Saturday, December 31, 2011

A New Calendar

The new year begins with a new calendar in my closet. This is in addition to the fabulous and previously mentioned Letts of London daybook. This smaller, pretty calendar in my closet is where I note my exercise each day--I started this happy ritual a few years ago--not as punishment but as  encouragement, and that has remained. I take a long time to find one that makes me smile each morning. I hung up my calendar an hour ago and I love the blank pages and crisp feel of the paper--all newness, all potential, all blank space ahead of me, a year of blank pages to fill with recovery.

Tonight I'll speak at the local Alkathon meeting. I'm beginning my new year intention to be more active in my AA community. In a meeting this morning I heard a woman say, "I take myself less seriously but I take my recovery very seriously." I'm ready to live that too.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

What am I Without That?

Here's something I found in one of my journals. Maybe a good think to prepare to make New Year's goals or  intentions:

If you are afraid of losing a relationship, a job, a house etc. ask yourself:

What am I without that?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Thomas Merton after Christmas

The day after Christmas and all through the house—profound gratitude.  Christmas and Hanukah are over. Gifts are opened, exclaimed over, exchanged and worn. Thank you notes to be written. Some I’ll mail but the biggest thank you’s I have this year are for recovery, the 12 steps, all 12-step programs, my dear friends, great therapist, fabulous sponsor, self-help books (always my cognitive life raft) and God. Thank you for recovery, change, self-awareness and the sometimes fast, sometimes slow, willingness to change.
Here is a gift.
 This prayer was written by Thomas Merton as he struggled with many things—including God—in his life
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that, if I do this, you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadows of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Good Holiday Advice

One of my favorite meeting topics is “holiday advice for staying sober”. I have found great gems in the “what-to-do” and “what-not-to-do” at holiday time.
Some favorites:
Keep your keys in your hand: a basic of early recovery. It reminds you that you can leave anytime you get uncomfortable.
Don’t park in the driveway: I learned this one in Alanon and it applies to any recovery.  Have an exit plan. Be sure you can get out if you need to.  Excuse yourself and go take a short drive; volunteer to run to the store for the extra half & half.
Don’t sit your drink down. Know your drink so you don’t accidentally pick up someone else’s. Drink Coke or Cranberry juice or orange pop so you can identify your drink. If you do leave the table and come back and there is a drink there—go get a fresh one.
Ask what’s in it: Especially desserts but other food too. I have seen rum in the mashed yams and cognac on the roast beef. With desserts be very specific, “Is there any alcohol in this?” Lots of cooks think alcohol is cooked off by baking—and especially in early recovery—you don’t even want to have the taste or smell even if it did cook down.
Double-check the box of chocolates. Especially if it’s the higher end gourmet or artisan chocolates. Lots have booze or booze flavor.
And one I just heard last week:
Don’t make amends or try to heal a relationship at holiday time. Yes, we are all feeling sentimental and want that longed for good family. But if your impulse and feeling about mending a relationship is genuine and true you can wait ten days.
What is the best advice you have received for recovery at the holidays?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


The fellowship of AA is part of the practice; we join with others to heal and change and practice our new beliefs and behaviors. But the bonus and the real joy in a sober life is friendship. To have sober women friends is the most wonderful thing.

Last night I sat at supper with four other sober women—not talking step work or program literature, but talking recovery in our lives as it applies to husbands, boyfriends, mothers, family, dating, shopping, shoes and work—and yeah, food. We laughed, cried, gave advice, solicited opinions, recommended stores and made connections.

To an onlooker we were a bunch of women out on a school night—but to share all those parts of my life with women with whom I also share affection and recovery—Oh what a lucky woman I am!

Saturday, December 17, 2011


In the Big Book we read that alcoholics are “restless, irritable and discontent”. We use that phrase back at ourselves sometimes in a bashing way—as if it is something we have to get over or fix.

I know that we, as drinkers and recovering drinkers, have done a bit of damage to others and to ourselves thrashing about in our restlessness, fussing in our irritability and with a glass-half-empty discontentedness. But I’m thinking that there is another way to look at this.

What if being restless is part of being human? You know that saying, “We are not human beings living a spiritual life but spiritual beings trying to live a human life.” There is something to that.

Saint Augustine wrote, “You made us for yourself Oh Lord, and we are restless until we rest in you.” The antidote to our restless discontent is not therapy or grim self-discipline it is God. That is what our 12 steps are for—not to cure drinking but to bring us to a spiritual awakening—to help us find a God or Higher Power or an energy bigger than us so that we can, in fact, rest.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Make Your List Twice

I got a great piece of planning advice a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been trying it. When I do I’m much happier. It goes like this:

Make your to-do list (I’ve always made lists and they help to a degree but…)

Then think about the priorities in your life (What is it you really want?)

Then given those goals and desires, re-order your list with your priorities at the top.

I always end up moving my prayer and meditation to the top of my list, and things related to recovery, and then writing goals, things that make my marriage better and then, the laundry, groceries, and when I can catch myself, the “people-pleasing” chores later. Sometimes it’s hard to discern what is for me and what is for others—I love sending clippings for example—but if I keep asking, “Does this move my goals forward?” I can keep items on the list but not at the top.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Today is Emily Dickinson's birthday. How will you celebrate: Wear white? Stay home? Write a poem? Good idea. Pine for unrequited love? No. Here is Emily's more eloquent version of, "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair"

Heart, we will forget him!
You and I, to-night!
You may forget the warmth he gave,
I will forget the light.

When you have done, pray tell me,
That I my thoughts may dim;
Haste! lest while you're lagging,
I may remember him!

Monday, December 05, 2011

Ah Ha! Humility

I have been having the most ego-ish couple of days. Fear and ego and “Do they like me?” “Am I good?” and “Do they think this of me or that of me?” Exhausting. The dog of my mind is yap yap yap. I know better, but when have we ever been saved by intellect?

The bad news: this feels like my newcomer brain. The good news: I have tools. The better news: I finally remembered to use them :)

I prayed, wrote in my journal, wrote to my sponsor, read some literature and walked really fast for 30 minutes. (Move a muscle--change a thought.)

It didn’t change right away—in fact it’s still nudging at me this minute. But when I sat to meditate I started to pray that my insecurity be replaced by confidence but then a wonderful thought came, “No what you need to pray for is humility, “Please replace my insecurity with humility.” Ahhhh, that’s it.

“Humility is perpetual quietness of the heart”. Dr. Bob said that. Humility is being right-sized—not good or bad, but one among many. ahhhhhhh…….

Friday, December 02, 2011

I Think I Can

I’m getting ready to present a workshop for family caregivers on “Finding a Spiritual Center” and so I am going thru many files and all my library of spiritual books for ideas and exercises. I came across a very old book that, on reflection, must have been my first self-help and spiritual book "The Little Engine That Could” by Watty Piper.

I had that book as a very little girl, and the version that I had first came with a 45rpm (remember those?) record that played the story as you read the book). I was five years old when I first became attracted to the little engine that didn’t have enough power—or belief—on its own but then learned the mantra—and cognitive practice—of saying “I think I can; I think I can.”

It was all there then.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Surrender the Person

Here is a useful prayer for the post-Thanksgiving week. I learned this from Marianne Williamson who writes about practical applications of The Course in Miracles. One of my favorite quotes from  Williamson is a perfect reminder of our Step Three: “What is placed on the alter is altered.”

Here’s the format of her surrender prayer:

“Dear God, I am (mad, sad, upset, hurt about…) this person (name names). I place everything that happened, all that I fear might happen, this person, all of these people, and all of my feelings about this in your hands. Please help me to see if differently. Amen.”

Repeat as often as needed.

It’s not a prayer for magic or a prayer to make anyone right or wrong. It’s spiritual first-aid, “Take this.” And it is a prayer that I will be changed and that my perspective be altered.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Getting Ready for Thanksgiving

Even though it’s been years since I had Thanksgiving with my own family I still get nervous as this holiday approaches. When I was growing up November always brought a wave of panic. My mother wanted the house to be nicer than it was, so each year we were subjected to a frenzy of last minute decorating on a shoestring.

One year she bought cases of caulking compound to remedy the drafty chill. We had that caulking goop for years and in the summer we used the guns to play Combat. Another year she decided to make over the master bedroom. Her plan was to “tent” the bed in yards of gauzy fabric. But my mother didn’t know how to sew; she could picture the end result but not how to get there. We had that fabric for years. I made togas for Latin class, we wrapped gifts in it, and ten years later, when my niece got married, we made shower decorations with the last of our pastel yard goods.

While my mother was decorating, my father cooked. He would stay up all night tending the bird. On Thanksgiving morning he the scent of baking pies was added to the aroma of roasting turkey, and that would combine with the odors of Spic & Span and dusting spray, as my mother furiously cleaned.

Tension ran high. We were shouted into baths and clean clothes. When the doorbell rang at noon, we smelled, and looked good.

Aunt Junie always arrived first and brought her own pies. Yes, she knew my father was making the dessert--he did every year--but every year she brought her own pies and acted surprised. What can I say? She was his older sister. Sibling stuff doesn’t go away, it just gets played out in new ways.

Next was Aunt Martha, who pinched us –hard –on the cheek. We’d whine to our mother, and be told, “Be nice to her, she doesn’t have any children”, as if that explained why she’d want to torture someone else’s. Then there was Uncle Elmer who had one eye that drifted to the side and a big warty growth on his cheek. We perfected air kissing to deal with holiday hellos.

Soon the house would be filled with people. The cousins went straight to chasing and teasing each other. We saw then, but only knew later, the significance of each cousin’s ways: The one who always stood back to watch is now the writer; the cousin who schmoozed with the adults became a politician, and the one who happily ran to get refills for the grown-ups--finishing off their drinks enroute—is now a speaker on the recovery circuit.

Of course we didn’t see the adult side of things. I didn’t know about the barbs my mother got about our old house from the Aunt who “married better”. I didn’t know that this pain was the fuel to my mother’s annual decorating frenzy. I also didn’t know until later that the men sitting around the kitchen table were zinging their own darts at my Dad. He was the only one who had finished school and moved “upstairs” in the plant. Now I see why he had to excuse himself so often to “check on the turkey”.

Most of our families have a version of these scenes. On Thanksgiving we’ll be humming, “We gather together….”, but mothers will sigh over daughter’s hair, the childless will offer parenting advice, and the uncle who has plenty will tell those who have none how they should invest their money. Old wounds will be given a good jab intentionally or not.

We come to this meal each year hoping for the holiday we remember from childhood, the one with laughter and fun. So if the tension rises in your dining room on Thanksgiving just consider it a warm up for the December holidays to come, and like a warning shot fired over our feelings, let’s remember to be gentle with and grateful for the people we sit down with.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Self-Care, Again

Today’s lesson: self-care. Why do I fight it? Someone pointed out that fighting self-care is paradoxically, a form of narcissism. “I should not be tired, ill, under the weather” etc. This should not be happening to me. But it is. Fighting self-care is also arrogant. “I’m too busy and important for this.” Ah, well.

Here I am with a cold, cough, tickle and sniffles. It simply is.

Acceptance. Surrender. Vitamins, hot lemon water, football, girly magazines: self-care.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Out of the Woods--Stories on CD

This week I am listening to a wonderful CD of AA “old-timers” stories. The folks telling their stories feel like true friends on this journey. Here are people with 20, 25, 30 and 40 years of recovery and the growth keeps on coming—but with the new twists that we talk about at “Out of the Woods”.

Some of the AA members telling their experiences with long recovery talk about being an old-timer and sometimes feeling left out in AA; of their need to talk to other people who have ten or 20 years of recovery; of the ways they apply 12 step principles to new situations and different addictions as life changes; how old-timers (in natal years and recovery years) can help younger members and a crucial story about depression and treatment in long sobriety.

Listening to this CD reminded me that we can keep growing even after we have memorized every word of conference-approved literature, and that life gets richer as those messages get deeply embedded in our thinking.

This CD is called: “A Lifetime of AA”. Copyright 2007 and available at

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lessons from Management

Our management team at my job has been talking about how we work together. As part of that conversation a colleague sent this quote. I just loved it. Here is a business writer using language and ideas that feel so familiar. I just had to share this:

In life, the issue is not control but dynamic connectedness. I want to act from that knowledge. I want to move into a universe I trust so much that I give up playing God. I want to stop holding things together. I want to experience such safety that the concept of 'allowing' - trusting that the appropriate forms can emerge - ceases to be scary. I want to surrender my care of the universe and become a participating member, with everyone I work with, in an organization that moves gracefully with its environment, trusting in the unfolding dance of order.”

----Margaret Wheatley
Leadership and the New Science

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Be Still: A Practice

I’m making a commitment to daily meditation, and I’ve begun to go through the resources I’ve saved for years. Here is a meditation practice that I learned years ago on a Matt Talbot retreat in Massachusetts. I like this one because it has a beginning, middle and an end, and I can make it short or long by adjusting the intervals.

It works like this: Read or say each line and pause for a brief interval allowing those words to sink in. (You can sit with each line for 30 seconds, or one minute, or three minutes depending on the time you have.) Here are the lines:

Be still and know that I am God.

(pause and sit)

Be still and know that I am.

(pause and sit)

Be still and know.

(pause and sit)

Be Still.

(pause and sit)


Friday, November 11, 2011


In a recent meeting we talked about “Half measures availed us nothing” and I remember, with gratitude, my willingness and desperation to do what I was told in early recovery. Ninety meetings in 90 days; a sponsor, step meetings, a food plan, calling a sponsor every day, service work, changing people, places and things. I didn’t question, I acted. And 25 years later those are habits.

But I have my current version of half measures. Meditation. I have books, videos and CD’s. I have been on meditation retreats and taken workshops and I know the brain chemistry of meditation practice. But I don’t meditate on a daily basis. And I want to.

I still have the faulty belief—not conscious maybe but still…that I can substitute knowledge for experience, knowing for doing. Not.

Yesterday reading some materials to prepare for a spirituality workshop that I am leading I saw this over and over: every religion has a recommended practice that basically says, “Sit down. Shut up.”


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Two Parts of Life--and Recovery

Nikos Kazantzakis, philosopher and writer (He wrote “Zorba the Greek”) said, “In the first half of life we fight the devil; in the second half of life we fight God.” He was saying that in our growing up and in young adulthood we are learning what not to do and about right and wrong, But in the second half of life—in maturity and in our aging into death --we let go of rules and surrender to what is bigger and unknowable.

The first half of life is about discipline and self control and managing yourself. But the second half of life is about giving up control; it is about surrender. That, of course, is much harder.

I was chewing on these ideas today and I realized that there is a parallel for us in recovery. In the first period of recovery (as we go into the woods) we fight the devils: alcohol, substances, addiction, impulse, weakness, and our “character defects”. We learn self control and self management and discipline—what many of us did not learn earlier. We learn the disciplines of AA to give our lives structure. And in later recovery (maybe the “out of the woods” period) we seek God even more than abstinence, and having some structure then from living a 12 step life—we then live sober not to follow rules but as surrender. We go from the known and dictated and externally imposed toward what is greater than us and what is completely unknown. Hence faith.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Why Mommy Won't Let You Sip from her Water Bottle

There is a great article in the October issue of Redbook Magazine about Mommy Drinkers and drinking mommy bloggers.

It makes sense, yes, that interventions will be facilitated by new technology and that the safety and anonymity of blogs will help more people to read about and identify all kinds of issues and solutions. So this article talks about the increasing number of young Moms who are drinking to excess but also are being reached by recovering Moms who blog about parenting and their drinking.

From the article: “An estimated 5.3 million women in the United States have risky drinking habits, and it’s estimated that one in four children has an alcoholic parent.”

Many of these drinking Moms are the ones who look good on the outside—middle class lives, supportive husbands, chic jeans and boots at the morning drop-off, interesting jobs, and successful blogs.

Definitely check out the article: “Mommy is an Alcoholic” at (click on the link below) or in the real magazine pages 203 to 208. (I still love the real thing and turning pages.) And also take a look at the blogs: One Crafty Mother and The Extraordinary Ordinary.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Chonological Cure

We know what a “geographical cure” is. It’s when we imagine that when we move to another place we will be a different person. It’s evident in thinking that goes like this: “I’ll always be on time at my new job” or “I’d be civic-minded in a small town.” or “I won’t be depressed in Denver” or “When we move to our new house I’ll be organized and keep the house clean.” Before recovery we might have tried a geographic cure that included, “I’ll stop binging or drinking or using or needing him—when I move to the new city.”

And then, as the joke goes, “I moved to the new city, and a few weeks later, I showed up”.

Yep, I’ve had my share of geographic cures. And the same me always showed up. But this week I realized that I still have a version of that thinking well into recovery. But now it’s my “Chronologic Cure”.

I have been putting events and projects in my new (Letts of London, 35x, leather) 2012 calendar. And today when I recorded plans for two long distance trips in the same month I realized that I was still fantasizing that a new me that will show up later. I was picturing myself as a calm, happy, go-with-the-flow, write-on-the-road, get-everything-done-with-ease kind of gal. Now, I do get a huge amount done in any week but not without cost to self and loved ones nearby. But here I am jamming an international conference, two presentations, writing deadlines and a recovery workshop over a six week period.

We do change and grow in recovery –but that would require a radical personality make-over.

Yes, it is the allure of a new calendar and a new year. All those clean, blank pages. (In the Letts those blank pages are the creamiest paper). But look at that illusion that I will be so changed in 60 days. No, not even 90. A year from now? OK, I’ll be different but still me.

But there in my new calendar is the evidence of the “ism” that we speak of. Long past taking a drink my thinking remains that of a woman who can imagine herself completely transformed by an occasion or an experience or a dress or a new calendar. That’s my “chronologic cure”.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Short Version

I ate, I drank, I shopped, I “dated”, I worried, obsessed and I began to recover. All the addictions were and are about not feeling; trying to fill that hole inside. And what is that? I think it’s this:

Someone, somewhere, a long time ago wounded me. The fear it left in me remains as anxiety and a desire to seek and then control love, and as a blind spot to the love that is all around me.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Day of the Dead

I do love Halloween but my real holiday begins tomorrow. On November 1st 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. October 31st is a fun time to see little ones dressed up and yes to the candy but being scared of goblins 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 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 brothers 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 they died several years ago my feeling about my brothers is that I have misplaced them; 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 them.

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 on Tuesday night 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?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Hymn of Gratitude for Recovery

For more than 25 years, always alone in my car—blasting the radio, tape or CD-- I have sung a hymn of gratitude for my recovery. It goes like this:

Your love, is lifting me higher
Than I've ever been lifted before
So keep it up--
quench my desire,
And I'll be at your side, forever more.

You know it’s your love that keeps lifting me
So keep on lifting me Higher and Higher
Yes your love keeps lifting me
So keep on lifting me
Higher and higher.

Now once, I was downhearted
Disappointment was my closest friend
But then you came, and it soon departed
And he never
Showed his face again.

And your love keeps lifting me Higher
So keep on lifting me higher and higher

I'm so glad, I've finally found you
Now a one-in-a-million girl
And I whip my loving arms around you
And I can stand up, and face the world.

The original lyrics were by songwriters Jason and Miner. First performed by Jackie Wilson and later, a second platinum record, when performed by Rita Coolidge.

What is your recovery song?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Temp for God

Here is a spiritual strategy that I learn, practice and then forget and then, like this week, remember and start practicing again. When I do remember to do this my work days are so much better.

This started when I was working in an organization that hired temps to get through the busy times. I noticed that most of the temps we hired 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. 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?”

The temp agencies always seemed to send us mugs as a thank you gift. So maybe I need to get a mug for my desk that says, Temp for God.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Grief and Grievances

I found this wonderful and provocative idea in David Richo’s book, “How to be an Adult.”

In writing about grief and responding to losses of all kinds he says: “Betrayal, abandonment, rejection, disappointment and humiliation are not feelings but beliefs. Each of these judgments keeps us caught in our story. Each is a subtle form of blame. Each coddles and justifies our bruised ego. Each distracts us from the true feelings of grief. Grievances dislocate grief work. Anger without blame completes it.”

Here is the cognitive approach again. Beliefs not feelings. We have a choice. Yeah, simple not easy.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Time Management

For years I have bought, read and tried every new time management system. Day Runner, Day Planner, Franklin Covey, FiloFax, and Letts of London--just because they are so beautiful. I make lists--my lists have lists. My Post-Its are color coded. I do laundry during TV and text at the hairdresser. But even after years of recovery I have a knot in my stomache about how much I want to do and how much is undone.

Yesterday it hit me. There is a time managment "system" I have not really tried: The 12 Steps of AA.

Think about it; it's all there. Powerlessness, acceptance, and humility. What can one person do in 24 hours. The arrogance of beliving I can do more. The dishonesty of believing I can fit more in a day, an hour or a minute than will fit. And the cruelty of pushing myself and shaming myself for all that is undone.

Where is the faith in a Higher Power? Where is belief that I am doing God's work--in God's time? And where is peace?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Prayer by Marie Howe

Every day I want to speak with you. And every day something more important
calls for my attention—the drugstore, the beauty products, the luggage
I need to buy for the trip.
Even now I can hardly sit here
among the falling piles of paper and clothing, the garbage trucks outside
already screeching and banging.
The mystics say you are as close as my own breath.
Why do I flee from you?
My days and nights pour through me like complaints
and become a story I forgot to tell.
Help me. Even as I write these words I am planning
to rise from the chair as soon as I finish this sentence.

                                                     ----Marie Howe, from “The Kingdom of Ordinary Time”

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Bosses Day

Today is National Bosses Day. This week we’ll see articles on “The Worst Bosses” and radio shows will invite callers to tell tales about their bad bosses.

I’ve been working since I was 15 so I’ve had a boss every day for 43 years. For most of my career I’ve been blessed with amazing bosses who showed me how to be a good leader. They forgave me, gave me second and third chances, and offered me opportunities to try things I was not qualified to do but that I grew to learn and love.

For the last 30 years I’ve been a boss and I borrow from those good bosses. Along the way though, I’ve had some bad ones--men and women who made the workplace scary and uncomfortable-- but they taught me too. They are my “Don’t” examples.

There was one who didn’t speak to anyone before noon; one who said, “You’re stupid” to anyone in front of everyone, and one who put on her make-up in staff meetings. On my best days I aspire to be like “M” who taught me to, “Remove fear from the workplace” and on my not so good days I try not to be like “D” who drove around the building at the end of the day to make sure that all of the window shades were within a quarter inch of the sill.

But while we’ll laugh about the “Can you believe it?” bad bosses on Bosses Day, what we are quiet about is being a bad boss. You rarely see the articles in which bosses tell about the times that they blew it. And anyone who’s ever been a boss has blown it more than once. The truth is that if you’ve been a boss (committee chair, troop leader, coach, supervisor,) you did some things that were not so great or you did something that you later realized was bad boss behavior.

At some point in our lives each of us occupies a leadership role and when we blow it our mistakes are only magnified by our level of authority. I say “when” and not “if” because it turns out that we are painfully, excruciatingly human. Leadership is too complex for perfection. The best you can pray for is feedback, self-awareness and willingness to change.

Over the years I got a lot of mileage out of the story about the boss who was obsessed with window shades, but recently when I saw myself rearranging another person’s work, I thought, “There it is, my version of window shades”; it was the same naked impulse to control.

Leadership is about courage so here’s a challenge for Bosses Day: don’t talk about the worst boss you ever had, instead talk about your worst day as a boss. No one is exempt. Even Steve Jobs was bad. The recent stories about him tell how he screamed expletives at employees and humiliated subordinates. Yeah, it’s APPLE, but that’s still bad boss behavior.

It is about finding a middle ground. I cringe about the times that I cared too much about someone’s personal life and about the times when I didn’t care enough. Our best learning doesn’t come from what someone else does, but rather from what we do—even if we’re not yet able to change it.

So now, on most days, I say to myself, “Life is too short and karma too real; just don’t be the crazy boss.”

Friday, October 14, 2011

Out of the Woods

When I was newly sober the old-timers in my Baltimore home group would say I should not be impatient with my recovery because, “It takes three to 5 years to get out of the woods.” Of course, like many, I thought five years was forever.

Later, near the five-year mark, I realized that it took just that long to get into the woods and to make a real dent in changing my thinking and behavior. I remember when I celebrated my five year anniversary I joked that I had by that time come to in the woods and I was just beginning to identify the plants and creatures that made up the true nature of my character defects, other subtle addictions, and just plan bad habits.

At the five to seven year phase I began to really understand that recovery is a life long process, that there would be no prizes other than a decent life and wonderful community and so I could stop trying to get an “A” in AA.

Of course that meant more changes to my program, like trying a different kind of sponsorship, taking advantage of outside help, and looking at my work and health and family as part of my deeper recovery issues.

By year ten I began to actually have the life that I had dreamed of in the early years. But I also saw that there were fewer and fewer people in the rooms who shared my number of years. At first I felt bad, and I said, as many do, “Where are the old timers?” “Where are the people with ten or more years?” In Baltimore where I got sober it was common to run into people with 15 years or more than 20 years but there was definitely a gap in the ten to 15 year range. What was going on?

When we ask: “Where are the people with ten or more years?” The answer is: They are living sober lives, with new careers, working in their community, often in new relationships and sometimes with new families. We have added the PTA and the Rotary and new children to lives that were once filled with two meetings a day, making coffee and sponsorship. At ten years sober alcoholics start to have what many of us wanted and failed at miserably when we were drinking. It is this very new life, the one I acknowledge with tears of gratitude, which takes me away from AA the way I used to be part of it. Managing the gifts of recovery is part of coming out of the woods.

Yes, it is a paradox, and a subject worthy of sober reflection. We need people with more than ten years to show up at meetings so newcomers can have their power of example, and because no one it automatically “fixed” AA remains a lifetime process. But it is also a time worthy of celebration as sober people are well enough and committed enough to take what they have learned in the rooms and practice that in the world outside AA.

The truth is that there really is a time of coming “out of the woods”, and often this happens as we reach double-digit sobriety. It’s an important time, and one that deserves care and attention. Just like adolescents who have to leave the nest and test their wings we still need a place to recover and to celebrate being in the world with relationships and careers and community service. But we also need to find ways to maintain our commitment and membership in AA and to still make our contribution there, though sometimes in new ways.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Anniversary Gifts

Do you buy yourself a gift for your AA anniversary? People celebrate anniversaries in different ways and I love to give myself a gift.

I know one fellow in Baltimore who puts a dollar in his top drawer each time he attends an AA meeting and on his anniversary he counts his money and buys a new golf club or luxury gadget. Another woman I knew early on bought herself a piece of good jewelry for each anniversary that ended in a 5 or a zero. Another woman I know loves boots so her anniversary gift has become a splurge pair—“these boots are made for walking—and recovery.” Another wonderful gift I hear folks giving to themselves is an AA or spiritual retreat—an AA conference or weekend at a place like Kripalu or Omega.

Twenty years ago I bought a scarf for an anniversary and that became my annual gift. I have some beauties. Sometimes the scarf fits the theme of my year—when I did a lot of ACOA work around mother issues I bought a scarf with a mother’s day theme, and the year that most of my growth came from loss I bought a scarf with autumn leaves falling from blackened trees. The scarf from year ten is pink with silver keys—my reminder that I have the “keys to the kingdom”. But my favorite, I think, is rose colored with an image of a ship in a bottle—my reminder of where I was once trapped and how I sailed free.

Many of us also give gifts on our anniversaries—especially a “birthday” gift to a local Intergroup or AA World Service. We know that service is gratitude in action. And sometimes gratitude is gratitude in action too.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Out of the Woods and Into More Feelings

As I approach my anniversary I’m thinking about why I started this blog and this book. When I was ten years sober I realized that there were some things that were different or new in the ways I lived my sober life. When I talked with other women who had ten-plus years, I heard similar observations and questions.

For most of us the raw pain of early days was past but new kinds of pain or “strong emotion” emerged. When alcohol was put down and step work was moving along we began to see the other ways that we tried to stop feeling. Most of us had done at least one version of transferring addictions. Food, shopping, relationships, work, sugar, worry, exercise, TV, and on and on.

So this week it hit me –as I lived through some yucky feelings of jealousy, resentment and shame—that in some ways recovery gets harder. There are fewer “medicators” or distractions. More self-awareness means there is a shorter period of time in which I can indulge in a belief that “they” are my problem. In our early recovery days we heard about how uncomfortable it is to have “A head full of AA and a belly full of beer”. Ditto that with having a head full of AA and a heart full of resentment. You don’t even get to indulge in the fun part before the AA head says, “Uh huh, and your part is…?” Or “Oh might this be a projection?” Or “How nice of you who claims to be a spiritual person.”. Yes, yuck.

And while I don’t think to have a drink I might think a new sweater, some candy or another workshop will fix me up, but then I remember that I know the false solution each of those represents and “Sit still and Feel” becomes the only possible—uncomfortable—solution.

I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m grateful beyond belief for these years of sober life but sometimes I want some polka dot band-aids and red licorice and the cashmere comfort of unawareness.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Jealousy is a Gold Mine

Jealousy is one of the oldest and icky-est emotions, and it is linked to shame so it has real sticking power. What I find interesting is that it’s one of the hardest emotions to talk about in recovery because we, sober people, shame each other for feeling it. In 12 step programs and even in therapy we may hear how wrong jealousy is—and yet—here it is.

But as I was feeling some of this green icky stuff this week I dipped back into a rare and provocative resource.

My tutor is French analyst Marcianne Blevis and her book “Jealousy: True stories of Love’s Favorite Decoy.” She makes the powerful case that jealousy exists to help us and to free us. Yes, I know it never feels anything like that, does it? She’s onto something though.

Look at this thing she says: “Jealousy is a response to anxiety. (Jealousy is not the anxiety but a response to a preexisting anxiety”). She writes that the anxiety arose early in our lives: “If an impulse in childhood is struck down by a prohibition, it transforms itself into a terror and anguish” Ok, that makes sense: I will be jealous of one whom I perceive to be the thing I was never allowed to be. But then she says this: “Jealousy not only tangles our memories, but also puts us in contact with those unconscious forces of childhood that are struggling to free themselves from the realm of the incommunicable.” Jealousy is actually the route out of childhood anguish.

So when we shove away or shame away the jealous feelings we are cutting off a life preserver and tossing it back to the one trying to rescue us.

Blevis insists that jealousy is not bad no matter how bad it feels. It is built in as a gift to save us. It is as if it is the antidote that is taped to the side of the poison bottle. It comes to free us and give back to us the thing that was prohibited in our early lives, the thing we transformed into terror long before we had words.

Here’s a simple way to get at this in yourself: What were you not allowed to do that you did naturally and freely as a child? What did your mother or father prohibit? What were you shamed for as a kid? Was there something you did or liked to do for which affection or love was withdrawn? This will show up in your jealousy targets as an adult. For many women it has something to do with bodies, sexuality, attractiveness --and creativity--which is why we get confused as adults when we think our jealousy is about another woman’s attractiveness it’s actually about our own—and its repression.

There is freedom here –in the jealousy—for the taking. But it means not shaming ourselves for feeling jealous—but rather relishing it and mining those jealous feelings for the gold buried there.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Act as If--Again

It’s so frequently said, so obvious and so proven. But sometimes so hard to do.

Aristotle said, “We acquire virtues by first having put them into action.” A whole bunch of years later Timothy Wilson at the Universality of Virginia said, “One of the most enduring lessons of social psychology is that behavior change precedes changes in attitude and feelings.”

Note to me: Stop waiting to feel like it. Don’t wait to feel like writing; don’t wait to feel like doing yoga, meditating or dancing. And most of all: Don’t wait to feel loving;

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Are the Dead Anonymous?

Last week a friend died who was a member of a 12 step program. He was so scrupulous about his anonymity. He never broke it in any setting. Even if he knew that you were in a 12 step program, he kept mum. Even if someone hinted, suggested or dropped suggestive language into a conversation as we sometimes do…(you know, the “One day at a time”, or “Live and let live” slogans we might say fishing to see if another person says, “Oh, friend of Bill?”). Nope, not even then. He didn’t bite or wink or hint.

And now he has died and in meetings his full name is announced, his memorial service and obituary are referenced.

Do the dead have the right to their anonymity? Do we have the right to break it? I know this is tricky territory—friends are sad, grieving, wanting to show their caring. We know the rules of breaking anonymity outside of meetings, but what about in them?

What do you think?

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Keep Out

I have never found anything in a man’s  wallet,  dresser,  glove compartment  or medicine cabinet that made me happy.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


"Shyness is not so much a wish not to be seen as a wish to be appluaded on sight."

                                                                         --Stephen Tennant

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Go to Target

I was reading the novel, “Love in Midair” by Kim Wright and came across this passage that made me laugh out loud. Maybe you too?

“I go to Target. I get a toaster, can opener, muffin tin, three towels, three wash cloths, a bath mat, that cheap knockoff Tupperware stuff, two wine glasses and sox. You can love one man and leave another and love a man and still leave him and leave a man without ever loving him, you can fuck everybody you meet or live like a nun and in the end you still wind up at Target.”

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Make the Language Work for You

Every day I say--actually read-- the Third Step Prayer and the Seventh Step Prayer. As often as I can remember, I try to really hear the words I'm saying and not allow the rote familiarity to let me skim over the meaning. When I slow myself down and think about the words I can ask myself, "Do you mean this today?" And mostly I do or I  can pray about that too.

Years ago a sponsor showed me a word change she made that worked for her, and I have incorporated that. In the Third Step Prayer wherever it says "Thee" or "Thou" I say "you"and "Thy" becomes "your" my version of the prayer reads like this:

"God, I offer myself to you--to build with me and do with me as you will...Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do your will....Your power, Your love and Your way of life." That subtle shift makes the prayer true to me and helps me to better hear what I am saying.

Yesterday another friend gave me another shift to use in the Seventh Step Prayer that makes it more personal and more real in each day. Her suggestion is to make this addition/substitution:

Where it says, "I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character..." she suggested saying or thinking --kind of in parentheses--the actual defect that's on top of your list.

It makes the prayer go like this:

"My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character--(like my gossiping and my need to be in control) which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and to my fellows. Grant me strength as I go out from here to do your bidding. Amen"

In these ways I make these prayers very personal and relevant.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Women Writing

“If a woman writes about herself, she’s a narcissist.
If a man does the same, he’s describing the human condition.”

                                                                    --Curtis Sittenfeld

Friday, September 23, 2011

Live in the Present

How many different ways can it be said? Here is a beautiful version by Blaise Pascal:

“We never keep to the present. We recall the past; we anticipate the future as if we found it too slow in coming and were trying to hurry it up, or we recall the past as if to stay its too rapid flight. We are so unwise that we wander about in times that do not belong to us, and do not think of the only one that does; so vain that we dream of times that are not and blindly flee the only one that is. The fact is that the present usually hurts.”

--Blaise Pascal, Pensees (#47)

Monday, September 19, 2011

To Buy or Not to Buy...that IS the question

When we are traversing these woods of recovery we often circle around to earlier issues or slowly sift thru other behaviors and find more subtle addictive behaviors underneath. For many “Out of the Woods” travelers we come again to look at our relationship behaviors—that is at the heart isn’t it? And we also begin to look at the addictions of daily life: food, work and money.

I’m reading the book, “To Buy or Not to Buy” written by April Lane Benson, a psychologist specializing in the treatment of compulsive shopping. Yeah, I want to stop right there. “Who me?” but Yes.

For some people compulsive shopping is a primary addiction and for others it’s secondary—our drug or alcohol problem was first or more blatant and shopping too much or “retail therapy” gets a wink and a laugh. Until it doesn’t.

Here is one of the eye openers for me from Benson’s book: The shades and variations of compulsive shopping support its denial much the same way that variations may have kept us in denial about our drinking.

Compulsive shopping can look like any of these:

Daily over shopper; occasional shopper but binge when you do; a collector (often a male form of over shopping); shopping excessively for others; compulsive gift giver; buying multiple versions of the same thing; relentlessly hunting for bargains; constantly buy and return (like binge and purge); constant searching at flea market, garage sale or thrift shop.

You might think, “Well, that kind of covers everybody.” But remember back to when you assumed that everybody drank and then in early recovery you realized that a lot of people didn't? Similar deal. Dam.

Check out Benson’s website where you can read more about this and even take a little quiz. Yeah, fun, right?

Saturday, September 17, 2011


One of my favorite recovery speakers is Bob Earle from New Mexico and one of my favorite Bob Earle stories is the Eskimo story. Earle tells this story when he talks about how he came to find AA and how we might come to find God.

 It goes like this:

There are two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the men is very religious and the other man is an atheist.
Eventually the conversation turns to God and the atheist says to the devout man, “Look, it’s not like I don’t have actual reasons for not believing in God—I even experimented with the whole God-prayer thing. Just last month, I was far out on the tundra and I got trapped in a big blizzard. I could not see a thing and I was so lost. And so I tried God. I got on my knees and I prayed, “God, if there is a God, I’m going to die out here, please help me get back to camp.”
So in the bar, the religious man looks at the atheist and says, “Well for heaven’s sake, you must believe; here you are! You’re alive!”
But the atheist rolls his eyes at the religious man and sighs and says, “No man, all that happened was that some Eskimos came along and showed me the way back to camp.”

If we are in recovery we have certainly met some Eskimos. The tricky part is after we are in recovery for a bit, and we are trying to change our lives, we are not always sure when we are meeting another Eskimo.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Steps 6 & 7

I keep coming back to read “Drop the Rock” again. Steps Six and Seven. Today I read, “God can’t remove our defects of character if we keep practicing them.”

Oh, I hate that. It means I can’t keep saying, “I’ll just finish up this last bag of candy or finish these cookies someone gave me.” I won’t gossip any more—right after I tell this one story.” “I’ll be brave or surrendered very soon, but this thing I’m facing today, that’s scary.”

I have to get it through my head that God is helping me and willing to remove these but the big cartoon hand is not going to come from the sky and snatch the bag of licorice from me or swoosh me out of the store where I'm contemplating just one more pair of shoes. I mean, if I just get this pair then I’ll have all the shoes I need—until I see the newest, latest, most chic….

“Stop practicing them.” It’s that easy and that hard. And why I need to keep talking.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Wishing My Life Away

I never thought I was one to wish my life away. I remind myself to “be in this day” and “be present” but lately I see that in bits and bites I do wish my life away. I want this week to be over and I want Friday to come, and I want the big project due Sunday to have happened already. I want the difficult conversation to have happened already and the new person to have learned his job now. I want me to learn my new computer —no process, no timing. I want it to be later today, tonight, Friday, next month. I want the deadline to have come, be met and be gone.

Every time I say “I can’t wait until…” I am wishing my life away.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Even the Dead Weep

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.

September 12, 2001

Friday, September 09, 2011

Step Over the Drunk

The other day I was telling a friend about my introduction to Alanon. I started attending when I was new to recovery because my relationship issues were so tied to my drinking.

My recovery began in Baltimore, Maryland and for many years Baltimore’s Cathedral Alanon Group was one of the oldest and strongest. Longtime members there were jokingly called Black Belts in Alanon, and in fact, there was a group of women there with very strong recovery. One of their sayings was, “Step over the Drunk”.

What these old-time Alanon-ers meant was that if you were on your way out to your job or your Alanon meeting and the drunk in your life was passed out on the doorstep you were to, “Step over the drunk”, and keeping going. It was literal for some members of the group who were still living with active alcoholics, but it was also a slogan that meant, “You keep living your life no matter what the drinker does.”

On my way home—after telling this story to my friend—I had a realization: Sometimes I am the drunk that I have to step over.

So many times fear is on my doorstop, or lack of confidence or envy or insecurity and I need to see those defects just like they were drunks, and step over them and keep going.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Step Ten Quick and Often

I’m working on Step Ten and, as is my way, I’m reading everything written about it. (Why act when you can prepare?)

But I come back to this simple recommendation from page 84 of the AA Big Book:

One: Watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment and fear.

Two: Ask God at once to remove them.

Three: Discuss them with someone immediately.

Four: Make amends quickly.

Five: Turn our thoughts to someone we can help.

Here’s what strikes me: it’s not a lengthy process and it has a speed to it. Look at these words: “at once”, “immediately”, “quickly”, “turn”. This also suggests it’s not a nighttime activity as I had always assumed and practiced it. This suggests it’s on the spot, now, here, fast and in that immediacy and repetition many times during the day is the building of a habit. It’s kind of “Ooops. Help me. Dam. Sorry. Next.”

I’m also chewing on the idea that inventory includes the good and the bad, the saleable and the spoiled. So what part does looking at the good I did this day come into a 10th step inventory?

Monday, September 05, 2011

Happy New Year

Labor Day is the best holiday, coming, as it does, with a long weekend and no obvious family obligations. There is, however, the strum of anxiety that crosses these few precious days. This is the last call of summer and we want to order one more round of fun before the house lights come up on Tuesday.

There is something important for us at Labor Day though. This is the time when many of us organize our lives—like our school supplies--make our decisions for the coming year.

The New Year begins now, and we know that in our bones. For at least twelve years we started over on the first Tuesday in September. Back to school meant that we could try out a new identity forged over the summer. Maybe your look changed. Had you let your hair grow? Or cut it short? Would everyone sense the sophistication you gained visiting your sister in L.A.? Back in June you were that same old kid, but every September a new you debuted the day after Labor Day.

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

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

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

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

In September you could try out in public all the looks you had practiced in the mirror behind your bedroom door. So what if the good intentions only last a few weeks. Some part of it always stuck, some part of the “new you” was the real you-- and real change-- and that's how you moved on.

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

Friday, September 02, 2011

What to be...

I saw this on the cover of a notebook:

Be a
or a
or a

Monday, August 29, 2011

Beginner's Mind --Patience and Humility --Click!

I’m learning to use my new computer. Not just new but my first Apple. She is so pretty and slim and graceful and she’s making me crazy. (Has to be a girl right? Everyone keeps telling me how intuitive she is.) I know that day will come, but today I am reminding myself of “beginners mind” and “being teachable”. I knew that I would have to let go of old habits and give up my right hand reaching for the phantom mouse, and I knew I’d have to play and experiment, but I forgot that it would also feel frustrating and awkward. A lot like being in a new relationship—minus the good sex.

I already see my control issues, my insistence on having things my way and oh, the perfectionism! I want to know how to use it already. (I want to be loved now—today). But I don’t and can’t until I play, experiment and oh yeah, go to school. So I went for some tutoring in Apple Land tonight.

So a new commitment to my newest relationship: to be gentle and kind and to laugh and to trust that intuition will prevail and that my sweet new Apple and I will bond.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Like a Hurricane

We are preparing for Hurricane Irene. And for some of us it could be used as an installment in the quiz: “How to Tell If You are an Addict”.

How much water do we need? How many batteries? Milk? Ice cubes? And then the important stuff: How much chocolate? Today I had that irrepressible and irresponsible urge to stockpile cookies and “granola bars” (the kind that are really like candy bars)—because well, it’s an emergency

I thought today about all of the people who really must prepare in a serious way for the power outage: hospitals and nursing homes, and people with disabilities, and people with teeny babies, and I also thought about active alcoholics who have to manage having and ingesting a supply of alcohol while their families are around. There will be no slipping out of the house to “get a paper” or “check the scores” tomorrow.

I’m so grateful to not have that pressure and that anxiety.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Willingness is an Action

My morning reading today says “Shifting one’s perspective requires a willingness to quit nursing whatever thought is behind the feeling that’s negatively affecting your well-being, then inviting your Higher Power to choose a better thought to replace it.”

There’s the action: Become willing. Ask your Higher Power.     So I can’t just whine, “I feel bad”? Sadly, no.

Here is some of the best stuff I have heard about willingness that reminds me that even “becoming willing” is an action.

“Willingness is a softening toward an idea”
“Willingness is leaving the door slightly ajar.”
“Willingness is showing up.”

And when I am really dug in to my unhappy position:

“I am willing to consider the possibility that I may not be right."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What Other People Think...

What other people think of me is none of my business. I learned that in Alanon. I have to keep re-learning that over and over. But it makes sense. If I really practice the Third Step and if I have turned my will and my life over to God, and if I am endeavoring to do God’s will, then I will be used in ways that I don’t necessarily understand --and that others don’t either. So what they think can’t be my business.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Melt Down Day

A melt down this morning. Not pretty. Computer is frozen. Voicemail won’t record. I’m running late. I’m furious about work and deadlines. Streams of colorful language. Slapping my hands on the desk. Like I said, not pretty. And I think, “This is what we don’t tell the newcomer.”

And then I think, “Pray”. And I think, “You can change this thinking”. And I think, “Move a muscle, change a thought.” So I go in the other room (After I snap at my husband--Like I said, not pretty.) And I pick up a reference book and it falls open to a page with this quote:

“One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.” Bertrand Russell wrote that. And I laughed—sort of. But I knew it was no accident to see that quote. That is what we tell the newcomer.

Monday, August 08, 2011

My Rocks My Self

As I’m working through my list of “rocks to drop” (Steps Six and Seven) I find  that I need to remind myself that I am dropping these rocks for me. Not for him or her or them. But for me—for my recovery, my peace of mind and my sanity.

I also have to remind myself that I drop these rocks because I’m the one with the 12-step program and I’m the one who needs to make changes and who wants to be changed. It doesn’t matter if he or she is right or wrong or better or worse; it doesn’t matter if it’s fair or unfair. These are my rocks, and I drop them—or try to --one day at a time—for me.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Step Seven is a Retirement Party

In the Seventh Step prayer we humbly ask God to remove the defects of character that “stand in the way of my usefulness to you (God) and my fellows.” That is a world of difference from asking God to remove the defects that I don’t like or the defects that effect how others think of me. Here is a place that humility kicks in—I don’t necessarily get to choose the defects, God does. I can’t use the Seventh Step in a codependent or self-serving way, “Now I’ll get so good that everyone will like me.”

But here’s another bit of Step Seven wisdom I got from a very early sponsor with help from a very early therapist: We do not kill our character defects! My first therapist in recovery (I distinguish from the previous ones that I never told the truth to) pointed out to me that my “character defects” were all things that saved my life growing up. Being a “high screener”—super vigilant --is a life saving skill in an alcoholic home. Also being super organized (controlling) keeps a kid sane and able to function. Being hyperaware of other people’s feelings and anticipating them also makes a chaotic world safer and more manageable. Telling lies, stuffing feelings, being seductive or bossy or too complaint were all part of survival.

And so my defects were once assets.

Until they weren’t.

So my early sponsor pointed out that it didn’t make sense to hate these parts of me because they were in fact part of me and that I didn’t want—in recovery—to hate myself.

Instead we could retire our character defects.

I love the idea of retirement. If we think of character defects as workers whose skills no longer fit the company’s goals then retirement is honorable and appropriate. And just as in a business we can say, “hey we are doing new things now and doing things a new way” but we can honor the “retirees” for all they gave to our enterprise. Rather than shove the character defects out the door or pray that God snatches them up and destroys them we could have a retirement party.

Imagine that. We could list the defects and thank them for their contributions, listing the ways they served us, thanking them for their help in our early lives. Laughter and stories just like a real retirement party. And then we walk them to the door and take their keys and parking pass. But we don’t kill retirees.

But here’s the thing: just like at our workplace, sometimes retirees come back to visit—often at inopportune times—and that can be annoying, frustrating, maybe funny, but we don’t kill them. We may say, “I remember you” and then ever so gently, “You don’t work here anymore.” And we walk them to the door again. But we don’t kill them.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Evening Gatha

In Zen Buddhism a gatha is a song or hymn that is chanted as part of one’s practice. This evening gatha was a gift from a friend. It hangs in my bathroom.

Evening Gatha:

Let me respectfully remind you~
Life and death are of supreme importance~
Time swiftly passes by, and opportunity is lost~
Each of us should strive to awaken…..
Take Heed. Do not squander your life.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Waking Up

I love early morning AA meetings. For the first 15 years of my sobriety my home group in Baltimore was a 7am meeting that met every day and I got there most days. I don’t have a meeting like that now in upstate New York, but on vacation on Cape Cod I go to a 6:30 am meeting and I love it because I’m awake before my ego is. I can hear the messages. What I heard this morning was this line from the Big Book, “Upon awakening we ask God to direct our thoughts.” There it is again. Thinking.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Luxury Problem

On my way to work this morning I was grumbling to myself: “I don’t have enough time”. “There’s too much to do and I can’t get it done.” When would I do laundry, grocery shopping, write thank you notes and deal with the growing pile on my desk? I could feel the grumpy turning to suffering. A problem. Really, I thought, a problem. I was thinking of all the chores that had piled up because I went to the Berkshires last weekend and then a day later to New York City for four days and then, yes can you believe it--I head to Cape Cod tomorrow?

Then it hit me. I do have a problem—a luxury problem. The complication of my life is having a social life, enticing travel schedule and work I love and yes, it’s true—I can’t get the laundry done between trips. Poor me. Suffering.

But for at least 20 minutes in the car I believed that my life was hard and that I had so much to do and not enough time and that the laundry and my to-do lists were a problem.

And they are. A luxury problem.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Stay for the Thinking

I came for my drinking, but I stay for my thinking. It’s true. And what really hit me this week is that “Change Your Thinking” is a constant message from every self-help movement and every faith tradition that I know about.

When I look at my calendar or the books on my coffee table, the articles in yoga and spirituality magazines, or the CD's in my car there’s a constant theme: Change your thinking; change your beliefs.

In Cognitive Therapy I’m learning to identify my “schema”— false thoughts --and to test old beliefs and change my thinking. In the car Pema Chodron tells me about Buddhist practice—get more quiet, listen to my head yak, and ever so politely say, “thank you—go away” to old thoughts. In my morning meditation practice I read a lesson each day from A Course in Miracles: my thoughts create the world I see, a miracle is changed perception, so change my thoughts. A friend recommends Richard Bartlett on energy and beliefs and yes, changing your thinking.

Jesus helped the blind to see. Maybe he helped them change their thoughts. Then they saw the world differently. It’s so obvious. But not so easy. Change my thinking. Simple. Not easy.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Broken Shoelace

You’ve heard it too. It’s not the big things that can make us want to drink. It’s not necessarily the lost job, death in the family, divorce or broken heart. But the ordinary, daily, unexpected frustration. The broken shoelace.

It’s happening now and I’m watching my thought process. Last night I broke not a shoelace but a toe. Unexpected, and yes, I was rushing. I turned quickly and tripped over my husband! (We won’t even go all Gestalt and metaphoric on that one please.) I went down with my toe bending at an unnatural angle and pain shot through me.

Now, here’s the how-I know-I’m-an-addict part. I immediately began to cry, “I can’t have this right now; this can’t happen.” This thing that was clearly happening—had already happened—was not in my plan. (When are unexpected things ever in our plans?) Most of my pain after the initial crunch was me insisting and sobbing, “I have too much to do; I can’t deal with this; I have to go to work.” And I felt a deep and scary thought/feeling go thru me: “What can I take to make this go away?”

I felt the inner battle: “I’ll ignore this and go to work”—versus--“This is the moment to practice new behavior, to take care of yourself.”

Yeah, good luck with that. To be honest those feelings are still duking it out. I went to the doctor. It is indeed broken. The prescription: ice, elevation and REST. And I don’t want to. Boy, does this show me where my recovering is lacking. Rest. Self-care. Accepting reality. Being human.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Faith and Fashion

Maybe this is a recovering women’s issue? Maybe men have a version of this but I don’t know about it. What I do know is that throughout my recovery I’ve had a running internal debate that goes like this:

Voice One: I’m becoming a spiritual person now so clothing and make up and hair color does not matter.

Voice Two: But I’m a happier person now too because of recovery and feeling good about myself, I want my outsides to match my insides.

Voice One: God doesn’t care about hair color...

Voice Two: God cares about beauty and happiness so if being a blonde or having “warm” highlights makes me happy what’s the big deal?

Even after 25 years it continues. And throughout all this recovery I’ve tried following each voice...each to an extreme perhaps and then let the appearance-pendulum swing the other way.

In my first months of attending 12 step meetings I went shopping for “meeting clothes”. All of my life I had medicated my feelings with substances—food, booze, drugs and always had a corresponding adjustment to my appearance, so why wouldn’t recovery need its own attire? I heard many years later that some women had sponsors who told them to dress up to go to meetings, to look their best, to work recovery from the outside in. “Suit up and Show up” they were told.

I suspect that for the addicted woman who got to the stage of never brushing her teeth or living in sweats that’s a good suggestion, but I was of the other breed that was overly invested in my appearance. So rather than learning to wash my hair and put on lipstick I really needed to experiment with “come as you are” and even “come at your worst” and see that I’d still be liked and accepted.

In very early recovery when I was on my pink and holier-than-thou cloud I decided to give up all make up and hair color, to only buy clothes at thrift stores and to be the “real” me. Luckily I had a sponsor who shopped at Saks and who spent the equivalent of my weekly salary on her hair each month. When I professed my spiritual breakthrough she gave me a long look up an down and said, “I don’t think so…You didn’t get sober to wear sackcloth and ashes. So go get some highlights.”

Then a few years later I was in the throes of some success at work. Promotions came and I was in a good job and enjoying secular success as well as peace in sobriety and recovery. I spent some money with a personal shopper who advised that I needed a power suit, a silky red dress for dating and who went thru my closet with me in a kind of sartorial personal 4th step inventory. (I did get to tell her all my clothing stories and it was a kind of closet catharsis). But after buying all those shiny new clothes I felt a bit too exposed and well, too shiny. I found that most of those new “dress for success” duds belonged more to an idea I had about myself than to the real self who was standing in front of the mirror. So the pendulum swung again.

Back and forth it’s gone over these recovering years. I have a wardrobe I like now and most of it looks like it belongs to the same person. I make those “shopping in pain” mistakes still. (The H.A.L.T. advice should apply to shopping as well as drinking.) But my stages of rock star, tweedy intellectual, corporate power leader and cute girlfriend have gradually integrated into a closet that, for the most part, reflects who I am.

The hook is still there though. My first thought whenever I contemplate an inner change is always to wonder what the external equivalent would be.

So what does a sober, sane, happy woman look like? I think she looks like herself --and her best self—knowing that even that self is constantly changing.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Act As If

We say, “Act as if” and “Fake it till you make it” in 12-step programs. That advice is not really new. Like most AA wisdom, it’s been around a much longer time.

Philosopher and psychologist William James wrote:

Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.”

Yeah, “act as if” is much easier said. But, point taken. To change our feelings we should change our actions. And contemporary proof: People who use Botox are less prone to anger, because they can’t make angry faces. There’s some pretty anger management.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Teeny Tiny Willingness

Only 25 years later I’m starting to get the concept of willingness in a way that I can explain it to myself and begin to experience it as a practice. This is coming from the current round of step work I’m doing with my sponsor. Can I say this without sounding like the oldest of old-timers: “It’s in the steps”? It makes me laugh. There it is hidden in plain sight—it’s in the steps.

Now, willingness. It’s coming to me like this: I made a summary list of the amends I need—and want—to make. (See the blog post from July 8). I decide to give myself a quick review of that list once a day to keep the ideas fresh in my mind. And I prayed for willingness. I think that, in the past, I believed that if I really saw what needed to be changed and if I was really, really, really sincere in my willingness prayer—then swoosh!—change! But no.

Now I see that willingness is incremental and tiny and momentary. Something happens and I want to mind someone else’s business; I want to touch something that isn’t mine; I want to gossip; I have begun to say something that is gossip and that list I wrote of amends comes to mind. Oh, dam. I said I didn’t want to do this anymore. Now what? Am I willing to practice that big change right here, right now in this small way? In this particular situation? Am I willing to shift/drop/just not do that thing now?

In the moment when I want to mind her business; pick up his calendar; take on her feelings; tell myself I am crap; think that God loves everyone but me—that is when I get to be willing. The choice is tenuous, momentary, achingly hard.

I’ve worked on recovery in OA also so I can see the parallel with food: I said I didn’t want to eat cookies anymore. I prayed for that willingness. Then I am at someone’s home or in my kitchen and I’m eating a cookie! Instead of thinking, “Oh the willingness failed—I’m eating this cookie.” I can—if I’m home spit it out, or if I’m out I can sit the half eaten cookie down and push the plate away.

I guess I thought that if I ‘dropped the rock” it was going to be one big rock that would fall away and the freedom and relief would be huge and immediate. But no. It’s more like we have a bag of gravel and we drop a handful, maybe one pebble, at a time. But if we do it over and over—teeny, tiny willingness--the big rock “gets gone” just as truly.

Friday, July 08, 2011

No New Amends

Working through the steps again with my sponsor and I have a whole new list of amends—all—and this is humbling—things that occurred in recovery—in “good” sobriety. Yes, progress not perfection.

One step I’ve taken this time is looking thru that list again and distilling it down to some themes or central ideas. My step nine guidelines (kind of a personalized character defect prevention plan) include:

Mind my own business.

If it doesn’t have your name on it don’t pick it up. This is a variation of MMOB but includes things and feelings and concerns that belong to someone else.

Believe that God loves me. I act out of fear so often.

Believe I am loveable as I am. Again fear, fear, fear and wanting to make myself bigger, more important, more special.

Put myself first. Sounds like selfishness but I find that if I don’t ask for what I need and want it comes out later as resentment. Not pretty.

Change my thinking. This is the biggie. I think myself into fear, loss, abandonment, deprivation. I scare myself all by myself. It’s true I came for the drinking but stay for the thinking.

Today as I try to hold these concepts in mind and as I work thru my amends list to clean off my side of the street I say to myself over and over this advice from my very first sponsor:

“Try not to do anything else that you’ll have to make amends for.”

Wednesday, July 06, 2011


A great line I heard at an Alanon meeting:

“I don’t attend every argument I’m invited to.”

Sunday, July 03, 2011

The Mother _______ with Recovery

Click on the link below to read a commentary about, “The _______with the Hat”, the Tony award winning play written by Stephen Adley Guirgis. It’s a play about recovery and a play that has stumped all media who want to write about it because the full name of the play—that part with the long dash____can’t be printed in most papers nor on signs or billboards. (I can’t fill in the blank here either or this blog will get blocked by your spam filter).

Ah, well. The play is good and it has won some Tony’s and other awards. And this piece of commentary from today’s New York Times arts section is also good in what it says about recovery realities. Take a look.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Best Beach Book Ever

We are sliding into summer this weekend. From here we push on to the finish line at Labor Day. The wish lists we made weeks ago now weigh on us: the outings, the visitors, trips, chores, projects and for many of us--the pile of books we promise to read this summer.

Each friend’s recommendation and each review adds another book to our pile. Our motivations are good; we want to grow and better understand ourselves and the world around us. The books pile up on the coffee table and the bed stand, and our library list is dog-eared and scribbled.

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

But now we’re realizing it’s July—there are seven weekends left so is it worth trying to dig into all that? Maybe you should just go to the movies. There’s not going to be enough time to read so how to choose?

I have the answer. There is one book that you can read now that will give you everything. There is only one book you need for the boat and tote, the chaise lounge, the blanket or the bed.

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Humility Rocks

Humility is an attitude but it’s also an action. Surprised? I was too. That’s what I love about recovery---things that I’ve read and thought about and even talked about have these layers and the layers of insight are revealed over time. In addition to never wanting to drink again, I keep coming back because I want more and more of these layers and new ideas and ultimately new behaviors.

I’m reading—and rereading—“Drop the Rock” by Bill P. and Todd W. and Sarah S. It’s primarily about Steps six and seven, but because the authors have long sobriety their ideas touch on so much more.

Here’s the gem I’m chewing on now:

“Humility is an attitude and a discipline; we ask God to remove our shortcomings AND we must move and act in a manner that reflects our willingness and surrender.”

Humility is more than lowering our eyes and saying, “Ah shucks, not me.” And we know that it’s also not saying, “I’m no good, everyone is better than me.” And then we “act in a manner that reflects our willingness and surrender.” For me, that means finding the middle ground between having the right opinion on everything and having no opinion on anything. It means speaking up to say “Well, I think…” but with a physical posture and tone of voice that says, “But you may have another idea…”

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Controlling Other People

It’s not even about controlling other people. We can’t actually. But the trying and trying.

I found this in my journal: “Abandoning our attempts to control other people is a profound form of personal liberation.”

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day Time

One of the central attractions in the city of Prague is the clock tower in the main square. There is a certain irony that vacationers, supposedly freed from clock watching, are drawn to this tower clock. They arrive five minutes before each hour to stare upward at the moving hands and the parade of carved wooden puppets that mark each changing hour. Tours guides offer stern warnings that the area near the tower is notorious for petty crime. While tourists are transfixed by the clock and its puppets, pickpockets help themselves to money, passports and yes, watches.

The tradition of village clock towers evolved from the practice of having a man stand guard to keep watch and periodically ring a bell to mark the hour. The name of that profession is the origin of the watch we now wear on our wrist. Timepieces gradually moved from the public clocks of the middle ages, to clocks inside the home, to pocket watches, to ones now strapped on our arm, getting closer to us all the time. While convenience has advantages, we no longer enjoy the communal reminder of passing time.

Time is an important topic for Father’s Day. This week’s newspaper ads show this deep connection. From Timex to Rolex, wristwatches are the number one gift for Dad. It may be the perfect gift too. Fatherhood is a short season and it flies by.

My father died when he was 56 and I was 18. His death was sudden and unexpected. It wasn’t until I crossed the 50 threshold that I understood that my father had died young. I knew, of course, that I was young when he died, but now I know that he was young too. Age, like time, is relative.

Time was an important part of my father’s life. He was an industrial engineer, a “time and motion study man”. His work was about efficiency and calculation. He carried a clipboard and wore an elegant gold Hamilton watch.

Whether due to nature or nurture, I too have an overly developed sense of time. I multi-task, write daily to-do lists, and I lust after organizing systems. But I also resist being tethered to time. Maybe it’s because I watched my father save so much time, which he never got a chance to use, that I have a love/hate relationship with “time management”.

My own calendar shocks people. It’s an oversized month-at-a-glance book in which I track tasks by scribbling through the borders and across the lines intended to demarcate the days. Each month’s page becomes an abstract work of scribbles and swirls and then it’s torn away. I don’t look back.

Death isn’t the only way that dads go missing from their kid’s lives. Divorce or drinking can do it too, but most often it’s work. That’s not new. Fathers of the 1950’s didn’t come to school plays or Girl Scout ceremonies; Mom came and told Dad about it at dinner.

Are today’s Dads wiser? It seems so. Last year fathers reported spending four hours a day with their kids, compared with just 2.7 hours in 1965. But I wonder, are those hours together real leisure and pleasure or are we multi-tasking the homework and the errands with the quality time? It’s a cliché to say how fast childhood goes and how fast fatherhood disappears too, but it’s true.

With our lists and calendars-- and even our watches—we can pick our own pockets. In trying to better organize them our lives can be stolen away.

Next week summer begins. Will the livin’ be easy? Or will we tick it off and time it out?  Keep watch. Just look at the time.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

It's All about Dopamine

In this week’s Science Section of the New York Times there’s a great interview with Dr. Nora Volkow—Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. (See the link below). She talks about the neurobiology of addiction—the biochemistry of the brain for alcoholics and addicts and she describes how any favorite substance plays with Dopamine receptors: release more, block uptake, suppress nerve cells that inhibit release.

Here is the case for brain change in addiction and why it may really be a disease—not just a metaphoric disease—after all.

So maybe the term “dope fiend” turns out to be correct for all of us. It’s all about dopamine.

Read more here:

Monday, June 06, 2011

Kindle Your Recovery

I’m just back from a wonderful trip to Bermuda. Sunshine, a perfect and permanent 78 degrees each day. Beautiful hotel and seafood after seafood after toffee pie dinners.

But no AA meetings. Oh, they were there but never in the town we were in. So what to do? Kindle!

I keep the Big Book and The Language of Letting Go, daily meditations by Melody Beatty on my Kindle reader. I also added “The Spirituality of Recovery” and Geneen Roth’s books about women food and money recovery on there too.

So each day away I had both conference-approved and non-approved (but saved my life) literature with me, so I gave myself prayer, meditation and reading time every day. It works.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Your Heart's Desire

The book I mentioned earlier this week, “Sleeping with Bread” introduces a spiritual practice called The Examen. This practice comes from The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. Ignatius taught that God speaks to us through our deepest feelings and yearnings.

Ignatius believed that we should pay attention to our “consolations” and our “desolations”. Consolations are whatever helps us to connect with ourselves, others, God and the universe. Desolation is whatever disconnects us.

The Examen is simple—and we love simple.

Each evening you take a few minutes to sit in quiet and then ask these two questions:

For what moment today am I most grateful?
For what moment today am I least grateful?

You can also ask it like this:

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

The idea of the Examen is that, over time, a pattern will emerge to show us our true heart’s desire, the purpose of our life, or God’s will, if you use that language. This can be a very simple way to incorporate ongoing inventory and listening to God or one’s own inner voice.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Sleeping with Bread

A favorite book of mine is called, “Sleeping with Bread” by Dennis, Sheila and Matt Linn. It’s about a simple discernment process that the Linns teach—helping us to see what matters and what brings us joy.

My favorite part of this book is the story that gives the book its title. This is the story:

During the bombing raids of World War II thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve. The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee camps where they received food and good care. But many of these children who had lost so much could not sleep at night. They feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. Nothing seemed to reassure them. Finally, someone hit upon the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. Holding their bread, these children could finally sleep in peace. All through the night the bread reminded them, “Today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow.”

I love everything about that story –the problem and the simple solution. I can relate to the persistence of old feelings and fears—and how any kind of deprivation can cast a long shadow.

Each time I read it I ask myself: What am I trying to hold on to now to meet a need that was in the long ago past? Are all my shoes a kind of “bread”? Old relationships? Old ways of relating to others? And what new bread might I ask for and hold instead? Bread is a spiritual metaphor in every faith—so what bread can I hold instead of shoes, scarves, resentments, jealousies and my sometimes puffy ego?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Freedom in Form--or Why We Have a Program

We joke sometimes about all of the “suggestions” in AA. The steps are suggestions, and other guidance like “Don’t drink, go to meetings and pray” are also suggestions. But we are also told, “Yeah—only suggestions and death is the consequence of not following them.”

It’s about structure and rules and order and form. All things that alcoholics just naturally resist.

So today I read something great about the benefit of form and structure.

This is from a book by Stanley Fish called, “How to Write a Sentence”. Fish writes:

“A famous sonnet by William Wordsworth begins, ‘Nuns fret not their convent’s narrow room;/And hermits are contented with their cells;/and students with their pensive citadels.” Wordsworth’s point is that what nuns and hermits and students do is facilitated rather than hindered by the confines and formal structures they inhabit; because those structures constrain freedom (they remove, says Wordsworth, “the weight of too much liberty”), they enable movements in a defined space…and then every movement can carry a precise significance.”

Fish says, “This then is my theology: You shall tie yourself to forms and the forms shall set you free.”

Following the “suggestions” of our program, working the steps, living within the traditions then also can set us free. I’m happy to tie myself up in AA.