Saturday, July 30, 2016

Recovery Goes on Vacation

Well, of course recovery never really goes on vacation but recovering people do. Going to meetings while traveling is one of the smartest things we can do. It’s not just that we stay sober or abstinent longer and better, but vacations get better the longer we are in recovery.

One advantage of vacation recovery is that we learn to stress less about the “stuff” of travel. One of the best pieces of vacation advice I ever received from a sponsor is that “The trip begins when you are packing.” I used to be so miserable all through the process of getting to the place where I was going to be vacationing that the car ride and the airport and the
taxi rides were awful—for me and everyone around me. I wanted to get to the vacation place because I thought my adventure would begin then and there but that’s not true. Listen to the stories people tell about great trips…it includes the taxi and the airport and the train station and …

When I shifted my attitude—and it wasn’t easy at first—to say to myself, “This too is part of the vacation adventure”, then it became true and I began to have more fun. And then I could look for the good parts of that delayed plane and the weird taxi driver and the odd meal.

But the other reason that vacations get better with longer recovery is that 12 step meetings offer us an amazing resource: we have contacts in every city in the world.  People in twelve-step programs have instant travel assistance and access to great tourist advice anywhere we go.

Over the years I have been to meetings all over the United States and in France, Germany, Poland, Italy, England, Spain, The Czech Republic and Bermuda. I've gotten directions, restaurant advice, suggestions on local sites, invites to performances, guidance on public transportation, sometimes rides and always smiles, encouragement and patience with the language barrier.

There is something so fun and smart about asking a new twelve-step group for suggestions about where to eat, what to do, the best way to drive to the next city etc. I’ve been tipped off to bargain shopping, fabulous inexpensive restaurants, and the places to avoid. We don’t need a guidebook to tell us where the locals eat or shop—we have local “family” that we can ask. This is where AA and AAA meet up and it is such a bonus. We also learn that twelve-step principles always prevail regardless of location, politics or language.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Baseball as a Spiritual Practice

Sports, like religion, offer these consolations: A diversion from the routine of daily life; a model of coherence and clarity; a heroic example to admire and emulate, and a sense of drama and conflict in which nobody dies.  

In baseball we begin and end at home.  Home plate is not fourth base. Home is a concept
rather than a place. Our goal in this game is to get home and be safe. Home implies safety, accessibility, freedom, comfort. It’s where we learn to be both part of and separate.  The object in baseball is to go home, and to be safe. 

When a runner charges home we lean forward hoping to see the home plate umpire slash his arms downward signaling that the runner who may have crashed onto the ground in, in fact, safe. Isn’t that what we all want? I do. In my daily life I want whatever is bigger than me to see how fast I run, and how precariously I slide, and to say boldly, “She’s safe!”  

Those who believe, whose faith is strong, accept that umpire/God at his gesture and stand up relieved. Some, like me, despite wanting it still struggle to trust. I have --over and over-- sensed that “safe” signal, but I am often still unsure. It’s as if I go back and run the bases again, skidding and scuffing. Again he signals, “Safe!” but again I go to bat.

What baseball offers that life does not is the agreement that we will believe it when we are told that we are home and that we really are safe. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Bring All of Your Addictions

You have heard the jokes. Shopping addiction, chocolate addiction, TV addiction, shoes too. And they are jokes. But they are not. Twelve-step recovery has given the rest of the world and popular culture the idea of addiction and recovery, “ Hi, I’m Max and I’m a Shoe Addict.” 

But stay in AA long enough and you learn that there is truth in every joke. 

I’m re-reading “When Society Becomes an Addict” by Anne Wilson Schaef. Her ideas and concepts permeate our self-help vocabulary. One of her bold moves in this 1987 book was to describe Substance addictions and Process addictions. Substance—something taken into the body that is mood changing and almost always leads to physical addiction. Process--behaviors or interactions that can be used to change our mood.

We know this. Bill Wilson knew it too.  In early recovery many of us read that little pamphlet from Hazelden called, “Transferring Addictions.” I remember being so mad when a sponsor gave me that one but it hit home.

Here are some of the things Schaef lists as substance addictions: alcohol, drugs, nicotine
and caffeine, sugar, sometimes salt, (Betcha can’t eat just one.) and all food –which can be a substance and/or process addiction. And her list of process addictions includes eating, dieting, exercise, television, gambling, sex, work, religion, worry and spending or saving money. We can add Facebook, LinkedIn, IPhone, Words with Friends, Angry Birds and on and on and on….

Here’s the tricky part, and why I continue to need ongoing discernment with other people in recovery: the process addictions are often things that have very good qualities. Think about exercise. We get in shape, we get a good habit of running or going to the gym, but what happens when we miss a day or can’t work out for an hour? Are we furious? In a bad mood? Change our behavior with others to get that workout back? Are we afraid? I’ve been there with exercise. 

Shopping? Who doesn’t want to look nice or wear clothes that are becoming? But do we obsess? Spend money we don’t have? Wander the mall in a trance? I’ve done all that.

Ditto with food and work and worry. Does the behavior help me to not feel feelings I’d rather not feel? Feelings that, if I felt them all the way through, would help me to grow? Keeping very busy is my favorite and longest lasting addiction. My friend Brigid likes to remind me, “Feelings can’t hit a moving target.”

Here is something that helps me with this discernment: Marion Woodman, Jungian analyst and teacher said:

 “The natural gradient in us is toward growth. Whatever we use repeatedly and compulsively to stop that growth is our particular addiction.”

Much more on transferring addiction in my book, "Out of the Woods", published by Central Recovery Press.

Monday, July 04, 2016

July 4--It's About War

“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.


And yes, there is more on war and what we have learned about our military and trauma, and cultural attitudes about war in my new book, "Never Leave Your Dead", published by Central Recovery Press.