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.