Tuesday, January 31, 2012


It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
~ Mary Oliver ~

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Office Politics

The campaigns, the candidates, the debates. We don’t know whether to get our hopes up or to hunker down.  Both the national and state politics are scary.  But it’s the political scene each of us enters on Monday morning that will keep most of us tossing and turning tonight.

Office politics. Those are the hardest politics we face—and now they are made even harder by budget cuts and union battles.
A young friend recently said to me, “I don’t want to work where there are politics.” I understood her distress, but I said to her, “Then go home and make pot holders.”  There is no work without politics because there is no work without people.   Any time we organize ourselves into a business, a women’s club, a church group or a scout troop there will be politics.
The trend toward making the workplace feel like home doesn’t help. By loosening the home and work boundary we get to have—at work—all the goodies that belong at home: sibling rivalry, parental intrusion, and fights about money, cleaning and table manners.  Maybe if work were less like home we’d go home to get the things we’re supposed to get there: love, companionship and intimacy.
So it’s inevitable that we have office politics. 
  Every day each of us carries our emotional baggage to work in an invisible tote bag and then we pick from it throughout the day. But this is not necessarily a bad thing.  Working with other human beings is a creative process—and a messy one. Maybe the best we can do is to try not to draw blood and to say we’re sorry when we do.  But like the sign says in the casino, “You must be present to win”, we need the politics in our workplaces and in our communities to work out who we are and how we get better.
I’m an optimist. I see the messiness of human beings as a good thing.  You might roll your eyes and call me a “Pollyanna”, but that fictional girl is not a bad role model. The Dali Lama has little on the 11-year-old girl that Eleanor Porter created in 1912.  Pollyanna is the story of a girl who went through many painful events with very difficult people and was able to remain optimistic and make changes for the good.
Pollyanna lived in poverty, was orphaned, treated poorly and had illness and grief in her life. It’s not that she didn’t feel pain rather she chose to see the world as a good place despite the suffering. While most of us adults know how to toughen up in order to survive Pollyanna’s talent was in dealing with all of the difficulties while keeping her heart open.
It can feel safer to stay with the negative but pessimism is lazy. You can always be somewhat right.  To stay optimistic takes courage.  You have to keep believing that things will work out even if it’s not the way you hoped they would.  
Now in our nation, our state and our workplaces we get to make that choice. We can moan and groan, or choose optimism. That may just be the smartest political strategy of all. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Who's in Charge of My Life?

I overheard this at a meeting last week. It made me think.

"If God is your co-pilot slide over."

Saturday, January 21, 2012


Here’s one I have to catch quite often. Maybe you too? Psycho-gossip. It can also be called Recovery-gossip or Concerned-gossip.
Yeah, I do this and it has to stop. This is the bad habit of using recovery talk and self-help lingo to gossip about another person in or out of the rooms. You know how this goes, “I’m so concerned about Natasha, her dependency issues have her totally enmeshed with that loser guy in the Thursday meeting; she really needs to do some step work.” (Translation: She’s a slut”.) Or “Bill’s food addiction is so tragic, he has not surrendered or prayed for the willingness to work an OA program.” (Translation: Whoa, Bill is packing on the pounds.”)
You can add your own Valley Girl or “deeply-concerned-voice” inflection to these statements but at core it’s a way to disguise gossip. And yes I have done it and I do it, and it's time to stop. I’m saying it here.
The longer we are in recovery, I think, the easier it is to play this game. It’s especially effective with family. Disclaimer: I am not a licensed therapist but I play one in my head. All the time. 
Even with diagnostic language it's our motive and intent that count. Character assassination by psychobabble. Dam.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Ego Paradox

I was talking to a colleague today about how some people (yeah, some other people) can be so defended that they can’t hear feedback or own the less lovely parts of themselves. When we see someone unable to look at his or her “stuff”, someone who can’t take feedback, we know that we are seeing an ego in defense. 
And I do know that from my own experience—that my ego will try to protect the fragile, wounded, less-than-pretty part of me and it will go for every defense mechanism to keep me from seeing and owning what’s painful or icky.
But then I realized that –quite paradoxically—that it takes a lot of ego strength to be able to look at your own inner life, your motivations, your wounded parts and be able to own them and accept them. It takes having an ego to be able to say—even if cringing—“yeah, that is me”, “I guess I do that”, “there’s that old part of me again”, “yeah, I’m doing it again and I want to stop that.” That kind of looking and owning takes tremendous ego strength.
Vulnerability and humility and self-awareness require having some ego. So is it a balancing act? Maybe like Goldilocks—we need not too much and not too little but the “just right” amount of ego to see and heal and change.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Come back to Yourself

"You cannot hear your inner voice if your mind is on someone else."

That gem is from Hazelden writer Karen Casey. And it's a reminder to mind my own business and to come back to myself. When I detach with love it's so much better for the people around me but it's also wonderful for me too. When I stay out of his/her business--even in my head--then I can access my own creative thought and that still small voice of God.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Amelia Earhart Flew Away

Today is the anniversary of Amelia Earhart becoming the first woman to fly alone across the Pacific Ocean.  Her solo flight was January 11 to January 12 1935.

I have been an Amelia fan all of my life. She has represented many things over time and been a role model in many ways. I read my first book about Amelia Earhart when I was eight years old. It was one of those “We Were There” books. I knew immediately that I wanted to fly. I remember how brave Amelia and how daring and how different she seemed from the women in my life.  I imagined Amelia always looking as she does in the famous photos: short hair, strong face, lean, elegant body in her leather flight jacket. Amelia took risks and flying was just one of them.
To reach her dream she took other risks—moving away from home as a young woman and working odd jobs to pay for flying lessons when women of her background did not work. She took risks in her relationships as well. She broke off her first engagement when her fiancĂ©e asked her to stop flying. Years later when she married the publisher George Putnam, she spelled out an agreement daring at the time—that promised both of them freedom if after one year either of them was not happy. She would not, she wrote, “live like a bird in a cage, regardless how cherished the bird or how gilded the cage.”
Her story inspired me to learn to fly. For my 30th birthday I soloed in a small plane in rural Pennsylvania. The greater part of my challenge was not conquering physical fear—I was a dare devil then-physical challenges were a great distraction from my emotional ones—but my challenge was passing ground school and learning the science and physics and protocols of flying.
I don’t fly anymore. It got to be too expensive and starting my recovery—also at 30—gave me bigger and much scarier challenges. But I still love to be a passenger in any plane. I’ve memorized the explanation for airfoils, wind speed and drag but I still think it’s a miracle when a plane goes up.
Think about Amelia today. Her courage, her fight and her cool leather jacket. She was no braver than us--her diaries show a woman who worried, suffered and maybe died because –years later--she didn’t set boundaries with an alcoholic navigator. But she did her thing and she flew away.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Meditation and Fear

Again and again I take baby steps toward meditation. Years ago--30 years ago--I did TM Transcendental Meditation. Yes, the whole thing. $300 which was a fortune and the arm full of fruit and flowers for the Guru. Looking back I think it was one of my first gestures toward sanity...I was still drinking and in the throes of food addiction, swirling in the madness of untreated ACOA survival...but some part of me wanted what the TM people promised. I wanted freedom from fear and all the pain I was carrying around and trying to medicate.

Yesterday I read about a study reported in Hospital Psychiatry Magazine describing participants who meditated for 20 minutes a day for eight weeks. They showed a 38% reduction in psychological distress and a 44% decrease in anxiety. That in itself, is impressive. And what I want.

Here is a quote from the article:

"Fear, like pain, is a messenger. Pain tells us that something physical needs attention; fear tells us that something emotional needs attention. If we can honor fears by feeling them--we can heal and release them. Fear is not the enemy. Pushing it down or denying it is what causes problems."

Now I think about that quote and I think about the idea that Faith and Fear can't occupy the same space. Wrong. They have to occupy the same space. Feel the fear in--and with--the faith that it can resolve; that it can teach me; that I can be healed by feeling it.

And sit quietly.

That's the hard part still.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Recovery Film Festival

It's not happening until September 2012 but this is worth putting in your calendar now. Together: a newspaper of Health and Recovery will present the first "Recovery Film Festival" September 28 to 30 2012 in New York City.

So you know, because it's New York City, that you may want to make a hotel reservation now or rekindle that waning friendship with the folks you know who have an extra, bed, couch or guest room in Manhattan.

The Recovery Film Festival will have 30 hours of films in several venues. They will show great classics like "Days of Wine and Roses", "Lost Weeekend" and "Under the Volcano" as well as contemporary recovery films like "28 Days"--with Sandra Bullock as the scariest wedding guest ever, and "When a Man Loves a Woman" with Meg Ryan as nominee for cutest drunk Mom.

And because we are hearing about this now--9 months away--there is time to enter a film or documentary short to the jury for possible showing at the festival. No fee to submit a 20 minute or shorter video.

You can read more at www.together.us.com

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Joy Not Happiness

In Sunday's New York Times I read this wonderful essay about quiet and stillness by Pico Iyer. Perfect for everyone you know especially friends in recovery. It reminded me of my friend Bridgid's saying, "Feelings can't hit a moving target."

Sit still; go for stillness and not action; do less not more; seek joy not happiness.

Here's the link:


Sunday, January 01, 2012

Happy Introvert Day

Ahhh,  January 2. The day that introverts get to breathe a sigh of relief.  We can come out of hiding; it’s safe to answer the phone, and to stop pretending we feel the flu coming on. Hip Hip Hooray! The holidays are over.
Yes, from mid-December through New Year’s Day, those of us with an introverted nature live in a state of perpetual dread. The weeks of office parties, neighborhood potlucks and open houses drain all our energy. But today we can relax; we made it through.
I speak from experience. I am an introvert. It surprises most people because I’m outgoing and friendly and, in fact, very far from shy, but I prefer one person and one conversation at a time.
I fought this for years, always trying to be someone else. I made myself go to parties; I tried to fix what I thought was “wrong” with me. It didn’t help that other people would press, “But you’re so good with people” as if being introverted meant living on the dark side. But I finally got it.
This is also one of the blessings of being older. Along with the wrinkles comes a, “What you see is what you get” self-acceptance, or perhaps for introverts it’s, “Who you don’t see is what you get”. It is a great relief to stop trying to be who you’re not.
But it’s no wonder that we introverts are sometimes defensive. Seventy-five percent of the population is extraverted; we’re outnumbered three-to-one, and the American culture tends to reward extraversion, while being disdainful and suspicious of reflection and solitude.
I’ve learned to spot us though. We’re the folks walking toward a festive house saying, “How long do we have to stay?” Or we’re the ones in the center of the room assessing other’s interactions, and slowly backing toward the door. Introverts crave meaning, so party chitchat feels like sandpaper to our psyche.
Here’s what introverts are not: We’re not afraid and we’re not shy. Introversion has little to do with fear or reticence. We’re just focused, and we prefer one-on-one because we like to listen and we want to follow an idea all the way through to another interesting idea. Consequently small talk annoys us. So does pretending to be happy or excited or anything that we’re not.
Many great leaders are introverts and I think that many of our better presidents have been introverts: Lincoln, Carter and the John Adams—both father and son.  No, maybe I’m not being totally fair, but life isn’t fair to introverts. Introverted kids are pressured to “speak up” and “make friends” or told they’re not leaders. We’re hounded to “be more outgoing” and tortured with invitations that begin, “Why don’t we all…” …No thanks, we don’t want to do anything that involves “we” and “all”. We prefer to visit you, just you, and not a dozen other people.
The philosopher Pascal wrote, “The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.”  Introverts do. So let’s make January 2nd, Happy Introvert Day. We’ll be quiet and happy. As a bonus, January’s weather is on our side.
You say it might snow? Oh darn, I guess I’ll have to stay home.