Friday, October 31, 2014

It's Not the Monster That Scares Us

One of the scariest moments in a horror movie is when the baby-sitter gets the phone call telling her, “He’s in the house with you!” And “he” of course, is the monster.

As Halloween approaches, we’ll have lots of horror stories to entertain us, and one of the great classics is Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. A best seller in 1818, and rarely out of print since, Frankenstein may be the most beautifully written scary book. A gripping story, the novel is packed with social and philosophical issues that will surprise those who only know the movie version of the story.

What makes Shelley’s novel a relevant work for today are the questions that she raised so eloquently: What does it mean to be human? Where will science lead us? And, “How do we discern morality in technology?”

 These questions are as perplexing now as they were at the dawn of the scientific era. The issue of technology’s intrusion into life --and death --is at the heart of today’s news. We continue to learn about new ways to overcome disability, advance fertility, control disease and delay death, but at what costs and to what limits?

It could help us to closely read Shelley’s novel and take up her questions for today.

When we hear the name, “Frankenstein” most people think of the rivet-headed monster immortalized by Boris Karloff in the old movie. We picture the lumbering creature that was assembled from body parts, and this common misidentification shows just how easily we tend to blame the victim and overlook the bad guy. 

In Shelley’s novel the large, disfigured man is simply named “The Creature”.   Frankenstein was not that sad man, the product of then-modern medicine, but rather his creator, the scientist, Dr. Victor Frankenstein.

Mary Shelley showed us that the tragedy of Frankenstein, and what led to the tragic consequences, was scientific experimentation done in isolation. Her brilliant young scientist had no association with his peers, no interactions outside his laboratory, and no ethical or moral constraints to balance his work.

Does that seem an accusation of our times? Dr. Frankenstein confesses his own dilemma: “In the year I created the Creature I had no intimacy, had not read a book, had a meal with friends, heard a concert or been to church.”

Maybe that seems a heavy admonition against workaholism, but how much do competition, secrecy and speed to market drive this same isolation in science today?

The original story makes the point that scientific experimentation of itself is not wrong; the trouble lies in its separation from social discourse.

Shelley’s point is subtle but important: Dr. Frankenstein is a tragic figure not for experimenting but for neglecting to take responsibility for the impact of his work. The issue is not to prevent creativity but to take responsibility –collectively and individually--for the social and human cost of each new technology.  
Frankenstein is the perfect myth for us right now. It’s about scientific inquiry outside of community dialogue. Think about Syria’s poison gas, our drones, fracking, “killer robots” and our detached way of dealing with death.

It’s so easy to point a finger at science but we find ourselves, as consumers and patients, demanding better healthcare and cures for the diseases that killed our ancestors. Every day we read about medical breakthroughs--new technologies for cancer, heart disease, fertility. How do we draw the line?  

Many of us hope we’ll get to benefit from some of those lifesaving advances, and we may even hope that advanced military technology might shorten war by intimidating our enemies.

We don’t want scientific progress to stop. But we, not just scientists, have to ask Shelley’s questions: What is the value of human life? What is the consequence of saving one? Or of making one?  But we have to consider the unintended consequences and ask, “Who’s the monster now?”

Our tendency is to point a finger and say, “It’s them…” and  “It’s their fault…” But our lesson comes from Shelly’s classic story and the scary movies:  He’s in the house with us.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

How to make a Good Decision

I love the word discernment. It reminds me that decision-making is a spiritual practice. And as women in recovery the spiritual weaves through everything that we do.

We have been told, over these years, that what we really want is God’s Will. We all have stories—both sad and hilarious—about the times that we tried to insist on our will rather than a Higher Power’s. We did it at work, in relationships, with money, and yes we survived to share our hard won experience. No matter how far down the road…applies to life in recovery as well as life before recovery.
But sometimes those decisions are hard, and the choices are not easy. I think that is even more true the longer we stay in recovery. A teacher of mine says, “Discernment is a choice between goods.” It’s no longer like we are choosing between buying drugs and going to school. No, now our choices are more like, “Which school?” or “Which good career move?” These are, yes, our luxury problems.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t struggle, and we have to be mindful of our egos and our savings and our responsibilities. So how do we make decisions keeping while the spiritual at the center?
I was in one of those dilemmas recently. I was considering some new training. It was going to be expensive in both time and money. What was the right thing? I had to decide. There was a deadline. I said, “Yes” and then a few days later my gut said, “No”. It was making me crazy. So I went to one of the wisest recovering women I know and laid out my situation.

Now here is how you’ll know she is wise: She didn’t tell me what she thought I should do. She listened and she asked a few questions and then she said, “There is a prayer from the Ignatian tradition that might be helpful.” And she laid it out for me.

Here is her suggestion: When you have a dilemma or can’t decide what you want you can ask in prayer—or be in the presence of your Higher Power --and say, “If this is your will for me please increase my desire, and if this is not your will for me please decrease my desire.”

Isn’t that incredibly powerful and simple? “God, please increase my desire or please decrease my desire.”

I did not wake up the next day with an answer but as I used the prayer over a few days I noticed that my desire for this class had clearly decreased. It was enough to know it was not a YES!!! and as I have also learned in recovery: If something is not a YES!!!, then it is definitely a no.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Happy Anniversary to Me

This post could also be called “The importance of meetings.” Last week on the actual day of my anniversary I almost missed it. For the first time in years I didn’t feel a big rush on my special day. In past years my recovery anniversary day was Special. I chose my outfit carefully, I let nothing bother me, and I wrote a code word on my agenda at work to remind me that “Nothing matters today—it’s my anniversary.”

But last week there was none of that. I was just not feeling it. I had to remind myself to remind my husband, and I made myself do an extra special gratitude list. But still…

…and then today, at my home group, I chaired the meeting, and it has made all the difference. Part of it was talking, and part was having friends with me, and part was hearing myself tell parts of my story. But it was also the experience of what we do in meetings: we give and we receive.

I spoke the gratitude and then I felt it. I spoke the miracle of recovery and then I felt it. I spoke about who I had been, what happened and who I am today and I felt the miracle inside me. This incredible gift, this thing I was too sick to choose or hope for all those years ago, the goodness of this life and of these practices and habits we have as recovering people. It came to me when I spoke it in a meeting.

Oh those folding chairs in church basements—where the magic happens.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Everything You Want is on the Other Side of …Eating?

Is that true? Is eating in the way of happiness? Yes, for some of us. I have a little note over my desk reminding me that, "Everything you want is on the other side of fear." But we know that most of us don't like to feel fear. Or anger or sadness or anxiety or resentment or loneliness or disappointment or loss or….yeah all those feelings.

We drank over those and maybe took drugs over those. We shop over those feelings and maybe work or worry rather than fully feel them. So yes, of course--what is even more accessible and even more socially acceptable than any of those? Food. The mother lode of addiction. And yes, your mother will show up in your eating story:) How could she not.

I'm all over--and all about food and eating this week. I have just come from three days with the inimitable Geneen Roth, author of "Women, Food and God." Oh, do take a look at her book if you are a woman in recovery. Even if you know a lot about food, even if you are thin, even if you think, "Food issues? not me."

It's not a program and not a diet and not a philosophy--Geneen offers some brilliant thinking about how we are with food and how food keeps us from happiness, sobriety, peace, self-acceptamce and even from God.

This is one of those times that I am so glad to be a woman in recovery and in long-term recovery so I can just gobble up lots of new ideas and not need to deflect or defend. My weekend with Geneen was a big Wow! and the ability to have Wow! and new info and be in the community of women changing their lives means so much.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Praying the Room or Take Your Higher Power to Work Day

Yesterday I was looking through my tickle file at work and came across this great piece of spiritual advice that is especially helpful at work. It is definitely a way to practice the principles in all of our affairs. 

I learned this a couple of years ago when I was pretty worried about an upcoming meeting and I was agonizing over what I needed to say, what others might say, and how it would all go. I knew that I wanted God to work through me and I was using the prayer that I use whenever I chair an AA meeting: “Please let me carry your message and not my ego.”

I mentioned this to a friend and she made this suggestion, which adds depth and practicality:

“Before the meeting go into the room where the meeting will be held and pray the room…Pray in the actual room so that you have invited God into the space where you’ll most need his guidance.”

It was amazing. I went down the hall to the empty conference room and sat for a few minutes. I prayed and invited God to be in that room with all of us and yes, to keep my ego out of it. Twenty minutes later I returned to the room for the meeting. It went well.  I said what I needed to say, not perfectly but I remembered it was no longer about me. And so I was fine.

I am so glad for this reminder. I can use this now for all kinds of meetings, and presentations and all the places that I need to be present and any place that I tend to tip toward fear or ego.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Gregg McBride: Guest Blogger and Author of "Weightless--My Life as a Fat Man and How I Escaped."

Please welcome Gregg McBride to Out of the Woods. Here is his post on:  A Passion for Change, An Appreciation for Yourself

One morning inhaling my coffee, I looked out of a window, down into the courtyard of the apartment building across the way. I noticed a man placing a box with a small plant into the sunlight. At first, I assumed that he was going to be doing some gardening. But then noticed he left the box there in the sunlight and had walked away. Then, upon further examination (aka "not minding my own business and staring out the window"), I saw that the small plant was actually a beautifully maintained Bonsai Tree.

Seeing this man take care of his Bonsai (which is clearly thriving) actually warms my heart -- and it's a sight I look forward to seeing when I'm lucky enough to notice this ritual in motion. Whether seeing the man place the tree into the sunlight -- or just seeing the tree already in place -- makes me very happy. And this process also reminds me of the level of care I need to make sure I'm giving to myself. And that's the same level of care you need to be giving to yourself, as well.

Think about it. When we care for something, it thrives. This can be seen in my neighbor's Bonsai Tree or even in the happiness level of my dog, Latte. It's therefore important that we give the same kind of love and care to ourselves -- as well as our health-minded goals.

When people I know tell me they need to lose weight, I can often detect a degree of self-loathing in their tone. I can relate -- knowing how much I hated myself when I weighed over 450 pounds. This disdain for ourselves is an approach we've been taught is normal and will likely facilitate change. The thinking being, "You hate how you look, so do something about it." But after learning to love myself at any size (both before and after I took off 250 pounds of excess weight), I am motivated to pass along what I've learned. If we actually love and care for ourselves -- even as we are now in this very moment (no matter how many pounds overweight or no matter how far away from any kind of goal) -- we become more likely to encounter faster success.

Perhaps it’s time for us to think of ourselves in more affectionate ways and afford ourselves the very same degree of care my neighbor gives his Bonsai and I give my dog.

Do something kind for yourself today -- throughout the day and every day. And remind yourself that you matter (which, for the record, you do). Suddenly, if you're wanting to make a positive change in your life, you're doing it because you care, not because you're disgusted. That's going to make the journey a lot more pleasant and, I imagine, a lot more successful.

Just like my neighbor's Bonsai Tree, it's time for you to position yourself in the warm sunlight of your own tender loving care -- and thrive.

Gregg McBride is a film and television producer living in Los Angeles where he works for companies including Disney, Comedy Central, Sony, Paramount, MTV and others. His blog,, focuses on weightless and food addiction. 

His new book, "Weightless" is available here:

And Gregg's blog, "JustStopEatingSoMuch is here: