Saturday, September 29, 2012

Practice the Principles Even at Work

We talk about practicing these principles in all of our affairs. And we so often come up short with the people we love and live with. But this week the idea of practicing the principles of recovery --At Work--has come up over and over. My workplace has been crazy busy. I have not been “practicing” very well. Three friends called this week with “Oh crap!” stories about themselves at work.

I’ve been writing about my Ten Commandments for the Workplace—I’ll share that next week. But it got me thinking about the best advice I’ve gotten over the years about how to be a better me at work. And a lot of that advice is in books.

So here is my list of suggested reading for practicing the principles at work:

Alcoholics Anonymous, A.A. World Services, Inc—yeah, the basic instructions.

When Things Fall Apart,  Pema Chodron—I listen to her over and over and over.

Leadership is an Art, Max DePree—simply brilliant.

Seeds of Grace, Sister Molly Monahan—very revealing about people politics and AA’s.

Paths to Recovery: Al-Anon Steps & Concepts,--the better basic instructions

Beautiful Swimmers, William W. Warner—a beautiful picture of people working hard.

An Autobiography, Anthony Trollope—the man knew how to write & how to supervise.

New and Selected Poems, Mary Oliver—breathe, slow down, it’s your life.

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy—hand’s down the best management book ever.

Heart at Work, Jack Canfield—Buddhist perspective on work and organizations.

Getting Things Done, David Allen—half the battle is getting it done.

Drop the Rock, Bill Pittman—hee, hee, hee.

Work would be Great If It Weren’t for the People, Ronna Lichtenberg—she is wicked funny and a wickedly smart realist about how workplaces really work.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Carry The One

On Tuesday October 2nd I'll be joining the readers at the Albany Public Library to review the novel, "Carry the One" by Carol Anshaw. "Carry" is a stunnning story of a group of family and friends--young adults --who travese 25 years together.

It is also a new entry in the  category, "addiction in fiction" and perhaps better than many books in that genre shows us how alcoholism and addiction can persevere, can hide and can forever change the lives of not just addicts but their families and friends as well.

Carry the One is a beautiful book. Anshaw will hook you deeply. Check it out.

To hear more or join the conversation please join us at the Albany Public Library--Washington Avenue on  Tuesday October 2nd. 12 to 1:30pm Bring your lunch!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Rituals in Recovery

A ritual is a way of ordering life. And so people in recovery—where it takes a long time to return order to our lives—often create and value rituals. Rituals have power. Our faith communities teach us rituals to help us find faith and meaning in our lives. Almost all professional athletes have rituals—the order in which they dress, the things they do on game day, the special movements or gestures that precede their competition. Performers and artists have rituals. Dancers are governed by ritual. And after many years of recovery our rituals help us too.  

Many of us have rituals for our prayer and meditation practices. I light a candle each morning at my little altar in my bedroom—that altar is also part of my ritual. The altar makes it clear to me—only me—that this is prayer time. I’m sure my higher power does not care about the location or the accessories but having the altar, small prayer rug and that candle help me to pay attention to what I’m doing.

For meditation I have a small brass chime that makes a soft sound. I use the chime to start my ten minutes of meditation each day. It’s a reminder to my brain, “Oh that’s what we’re doing now.” Recently I began to use the timer on my phone to alert me when my sitting time is over. It’s a ritual and a helper: I don’t have to keep peeking at my watch when I’m meditating.

I’d love to hear about your rituals in recovery. Do you write your gratitude list? Do you write your tenth step inventory at night? Or do you say it out loud in the car as one friend does? Do you email to your sponsor each day? For many years in Overeaters Anonymous I called my sponsor every morning to commit my food. That external monitoring helped me get clear about my food and making the call was a daily ritual of commitment --and humility. I have not gone to OA in years but I still write down my food every day. That is a ritual of self-honesty.

Do you have any rituals you use at meetings? I know a woman who tried to always sit in the same chair, and another who always sits in the front row to make herself pay attention. Years ago someone taught me to, “Always look at each person as they speak, it will help you hear them.” Do you have something you do as your gesture of truly being present at a meeting?

Rituals reinforce habits --and recovery is really a series of positive, healthy habits. Having a ritual erases any  question of, “Should I or shouldn’t I?” The renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp talks about artistic rituals in her wonderful book, “The Creative Habit”. She writes, “Rituals are the mechanism by which we convert the chemistry of pessimism into optimism.”

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

It's About Choices

My sister-in-law turned me onto a great series of detective fiction books by Canadian writer, Louise Penny. I am so hooked on Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec—I think I may have a new addiction.

The particular joy of this character—and this author – is that the books are very psychological. It’s not about the CSI details of solving a crime but—and this is what I love—it’s about what makes human beings tick. That’s the thread of my life work: Why am I the way I am? Why are you? And why is he and she and them?

Early in the first book of the series, which is called, “Still Life” Inspector Gamache is explaining his work to a young apprentice. He says to her:

“I watch. I’m very good at observing. I listen to what people are saying and their choice of words, their tone. What they aren’t saying. And this is the key. It’s choice. We choose our thoughts. We choose our perceptions. We choose our attitudes. We may not think so. We may not believe it, but we do. It’s all about choice.”

And as they talk he continues:

“Life is choice. All day, everyday. Who we talk to, where we sit, what we say, how we say it. And our lives become defined by our choices. It’s as simple and as complex as that. And as powerful. So when I’m observing, that’s what I’m watching for. The choices people make.”

Those paragraphs really stopped me. What are the choices of the people around me? What are my choices? Can I make new ones right here in this moment? And what life are my choices adding up to?  

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Great Relationship Advice

I heard a great piece of relationship advice last week. This one really got my attention and gave me a way to see if I’m being reasonable or unreasonable when I get into that “wanting him to change” thing.

It goes like this: You can ask a partner—and maybe even your child --for a behavior change but not a personality change. You can ask for behaviors you want from your partner but we can’t ask them to be different inside or to develop the characteristics that will cause him to think like you do.

For example, you can ask him to take a turn doing the laundry or ask him to clean the bathroom on Saturdays—those are behaviors—but you can’t ask him to notice when the bathroom is dirty or when you need socks—those are aspects of personality. You can ask him to buy and mail his sisters birthday gift (But please, please do not comment on what he chooses—don’t sabotage yourself.) But you can’t ask him, “Why don’t you remember your family’s birthdays?” That is personality.

Similarly, you can say, “I’d like you to give me one compliment each day.” –that’s behavior. But it’s not OK to say, “Why don’t you appreciate me?”—That’s personality. And the start of a fightJ. That’s pretty much like saying, “Why don’t you be me?” And really, would I ever want to be married to me? I don’t think so.

Monday, September 10, 2012

I Don't Want No More Addictions

One of the best things I brought home from the conference on addiction this week was the absolute conviction that I do not want to relapse to any past addictions. And I do not want any new addictions. I was humbled and awed, and slightly terrified,  hearing story after story about addictions I had not met --yet: gambling, sex, Internet etc.

As moved as I was by the compassion and creativity of the professionals I heard presenting I was also moved by the collective pain represented by the addiction stories that the treatment folks described. And I heard too many stories of folks who had been long in recovery and long sober who were undone by some other thing that either took them back to their original drug or destroyed their sober life in a shockingly new way.

So maybe it was a wake up call to my complacency, or it was the realization that an addict is an addict and we can change up the form of our destruction any time, or maybe it was a blessing and emotional recommitment to full sized recovery-or what I used to call my "all encompassing recovery". I don't want to separate my past drinking and past disordered eating from the sleeping meds and prescribed medications and the money issues or the shopping or the--mother and root of them all: relationship issues.

That was there in story after story the past four days. Whether the drug was gambling or sex or booze or food or  illicit drugs or perfectly responsible drugs used irresponsibly-in every story there was a co-combatent of relationship struggles.

For me that means that the biggest work I have to do is inside of me and on my relationship with my higher power. This weekend I really understood what it means to say, "But for the grace of God"

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Recovery and Trauma

There has been so much good information at the conference about trauma and recovery. And how huge a factor it is in treatment, early recovery and for the rest of us--in later recovery as well. Women relapse more often and more quickly if "family of origin" issues are not addressed. That has been the message and the outcome of every study and piece of research and every professional's perspective.

We just don't get to skip that work and keep growing and stay healthy. In the last month I have heard so many women--with sobriety--say "I'm not going there" or "I don't want to open that can of worms" or "I just can't open those memories/feelings." Well, maybe we can't not go there.

Heres one big eye opener  had this week: We may technically stay "sober"--or not drink--but if we don't address the family stuff we will eat, shop, work, worry, struggle in intimate relationships, misuse our prescription medications, depend on sleep medications and mess with some kind of sexual addiction. And oh boy, they come in all new  varieties.

I always pictured a sex addict as someone like our former Governor of New York, Elliott Spitzer--banging prostitutes after a hard day running New York. But turns out it's just as likely to be a 45 year old working mom with two kids, doing great volunteer work who is also got some sketchy aps on her phone or who has a texting or email "relationship" with the wrong person. "Just fun" she's thinking, but its shameful. And we know where shame takes us. Those numbers are really growing fast for middle aged, middle class women.

I guess the good news is that recovery is progressive and ongoing and we keep uncovering and peeling back layers. It's why we need our sober women friends and our sponsors and our spiritual directors and especially why we need to stay active and present in recovering communities where we can catch this stuff when its small.

I'll write more on tis when I get home and unpack my conference notes.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Recovery Rock Stars

Tonight I had the chance to circle back and say thank you to two women who were very important in my early recovery but whom I had never met before.

I am at the Cape Cod Symposium on Addictive Disorders--1,000 people--clinicians, treatment professionals, interventionists, hospital folks and writers, speakers and teachers. The workshops have been terrific, and I feel like a kid in a candy store--well, maybe that's a bad metaphor since this symposium is about ALL addictions: alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, work, sex, TV and media, shopping, debt and, and, and...

But part of what I am appreciating here is that the addiction is in the person and not in the substance, and that in any family each person can have one or more different addictions as a reaction to the same  trauma. So much for thinking that one drug is better/worse than another. Addiction is the disease.

When my recovery began I didn't have those words or ideas. I just had huge amounts of shame and a crazy amount of behaviors and substances that originally worked to soothe my shame but then went on to make my shame bigger. But I feel blessed and lucky that my recovery began with a group of folks who really believed in Alanon and ACOA as well as AA and OA. And we went to ACOA groups and passed around and wore out books by Claudia Black and Rokelle Lerner, who, along with Janet Woititz, were the pioneers of the Adult Children Therapy movement.

Tonight the plenary presentation was by Claudia Black, Rokelle Lerner and Jerry Moe--director of the children's program at Betty Ford. I felt like I was seeing my rock stars. It's 30 years later and they are 30 years oder too--but what  inspired me is their passion for helping families and kids--of all ages. I'm grateful and inspired.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

More On Willpower

I love the new book, “Willpower” by Roy Baumeister & John Tierney. (I mentioned this book here on September 1st. ) Now I’m almost at the end but I have to share some more of this new book.

“Willpower” is for a general audience—especially business folks and parents-- who want to learn more about how willpower works, and how to both get more and teach kids to have some. But this is also a terrific book for people in recovery.

Here are a couple more gems from Baumeister and Tierney:

They write about why it’s especially beneficial to have a daily practice of prayer and meditation (as in our Eleventh Step). “A daily practice of prayer and meditation is an anaerobic workout for self control.” Now, we know that a daily prayer practice keeps us connected to a higher power and therefore more able to surrender and let go of things, but the bonus, I’ve learned from “Willpower” is that people who do daily prayer and meditation develop more self-control in other areas of their lives. So isn’t that a win-win for someone resisting temptation of any kind?

Another topic the authors write about that intrigued me is “The Hyperbolic Discount”. This is a psychological phenomenon that all people have to some degree whereby we discount the long-term impact of a short-term decision. This is a human foible where “we can ignore temptations when they are not immediately available but once they are in front of us, we lose perspective and forget our distant goals.” Hence we don’t drink today AND we don’t drink tomorrow. This is also the 2012 psychological explanation for the story from the Big Book about the man who has that glass of milk and just one shot of whiskey. It also explains my completing forgetting my goal to buy fewer cheap clothes and save for better ones when I am standing in Target.

There is more in these sections about Mary Karr—author of “Lit” and her recovery path and poignant stories about Eric Clapton and what helped him to get and stay sober—even when he had to face the death of his young son. Powerful, relevant stuff.