Saturday, March 31, 2012

Anne Lamott's New Book

If you’ve been around for a while and you love books you will know the writer Anne Lamott. She’s been writing about her story for at least 20 years—her brilliance shows up in nonfiction—like “Operating Instructions—Journal of My Son’s First Year” and “Traveling Mercies” and “Grace (eventually)” books about her spiritual journey. She also writes wildly funny and insightful fiction—the Rosie stories. In those works of fiction you can follow Anne’s continuing growth and changes.

A few weeks ago her new book hit the stores. It’s called, “Some Assembly Required” and it's her memoir of her son (yeah the one in “Operating Instructions”) becoming a father at age 19 and her love affair with him, his girlfriend Amy and their baby Jax.

It's also the story of a woman with long-term sobriety, who is deeply committed to a spiritual path and who struggles mightily with, well… let’s call them “Alanon issues.” Its about parenting an adult, trying to figure out what is advice and what is control, and what is intrusion versus love. She comes down on the plus side of most but not without letting us in on the pain, the huge mistakes and how painful and funny it all is. (Funny—only because it’s happening to her and not to us.)

As in her earlier books she tells on her self and she shows us how even great recovery is lived in the breach.

You might be tempted to skip this book because there is a picture of a new baby foot on the cover, or because you think this is about babies or grand parenting. Nope, that’s just the foot in the door to a great book about addiction, codependence, boundaries, feeling feelings, and aching to make another person’s life different while deeply committed to your own growth.

Some Assembly Required—isn’t that all of us?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Life on Life's Terms

Last week I heard this great line and it has stuck with me as I am racing to work each morning:

"Running yellow lights is not accepting life on life's terms."

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Emotional Habits, Dance and Addiction

Below is a link to a great article at Psychology Today. Kimmer LaMothe is a writer/dancer/farmer and I love her ideas. Take a look at this and try this conversation at your dinner table. Be sure to read all the way to the end to see what she has to say about dance.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mister Rogers Birthday

Today is Mister Rogers Birthday and in his honor here's something I wrote a while back. In addition to not drinking that can of Coke I'm also trying to remember that I don't have to be one.

A Glass of Water is Enough
I was listening to an essay on our local public radio station and a man was describing his experience of meeting Mr. Rogers and what it was like to be in his presence for an interview. The simplicity of him and the very simple centeredness. He described the impact of that brief meeting and how he later, after Mr. Rogers died found himself trying to be an entertaining dad to his own kids and it occurred to him that Mr. Rogers was simply himself, just himself and that was the message that he conveyed to little kids: It really, really is OK to be yourself. “There’s no one like you” Mr. Rogers would tell people, “no one just like you” and “I’m glad you’re my friend.”
            Mr. Rogers landed on that paradox we know so well from being addicts and addicted people. That thing the Big Book talks about: the egomaniac with an inferiority complex. And this message from Mr. Rogers is the perfect antidote to that complex problem/situation/personality dilemma: we want to be special but we feel like shit. Or we know we are nothing so we try to puff up and be a big big deal. “There is no one just like you,” he says and it’s all there: no need to puff up, you are special but so is everyone else. It’s like the statistical improbability of Lake Woebegone: Where all the children are above average. In a sense we are all above average despite what that does to the averages.
            This writer on the radio said that he caught himself being a clown to his own kids and buying them things and trying to be a “great dad” when he could simply be “their Dad”
            He said, in his closing and this shot me through to my core, “I realized I could simply be a glass of water instead of a can of Coke.”

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Wall Street Journal and a Test for You

Below is a link to yesterday's Wall Street Journal and an article called, "How I Stopped Drowning in Drink", by Paul Carr. He describes how he stopped drinking, got healthier and changed his life. Some of it will be familiar and some of it may rankle.

Here is the test of your emotional sobriety: After reading this article You Think:

A. What an arrogant jackass. I hope he gets drunk tonight and falls on his face.


B. Huh, this is really interesting. It's great that he stopped drinking. Gotta get ready for my meeting now.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Sobriety is a Habit

I'm listening to the new book, "The Power of Habit"by Charles Duhigg. He's a New York Times reporter who has looked at all the recent research on behavior change and habit formation. Fascinating. In this book you can learn how McDonald's works, and how Cinnabon works and yeah, how AA works.

I know, you thought we'd already read "how it works" but Duhigg is writing about and interviewing brain scientists about how AA works neurologically. Now, you may not want to actually know that--it's a bit like learning how law and sausage are made but we long timers can handle it--and there won't be any real surprises in learning that AA replaces old triggers with new ones and changes the brain's reward system. We get that; we just use other words for the process. But Duhigg ties all that to cognitive theory.

It's a little unsettling though to hear AA protocols described by someone who has no personal contact with AA...kinda makes the Third Step sound weird...but ya know...

But the kicker in this--and it crosses over AA, smoking, nail biting and football strategy in this cognitive theory world: the "X" factor is belief. When I heard that part I laughed out loud in my car. the mystery key is belief.

That's the part that all of us know with out cracking a psych text book or visiting a lab at MIT.

Believe it.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Joe & Charlie

Last night I went to a meeting that uses the Joe & Charlie tapes as the meeting format. It's a blast. If you have not heard them, Joe and Charlie are two old and sort of old-timey AA speakers who have given workshops on The Big Book and Working the Steps. They are quite an act and they are also wise and funny.

In the local meeting we listen to a CD of these guys as they walk listeners through sections of the Big Book and point out, well, how it works. Along with lots of historical perspective, early days anecdotes and wisdom for daily living they explain things like how the 10th step is a surprising mixture of steps four, three, seven, eight and eleven--done each day.

If you are looking for a refreshing change or something great for the car (especially if driving to or from family get togethers) buy or borrow a set of the Joe & Charlie workshop CD's. You'll see the steps differently.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Mother in Law

On the road in Palm Beach…
And I am humming the Eddie K. Doe song,  "Mother-in-Law”. It makes me laugh but in truth it’s a dilemma for a recovering woman. Here I am, every day, praying for God’s will and to surrender my will and to see God in everything and to be kind and caring and generous and gracious and then I want to kill this woman!
It feels tricky too because I am torn between just going along and getting along and the other part of my recovery which is taking care of myself and saying “No”, and “No, thank you”, and “I would prefer…”
We struggle with food—she’s a fabulous cook—but I am trying to eat more healthfully. Her feelings are hurt if we don’t clean our plates. I’m tempted to put a baggie in my lap and sneak my dinner into the trash. But being reduced to that version of codependence is my wake-up call.
Yesterday I had this revelation: If she told me that her feelings would be hurt if I didn’t try her favorite cocktail I’d be thinking, “Oh well, you gonna feel bad.” I wouldn’t take a drink to please a hostess so why eat to please one?
But there is another side to this too: I am a mother-in-law as well. Visiting my mother-in-law makes me much better when the shoe—or the quiche—is on the other foot.
I’m counting my blessings: my mother-in-law does not drink and she’s in good health and she lives in a very beautiful place. But I’m heading to Nordstrom where the shoes are not booze and the fragrances are not cake and I can find a souvenir to take home to New York!

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Friend for the Ride

Here is the link to a guest blog post I did this week at Barbara Younger's "Friend for the Ride". Her blog is about women and mid-life--and all the issues we encounter in this part of life: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Women in recovery are blessed with friends for our ride. Check out Barbara's writing to meet new friends and be comforted and inspired by her friends and ideas.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Happy Birthday Mrs. Wilson

March 4th is a special day to millions of people in 12 step programs. It is the birthday of Lois Wilson who might, with great affection, be called the most famous co-dependent. She was the wife of Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Ebby T., son of a prominent Albany family, first “carried the message” to a very deteriorated Bill Wilson. The message Ebby brought to Bill and Lois was that he had gotten sober through the help of the Oxford Group, an evangelical Christian movement. The six steps of reformation that the Oxford Group used were forerunner of today’s 12 steps.
At Ebby’s urging Lois and Bill began to attend Oxford Group meetings and a few months later, on a trip to Akron, Bill reached out to members there and met Dr. Bob Smith. From the date of their meeting--one drinker helping another--we date the birth of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Those early meetings were held in private homes. Wives accompanied their husbands and took charge of the refreshments. While the men coached each other through confession and repentance in the parlor, the wives sat in the kitchen, confessing their own frustrations as they discovered the common impact that alcohol had on their families.
To her dismay, Lois later wrote, Bill’s sobriety didn’t bring the happiness she expected. While he was drinking, Lois had played a central if troubled role in Bill’s life. Now, as he recovered she felt less important. This resentment over Bill finally achieving sobriety without her help troubled Lois. She and other wives, who had lived on the edge emotionally and financially, realized that the 12 steps “could also work for the wives”. 
Every organization has history and myth. History tells us that the very first meetings in which the wives of alcoholics began to study the 12 steps began in San Francisco, but the myth, always more powerful, says that Lois Wilson began the program in New York.
The truth is somewhere in the middle. All over the country, as AA grew, it was women who often were first to seek help for their families. Lois and other wives offered support and promoted a spiritual program. At conventions Lois took the podium to tell her side of the Wilson family story, sharing with humor the lengths she went to control Bill’s drinking and the humiliation she endured as she realized she could not.
As Bill W. took on the role of father of AA, it added a nice symmetry to have Lois as the mother of Al-Anon. Positioning Lois atop the recovery pantheon was strategic; She was a doctor’s daughter, with a college education. Lois gave a respectable face to a problem that was shameful and secretive.
In 1957 Al-Anon gained broad public recognition when Lois Wilson appeared on the Loretta Young television show bringing the problem of alcoholism and its impact on the family directly into America’s living rooms.
But there is always danger when one is placed on a pedestal. Lois was criticized because she couldn’t do in her own home what she advocated for others: setting limits on bad behavior. While Bill did stay sober for many years he was also a chronic womanizer. The fact of his adultery was made public when in his will, he left part of the royalties from “the Big Book”, AA’s text, to his last mistress.
It may be that in this very personal and painful way Lois Wilson left us her finest legacy of recovery. Al-Anon with its mission of respectability for families affected by alcoholism, has today more than 30,000 groups in 100 countries. She also, by her graceful life and the imperfection in her marriage, gave us an embodiment of AA’s slogan, “Progress not perfection”.   Thank you Lois.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Do Not Pass Go. Do Not Collect 200.

Last night a friend and I went to the regional corrections facility and led a one-hour AA meeting for women in jail. The nine incarcerated women were all races, ages from 19 to mid-50’s, and with varying amounts of experience with AA.

I have taken AA meetings to jail and prison before but it’s been years. This time I didn’t feel the curiosity of the place and its practices—security, the clanging doors, the inmates orange slip-on Keds. And I didn’t feel, as many folks report, the sense of relief of being let out when the meeting was over. I knew that I did not belong there.

But I did feel tremendous gratitude for the miracle and lucky accidents of my life and recovery. The women we talked to were not terribly different than I was 30 years ago. They had all the sincerity and all the denial that I had. And they had all the circumstances—bad boyfriends, dumb decisions, family hassles that I would have claimed to be my problem back then too. And each one of them reported that someone in their life—mother, friend, minister, counselor had begged them to get help, to change. I had that too and kept drinking and “making bad choices.” But maybe I had that one extra intervention or that one extra person who somehow penetrated my fog.
I did feel the privilege of being white and literate. We forget that social privilege is also a kind of intervention and a kind of cushion for women who “make bad choices.” I might have humiliated myself many times back in the day but I wasn’t arrested.
I am so glad I went to jail and I’ll go again. This morning I prayed for the nine women I met last night. I hope what they heard was one more tiny piece of info they can use to make a different choice.