Sunday, September 29, 2013

In All of My Affairs at Work

It is suggested that we “practice these principles in all of our affairs”, and these principles are the twelve steps and they are the concepts of honesty, open-mindedness, willingness and service.

I like to think that, especially after all these years, that I do that. I like to imagine myself someone who is a good partner and a good friend and a good neighbor—and I can point to specific ways in which I am those things.

But there’s another “affair” in which we must keep practicing and this one is one of the hardest. (The actual hardest is in our intimate affairs—with spouses and romantic partners—because we want sooo much and we are so afraid of not having that relationship go our way.) But up there at the top is who we are and how we are in the workplace.

Can I stay honest there? Not just not taking the pens and the Post-its but emotionally honest while maintaining appropriate work boundaries and a professional demeanor.

Can I remain open-minded? Whew!—that means I consider the possibility that I --and my way-- is not right? Can I be a beginner even while positioning myself as expert and competent enough to be respected?

Can I be willing? Willing to pitch in. Willing to help out. Willing to do someone else’s work sometimes. Willing to receive feedback graciously. And willing to really want that feedback and willing to ponder it, examine myself and make deep change?

And can I be of service? Can I help not just the people on my team but someone else as well—and not finagle to get credit. Can I go the extra mile, the extra hours, or the extra project without a grand show of either heroics or false humility? (You know this one right: “Oh no, happy to help, anything for the team?” while secretly hoping everyone who matters has taken note).

Yeah. I know. This “In all our affairs” is a hard one. At work I am at my most “progress not perfection” self. And I have to add humor and gentleness to the tools of this practice.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Self-Seeking Will Slip Away--or Will It Just Change Shapes?

In the Promises of Alcoholics Anonymous we read that, “self-seeking will slip away.” And it is one of the gifts of recovery. In our using days we were, well, users. We cared about ourselves, "what’s in it for me?" and how to get mine.

In recovery we started to think about other people. Doing an inventory and a 5th step helped us to see that we had an impact on others. Listening in meetings we learned from other people’s stories how getting outside ourselves happens—someone else’s example of being kind, selfless or generous gave us ideas. We learned to be of service—first in the rooms and later in our homes and communities.

But another thing also happens in recovery—has happened in my recovery—that makes me take another look at, “self-seeking will slip away”. My recovery habits and the gains of recovery taught me to look deeply at who I am and how I got here. I do a lot of outside work: retreats, workshops, therapy, spiritual direction. I am growing, changing and becoming a better person. The people around me certainly benefit from my continual self-scrutiny. But…

But what is ongoing recovery and what is obsessive self-seeking?

I love self-help books and I love becoming healthier physically, mentally ad emotionally. But still, there are moments when I ask myself, “Is this also just a shinier method of self-seeking?” After all, isn’t it me that I am exploring, improving and changing with my endless reading, TED Talks, food plans, exercise strategies, family mining and even spiritual exploring?

What is growth for good and what is growth to look good? What is change to be a better person and when is it to seem a better person for still, another—not so humble—motivation?

I think this is one of those places where we—and I—have to check motives carefully. The very same behavior, and the very same reading can come from a genuine desire to heal and change or it can come from a desire to heal and change so others will be more attracted, impressed, connected to me.

Which is it on which day? And where is trust in God to heal me without me running the show?

What do you think? If you too are a “self-improver” where do you draw the line? How do you know when you are trying to take charge of God’s role in your life?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Judith Landau on Global Addition and Healing

One of the most interesting people I had the opportunity to hear at the recent Addictions Symposium is Dr. Judith Landau. She spoke on the theme of Global Views of Addiction and detailed some fascinating and compelling research on addiction in other parts of the world.
We are, of course, very Western focused and very Euro-centric in our ideas about addiction, so hearing Landau was eye opening, and a reminder how universal addiction really is.
Landau is a family and community psychiatrist. She is the former Director of the Division of Family Programs at the University of Rochester Medical Center; and she is currently President of Linking Human Systems, LLC, Inc., in Boulder, Colorado. She serves as Senior Advisor to New York University’s Catastrophe Center and The International Trauma Studies Program.  
 Landau works with refugees and trauma survivors in many countries, during and after natural and man-made disasters, and she consults with governments on refugee resettlement, the development of survivor programs.

Here is one of the many things Dr. Landau shared with the conference that made me sit back and think hard:

“The overwhelming, multi-generation consequence of major trauma in a society (for example: after war, major disease outbreak, tsunami, earthquake, flood, or terrorist experience) is addiction. A major increase in addiction appears within one to 36 months with addiction rates increasing several hundred fold.”

When I heard that statement it made perfect sense but before that it had not occurred to me that a society or country devastated by a flood, bombing, earthquake etc. would be quickly and additionally devastated by addiction. But Landau’s on-the-ground research shows this is the case in all parts of the world.

The other thing she said that was surprising but again made sense was, “The addictions can be a survival mechanism—a tool for survival and ultimately healing.”

Again—killing the pain of trauma does save lives—at first—and can be healing if; ultimately it leads to treatment and recovery.

Think about this: in a country devastated by war or terror which is already impoverished, the high rates of addiction advance the overall damage but –with outside help and local supports—can be a route to recovery.

One of her compelling examples was about the high rate of addiction among Bosnian women—who experienced war terror and high rates of rape and who are now, years later, dying of alcoholism at extremely high rates. But who are also—with Landau’s help—creating recovery groups and meetings and supports for addiction, and saving women’s lives.

That should be an inspiration to us who have benefit of treatment services, therapeutic communities and regular AA meetings. Landau talked about creating detox without meds, teaching local people how to do acupuncture detox, and how to start AA and NA meetings.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Rats and People Make Better Choices (When There are Better Choices to Be Made)

You've heard about the research studies that show that when laboratory rats are allowed to self-administer drugs (meth, opiates, cocaine) by pressing a bar they will press and press and press until they are dead. Those studies, done over and over, have demonstrated the power of addiction. The takeaway has always been something like: "See how bad these drugs are; rats (and people) will kill themselves--and they just can't help it."

It turns out that only part of that is true.

This week I read about Carl Hart, Ph.D, professor of psychology at Columbia and the research he has been doing that demonstrates that those earlier rat studies had a structural limitation. Hart replicated the studies many times but added a variable each time--he added something else to the cage with the rat. Sometimes a sexually available partner, sometimes a sweet treat, sometimes a running wheel. In those cases the rats did not keep returning to the "drug bar" to press and press. They interrupted their own cycle of use. And they did not die.

Right you say, but these are rats. So Dr Hart did further studies with humans--with self-identified crack addicts and he offered them some alternatives. (No, he could not offer sexually available partners) but he offered other activities, social supports and money. Interestingly he offered the cash "reward" on a delayed basis--only paid out after the study. But it was still incentive enough to interrupt the cycle and power of addiction. His biggest take-away from the human studies is that addiction can be interrupted by changing the social environment.

Dr. Hart, speaking of his rat studies, in a recent New York Times article said, "When you enrich their environment and give them access to sweets or let them play with other rats, they stop pressing the lever."

Now that sentence just makes me grin. Isn't that whet we do in twelve-step fellowship? We get to play with other rats and we change the social environment of recovering addicts.

None of that is lost on Dr. Hart who this week has published a new book called "High Price" about his life and what he is learning in his studies on addiction.

Here is a link to Hart talking about his work and the story of his new book:

Friday, September 20, 2013

Raising My Rainbow

As recovery progresses we face all kinds of challenges. Too often we think they happen to us because we are addicts or that life happens to us in a certain way because we are in recovery. But the longer I am recovering the more I see that it’s not “us and them” and I don’t subscribe to the “earth people versus recovering people” dichotomy.

Everything humans face we have to face—love, success, loss, grief, betrayal, kids, no kids, family issues, work issues, money issues etc. What is true is that we were low on coping skills before recovery and so we used a substance or a behavior as a “coper” and then after that created a problem for us we were blessed to find recovery and learn new coping skills. Ideally we learned new ways to think and behave so that we didn’t need to cope with as many self-created problems. But we still have plenty of problems and challenges because that’s just life for everyone.

And raising children is one of those huge learning arenas.

So along the lines of “look what life delivered to me” I am delighting in and recommending the new book, “Raising My Rainbow” by Lori Duron.  You may have seen Lori and her husband Matt interviewed on morning TV or read about them in parenting magazines. Lori’s blog, also called “Raising My Rainbow” is one of the top Mommy Blogs and one of BlogHer’s must read blogs.

The book and the blog are about raising Lori and Matt’s two boys—Chase and CJ. One son is “gender-conforming” –a “boy’s boy” (Blue-wearing, truck-playing, sports-loving masculine.) Lori’s other son has been described as : gender-creative, gender-nonconforming, having gender dysphoria or gender identity disorder. (Loves pink, Barbies, Disney princesses, girl’s clothes and dance is his preferred sport.)

Yes, I was so curious. How do you make choices in this situation? Clothes friends, school, teachers, other kids, peer pressure medical professionals etc. And Lori shares all of that…some heart breaking, some incredibly funny and always inspiring. But what recommends this book the most is how Lori and her husband Matt choose to parent their sons—with and without differences.

This may be one of the best parenting books ever. And there is no “la-la—everything is gonna be all right” in this book” so watching Lori and Matt wrestle with raising kids can guide all of us.

Because the book is written by Lori I did have the lingering, “Is her husband OK with this?” question which sent me to Lori’s blog where the day-to-day story is told. And there I found this article by Matt offering his perspective on raising their gender-creative son.

Take a look at Matt’s article in the Atlantic—here is the link:

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Happiness -There is a Recipe

In twelve-step recovery we talk about being Happy Joyous and Free. But maybe sometimes we ask , "But how...?" (includes whining voice).

Well, here is a set of instructions--a recipe perhaps--from the Father of Positive Psychology, Martim Seligman at The University of Pennsylvania. It's important to note that Seligman is not just some happy-talking guy. He is a scientist who studied depression and anxiety for years ...what he says here is not just his opinion or a couple of good ideas. This  prescription is founded on his research and longitudinal study.

Here is what happy people do and what they attend to:

Monday, September 16, 2013

Ode to the Brain

I'm at the Cape Cod Symposium on Addictive Disorders and it is a smorgasbord of recovery, psychology, business, art  and science. Here is one of the lovely take-aways from a session on neuro-plasticity of the brain and healing the traumatized brain.

This is  aYoutube that is also oddly comforting--just the thing for an achey brain.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Chief Inspector Gamache and Alcoholics Anonymous

I have written before about my favorite mystery series by Louise Penny featuring the wise and insightful Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. He is one of those characters so well developed that it’s hard for me to say that Penny “created” him. I prefer to think that she knows him well and is just sharing his stories with us.

I’ve just finished number five—“A Trick of the Light” and this book gave me a double delight. It features a look inside the business side of the art world—galleries and gallerists—and much to my surprise it’s a look into the world of AA as well.

Gamache has to solve a crime that involves AA members and so he is required to enter the recovery world and learn about AA meetings and especially AA relationships—and he reads the Big Book to grasp the thinking that informs people in Twelve-step recovery. How perfectly wild and wonderful to see my favorite sleuth figuring out the messages of AA.

If you haven’t discovered this wonderful mystery series by Louise Penny do give it a try and meet one of the wisest, most compassionate and cultured detectives on the page. Your local library or bookstore will have a list of the books in the order they were written.

PS: Earlier posts about the lessons I have learned from Chief Inspector Gamache: September 19, 2012 and October 22, 2012.