Friday, March 29, 2013

The Easter Brother

I consider the following to be quite telling about my own personality: I never believed in Santa Claus. I never, even as a little kid, imagined or believed that a man would go house to house in a red suit and bring toys and stockings to boys and girls.

I did, however, believe, until I was ten or maybe even older, in the Easter Bunny.  In my own defense I have to explain that we lived near the woods and I saw all kinds of rabbits, little baby bunnies and distance-covering jack rabbits, all the time. But I also had two older brothers who, as only big brothers can, facilitated, my belief. Sig and Larry would talk just slightly out of my earshot about The Bunny. “Don’t let her see him”, and “Did you see the basket he left next door?” They also, to make it more convincing, put bite marks on the handles of our Easter baskets.

My brothers died when they were 42 and 48. Now I’m the oldest. At Easter I miss them. I miss having an Easter basket from Lar who –even as an adult—made me one that included the bunny’s teeth marks to remind me just how na├»ve I had been. And I miss our sibling tradition of finding the family “King Egg”.  As Easter approached we would each decorate our own hard-boiled egg, fortifying them with dye and crayon and competed (Sig and Lar were both went on to become engineers) by ramming our colored eggs together to see whose broke first.

I also miss dressing up for Easter services, complete with new dress and corsage. The three of us continued to go to church on Easter even when we had walked away from organized religion. We kept this holiday because we all liked the uplifting Easter hymns like “Up From the Grave He Arose”.

I kept going to church on Easter even as, and after, Sig and Larry were dying because those Easter hymns gave me a weird hope.  It was not a hope of miraculous recovery for  either brother,  or necessarily for a reunion in the “Great Beyond”, but  hope for  my  own  “arose” from the heartache of losing my  brothers,  my playmates,  co-conspirators and occasional torturers.

One of my final conversations with Sig was about my car. I was 40 years old but still easily defeated by my car worries.  Larry, who was then sick, was caring for Sig who was dying, and I called their house in tears to report the impending death of my car. Larry, who was on the phone with me, relayed the mechanic’s opinion to Sig who was lying in what would soon be his deathbed.

Larry said to me, “Sig wants to talk to you”. I was surprised because Sig’s speech had become painful and very difficult for him. I waited until Larry positioned the phone for Sig to talk. “Here’s what you tell them….”, he began, and he proceeded to dictate a set of car repair instructions to convince any mechanic that I knew a nut from a bolt, and that this girl had a brother who would not see his sister taken for a ride.

At Easter I have the best memories of a girl with brothers—of a basket-carrying rabbit who was “just here a second ago” and of making faces to spoil the, “Come on; Say cheese” Brownie snapshots that Dad took of our Easter outfits.

Apart from any  theology, Easter lets me believe in the resurrection of my family, of my all too gullible girlhood self, and in a life that rises, falls, rises and dies over and over as we each cycle through layers of loss and gain.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Choosing Therapy That Works

Many of us, especially in longterm recovery, take advantage of what we euphemistically call, "outside help". We take seriously Bill W's comment that we should seek the assistance of doctors, psychiatrists and counselors. And, if we are doing the steps again in later recovery we often have to deal with family issues, past abuse, other addictions--more subtle ones like work and TV and technology and for me, worry. So we go to therapy and we share names with each other--and we need different kinds of therapists at different times in our process.

Here's an article in today's New York Times by Harriet Brown that talks about some of the flaws and fallacies in how we choose therapists and what research shows about what kinds of therapy are most effective.

Take a look:

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Be the Heroine of Your Life

After Nora Ephron died last year I clipped this quote from one of the many articles about her:  “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”

It seems like I can see it when someone else slips into victimhood but I’m last to notice when I’m doing it. And today—home and alone with me and my thoughts—I finally listened in and whoa, readers, my manta was “Poor Me.”

I guess it snuck up on me because I am wrestling with some hard stuff. I worked my fingers to nubs last week writing, editing, typing, revising, typing…and my body too. It’s hard to sit for hours and hours like that. But I also do know that even that is a luxury problem. I’m a writer and so, writers kinda have to sit and type a lot. Comes with…

And I am scared. I’m working on a book that is so important to me. It’s the story of a group of elderly Marines (they are 95, 98, 99, 101…) that I got to know over a period of 12 years and no one has ever told their story. And it’s a trauma story and that makes it so relevant to today and our very current events. So, you can see, I have a lot of personal energy tied in this book. And …What if it doesn’t work…and what if it doesn’t get published…and…and…

Yes I’m doing all those things we are supposed to NOT to do in recovery: Don’t project, don’t fear, don’t tell God what to do…etc. Because when I do all those things I get smaller and smaller and smaller…and that is victimhood.

So thank you, Nora Ephron—for great movies and great books, especially “Heartburn”—in which she turned her husband’s affair into a best-seller and totally turned victim into heroine—and thank you for this reminder:

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Surrender, Diane

We never really do it once. Though, when I was younger in recovery I so wanted that to be true, and I hung on every word of the old-timers who said they took the Third Step once and from then on it was all…

Well, it was all what? Many of those old timers were smoking and overeating and grouchy. But not all. There were also those people in AA and in Alanon who did have some kind of continual peace or perspective that left them more or less sane. I still want that.

I raised my hand today in my home group and asked for the topic of “Real Surrender” by which I mean the kind that comes from deep, deep down. Often that’s the kind that comes when I body slam into the wall of my own insistence and control. Over the years it has helped me to remind myself, “Surrender when you see the wall coming.” We do not always have to hit the wall first.

I’m feeling it now cause I’m heading out for a week of writing. Insecure writing. Shaky writing. Writing I care deeply about. Writing that has my heart all tied up in it. And yes, writing for which I have a certain outcome in mind. Ugh. Let go, let go, let go. But still.

So here’s my practice and it comes from Julia Cameron --who is no relation except in the ancient Celtic underground—She says in her wonderful classic, “The Artist’s Way”: “You take care of the quantity and God will take care of the quality.” And then, though she doesn’t actually say it, “That’s that.”

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Are You Impressed?

Readers, a question: Have you ever heard—inside yourself—that little voice that narrates your daily life? I’m not always aware of mine but over the past week I’ve been able to hear it more and it’s getting my attention.

I’m not talking about the still, small voice of wisdom or the intuitive rumble somewhere between your solar plexus and belly…but more of a head (or head trip) voice that is coaching from the sidelines in a less than helpful way.

OK, let me step way out here on the end of the vulnerability diving board (Thanks Brene) and tell you that this little persistent voice of mine offers a pretty consistent commentary on what “they” think or worse, might, think of me. Sort of like this, “Well, when they see this, she’ll think that..” OR “If you have that (bag, book, dress, degree, credit …) he’ll see that….”.

The thing is that it’s a really soft but persistent voice…maybe cultural, maybe familial, maybe psychotic. Not really sure. What I am clear on though is that it’s consistency makes it hard to hear though its very subliminal nature makes it a powerful influence.

Now here is the counter-intuitive part: We are often told to get more quiet to hear our inner voice and I think that applies to the inner wisdom “still small voice” but this more active but low-toned nag (and it is a kind of nag) is heard best when I am busy—probably because that is when I am most worried and distracted. And its arsenal is distraction. In the same strange way I’m sure its intention is some kind of help. I do think that our character defects or quirks are all trying to help us in some way but this one grabs any form of insecurity and pumps it up.

So I’m trying to listen in more and see what this “are they impressed?” voice is all about. This is part of me—likely a strategy of a younger me—something to soothe the girl that felt so terribly, dangerously invisible years ago—but now? At 60? Really, who is it exactly that I want to see me?

And the spiritual remedy for this? Believing that a Higher Power really does see and care.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Change Your Langauge Change Your Life

You have heard that words are powerful. You've read about the "secret" which really wasn't such a big a secret having been taught for a billion years by Norman Vincent Peale and Dale Carnegie, but it doesn't hurt to have reminders.

I'm just now reading a book that has those powerful reminders about language and a spiritual perspective on how language is used to create reality. The book is called, "Supreme Influence: Change Your Life with the Power of Language." The author is Niurka, yes that's her whole name. (She should have just added Jones after that I think.) But the important thing is that she's smart and she has an important message--especially for women.

One of the gems in this book is Niurka's "Eight-Step Formula for Dynamic Presentations." I do a lot of public speaking and her two page outline is one of the best--and most motivating--that I have seen. I copied it for my motivation file--what I turn to when I need a cupful of courage.

This is a brand new book so keep an eye out for interviews and articles about Supreme Influence.

Friday, March 08, 2013

The One Area Where Women are Beating Men

Today is International Women's Day and typically we celebrate the advances of women and more typically those advances are illustrated by comparison to men's achievements and accomplishments. In the recovery community we can, in fact, celebrate that a higher percentage of women are becoming part of recovery. But in a post on The Fix I learned today that women are way ahead of men in abusing one substance category: tranquilizers and hypnotics.

No, we wouldn't want to celebrate more women abusing alcohol or misusing other drugs but there is something so sad about women winning the race in this category of drug abuse. Tranquilizers and hypnotics (think Ambien) are drugs that shut you down, turn you off and numb you.

Betty Friedan, where are you?

Take a look at the link below to read more about this sad "achievement":

Addiction's Shrinking Gender Gap | The Fix

Monday, March 04, 2013

Maybe We Should Regret the Past

One of the Promises from the book, “Alcoholics Anonymous” says, “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” Yet we hear people with good recovery sometimes admit that they still have regrets. Is that flawed recovery or is that good mental health?

We talk both in and outside of recovery rooms about not having regrets and suggest that it’s a good thing.  What I think we mean by that is that we don’t want to be stuck in or shamed by our past. But if we have been around a while we all have some “stuff”—things we did and people we hurt.  They may be things from before our recovery began, though for many of is they are also things that happened over the years of our long recovery. We are not saints.

We often think of our regrets as mistakes but they are not quite that.  Living without regrets isn’t possible. And maybe it isn’t even desirable.

A new book, “Missing Out—In Praise of the Unlived Life” by psychoanalyst Adam Phillips presents this very provocative idea: We need regrets to shape our best lives. Phillips suggests that the regrets that we hold represent the options we didn’t choose and they are the mechanism that let us see the life we did choose.

This makes sense when I read the daily news. Life changes in a split second. We understood this after the World Trade Towers were attacked and again with the Indonesian tsunami. On a smaller scale we feel it any time we read about a terrible accident or a fire.

A couple of years ago my life had to change. Someone asked me, “But what about your career?” and I answered, being flip but surprising myself with the truth, “I don’t have a career, I have a life.”

That insight had been incubating over time. When my brother Larry was just weeks from death and we finally, awkwardly got around to talking about that reality, I took a deep breath and asked, “Are you afraid to die?” There was a long silence. Then he said quietly, “Di, all I ever did was work.”

I love my work too. But the day that I see the water receding too fast at the beach or hear the terrible screech of tires, or notice the cough that won’t quit I want to be more or less OK with my choices and with my regrets.

 If we live a conscious and examined life we should die with at least a few regrets. The goal isn’t to have no regrets; it’s to be fully aware of them and what they represent.