Sunday, October 25, 2015

When I Envy the Newcomer

After many years of recovery I can still feel shame when this happens. And it happened again just this week: A man in my home group celebrated 6 months and he was glowing. His life was transformed, he had found a deep faith in his Higher Power, his surrender was total; he had completed his step work and was quoting the Big Book. His “share” was more lecture than personal story, but still I bit.

I was jealous. 

I know better. I knew better. But I could feel myself become envious and annoyed. I knew that I should be happy for his newcomer’s pink cloud and his new life but my own smallness revealed my envy. After all these years and all this work—I’m still trying to surrender, have absolute faith, and be a perfectly perfect person.

I know, I know.

This is also why I wrote “Out of the Woods”. In this book I talk about the awkward things, the difficult things and even the embarrassing things that can happen to us in long-term recovery. Envying a newcomer is just one of them. 

It is times like this that I wish for regular meeting for people who have ten or 15 or 20 years. Not to leave other people behind but to be able to say,  “Does anyone else feel like this?” and to laugh at something like my envy of the newcomer. 

I know better. You know better. We all know better. But still.

I’m know that I did exactly what he did when I was new to recovery. In fact, I was the young woman bringing recovery literature to my family Thanksgiving dinner and passing it around like hors ‘dourves. 

So you’d think I’d have more compassion.

But what I know now—and what I have written about in “Out of the Woods” --is that life happens to all of us, and that we need those pink clouds and happy days to give us the ground under the harder parts of our recovery. And as we stay in recovery a long time those harder parts will come on their own.

My red-faced humility is this: When I hear those newcomers speak of their rapidly transformed lives and the perfect, lasting peace that recovery has given them, I still want what they have. 

That’s why I keep coming back.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Let Go--Just Throw the Ball

Letting Go is a topic I can never hear about enough. I get that letting go is the answer to 99% of my questions. (Eat less sugar is the answer to the other 1%.) But still, just as in my newcomer days I can sigh and sag and ask, “How, exactly, do I let go?”

So here is advice from the amazing Melody Beatty: recovering woman, recovery writer, and recovery role model. I highly recommend her books especially the daily meditation book called, “The Language of Letting Go.” My first sponsor gave that to me in 1983 and I still read from the same dog-eared, underlined, tear-stained copy every day. 

So here is today’s advice on how to let go:

* If you have tried to solve a problem three times (and worry doesn’t count) then stop yourself. Let go. Throw the ball.

*If someone asks you for advice, give them the advice once. Then throw the ball to them. Let go. Say nothing more.

*If a person has not asked for your advice, or if you offered advice and the answer was “No thanks”, there is nothing to throw. Stop talking. Let go. The ball is not in your hands.

It might be helpful—if you are really struggling—to get a small ball to hold and then toss. Let it roll under the table or into the corner. Let it be. That’s what letting go looks like. Let it go.

Monday, October 12, 2015

No Comfort in Comfort Shoes

 I see these shoes all over now. My demographic is big and booming so we drive the market for all kinds of consumer products. And now every women’s store offers “Comfort Shoes.” They are sold through catalogs like, Modern Maturity and All About You, which are supposed to be celebrating your mid-life. But I’m also seeing these shoes at Bloomingdales and dear God, even Saks.   There are all kinds of euphemistic names for these shoes like On the Move  or Comfort Footwear, but ya know what? These are old lady shoes. 

A friend brought a catalog to our lunch date to show me a pair of these comfort shoes that she was considering buying for a special event. “They look so comfortable” she says, “but are they too dowdy?”  How do I answer that without hurting her feelings? I look at the shoe and I say to my friend, “Maybe go for something a little more strappy; you don’t have to walk in them.” But what I really want to say is, “Those are shoes for a woman who has forgotten what her vagina is for.” 

Yes, I know that these shoes feel comfy but it’s a slippery slope. One day you allow yourself to wear these “comfort shoes” and within a week you are buying a pink jogging suit decorated with gold emblems, and thinking, “Oh, that looks nice.”  Or you buy a pair of  shoes with these “manmade breathable uppers” and “soft rubbery soles” and soon after you are thinking, “Why pay all that money for someone else to put color on my hair; I could just buy a box of that hair dye that Sarah Jessica Parker uses. She always looks so nice.”  

Maybe it really is about chemistry: You buy a pair of comfort shoes in a “nice, practical” navy or worse, in ivory, and after a few wearings the chemicals from the shoes enter your bloodstream and soon you begin to think that pants with an elastic waist make perfect sense. I mean, after all, you gain a little weight now and then so wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t need to buy new pants every time you gain a few pounds?

Or you begin to think that you don’t really need to buy new underwear every year. You could just buy one of those “bra extenders” and get more life out of your old bras. Did you ever really go to the hospital and have someone see your raggedy drawers? No, of course not.  

It all begins with the shoes.

Guard yourself and help your friends too. Comfort shoes are a frightening thing. They are the end of sex and the end of independent thought. In comfort shoes you will give up reading new fiction and listening to public radio. You will soon claim that you don’t know who Arianna Huffington is and you will think the red string on Madonna’s wrist is to remind her to buy a birthday card for her mother. When we talk about end of life issues—we are talking about comfort shoes. 

So I have this special request: When I am going to be buried or even if I am going to be cremated, please do not put “comfort shoes” on my feet. You can go with gold sandals, even a simple Ferragamo pump if you have to, or rubber thongs. Because wherever I go from here, it’s still about putting my best foot forward.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Recovery is Like Emotional Pilates

A friend emails me and says, “I want new insides”.  I laugh and say, “Me too.”  We are both having one of those days where you just want relief from yourself, and from the voices of fear. After all this time I can still get blindsided by fear and unnerved by the nagging voices of doubt inside of me.

I decide to talk to this angel of fear who nags me. I think of this inner fear voice as an angel because I know that at some level this is a part of me that wants to protect me, so she is always worrying and warning me, always sure that something bad is going to happen. So as I talk to the fear, I pray.  I begin to get some relief but the sensation I have is that my emotional muscles could be stronger. 

It occurs to me that I need to do some emotional Pilates. I have to strengthen my core—my core beliefs.  My old habit is to succumb to the fear--not having enough strength to stand up to it.  It’s like my old habit of slouching at my desk--it’s comfortable but I‘ve learned in physical therapy that over time those “comfortable” habits are quite damaging to my spine. 

I have been doing Pilates for several years. Pilates is a practice of physical exercise developed by Joseph Pilates in the 1940's to help injured dancers to heal. It works. My posture is better and my back doesn’t hurt anymore. Why do I keep going? I want to get stronger and I don’t want any more injuries. Now I also see that my Twelve-step recovery is a lot like my Pilates. 

This week in a Pilates class I found a new muscle. Apparently I’ve always had these really deep lower abs but I wasn't using them--the other muscles were overriding them and doing all the work. But all of a sudden in one exercise I felt something way deep down and it was a muscle group I hadn't been able to isolate before. It was really hard to use them, and I was sore afterward, but it felt so good.

In the same way I can continue to identify my character defects, my fears, and those nagging  “you are not good enough” thoughts. And by sitting still and focusing I can isolate them and I can isolate my strengths and gifts. They are also way, way down there.

 Yes, it can ache to identify and isolate them. But each time I do that and I use those subtle emotional muscles--I can sense a bit more strength, and I stand up taller and I am growing stronger.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

From Head (And Sticky Note) to My Heart

Has this happened to you: You know some stuff. You have been around a long time; you understand how your mind and emotions work. You know the best ways to respond or to not react to certain triggers in your life. You know your family role and how that influences you; you know your Myers Briggs or Enneagram Type and how that influences you; you know the character defects you are working through and you can visualize how you’ll be different and many days you are different.

Maybe, like me, you have sticky notes—in your planner, on your desk top, on the bathroom mirror that tell you things like, “The critics do not matter, being in the game does.” or “Humility is perpetual quietness of the heart.” or my new one, “The cure for resentment is boundaries.” 

And when you look at those sticky notes, or hear yourself giving similar advice to another person, you think, “My God I am growing; I really am changing.”

And then…

And then a day like yesterday happens and it feels like I never saw the 12 steps, never heard a spiritual teacher, and never understood that detachment and forgiveness are the handrails to my emotional freedom.

Instead I felt slighted, hurt, petty, competitive, angry, and like a very young girl in a crazy family.

The only good news is that now it mostly happens inside of me, but that’s also the bad news—it happens inside of me. Serenity? Poof!

That hardest part is knowing so much and understanding so much and really meaning what I see on my little sticky notes but having the feelings of a newcomer. 

My prayer last night—and it was a long tossing, turning night—was to have what I write on those sticky notes make the journey from my head to my heart.