Saturday, June 30, 2012

Sex After Recovery

Here is a wonderful refreshing essay about sex after recovery--from the other side of the relationship. Check out my colleague Andrea's New York Times debut:

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Goldilocks or Dharma: A Right-sized Life

I have been gathering monthly with a group of friends and family who are committed to personal growth of many varieties. Many are 12 step folks, some are yoga, therapy, gardeners or foodies with the common thread of self-help and personal growth. We are reading Stephen Cope’s new book, “The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey.” His book, which is about the ancient text The Bhagavad Gita, uses that story to examine the lives of many greats like Jane Goodall, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost and others to challenge readers with the questions of “What is your true calling?”

Last night we looked at Thoreau’s life—his Walden Pond experiment—away to the woods with his mom cooking and his sis doing the laundry—and talked about how to discern if your life is too big or too small, or as Goldilocks would say, “Just right.”

For people in recovery this is not an easy question. Our lives can be big from grandiosity, or small from fear. We can be trying to live lives to please others—even long dead parents, or struggling toward work that really is ours but has so many obstacles it seems crazy to those who love us.

We do need all of our spiritual practices to make this challenging discernment. Our work, our art and in our culture questions about our money too, and for many of us our relationships. Do you follow a true calling like Goodall or Frost if there is a spouse who is reluctant or kids who need clothes?  Tough calls even after we get our scared selves out of the way.

Makes me very grateful for recovery the process AND recovery the community.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Black Belt Detatchment

This is a gift from Alanon. Detachment and “Detachment with Love”. That last one is the gold standard and not easy to accomplish. Years ago in Baltimore attending my first Alanon meetings I met weekly with a group of women who were “Black Belt Alanon”. They had worked the program a long time and many of them were still living with active alcoholics. They were tough. They talked a lot about detachment and working toward “detachment with love.”

I remember one of the examples they gave. It went like this: If you come home from your meeting and the drunk is passed out in the driveway—again—detachment is stepping over them and going into the house and going to bed. Detachment with love is rolling the drunken person on their side, covering them with a blanket and then going into the house and going to bed.

A pretty graphic example and one that stuck in my head. I found I could translate that driveway scenario into other situations and use it to sort out, “What would be the equivalent in this situation of providing the blanket and still going to bed?”

This week I am asking myself:

What would detachment look like? Sound like? Think like? And feel like?

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Week of No Complaints Completed

I extended my “week” of no complaints to more than ten days. I found that it took me at least six days just to hear myself and to see the many ways that complaining snuck up on me. And to see how often my complaints were gossip and my gossip was complaining. Yeah.

Perhaps my biggest learning was that –and I hate this—I had to slow down, slow waaaaay down, to hear myself complain. I found that I had to move a lot slower—and I like moving fast—to be aware of where my mind and mouth were headed. If I moved and spoke slower there was a better chance that I’d catch a complaint or a criticism before it fully emerged.

But the other big lesson was that I needed even more quiet and even more slowing down in order to discern what was a necessary truth versus what was a complaint. At work, and sometimes at home, there were things that just were not right or not OK with me that I needed to address. I didn’t want to avoid those because of the “no complaining” rule, but similarly I had to really get quiet to sort out what was just me being cranky about stuff not going my way.

Discernment requires quiet and quiet follows slowing down. Well—there’s the next challenge: A week with more quiet.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Faith on the Diving Board

 He was there at the end of the diving board. He would tread water for hours watching while I practiced my dives. For years it was our Sunday afternoon ritual . I was 4 years old when we began.  Daddy was there in the deep water, waiting for me. On those Sunday afternoons I believed that if he was there at the end of the board I could do anything.

He would wait, treading water, off to one side. He would look around and give me the sign that it was OK to dive. And I would stroll to the end of the board, tugging my stretchy lavender swimsuit, and bounce in the air before I dove in.

I would rise to the surface sputtering, and look for his face. He would hesitate a moment to let me right myself. I would cough and beam. He would grab the back of my suit and give me a push toward the side. “Swim to the ladder,” he would say. And he would stay out at the end of the board waiting.

I remember the feeling as I paddled to the ladder. The world was perfect: I was diving in the deep end of the pool; there was no pain, and no evil in the world. There was no need or want in my life.  I was a perfect, grinning, sunburned, waterlogged four-year-old, in love with the world, herself and her daddy.

He died when I was 18. In the intervening years life happened to me and to Daddy.  By the time I was 13, he was traveling a lot, and when we did spend the occasional weekend together we did not speak of personal things. There were no talks about plans or dreams. As a teen-ager I felt awkward with my father so I would interview him about his job.  I know a lot about industrial engineering. It filled our time. By then my addictions had begun.

On a July evening, when he was 56, my father had a stroke and died.

Has it affected me? Of course. To have had that closeness and to loss it; to have had those timeless moments of being safe and special and then to lose him when I still needed to ask what happened.

It took years of my life, of other relationships, addictions and even years in recovery for me to wrestle with those two men--the daddy who waited in the deep water and the man who left suddenly, without a word, when I was 18.

Somewhere inside, that four-year-old still wears her lavender bathing suit. She is at the end of a diving board and leaning forward to hear someone say, “You are so special.” There is a deep hunger for those words.  Can I ever get enough?

I’ve learned a lot from listening to that little girl. I know that in romance we get some of that need met, but romance has its own path and after a while no one wants to admire us every day.  Another way to meet this need is with an affair.  Having an affair is a way a four-year-old can twirl in a 40 year-old body and hear again, “You are the only one.”  

In the first five years of recovery I practiced healthier solutions.  I practice in the mirror: “Diane, You are very special.” But all the praise and promises in the present cannot fill a hole that exists in the past.
Later I learned to meet this need in a spiritual way. In the rooms I began to meet people who had a connection with their God or higher power that helped them to live believing that God smiles warmly on them.

So what is the gift from a father who left when we were both too young? It’s this: For a long time I resented the missing memories; no father-daughter chats, no drives to college, no adult conversations. But I have this other thing--a picture in my brain and in my heart of my father still there at the end of the board, smiling and waiting.

Today I believe in a God who looks around my life and says, “Hold on a minute. We don’t want anyone to get hurt; then, “OK, go for it, I’m here.” I have a God at the end of my daily diving board who says to me, “Okay now, catch your breath. I’m here.”                                            

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Shame of Food Addiction

In today's Wall Street Journal is a terrific and provocative article by Caitlin Moran about food addiction. She describes the shame of an addiction to overeating outstripping an addiction to drugs or alcohol---and she takes a leap--an accurate one, I think--to suggesting why so many caring women have this problem rather than others. Take a look. Send to your gal pals. What do you think?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

No Complaints..Well Maybe a Few

I’m halfway through my week of No Complaints, and the learning pours in.

Day One: I notice the complaints in my email. Just certain ways of saying things. A little zinger here, a criticism there. The good news is that it’s in writing, so I see it before I say it, and so I just back space, back space, back space. In actual speech no such luxury.

Day Two: In the morning I run into a close friend and she asks me what’s happening in my day and without thinking out comes total crankiness about some work stuff. Just 1, 2, 3…. And then I think, “Oh, that was a complaint!” And it was the combination of complaint/gossip. Yuck. They do ride together.

Day Three: At work I’m more aware of my goal. (I have Post-it reminders in my planner and  on my keyboard…) But I have to work hard to say what I need to say about work stuff—to say what is not good or what is difficult without complaining. I am becoming aware that there is a difference and there is a line, and I can feel when I cross it.

Day Four: The feelings arrive. There is a kind of loneliness—a hollowness in not complaining. Is complaining a way to connect? Is it a defense against the feeling of not connecting? Huh. Can I connect without complaints? Are my complaints defensive? Of course they are. Can I feel the loneliness and not complain to push away the feelings?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Unwell Now and Then

Today I had one of those clear “Out of the Woods” moments. It was a clear distinction between early recovery and ten-plus years. Driving home from work I realized I was nodding off—I was beyond tired and feeling unwell. I pulled over and thought, “Am I sick?”. I was on my way to a meeting, so I began that head talk about being committed and how meetings must come first. In early recovery my sponsor taught me to go to my meeting No Matter What. If I wasn’t going to the hospital I’d be going to that meeting.

Today my recovery is different. That very process of recovery taught me that taking care of myself comes first. I can feel the difference between procrastination, avoidance and being unwell. I thought, “Pushing myself through exhaustion is just not the sign of healthy recovery.” So I made a phone call. And I came home.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

No Complaints

Just yesterday I noticed that I have been complaining a lot. Grumbling. Whining. Just kind of fussy. It got my attention was when I greeted someone who said, “What’s up?” by starting to list the people who I was not happy with. Yikes! I heard myself.

I started to pay attention. (That’s the thing in Buddhism and in Recovery—paying attention). What I heard coming out of me was a lot more about what wasn’t right than what was, and what bothered me more than what pleased me. And all of this at a time when there are many wonderful, good and great things going on in my life. Now, there has been some stuff that has not gone so well too, but on balance…

So what’s this crankiness about? And what to do about it?

I like challenges and I’m a believer in taking baby steps toward new behaviors so today I am starting “A Week Without Complaints.” Bear with me for these next seven days as I see what’s under this habit—I think complaining is a kind of habitual thing—and what happens if I can make this change.

So I’m putting myself out here where I can watch myself. No complaints. No gossip. (Gossip is a kind of complaining, I think). That includes gossip-by-concern, you know the kind that begins, “I’m so concerned about so-and-so because she is just so…”. Yeah, that’s a complaint.

What I’m most curious to discover is what my patterns are: When do I complain most? And about whom? And what do I do or feel instead when I catch myself complaining? I have no illusions of perfectionism here, so what’s most interesting is what happens when.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

What Matters More?

What matters more: What other people think of me? or Who I am and how I feel? I know the answer is supposed to be “Who I am.” But too often it is “what other people think”. I know that this falls into the character defect bin because–using Seventh Step prayer criteria—it “stands in the way of my usefulness to God and my fellows.”

I’m praying about this. Teasing it loose. Gently lifting up the edges—like a price tag on glass—and inviting it to let go.

Yes perfectionism feeds it. No question about that. But I have never seen perfectionism let go because it was bashed or shamed or anonymously poked at. J