Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Still Crazy After All These Years

Does this happen to you? (I am so praying that it does.): You are in recovery for many years. You see the changes in yourself. People around you --those who knew you back when…even they see the changes in you.

And then it happens.

It's almost always on a day when you were thinking, "Wow, am I good? I'm sane, well-balanced, unselfish, kind, self-caring, wise, just…" You pretty much could win Miss Congeniality (If they had one for development directors, writers and yoga teachers). There is just a tiny hint of pride in your admirable humility.

Then, Wham!!!! You are nuts: scared, mean, bossy, controlling, selfish, judgmental, and more. Maybe all this doesn't show on the outside but on the inside you could audition for the bad dude in The Exorcist. And what makes it worse is you can see, hear and feel it in yourself. You know. You fully know you are a mess. But it's happening.

How did I--and how do you--get there? Here's how:

Too busy, too hungry, not enough sleep or exercise or prayer or friend time. Rushing, not catching fear at the early signs, thinking I can do one more thing (just one more thing), and did I say rushing? Rushing is always the early symptom that I miss.

Now here's the part that's hard for me to admit: Rushing is a symptom of perfectionism. Oh how I hate that word. I heard it from a therapist before recovery and from counselors and sponsors in recovery and well, maybe this is good news, I heard it from my own self--me talking to me--this week. Because really, what is rushing about if not a belief that I can/could/should do more. And "more" because I got stuff to do baby--you know--I gotta pull all this together and make it nice and not miss a birthday or a call or a meeting or a ….a what?

Rushing is perfectionism and doing too much is perfectionism and shame and perfectionism double-date all the time.

Now here's my crazy defensive logic: "How can I be a perfectionist? If I was one wouldn't every thing be perfect?" Uh huh. Crazy thinking. Crazy, crazy, Patsy Kline thinking.

So yeah, I came for my drinking but stayed for my thinking. You just gotta laugh.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Nice Girls Can Be Drug Addicts Too

You have time for one more great book before Labor Day and I have the book for you.  I am happy to recommend the latest novel by Jennifer Weiner called "All Fall Down".

I'm sure you know Weiner's novels or you've seen her books become movies. One of the most popular was, "In Her Shoes" starring Shirley Maclaine and Cameron Diaz.

In this newest book a young woman is a mom, professional writer, smart, stylish, happy and a drug addict. Weiner's page turning narration shows us how this woman who seemingly has it all together is falling part in full view of her family, coworkers, husband and daughter.  It's a contemporary story and a very contemporary issue and so well told. It's got a back story of marriage, caregiving, parenting and career development--all the stuff most of us face daily.

Now here's the crazy part--I'm reading and reading, turning pages, shaking my head and all the time I'm thinking, "Well, I'd never do that." and "Oh, I wouldn't fall into that terribly obvious addiction." And then it hits me: any time I go to the doctor and I get a prescription for estrogen or antibiotics I immediately think, "Hey, I scored estrogen." Yeah, estrogen. But that's an addicts thinking. I also know the part of me that believes that if one is suggested then two must be better: aspirin, Tylenol, Vitamin C….Again--how addicts think.

Don't we all know that the mantra of addiction is, "More"?

What I loved, and what I think you'll love about this book, is that's its not melodramatic and the issues of the back story are like you and me and most women we know.

Check it out of your local library (they have lots of copies) or buy it locally. Here's a link :

Monday, August 18, 2014

Lucia the Wemmick--My Role Model

Do you know the book, "You are Special?" by Max Lucado? Ostensibly a children's book that teaches each child that they are, yes, special. But really introducing the idea that they do not have to be unsettled and uprooted by the opinions of others.

Most people I know in recovery have to work at that concept for quite sometime so when I found this beautifully illustrated book I was hooked. Because we are, in fact, "re-parentng" ourselves or being "re-parented" by the process and love in recovery rooms, children's books work especially well I think. "You are Special" is a perfect example. It's not at all about narcissism or focusing only on yourself (maybe not the perfect title) but rather about how to not get knocked off your center by the opinions of others.

Lucado creates a community of Wemmicks who have the habit of giving stickers to their fellows. They gave star stickers to those they like and dot stickers to those they dislike. And they (like us) compete and struggle with both the stars and the dots.

Except for Lucia. "Lucia had no dots or stars. It wasn't that people didn't try to give her stickers; it's just that the stickers didn't stick."

"The stickers didn't stick."  Well, that's a lot of Alanon I think, and a lot of inner power. And a great big bunch of recovery.

Lucia--my wooden role model. Stickers don't stick. Yeah.

Here's a Youtube reading of "You Are Special" by Max Lucado. But get the book at your library or independent bookstore. It is a beautiful book with gorgeous illustrations. And this is the gift book for everyone you know.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Burlington, Vermont This Sunday--August 17th at 1pm

I am on the road with "Out of the Woods--A Guide to Long-term Recovery" and this Sunday--August 17th--I will be at Phoenix Books in Burlington, Vermont. I'm very excited to see old friends and to meet new ones, and to talk to women and men in recovery.

The book--and my writing on this blog--is about everything that we face as the years of recovery build one day at a time and then one year at a time. We face love and loss and new careers and retirement.We take better care of ourselves and then we find that some things happen that we can't take care of. We get new families, we lose people we love, we get more energy and we slow down. We make incredible deep friendships and of course, if we stay in recovery a long time, we see people die.

Yes, that's life in a nutshell--and those things happen to everyone. But what we have are tools, and habits and stories--our own and the stories of other recovering people --that are like extra gifts we can use.

That's what we'll be talking about at Phoenix Books at 1pm on Sunday in Burlington. If you are nearby please come. If you have friends in Vermont please send this to them so they can come. And thank you for following this blog and for being part of my recovery family.

Here is a very brief video about the book, "Out of the Woods":

Saturday, August 09, 2014

"Are You Fucking Kidding Me?"--A guest post by V. Hansmann

I am very pleased to present guest writer V.  Hansmann:

For nearly two years, I had been test-driving my sobriety under all kinds of conditions. So, when the opportunity presented itself to take it to the Bonneville Salt Flats of social gatherings  – my fifteenth college reunion – and really open it up and see what it could do, I decided to go. I had unfinished business with that ‘fucking asshole’. Maybe it was ‘once a fucking asshole, always a fucking asshole’ and maybe it wasn’t. Maybe I could put an overlay on the past, like acetate entrails on the skeleton of the Visible Man.

Throughout college, the hat I wore was The Drunken Idiot Hat. I was a shiftless drunk, oblivious to every academic or social pressure, just skating. I defaulted to the six-year plan, ultimately flunking out again in a protracted, sodden way. When I slunk away at last after my second senior year, it hadn’t been alcohol that brought me down; it was everything else.

Shame and misery coalesced into resentment and, while it lost its edge over time, it had never softened into true acceptance. My willingness to explore this mess of late-adolescent foolishness and waste, to consider revisiting the scene of the misdemeanor, was testimony to the influence of Alcoholics Anonymous galvanized by Wes’s death. His suicide awoke in me a sense of accountability. I had nothing to lose in confronting my haunted, unhappy past and might, just might, discover a way to take my eyes off the ground and face forward.

The feeling in my stomach as I drove up College Hill Road was what you usually felt going down a hill, a solid tug on your intestines from the vicinity of your tailbone. I went first to my old fraternity house, but the parking lot was empty. Just as well. I found my friends eventually or they found me. The rest of the day was a blur of how-ya-doin’ and remember-when until Pat and Tommy and Jim and Ronnie and I ended up at a bar called Prop’s Inn.

Prop’s was a local tavern for locals, far enough from school that it was spoken of only apocryphally. We knew where it was, but only fellow students who grew up in Utica had ever been there and then only to watch hockey. When we arrived, it was dark and smoky and the clock had tipped past midnight. My friends ordered a pitcher of Utica Club and I piped up, “I’ll have a Diet Coke.” “Is Diet Pepsi okay?” the waitress asked. “Uh-huh,” I said. As I swung my gaze back to them, they were all staring at me.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” said Ronnie.

I think I lit a cigarette.

I don’t remember the discussion. It couldn’t have lasted very long. Our bullshit joshing and carrying on might have been disturbed for about a minute, all furrowed brows and ‘those meetings’ questions, then my Diet Pepsi came and the pitcher of UC. Nothing happened. I didn’t drink. It didn’t matter that I didn’t drink. No confrontation. No weirdness. I knew I’d catch all manner of shit later in the weekend, but I didn’t care.

That was that.

V. Hansmann writes from New York City.
 Read more at his blog:

Thursday, August 07, 2014

The Best Beach Book Ever

 The end of summer count down has begun. We have maybe three weeks to 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.

 The books pile up on the coffee table and the bed stand, and the library list is dog-eared and scribbled.  You too?

So, where to begin? You’d like a good novel, and maybe romance and some history too. You’d like help with the relationship thing, and there’s also that stack of business management books you saved to read. 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. This is the book for the boat, the beach and the bed. There is one, beautifully written book that illustrates the insidious connection between women and men and appearance and addictions.

Hands-down, the single best, summer book for August 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 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. .

As for new ideas about work: Tolstoy offers the most compelling and insightful analysis of how to motivate employees. Tom Peters has written half a dozen books trying to get at what Tolstoy packs into just a few scenes.

And addiction. It’s amazing that after so many decades of literary analysis how many critics missed the fact that Anna is an addict and crazy codependent. She takes drugs and misuses alcohol. And then her codependence. It’s all here. Tolstoy knew.

But, you may be thinking that 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.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Your Recovery Experience--It's Good for Business

You knew after years in recovery that there were many benefits besides not using anymore. You discovered the time management, the improvement to your overall health, and you finally learned to apply the principles of recovery in the workplace.

But did you know that the principles of twelve-step recovery are also an excellent set of tools for developing leadership and changing organizational culture?

Nope, I didn’t know that either until I read an article in the current (July-August 2014) issue of Harvard Business Review.  

Yeah. Keith Ferrazzi has written a very interesting article showing how “leaders trying to transform company culture can learn from an unexpected source: addiction treatment programs.”

He does a great job of taking several key principles of recovery and addiction treatment and demonstrates their parallel to effective change processes for organizational culture. And why not? We are always working with human beings in business and culture is made up of people so human change results in cultural change.

Here are a couple of the topics Ferrazzi uses to demonstrate the parallel:

*Nothing changes without readiness to change.
*It’s important to replace old habits with new ones.
*Community without hierarchy is a catalyst for change.
*Peer support and pressure drive change.

Yes, you’ll love this article and you’ll be tempted (Well, newcomers will be tempted) to wave this article around bragging about how AA is brilliant and divinely channeled. Don’t do that. But do read this and maybe share it with your boss or a good friend at work. It’s worthy of a discussion. And you can always apply these principles to your team or your department.

I’m adding a link below to an abstract of the Harvard Business Review article. You can get the entire piece by registering with HBR,  or better—buy it on the newsstand until the end of August. It’s a very good read.