Wednesday, December 20, 2017

In the Dark Street 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.  Tomorrow is the longest night of the year. Then, soon the days will grow longer again. The cycle is astronomical and holy.

On this night we are as ancient as ever.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Ebby and Bill --84 Years Ago Today

Today is a special day in AA history. On this day, December 14, 1934, Ebby Thacher came to visit his old drinking buddy, Bill Wilson. In Bill and Lois’s Brooklyn kitchen Ebby gave his "testimony" and explained to Bill the power of the Oxford Group's influence on his life.
Those Oxford Group steps are what, today in AA, we call steps 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. That was Ebby’s gift to Bill and that gift that has been passed on to all of us, and on to the millions of people in twelve-step programs.
In the Oxford Group members would take all of those steps in one evening: The inventory, the confession, the examination, and then making the list of people harmed.

Then, encouraged by a sponsor, new members went out to make restitution --later called amends.
Ebby was Bill’s sponsor. It began there December 14th—one drunk helping another. Bill was willing. He saw something in Ebby. He wanted what Ebby had.
From this start we get Bill W. committed to sobriety. And you know the rest of the story.Eighty four years ago--from a cold flat in Brooklyn to the rest of the world.
We know that Ebby later struggled. But we also know that there would be no Bill Wilson, and no Alcoholics Anonymous, with out Ebby. He was was well used by God.
Thank you Ebby.

Learn more about AA history in "Out of the Woods" published by Central Recovery Press.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Acting As If

In Twelve-Step programs we hear the phrase “act as if”. We are guided to “act as if” we have courage when we are scared, and we are told to “act as if” when we feel like an imposter in our work lives.

Acting as if has helped me many times. It’s a great tool to shift from negative to positive thinking, and it is a way to invite the changes we are making to shift from being intellectual concepts to be fully embodied parts of us.

Act as if is closely related to “Fake it till you make it” which I first heard in Alanon. In that program the “faking” I had to do was to act like I felt detachment when I was still clinging and craving.

 There are still many times when I tell myself to act like a writer and teacher when my confidence is missing in action.

These ideas are not new and they are not unique to Twelve-Step thinking. Like most AA
wisdom the idea of acting or faking our way to growth and change has been around a long time.
Aristotle wrote, “We acquire virtues by first having put them into action.”

 Many years later the philosopher William James expanded on the connection between how we act and how we feel wrote, “Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together. By regulating the action, which is under the direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.”

It’s worth noting that early AA’s devoured the writings by William James, especially his book, “The Varieties of Religious Experience.” Bill Wilson was enraptured by these ideas of the early psychologists in the James circle.

Then, translating for a modern sensibility, Timothy Wilson at the Universality of Virginia said, “One of the most enduring lessons of social psychology is that behavior change precedes changes in attitude and feelings.”

Look at that again: “Behavior change precedes changes in attitude and feelings.” If you don’t like how you feel first change your behavior. It’s so simple but still hard to really get it. Don’t wait around to feel better; act as if.

Yeah, “act as if” is much easier said than done. But maybe make it an experiment. And here’s a bit of crazy contemporary proof: Research over many years has now shown that people who use Botox are less prone to anger, and it’s because they can’t make angry facial expressions.

One tiny caution: “Act as if” shouldn’t be used with your finances. Don’t spend money you don’t have and don’t charge-card yourself into debt. But even there you can act more generous than you feel by donating or tithing and the feeling of generosity will follow.

So I’m making these notes to myself this week: Act like I love to meditate, act like my body craves yoga, and don’t wait to feel like writing: Just go do it and watch the feelings follow. 

More on how we make changes in recovery in the book, "Out of the Woods" published by Central Recovery Press.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Are You Grateful for Mixed Blessings?

On Thursday, many of us will be sitting down to dinner with family or friends and gratitude will be mentioned as we offer a blessing on the meal. It’s appropriate to the day of course; we were taught the Pilgrim’s story of thankfulness for surviving their first difficult year in the New World. 

At many of our tables there will be a nod to the formerly religious aspect of the day as someone suggests, “Let’s go around the table and everyone say what they’re grateful for.” 

It’s easy at times like this to name good health, career success, and our kid’s accomplishments, but we often forget that some of our best gifts don’t come in pretty wrapping.  I suggest that we put a new spin on this tradition. This year ask your guests: What are the mixed blessings in your life this year?

Here are some examples: There was the day you were running late and therefore missed the big accident or traffic jam; or the day you skipped church but when channel surfing heard a speaker that gave you a new outlook on life; Maybe it was the day you got lost in a new part of town but in your wandering found a store that sold exactly what you had been hunting for months. Get the idea?

Then try upping the ante a bit: How about when you got fired but at out-placement you found the work you really want to do? Or maybe the person you wanted to marry said “No”, and broke your heart, but months later you met the one you were supposed to make a life with. 

You get the idea, but let’s push it a bit farther. How about the serious illness that knocked you off your feet but having to stay in bed gave you time to recast your life? Or maybe the struggle to accept a more permanent disability made it plain who your friends really were or revealed a talent you didn’t know you had? 

Okay, even harder now: What about the death of a loved one that devastated you but one day in the midst of grief you felt something other than pain and realized you were feeling joy like nothing you had ever felt and you knew that you could feel it because the grief had cracked you open.

 Similarly, you may have gotten a gift from someone else’s death when you saw just how short life is and you decided to quit with the worry/status/fear and get on with your life.

These mixed blessings are not easy to accept or admit, and sometimes it is just faith itself that is the gift. It can be in the midst of terrible things that we’re forced to develop trust, and then we find, when the crisis is over, that our new beliefs are ours to keep.

Of course the graduate school level of this kind of gratitude is saying “Thank You” even before the good part comes. If you’ve had experience with mixed blessings you begin to know-- even while life is painful or unpleasant-- that there will be meaning in it. And so we say Thank You –purely on faith –even when we’re getting hit hard.

Yes, some of these blessings come in less than Hallmark moments. Maybe it was the painful feedback from a friend that clued you in on the truth about your personality flaws, or the DWI that was humiliating and expensive but it was also what made you look at your problem and change your life. Maybe it was an emotional breakdown that allowed you to put yourself back together in a new and stronger way.

As parents we coach our kids with, “What do you say?” when a gift is given. Can we learn to say that to ourselves when life hands us a package that isn’t very pretty?
So when that, “What are you grateful for?” comes around at your Thanksgiving table this year don’t groan, but dig deep. Name the blessings that came from pain and grief or loss and trouble.

When we can say Thanks for both the good and the bad, for the easy and hard times, then, just like the Pilgrims, we’ll have a real Thanksgiving.

More holiday essays in the collection: "Looking for Signs" published by Troy Bookmakers.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

The Hidden Casualties of War

At the start of American sporting events we are expected to stand up to sing the national anthem. 

But at many sporting events there is now another requisite moment during the game when we observe a “tribute to our Armed Forces serving overseas”. A soldier in full dress, with excellent posture, comes onto the field and for that moment we pause again.  We feel virtuous and patriotic. 

We mean it—we really do. For anywhere from ten to almost 60 seconds we really care about the men and women of our military. We feel appreciation and even concern. And then satisfied that we have cared, and as the soldier, so beautifully decorated, is escorted out of sight, we return to our debate about favorite teams and best commercials.

Our soldiers are dying. They are dying the way that soldiers have always died—killed in combat and by tragic wartime accidents but they are also—increasingly- dying at home by their own hands. That is the part we don’t see, don’t honor and don’t stand up for.

The soldiers we see at sporting events are clean and composed and they exude strength and will and endurance. The conceit is that they are there to remind us of the hardship they endure for us but in fact they may be there to cajole us into believing that the respect we feel for them is enough. 

What if during the Super Bowl or on Baseball’s Opening Day we saw a group of American soldiers twitching with the physical and mental pain of post-combat fatigue, stress and disability? Not the heroic amputee—we know that symbol of sacrifice—but the one whose hope, sanity and peace have been cut off. What if we stood for 60 seconds to witness the grown men and women who serve and protect us while they shake and cry and go numb?  What if we saw them as they struggle to manage their depression, anxiety and dissociation? 

As our nation’s longest war moved past ten years we arrived at a terrifying statistic. The Army’s own briefing on military suicide reported that, “If we include accidental deaths which are the result of high-risk behavior (drugs, alcohol, driving) we find that less young men and women die in combat than by their own actions.” It is for these men and women that we should be holding our hands over our hearts. 

I don’t come from a military family. My understanding of this collateral damage came when I spent a few years interviewing China Marines—pre-World War II veterans. In China they experienced the combination of bloody atrocity and deadly boredom that today’s soldiers endure. That research became the book, “Never Leave Your Dead”. 

The men I visited were in their 80’s when they told me how they still—65 years later—struggled with their addictions, insomnia, grief and tragically how their trauma had impacted their families –some for two generations. 

We are slow learners. Military mental illness is always with us. It’s had many names –all euphemisms to keep it just out of sight. It is Soldiers Heart, War Fatigue, Shell Shock, Nostalgia, Viet Nam Syndrome and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Every faith has a tenet that asks us not to close our eyes to suffering. And here too –with our warriors—we should not look away.  

Twenty years of research led to this book--a history of military trauma, and a way to see how war trauma impacts a family.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Celebrating The Day of the Dead

On Wednesday I’ll celebrate Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.  It’s not a holiday I grew up with but one I’ve borrowed from the Southwest and Mexico. And it’s become one of my favorite holidays –in part because it’s a good spiritual counterpart to Halloween. Except for the candy, October 31st doesn’t leave much for grownups.

Being scared of goblins and ghoulies lost its sway when I got old enough to lose people that I loved. The dead just aren’t scary in the same way anymore. In fact, I’d welcome a visit from many of them.  

That’s what Day of the Dead is about. There is a belief that on this day the veil separating this world and the next is thinner and so it’s a time we can be closer to those that we love
who are dead.

Day of the Dead celebration centers on rituals for remembering loved ones. We can visit them in our imagination or feel their presence. It can mean prayer or conversation, writing a letter or looking at old photos. The tradition that I use includes making an ofrenda, or altar, something as simple as putting photos and candles on the coffee table and taking time to talk about these loved ones and remember them. We also have spicy hot chocolate as a symbol of the sweet and bitter separation from those we love. 

A ritual is a way of ordering life. Whether Purim or Advent, hearing Mass or saying Kaddish, small ceremonies help us sort and reframe our memories. When someone dies the relationship doesn’t stop, it’s renegotiated, literally re-conceived. 

No, this isn’t a very American idea. Culturally our preferences are for efficiency and effectiveness; even with grief we use words like closure and process. 

I remember my frustration when I was grieving the loss of my brothers and sisters and my truly well-intentioned friends would suggest I move along in my process and they quoted (actually, misquoted) Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. The simplified version of her theory lists stages: Denial--Bargaining--Anger--Depression, and Acceptance.

But it’s false to create that expectation of five discrete steps. That listing implies order, and that a person can move from point A to point B and be done. That makes grief into an emotional Monopoly game where you go around the board, collect points and get to a distinct and certain end.  This false notion of linearity is apparent when we hear people judge someone who is grieving, “Oh, she missed the anger stage”, or “He hasn’t reached acceptance yet.” 

I always thought that “losing a loved one” was a euphemism used by people who were afraid to say the words dead or died, but after losing my brother Larry I know that lost is the perfect word to describe that feeling of something just out of reach, still here, but also gone. 

Though he died years ago my feeling about my brother is that I have misplaced him; I have that sensation of knowing that my book or that letter I was just reading, are around here somewhere…if I could just remember where I left him.  

I think this is why we can be so hard on the grieving, and why we want them to go through those stages and be done with it. We love closure and things that are sealed and settled. But death and grief, for all their seeming finality, are not as final as we would like. 

So on November 1st, I’ll make cocoa and light candles; we’ll take family pictures into the living room and tell stories. And we’ll laugh. 

The root of the word grieve is heavy. We carry our dead as a cherished burden.

Death may end a life but not a relationship. Who would want to close the door on that?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

When Love Helps Us To Change

So many gifts from the book, “The Mermaid’s Chair” by Sue Monk Kidd. I read that book ages ago—sitting on a Cape Cod beach, contemplating a relationship that felt like it was  
tearing me apart.

I had gone to that beach to pray and surrender, “What is this relationship about?” and “Why now?”.

I had loved Kidd’s earlier novels and I thought, “OK, …good beach book.” Such prophetic words.

In the novel, a woman –an artist-writer--falls in love with a monk. Not convenient, not smart, not without agony. I related to that immediately. So much for distraction from my own state of affairs.

But then this, “When a person is in need of a cataclysmic change—a whole new center in the personality—his or her psychic world will produce an infatuation—an erotic attachment—an intense ‘falling in love’. Falling in love is the oldest, most ruthless catalyst on earth.”

And then this, “We fall in love with something we are missing or seeking in ourselves.”


And then I knew where to dig.  And why this thing was happening.

With whom have you fallen in love? Does it seem to “make no sense”? Is something being reorganized in you? Does the object of your attachment—that so desirable other—have something you are missing or seeking in yourself?

More on love and relationships in "Out of the Woods--A Woman's Guide to Long-term Recovery" published by Central Recovery Press.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Comfort Food Diaries

I get caught on this hook over and over. Maybe you do too…or maybe you are a faster learner. But when I see women who are beautiful or smart or super successful, or who have a certain upper-middle class polished look and a lot of poise, I start to think...Well, …it’s actually what I don’t think:

I don’t think: “I wonder if she has ever been arrested?” or “I wonder if she drinks herself into oblivion every night?” Or “I wonder if her biggest secret is an alcohol-infused eating disorder punctuated by depression, anxiety or sex addiction?”

No, rather, I am more likely to think (yes even after 33 years of recovery) “Oh, look at her nice (hair, job, house, resume, poise) I’ll never be like that.” Yep—I am still judging the
books by the covers and comparing my insides to your outsides. Still. (Diane, stop already.)

But then I do stop cold when I pick up this new book, “The Comfort Food Diaries” by Emily Nunn. I look at the back flap first: Lots of good looks and poise and polish, and a writer-envy resume: A decade at The New Yorker, her own column, features reporter for the Chicago Tribune. And she’s writing about grief—the subtitle is “My Quest for the Perfect Dish to Mend a Broken Heart.”

And then I start to read, and my book-cover judgment falls away. Emily Nunn has been everywhere you’d expect from a successful well-educated journalist, and then some. Turns out that she’s been to hell and back, and to Betty Ford in-between. She’s been an alcoholic, relationship crazy, clinically depressed, heartbreakingly devastated by her brother’s death and then loss of her fiancĂ© and that meant that he also took his young daughter who was so important to Emily. 

Envy gone, jealousy vanished. Sisterhood in full force.

It’s a great book and a surprising story. And one of the cool things is that she includes recipes. Emily can cook and she cooked her way thru addiction and cooked her way out—and she cooked her way around the country—depending on the kindness of loved ones and friends who cared for her while she cried and cooked and healed. 

This is a travel book and a food history and a story of one woman’s heartbreaking breakdown and her (literally) recipe for putting a life back together. And yes, the writing is kick-ass good because, she was, after all, a writer for the New Yorker, and that’s not nothing.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Be Kind

"Ultimately, we are all just walking each other home."

                                                                             --Ram Das

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Taking Recovery to Work: What Does That Mean?

This year I have been thinking and writing about this idea of consciously taking principles of recovery to the work place. We do, “practice these principles in all our affairs” but sometimes when I listen to others in meetings—or listen to myself driving home from work—I really wonder about that “All of our affairs” part.

I know that we strive for “progress not perfection,” but still.  I think this is a good topic for women and men in long-term recovery: How are we, as recovering people, doing in our work/career/retirement lives? 
Here’s what I jotted down last night. See if any of this resonates with you:

My recovery tells me not to use drugs, alcohol, food, sex or other behaviors as a way to squash feelings or things I don’t want to look at. So in my work life how am I doing with control, perfectionism, workaholism, or sloth?

My recovery tells me to trust my Higher Power and that there is a plan for my life. Do I pray about my work? Do I trust the processes there?

My recovery tells me to be honest: both the  “cash register honesty” and people honesty. And to be honest with myself. Am I honest at work? With time, with responsibility? 

My recovery tells me to look at myself first and to “pull my projections” as Carl Jung taught Bill Wilson. We have the Tenth Step Axiom: When I am upset, the upset is something inside of me. That’s a hard one to practice at work. Ouchy!

My recovery tells me to “Think, Think, Think” and to “Let Go and Let God”. Can I apply that at work?

My recovery tells me that when I feel down or I’m struggling that I should work with a newcomer or another alcoholic. So, is the workplace equivalent mean that when I feel unhappy at work I should go help a coworker? Or do a helpful task that I don’t get credit for? Maybe just pitch in and be of service and not look for credit or praise? Maybe it means I should mentor someone or offer encouragement to someone at my workplace.

My recovery tells me, “Don’t use no matter what.” So, at work maybe that means that I should not use fear, dishonesty, unkindness, or ego.

My recovery tells me to take an inventory once a year—or as needed. So maybe for my job or career I could also look at my “saleable goods” (skills, talents, abilities) and decide what I can let go of: old pride, past accomplishments and the grudges that I am holding on to. 

Recovery tells me to make amends quickly and only point out my side of the street. So, am I able to say, “I’m sorry” and “I was wrong” and “I made a mistake” at work?

My recovery tells me that I am a work in progress, and that I always have more to learn. So, can I remember Dr. Bob’s great words when I am at work, and post this quote on my laptop:

“Humility is perpetual quietness of the heart.”?

To read more about long-term recovery check out the book: Out of the Woods published by Central Recovery Press.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

"I'm the One Who Got Away

Andrea Jarrell’s new book, “I’m the One Who Got Away” is both a cautionary and
celebratory tale of one woman—and ultimately many women.

You will find yourself in this story, and you’ll understand yourself just a little bit better as you watch Jarrell navigate from childhood to adulthood, from her mother’s life through becoming a mother herself.

“I’m the One Who Got Away” is a wonderful read for all women in recovery. All of the things you have faced are right here—and just as when, in a meeting, you find yourself saying, “I never expected to identify with that person” and then you do,  you’ll feel that here as you receive Jarrell's gift.

Jarrell is a child when her mother takes her and they flee from an abusive husband. Their relationship and journey lead to unspoken promises and misunderstandings that take years to unravel. You know those moments when it clicks:  “So, that’s why I do that!”

 Her story reads like one of the best recovery speakers—the one’s we wish for at the podium. You’ll see all the stages of trying, testing and healing that you have gone through in Jarrell’s story—and you’ll laugh, sigh, and maybe like me you will be saying, “Oh, no” and then “Oh, good!” out loud as you read this memoir.

Jarrell’s honesty about her attractions, mistakes, desires, and ultimately her recovery will draw you deeply into I’m the One Who Got Away, and you’ll turn the last page saying, “Me too, sister. Me too.”

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Codependence--You Just Gotta Laugh

Sometimes the best way to move through a stuck place is to laugh. And for woman in recovery, codependence can be a very sticky place.

How do we parse caring and codependence? When should we persevere, and when should we let go? Whether as a mother, lover or friend—even as a sponsor—is it admirable to “go to any lengths”? Or is that pure self-destruction and denial?

A codependent person is one who has let another person’s behavior affect her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior

So, clearly there's no do-it-yourself discernment.

In the waters of codependence, you need a good therapist, sponsor and a couple of smart recovering friends. You want friends who will tell you the truth. Yes, you hope they’ll tell you gently, but more important you hope they will just tell it even if they have to say, “You did what!!!” or “That is not kindness you crazy girl!” or maybe they will grin and say, “Sounds like you need some Co-Tylenol.”

You do know that Co-Tylenol is what a codependent takes when her partner has a headache?

You just gotta laugh. It’s actually therapeutic --big belly laughs can shake the crazy right out of you.

So, here’s what I heard last week:

In recovery, we are told to learn to stay present, in the here and
now. Our shorthand for that is, “Look down at your shoes, and be where your feet are.” But if you are codependent, you may actually be looking down at someone else’s shoes.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Namaste All Day

I’ve done yoga for many years. Then a few years ago I became a certified Kripalu yoga teacher. That training was a highlight of my life and a perfect intersection with my long-term recovery: Body. Mind.  
Spirit. Heart.

As you know, there’s specialized vocabulary in yoga—the postures or “asanas” have Sanskrit names and there is also the language of yogic philosophy: the Yamas, Niyamas, Gunas etc.—these concepts that guide behavior, thinking etc.

The Sanskrit word that many folks know—in yoga or out --is the traditional yoga salutation: Namaste, which translates into “my soul recognizes and bows to the divinity in yours.”
You say Namaste at the start of class, and at the end to thank your teacher, and you say it to your classmates as well. It’s also, you know this, used in a kind of joking way out in the world, to say “let’s pretend to be spiritual”.

But what if we weren’t pretending? What if we brought Namaste into the whole day? I have tried this and though it seems like it should be easy—or the right thing for a yogi—it’s harder than it sounds. But I want to get there. I want to get to:

Namaste All Day.

If you think about it, it is a kind of recovery practice: seeing the other person without judgement; practicing acceptance; and kind of saying to yourself, “that person has a Higher Power too.”

Like me, I’m sure that you have had that experience—when you have silently judged someone in your meeting because of what they said, how they spoke, or what they wore—and then later, when your heard their story, you thought, “Oh, just like me”. 

Saying namaste in the moment allows a faster self-correction, and a reminder that “my soul bows to the divinity of yours.”

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Recovery Takes a Vacation

Well, of course recovery never really takes a 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 having my vacation that the car ride and the airport and the hotel check-in were miserable--for me and everyone around me. I wanted to get to the vacation place because I thought that that’s when my adventure would begin.

But that’s not true. Listen to the stories people tell about their favorite trips…it always includes the taxi and the airport and the jitney and …

So, I began to shift my attitude to say to myself, “This too is part of the vacation adventure”, then it became true and I began to have more fun.  I was then able to look for the good in the delayed flight, and the funny staff, and the weird taxi driver and the odd meal.

But the other reason that vacations get better as your recovery gets longer is that those of us in 12 step programs have an amazing resource that other travelers don’t have: We have helpful contacts in every city and town in the world.

One of the best kept secrets is that people in twelve-step programs have instant travel assistance and access to great tourist advice any where we go.

Over the years I have been to meetings all over the United States and in France, Germany, Poland, Italy, England, 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. 

When you travel with recovery you learn that twelve-step principles prevail regardless of location, politics or language.

Read more about long-term recovery in "Out of the Woods" published by Central Recovery Press

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Taking Recovery to Work--A Retreat for Women at The Wilson House

I'm getting ready for the November 2017 women's retreat at The Wilson House in Dorset, Vermont.
I hope you'll join me and a fabulous group of women who are serious--and seriously fun--about their recovery.

This year the retreat will be from Friday night November 10th through Noon on Sunday November 12th. The theme of the retreat is "Taking Recovery to Work" and that means we'll examine many manifestations of work: from being a "worker among workers," finding a sober career, discerning your calling, and to how to have a productive, healthy and happy retirement--and all while working the steps.

We say that "we practice recovery in all of our affairs" and that also means the parts of our life where we use our creativity and deepest selves. You may be starting a career, or discerning whether to make a change, or planning what your retirement will be like, or you may be years into retirement and you want to apply principles of recovery in a new way. How do you work your program and stay happy, joyous and free across all these stages of recovery?

This is your retreat, and you'll share it with women from across the united States who come to the birthplace of Bill Wilson for inspiration, new ideas and an invigorating investment in their recovery lives.

The retreat includes two workshop seminars each day, optional sessions on recovery yoga, writing, journaling and spiritual direction. We share meals each day--and we laugh a lot! And there is time to walk, nap, visit the nearby sites of AA history and make new friends as you rock and talk on the historic Wilson House porches.

The retreat fee is $125 per person--includes meals and all workshop supplies. Housing accommodations are separate.

To register: First, call The Wilson House to reserve your room--at the House
or nearby motels and inns. Then, email me to secure your retreat/workshop spot.

Each year, women come alone or with friends. It's a great time out for sponsor--sponsee time as well.

I look forward to seeing you November 10 to 12 at The Wilson House in East Dorset, Vermont.

NOTE: You can now register online directly at The Wilson House at

Diane C

Monday, June 26, 2017

Don't Miss Summer

I have to give myself this little reminder every day, ”Don’t miss summer.” It’s on a sticky note on my calendar and in my very own voice on the micro recorder in my car where I track more things “to-do” as I drive.

Yes, perhaps you can see that Work is way ahead of Play in my life. Lists, reminders, recorders. It’s all about productivity.

I’m looking more closely at that drive this year. I’ve finally come to see what others saw long ago: I work hard, I do a lot, and yes, I get a lot done. I neither defend or apologize for this part of me, but I also know it’s about recovery, and a little bit about making up for lost time and lost creativity.

I don’t regret the past—exactly. But I do wish I started writing earlier, sending work out sooner, and publishing a long time ago. Working hard at both my career in nonprofits, and at my career as a writer brings me so much joy.

There is a bit of grief in this too perhaps. In my addictions, I was buried in both substances and in fear, and I couldn’t focus, and couldn’t find what I now know to be, my dharma.

But even in this hard work, ultra-productivity, there is this voice in my ear this season that says: “Don’t miss summer.”

Winters are long in Upstate New York, and my long recovery is stable. I can trust a day off now, and a weekend away, and I can trust that stepping away from my desk doesn’t mean going down a ten-year rabbit hole as it did once long ago. 

So, a gift of recovery is meeting my hard-working self, and the second gift is meeting the parallel part of me that can learn to relax and play. And I want to do that this very summer.

There is more on making a great life in long recovery in the book: "Out of the Woods--A Guide to Long-term Recovery" published by Central Recovery Press