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.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Spiritual Direction

In AA we know the value of having a sponsor and being a sponsor. The standard advice is to “Find someone who has what you want and ask them to be your sponsor”. I always find that funny because when I was a few weeks into recovery I heard that very advice and I saw a woman in my home group who was tall and blonde (I am not), a published author (I was not) and who was well-dressed (always my aspiration) so I asked HER to be my sponsor!

This is also a God story because she turned out to also have things I had not yet seen: good recovery, a generous heart and a sassy way of living her recovery. We did the steps together, attended lots of meetings together and she also told me, “You didn’t get sober to wear sack cloth and ashes so go shopping.” Perfect.

So God is woven in and out. People talk about the “spiritual part” of the program and I remember another good sponsor telling me, “there is no spiritual PART—it’s all spiritual.”

Toward that end some of us add another layer of help to our recovery and work with a spiritual director. This can be someone else in a 12 step program who has the kind of spiritual life we’d like—and like sponsorship we can “ask them how they got it.” Some of us have gone to faith communities, inter-faith practitioners or retreat centers and worked with a spiritual director for a week, a month or a year.

I have done this three times over the years when I wanted to talk thru my conception of God, when I wanted to acquire some new spiritual practices and recently when step work bumped right into reservations I was holding about God and surrender.

So I’m interested in your experiences: Have you tried spiritual direction? What was your motive and did it help your recovery and growth?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Longer is Harder

One of the hardest things in long-term recovery is when you can’t quite get to where you really want to be. I’m talking about beliefs and behaviors. Finding myself saying or doing something that isn’t in line with who I want to be and who I know I could be or who I probably will be. Soon, I hope.

When I do something now that I don’t like it seems harder to accept because there is no one to blame. Blame is so over. I have too much program in my head and in my being that even when I want to blame or try to blame I get it. I know. But there is also no fallback position in later recovery like, “I won’t do that after I have a year of sobriety” or “After I work the steps then I won’t be like that anymore.” Nope. There is just me, my head and patience.

The good news is being able to visualize and imagine what a new behavior would look like, what my changed belief might sound like and how much more peaceful my life would be. But this too is humility. Patience. Progress. Not perfection.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Why is AA Anonymous?

Below is a link to yesterday’s New York Times article called “Challenging the Second A in AA”. It asks if anonymity is out of style or perhaps no longer needed. Famous recovering people are named and a bit of “in this day and age who needs anonymity?” My feeling is that the writer and some who comment miss the point—we are not anonymous because of stigma but rather to practice humility. But what do you think? Take a look at this article:

Friday, May 06, 2011

Winners of the Recovery Haiku Contest

April was National Poetry Month  and Out of the Woods hosted the first annual poetry contest. This year’s theme: Twelve Step Haiku.   Lots of wisdom and some humor from all entries.

Congratulations to the 2011 Winners:

STEP 10:

Today again, well…

Progress not perfection.

Fess up, try again.    (Barbra J.)


You told me: Let go,

Let God. Be honest, open

minded and willing.     (Meg T.)


When pain was too great

My sponsor said, “Start writing”.

I put it on paper.      (Sondra G.)

Honorable Mention:

STEP 12:

Little tiny poem

to say how much this means.

Gratefully sober.       (Dani G.)

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Serenity Prayer Redux

Maybe this is one of those consequences of long recovery but recently I’ve realized that my serenity prayer has been on automatic pilot and that I need to refresh it to really hear it. I know the words and I say the words but I haven’t had those words come from my heart in a long time.

In fact, I realized this week that I have been missing the “wisdom” part of the prayer completely.

When I began to listen in to hear how my head automatically fills in parenthetical thoughts I heard the serenity prayer in my head going something like this:

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (Them, you, other people, most things—yeah that’s right, I’m not in control). Courage to change the things I can (That would be me, my job to change myself, Oh dam, it’s me again, my fault, my side of the street, gotta work on me some more.) And the wisdom to know the difference. (Huh? The difference? Sometimes it’s not me? I don’t have to automatically assume my bad?)”

My recent gift has been the back covers of our Grapevine Magazine. The new editorial team has a fabulous graphic designer who makes the Serenity Prayer on the back of each issue into a work of art---styles vary but each is a beauty. The design made me look at the prayer in a new way—kudos to graphic design—and I heard what I had been doing with that prayer.

Wisdom, huh?

Sunday, May 01, 2011

The Mary Month of May

I grew up in a Protestant family. My brothers and I went to Sunday school, got confirmed, and later married in the same Methodist Church on Pittsburgh’s Northside. Overall, it was a good experience. But I always envied Catholic girls, especially in May.

Our working class neighborhood was a mixture of Protestant and Catholic families. Kids were divided by schools: Spring Hill Public or Saint Ambrose Catholic. But it was a close neighborhood and we all played together after school. We were in and out of each others houses often, and one mother could stand in for another when it came to discipline or first aid. The differences were few but the Catholic girls seemed to have something special.

It was in second grade that my feelings of envy emerged. My Catholic friends were having their First Holy Communion. My friends got to wear poofy white dresses and headbands with flowers and little veils. They were given medals with pictures of saints, rosaries and most intriguing, scapulars.

A scapular is two small patches of cloth with holy pictures on them, connected by a loop of string. My girl friends told me that it protected them from evil and all manner of bad things, and it was a sin, they told me, to take it off. The idea of a passionate commitment to something, even a string with holy pictures, was very appealing.

Catholicism offered my friends other comforts. As a kid I would have liked a patron saint or a guardian angel, but the Methodist church didn’t offer any of those. Instead we were counseled, in an ecumenically respectful way, that all that stuff was Catholic and kind of magical. Now, this was at the same age that I was fascinated with writing in code, creating invisible ink, becoming a blood sister, playing with the Ouija board and making up secret societies. I was making myth and magic out of anything I could get my hands and mind around.

The best thing, though, that Catholic girls got was Mary. She was presented as motherhood and sweetness, but Catholic girls got a very clear message that there was a woman in heaven, that somebody understood the female side of things.

For Protestant girls, Mary shows up once a year-- at Christmas --to give birth. She might get dragged out again on Good Friday—but only in the background. No role model, no intercessor, no friend. My Catholic pals had statues of Mary. Some had the plastic glow-in-the-dark kind, and the older girls had painted plaster Marys, dressed in blue robes with big doe eyes like Barbie. And Mary was always standing on a snake. I certainly did not understand the symbolism, but I knew at ten that this 12 inch woman had some power you could not buy for Barbie.

Best of all, my friends had May altars. A May altar was basically a table with an old lace tablecloth thrown over it. They put their Mary statues on it with flowers and candles that they were allowed to light when they said their prayers. It still strikes me how feminine those altars were. The Catholic girls had total permission to identify with the feminine in spiritual matters. But no one gave little Protestant girls such romantic, mysterious things to do or own.

This carried over into all of a Catholic girl’s life. Mary got prayers, devotions, pilgrimages and even architectural consideration: there is a Marian shrine in every Catholic Church. Talk about having a room of one’s own. Mary’s presence meant that the Catholic Church included at least one woman at a high level. In her assumption into heaven, Mary had broken Christianity’s glass ceiling.

We pretty much get the shape of our beliefs early on, and what Catholic girls got was a She and a Her, someone like them, to pray to. And they got all those accessories: medals, scapulars, rosaries, ruffled altar skirts and little white prayer books. Protestant girls got black leatherette New Testaments, Jesus stories, but nothing that said, “We’re glad you’re a girl.”

Of course, later, Catholic girls ran into, the birth control problem and the wall that said, “You can’t be a priest”. But what I saw my Catholic friends get was faith in their girlhood and an image of feminine power. That’s not such a bad way to start out.