Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Movie: Bill W. in Albany, New York

Albany and Capital Region Folks:

The major motion picture: Bill W.--a documentary about The Co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous will be shown at the Spectrum Theater on Thursday March 14th at 7pm. This film has received rave reviews from the Washington Post, San Fran Chronicle, LA Times and more.

and it has a wonderful soundtrack which includes the Bach Cello suites performed by Yo Yo Ma.

Please forward this to your Capital Region Twelve Step friends and lets pack the place and then go out for coffee!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Four Sentences That Lead to Wisdom

By now you know that I love the mystery novels by Louise Penny that feature the Quebecois Inspector, Armand Gamache. I think of him as a real person now and one of the most elegant and intelligent and psychologically minded teachers.

This week I'm reading "Bury Your Dead" in which Penny backtracks to give a little more history of her main man, Gamache and of Quebec and the politics of the French and English settlers.  And she allows Gamache to give some history of his career as a police investigator. In the context of this book Gamache reveals the questions he was given early in his career that shaped him and which he has tried to teach those who serve under him. It's this:

The four sentences that lead to wisdom:

1. I am sorry.
2. I was wrong.
3. I need help.
4. I don't know.

Four three word sentences. Four sentences that can save a job, save a relationship and that can make you wise.

Friday, February 22, 2013

What is Rehab Really Like?

If you are in this “Out of the Woods” stage of recovery it means you have been around for a while: fifteen or 20 or thirty years. That means you probably came into recovery before it was the practice to go to rehab or day treatment to begin your recovery journey. But these days…well, you know.

Or you don’t know. We hear from newcomers that they have just returned from rehab and we hear some of the good things—the wake up calls—that happened to them there. We also have an idea about celebrities –Lindsay, Tiger etc.—going to rehab and maybe we picture intense group therapy followed by oxygen facials. But what exactly happens in rehab? Is it helpful? And what did we miss?

In Anne Fletcher’s new book, “Inside Rehab” you can find out. Her subtitle is “The Surprising Truth about addiction treatment.” And there are some big surprises here. If you always felt a little bad that you missed something especially helpful because you didn’t go to rehab, you didn’t.

Anne is a health and medical writer, a superb researcher and the author of “Sober for Good.” In this new book she documents exactly what does and does not happen in rehab and who is delivering the services. She visited fifteen rehabs, did pre and post evaluations with clients, talked to staff at many more rehab centers. Its clear there are good and great and bad rehabs and Anne describes how to determine which is which.

This is a book for people in recovery and especially for people contemplating recovery and for families making a decision about how to help a family member. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Saturday Night Widows

In long-term recovery we have a lot of gratitude for how far we have come and we are always thinking about “What Comes Next…”: What will come next in our relationships, in our careers, in our families. While we don’t often think that far ahead its true that what comes eventually is death and dying.

The old joke: “How do you get to be an old-timer? Answer: Don’t Drink and Don’t Die.” That’s true. Up to a point. People we love will die. That too is part of recovery.

Think about it. If we are going to stay in recovery a long time then we are agreed that we’ll experience everything that people do who live a long time: illness, injury, disability and death. I know, I know…but this does not have to be morbid.

I have just read a wonderful new book about this very human part of life: What can happen to us after our spouse or partner dies.

The book is called, “Saturday Night Widows.”  Written by Becky Aikman who was widowed at 42 after her husband’s death from cancer, this book is startling in it’s positive approach to a subject many of us turn away from even in our recovery conversations. What is refreshing about Aikman’s approach is that she tried the traditional bereavement group after her husband’s death but it was a bust. Her “failure” in traditional grief work led her to do years of research and she discovered that a lot of what we have been taught about grieving is mostly wrong.

Aikman talked to grief experts who confirmed that the Kubler-Ross “Stages of Grief” were never actually stages of grief. They were, and are, stages of the dying process. Kubler-Ross worked with people who were dying but over time we told and retold those famous “stages” as grieving gospel. Not true. No stages. More like waves that diminish over time.

Another myth that Aikman debunks: You don’t have to talk, talk talk. In fact the over-telling of grief may be re-traumatizing. Turns out that new experiences and happy experiences are the real medicine for grief. This, I think, is a great reinforcement of our process in recovery groups.

“Saturday Night Widows” is also an inspiring story of the group of women that Aikman gathered and how they cooked, shopped, traveled, cried and laughed their way to healing.

This is the book for people in recovery who have had a death in their family. It is a perfect book for a woman in recovery who has lost a partner. Aikman offers hope that while we may fear death we can be, and we will be, just fine later.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valentine's Day in Recovery

Even after all these years of recovery I catch myself having expectations for Valentine’s Day. How many resentments it has caused. Dates, boy friends, husbands. Even knowing that Valentine’s Day is a commercially created day, the cultural pressure exists.

How do recovering people practice loving kindness for ourselves and others on Valentine’s Day?  How does sobriety guide me to make a Happy Valentine’s Day in or out of a romantic relationship?  What does love really mean in the context of recovery?

One of the joys of sobriety is watching other people grow. For me, it has been particularly moving to observe sober men as they change their lives and beliefs.

Early in recovery—just shy of two years and at the point where the fog is clearing –a man named Fred who was in his early 60’s came to my home group one morning. It was his first day out of treatment and he was in pain. His “bottom” involved devastation at both work and home. He hurt.  I listened as he spoke and I recognized his grief. Then, after the meeting ended, I watched as the men in our group surrounded Fred, gave him phone numbers and insisted that he come to breakfast with them. I watched as the men gathered him, taught him, and loved him.

Even though others in the group had had done that for me, it was then, with Fred, when I was just sober enough to understand that I was seeing love in action. I hold that moment as one of my sobriety treasures. It was the day that I could also see the love that surrounded me and I felt my heart open enough to want that love to surround another person.

Maybe it’s because one of my own wounds is about my father that this touches me so deeply.
This morning at my home group I heard men talk about how recovery changed their lives. Tough guys were softened, fathers recommitted, lost men were found, partners tried again, new romances began and they were trying to do it all differently.

It makes me happy to see men change. To know that under different circumstances my father and my brothers might have changed too. To know that there is an endless supply of love in these rooms and that we are changed by that love.

In early recovery I used to hear, “Let us love you until you can love yourself.” It felt like a puzzle, a bafflement. I didn’t think you could love someone into change. Hadn’t I tried that all those years before with disastrous results?  I know now that I didn’t really love; I was just trying to control someone or to make him take care of me. In romantic relationships, and sometimes as parents, we mistakenly try to love people into changing. It generally doesn’t work.

But in AA it does. We can be loved by our AA fellows until we can love ourselves. And when we have learned to love ourselves, we can then truly love others.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Willpower and Glucose

One of the best books that I read this year is "Willpower" by Roy Baumesiter and John Tierney. The book is about that old-fashioned idea of inner strength and grit and fortitude but these two social scientists explain the biology, psychology and science of how that works.

What I love about this book is that the ideas are practical and helpful and if you have been exposed to a twelve-step program you will recognize these ideas.  I love that because our "founders" knew what worked before we knew the science of any of it.

I'm attaching below a link to a YouTube video where author Roy Baumeister gives a fifteen minute talk about the ideas in the Willpower book. He talks about the relationship between willpower and glucose. Yeah, sugar.

You may remember that early AA's were told--and it's in the Big Book--that if you felt a craving for a drink you should eat a piece of candy! And we thought, "Oh what an old-fashioned idea--candy--who does that?"

And you know who does? social scientists who know that a teaspoon of sugar can restore enough willower to resist a more dangerous craving.

Crazy smart those old AA guys!

Take a look at Baumeister here on Youtube:

iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/vefDeoXCBbk?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>

Saturday, February 09, 2013

All Encompassing Recovery

In my earliest years of recovery I had the blessing of discovering two recovery speakers who, I now know, significantly impacted how I would recover.

One was the AA speaker, Bob Earle, who told his story of progression through various addictions and an array of issues leading to deep emotional and spiritual change. In one of his earliest talks Bob told his audience, “When I am ten years sober I don’t want to go to five different Twelve Step groups for my alcoholism, food, family issues, codependence etc. I want to go to one meeting where I talk about all of me.”

The other person who influenced me was Judi Hollis, PhD an eating disorder therapist and the author of “Transferring Obsessions” published by Hazelden. That small pamphlet was part of my daily reading from my first year. I know that her ideas made early recovery really hard, but now in later recovery I thank her every day.

Hollis was writing to an audience of Overeaters Anonymous members. She talked about what happens when a woman or man in food recovery begins to let go of that addiction and how, if a Higher Power is not the replacement, we will move on to shopping, decorating, exercising, dating, sex, work and using alcohol or drugs. In those earlier days of OA there were members who still used alcohol, seeing the separation of substances but not seeing the singularity of addiction.

It was not unlike the way most professionals viewed drug addiction and alcoholism 25 years ago. At that time most hospital treatment programs for drug addiction allowed participants to drink alcohol. In some programs people completing their treatment for drug addiction were given a Beer Bash as the celebration of their 90 days of clean time. We are amazed by that today. Maybe someday we’ll be amazed by alcohol treatment that includes tobacco use or ice cream parties on Friday nights.

Now, to be clear the influence of Earle and Hollis did not stop me from swapping back and forth between alcohol, food, shopping, exercising and overwork. It just made it so much more painful because the denial was much more short-lived. When I left a department store with two shopping bags of clothes I knew it was the same as sneaking out of a grocery store with two bags of cake and cookies. And I knew that the married man that pumped up my heart rate was the same “drug” as the extra hour on the treadmill. A drug is a drug is a drug.

It’s been said that we give up our addictions in the order in which they are killing us. That was true for me. Mine went in this order: food, bulimic behavior, alcohol, drugs and then the ones that are ongoing: relationships and work. I take those tigers for a walk every day.

There are still some audiotapes of Bob Earle around. Ask the old-timers in your home group. And Judy Hollis’s “Transferring Obsessions” is still available from Hazelden. 

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Mary Karr Lit and Kin

I’m re-reading the wonderful recovery memoir, Lit, by Mary Karr. This is one of those books that I can read again and again and learn something new each time. I think that’s because I keep changing and so I am open to Karr’s ideas with each stage of my own growth. I especially love to listen to this book, Lit, on cd in the car. That book saves me many days as I go to and from work.

Karr is a sensational poet and now also lyricist with her first album recently released called: Kin. On the Kin soundtrack Karr’s songs are performed by Norah Jones, Lucinda Williams, Vince Gill, Rosanne Cash and other amazing singers. This is a fine example of how a recovery life can indeed take us beyond our wildest dreams.

The beauty of the memoir, Lit and the album Kin is that you don’t need to know anything about recovery or addiction or alcoholism. You can enjoy these works of art for their sheer beauty, the poetic language, the laugh out loud gut-busting humor and Karrr’s sensational storytelling.