Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Recovery is Well --and Sunny--in West Palm Beach

This week I have been in Palm Beach for vacation and to speak about the new book, "Out of the Woods." Each year the Florida vacation is a barometer of my recovery: how do I handle travel logistics, changes to plans, time with family, interruptions, disappointments  and weather. This trip: all very well.

I'm sure that a surfeit of sunshine was a big factor. It felt truly medicinal to have heat and sun--88 degrees most days--and a bedroom that opened onto a very pretty garden. I felt my body soaking in the warmth and beauty.

My good mood and happy trip was also helped by meeting lots of people in recovery. Many old and new friends came out for a book reading and signing in West Palm Beach, and it was an older crowd--especially older in recovery years. I watched as people graciously helped to make the event at Saint Andrews Church a true community experience--cooking, serving, greeting and welcoming newcomers.    That church community is one I'd be happy to be  a regular in. Yes, this is what service looks like in--and out--of the rooms.

The other new behavior I am practicing is in my post-vacation reentry. For the most part this involves some "nots": Not doing email a right away; Not racing to unpack perfectly; Not managing the mail on the first day home. But also a couple of "do's" like: Do try to stay in vacation mode; Do stop the hyper-organizing; Do pick a time to watch a movie and have dessert and tea just like we did on vacation.

I'm hoping this big dose of sunshine and vitamin D lasts all week. I'm very grateful for my recovery and   the Florida friends and family who made this week so special.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Virtue of Not Knowing

My New Year’s resolutions are still tacked to the wall over my desk. It’s a list of things I want to learn, to improve and to embody. I’ve learned over the years to state my resolutions as positive rather than negative. I say, “Eat well and exercise” rather than “lose weight”. I challenge myself to “speak with kindness” rather than “don’t gossip”. But each year I want to learn more and know more-- about more things.

But last week I read an article in the Harvard Business Review about not knowing more. It recommended a new corporate position and role for modern companies: a Chief Ignorance Officer. My first reaction was that this must be a spoof, a way to make a point about  Dilbert-ish corporate life. But no. David Gray, a Boston consultant, was serious about ignorance.

The article advocated for the importance of true ignorance, which means a lack of knowledge. He explained why not knowing is a value for business strategy and decision making.

Something hit home. To allow oneself to not know and to willingly choose not knowing felt refreshing and brave. The Business Review article described the values of embracing ignorance or “nescience”, which is a nicer sounding word. By saying, “I don’t know” on a regular basis an organization can defer decision-making and not rush to judgment or to expensive misguided tactics. It can also permit trials and experiments.

This idea of the Chief Ignorance Officer got me rethinking my New Year’s resolutions. You can try this too. Try saying “I don’t know” ten times today. You’ll feel both the anxiety and the split second of peace that not knowing provides.

One of the problems of living in an information-saturated time is that information gathering can become addictive and knowing a lot of stuff can begin to seem like power. Ignorance allows us to go toward things that scare us and saying “I don’t know” is a kind of intellectual Aikido, the martial art that uses the attacker’s own momentum to undo him. Saying, “I don’t know,” allows you to learn.
There is the Buddhist teaching story of the monk who offers his know-it-all student a cup of tea and then pours and pours into his astonished student’s overflowing cup. His point: only an empty mind can receive knowledge and insight. But to let ignorance show, to reveal ourselves incomplete and empty? In a beautiful poem by Teilhard de Chardin are these lines: Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you. Accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete. It’s a risk to accept that much anxiety. We’d rather salve it with being, doing and especially knowing more.

I had a taste of this many years ago in a college class. We were studying history but instead of learning dates and facts the class focused on what a historian must ask. The final exam consisted of ten questions but they were not questions that the professor required us to answer. Instead, we had to write ten questions that hadn’t yet been asked and describe the implications of asking them.

This approach applies to our life in recovery as well.  Maybe “Huh?” isn’t exactly a new slogan but “I don’t know” could be a personal mantra. In a world in which being right and knowing a lot count as virtues, it takes real courage to NOT know it all. .

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Readings for Out of the Woods

Out of the Woods--the new book on long-term recovery is on the road. I hope that I'll have a chance to meet you in person at one of the upcoming readings--or please invite me to your city, bookstore, faith community or group. I'm also happy to lead a discussion or a writing workshop on recovery for your community.

Next week I'll be speaking in Lake Worth, Florida (near West Palm Beach)  at St Andrews Episcopal Church--Saturday March 22nd at 7pm

also at

March 28th at Market Block Books in Troy New York 6 to 8pm

April 12 at The Book House in Albany, New York 3 to 5pm.

Please come by to say hello and meet other readers. Bring a friend.

Here is the link to the book at Central Recovery Press--take a look at their list of other recovery and healthcare books.



Saturday, March 15, 2014

Developing Compassion for Myself and Others

As we grow in recovery most of us to come to develop more compassion for other people. It happens as we face truths about ourselves. It continues as we come to humbly grasp and accept the concept of projection (yes, we dislike in others what we most do not want to face in ourselves), and we also develop more compassion when we really, deeply understand that bumper-sticker saying that is all over Facebook these days: Be Kind to Others—Everyone is Having a Hard Time.”

We all know that’s true and we all click “like” on Facebook to say ‘Yeah, I know.” But that doesn’t actually help much when a co-worker is snippy or downright mean, or when a neighbor takes your well-meaning comment and replies with something nasty, or when a friend suddenly goes chilly on you.

Here is something that does help me build compassion though. It comes from that fabulous Jungian Clarissa Pinkola-Estes who wrote “Women Who Run with the Wolves”.  She writes this;

“We can come close to reconstructing the wounds of childhood by closely inspecting what adults lose their temper over.”

Isn’t that great? A brilliant, insightful sentence and a one-sentence tool for almost instant compassion.

But don’t miss this part: When I began using that sentence to help me with others I began to diagnose people in a less than caring way, “Oh that control freak must have had a lot of chaos in her childhood—poor her.” Hmmm.

Don’t do that. Instead consider that Pinkola-Estes brilliant sentence can also –and best—be used for developing compassion for yourself. That variation might go like this: I can come close to recognizing and accepting the wounds of my childhood by closely noticing what I lose my temper over.

Isn’t that better? And in a way that lets me keep changing my life.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

The Six Steps of The Oxford Group

This afternoon I gave a talk at The Troy New York Public Library introducing the new book, “Out of the Woods” published by Central Recovery Press.

Part of the talk included some history of Alcoholics Anonymous and how it integrates Albany history, Carl Jung and The Oxford Group—an evangelical, Christian sect that was lifesaving for Roland Hazard, then Ebby Thacher and ultimately Bill Wilson and Bob Smith.

Many folks in recovery and almost no one outside of recovery knows that early history, and that Bill and Bob were part of the Oxford Group, and the debt we all owe to their yes, religious fundamentalism in the 1930’s.

But we need only read the Six Steps of the Oxford Group to see how deeply indebted we are. Here are those Six Steps that Oxford Group members used for the purposes of religious conversion:

The Oxford Group’s Six Steps

1.       A Complete deflation.
2.       Dependence on God.
3.       A Moral inventory.
4.       Confession.
5.       Restitution.
6.       Continued work with others in need.

AA also benefited from mistakes made by the Oxford Group. One reason the Oxford movement no longer exits is because they got all tangled up in politics, international affairs and had opinions on all manner of public matters.

Today, AA has as one of its Traditions this statement: “AA has no opinion on outside issues.” A lesson that AA learned from The Oxford Group.


Monday, March 03, 2014

More Peace More Plate:Making Peace with Your Plate

I want to tell you more about the new book by Robyn Cruze and Espra Andrus. The book called “Making Peace with Your Plate” is about making a full recovery from an eating disorder. The full recovery is Robyn and the clinician is Espra.

Robyn has a powerful story—the active eating disorder part is heartbreaking and stunning. That’s sad but sadly not new. The “full recovery” part is the exciting part and grounded in evidence-based practice methods outlined in this book. This makes a full recovery a reasonable possibility for women with eating and food addictions.

Food addiction and eating disorders are hard to talk about. We all have to eat and so it’s not like total abstinence from food is an option the way that no drinking is for a recovering alcoholic. We also get tangled up because there are women who have serious eating disorders who do not starve or binge or exercise compulsively—they just think about food and their bodies all the time. This kind of eating disorder can be disguised as a focus on healthy eating or as a concern with health, or as a fitness need. This insidious disorder doesn’t look like obesity or anorexia. Its biggest symptom is often known only to the woman suffering—she is calculating all day and thinking about tomorrow and has food strategies galore. And she has a lot of fear around food. But you might even envy her. She always looks good.

That is the recovery that Robyn is talking about and it is stunning and new because she describers her recovery as freedom and peace resulting from a deep change in her thinking.

This book, “Making peace with Your Plate” is published by Central Recovery Press. I’m attaching the link below so you can learn more. You can order the book directly from CRP or from your local bookstore or on Amazon.


Saturday, March 01, 2014

Making Peace with Your Plate--Food Addiction

For women chemical addiction and eating addictions often go hand in hand. We are culturally frontloaded to care about our bodies; we think we are too heavy even when we are just right. Body obsession is another kind of unhappiness, a kind of distraction, and I have found over many years of recovery that addiction is addiction: it’s in me not in the substance and I can use all kinds of things: drugs, alcohol, behaviors and activities to not feel.

That’s kind of the bottom-line, I think. Not feeling.

Now I have discovered a soul mate kind of book that talks about food and eating and alcohol and all the rest. I am loving this new book, “Making Peace With Your Plate” by Robyn Cruze and Espra Andrus. They are former patient and clinician writing together, and they are good.

I’ll spend more time later this week sharing some excerpts from “Making Peace with Your Plate” but I can begin by telling you they had me at the start with this sentence:

“Full recovery means that my daily activities are no longer dictated by my body or my food intake.”

Amen to that. Thank you Robyn Cruze.

More to come later this week on “Making Peace with Your Plate."