Thursday, March 31, 2016

Prayer and More Prayer

Today in my morning prayer time it hit me: One of the women that I sponsor is struggling and I thought, “She needs more prayer.” Things are not going her way, and she’s mad. I thought, “OK, how do I explain to her that it’s going to be a lot easier to surrender sooner rather than later.” Then I thought, “OK Diane, can you take your own advice?” 

Note to me: More prayer.

It seems so obvious, but now I also know why the “Twelve and Twelve” says, “We should not be lax on this matter of prayer”. It is like that old juice commercial that reminds, “I could have had a V-8”. So often after struggling, musing, wondering and making myself miserable trying to control something, I think, “I could have prayed-or maybe prayed sooner.

Put prayer first.

Yesterday I had a cranky day. Not quite relaxed, not quite working, slightly bored even though there was plenty to do; it was just an off day. When I did my 10th step at night (I use the Ignatian Examen as my Step Ten format) I realized that I had skipped my morning prayer time, and from there the day was just unsettled. Note to me: Put prayer first.

Gratitude and Compassion.

I read this ages ago, and I keep a sticky note in my planner that says, “Pray for a grateful heart and a compassionate heart”. It’s a great piece of guidance and an all-purpose solution to things that bother me. Gratitude shifts my attitude. Gratitude reminds me of the good. Gratitude shows me that there is growth, change and recovery in my life when my feelings try to convince me otherwise. 

A compassionate heart softens me. Compassion helps me to see other people- (even people who I think are bad or wrong)—are mostly broken or troubled people. And often they are broken or troubled I ways that I am too or that I have been. Having a compassionate heart slows me down. I am more inclined to practice “restraint of tongue and pen” when I have a compassionate heart. 

But to get there: More prayer.

Years ago I thought that people who had years of recovery must be doing all the right things, all the time. But I don’t, we don’t. But we do have a couple of things that come with time. One is good recovery habits. So I pray each morning and I do a 10th step at night that closes with a prayer. If I skip either one I feel crummy, kind of like not brushing my teeth. So even if I’m rushed or even not feeling very sincere I’ll get on my knees and read the Third Step Prayer. I say the words out loud. Even if done without complete sincerity, it helps.

The other thing that people with long recovery have are stories. We have our own stories, but even better; we have other people’s stories too. If you go to meetings for lots of years you accumulate stories. So when times are hard I can lean into someone else’s story. I can recall what they said about the time when they prayed; or the time they yelled at God, and the time a prayer was answered in a miraculous way; or the time they let go of what they wanted and got something so better instead.  

And each time what I remember is: More prayer.

Lots more on prayer and long-term recovery in the book, "Out of the Woods" published by Central Recovery Press.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

In the Garden..Mary Magdalene

One of my mother’s favorite hymns, which became one of my favorite hymns, is the old and classic song, “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 when I was very young and I sang it at home
and all through my childhood in United Methodist Sunday School. It seemed a pretty, and nature-based kind of hymn. And it has that sweet “Jesus Loves Me” quality to it offering the 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 –and supporters--of my hesitant, questioning faith.

Recently I learned the story of the song and I was thrilled to find there is a feminist core to “I Come to the Garden” and that, in fact, this is an Easter song and maybe even, a kind of a recovery song.

“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 scripture--John: 20—which is the story of Mary Magdalene and her visit to the garden where Jesus had been buried, and her discovery that he had risen from the dead.

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 man she loved so much, the man who had been her teacher and leader, and the loss of what we she believed had kept her safe. In this garden scene –in the song-she is discovering that He and she—and we-- have a resurrection.

In recovery each of us experiences a profound resurrection and the opportunity to live again. Like Mary in that garden, we too have new lives, and we are once again known—and loved.

Happy Easter!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

How to Write Step One

A colleague who lives a few towns away wrote to ask me to guide her on Step One. She’s not a newcomer, and had worked the steps before, but wanted another go and possibly to uncover some new layers.

Here’s what I wrote back:

Week One: Get a spiral notebook and on page one write:

“I am powerless over…”
And start making a list—include everything from the weather to your car, your boss, to friends and men to your hair—you name it.

Repeat that on a new page for seven nights. More things will show up each time. Just do it quickly for maybe two to five minutes. Don’t think just write.

Week Two: 
Now write about addictions: “When I was drinking/eating/using…I was powerless over…”: (another fast list each night)
Then, “and still today I am powerless over…”

During these two weeks you pray daily for complete honesty with yourself. Ask God to nudge you about those things you and denying or trying to not see.  After that, call your sponsor and have a chat—or have coffee with a recovering woman and share your lists.

Laughter guaranteed.

I write more about working the steps in later recovery in the book: Out of the Woods--A Guide to Long-term Recovery, published by Central Recovery Press.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Presence is More Than Looking Good

By now you have seen the TED Talk by Amy Cuddy on “power posing”--If not the link is below and the TED Talk is def worth a few minutes of your time.

But what you may not have realized is that her work is about much more than creating a good impression at work or influencing how others see you. Her deeper work is about neurobiology and the brain and how our deepest wisdom comes not from thinking but from moving.

This matters to people in recovery. 

We know a lot about the brain and addiction--all those PET scans that show an addicts brain on drugs. Not very different than the public service announcements years ago that were meant to scare us away from drugs: “This is your brain on drugs” and the visual was a fried egg scrambled in the frying pan. 

And we know that detoxing from drugs or alcohol is about the brain and the body. And we get calmer as years of recovery tick by. Part of the effect is making better choices; putting ourselves in better situations; not around people that we want to fight with; we are sleeping and eating and exercising. And our brains get better.

But what else?

Last year I was in a workshop with Bessel van der Kolk—Director of The Trauma Center in Boston. He’s considered by many to be the world’s top expert on trauma and PTSD. He talked a lot about what happens to soldiers, of course, but also what happens to people who experience sexual traumas or who are in horrific accidents. 

Bessel also talked about the relationship between trauma and addiction. We’ve known about that intuitively, of course, and some recovery literature touches on that linkage. In ACOA work we talk about trauma, and we process those memories with lots of talking and sharing. But van der Kolk explained that we must change the body to create lasting change in the brain. “Calm the body to calm the brain.”

Amy Cuddy echoes van der Kolk’s work. In her book, Presence she gives the history of these studies and confirms what another AA “ancestor”—William James—documented when he
said, “feelings are the consequence of thoughts and body expression.” Over and over we are reminded to change our body in order to change our thoughts, feelings, mood and presence.

What experts like Bessel van der Kolk and Amy Cuddy recommend are breathing, yoga, walking, stretching, dancing. “Changing the body changes the brain.”

Doesn’t that make you smile? There is one of AA’s oldest slogans:

“Move a Muscle Change a Thought."


If you haven't seen her talk, here is Amy Cuddy on TED:

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Mommy Got Drunk. Mommy Recovers. Mommy Writes Hilarious Book.

Oh, yes she did. And she is Dana Bowman--English teacher, professor, parent and recovering woman. As advertised Bowman's book, "Bottled"  is wickedly funny, irreverent and just what the newcomer recovering Mom needs to quell her angst and shame.

I don't have little kids and my early recovery was a while ago But I adored this book. I laughed out loud. There is more here than "Boy, did I lose my top" and "Kids say the darndest things" Bowman doesn't fear to go right into the, "I was a drunk" Mom territory. But just as we love the warm laughter of our fellow recovering women, you'll love her, "me too" voice.

Bowman also writes the Momsie Blog for all moms --in recovery or no…I'll put that link right here for you to check her out.

Bottled is available at Amazon or at CRP--Central Recovery Press.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

The Paradox of Years and Days

Yesterday I spoke at a meeting and as the anniversaries were announced there was happy applause for the man with three years, and also for the woman with 17 years, but when another man announced that he had 42 years there was foot stomping.
Last summer in Atlanta I saw thousands of AA members play out this major paradox of recovery. As AA members counted down their years of sobriety we cheered like mad for the man with one day and for the woman with three weeks. Then when the old timers stood up for 30, 40, and 50 years we hooted and we screamed. 
We do this in our home groups too. We say, “All that any of us has is today,” and “The person who got up earliest today has the most sobriety.” But then we brag that our sponsor has 28 years or that our sponsor’s sponsor has almost 40.
So is this a contradiction? A paradox? I think the reason we are in awe of old timers –even though each of us does have only this day—is that we know that if someone has been in recovery for a really long time then we also know that they have been through a lot of very hard stuff: love, loss, illness, death, success, failure, more success, more failure, new love and more heartbreak—and they stayed sober through all those things that we desire and fear. 
We love the person with one week but we want to be the person with 40 years—so we do pay attention and...And that is what we want for ourselves—one day at a time.