Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Genuine Love

Here is a quote that I need to read again and again. It’s a great reminder and antidote to “teaching”, controlling, and all manner of codependency. I don’t want to be exceedingly common.

“A major characteristic of genuine love is that the distinction between oneself and the other is always maintained and preserved. The genuine lover always perceives the beloved as someone who has a totally separate identity. Moreover the genuine lover always respects and even encourages this separateness and the unique individuality of the beloved. Failure to perceive and respect this separateness is exceedingly common however and the cause of much suffering.”

                                                                                    --M. Scott Peck, MD

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Best Beach Book Ever

 The end of summer count down has begun. From here we push on to the finish line at Labor Day. The wish lists we made weeks ago now weigh on us: the outings, the trips, chores, projects and for many of us--the pile of books we promised to read this summer.

Each friend’s recommendation and each review adds another book to our pile. I make lists and I add more to the Kindle. The books pile up on the coffee table and the bed stand, and the library list is dog-eared and scribbled. 

So, where to begin? You’d like a good novel and a romance and some history too. You want some help with the relationship thing, and, now we certainly want a better understanding of politics and economics. But then there’s also that stack of business books you saved all year; you want some new ideas about management. You want to think about work differently. And then there are all those recovery memoirs. What’s the story with women and men and addiction?

I have a suggestion. There is one book that you can read now that will give you everything. There is one book for the boat and tote, the chaise lounge, the blanket and the bed. There is one, beautifully written book that illustrates the insidious connection between women and men and appearance and addiction.

Hands-down, the single best, summer book is Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. With Tolstoy’s tale you get everything: romance, history, a relationship how-to book, and the best management advice you’ll ever read. You’ll see how tiny choices add up to good lives and how tiny choices also add up to disaster. You’ll see a woman, a complex, decent woman—like you or me—undone by a subtle combination of pride, fear, ego, and restlessness. Don’t we know restlessness?

Don’t balk at the bulk. Yes, it’s a big book but every kid and maybe you too—have just knocked off the three Hunger games books and/or Shades of Grey. Believe me you can do better! Besides by choosing Anna K. you only have to buy one book.  Here’s why:

Anna K. is the best relationship book ever written. It’s got examples of how to make a marriage work and how to how to ruin one from the start. Worried about infidelity? This is the book that, well, wrote the book on that topic. Tolstoy shows how couples get into that terrain and how you can get back out. Robin Norwood’s famous, Women Who Love Too Much, doesn’t even come close to what Tolstoy writes about emotional dependency and the impact of addiction on a family.  And he shows us how it’s not the big obvious decisions that are our undoing, it’s the small almost casual ones.

As for new ideas about work: Tolstoy offers the most compelling and insightful analysis of why people work, and how to motivate them. Tom Peters has written half a dozen books trying to get at what Tolstoy packs into just a few scenes. Levin, Anna’s cousin, is the best management consultant you could hire; by showing us Levin with his workers, Tolstoy articulates the subtleties of the relationship between worker and manager, and shows exactly how you can make a day’s work good or bad.

And addiction. It’s amazing how many years Anna has been dissected and most literary critics miss the fact that she is addicted. To meds and alcohol. And then her codependence. And the people that try to help her. It’s all here. Tolstoy knew.

But, you may insist, fiction can’t help your real life. With all due respect, you’re wrong. Fiction gives us the assurance that the story that we love most—our own—is worthy.

Besides, if you finish Anna K. before August runs into September, there is always Tolstoy’s other little book, War and Peace, which will bring us right back to this day and our very, very real lives.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Artist and Addict

Is there something you really want to do but just aren’t doing it? Something you’ve had a secret thought about but... well...how could you ever… Do you want to write a novel, a memoir, a poem? Study ballet, tango, tai chi? Do your eyes light up at something creative—designing a room, watercolor, scrapbooking?

And have you ever noticed that when you do let your self play with color, fabric, shapes, colors, words or ideas—when you allow yourself to “play” with your creative life that your food is cleaner and that drinks or drugs or dresses stop calling to you?

I believe there is a connection between creativity and addiction. I believe there is a specific connection between what is suppressed and what is used to cement that suppression. That is the addict-artist connection. The addiction-and art correlation.

You can test this. You can even try it at home.

Julia Cameron (of The Artist’s Way) recommends artist dates—specific time set aside to see or smell or play with creative energies. You can go to an art supply store, fabric store, floral market or a hardware store—if that appeals and just see. Are you happier, calmer, quieter, something more? And do you start to think, “What if I…”

Feed your artist, not your addiction.

(Next up for me—a sewing machine!)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Making Decisions--Adding Rationality

One of my Saturday rituals is buying the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal and settling on the couch to go through it page by page. I think the weekend edition of the WSJ rivals the New York Times in juicy content and great practical information.

This week I found some great practical advice in the "Ask Ariely" column written by Dan Ariely. A reader asks how to inject more rationality into decision making and as I read this I thought, "This is for recovering people." It's true. As you know we are often a bit behind in skills we should have learned earlier in life, and we have lots of decisions to make as our recovery--and our lives--progress. So what could be more helpful, right?

His advice on decision making is the second question in this week's column--but you may also find his advice about commuting helpful too.

Here's the link to the article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal:


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Caregiving is Part of Your Sober Life

Former First Lady Roslyn Carter said, “everyone has been a caregiver, will be a caregiver or will need a caregiver” so we may be assured that family caregiving is, and will be, part of our sober lives. In fact there is a direct correlation—the longer we are sober the more likely that we’ll do some caregiving. So we should think about it—and learn some things before that day arrives.

Some of us will have fair warning; our parents are aging and we know we’ll be called on to help out, make decisions and to manage medical crises. Others of us will be thrust into caregiving by one unexpected phone call or siren or accident or a doctor saying, “I don’t like the look of this.” And suddenly we are driving to more doctors, hospitals, chemo and dialysis.

No one is really prepared of course. Even when you see it coming it’s not what you see. We never see the emotional pain or the confusion ahead of time. But as we get wiser as our recovery progresses we can –as truly wise people do—learn from other people. So we pay attention when people in meetings talk about being a caregiver, and we listen as if our lives depend on it when they express what they struggle with and what they are learning. Because of course, our lives –and our recovery—do depend on it.

I have done a lot of family caregiving over the years—brothers and sisters who were very ill, a mother with many injuries and disabilities and then my husband with cancer. I have learned a lot. I know how to pack for a hospital appointment and I know how to advocate in a medical setting. And I keep reading books about caregiving because I know there is more to come.

One of my new favorites is “The Caregiving Wife’s Handbook” by Diana Denholm, PhD, LMHC. Her handy paperback is subtitled “Caring for your seriously ill husband, Caring for yourself.”

That’s the trick isn’t it? How do you care for yourself when caring for a very ill partner? Yes, we’ve been told ad nauseam about that airplane advice, “in the event of an emergency put on your oxygen first then assist others.” Yeah, yeah. What most caregivers actually know is that the plane has already crashed. Now what?

And for those of us in recovery we have another layer of discernment: What is selfish and what is self-care…and what is good caregiving versus what is crazy codependence. Again, not easy.

So I love it that Denholm has a chapter called “The Big C” and she is writing about codependence in caregiving situations. Bravo!

This is a book worth having. It’s paperback so you can tuck it in your bag when you have a doctor’s appointment. And having a copy on your shelf means you have one to hand to a sponsee or recovery friend.

You can learn more about Denholm and her book right here:http://www.caregivingwife.com

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

More About Money and What We Believe

A few days ago I wrote about the great workshop I attended last week at UPAYA in Santa Fe. I gave you some of the highlights of Lynn Twist’s talk on “The Soul of Money” and our thinking about money, debt, spending, wealth etc.

While the workshop was not designed for people in recovery the concepts were so true and right for all of us who have changed our lives with the twelve steps.

Here are some of the things I learned from Lynn and that I have been thinking about since that workshop:

Everyone has anxiety about money. It’s not just those of us who are artists, or writers or working in nonprofits or who still have school loans (our own or our kids)—everyone has money anxiety, neuroses or weirdness. Isn’t that a relief? It’s not just your personal uncomfortable secret; it's part of the culture.

And: everyone has a money regret—something they did or didn’t do (save, invest, buy) and every family has a money secret or resentment (how they got it, how they lost it, who loaned it, who didn’t pay it back.) Again—it’s not just you and me and our families—everyone—even the very rich—have money crazies and money shame. The suffering we feel around money is not personal; it’s in our culture.

Part of this money madness comes from the significance we give to money. In our culture and our country we literally will kill and destroy for money. Think about it. We will pollute, kill the rainforests, make military decisions, health decisions based on money. And we will not speak to a family member or an ex for years and years all because of money. We believe the lie of scarcity and that leads us to roll across our values and morals where money is an issue.

Scarcity leads us to think, “I have to get mine.” And “I have to get more.” So we spend and spend to get more and more and it never feels like enough.

One of the most interesting things we did in the Upaya workshop was spend time on our personal beliefs about “not enough-ness” and admit out loud where we were stuck and write plans to shift that mindset. One of the steps for me was challenging myself when I saw something beautiful to ask myself if I could just enjoy seeing the beautiful thing: bowl, scarf, shoe, painting—and not have to own it. That is a challenge but it also starts to feel freeing.

This was one of the areas where I felt the recovery energy flowing. Lynn talked about how a transformation is very different from a change. Here are her words: “A transformation is a liberation of consciousness from something that was confining or limiting. A change is how we anchor a transformation in the world.”

I understood her to mean that rather than making a lot of personal changes we should be seeking deeper transformation. Sound familiar? Kind of like don’t just stop drinking but rather surrender and have a deep awakening. Transformation is at a very deep level and after that happens we begin to make changes. Make sense? A transformation happens  in us whereas changes are our external acts of our own will.

These words really struck me: “”Transformation does not regret the past; with transformation the past makes sense.”

To learn more about Lynn Twist here is a link to her Soul of Money website: