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.