Friday, April 29, 2011

Passwords Not Perfection

In the morning I pray and I think about the changed woman that I want to be. I surrender my will and life to God. I recall the defects that I want to drop—or not indulge in today. But then I drive to work and perhaps worry begins or I get into the thick of my day and old stuff—mostly fear of some kind --creeps back in.

How to hold onto your good intentions in the work day?

A friend gave me this tip and I love it: Change your passwords to key words or phrases for your recovery. For one sign-in I now have to type, “droptherock”. For another, “surrender” and in another place I type the words, “askGod”.

Give this a try. It works. And as to “restraint of tongue and pen” it may help if you have to key in “LetGo” before you use your phone or keyboard.


REMINDER: One more day to enter the 12-step haiku contest. There will be prizes!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Getting Humble with Humility

Have you had one of those experiences where you have read about an AA idea and maybe even heard it a million times in meetings over the years and then one day something clicks and it’s like you never saw the words before?

I’m having one of those OMG! Experiences with Step Seven and humility.

My sponsor and I are working through the steps and we’re getting ready to move on to Step Eight next so I thought, “Well, I’ll re-read Step Seven so that I’m sure I really “did” it and I’m reading the words in the “Twelve and Twelve” book and thinking, “this is why humility is in here?”

Here is what I read: (all this on page 75)

“we saw failure and misery transformed by humility.”

“humility had brought strength out of weakness”

“humility we discovered to be a healer of pain”

It’s like the discovery of an incredible medicine or the ingredient that the ancients sought that could transform stones into gold. Humility is a transformational agent; it changes weakness to strength and it is a healer.

Yeah, I know, the words have always been on those pages and I have read them many times. I even see that I underlined them in my book—the value of keeping your old Big Book and Twelve & Twelve. But it’s like they are in neon now.

And then: “we sought humility as something we wanted rather than something we must have.”

Huh! I certainly sought humility before. I knew I was supposed to be humble and indeed whenever I shared I tried to sound humble (the very opposite of humility of course). And I wanted to be seen as humble because I knew that’s what a good recovering person looks and sounds like- (again more prideful humility). But really get it—and want it—deep in my gut? Not so much.

But working the steps and looking ahead to Eight it makes so much sense. Real humility takes the fear and sting right out of Eight and maybe even Nine. We’ll see. I also know that while I am in this lovely state of awareness right now this may not be one of those things that sticks from insight alone. So we keep going and even have to develop humility about our desire for humility.

Here’s the kicker from page 76: “The whole emphasis of Step Seven is on humility”. It’s not about the shortcomings/defects of character that we named in Step Six. It’s the humility that allows us to really ask God to help us.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

I have an Easter memory from years ago. I was living in Washington, DC, and that year was a low point in my life. My older sister had recently died and both of my brothers were seriously ill; my best friend was leaving town, and on top of that I was questioning my work.

In my journal that April I wrote, “Am I depressed?” When I read those pages now I laugh and shake my head. “Depressed?” That I even had to ask. In that long year I thought I’d never laugh again, just as I thought I’d never again feel love, the joy of easy friendship, or the satisfaction of good work.

I went to church that Easter out of both habit and desperation. I had grown up in a church going family. It was what we did. And so to honor the family that I was losing I went. I chose a big downtown church for Easter services—one with hundreds in the congregation--not daring to visit a smaller church where I might have to speak to people or be embarrassed by my own tears. I wanted the paradoxical safety and anonymity of being in a crowd.

The minister that Easter Sunday said many things that I don’t remember but one sentence has stayed with me all these years. He said, “We live in a Good Friday world…” That I understood. A Good Friday world is a world full of suffering, questioning, unfairness, trouble, mistakes, hurts, losses and grief. That was certainly confirmation of my life that day. “But”, he continued, “We are Easter people.” Those words stopped me cold. I was stunned to be reminded that painful morning that there was something other than what I was feeling.

My life was not instantly transformed; his words did not change the course of my brothers’ illness; nor give me answers to my questions. But the idea of being “Easter people” gave me a pause in my grief and the teeniest hope that there really did exist something other than pain.

Today all of the things that hurt so much back then have changed. As my brothers died friends came forward to help. I began to write and publish. Months later I fell in love and moved to upstate New York where a new life began with new friends, new work and yes, of course, new problems.

What strikes me now is that this believing in “Easter” in the midst of “Good Friday” is as much about being an American as it is about being Christian. Americans are, by character, a people of reinvention. There is an extra layer of intention that we bring to “new life” that isn’t true even in other predominately Christian cultures. As Americans we are future oriented, we look forward not back, and we are, for the most part, a culture of optimistic, hopeful people.

The gift from that Easter service many years ago was the reminder that we are, by religion or culture, a people who believe in possibility. When our hearts are shattered we are sometimes shocked to discover that there is joy as well as pain inside. Out of the ashes of our mistakes, from our defeats and even our despair, we rise again in better lives.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


“When the mind and body are still and quiet wisdom effortlessly reveals itself”.

                                                                                --Stephen Cope, Kriplau.

P.S. Don’t Forget the 12 Step Haiku Contest:

The guidelines: Write a haiku about one of AA’s 12 steps. You can do one step or all 12. The description of a haiku is this: Seventeen (17) syllables in three, non-rhyming lines. It typically is like this: 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables. But we are recovering alcoholics and addicts so for our purposes we’ll be flexible: poetic license not perfection.

What is the essence of each step for you? Is there a key word or two? Challenge your friends and post your favorites here. You can use the Comments link below or email your 12-step haiku to me and I’ll post them in the blog.

There will be prizes!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Out of the Woods Poetry Contest

April is National Poetry Month and so today we begin the First Annual Out of the Woods Poetry Contest. This year’s theme is Twelve Step Haiku.

The guidelines: Write a haiku about one of AA’s 12 steps. You can do one step or all 12. The description of a haiku is this: Seventeen (17) syllables in three, non-rhyming lines. It typically is like this: 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables. But we are recovering alcoholics and addicts so for our purposes we’ll be flexible: poetic license not perfection.

The joy of haiku is that they are fast simple and always right. They can be funny or serious or mysterious, and they are often surprising to the reader and the writer. Here are some samples:

Step One:

Admitted, “No power”.

Set the drink on the bar,

Then I called AA.

Step Two:

Not alone, but crazy

I came to ask in the dark,

“Will you make me sane?”

Step Three:

My hands in the air,

I surrender me to you.

Please, God, care for me.

Now it’s your turn. What is the essence of each step for you? Is there a key word or two? Challenge your friends and post your favorites here. You can use the Comments link below or email your 12-step haiku to me and I’ll post them in the blog

Friday, April 15, 2011

Be of Service--It's So Selfish

In a recent Grapevine article I read of a longitudinal study that shows a direct, positive correlation between AA-related helping and sobriety.

Maria Pagano, PhD. developed methods to quantify and measure service work and related AA-helping (sponsorship etc). She also conducted in-depth interviews with AA members with more than 20 years of sobriety. (That is us out-of-the-woods folks). Her research found that AA related helping to be important to early recovery and in long-term recovery as well.

This is helpful to remember as many of us know that service is good for newcomers but may have shifted our volunteer or service work in later years to causes outside of AA.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Whose Life is It?

Last night I was part of the Memoir Project Performance Series at The Arts Center. Our curator had selected the theme of Mid-Life Epiphany. Here is the piece that I read:

Whose Life is It?

I’m not afraid of death. What I am afraid of is that time, just before death, when I take a last critical look at myself and think, “I wasn’t enough”.

I’m not afraid of physical pain but of the emotions I might face in those last minutes of life. Part of what haunts me is an odd euphemism.

Ten years ago, just this time of year, I got an early morning phone call. I heard the answering machine pick up and heard my oldest sister, Gloria, leaving a message. “It must be Mum,” I thought, “Something’s happened to my mother.”

I picked up the phone and blurted “Glor, is it Mum?” “Oh God no, Di,” she said, “I am so sorry but Joy went into the hospital yesterday to have some tests and she didn’t make it.”

I don’t remember the rest of the conversation. But I cannot forget that odd phrase that Gloria used to tell me that our sister, Joy, had died. I can still hear that slanted delivery; “She didn’t make it.” It sounded as if Joy had failed or had let us down by dying.

The memory of that euphemism makes me think about my own death --and consequently --my life. Will I disappoint someone when I die? Will I die with uncompleted work on my to-do list? Would a more successful, more organized woman, die better?

I think about this sometimes when I am driving to, of course, work. “Whose life is this?” I ask out loud, and “She didn’t make it” seeps back to me. Though outwardly I am successful, busy, and happy, it makes me wonder about the life I am living.

About the time I was having these car talks I was called to attend a corporate meeting at Key Bank; I was to meet with a group of bankers who were to help raise money for a nonprofit cause.

I was ushered into the Boardroom at KeyBank. The room was decorated in shades of gray. My heels sunk into the deep charcoal carpet and when I sat I sank into the lavish upholstered swivel chair.

The CEO opened the meeting. In his first sentence he used the words “Strategy”, “Patrol,” “Attack” and “Deploy.” I could feel myself shrinking. I held onto the tabletop to stop myself from swinging my seat from side to side.

As the CEO spoke I watched the group of bank “volunteers” –All men, in their forties and highly energetic. Each man assumed the same posture, leaning forward, elbows on the table, eyes on the Boss. Each man held a “good” pen. I recognized Gold Cross, Silver Meisterstruck and black Waterman.

I tried to take notes as I typically would in that kind of meeting but I was having trouble identifying the speakers. Usually I rely on a kind of sartorial shorthand. For example, I might jot down: “Blonde in Eileen Fisher thinks new plans are great,” or “Woman, print dress and pearls, disagrees.” Or “older guy with abstract tie wants numbers.” That way, when I went back to my office, I could reconstruct who said what. But here the players were almost identical. Each man was wearing a navy suit, blue shirt and yellow tie.

The feature that most compelled me, however, was a gold key that each man wore in his left lapel. I knew that all Key Bank employees wore these little pins. I had seen them on the women and men I met at Chamber of Commerce meetings. I knew the pin hierarchy: Plastic keys for general employees, red pins for managers, silver for execs and gold for senior VP’s. This was the Gold Key crowd. But what was unnerving was that I had never before seen a group of them together. Here were ten men with white faces, dark suits, similar ties, matching posture, mirrored energy levels, and a Gold Key stabbed into each one right- over- his- heart.

As the meeting continued I began to imagine the lives of these men. Some we’re on first marriages and others second, some had one child, some two. I could guess at their similar mortgages by the tension around their eyes and the way they leaned forward, constantly nodding to the rhythm of the CEO’s words. I wondered how they had gotten here. Did they notice that they were almost the same guy?

My eyes kept going back to the pins. The little gold keys seemed to have each man pinned. “You won’t wear that key to chemotherapy,” I heard myself think.

For those two hours I felt so superior. I don’t wear a pin to mark my loyalty to my organization, and though there are days when I wear a suit, I also have days of corduroys and sweaters. “Whose life are they living?” I thought, but “Whose life am I living?” followed without a pause.

The next shift in my thinking came around an event. Months before I had signed up to attend a fundraising gala. This particular event was an important place to see- and –be- seen.

But by Thursday of the event week I was tired. On Friday I felt anxious rather than relaxed. Saturday morning, driving to Saratoga to pick up my dress for the party, I begin to cry. “Whose life IS this?” came racing back. The party was important, but to whom and why?

As I drove through the postcard beauty of Fall in upstate New York, I thought: “This is crazy; this is no time to go to parties, this is the time to sit in the back yard.” In the car I spoke my debate out loud. I said to the car, “If I go to the party it will be good for me at work. If I go to the party I’ll get more points with my boss and social points, too.” But another voice inside of me asked: “But where will you cash in the scorecard with all those points?”

That question stopped me cold. I’ve been at the collection point many times. In the last ten years I’ve been to seven family funerals and made hundreds of visits to Intensive Care Waiting rooms. I regularly sat beside my comatose mother who, in her life had earned thousands of points but was now unable to redeem a single one of them for one minute of consciousness. How could I forget this simple fact: We turn in our scorecards in hospital beds, funeral homes and cemeteries.

Now I wish I could say that after that moment of enlightenment I tossed the gala tickets out the window and sang all the way home. But- I- didn’t. That’s the kind of story that makes it into “Chicken Soup” books. The hard news is that the decision to say “no” wasn’t easy.

The rest of my day was agony. I rationalized, I debated. I knew that I wasn’t going to the party, but first I had to sit in my backyard and cry.

Just as I am sure there is a high price for taking off one’s gold key pin , each choice we make takes us further from OR closer to some other thing, and each choice has a consequence. On the phone my friend Brigid read to me from Thomas Merton: “Each choice we make takes us closer to God, and further away from others, often others who love us.”

The day after my no-Gala experience I woke to one of the most beautiful days . I sat in my backyard as Fall was happening around me. I could hear the leaves letting go. My husband came outside to sit with me and we watched the leaves fall. “How do they know when to do that?” he asked. We laughed as I told him my version of an Al-Anon meeting for leaves: The very wise leaf says, “Well, you have to trust, you have to just turn it over and let go.” But the younger leaf, the one with “control issues” says, “Oh, no, I’m not letting go, I’m staying with the tree. We don’t know what’s down there.”

So what does it come down to then?

Faith, I think

Oh, we want so badly for life to be Sure. And clear. And settled. We want to do the right thing. But we make our lives from a set of choices and we can only hope we are making the right ones. But it’s a certainty that the right thing for someone is attending the gala and for someone else it is taking off the pin.

So whose life is it? And where do we turn in the scorecards? We don’t. That’s what makes it so hard. It’s easier to have faith in a score keeping system with a Right and a Wrong, a Good and a Bad. But there isn’t one. We make a life with choices. One- terrifying –exciting--choice at a time.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Crying in AA

I cried in a meeting today. It’s been a long time since I have done that. It didn’t feel good when the words were burbling out of me and I was thinking, “All these years and I’m crying because my feelings were hurt.” I was sad and unsettled by my emotions, especially because my damp sharing followed “younger” AA-er’s who spoke of gratitude and goodness and God.

But later I thought of my own gratitude for this place where I can go and that even when I try to look good, it is safe enough for the true me of that moment to come out in grace or in garbled sobs. After the meeting I got hugs and recommendations that included gratitude, goodness and God.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


Have you had that experience of suddenly realizing that you now understand a program saying or slogan—even after many years of hearing it --or even saying it? I had one of those today.

I’d begun to see—yes, working the steps again—that I struggled to take care of myself in fundamental ways. I knew the jargon, I used that platitude about putting on your own oxygen mask first and I never hesitated to buy myself massages or manicures or pretty things. But there was another layer.

Driving to work it hit me—I needed courage. I had to pray for the courage to take care of myself. It was about courage. Then at work—the old “What do other people think of me?” was aroused. Again, I knew what I was supposed to think and feel about that. But the realization: It would take courage to not care what other people think. I reached for my journal and began to write: “I need to pray for courage to take care of myself and for courage to not care what other people think and I need to pray for courage to change.”

Courage to change.

Now I get it.