon Christmas, all great stories about finding light.

The part of the Christmas story that has always meant the most to me is that of the three wise men making their journey, traveling on a hunch, a belief, and their deep wanting. They had studied the sky for years and then they saw their sign.

In his poem, Journey of the Magi T.S. Eliot wrote: “At the end we preferred to travel all night, sleeping in snatches, with the voices singing in our ears, that this was all folly.”

Of course that is the problem with star following. You just don’t know. We see this most painfully now looking at the news. Stories of young men and women as heroes in war and others, the same age who commit terrible crimes. All of them following their stars. But how do you know until you show up whether there’s going to be a baby or a bullet?

So the wise men’s lesson is all about faith: We do our best, we study, we consult with others, we try to be wise men and women, but we have to get on our camels, bring our gifts and hope we are doing good.

This is solstice week and these are our darkest days. We cope in the most ancient of ways. We go toward the light--to neon and the mall, to crowds of shoppers, even as our ancient relatives were drawn to stars and the fire.

Through all of this we’ll read our horoscopes. We’ll hope our loved ones will be spared the only thing that no one can be which is death. We’ll look at the night sky and try to believe. No wonder a baby born in a barn is a great story. No wonder we look for signs.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Self-less or Self-more?

Conflicting voices in my head. Conflicting voices from program and from therapy and from Oprah too. Do you have this battle in your head? It’s hitting me hard now with a new job and the holiday season and it goes like this:

@ Be of service

@ Be selfish

@ Think of others before--or instead--of yourself

@ Take care of yourself first

@ Let go of what others think of you

@ First impressions matter

@ Think less of yourself

@ Put your self care first

And on and on…I’m trying to find the middle ground. Some days I sort of have the balance, I think, but other days the pendulum swings too far to self, others days too far to putting other people’s needs or expectations first.

How do you balance this? How do you find the middle?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Shoes Shoes Shoes

Can shoes be an addiction? It’s one of those things that you have to sort out for yourself. Maybe asking yourself if your shopping feels compulsive? Secret? Shameful? Is it hurting you? Getting in the way of something else you want? Or is it fashionable? Frivoulous? Fun? Sometimes a shoe is just a shoe. Not really. For men shoes are just shoes. But even then, no. Shoes are always screaming billboards of personal identity.

In Chris Cleave’s new novel, “Incendiary” one of the lead characters is explaining to her new friend why she has to change her shoes in order to change her life and she says, “Good luck adores good shoes.”

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Voice

I picked up Geneen Roth again today. Her newest book is called “Women, Food and God”. In the section I opened to she is writing about The Voice.

This isn’t unique to people with food issues or eating addictions. All addicts have a version of The Voice. Many non-addicted people have The Voice too—those of us in recovery recognized somewhere along the way that we were eating, drinking, shopping, starving, exercising or manically pleasing other people to quiet or mollify The Voice.

Roth writes that, “The Voice feels and sounds so much like you that you believe it is you. You think you are telling yourself the truth…the intention of the Voice is to stun you not to activate your intelligence…Its intent is to keep you from being thrown out of whatever it perceives as the circle of love.”

I’ve come to understand that my Voice is young—a younger part of me—kind of mixed with my mother’s fears and some crazy reasoning I cooked up as a kid—a young part of me that figured out—in a kid’s way of figuring—that if I could be prettier, thinner, smarter, then I would be loved. If loved then not left. If not left then safe.

Of course that young self only had access to limited experience and experiences that I saw thru its eyes and didn’t really understand. So I concocted a set of ideas that are still broadcasting into a 57 year-old head. It’s kind of charming and sweet in a way—that is when it’s not making me quite crazy or insisting that I have to keep EVERYBODY happy or else just use whatever is handy to not feel at all.

In AA we sometimes hear comments like, “My head will try to kill me”, or “My best thinking got me here.” Both true but not because the Voice is malevolent—it’s young, it thinks it can help, but we know better. That’s why we don’t give car keys and chain saws to six year olds.

Roth writes, “The Voice usurps your strength, passion and energy.”

Is there an antidote? Harry Potter learned one: Don’t listen to The Dementors. Don’t believe what they say; change your thinking when the dementors are around.

Writer Byron Katie has another way. She says, “I love my thoughts. I’m just not tempted to believe them.”

In AA when we hear someone new or a bit misguided we laugh and say, “Thanks for sharing” We can say that to the Voice also, and “Keep coming back.”

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Montaigne on Death

I’m reading Sarah Bakewell’s new biography of Montaigne. Wonderful format: she writes one question: How to live? And answers it in 20 essays giving glimpses into Montaigne’s life and writing and thinking.

A near death experience was a key to his life and thinking. He wrote:

“If you don’t know how to die don’t worry; Nature will tell you what to do on the spot, fully and adequately. She will do this job perfectly for you; don’t bother your head about it. Life is more difficult than death; instead of passive surrender, it takes attention and management. It can also be more painful.”

Monday, November 22, 2010

Get Ready for Thanksgiving

This week we are preparing for Thanksgiving. There is a lot of shopping and cooking in the next few days --but there are also emotional preparations to be undertaken this week. Like many, you may be torn between the happy anticipation of a good meal and seeing family, but also the dread of family feuds that leave you wishing to hide in a corner of the living room.

Along with the usual “issues” that each family faces around the turkey table—the in-laws, sibling rivalries, and adolescents with attitude—we can stir in some raw feelings about national politics and a debate on the economy. It’s Thanksgiving in the REAL America and nobody’s very happy.

So many of us so want it to be the other Thanksgiving, the one we imagine that other families have, but which really only happens in made-for-TV movies. WE think that Thanksgiving’s just not what it used to be-- But then again, it never was.

It seems that we can’t shake our romantic idea about that first one with the grateful Pilgrims and the wise Indians, but it’s safe to say that most of us wouldn’t have been comfortable at that dinner either. The truth is that the Pilgrims, with their cute buckled shoes, weren’t innocent refugees from persecution. Rather they were religious zealots and not exactly tolerant.

Here’s the history: After the Protestant Reformation and the split from Catholicism—creating the Church of England--there were many who felt the church still needed to be “purified” of Rome’s influence. Those were the Puritans. Among the Puritans were some folks who were even more extreme and who wanted complete separation. These were the Separatists--we know them as the Pilgrims. These were not folks who believed in freedom of religion. What the Pilgrims believed was that the Church of England was corrupt, that Catholics were the Devil’s spawn and that they were superior in knowing God’s truth.

We still have some emotional resonance of those ancestors and their vibe is with us at Thanksgiving. So be prepared.

Part of the problem is that religion permeates this day directly or indirectly; someone or something is being thanked for the good in our lives, but there are political tripwires from the stuffing all the way through to dessert. Most of us will be sharing a meal with folks who not only mix their potatoes with their peas but who mix politics with their religion: Every current event, everything in the headlines--war, terrorism, same-sex marriage, the war and the Middle East—touches religion in some way. And that intersection of religion and current affairs will cut right through the dining room table on Thursday.

Even saying grace is tricky. When the blessing includes a prayer for peace someone at the table will be listening for what kind of peace? Do you mean Get-out-of-Afghanistan peace or the bomb them into submission kind?

On Thursday we may be humming, “We gather together…” but in our heart of hearts we want to insist that OUR team should win, that OUR recipe for stuffing is the best, and that OUR candidate was right.

So if you find yourself dreading the doorbell, or if Uncle Harvey mentions the President when he says grace, you may want to retreat to the kid’s table or sit in the den to watch the game. But Instead, give thanks that this holiday comes only once a year, and remember--- it’s all in the spirit of the day.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Whack-a-Mole Ego

Just when I think I have it right it pops up again. The past few weeks in my new job my mantra has been, “Keep my ego out of it.” I’m paying attention to how many times in a day I need to be important or special or noticed or smart or good—yes, even good. Sometimes I talk to myself like a little puppy, “OK, ego down, ego down.” Oh my, the training required.

And then just as I am thinking, “My, aren’t I good at this no-ego, humble thing, it hits me: That’s ego too. I catch it here and it pops up there, I get that ego moment to soften and notice another place where little ego is waving its hand like a third grader who has the answer.

Ah, I think good intention and gentleness are required here. My ego is a little puppy, third-grader, hoping the teacher, and mommy and the person with the treats will see Me! Me! Me!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I friend recommended the blog “” to me this week and I have been reading non-stop. I think you will like this too. AddictionLand covers all kinds of addictions: food, sex, drugs and anger addiction too and the stories are powerful.

Another woman’s story of addiction and recovery—and lots of expert resources here as well.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Books Books and More Books

My recovery began with a book. It was “Women Who Love Too Much” by Robin Norwood. Over the years I have been helped by many other books: personal stories, memoirs, self-help books and spiritual books. All of these in addition to “conference approved” literature like the Big Book and the 12 & 12.

Some of the other books that stand out as especially helpful—books that came to me at the right time or that moved me along on a particular issue are these:

“My Name is Caroline”, by Caroline Adams Miller—one of the first and best books about 12 step recovery for women with eating disorders. A revelation that nice, smart women can have bulimia and anorexia and recovery.

“Seeds of Grace”, by Sister Molly Monahan—a first person description of the spirituality of AA. I love this book and I’ve given it to so many women. A nun who had to find belief, faith and a Higher Power. She describes how she works—actually works—each of the steps.

“The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron—How to be an artist, recover as an artist, and find the creative—often hiding under addiction. I “did” this book over and over. My copy is scribbled in, dog-eared, worn out. Morning pages start here.

Three years ago I added: “Reinventing Your Life” by Jeffrey Young and Janet Klosko. This is cognitive therapy for the lay person. Most easily digestible and most directly applicable. This really helped me when mining the past no longer felt productive and I realized it was my thinking rather than my drinking that was the issue.

This year it has been these two:

“Creating Your Best Life” by Caroline Adams Miller—Yes, this is the same Caroline who wrote about eating disorders—now she’s looking at what makes life good rather than what made it bad. Filled with fabulous research-based tactics and tools to achieve goals. Incredibly helpful; this book led to joining an accountability group.


“The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin—the women who tried almost everything to get happier. She blogged about all of it and then made it into this book. I have to say I’m sorry I waited so long to read this and try some of her great advice.

So please share: What books helped you in recovery? What books do you recommend to friends?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Military Mental Illness

On April 6th 1917 the US Congress declared war and we entered WWI. It was our first full-scale entry into armed conflict on European soil. War has changed since then and we have changed but there is one constant, which is the sad fact of psychological injuries sustained by soldiers in war.

Various authorities—military and psychiatric—put the estimate of “stress casualties” between 25 and 60 percent, though the words we use to describe them has changed over time. Terms have included: Battle fatigue, war neurosis, shell shock, military hysteria, trench suicide and “LMF” or “lacking moral fiber”. These labels reflect the cultural attitudes of each time period, but they are also influenced by military strategy and even demographics.

In 1917 the US population was at an all-time high. In supply terms this meant there were plenty of soldiers. In that war, where supply met demand, it was not uncommon to find that those who broke down, who froze on the field, who hesitated to shoot, retreated or exhibited any other detrimental behavior were considered to have problems of character rather than injuries.

By contrast in World War II, with fighting in both Europe and Asia putting more than 16 million Americans in uniform, the condition of a struggling soldier was framed very differently. War trauma became an illness which could be treated or cured.

But beyond the words we use, it’s important to note that there has always been a civilian hand-me-down from the military and the psychiatric casualties of war. The need to keep soldiers on the battlefield or to return them to combat in World War II saw one of the United State’s largest investments in psychology and psychiatry. Through the 1940’s the Pentagon spent millions of dollars for psychological research. That has had a lasting impact on all of our lives.

The research for that war’s soldiers spilled over and into the fields of advertising, education and even design. 1946 saw the first National Mental Health Act; in 1948 The Snake Pit –a movie about shock treatment and psychoanalysis won 7 Academy Awards, and also that year Psychology Today magazine was launched for the general public. In 1949, the Nobel Prize for medicine went to Dr. Egas Moniz, who “invented” the pre-frontal lobotomy. Today our casual talk of “issues” and “processing feelings” has its roots in the Pentagon’s need.

Of course, each succeeding war has added research and changes to how we view our psychological selves. In the Korean War, the Army created mobile psych units that focused on cognitive treatments which attend to how one processes thoughts. Out of this came civilian interest in mind control, positive thinking and yes, that old stuff about subliminal persuasion. Then we went to Viet Nam and saw the military test new methods of replacing troops --not as units but as individuals. We know that the style of jungle warfare along with the media coverage of that war—and the tricky politics of the time—all contributed to the total impact on soldier’s health.

More than any other war Viet Nam redefined our beliefs about mental health. Five years after the fall of Saigon, “Viet Nam Syndrome” was identified, which morphed into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which rapidly generalized to civilians who suffered trauma.

Now, we are in the midst of another war with yet newer factors. In Afghanistan and Iraq our troops face guerilla combat with the added stress of suicide bombers and armed civilians. These increase the psychological difficulties, and we are now seeing another reframing of the resulting psychiatric casualties.

Especially today on Veterans Day--we must remember to factor in these injuries when we talk about the costs of war. We must ask how we’ll will label our broken soldiers, how we will care for them-- and what will be changed, now and later.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Jill Clayburgh The Unmarried Woman

I read today that actress Jill Clayburgh has died. Her great breakthrough role was in the movie, “An Unmarried Woman.” Maybe you remember this film? Clayburgh’s character was a woman in a kind of recovery—her husband leaves her and she is devastated and then slowly with therapy, good friends and a love of art she changes. She changes so much she glows. She dances.

So many things stand out from the movie and Clayburgh’s role. The art she collected, her dancing in her white tank top and undies, the great clothes, the Coach bag!

Part of Clayburgh’s genius in this film was the subtle changes of body and movement as her therapy and consciousness-raising (yeah 1971) took hold.

I remember watching this movie over and over in the year before my recovery began. Yes, true-- I was drinking glasses of wine and crying as I watched the movie but I wanted what this woman had. Maybe in some way Jill Clayburgh got inside of me and helped me to believe that I could change too.

“An Unmarried Woman” is a great woman’s classic. If you haven’t seen this you’re missing Jill Clayburgh at her very best—and some inspiration for whatever you want to change in your life. Put this on your Netflix list for sure.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Invite Your own Everybody

Over the area where I sit to mediate I have a whiteboard with pictures of women –and one man--who inspire me. It’s kind of a personal pantheon. I started doing this when I read the book “Your North Star” by Martha Beck and realized that she like me, like many of us, can be tormented by the “everybodys”. This idea that “Everybody knows…” or “Everybody does…” Beck was trying to become a writer and didn’t know many writers so she gave herself writer friends made of well-known writers and read their bios and stories to get a new “everybody” in her life. She surrounded herself with other writers—living and dead—to create her own reference group. "Create your own everybody” was her advice.

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 and the one man: Alain deBotton.

The pictures have been up for a while and some days I don’t pay attention but sometimes when I am praying or meditating I’ll look up and realize that there is a bit of guidance available from my “friends”. Some days I am aware of their successes. Other days I’m reminded of their failures in the midst of their successes. I might note their outspokenness, their creativity or their courage. Or how they aged. Sometimes when I take a poll of their experience I see that all of them had heartbreaks and challenges in intimate relationships. And then too I notice that they struggled often to have their work understood or accepted. All of them had equally strong friends and enemies.

Today I am aware that they were—isn’t this a surprise—women with a distinctive sense of style—yes even poet May Sarton and poverty advocate Dorothy Day.

I’m keeping an eye out for new members of my “everybody”. Should William James be allowed to join? Frida Kahlo? We’ll see.

But tell me please, who are the members of your “everybody”?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Day of the Dead

Today I celebrate Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. It’s not a holiday I grew up with but one I’ve borrowed from the Southwest and Mexico. It’s become one of my favorite holidays partly because it’s a good spiritual counterpart to Halloween. 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. In fact, I’d welcome a visit from some of them.

That’s what Day of the Dead is about. There is a belief that on this day the veil separating this world and the next is thinner and so it’s a time we can be closer to those that we love who are dead.

Day of the Dead celebration centers on rituals for remembering loved ones. We can visit in our imagination or feel their presence. It can mean prayer or conversation, writing a letter or looking at old photos. The tradition that I use includes making an ofrenda, or altar, something as simple as putting photos and candles on the coffee table and taking time to talk and remember. We also have chocolate as a symbol of the sweet and bitter separation from those we love.

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. Culturally our preferences are for efficiency and effectiveness; even with grief we use words like closure and process.

I remember my frustration when I was grieving and well-intentioned friends would suggest I move along in my process and quoted Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. The simplified version of her theory lists stages: Denial--Bargaining--Anger--Depression, and Acceptance. But it’s false to create an expectation of five discrete steps. This listing implies order and that a person can move from point A to point B and be done. That makes grief seem like an emotional Monopoly game where you go around the board, collect points and get to a distinct and certain end. This false notion of linearity is apparent when we hear people judge someone who is grieving, “Oh she missed the anger stage”, or “He hasn’t reached acceptance yet.”

I always thought that “losing a loved one” was a euphemism used by people who were afraid to say the word dead.. But after losing my brother Larry I know that lost is the perfect word to describe the feeling that follows a death. Something just out of reach, still here, but also gone.

Though he died several years ago my feeling about my brother is that I have misplaced him; It’s that sensation of knowing that my book or that letter I was just reading, are around here somewhere…if I could just remember where I left him.

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.

So tonight I’ll make cocoa and light candles; we’ll look at pictures and tell stories and we’ll laugh.

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?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

There would be no Oprah without William James

The ideas and guidance of William James show up throughout our recovery movement and across the self-help spectrum. Here are a few more places where we see his ideas giving birth to today’s slogans and sayings:

Acceptance. James wrote, “Be willing to have it so. Acceptance of what has happened is the best first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.”

Just for Today. James wrote, “Everybody should do three things each day that he hates to do, just for practice.”

How important is it? James wrote: “Wisdom is learning what to overlook.”

Feelings are not Facts. James wrote, “If merely feeling good could decide, drunkenness would be the supremely valid human experience.”

And on the value of laughter and letting go James wrote, “Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.”

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

King James, William that is....

In his biography of William James, Robert Richardson says, “William James book, The Varieties of Religious Experience, so dominates the study of religion and theology that when one hears references to King James—they mean William and not the Bible.”

In AA’s history too William James is the unacknowledged King. “Varieties” was an inspiration in the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous. It was James understanding of conversion that the early AA’s found so helpful.

It was in fact William James who pointed at the urban mission work of Samuel Hadley from whom comes the idea that a cure for drunkenness requires the “absolute need of a higher helper”.

We remember that Bill Wilson in his correspondence with Carl Jung acknowledges his “absolute indebtedness to James’s Varieties of Religious Experience.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

New Tapes

In the rooms we talk about the “tapes” in our heads: Letting go of old tapes; changing the tapes; and erasing old tapes to change our thinking.

Something that has worked for me is to apply this metaphor quite directly. I have found that when I need to change a behavior or way of thinking that if I can find a recovery or self-help audio tape or CD that addresses the issue and listen to it over and over I can sometimes rewrite the tapes in my head. The speaker’s voice –kind of like a good therapist’s voice—gradually becomes part of me and the new idea or belief can also –over time—integrate into my thinking.

It does take lots and lots of repetition so it only works with teachers and speakers that resonate for me.

In early recovery I listened to AA speaker Bob E. from New Mexico. I bought tapes and CD’s of his conference talks and I must have listened to some of them hundreds of times. I got so much from him about caring for the wounds we carry as addicts and for genuine progress not perfection as he detailed his many relationships and jobs and geographic changes over 30 years of sobriety. I also laughed out loud at the good and bad of his recovery life and early on it gave me a frame that ours is a journey of discovery.

Later I discovered the work and audio tapes of Ellen Kriedman, a California psychologist and trainer whose bestselling book is called “Light His Fire”. I know, I know it sounds like some Cosmo Girl how to catch a guy title but it’s not. The book and audio workshop is about communication in relationships. Again, this one has lots of humor so it never feels old or stale. I still listen to Ellen and continue to learn from her.

Recently I’ve been listening to “Codependent No More” by Melody Beatty. Beatty has written a dozen or more books detailing her recovery from substances, grief and codependence. This one, “Co No Mo” --is one of the first books she wrote. I keep these cd’s in my car to give strength to the new messages I want and to gradually weaken the old ones my brain has played for me all the years before and even in recovery.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Your Own Path

You’ll know you are on your own path when there are no more markers or footprints to follow---If there are any markers or signs then you are following someone else’s path.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Act the Way I Want to Feel

We owe much to the philosopher William James. It was his book, “The Varieties of Religious Experience” that was critically important to Bill Wilson’s sobriety. James’s book was one of the texts that early AA members read and studied before they wrote our AA literature.

Ideas from William James permeate the Big Book and 12 step thinking and language. For example, James wrote: “Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.” Or as we now say:

“Act as if”. And, “Fake it till you make it.” Or, as I am reminding myself this week, “Act the way I want to feel.”

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Turning on the Furnace

We have come to the scary time of year, one that separates the men from the boys, the hedonists from the economists, and sometimes the husbands from the wives. Soon we’ll hear creaking sounds in our houses and rumblings from the basement.

No, not Halloween. I’m talking about the really scary time of year for grown-up homeowners: It’s time to turn on the furnace.

The coming of cold weather is humbling to humans. It reminds us how fragile we are compared to other creatures. Unlike a frog or fish, our body temperature does not rise or fall with that of our surroundings and without fur or feathers we must be vigilant to stay within the three-degree range required for human health.

Warmth is not simply a line etched on the thermometer; it’s also a sensation of comfort, a feeling that we are safe, that all is well. It’s why home and hearth go together. “Cozy” is the preferred adjective of this season. It’s used to sell everything from windows and slippers to hot chocolate. We seek comfort, but physical ease is just one part. Our homes are also where we are emotionally safe, where we close the door.

Turning on the furnace might seem as simple as responding to the weather with a binary flip of “heat on” or “heat off”, but this decision is not just about the weather report or how cold the bathroom floor feels in the morning. There is a weight to the moment when we decide to heat up the house that goes beyond the price of oil. Starting the furnace connects us with our ancestors who—in late fall --brought their precious fires inside.

In the old house that I grew up in, late October began a battle against cold air. The simple comment, “I feel a draft” would send either parent scrambling. It seemed quite normal to see my mother or father rise from dinner table or living room couch in mid-conversation to perform what seemed a dance-like ritual in front of nearby doorjambs and window frames. They moved their hands slowly and rhythmically as if performing household Tai Chi, divining the path of escaping heat and exorcising drafts of cool air.

It was a seasonal campaign, and the old house usually won, but we gave good fight: Little rugs were pushed against every door sill and we even got out the caulking gun and sheets of plastic to seal offending windows. We were sealed in for the season. And what a season. As the furnace warms up, the schedule heats up. Our lives are the kindling being consumed.

Winters are long in the Northeast. As you turn on your furnace now you’ll be warm and very much at home. But home with whom? That is the interior question of the season. Who will you settle down with for the next four months? Is it someone whose company you enjoy? A companion you respect? Is there anything you need to change inside before the fire comes in?

The trees remind us. Change your colors and let old things drift away. This is the season with yourself. This is your one and precious life.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Feelings Ego and Shame

I’m changing jobs. This week the new person arrived who will take my place. She’s wonderful. I’m the one that chose her. But, alas, those reasonable facts did not save me from my baby ego. I was caught off guard by, yes, feelings. Yeah, hum along, “feeeelings, whoa, whoa, whoa feeeelings…”

All of a sudden I was feeling bad because of the comparisons I was making: the staff like her better, volunteers too and she’s smarter, nicer, knows a lot more, even prettier. (Hey, these are Junior High emotions so why not?)

But that’s not the worst of it. Yeah, all that baby girl ego, but the worst of it was that I thought I was alone. I thought that having these feelings was some weak part of me, some unsober part of me, some “What a failure in recovery” part of me.

So I began to, sort of, kind of, tell people what I was feeling and people I spoke to all said, “Oh yeah, of course, I totally get it”. And then they told me stories about their job change and all very similar feelings that they had. These were people in recovery and people NOT in recovery. Men, women, managers, teachers, CEO’s.

So it’s not the feelings; it’s the shame about the feelings. The worst of this was not that I felt sad and insecure and displaced but that I felt so much shame for having those feelings! It was the shame that was my undoing.

This is, I think, why it’s so important to tell someone—some safe person—what is going on in our heads. Because it turns out that human beings—very healthy human beings --have all of these feelings. But I am still learning that.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Hidden in a Bottle

Yesterday a friend spoke at the Saturday meeting. He’s been sober a long time and in recovery he learned to sail and bought a sail boat. His face fills with light when he says the word, “sailing”. He told the group that a couple of years ago, at a craft sale, he found a stained glass sun catcher that is a picture of a sailing boat inside a bottle. He hung this in his kitchen window and each morning, when he has his coffee, he is reminded that his love of sailing was hidden for years inside his bottles of booze.

It got me thinking:

What is trapped in my bottle? What is trapped in your bottle? What is trapped in your addiction? In your box of cookies? In your pill box? In your codependence? Is your artist trapped in your husband’s sock drawer? Is your love of dance trapped in your daughter’s struggles? Is your freedom trapped in your ex-wife’s new life? Is my next book trapped in my obsession with my boyfriend’s ex?

Picture that bottle—it could represent any addiction.--and even after years of recovery we still have something. What’s trapped in there? You may know or you may be in for a wonderful surprise when that bottle, box of candy or too long work schedule breaks open and spills its secret delights like a big piƱata.

Yes, there are painful things inside our addictions—stuff we don’t want to feel or think about or remember --but like the sailboat in a bottle we also have talents and treasures in there too. There are gifts hidden in our addictions that will light up our faces just like my friend’s face when he says the word, “sailing.”

Friday, October 01, 2010

October Begins

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have wakened to the fall;
Tomorrow s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Heart not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost
For the grapes sake along the wall.

-------------------------------------------------Robert Frost

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Creative Girls

Something that comes up after we have been in recovery for a while is our creative longings or aspirations. Maybe we always wanted to write a book—but instead we just bored everyone at the bar. Or maybe we kept buying art supplies and not using them, or we wanted to buy art supplies but we drank that money instead.

I think that under a lot of addiction there is art and creativity trying to surface but shoved back by substances and shame. But then, a few years into recovery, we take a baby step of telling a sponsor, “Well, I always wanted to write, dance, act, make jewelry, design my own sweaters or make sculpture.” We laugh when we say it, as if, “Isn’t that the dumbest thing?” but if we are lucky—and this is why we have them—our sponsor or other women in recovery say, “So try it.”

You know these stories from the rooms: The lawyer becomes a painter, the doctor starts dancing, the mom writes a memoir—and sells it. Part of our recovery from substance abuse also means recovering our dreams. For many of us doing something creative was a dream.

I’ve found a wonderful book to help recover and take action toward those dreams. I’m reading “Creative Girl: The Ultimate Guide for Turning Talent and Creativity into a Real Career.” This paperback/workbook is by Katharine Sise who is a jeweler, designer, fiction and nonfiction writer. She has lived the slog from secret wishes to trying several kinds of creative work to making it happen. And the best part: making it happen imperfectly!

This is not one of those “Do these three things and you can quit your job and dance with Alvin Ailey” kind of books. She talks about money and fear and holding a job to support your creative work, and fear, and starting, and starting over, and yeah, the fear --and the joy.

I don’t know this woman but she feels like someone I could have a cup of coffee with and be very comfortable talking about wanting to write and what gets in the way. This book has exercises to do—or not do. And great takeaways like the “ten minute rule”—if you are procrastinating on a creative task set a timer and just do it for ten minutes. (A common fear is getting started.)

Ours is a program of action and Sise’s book may be a helpful guide to taking a next creative step.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Concept Four is Participation

After my AA wake-up call this summer, I am continuing to learn about the Concepts that are part of our program. Listening to women who practice the Concepts as well as the Steps and Traditions has given me some new ideas about best practices in my daily life.

Concept Four is an example. It is about participation. In our organization it means everyone has an opportunity to participate and it asks that solutions can be arrived at by participation rather than rule or rote. I can practice Concept Four in my life by asking: Am I participating? Am I part of the solution—rather than the problem? Or rather than being a smarty-pants about any problem and going on about the right thing to do—am I doing what needs to be done? It also suggests that I can gain enhanced recovery by participating in meetings (raise my hand), participating in service (make coffee or at least help clean up), participating in 12 step work (this does slip away when we have been around a while).

The concept of participation applies in my family and relationship life as well. I find myself grumbling—to myself—that I want more romance. So am I participating in making that? Am I participating in stabilizing the family finances? Am I participating actively in making my relationship feel safe?

The wonder is that recovery keeps unfolding. Three months ago I knew nothing about the Concepts of AA and now I have new language and new ideas to help me become “Happy, Joyous and Free.”

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Diva in Recovery

I’m giving a retreat tonight on DIVA’s in recovery. At the Dominican Retreat Center in Niskayuna NY DIVA means “Divinely Inspired Victorious Alcoholics”.

This will be a chance for a group of recovering woman from AA, Al-anon and OA to meet and talk and think and write about our insides and our outsides and the feminine side of things in recovery.

It could seem a frivolous topic except that it’s not. We are in recovery because of the discontinuity of our insides and our outsides and because of the things that happened to us as girls and women. Is there a woman with no food, body or image issues? Do we bring them into recovery? Yes.

Here’s the shorthand version of how I see the before and after:

We cared too much about how we looked

We got drunk and looked like crap

We got into recovery and bought new clothes to look better

We gave it all up again trying to not care and wanting to be “better” than that.

Then we came back again to caring how we look—and how we feel.

As healthy women we can have a healthy relationship with how we look

It’s a cultural issue and an alcoholic issue.

The addict’s favorite word is “more”

More booze, more pills, more food, more exercise, more money, more shoes, more clothes.

When I believe that I’m enough then and only then will I have enough of anything.

It goes back and forth: we don’t think we are worth anything so we either: look like crap don’t take care of our bodies OR coming from the same place we do everything to our outsides--obsess about our weight, match our shoes to our undies and we match our barrettes to our bra. We fix our make up four times a day and we peek into every reflective surface because we are not sure we really exist. We fear that there is nothing of value inside.

That’s part of the path to growth and recovery for women: we learn to take care of ourselves or we learn to let go. Or both. The pendulum swings side to side, care too much, don’t care at all.

Some women find a middle and stay there. I had to find the middle by taking the wide and wild swings of the pendulum—going side to side and then trying to just slow down the pendulum so the outer edges are not so extreme.

We can be stylish and spiritual; chic and caring, selfless and selfish. We can be sober and be Diva’s in recovery.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What a Concept! The Learning Continues...

Learning continues well out of the woods. This summer, at the International Convention, I was introduced to AA’s Concepts. These were written in 1962 to guide the leadership and the AA organization. That makes sense. What I did not know is that some groups actually study the concepts (and the legacies) along with the Traditions. People in 12 step recovery find additional layers of personal growth and improved relationships—in all parts of their lives—from study of the Concepts. Who knew? Well, maybe you did. Now I am reminded that I have still more learning to keep me coming back.

Here is the short version of the Concepts. In future posts I’ll tell you what I am learning from women in other parts of the country who use these in their personal recovery.


1. Final responsibility and ultimate authority for A.A. world services should always reside in the collective conscience of our whole fellowship.

2. The General Service Conference of A.A. has become, for nearly every practical purpose, the active voice and the effective conscience of our whole Society in its world affairs.

3. To insure effective leadership, we should endow each element of A.A.—the Conference, the General Service Board and its service corporations, staffs, committees, and executives—with a traditional “Right of Decision.”

4. At all responsible levels, we ought to maintain a traditional “Right of Participation,” allowing a voting representation in reasonable proportion to the responsibility that each must discharge.

5. Throughout our structure, a traditional “Right of Appeal” ought to prevail, so that minority opinion will be heard and personal grievances receive careful consideration.

6. The Conference recognizes that the chief initiative and active responsibility in most world service matters should be exercised by trustee members of the Conference acting as the General Service Board.

7. The Charter and Bylaws of the General Service Board are legal instruments, empowering the trustees to manage and conduct world service affairs. The Conference Charter is not a legal document; it relies upon tradition and the A.A. purse for final effectiveness.

8. The trustees are the principal planners and administrators of overall policy and finance. They have custodial oversight of the separately incorporated and constantly active services, exercising this through their ability to elect all the directors of these entities.

9. Good service leadership at all levels is indispensable for our future functioning and safety. Primary world service leadership, once exercised by the founders, must necessarily be assumed by the trustees.

10. Every service responsibility should be matched by an equal service authority, with the scope of such authority well defined.

11. The trustees should always have the best possible committees, corporate service directors, executives, staffs, and consultants. Composition, qualifications, induction procedures, and rights and duties will always be matters of serious concern.

12. The Conference shall observe the spirit of A.A. tradition, taking care that it never becomes the seat of perilous wealth or power; that sufficient operating funds and reserve be its prudent financial principle; that it place none of its members in a position of unqualified authority over others; that it reach all important decisions by discussion, vote, and, whenever possible, by substantial unanimity; that its actions never be personally punitive nor an incitement to public controversy; that it never perform acts of government, and that, like the Society it serves, it will always remain democratic in thought and action.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Forgiveness is Letting Go of Hope

I’m reading and writing a lot about forgiveness this week. Eva Kor, a Holocaust survivor, will be visiting Albany next week and I had a chance to talk with her after viewing the documentary called, “Forgiving Dr. Mengele”. The film details Kor’s life as a survivor of the twin experiments by Mengele at Auschwitz. The story is her decision and process of forgiveness.

In AA we learn a lot about making amends and the downside of holding onto resentments and most of us try to let go of past grievances even as we hope to be forgiven for the things we did that surely make us real tests of forgiveness for others.

Here is just one of many great things I’ve read this week on the topic of forgiveness:

“Forgiveness is letting go of all hope for a better past.” --from novelist Gina Berriault.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Death Weeps

September 12 2001

Even the dead weep at a time like this.
All those on the other side, making preparations to welcome such a large group.
Death is going door to door in New York City walking past doormen, going up dark stairways, down halls and taking the train to Long Island and Connecticut and getting off at little Cheeveresque stations in the suburbs.
Death nears exhaustion, leaning in one more doorway, waiting for the buzzer to be answered. Hesitating, sighing, tired.
She has tears in her eyes as she visits another house, and another and another.
At night death goes down to the site and sits on the rubble wishing it wasn’t true.
Some of the dogs come and sniff at death, then back up and give her a funny look.
Even death is too tired to be moved.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Happy New Year!

The new year has never entered with champagne and icy roads, nor begun in silver lame and silly hats. Though you may have spent many a January saying new years words, you know as well as I that the real new year begins now, as it always has, the day after Labor Day. It does not matter that it is hot outside or that you are still putting on shorts when you come home from work. The new year begins as it did for 12 critical years. It begins with back to school.

And it does not matter how long it has been since you went to school, or if you have kids of your own going off to school. You know in your bones that the new year begins now. And how could it not? For 12 most important years you went off on that first Tuesday in September to try out the new identity you had forged over the summer. Was your look changed this year? Had you let your hair grow long? Or cut it short? Would they recognize you right away? Would everyone sense the new sophistication gained at summer camp in New Jersey, or two weeks visiting your sister in L.A.? Yeah, you were that same old kid when you left on the last day of school in June, but every year in the fall there was a new you and it debuted the day after Labor Day.

Every September you promised yourself you'd be more popular, more friendly, more outgoing. Or you promised you'd play around less, make new friends, hang out with the good kids.

If it was a year of changing schools then there was more newness and more opportunity to be a new you. That was the beauty of the beginning of September. Every single year you could return from summer and try out a new identity. You could be a scholar this year after a past as the class clown. Or you could be the friendly one after years as the grind and curve setter. The opportunity to redo your image came every year the day after Labor Day. And it still does.

January is not the right time for New Years resolutions. How could it be? You've been too busy with the holidays and it's cold and yucky out, and you are broke from gift giving. How are you really going to create a new body or mind or personality in the middle of all that?

September is the time to not only promise yourself a new exercise program, but to start it. It's still light after work and it's not cold in the morning. You really can go exercise. September is the time to start a diet that will stick. You are coming off a summer of fresh foods, and you are not bloated by 30 days of holiday treats and booze. As for a new look; who can afford one in January? You've worn your name off all your plastic just trying to get through the holidays.

No, the new look and image you have been promising yourself comes in September just as it did when you were a kid. Remember how it worked in Junior High? You decided to wear a tie and tweed because that summer you discovered poetry (or an older girl who liked poets). Or you promised yourself that you would set your hair in a smooth flip every morning to look like those girls in the magazines.

In September you could try out in public all those looks you had been practicing in the mirror behind your bedroom door.

So what if the good intentions only lasted a few weeks. Some part of it always stuck, some part of the new you was the real you and real change and that's how you moved on.

And you still can. The chnages happens now—today. Buy some new sox and a red plaid shirt. This is the time to be kinder, nicer, smarter, to listen more, eat less and to hang out with the good kids. The trees remind us how it's done; try some new colors, shed the old layers. It's September. Happy New Year!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Bread and Roses

"Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes. Hearts starve as well as bodies; Give us bread, but give us roses". — James Oppenheimer

In 1912, thousands of immigrant textile workers in Lawrence, Mass. went on strike protesting grim working conditions and a cut in their wages. The strikers, mostly women and girls, had a solidarity that crossed ethnic lines and that endured in the face of violence.

The writer James Oppenheimer was in Lawrence that winter and penned his famous “Bread and Roses” poem after seeing mill girls carrying a banner that read, “We want bread, and roses too.”

That well-worded demand still resonates. That our workplaces should allow for both good wages and a high quality of life is something we can thank the labor movement for.

For most of us Labor Day weekend signals the end of summer. Most see this holiday as a celebration of not working rather than a day to acknowledge the labor movement and its contributions.

It wasn’t always so. For a long time in this country Labor Day was passionate holiday, a day of speeches, rallies and remembrance.

Growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1950s, the city retained just enough civic and social memory to experience Labor Day as a sacred holiday. There were memories of lives lost in the plants and mines, and lives saved by safety rules and union working conditions. Labor history and its emotions are fully embedded in my family psyche.

My family never would have come to America if not for the steel strikes that lured starving Polish workers to industrial cities with promises of jobs, food, survival. But the jobs they came to take were other men’s jobs, other immigrants who beat them here by a few years and who were striking the mills.

My Pittsburgh family was in Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville. Five brothers and one sister. There was no need to talk about a “work ethic”. My father went to work at 14, his brothers at 14, 15, even Joe, the “baby” was working and putting his earnings on the kitchen table to support the family. These uncles were such hard working men. It was fear and survival and a crazy hope that their own kids would get high school diplomas and maybe—crazy idea—some college—so they would not have to do the physical work their fathers did.

The eastern European immigrants arrived as strike breakers and they were despised. Yet they wanted exactly what men carrying the placards wanted: enough for their families. Later, after joining the union, they took their turn carrying signs, walking the line and paying their dues. I remember this. The whispers about meetings and strikes and yes, more fear. My father, his brothers, neighbor men. Scab was a really, really dirty word even though I didn’t know what it meant apart from skinned knees.

But that sense too that the union was a brotherhood. That I understood. I had all these uncles and two brothers of my own. When they were not beating me up they were protecting me. So maybe my child’s eye view of Labor’s brotherhood wasn’t so far off. My older sisters married men in unions: painter and teacher. Oh, Pittsburgh’s first teachers strike. The craziness, the debate and again, the fear.

I saw what the union did and what it meant: protection, benefits, work, paychecks. That small pile of money on the kitchen table lasted a little longer. We could—mostly—pay the bills.

But now we ask: Has organized labor gone too far at this point? Cost us too much?

Those arguments can be made. We all know of some ridiculous demand or workplace practice allowed only because of the union, but let’s remember the benefits that accrue to all of us because of the labor movement.

Even in non-union workplaces, the standard in the United States is five eight-hour work days per week. And, yes, it is a bumper sticker, but it’s also true: American labor brought us the weekend. A six and-a-half day workweek was the schedule for a long time.

In addition we can thank organized labor for rest rooms and smoke breaks and clean places to eat lunch. It won safety laws, paid vacations, sick leave, pension and insurance plans, policies and procedures that most of us take for granted.

The labor movement also brought us social reforms, such as child-labor regulation, advocacy for free public education and the concept of equal pay for equal work — that was part of the National Labor platform in 1868. We enjoy these gifts whether or not we belong to a union.

But one of the biggest contributions from organized labor that we don’t appreciate, because it’s so very close to us, is our middle class way of life. In large measure, organized labor’s efforts over decades established the American middle class. Decent wages and job security allowed workers to buy homes and cars and send their kids to college, which fueled our economy and what we now so easily disdain as middle-class life.

So this weekend, while you celebrate a day dedicated to working people by taking an extra day off, please take a moment to thank those girls in Lawrence, Mass., and even Jimmy Hoffa for a working life that includes both bread and roses.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

The Other Program

Here is one of those changes that happen when recovery becomes “out of the woods”: Many of us go to --or go back to –AlAnon.

It’s a funny thing about recovery in AA. In the early days we have to learn to be less selfish. We learn to actually consider the impact of our behavior on other people. We laugh at the Big Book story of the man who comes out of the storm cellar, surveys all the damage of his disease and declares, “Look Ma, ain’t it grand the wind stopped blowing.” We laugh. Oh yeah, no one—especially those near and dear-- is applauding that we simply stopped drinking.

So we learn to listen, to consider the needs of others, to compromise.

But then if we keep at our recovery, we reach a point where we actually have to learn to be selfish again. You may hate that word and prefer “self-caring”, but really, it’s selfish and it’s a good thing. It’s almost like we have to go back over the old ground again and say, “So what do I want?” And, “What do I need—even if it makes someone else unhappy?”

And when we find that is hard to do or when we or someone near us—like a sponsor—notices that we are not putting our needs first—we are invited—or sent—to an AlAnon meeting.

Rules for beginners are the same: try six meetings, raise your hand and claim your seat, listen to the people with experience, read the literature and even do service. It’s hard to be a beginner again, but the payoff is that there is a real multiplier effect from working both programs.

It really is the best of both worlds: care for self and care for others. Detaching with love. Continuing to grow. One day at a time.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Tiny Choices Big Life

“True life is lived when tiny choices are made”, Leo Tolstoy believed. I know this is my writing life, do one page, try one new thing, sometimes just open a new document or save a new file and the story, essay or book is begun. I know this from early recovery too: one call, one prayer, one meeting, all those scary baby steps add up.

But now again, tiny choices, baby steps toward the life I want. I want to feel more free so no makeup today or let the bed go unmade, or leave a dish in the sink. Harder still, go for a walk –a short one not a long one—sit down and read five pages of the novel I’m enjoying instead of making that important call.

For so long we learned to put others first and do the right thing one tiny step at a time. And now we have to learn—many of us—to reverse that—to put ourselves—so uncomfortable!--first one tiny step at a time.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Secret of AA: The article on AA from Wired Magazine

You may have heard the buzz in meetings about this article in July WIRED Magazine. In case you missed reading the whole thing--and you have to read all of it, here is the link:

Secret of AA: After 75 Years, We Don’t Know How It Works

Friday, August 27, 2010

Progress Not Perfection ...

So here is another way of saying what I wrote about yesterday. Perhaps better in the inimitable language of the AA rooms:

“Just because the monkey is off your back doesn’t mean the circus has left town.”

Thursday, August 26, 2010

More Happiness

I’ve had wonderful things happening in my life recently. A wedding. A trip to Paris. But even with that I’m confronted with myself and the sure knowledge that recovery is “progress not perfection.”

I found myself –in the midst of these good things--stoking an old resentment and contemplating schemes to make another person miserable. “Just a tiny tweak”, I told myself. “Just a teensy jab in her direction?”

And then it hit me. Good stuff was happening in my life: Love. Happiness. Sobriety. And then this thought:

“My happiness is not contingent on other people’s unhappiness.”

And even then I had to pray to be better than my own thoughts, to be bigger and better than I may really be.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Dogs, Drugs and Doing Good

Here is an excerpt from a news story from Santa Fe, New Mexico. I’ve known Chris for years and I’m celebrating her appointment to the National Advisory Council on Substance Abuse. Sober 25 years Chris is clearly “out of the woods” but still and always able to tell a story on herself. You just have to love dog people and addicts!

“Chris Wendel hasn't touched a drop of liquor or smoked dope or snorted cocaine or "tripped" in 25 years. Instead she has made it her mission to help others who are still struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. "My passion is my sobriety and other people's sobriety," Wendel said. "That is my passion."

As chairwoman of the state Behavioral Health Planning Council, Wendel has spent the past three years organizing and directing the group of consumers, family members, advocates and providers who advise the state Behavioral Health Collaborative on how best to spend millions of dollars worth of federal grant money earmarked to address Behavioral Health issues in New Mexico. Soon, she'll have even wider influence. She was chosen to sit on the advisory council for the national Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.

Wendel feels her experience as an ex-addict is one of her greatest qualifications for the work the she does.

When Wendel's dog had surgery a while back, the vet prescribed a narcotic similar to Valium for the dog. Wendel said she immediately started calculating her weight compared to the weight of her dog and figured she could probably "get off" by taking four times the dose prescribed for her pet.

"I'm 25-years sober and I'm thinking about stealing meds from my dog," Wendel said. "My first reaction to every situation will always be that of an addict. But now I wait for the second reaction."

Monday, August 16, 2010

Two roads diverged...

And you will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the path. Walk ye in it.”

---------Isaiah 30:21 The King James Bible

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Learning about Happiness

One of the things we learn from the Big Book and our founder’s history is the warning that alcoholics—let’s say addicts of all kinds—are often guilty of “Contempt prior to investigation.” I stumble over this defect all the time.

Most recently it involves happiness. I have seen the book, “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin on the best-seller list and I saw the book again and again in my favorite bookstore. It was even selected as a “staff pick” by some pretty savvy readers. But, I thought I knew better.

After all, this woman was a blogger. Uh huh. And she was on Oprah. Now there’s a curse. And the book is about happiness of all things. Really.

But one day, not long ago, I picked up the book and started to read and found myself reading and learning and laughing. I got a copy from the library but then realized that I wanted to scribble all over the book—a sure sign for me that I am loving a book. So I bought a copy.

And guess what? It’s really, really good. Almost like a Big Book for people who don’t need AA but who want to change their thinking, attitudes, behaviors and relationships. And it’s fun and insightful and warm.

So much for what I think I know. Now I’m glad that I read “The Happiness Project. Live and learn. And get happy.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Dear Mind: Shush!

A big event this weekend and my mind has been yakking at me. The progress part is that I have been talking back and saying, “Dear mind, Shush!” I have to talk to myself like I talk to a baby: “It’s OK; it’s all OK; everything’s gonna be OK.” (cue Bob Marley in the background)

I don't like the old-time AA idea that our minds are our enemy or that my mind is out to get me. But there are times that I have to remind my mind that I am not 9 years old, that it can take a rest from trying to protect me from EVERYTHING, and that I will notice trouble without my head constantly alerting me to possible dangers.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Working the Steps?

Today’s meeting was about the steps. Surprising sometimes that in all of this AA-ing and meetings we forget that it is about these 12 steps. We say we “do” them, and we “work” them and we have instructions—sort of—in the Big Book.

But what has been your experience of working the steps? Did you do them once? Is it ongoing? Are you of the school that says we do Step One once? Or every day? And how about Step Four? I’ve done several 4th step inventories but some people say you do Step Four once and Ten through Twelve after that to keep things in line and sober.

And from this far out—or into the woods- what do you now say to newcomers who ask when they should start working the steps?

Sunday, August 08, 2010

What's my Business?

I’ve heard in Alanon that “What other people think of me is none of my business”. But I’m also learning that what I think of other people is also none of my business. Their lives and their behavior are their business.

What this leaves me with is keeping the focus on myself.

What a concept.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Happy, Joyous and Free

We are told that the gift of recovery is that we will become happy, joyous and free. Freedom we know: freedom from hangovers and sickness and obsession and shame. Freedom from fear. And happiness yes. Not all the time. We do not stop being human; and life happens to us as it does to everyone else. So happiness is not a constant even though periods of happiness will increase the longer we are active in recovery.

But Joy is something else. One of the best things I learned about Joy is this:

“Joy comes from my relationship with God.  So I can be Joyous even when I am not happy.”

As we daily pursue a connection with our Higher Power we can be happy, joyous and free. This is why recovery continues even after our last drink was many years ago.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

If My Husband Ever...

“If my husband ever…”. Yes, with each round of celebrity infidelity we engage in the age-old game of, “If my husband ever…”. At 56, I’ve played this many times at lunch tables and water coolers and sitting on the floor in a girl friend’s living room. But at 56 I’ve also taken enough early morning phone calls from friends and sponsees to know that even if you think you know what you’d do if you discovered a partner’s infidelity, you don’t.

Some leave at once, some never leave, some forgive, some don’t. Sometimes the ones that forgive stay but sometimes leaving is the route to forgiveness. Most chilling, I think, are those that never leave, never separate and never forgive. They keep up appearances—maybe are even envied by others for their perfect marriages which are glued together with hatred and spite.

The agony of infidelity does not discriminate. There is enough to go around. I’ve played all the parts: scorned wife, secret lover, other woman—and the friend who knew. There are no winners. No one has more or less pain.

Now, a new novel comes pretty close to accurately depicting each of those points of view. It’s a great read and even better as a book on CD to listen to in the car or at the beach.

If you have ever said, “I’d never” to any part of the extramarital triangle take a look at: “Heart of the Matter” by Emily Giffen.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

It's Not About Who You Are

Here is one more delightful bit of wisdom I brought home from the International Conference in San Antonio:

A woman shared the guidance from her sponsor when she was a newcomer and starting to work the steps:

“You don’t need to spend any time finding out who you really are. We’re gonna take away all the things that you are not and who you are will show up.”

Monday, July 26, 2010

Recovery When Life is Really Hard

Over the last year my good friend Meg has written a book about her life in the year after the death of her daughter Maggie. Meg’s book, “Standing at the Edge” has just been published. It is a stunning book about death and life and grief and recovery. It is a day book—a small gemlike entry each day—the end result showing us what 12 step recovery is like and how it works in the trenches. How a woman lives her recovery in the face of the hardest things we have to live thru sober, abstinent, clean and one day at a time.
Below is a snippet from January 12 called Letting Go:

“I rarely have trouble sleeping, but when I do lie awake in the darkest and coldest hours, it takes awhile for me to realize that I am holding on, keeping my body tight against the pain of grief. I don’t know what this resistance to the mourning is about, whether it is instinct to avoid pain or some habit of my upbringing or personality. Nonetheless, it never fails that when I relax and let go, give myself to the great powers that are carrying me, and soften to the loss, then I am comforted and I can fall asleep. This has been the greatest lesson I have had to learn and relearn in my long recovery through the twelve steps: that I can let go and trust a power greater than myself.”

“Standing at the Edge” by Meg Tipper is available on Amazon.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

July 22 Mary Magdalene Day

Now here is a feast day in the Roman Catholic Church that sober women can celebrate. She was a real woman and she appears in stories in the New Testament Gospels. The good news is that Mary Mag was the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus, one of his first and most ardent followers and it was she who brought the news of the Resurrection to the Apostles.

But here is more interesting news about Mary Magdalene. Most scholars agree that she is the same Mary that used her wealth to support Jesus mission and teaching and she most likely is the same woman that Jesus healed by casting out seven demons.

It’s not a far stretch to understand “demons” as addictions and what it is like when one day we have them and the next day we don’t. Sober women can imagine this woman, like us, so grateful for the person who carried a message of healing and grace to her.

You can read more about this amazing Jewish woman who became part of the Christian story through her healing and then by her service in the book, “Alone of All Her Sex” by the historian Marina Warner.

But think about this: She had seven “demons” or “devils” or “infirmities” and a miracle happened. In a life of long sobriety we each have at least that many that need healing. I have alcohol, drugs, food, work, shopping, relationships and my thinking. How happy I am to have a program that can “cast these out” of me.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Uncomfortable Feelings

Today I’m remembering something that my first sponsor used to say to me when I would tell her how hard it was to go through my day with all kinds of uncomfortable feelings coursing through me.

She’d say, “Yes, those are very uncomfortable feelings, and they are simply that:

Feelings, and uncomfortable.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Temp for God

(This entry is back by popular request. Many readers asked for this again for themselves and for friends).

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 through busy times. I noticed that most of the temps were pleasant, hard working and 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 and that 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 mugs that say: Temp for God.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Baseball, Recovery and Spiritual Life

The first thing I learned about baseball is this: If you raise your hand a man will bring you food. I learned this at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, and in my first year as a fan I spent most of the game facing the wrong way. Raise my hand, get ice cream, raise my hand, get popcorn, raise my hand, get peanuts. It was 1958.

Two years later I understood baseball was a game. On summer afternoons I’d beg my brothers to take me with them to the ball park. I was falling in love with baseball.

If baseball has taken hold of you too, you know it’s about more than your team winning. Sports, like religion, and like AA, offers consolations: A diversion from our daily routine, heroic examples to admire and emulate and a sense of drama and conflict in which nobody dies.

John Gregory Dunne wrote that, “Baseball is the couch on which we examine our psyches”. George Will said, “Baseball is the universe”. And catcher Wes Westrum said, “Baseball is like church, many attend but few understand.”

We have these sayings and many more because baseball is one of the greatest sources of metaphor in American life. And understanding metaphor is important because having and using metaphor is what allows us to talk about intangibles like spiritual life.

The historian, E.H. Gombrich, wrote, “Every culture has its favored sources of metaphor which facilitate communication among its members. Any cultures religion is what provides the central area of metaphor. The Olympus or Heaven of any nation will offer language and symbols of power and compassion, of good and evil, of menace and of consolation”.

Americans live so far inside the institution of baseball and so deeply in its metaphors that sometimes we can’t even see it. You may say you’re not a sports fan, but have you ever said: “She’s always in there pitching”. “You can’t even get to first base with him.” He’s out in left field.” “She was born with two strikes against her.” We talk baseball all day long.

Bart Giamatti, former President of Yale and former Commissioner of Baseball said, “Baseball has no clock and indeed moves counterclockwise, so anxious is it to establish its own rhythms independent of clock time.”

Baseball is one of the few sports that remain timeless. A game can be fast or slow. In this one area of our lives the clock isn’t driving; we surrender the clock to the event. But there is something else in this game that asserts the primordial and the spiritual: In baseball we begin and end at home. Home plate is not fourth base. The goal of the game is to get home and to be safe.

That is what we want. When we come to AA people say, “I felt safe and I was at home”. Home implies safety, accessibility, freedom, comfort. Home is where we learn to be both with others and separate. That’s what baseball players are: individual athletes with distinct areas of responsibility but also and always a team. Kind of like a home group.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Sweet Moment in San Antonio

For the four days of the convention we—along with 50,000 others-- wore our green lanyard nametags at all times. It was fun to look at the tags to see first names and home towns, Albany, Phoenix, Paris, Beirut etc.

On our last night in San Antonio we decided to go out for a really nice dinner. We picked a restaurant on the River Walk and made a reservation. When we arrived for dinner we were welcomed and assigned a waiter. As the waiter began to lead us to our table the maitre d’ stepped over to our waiter and discreetly said, “No, our guests with the name tags do not get the wine list”, as he took the leather volume from the waiter.

It was misguided, but well-intentioned, and very sweet.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Paradox of Time or One Day at a Time Maybe

In San Antonio I saw 50,000 AA members play out one of our major paradoxes. As AA members counted down their years of sobriety we cheered like mad for the man with one day and the woman with three weeks. Then when the old timers stood up we screamed again.

We do this in our home groups too. We are thrilled for the person with 24 hours, five days or one month. We say, “All that any of us has is today”, and “The person who got up earliest today has the most sobriety.” Then we brag that our sponsor has 28 years or that our sponsor’s sponsor has 35.

A contradiction? A paradox? I think the reason we are in awe of old timers is that we know that if they have been sober that long then it has to be true that they have been through it all: love, loss, illness, death, success, failure, more success, more failure, new love and more heartbreak—and they stayed sober through those things that we desire and fear.

And that is what we want for ourselves—one day at a time.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

An Intimate Gathering of 50,000

So “Why?” I’ve been asked, “Would you go to Texas in the summer to spend five days with 50,000 people?”

Simple answer: Because they are 50,000 sober people.

Better answer: Because with 20-plus years of sobriety I can sometimes begin to think I know some stuff; I can sometimes feel like a senior member of my group; I can smile knowingly at newcomers and I can forget that I am just at the beginning of making a sober and sane life.

But in San Antonio I was a baby again. Yes there were folks there with one year or maybe 5 five years but the typical attendee had 10 to 20 years of recovery. The speakers had 18, 28, 38 and 52 years of sobriety. One evening five speakers each had more than 40 years. Folks with that kind of history have been sober long enough to change careers several times, have more than one marriage or divorce or death –in sobriety. They have seen AA change and they have changed. They have had many sponsors and home groups and sponsees and worked the steps a variety of ways and their immersion and transformation shows.

Being with those folks doesn’t make me more sober or make time move faster but it is a powerful reminder that there are lots of people who still have what I want and it makes me recommit to this life out of the woods.

Monday, July 05, 2010

San Antonio and Back

I am back from San Antonio and the 2010 International Convention of Alcoholics Anonymous. I went prepared for masses of people and extreme heat and good AA, and I got good AA, very decent weather—high’s in the 80s thanks to hurricane Alex which cooled things down and masses of wonderful sober people. The convention was so extraordinarily well planned, managed and produced that I am now a San Antonio fan!

The unofficial count of participants at the convention was 52,000 to 54,000 people. Fifty countries were represented. The count is unofficial because it includes AA members, Al-Anon and Alateen members, and family and friends of 12-step folks. Still this is under the all time high of 55,000 people who came together in Toronto in 2005.

So, yes, AA people everywhere. Hotels, restaurants, tourist sites, on the River Walk, at plays and concerts and uh huh, in meetings. And on buses. The transportation alone was a stunning achievement. We never waited more than three minutes for a ride. And San Antonio is such a great walking city that we walked to and from the convention center, Alamodome, restaurants, museums and markets.

I heard great things in the marathon meetings and in the special topic conferences and wonderful things on the bus, at dinner and just eavesdropping—one of my favorite hobbies. With 50,000 sober people around you just hear amazing things all day long and I noted how many of them included, “And then my sponsor told me…”

In the next few days I’ll include some of my highlights here but let me offer you this right now. If you have never been to an AA International Convention do consider attending one. They are every five years so there is plenty of time to plan and to save up. It is not expensive: there are great hotel and airfare deals and AA makes sure there are options for every budget. When a host city agrees to entertain upwards of 50,000 people there are great prices and services.

The next convention is 2015 and it will be in Atlanta Georgia. June 30 to July 4. Mark your calendar and make a plan with your AA friends. Yeah, we do this thing one day at a time but on the side?-- I’m planning to be sober and in Atlanta in 2015.

Monday, June 28, 2010

San Antonio

Friends, I’m getting on an airplane Wednesday morning and flying to San Antonio. I’m excited. I’ve never been one for family reunions but this feels like a big one.

The 2010 International Convention begins June 30th in San Antonio Texas. Sober people ranging from 24hours to 40-plus years take over the city for four days. Meetings around the clock in every language, outdoor dances and parties, AA politics, sub-group interests, and specialty meetings for everyone sliced as finely as possible. I’m looking forward to the meetings for writers and artists and for those who are using new technology as part of sobriety and advocacy. And I’ll be looking to connect with more women who are “out of the woods” with ten-plus years.

But most of all I’m excited about the nighttime meetings when 30,000 sober people fill the Alamodome to hear great speakers, to recite the steps together and just to look around and see what I big—really big—family we are part of.

PS. If you are going to the International Convention please leave a comment here so we can connect in Texas.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Don't Put Your Life on Hold

This is one I have to learn over and over again: don’t put my life on hold. Most of the time I can catch myself doing this in the big ways: “I’ll be happy when I get that job” or “My life will begin when he loves me”.

But there are smaller ways too: “I’ll be OK if I go to that workshop” or “If I can get my hair color right, then I’ll feel pulled together.”

The clue that I am “living on hold” that I have to listen for in myself is: “When I get or do (blank) then I’ll be or feel (blank).”

Probably the only exception is: “When I take an antibiotic, then I’ll feel better”. Otherwise I’m living on hold or waiting for something outside of me to make me happy.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Isn’t it easy to see what other people should do? What they should change in themselves. The fights they should give up on. The people they should stop fighting or the relationship they should leave. We can see the career they should pursue and even the ways they should wear their hair or edit their wardrobe.

But what about me? What about us?

Some days I catch myself when I am thinking, “Doesn’t she know?” and “Doesn’t he get it?” and I remind myself: There is something just a startling and just as clear to others about me: Things –for today-I just simply do not see.

On those days I can give other people and myself a little tiny break.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Forgiving Dad

In the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson wrote, “Resentment is the number one offender.” To those outside the program this might seem a bit of a surprise. You might expect the founder of AA to say that booze or too much drinking was the big problem. But no, Bill W. wrote: “From resentment flows all forms of spiritual disease.

Most of us know that, but it’s hard to get unstuck when a good, juicy resentment takes hold of you, so I like this pithier saying: “Holding a resentment is like setting yourself on fire and hoping the other person dies of smoke inhalation.”

Resentment as a topic on Father’s Day? But of course!

All of us had fathers. And with today’s social changes---divorce and remarriage-- some of us have two or more, so there’s plenty of fuel for those fires. Our parents disappoint us and we, in our turn, disappoint our children. In some families the injuries are bad: fathers may abuse, abandon, deprive or neglect. What do you do when you smell the smoke?

The antidote to resentment is, of course, forgiveness. Surely there will be a forgiveness story  on the Hallmark Channel today. But life is not a made-for-TV movie so how do you save yourself from the heat of resentment?

I had to extinguish a fiery resentment that I carried for years about my Father. When I was young my Dad worked many hours, travelled a lot, left his kids with a woman who was ill and then he died young. I had a big box of matches and I struck them all over myself. I had this idea that I just didn’t get what I needed from my father. More than one therapist agreed that my “issues” did indeed come from that deprivation. That intellectual understanding helped me to a certain degree but it also functioned as dry tinder for my favorite fire.

Then a few years ago on a Matt Talbot retreat I was telling my story and the retreat leader gave me a surprising bit of redirection. I was talking about how my Dad had maybe given me maybe 40% of what I needed as a kid and, well, poor me and bad him. “Well, yes,” the retreat leader said, “He may have only given you 40% percent of what you needed but what if 40% was all he had?” (He was after all a man whose parents died when he was young, he had grown up in poverty and he’d never been given a minute of emotional resource he could rely on). “So, she continued, “When your Dad gave you that 40% he was really giving you 100% of what he had.”

It was like a bucket of cold water poured on my head.

To forgive does not mean to pardon, it means to let go. When Jesus said, “Forgive them for they know not what they do"< he was using his language, Aramaic, and he used the word "shaw" for forgive; shaw means “to untie”.

So if you have tied yourself down or you have set yourself on fire with victim-approved matches --untie yourself . Forgiveness makes a great Father’s day gift; You give it to yourself.

Friday, June 18, 2010


I learned something about anxiety yesterday. It seems like a duh, and not terribly new but it got through to me in a way nothing had before. Here is what I heard:

“Anxiety is an overestimation of possible danger and an underestimation of your resources to cope with it.”

Of course, right? I have some kind of trigger: an interaction, a piece of mail, could even be a look on someone’s face. Then my little brain goes to work and starts telling me: “This is bad, this is gonna be trouble sister, big trouble.” And my not so helpful internal response is: “Dam right and you are too small, uninformed, not smart enough; we’re gonna drown!”

This idea about anxiety being an overestimation of possible danger and an underestimation of personal resources comes from cognitive behavioral theory. So, yes, it makes sense then that you have to do some reality testing on the danger and some fast reminders to self on the “I do have resources part”.

But here’s what hit me: In our 12-step world this is about Step Two and Three as well.

If I believe in a God that loves me am I in real danger? And do I have the necessary resources? Maybe yes, maybe no, if I’m just relying on me. But if I believe in a Higher Power I can change the question to ask: Does He/She have the resources to help me?

Well, duh.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Say YES! Today

Today is Bloomsday. In James Joyce novel “Ulysses” he commemorates the single day –June 16th—when his famous everyman character, Leopold Bloom, journeys through Dublin. It’s a long and complicated novel that more people pretend to have read than actually read. But it is Molly Bloom who wins us over with:

“Yes” she said, “Yes, I will, Yes.”

Joyce wrote that “Yes is a female word and the end to all resistance”.

Maybe for us yes is a female word and the beginning to all acceptance.

Can you say yes to your life today?

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

It's Our Birthday!

June 10, 1935
Bill Wilson and Dr Bob Smith.
The great success of our program founded on the simple principle: “You can’t do it alone.”
Make a wish.  Have a cupcake.
Happy Birthday AA.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Blow Out a Light Bulb

“Reasoning with an addict is like trying to blow out a light bulb.”

That gem is from Anne Lamott’s new book, “Imperfect Birds”. We loved Anne’s “Bird by Bird” for writing advice, and her early book, “Operating Instructions” may be the best gift for a new or prospective parent. This new book, “Imperfect Birds” is about teens and parents and addiction and denial. Lots of good Lamott lines with just a teeny hint of preachy teaching. But this line is one of her gems: “Reasoning with an addict is like trying to blow out a light bulb.”

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Making Amends in Baseball

Did you watch baseball last night? Did you see the end of the almost perfect game? We changed channels to be there, to see the moment, to witness baseball history. What we saw instead was heartbreak but also baseball history.

Tiger’s pitcher Armando Galarraga threw a perfect 8 and 2/3 innings. On the last ball the hitter makes contact and runs but Galarraga takes the ball to first and tags him out. The whoops begin but are cut short by the almost instant safe call by umpire Jim Joyce.

Shock everywhere. TV viewers could see it was out but the umpire called safe. Game over. Perfect game squelched. I rolled on the floor in pain. Sympathy. Empathy. Seeing something taken away unfairly.

That’s the part so many can relate too. Galarraga pitched a perfect baseball game and it was taken away from him by human error. It was unfair.

But get this. Jim Joyce did look stricken as he left the field. Then saw the instant replay in the clubhouse and came back to apologize to the manager and Galarraga. He named his error. He was remorseful. (I wouldn’t be in that guys belly for anything this morning.)

No, it doesn’t fix it. Jim Joyce is now a fatal baseball story and Armando Galarraga is now the answer to a baseball trivia question. Making amends doesn’t change what happened. It changes us.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Wisdom Tradition of AA

I’ve been in AA a long time. I’ve been to meetings in many places in and out of the US. I’ve read the history books and heard fabulous “old timer” stories. I love the conventions and the regional “round-ups”.

But it was only this past weekend, talking to a Buddhist friend, that I got a new understanding about AA and how it works: AA is a wisdom tradition.

Yes, a wisdom tradition like Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, or other religions. Yes, I know “AA is not a religion, not a religion, absolutely not ever a religion.” Got it. But AA does have two important characteristics that define a wisdom tradition: Lineage and Transmission.

Lineage: these are the “begats”, if you will. Ebby Thacher begat Bill Wilson who begat Dr. Bob Smith, who begat the Akron Ohio group and from them there became the first 12, then the first 30, then they wrote the book and the traditions.

Transmission: Even though we have books and even The Big Book--AA is an oral tradition. We gather in groups on a regular basis and tell the stories. We tell our individual stories in a prescribed fashion: What it was like; what happened and what it’s like now. And somewhere in most AA groups or in the regional or national conferences we are also told --or are telling --the lineage story. We are taught the history. We revere (even though were not supposed to) those who knew Bill or Bob or Ebby or Lois.

We even bring transmission to the very personal level. We get a sponsor who tells us how they did the steps and how they work the program. From our sponsors we learn how to be sponsors and we teach newer members the wisdom that was passed on to us.

We get sober --and if we do the work and accept the teachings—we also can get wise.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Lean Into It

Yesterday I had the opportunity (Another growth opportunity!) to practice the idea of going toward what troubles you. This is a lesson I seem to learn, forget, learn again and forget again over and over in my recovery.

When someone bugs you go toward them. Do not avoid them or pull away but go toward that person and lean into the uncomfortable experience.

I’ve used this lesson well in the work place many times. The coworker that I “hate”, the boss that scares me, the volunteer I wish would disappear. At first I try to avoid them, hide, and limit exposure to these folks— all the while building a case in my head and sharing my brilliance with anyone who will listen to my judgments and my certain rightness.

But if the feelings persist I finally remember that my work is not to stand back from these people but rather to lean into them and go toward what troubles me.

Last night I almost skipped an event because I didn’t want to be around a woman who bugs me—her demeanor stirs my blood in unattractive ways. But luckily a recovery friend said, “No I think you should go to the party and go right up to her and see what happens.”

And I did. Not happily. Not comfortably. But with some prayers and with the mantra, “Go toward her”. And in the course of the evening I saw a fuller picture and got a deeper sense of the issues underneath. (Mine and maybe even hers.)

No, she is not my new friend. And no, I don’t suddenly like her. But today I am not obsessing about, worrying over or envying this chick at all.

Relief and peace because I leaned in, and I went toward her.

Friday, May 28, 2010

ACOA Management Training

Or why growing up in an alcoholic home prepares you for success:

First it makes us what therapists call “high screeners”. It’s kind of an evolutionary adaptation. Kids in alcoholic families can hear what’s happening two houses away. At work this means we don't have to leave our desks to hear coworkers grumbling or gossiping.

It also means we have powerful intuition. In fact it’s our survival screening again: we have learned to read the slightest shift in a facial expression. We can read subliminal expressions which are the tiny, almost minute, changes to a person’s face that occur before they are able to naturally adapt to a socially acceptable expression. That’s how we know someone is angry even when they insist in a terribly professional voice that, “No, I’m not angry at all, just concerned.” (Research has shown that those expressions are on one’s face for less than a tenth of a second so only a highly trained psychologist, interrogator, psychic or ACOA can read them.)

In addition to faces we read mood, tone of voice, body language and changes to patterns as if our life depended on it. (Because of course, our young lives did depend on it.)

For managers, team leaders, and especially people in sales, this is a  gift.

Another gift from the alcoholic home is our corresponding attention to detail. We’re great proof readers, designers, event coordinators, and sales people. Yes, basically perfectionists. A big plus and minus there. We can tell the difference between Newport Blue and Marine Blue in 10-point type and when told that you need six identical packets for a proposal, they are identical!

This characteristic can also doom one’s career if taken too far. Years ago I worked for a manager who terrorized her staff with requirements to iron out creases in paper table cloths and who nightly drove around the building to ensure that the window blinds –in all 26 offices—were pulled to an exact (not off by a half inch, dam it!) center mark so that the building had a “pleasing symmetry” to any passerby. I was not surprised to learn that both of her parents “drank too much.”

There are more skills that we gained in our alcoholic homes. We'll figure these out. In the meantime this can be the start of another gratitude list for the circumstances that gave us these skills and for the subsequent recovery program that kept them from ruining us as well.

How about in your life? What are some work or business skills you gained as a result of a difficult start in life? What qualities that were once part of the problem are now part of your success?