Saturday, April 25, 2015

Don't Be a Victim

Here is a writing exercise that I use in my writing and caregiving classes. It’s a great daily practice and it works well when I feel self-pity coming on, or whenever I want to blame someone else for my feelings. It is called “Don’t Be a Victim” and it goes like this:

First, you complete each sentence below on a piece of paper or in your journal. Fill in each blank with the first thought that comes to mind.

I HAVE TO____________________________

I CAN’T_______________________________

After you have completed those sentences do this:

Go back and cross out the word “Have” in the first sentence and replace it with “Choose”, and then:

Go back and cross out the word “Can’t” in the second sentence and replace it with “Don’t want to. ”

You might be shocked and you might even debate those new sentences, but give it some thought. These really are your choices. For example you might have first written, “I have to be at work by 8.” But you change that to say; “I choose to be at work by 8.” And you argue that, but I have to or I’ll be in trouble. But that IS your choice. You don’t want trouble or a reprimand and so you CHOOSE to get there by 8. It's your choice. 

It is always your choice.

The point:
If you don’t like your life fix it.
Don’t feel sorry for yourself; it will destroy you.
Accept responsibility for your own life.
Stop lying to yourself.

Teach yourself not to be a victim.

Bonus points: Do this exercise with kids. Teach them young.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Spiritual Direction in Recovery

Though we talk about the twelve steps as a spiritual program we don’t often talk about spiritual direction in our meetings. But outside of meetings people with many years will talk about their retreats and experiences with a spiritual director.  After all, when you have 10 or 15 or 25 years you “get it” that this is a spiritual program. 

It occurred to me more than once (in that way that we keep seeing new things in the Big Book over time) that the wording of Step 12 is significant. It says, “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps…” and I notice that it does not say, “having stopped drinking as a result of these steps.”  It’s not about not drinking/eating/drugging etc. but the steps are intended to lead us to—and through--a spiritual awakening. And then, in that spiritually awakened state, we can see our lives and we can make changes and we can have a relationship with our Higher Power.

I’ve come to see that a spiritual director is not a sponsor and not a therapist and a spiritual director may or may not be a clergy person. Over the years I have worked with three different spiritual directors. One was a nun, one a former minister, and one a really compassionate and spiritual woman who had training in spiritual direction. All had some experience with the 12 steps or recovery programs, which was very helpful in the same way that someone whose first language is Spanish might benefit from a spiritual director who speaks Spanish.

I think of a spiritual director as being a bit like a couples counselor. If I am trying to have a good relationship with my Higher Power then anything that might come up in a human relationship will come up in this relationship as well.  I’ll be fearful, angry, jealous, even feel my abandonment issues rising. So we have to process all that, and just like in a marriage, a wiser person can ask good questions.

My spiritual director asks me, “Are you talking to your Higher Power?” “Are you spending quality time together?” and she’s reminds me that I can express all of my feelings --even anger—when I am in a genuine relationship with HP. 

I love the anecdote we hear in meetings of the newcomer who raises their hand to ask about the “spiritual part” of the program and the old-timer replies, “There is no spiritual part; the program is spiritual.”  

It’s also helped me to know that Bill Wilson had a spiritual director.

He identified Father Edward Dowling, a Jesuit priest, as his spiritual director. (Which may explain why some of Ignatius’s insights sound so familiar to recovering alcoholics.)

Bill’s regular meetings with Father Dowling were necessary to his recovery and that was in addition to having sponsors (Ebby and Dr. Bob) and his rich fellowship of recovering friends.

More on spiritual direction in recovery in the book, "Out of the Woods" published by Central Recovery Press.

Friday, April 17, 2015

There's a Place for Each of Us on the Social Justice Team

Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente are two of my baseball--and life--heroes. Interestingly both were signed by the legendary Branch Rickey--Robinson for the Dodgers and Clemente for the Pirates. This week I wrote the following newspaper column for The Albany Times Union:

On April 15, 1947 Jackie Robinson ran onto Ebbets Field, taking his place at first base and in both baseball and civil rights history.  

Today, with our news filled with stories of injustice and discrimination, we can use this anniversary to find our own places to support social change.

We admire Jackie Robinson, as we should, he was the one on the field. But there were others who supported “baseball’s greatest experiment.” Those others can inspire us. So here are three examples from the Robinson story that can be our role models.

First, the man who brought Robinson to the majors: Branch Rickey was the President of The Brooklyn Dodgers. He had a longtime interest in racial integration, but he wasn’t a minister or a politician. Rickey was a baseball executive who made a wise business—and moral—decision by signing Robinson. 

Rickey had studied the Negro Leagues for years and he knew that he could fill a ballpark—and probably win a pennant --with players like Jackie. Like Rickey, some of us in leadership positions have opportunities to bring money and morality together. We can look for places to advance social justice in our organizations. 

But maybe you don’t own the company; maybe you’re a manager or you run a department. There’s an example in the Robinson story for you too.

 Your role model is Bert Shotton. Shotton managed the Dodgers in 1947. He stepped in when the legendary Leo Durocher was banned from baseball.

The Dodgers lost Durocher right after Robinson arrived, and while the team was in an uproar about Rickey signing Robinson. Rickey needed someone in the dugout who could hold the team together while Jackie was on the field enduring physical and verbal assaults from other players and the fans. Rickey brought Shotton out of retirement to calm and soothe and knit the Dodgers together during that crucial first year.

Shotton wasn’t colorful or flashy, he just got the most stirred up team in history to settle down and play ball. Red Barber said, “The unsung hero of 1947 was manager Burt Shotton.” Shotton is an example of what many of us could do within our companies to help those who are struggling with change.

But maybe you’re not even a manager; you’re a coworker or a customer. Well, there’s a role model for you too.

Harold “Pee Wee” Reese was Jackie Robinson’s teammate. The most unlikely man to be of help, Reese grew up in the segregated south and even he was initially upset when he was told that Robinson would play. But Reese was an inherently just person. When one of his teammates circulated a petition saying they’d all quit if Rickey kept Robinson, Reese said no, and handed the petition back, causing the protest to fizzle. 

But Reese did something else. Early in 1947 at a game in which the hatred directed at Robinson was particularly ugly, Reese did the simplest --and most powerful-- thing. He left
his shortstop position and walked over to Robinson at first base. He smiled at Robinson, made some small talk, and then, like any guy talking to a friend, Reese put his arm around Robinson’s shoulder. The fans fell silent. Reese had signaled that Jackie was his teammate. “That”, said sportswriter Roger Kahn, “was baseball’s finest moment.”

So today, as you recall Jackie running onto Ebbets Field, look behind him and give a nod to Rickey, Reese and Shotton. They offer examples of how each of us can support social justice and ensure that change will happen. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Detach With Love

That term is a gift from Alanon. Detaching with love is like the gold standard of recovery, and it’s something we aim for but rarely achieve perfectly.

Years ago in Baltimore where I attended my first meetings my Alanon home group was one of the oldest Alanon meetings still in existence. Weekly I met with a group of women who were “Black Belt Alanon”. They had each worked the program a long time and many of them were still living with active alcoholics. They were tough. They were wise. They talked a lot about detachment and how they worked “detachment with love.”

I remember one of the examples they gave to newcomers who found this whole detachment thing confusing. This is what they would say:

If you come home from your meeting and the drunk is passed out in the driveway—again—detachment is stepping over them and going into the house and going to bed. Detachment with love is rolling the drunken person on their side so they don’t choke, covering them with a blanket and then going into the house and going to bed.

A pretty graphic example, but it is one that sticks in my head. For you too?  I found I could translate that driveway scenario into other situations and use it to sort out, “What would be the equivalent in my situation of providing the blanket and still going to bed?” 

All these years later, long into recovery, I still have to ask myself that question. And then pray for the courage and wisdom to act.

Today, on a little card, I wrote this note to myself:

What would detachment…
Look like?
Sound like?
Feel like?
Think like?

Read more about detachment and the lessons of Alanon in "Out of the Woods" published by Central Recovery Press.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

No Gin for the Tulips

I read somewhere that “The tulip is the introvert of flowers”. I believe that. Tulips are a fairly quiet and independent flower. They are solitary, strong, still, existing briefly, bold color but never spilling, enclosing mystery, but never shy. Quiet, still, observing. But never shy.

If a fashion designer created this flower it must have been from the house of Celine. There is structure yet femininity. 

This is my flower, the tulip. I like many bulb flowers and over the years I’d forced paper whites and narcissus. But even those beauties are too strong in scent and frilly detail. No, it’s definitely tulips. 

In recovery I had to give up feeding them gin, which the bulb flowers like crocus and paper whites and tulips love so much. (It does give them excellent posture) but still, even a sober tulip is pure elegance.

Do you have a recovery flower? What does it say about you?

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Mary Magdalene in the Garden

One of my mother’s favorite hymns, which became one of my favorite hymns, is “I Come to the Garden.” The first verse and chorus go like this:

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear
Falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me
And He tells me that I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.

Does that sound familiar? I learned that song very young and sang it as a kid in Methodist Sunday School and Church. It seemed a pretty, nature-based kind of hymn. It has that “Jesus Loves Me” quality offering reassurance that I am loved and that I personally matter to God or my Higher Power.

But over the years as I fell out of, back into, and again out of churches and faith communities it was always the hymns of my Methodist childhood that were the containers of my hesitant, questioning faith.

Recently I learned the story of the song and was thrilled to find there is a feminist core to “I Come to the Garden” and that, in fact, surprise! --it is an Easter song and maybe, kind of a recovery song.
Antonio Correggio

“I Come to the Garden” was written by a pharmacist named C. Austin Miles. He wanted to write a song offering, “rest for the weary.” Ready to compose, he began to read from John: 20—the story of Mary Magdalene and her visit to the garden where Jesus had been buried, and her discovery that he was alive.

So the “I” of the hymn is Mary Magdalene on Easter morning. It is a song of a woman who had feared the loss of a loved one and the loss of what she believed had kept her safe, and the discovery that He and she—and we-- have a resurrection. In recovery we each have a new life and we are held and known—and loved.

Happy Easter!

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Looking for the Fountain of Youth

It has been said that the line between youth and age is the point when you stop yearning to look older and begin to hope that you look younger. The search for youth is an old--and timely-- story. It was on April 2, in 1513 that Ponce de Leon,
looking for the fountain of youth, claimed Florida. He was just one of many who had sought the secret of youth. The ancient story of the search for the Holy Grain was also a search for a way to stay forever young.

Today those with the same desire have an endless bounty of pseudo-miracles to prolong the appearance of youth. We have lasers, Botox and plastic surgery.  But there is some disappointment as the pressure to be young intensifies. A few years ago when the middle-aged “Baby Boom” was predicted we imagined that having an older majority would mean a celebration or acceptance of aging. We were wrong. Rather than our demographic bump offering us permission to de-babe, it instead created even more pressure to not go gently into our wrinkles and gray hair. 

How does this apply to us as people in recovery? Well, if you’ve been around awhile or you plan to be in recovery a long time –you’ll need to come to terms with your beliefs and choices around aging and your appearance.

Sure we can blame media and marketing for the pressure to look younger but the focus on “them” ignores the fact that the search for youth is not really about looking younger. What Ponce de Leon and those who sought the Grail wanted was not actually a cosmetic fix but immortality. They wanted to not die. 
Fountain of Youth--Lucas Cranach The Elder

And of course many of us came into recovery because we didn’t want to die—at least not the way we were going to if we kept using. 

But the truth is that we will die and recovery offers us the chance to really think that through. Only when we understand that we really are going to die do we ask the crucial questions like:  What do you want to do with your life? And with whom do you want to spend your precious time? Maybe accepting death –really accepting it—is the best secret to living young.

As so many of us try to erase our age with lotions and lasers, we are trying to change reality. But that is also magical thinking, just like looking for the fountain of youth.