Friday, February 27, 2015

Fear is Your Friend

We spend so much effort in recovery trying to banish fear. We see it as a fault, a flaw and a failing. We say things like, “Fear and faith cannot exist in the same place.”

But what if that's not true? What if that is just backwards?

Pema Chodron, American Buddhist nun, scholar, writer, teacher, Mom and Grandma
has a lot to say about fear –and none of her wisdom positions fear as a bad thing we should flee from.

Here is a quote from Pema that I read this week:

“Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.”

That would mean that fear is a barometer, and that it is a useful tool. Kind of like that “Warm” and “Cold” game we played as kids---getting closer to the truth—you feel fear, moving away from your truth—you have less or no fear. Wouldn’t it be a shame to miss that? To not pay attention to how fear is talking to us?

“Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.” 
Ponder that, and just keep moving.


More good stuff on fear and recovery in "Out of the Woods--A Guide to Long-term Recovery"  published by Central Recovery Press.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Offering the Third Step

Step Three: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood God

In our common recovery parlance we talk about “taking” the Third Step. It’s one of those delightful controversies we engage in that might be our recovery equivalent of debating the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin. (Instead of asking, “Angels can dance?”)

You have heard it too: How do you take Step Three? Do you do it by reading the step in recovery literature? Do you take it in your heart? Do you go to the beach or a mountaintop or the bare desert and get on your knees and say the words? (I’ve done all three)

 Or, do you take this step with a sponsor—in the presence of God and another trusted human being and your own sincere self (as the wording of the Fifth Step suggests)? (I did that too.)

 Or is it a totally private matter? (On a daily basis it’s just me saying the words in front of the little altar in my bedroom.)

But what we talk about less often is how to offer the Third Step to another person. If you are a sponsor or clergy or a spiritual director—or that trusted human being—how exactly do you guide or witness or help someone to take the Third Step?

A week ago I had that opportunity. I am a sponsor and the woman I am accompanying on the steps was ready. I’m a writing teacher by day so I had created assignments for Steps One and Two—things to ponder and journal about, lists to make, and books to read. For Step Three we wrote about what we were willing to turn over and what was going to be harder to surrender but for which we were willing.

It’s always our personal lives: We want our intimate relationships to go well, and we want our dreams to be achieved: (book, baby, career, house, healing) and the biggie: how other people live their lives. Isn’t that where we get caught most often turning things over and then taking them back accompanied by, “He should,” “She should” and “They should”?

So for Step Three I knew I wanted a ritual. It’s a big moment and I also knew that in the very early days of AA the Third Step was taken publically—in a small group, sometimes in a meeting, definitely not alone. So that’s what we did.

Vincent Van Gogh
We met in my home, talked through what would be hard to surrender, and we acknowledged the paradox that Step Three is both a moment in time and a life-long process, and then we got on our knees and said the words together. 

It was powerful to offer this to another human being—powerful to say the same words that I say every morning before I leave for work, words I read aloud from a page in my meditation book, words that seem rote some days and like begging on others. 

Now, aloud and line-by-line—I could offer Step Three to another recovering person, and by doing that I offered the Third Step to myself again in a real moment in time.

More on working the steps in long-term recovery in my book: "Out of the Woods--A Woman's Guide to Long-term Recovery" published by Central Recovery Press.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Counting Down February's Cold

I wake in the night and listen. The reassuring rumble tells me that the furnace is still on. It’s good news and bad. It means we have heat but at this hour I visualize the dollar bills that might just as well be logs on a fire.  I don’t fall back to sleep easily. I have a glass of water. I’m awake and afraid in the cold night. 

Even with just 28 days February always feels like the longest month.  February is to winter what Wednesday is to the workweek: If we can get through February, even snow in April won’t rock us.  

But my fear of cold has an ancient echo. I listen for the furnace at night the way my Polish ancestors woke in their huts to check on the fire. In many wedding albums there is a picture of the groom carrying the bride over the threshold. That odd custom is also about staying warm. In ancient times when a woman left her father’s home and was set down on the hearth in her new house she was in the most important spot in any ancient home. She literally kept the home fires burning.   

Temperature is part of my own married romance. Coming to New York from Baltimore –where there is just one decent snowstorm each year--I too was set down on a new hearth. I was grateful to AA for the changes I made that led to new love but I married a man who came from Northern Ontario where winter runs from September to May and wind chill is scoffed at.   So I had to learn to dress for cold.  I bought new boots and a long down coat and learned to keep extra boots and gloves in the car.

But physical acclimation is real. That first winter, living in upstate New York, I thought I’d die. My boots were good for below freezing but my fingers could barely tie them. Each year it gets easier. I may occassionally complain about the cold, but I no longer imagine myself part of the Donner party. 

But there is also an emotional acclimation to cold. A quote from Camus is taped inside the cabinet where I get my coffee mug each morning. It says: “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” The word “invincible” that reminds me that living cold does indeed build character. It’s like another part of my recovery—adaptation and gratitude.

But having a warm house is important. I can’t swear that my first marriage ended solely over the thermostat setting, but for years I never went on a second date with a man whose response to my “I’m cold”, was “Put on a sweater”. That tundra man had to learn that cold hands do not mean a warm heart, and that a big oil bill is better than roses. But in recovery I’ve grown too. I am willing, in this new life, to go and put on that cost-saving sweater.

The word comfortable did not originally refer to being contented. Its Latin root, confortare, means to strengthen. Hence it’s use in theology: the Holy Spirit is Comforter; not to make us comfy, but to make us strong. This then is February’s task. We may not be warm but we are indeed comforted; we are strong and we will make it through another Upstate winter. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Sylvia Plath Bake-Off

Today is the anniversary of the death of American poet, Sylvia Plath.

On February 11, 1963, on a bitter, cold, dark London evening Plath put her two small children to bed, then she turned on the gas stove in her kitchen, lay down with her head in that oven and she died.

She was 30 years old. She was talented. She was celebrated.
She was heartsick. She was depressed. 

Celebrate Plath’s life and art today by baking something yummy.

Make cookies for someone you love. Bake lasagna for dinner.

Read a poem. Write a poem. 

Cherish your life.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

The Poem You Need Before Valentine's Day

Love After Love

The time will come 
Peter Paul Rubens
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life. 

---Derek Walcott