Saturday, January 30, 2016

Noche Oscura-The Dark Night

Noche Oscura means The Dark Night. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross both wrote about the dark night of the soul. In common parlance it has come to mean a bad time, a dry time or a hopeless time, often a time when God is distant or we can’t feel God.

But theologian Richard Rohr describes “the dark night” in a different way and he suggests that what St. Teresa and St. John really meant is that the dark night of the soul is actually a necessary time. Not, in the “life is suffering” sense that Scott Peck writes about but as a necessary time because the dark night of the soul is when God is actually deeply close. These are the times that God may be deeply inside us and doing spiritual surgery.

In Steps Six and Seven we ask to be healed, we ask to be relieved, and we say to God, “I am willing and I have tried and if it’s ever gonna change now it’s up to you”. And then we often ache. We say that surrender is painful, but through the lens of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross maybe we can recognize this as the kind of pain that comes with surgery.

I have been taking care of a friend who had surgery, and I can see the healing pain. “Get out of that bed and walk” is the first thing the nurses say. They kept saying, “You have to ambulate: Get up and walk.”

Maybe like Jesus said when he healed people who were struggling or who needed healing, “Take up your bed and walk.” That too is part of the dark night of our souls.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Ever Wise Robin Norwood

Yes, the intervention that started my recovery was a book: “Women Who Love Too Much” by Robin Norwood. At that time my drinking was a secret (and it was private), and my eating disorder was heavily (or thinly) disguised so the only evidence that I was in deep trouble was the chaotic relationships in my life.

In truth, all those things were intertwined. The mess and grief of relationships, the games I played with food to exercise a kind of control I never had and always wanted, and then the nightly alcohol to soothe the shame I felt over all of it.

No fewer than six people gave me Robin’s brilliant book that year. Even they, I later learned, were baffled by my behaviors. And I was too. My life hurt so much. But the sheer number of copies of WWL2M made it impossible for me to ignore the book so I read it. And I wept. 

And then the miracle: At the back of the book, after Robin describes the patterns of women who grew up in alcoholic or abusive families, she also says, “So if you identify with the women in this book then its very likely that you also have a problem with alcohol, drugs or food.” And I heard the loud: Ding! Ding! Ding! Scoring three out of three. A winner. I called ALL of the 800 numbers Norwood listed and that week I went to Alanon, and ACOA and OA and finally to AA….and that miracle continues to this day.

I go back to her book and those principles every few months.

Here’s a bit of Robin Norwood wisdom that applies to relationships and to all the other things that come our way in recovery--and in life:

“If we want to stop loving too much, first we change how we act, then how we think, and finally how we feel. If we wait until we feel differently before we behave differently, we will never change, never recover.”

Sunday, January 17, 2016

How to Use the "If…Then" Strategy in All Your Affairs

I’ve been reading (again) about healthy eating. It is, like so many things, progress not perfection. And slowly I see the results. Over time I make better meal choices and I buy food of a better quality (grass-fed, organic, local etc). And, for me, the biggie is dealing with sweets and desserts. I’ve learned not to keep candy in the car or ice cream in the house. But this week I read about a new eating (rather then dieting) strategy, and it is changing so much more than my meals.

The strategy is called “If….Then…” and it goes like this:

If I really want a dessert, …then I’ll have fruit or brown rice pudding.
If I want a snack in my car, …then I’ll have bags of almonds, or beef jerky, or a protein bar.
If I am in a restaurant,…then I'll get lean protein and two vegetables.
If I don’t have time to do a workout in the morning,…then I’ll do three planks and a sun salutation.

You get the idea. Great for your physical heath, right? But it turns out that the  “If…Then…” can be used for every part of your life. I created an “If/Then” strategy for my daily writing practice too:

My goal is to write 60 minutes a day. But if I am time crunched and the day is going to go from 7am to 7pm…Then I can take a writing task in the car with me. (I can dictate some ideas, I can draft into a tape recorder, and I can brainstorm three new stories.)

Or if I am really tired or maybe feeling unwell…Then I can get on the couch with files and sort them, or I can pull out my journal and free write with a timer for 30 minutes.

See how that works?

But then it hit me that “If/Then” works on the more important goals as well. If I am scared…Then I can pray. If I am jealous…Then I can do something nice for the other person. (Or maybe for myself since sometimes it’s a lack of self-care that kicks off my jealousy.)

Turns out that our twelve-step recovery programs have been teaching us a kind of “If/Then” strategy all along. You heard it in your earliest days: “If your butt falls off…Then pick it up and take it to a meeting.” Or if you are tempted to use your favorite substance…Then pick up the phone and call your sponsor.” And we learned all those great strategies and skills.

Now take that “If/Then” device and translate it for the new and next goals in your life. On paper (always do this in writing) begin with:

If____happens,…Then I will do_____.” 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Does He Do That Just to Annoy You?

OK, so you already know the answer. In the same way that you know how annoying it is when he/she tells you to please turn the music off, “I can’t study with that on.” Or, the opposite, “But I need the music on so I can study/cook/balance the checkbook.”

And do you have this in your home: “Why does the color of the sheets matter?” versus “They have to be flannel sheets and washed at least five times before we use them.”

There is a temptation—a great temptation—to interpret the sensory behaviors of those we love to be either designed to torture us or to be just plain wrong. “Do you really have to cut the tags out of your clothes?” “ Does he have to whistle while he drives?”

These issues affect any relationship—a romantic one or a friendship. And maybe you have been practicing acceptance, tolerance and compassion…until you’re about to blow. But now there is help.

Well, if not help then at least understanding. A new friend shared with me that her marriage squabbles had gotten so bad that she and her husband landed on the couch of a marriage counselor. She had had it with his key jingling, whistling, and TV blaring and the scratchy towels. He was frustrated that she only liked two restaurants, never wanted to go
to the movies and she kept turning the lights down-- even in the kitchen. Each one of them interpreted those behaviors as deliberate and intentional torture or at least as acts of being inconsiderate.

The therapist asked for few details and then gave them a book to read for homework. The book is, “Living Sensationally—Understanding Your Senses” by Winnie Dunn.

Dunn is an occupational therapist and a leading authority on sensory processing. In her simple and even fun book she quickly breaks down relational conflicts by sensory type. Remember how the Myers Briggs breaks out personality types in such helpful ways? Turns out that we also have a sensory type and we are either sensation seeking or avoiding and either a Sensor or a Bystander. 

My friend’s therapist told them to read the book and also to take the Sensation Type quiz in the front of the book. (The quiz takes less than ten minutes.) And voila! They discovered they were –of course—opposite sensory types. So they could then communicate, negotiate and compromise on sounds, colors, textures, spaces and their music.

This is a book for people in recovery. We are continuing to learn about ourselves and to learn how to get along with others. In the same way that the Myers Briggs helps us to accept that others are different than us in a nonjudgmental way, “Living Sensationally” helps us accept that others experience the sensory world differently as well. 

More on relationships in recovery in "Out of the Woods--A Guide to Longterm Recovery" published by Central Recovery Press.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Restraint of Tongue and Pen

The best advice at work and at home is to practice restraint of tongue and pen. And today we might add:    “…and restraint of keyboard, email and Facebook.” In most cases what is not said is safer and kinder than what is said.

One of my early sponsors used to say to me, “Don’t worry about doing any new stuff, just don’t do anything that you are going to have to make amends for.” In most cases that meant: Don’t say it. Don’t write it. And this, which I also love:

“I don’t have to go to every argument that I am invited to.”

By now you have learned your own body’s signals, the things that tell you that you need to be in the restraint mode: accelerated breathing, talking fast, eye rolling and and the clear sign: you are talking to people who are not in the room (or in the car) with you. When you are alone but “rehearsing” your arguments, like, “I’m gonna tell her this and this and this..” And then you do it again adding emphasis, or nastier words, that is your cue to toss the cell into the back seat or pull over and call your sponsor. 

Most of the time when I am in that state I am willing to text my sponsor but really—it is much better to make a phone call—even if you get voicemail—because just hearing yourself say out loud what you want to say to that Bad Person, or Awful Coworker or Selfish Family Member will get the attention of your own wiser, recovered self and you’ll be laughing by the end of the call.

And thank God! Because, really: Do you want to be making more amends? You did that at year 3 and five and ten and you don’t want more. And you don’t want to be the one at work who has “issues” or that everyone has to tiptoe around. So use my old sponsor’s wisdom: Do not say or write (or text, or reply) anything you will have to make amends for later.

 When times are tough put this note on your laptop screen or add a screensaver that says: Restraint of Tongue and Pen!