Thursday, December 31, 2015

Thanksgiving--Gratitude, Service and Community

I’m pleased to share this new essay by Amy Halloran. She wrote this for Thanksgiving—her perspective on gratitude and community—and how our perspectives are changed by service—is a message for everyday. Here’s Amy:

I used to be very invested in Thanksgiving. I spent weeks poring over new magazines and old cookbooks, thinking about how to combine flavors and make a mutt-version of sweet potato pie or cornbread stuffing that tasted just as I wanted.

I wanted some control of the meal, or at least the expression of ingredients. I wanted to look the farmer who raised my turkey in the eye. I wanted to give the food meaning and impose my current interpretations of gratitude upon other people that I ate with the last Thursday in November.

Last week I was keenly aware of how little I cared about the origins of the ingredients at my parents' Thanksgiving table. I didn't even crack a cookbook until Wednesday night, when I started hunting for some graceful combination of cranberries and cornmeal.

I am no less interested in sustainable farming, but I am not as ambitious about cooking for Thanksgiving, or using it as a platform for food thinking. My goals have mellowed because I get to influence a big meal every day of the year, cooking for the community meals program run by Unity House. Trying to cram as many vegetables as affordably as I can into dishes that are still enjoyed is my mission.

Preparing for our Thanksgiving meal, I worked with a number of volunteers. Hilton Garden Inn made our turkeys and sides, and brought lasagna the day before so we could focus on getting ready for dinner. An eight-year-old raised $400 so we could buy butter and fruit and collards. One team of people came in to chop vegetables and make pies. Another team made sweet potato hand pies for diners to take home.

As everyone worked, I noticed that I didn't fuss over outcomes. I showed people ratios and recipes, and let them go to town.

I realized that baking and cooking can be an expression of community, not just of self. Maybe this isn't a newsflash to you, but it's a headline for me, someone who used to think of Thanksgiving as a place to grandstand skills and ideas.

 Amy Halloran is a writer and teacher, chef and cook, advocate and author. Her new book is: “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” by Chelsea Green Publishing

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Stop Trying to Control Other People

First, because you can’t. It’s an illusion and a waste of your time. Even if you are right (though you probably are not) you are giving up huge bundles of your energy and your consciousness to try to control another person’s life.

Second, get to the root cause: We try to control others to make ourselves feel safer. Note the key word, “Feel”. We don’t actually get any safer by controlling others. There’s that illusion again, but we are always trying to feel safer. Let that go and live your life—your
work, program, relationships, talents and gifts. You may or may not feel safer, but you will feel happier and more fulfilled.

Third, read that again: We try to control others to make ourselves feel safer. So often we position our control as helping or being selfless but, in fact, controlling others is super selfish: we are trying to make ourselves feel safer. 

Fourth, letting go of control is not easy. Feeling unsafe is just so unsettling. So share your goal. Share it with a few, close recovery friends; let them know you are letting go of control. But note: Do not tell the person you are intent on controlling that you are trying to stop controlling them. That’s a game, so give it up. It’s just another backhanded way of being controlling. Stop that.

Fifth, get some help. Try Alanon. Alanon will make your AA or OA program so much better.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

In the Dark Streets Shineth

Off we go trailing shopping lists and credit card receipts. Hanukah is done but Christmas is this week. We may complain about our errands and even about some of the folks on our shopping list, but we do enjoy the festivity the holidays bring to our gray December days.

It’s no coincidence. The holidays that celebrate light, Hanukah and Christmas, are aligned with the seasonal transit of the sun. It’s a leftover from earlier times when the religions of nature led all of the others. There was good reason, then as now, to run from the darkness. 

We know that ancient man feared that the sun had died.  It was his terror that the heat and light were gone. To coax the sun god back our ancient relatives created rituals.  The Druids lit bonfires. Now we celebrate with candles and lights in our windows. 

Spirituality is a way out of darkness and into hope and joy. The vehicle is mystery and a miracle, whether it’s oil that lasts eight days or the birth of a baby in a barn.

In the Northern Hemisphere this is a time when we face our vulnerability. Weather is the least of it. We all have moments of darkness: our grief, fears and regrets. The darkness we fear most, of course, is the grave. We still think we can outrun it. So some of us go to the Caribbean and some to sunlamps or light boxes; many pursue spirits, religious or distilled. Like our ancestors we too want the sun to come back and give us life again. So we go to the stores and burn up our credit cards; we sacrifice our savings as we gather at the mall where we may find what passes for community. 

But we still fear the dark. Much of what we do this time of year is about distraction. Not unlike whistling when we pass a graveyard, now we sing and shop and light candles and eat too much. And we complain. A lot. But maybe our railing against our holiday chores is itself a part of the solstice. Now when we are oppressed by darkness –when our primitive fears can be felt even through layers of advertising and anti-depressants-- we are drawn to the lights and to other people as our defense against the dark, just as our ancient relatives were drawn to stars and fires.

We talk of holiday depression as if it’s somehow wrong or an aberration. But these holidays we’re celebrating, Hanukah and Christmas, are also about darkness. Sometimes we forget that. But it’s true: the flip side of each story is about the darkness at the edge of the light. 

The words of this Christmas carol could just as well be a Solstice song: Yet in the dark street shineth, the everlasting light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

We’re fighting something ancient, natural and necessary. Occasionally we need to feel the darkness—even symbolically--like we sometimes need a dark night or a wild storm.

So maybe there is another way to experience this day. On this, the darkest night, what if we allowed the darkness and went toward it, daring ourselves to sit still before we light the candles or the tree. What if we sat a moment seeing the tree in darkness--and breathed. That’s what solstice is about. We can enter the darkness and emerge transformed. We can stand it.

On this day the sun is at the most southern point of its transit. Tonight is the longest night of the year. Starting tomorrow our days will grow longer again. The cycle is astronomical and holy. On this night we are as ancient as ever.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Recovery's Debt to William James

The ideas and insights of William James show up throughout our recovery movement and across the self-help spectrum. We know that Bill W. and Dr. Bob read James , and so they were influenced by, and incorporated, both the psychology and spiritual concepts of William James.

Here are just a few places where we see William James thoughts giving birth to today’s Twelve-step slogans and sayings:
Acceptance.  James wrote, “Be willing to have it so. Acceptance of what has happened is the best first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.”
Just for Today. James wrote, “Everybody should do three things each day that he hates to do, just for practice.”
How important is it?  James wrote: “Wisdom is learning what to overlook.”
Feelings are not Facts.  James wrote, “If merely feeling good could decide, drunkenness would be the supremely valid human experience.”

And on the value of laughter and letting go James wrote, “Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.”

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Move a Muscle Change Your Life

A man was in Divinity School when he was diagnosed with polio. He had this idea –an intuition--that if he moved more it would help him with his polio.

He decided to learn how to dance. He took some classes and slowly began to integrate dance into his life. He danced every day.

By dancing he cured himself of polio.

Ted Shawn left Divinity School to dance and to choreograph. He became the “father of modern dance” and he founded the renowned Jacob’s Pillow Dance Theater.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

The Eight Stages of (Holiday) Relapse

This month time we’ll hear a lot of good information about taking care of ourselves at holiday events: office parties, family gatherings, spontaneous get togethers with Friends. We are warned to watch out for the spiked eggnog and the fruitcake with brandy and the fancy Bourbon cookies.

If our addiction is food we’ll be on super alert for sugary snacks offered at every stop along our way.

But it’s not just the drinks or treats we have to worry about, and it turns out, it’s not just the newcomers who have to worry.

The greater triggers toward a slip or a relapse are more likely to be our thoughts and our moods. So what should we be watching out for that is inside of us?

I recently heard another recovery coach talking about relapse: How it begins and what to watch out for. His list of the eight stages can work as a daily or weekly checklist. And it’s a perfect holiday inventory getting us to the New Year:

Here are the Eight Stages of Relapse:

1.  Beginnings of secret dissatisfaction.

2.  Boredom or frustration at work or at home.

3.  Relationships change.

4.  Return of denial.

5.  Emotional drift—(away from our program, or friends, or sponsor, or supports.)

6.  Anger and Resentment.

7.  Depression and Dishonesty.

8.  Then—picking up the substance:Relapse.

Share this list with your recovery friends and agree to use this as a check list throughout the holidays.

I write more about relapse in my book, “Out of the Woods—A Guide to Long-term Recovery” published by Central Recovery Press. Think about a copy of “Out of the Woods” as a holiday gift for your recovering friends.