Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Seeking Spiritual Fitness

I’m thinking about spiritual fitness this week. I’ve been in recovery a long time now and, as we’ve talked here, there are pluses and minuses. Being semi-sane most of the time is a huge plus, but not having the daily push to grab more recovery could be kind of a minus, right? 

In early recovery fear and pain kept me coming back. I was so willing! I never balked at six meetings a week, lots of service, two sponsors and the books were piled so high. And my commitment to developing my spiritual life was huge. It didn’t take very long for me to get it that this is a spiritual program and a spiritual solution and while I faked a lot of things in my life—I couldn’t fake that and get results.

So early on I began a prayer practice and tried many meditation courses. I had done TM—Transcendental Meditation --in my using days and then I discovered it worked so much better sober. Then as recovery progressed I learned about Matt Talbot retreats and did those for years—twice a year at Stonehill College with amazing Christian retreat leaders, and that led to having a spiritual director—and then to becoming a spiritual director. And still the books are piled so high.

But just as I keep exploring new kinds of physical fitness and adapting new movement and exercise styles—I’m re-learning that I need to keep adapting my spiritual fitness as well.

Just as I had to face that fact that running hurt more than it helped, and that while swimming was almost perfect I couldn’t manage the logistics on a daily basis. So I tried videos, classes, a trainer, yoga, dance classes, Zumba and on and on. For that last couple of years the physical fitness recipe is Pilates and yoga. But swimming is creeping back in.

On the spiritual front there has been daily prayer and almost daily journal writing, reading spiritual writings, talking to a spiritual director. I keep wanting church to be part of the mix and but so far it just doesn’t “take”. Too many times, so wanting to be a “church-goer” I sign up, start to attend, over commit and then bail. That left me feeling worse not better.

But here is what I do know: Enlarging one’s spiritual life must be a top priority for anyone in recovery. And maintaining spiritual fitness doesn’t mean doing the same things year after year. Just as our addiction is progressive and the solution is spiritual, our program of spiritual growth and action also has to keep progressing.

Just as we are learning that the heart of addiction may come from not having community and connection, our spiritual solution may also require spiritual community and connection. People who are part of a faith community have that—and maybe that’s what my repeating desire is all about. And maybe it doesn’t have to be Church in a formal sense but I think it is going to mean a regular commitment to some small group of folks who also want to practice prayer and meditation together. 

Years ago I came to know that sometimes the best way to learn something is to start teaching it-or “teach what you want to learn,” so I’m going to start the spiritual practice group that I need for myself. 

Let me know if this appeals to you and we’ll become the community we want.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Beach Book for You and All of Your Friends

I am late to the game with the novels of Jane Green, but now I am gobbling them up like mad. Green is a novelist with homes in London and Connecticut, and she’s a masterful writer. Many of her novels are about modern (that’s us) women who are making life changes (yes, again, us.)

But the book I invite you to grab now—and you’ll have no trouble finding it-- is Jane Green’s newest novel, “Summer Secrets” published June 2015. I picked it up in the airport on my
way to the Atlanta AA International Convention and really, I was rushing and the cover was pretty and I knew that I liked Green’s books, and then, “Thank you God!”

This is one of the best novels about a woman in recovery. And in a perfectly balanced way—the novel is compelling, great moving plot, page-turning story and woven in the story is alcohol and where it can take us and how we face not wanting to need recovery and side-stepping recovery and then, and then…and you know---

But here’s a bonus. This is a great beach book—every woman you know –who loves to read—will love this book. So you can buy this for friends in and out of recovery. Those who are in recovery will say, “Cool book” and those not in recovery are going to say, “Great read.” Isn’t it nice when that happens?

I sent Green a thank you note—because whether she meant to or not this book will show readers who don’t know, or who may not care, about 12-step recovery what our laughter (and prayer) are all about.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Saying Yes! by Amy Halloran

A guest post today by one of my favorite writers: Amy Halloran, from Troy, New York—author of the new book: "The New Bread Basket”:

Spring makes it so easy to say yes. The sense of potential and beauty in each burst daffodil, each exploding peony makes me accept every offer that heads in my direction. By May I’m a tumble of projects and commitments I’m not sure I’ll be able to finish or keep. Then I wish I were a little more hesitant, like my sister, who carefully weighs each opportunity and impulse. Elissa is glad, though, that me and my yes’s were with her one cold January morning a few years ago.
We were taking a walk near her house in Albany’s Washington Park. Waiting for a light to change, we stood with a little black and white dog and its owner.
“Nice dog,” Elissa said. 
The woman held out the dog’s leash, which was not attached, and said, “Do you want him?”
My sister immediately said no. 
“Yes you do,” I said in a big fast voice. We had been making this decision for years. When she first opened her jewelry store on Lark Street, she longed for a dog. I babysat for a family who had a Jack Russell terrier, and its personality seemed good for a shop dog, so I told her she should get one.
Almost fifteen years later, this little dog was skittish in the cold, and lunging toward morning traffic. Elissa reached for him, and held him by the collar. 
"I came out here to find somebody to take care of JoJo," the woman told us. She’d just had knee surgery and couldn’t take care of the dog. 
“What should I do?” my sister asked me.
“If you don’t take him, a car will,” I said, handing her the leash. “We can always give it away again.”
Elissa suggested we walk the woman home. This way, she, we could see if the woman was giving away someone else’s pet. 
Elissa and the little dog walked in front of the woman and me. They looked so natural together. I got absorbed in the woman's story. She was telling me that she was going to rehab. She was selling the pain pills from her knee surgery so she could buy alcohol. She loved JoJo but the only person she knew to take care of him was on a suicide watch. So she had to give the dog away. When we got to where the woman lived, Elissa asked me if she should do this. 
“Yes,” I said, big sister sure.
JoJo landed perfectly in her life. She has always loved animals, and loves having a dog. I can’t believe she didn’t have one for so long. He has a bed at the store and at home. He comes on visits to my house and to our parents’ house. He walks with us in parks. I call him my nephew. 
I love that little lesson in yes. Even though I’m a habitual Yesser, I still need to see what kind of doors that single word can open. 
Six years ago, I almost said NO to a new friend who suggested we take a Pilates class at the gym, but I dove in against my fear. Organized exercise intimidates me, but I wanted to spend time with this person, so I said yes.
Tuesday and Thursday mornings I moved my body as instructed, and pretty soon, I exercised my most prominent muscle: storytelling. From the stories I told and heard, I got ideas for articles to write. Pilates also led to a job teaching at Russell Sage College, and cooking at Unity House. I marvel how one little yes stitched me to so much of my future. 
A friend of mine teaches improvisation in theaters and less likely places, like businesses and schools. When I told him about my love of the affirmative, he said that the first rule of improv is to enter a scene saying yes, and expanding on that yes together. 
But yes is hard to achieve in established relationships. At work and home, we hurt each other and those hurts make us defensive. Trying to be open to each other and grant each other more yeses than no’s is tough.

I’m not saying everything deserves a Yes. Some offers and ideas deserve no’s: the ones that will lead you into debt, diabetes, or other burdens. It is hard to know which hesitations should be obeyed, and which are just feathers of fear you have to blow away. 

I don’t know if I will ever be able to tell the difference, but I am trying. And I am happy I was there to guide my sister to JoJo. He is maybe my favorite Yes yet. ********
Amy Halloran is a writer and cook in Troy, New York. She is curious about change and food. Her book, The New Bread Basket: How the New Crop of Grain Growers, Plant Breeders, Millers, Maltsters, Bakers, Brewers, and Local Food Activists Are Redefining Our Daily Loaf.”
You can read more of Amy’s writing at

Thursday, July 09, 2015

The AA International in Atlanta

Last week was the AA International Convention in Atlanta, Georgia. 57,000 AA members participated and they were joined by Alanon members, plus family and friends. It was a pleasure.

This was my third AA International Convention—they take place every five years and each year is a different city. My first was in Toronto, Ontario, then San Antonio, Texas and this year in Atlanta. In 2020 the Convention will be in Detroit, Michigan. So you have time to save for your trip!

Truly—an AA international Convention is worth saving for. It is an amazing experience to spend three or four days surrounded by people in recovery—we do completely take over the convention city. And the information, continual meetings and special programs and presentations are nothing short of mind-blowing.

Isn’t that a funny thought: we who tried to have our minds blown by chemicals for so many years now are thrilled by the high of fabulous podium speakers, exhilarating stories of long lives in recovery and exposure to every possible—sometimes unimaginable segment and slice of AA life. 

In Atlanta there were meetings on men, women, GLBTQ, 16 and under, 65 and older, and AA in every language. The opening flag ceremony—kind of like the opening ceremony of the Olympics—showed 94 countries participating. The large meetings at night completely fill the football stadium, The Georgia Dome, and the outdoor parties and music events make the world’s largest street party. It is, in fact, the truest test of one’s sobriety and recovery: crowds, lines, languages, and asking for direction. And so much laughter.

Our book says, “We are not a glum lot”, and this is born out at the International Convention. There are hourly giggles, guffaws and belly laughs—from the comments to the stories to the sayings and slogans on tee shirts and buttons.

I wish I had bought one of the Canadian tee shirts that say, “AA, eh?”

But my favorite take-away from Atlanta was hearing from 10 members who each had more than 50 years of recovery. They spoke on Saturday night –The 4th of July—in The Georgia Dome. And they were collectively: happy, humble, sincere, funny, heartbreaking, and deeply faith-filled folks.

 I’ll carry their image and messages with me until I can get to Detroit. Start saving now and join me in 2020.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Fourth of July--Facing Our Battles

“Well, it’s one, two, three. What are we fighting for? Don’t ask me; I don’t give a dam; Next stop is Viet Nam. And it’s five, six, seven open up the pearly gates; Ain’t no time to wonder why. Whoopee! We’re all gonna die”.

That song by Country Joe and The Fish was my introduction to war. It made me laugh and it gave me the cheap thrill of having an opinion without having to trouble with actual thought. Another song of that time asked, “War; what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.”  

I was in high school then and memorizing facts about wars: The French and Indian, Revolutionary and World Wars. I filled blue books with wordy essays about the causes, winners, losers and political implications. Now, more than 30 years later, I remember few of the facts, but more troubling I still know little about why we really go to war. 

This weekend is ripe with war’s resonance. July 4th we celebrate the American colonists bold declaration of their independence and their willingness to kill for it. On these same few days, later in our history, was the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the bloodiest battles of our Civil War. This is the 150th anniversary. We alternate fighting others and ourselves, but the constant in this is that we fight. 

I’ve always liked the idea of pacifism but it’s not my truth; I fight too many things.  I hate that war is about killing but what else could it be? We talk about rules and conventions but isn’t the point to hurt the enemy so badly that they quit? No one surrenders because the other side has a better idea; we quit when the losses are too great.

In his book, The History of Warfare, John Keegan explains how man’s proclivity for violence evolved, and the benefits accruing to mankind from war. He writes about war’s contributions to agriculture and the relationship between the domestication of animals and the needs of war. Keegan explains that before anyone ever rode horses they were just food like cows or pigs are today. It took years of breeding for horses to support a rider. 

Similarly early horses were not tractable—they couldn’t be harnessed for work--until they were bred for warfare. So even My Friend Flicka and the summer season at Saratoga owe something to war. Keegan’s list is extensive: advances in medicine and science, and the developments of metallurgy are among the secondary gains of war.  Of course, the moral gains and losses are another matter.

In our American wars we often fight in the name of democracy. But democracy is not a condition, it’s a process. And like any process or progress it’s often achieved by taking three steps forward and two steps back. In some instances a particular war may represent a step forward but in another case it may be a step back. What is troubling is that we can’t know which it is until we have the benefit of perspective, of time passing. That’s what makes war and the political process terrifying and exhilarating. We have to make our choices based on the past and what we imagine of the future. 

What we are missing is the courage to say that we don’t know. 

The rhetoric of war—pro and con—allows us to shortcut having to think, and to escape living in the vast expanse of the imperfect present. It’s so much easier to be for or against than to sit with the messy, heartbreaking gray of war’s reality. But posturing any absolute truth makes us all prisoners of war. 

This weekend, in the midst of picnics and parades we need a moment to honor this imperfection, and while surrounded by red, white and blue we need to leave some room for the gray.