Thursday, September 24, 2020

Insecurity is My Superpower

Yesterday I was doing a new Daily Om Tarot class with Gina Spriggs. As part of the “clearing” process she had us write down ten of our negative beliefs. Mine went like this: I’m not enough. I’m not good enough. I am dismissed. I’m not seen. I don’t fit in. I’m a fraud.

So defeating.

And especially defeating because I have been in therapy and twelve-step programs and done so many self-help courses for decades. Dam, I write self help books!

So, I asked myself, “What is this?”

I read that list of negative beliefs again and I thought: Those babies are strong and really powerful. Look at all that insecurity. And then it hit me:

Insecurity is my Superpower.

I heard it. I said it out loud, and I laughed as the deep truth of it hit me in the belly. I heard the loud CLICK! in my head. It is weirdly true and very funny.

Insecurity is My Superpower.

Here’s why:

Insecurity gives me empathy. I immediately lean toward anyone who feels like they are not enough in any situation. Oh, I got you Cheryl Sandberg, I am leaning in on any actor with stage fright, and on any student who can’t find the midpoint between an A and an F, and on every manager who feels bad driving home, and on every single woman who feels like a fraud in any area of her life: work, art, motherhood etc.

Insecurity is like an invisibility cloak. God, that was my Harry Potter envy, and I had one of my own the whole time. Insecurity lets me slide down the wall in any setting and just take a time out. Those girls who are confidant and outgoing—they can’t hide; they are just so seen all the time. Exhausting.

Insecurity is a free pass to learn anything: No bravado, no need to pretend you know something, no need to act like you are OK. You don’t and you’re not. So I can just join the class, take the workshop, talk to the expert. I’m a blank slate. Write all over me.

Insecurity is a tool. Fear—(it’s basically fear)—can, ironically, trigger alertness and courage. Insecurity is not something to get rid of, but to embrace. It’s a kind of fuel. Ok, maybe you get a tummy ache from it, but I also get a tummy ache from Pulled Pork Super Nachos, and I’d never stop eating them.

Years ago I saw an interview with the great choreographer, Bob Fosse. You know his work: Pajama Game, Pippen, Chicago, Cabaret... those super stylized movements.

The interviewer asked him about his very distinctive style and choreography, and Fosse said this: “When I started to dance I had bad posture, so I created my dances with the (now signature) rounded shoulders. And I had “bad” legs so rather than use turn-out like in ballet I turned the dancers legs inward.” 

“And,” he said, “I started to go bald at 25 so I always wore hats to dance.” Hence his incredible use of hats as props in all of his major works.

And then he said this: “All of my gifts have come from my defects.”


Read that again: “All of my gifts have come from my defects.”

So yeah, I have been able to do so many things and go so many places because I am ultra-insecure. Hence:

Insecurity is My Super Power.

Wait till you see my bracelets.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Humility, Recovery and Self Care

This week it seemed like humility showed up everywhere: in my meetings and in conversations with people in recovery. Then it also showed up in non-recovery settings: in an article about management, and in a faith community publication, and finally in a tarot exercise that I was doing with a friend.

Well, that could only mean that I needed to pay attention to humility.

Luckily it’s a topic that crosses every stage of recovery. And our literature has a lot to offer. As we progress in recovery, and in our personal growth, we come to new layers of understanding of what humility means.

I remember in early recovery humility meant trying to not think about myself so much, and it was tied to uncovering the many episodes of self-centered fear. 

Then in a further stage of recovery I (mis)understood humility to mean not taking credit for anything or deflecting praise or compliments. “Oh, who me?” “Oh, this old rag?” 

It took my sponsor a long time to help me see that humility was not about being less than someone else (or pretending to be). And it was not about dropping my eyes or my head when I was with others. 

Later I came to understand that that kind of false humility is actually a kind of arrogance.

Like many things in recovery, the humility pendulum swings from “I’m  a big deal”  to  “I’m just nothing.”  Kind of like Goldilocks trying to find that “just right” chair.

Turns out that “just right” is humility. Humility from the word, hummus or earth: We walk on the earth not above it or below it. 

So this week I did some more reading about humility starting with Step Seven in The Twelve & Twelve book. Here is what I read:

“We saw failure and misery transformed by humility.”

“Humility had brought strength out of weakness.”

“Humility we discovered to be a healer of pain.”

Accessing true humility is like the discovery of an incredible medicine. Humility is a transformational agent; it changes weakness to strength and it heals us.

Why would we not all want that? 

When we don’t want it—or we fear it--it’s mainly because we misunderstand it, or we have confused humility with humiliation. But humility is freedom. It is the magic ingredient in being able to care about others and not care what other people think of me.

In another reading this week I dug into “The Way of Goodness” by Richard Gula—a Sulpician priest. I learned this: “The humble witness to gratitude because they know we are more gift than achievement.”  

He also said, “Humility is a quiet virtue.” Isn’t that nice? It reminds me of Dr. Bob who said, “Humility is perpetual quietness of the heart.” That’s one for the, “if I ever got a tattoo” list.

Gula lists these as practices that cultivate and express humility:

*admitting we don’t have an answer when we actually don’t.

*accepting a compliment without making excuses.

*acknowledging the accomplishments of another

*saying “no” when our plate is full.

Oh! Guilty.

But perhaps the most challenging expression and commitment to humility is being able to love and care for ourselves. 

I am ever challenged by this quote by French Philosopher, Simone Weil: “Compassion directed to oneself is Humility.”

Monday, August 03, 2020

Hearing Voices in the Pandemic

My recovery began in Baltimore, Maryland. An over achiever,  I jumped into OA and AA and ACOA and then accessorized that with some Alanon as well. As you can imagine, my whole  life was Twelve-step focused. But it turns out that it wasn’t such a bad thing. The alternative was my former life, which was painful and confusing—for me and for people around me. So, I was so thrilled and grateful to find a new life and new people as I dove deep and immersed myself in recovery.

When I tell my story now I admit that my character defects were a powerful help when I was a newcomer. I was ambitious and competitive --and a perfectionist. When told to get a sponsor I looked for the best one and selected two. When it was recommended that I do “90 in 90” I did that for five years. 

I read all the books about recovery and I read them all again. I helped to start a new meeting in Baltimore called Daybreak—it was every day at 7am. We joked that the meeting was good because we got up every day before our egos did. 

I was the secretary for the Tuesday 7am Daybreak meeting for 6 years. Every Tuesday  I brought donuts and Danish and made sure the coffee was good. I sponsored half a dozen women, and I said yes any time I was asked to speak at other Baltimore meetings.

Yes, it was about ego, but it turns out there was a big secondary gain. 

I filled my life with AA and recovery people—they became my friends, roommates, classmates, running pals, fellow dancers, and book group buddies. 

I went in deep and stayed. Baltimore was my home and the home of my recovery

Over time my sponsor pried my hands off the Tuesday meeting, and convinced me that while always saying “yes” was great in early recovery, by year 7 my progress could be better measured by the number of times I said “no”. 

And, surprisingly, she also said—at year 10—that maybe dating was an ok thing to do. So I did. Yes there were good dates and bad dates and good relationships and, “growth experiences.” And finally there was a man I loved who also loved me.

Just one wrinkle: He lived in Upstate New York—a place I had never heard of. But to quickly compress a very long story --I now live in Upstate New York.

I moved to Glens Falls, NY and then Greenwich, NY and then Valatie, NY and then Albany NY, which is now my home. 

Then, six months ago--COVID-19 came, and quarantine came, and shelter-at-home came. Going to work at an office stopped and going to yoga stopped and for a minute AA stopped too. But with stunning speed the international AA community embraced Zoom and conference call platforms. And within days there were meetings on line and on the phone. 

A friend from Baltimore texted me one day in March and said, “There is a Daybreak meeting every morning—and it’s on the phone. Call in.” So I did, and I was back. 

I had been away from Baltimore for 25 years, but I heard the same Preamble—the opening statement that sets the guidelines for discussion. I heard a dozen people that had been sitting in folding chairs near me in the Roland Park church 25 years ago, and I heard a lot of new voices and new stories too.

Since March I have been calling Daybreak at 7am every day—Monday through Friday. And kind of like jumping rope I figured out how to jump in to share my experience, strength and hope just as I would if the meeting were in person. 

I recognized the voices of my old friends and over time learned the voices of people I had never met in person but with whom I was now sharing daily fears, worries and celebrations. These new recovery friends—voices on the phone—I have not yet met in person, but I am learning and caring about their  kids, spouses, houses, finances and even pets. 

Most of us know the same slogans, and all the steps, but each day there is a new metaphor or interpretation.

I haven’t done “90 in 90” since those early recovery years, but now I’ve been at an AA meeting every day for six months. This is a solid gold silver lining of the COVID 19 pandemic.

For more on life in long-term recovery take a look at "Out of the Woods" by Central Recovery Press:

Thursday, July 23, 2020

It's Opening Day: Baseball and Your Spiritual Life

The first thing I learned about baseball is this: If you raise your hand a man will bring you food. I learned this at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, and in my first year as a fan I spent most of the game facing the wrong way. Raise my hand, get ice cream, raise my hand, get popcorn, raise my hand, get peanuts.  

It was 1958. 

Two years later I understood baseball was a game.  On summer afternoons I’d beg my brothers to take me with them to the ball park. I was falling in love with baseball.

If baseball has taken hold of you too, you know it’s about more than your team winning.  Sports, like religion, and like AA, offers consolations: A diversion from our daily routine, heroic examples to admire and emulate and a sense of drama and conflict in which nobody dies. 

John Gregory Dunne wrote that, “Baseball is the couch on which we examine our psyches”. George Will said, “Baseball is the universe”. And catcher Wes Westrum said, “Baseball is like church, many attend but few understand.”

We have these sayings and many more because baseball is one of the greatest sources of metaphor in American life. And understanding metaphor is important because having and using metaphor is what allows us to talk about intangibles like spiritual life.

The historian, E.H. Gombrich, wrote, “Every culture has its favored sources of metaphor which facilitate communication among its members. Any cultures religion is what provides the central area of metaphor.  The Olympus or Heaven of any nation will offer language and symbols of power and compassion, of good and evil, of menace and of consolation”.

Americans live so far inside the institution of baseball and so deeply in its metaphors that sometimes we can’t even see it.  You may say you’re not a sports fan, but have you ever said: “She’s always in there pitching”. “You can’t even get to first base with him.” He’s out in left field.” “She was born with two strikes against her.”  We talk baseball all day long. 

Bart Giamatti, former President of Yale and former Commissioner of Baseball said, “Baseball has no clock and indeed moves counterclockwise, so anxious is it to establish its own rhythms independent of clock time.”

Baseball is one of the few sports that remain timeless. A game can be fast or slow. In this one area of our lives the clock isn’t driving; we surrender the clock to the event.  But there is something else in this game that asserts the primordial and the spiritual: In baseball we begin and end at home.  Home plate is not fourth base. The goal of the game is to get home and to be safe. 

That is what we want. When we come to AA people say, “I felt safe and I was at home for the first time”. Home implies safety, accessibility, freedom, comfort. Home is where we learn to be both with others and separate.  That’s what baseball players are: individual athletes with distinct areas of responsibility but also and always a team. Kind of like a home group.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Codependence Can Kill You

Codependence can kill you. Being nice can kill you. Not wanting to upset someone can kill you. And, by being a very nice person you can kill someone you love. Now more than ever. 

We know about the drunk at the party.  We know that we should take the keys away. We know the painful awkwardness of that confrontation. But now we have another –possibly more painful—variation on “Codependence Kills.”

We are living through COVID-19
 and the Coronavirus pandemic. 

There are safety protocols

There are rules 

But it’s been so long—since March 11th --for most of us. 

And finally it’s summer and we want to go out and have parties and picnics. 

All those June and July and August weddings were planned so long ago, and the deposits were paid. 

All those graduation celebrations and family reunions. That’s a lot of family and friendship catching up to miss, and to ask our loved ones to miss. 

And you, like me, have friends at each point on the precautions continuum: from not leaving the house at all, to going out carefully and in masks, sanitizer at the ready, and all the way to “I’m sick of this”/It’s God’s Will/ “I’m young and healthy”/ to “This is all a big conspiracy”. 

And the people at each point on this continuum are people you like and care about.

So when you get invited to the backyard, socially-distanced dinner, or the inside the house dining room pot-luck, or the wedding in a crowded ballroom, or the picnic at the beach smashing crabs around small tables—what will you do?

Couples may say, “our practices are these” but what if spouses don’t agree? Maybe you tend to the safer, stricter side, but she says, “Oh, come on—it’s my sister, we’re safe”.

Remember years ago when we had to call the parents of our young kid’s friends and uncomfortably ask, “Are there any guns in your home?” Now  we need to ask our friends and relatives if they have been practicing safe COVID protocols. 

And if they have been going out or traveling—did they quarantine when they crossed the state line? And how do we feel about whatever their answer is? 

Example: If I am going to someone’s home can I say, “I prefer that we all wear masks” or  “I’m happy to sit in your backyard but not in your living room.”

Example: Everyone is going out to dinner at a restaurant that has advertised their careful COVID precautions of social distancing, and they have sanitation and plastic flatware. 

But something is nagging at you. Can you say, “I’m OK with take-out but not dining in”. 

Example: Will you say no to a hug when your friend rolls her eyes and says “Oh, come on!” 

Are you able to support your own choices and preferences? Can you withstand the pressure of others? 

Those of us who grew up in families where there was addiction or emotional dysfunction probably need to take a long time to sort out our own feelings. We didn’t have support in developing healthy boundaries. 

Our first instinct will be to doubt ourselves. People pleasers are likely to put their lives, and lives of loved ones, at risk, rather than be seen as “silly” “cautious” or “a problem.”

Social life during COVID and quarantine is going to be one of the biggest tests of your codependency and boundaries. 

Is your safety negotiable? Are your boundaries negotiable? 

What does self-care mean this year? 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

A Freedom Ap for My Mind

I  always thought that people who needed an external blocker to make them stop Googling or looking at Facebook had no discipline and no willpower. Couldn’t they just tell themselves, “I’m not going to look at Facebook today?” 

Yeah, that’s what I used to think until I’d “come to” hunched over my keyboard scrolling, scrolling…

And then, last week I saw my weekly summary of social media usage. 

Before the COVID -19 quarantine I was using more than two hours a day. That was pretty shocking. 

Two hours is a lot of time. It is time to write or exercise or time to spend with my husband. 

Then as we moved into the into COVID quarantine my daily usage jumped to 4 hours. That is almost half of my waking time.

 It really shocked me. I recognized the signs: I wanted to stop. I said I’d stop. “I won’t do that again tomorrow” I promised myself. It was an addiction. I needed help to stop.

So I wrote myself reminders and I put a sticky note on my laptop screen to remind myself. But I would still take a “quick peek” at Instagram and then five minutes became 25 minutes.

I asked a writer friend if she used an ap blocker and she told me about the ap called  Freedom. I took the plunge. Last week I installed Freedom on my phone. 

Now I can choose what to block and for how many hours. When the Freedom ap is engaged I can’t access my favorites: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. If I try to look at Twitter when Freedom is engaged it just spins and I get a message that says, “Tweets are not loading right now.” Dam. It works. So, I move on.

So, at the same time that I’m adjusting my social media behavior with the help of the Freedom Ap blocker I’m aware again of a longstanding, painful habit of  perseverating, persistent thoughts that race around in my head, and make me miserable. 

The thoughts are in two categories: “What is wrong with me” and “I’m gonna tell her.” The “her” could be a him or a her but always someone I am annoyed with or made at or—yes ugh—jealous of. You know those voices.

And I thought, “What if I could turn off those thoughts like I turn off social media?” Huh.

What if I  could install a resentment blocker in my brain to shut down my fear thoughts and resentment thoughts and those long  internal conversations that go like this, “Well if she does that then I am going to say this, but if she replies with that, then I will…” They are like little plays that are excruciatingly painful and distracting.

The weird thing about these imaginary mental scripts is that they are full of things I would never actually say, but I rehearse them and repeat them as If I am the boldest, bad ass in the world.

What if I had a Freedom blocker for my mind?

I pictured what that would be like. My mind would try to go to a fight, jealousy or resentment. It would try to make me angry, envious, or resentful, but it would stall out. That little spinning wheel of hell we see on our computer would spin.

I could choose the “people in my head” that I wanted to block for one day when I want some mental freedom or block those voices for four hours when I want to have a nice evening with my sweetheart—when I want to be present, fully present.

What if I could us this new mental ap to block my coworkers for the weekend or my mother-in-law for the day before we go to her house—that’s when I do my worst obsessing about what she is “probably going to say” but rarely ever does.

I love imagining this blocker. My “mental freedom ap”.  I’d try to worry, or maybe I’d try to stir up some fear or envy, and I’d feel the urge but then --just like with real social media—I’d see the little wheel spinning, the little dots hovering in place and it might say, “resentments are not loading right now.” It just wouldn't let me go there.

It would be like my mind was saying, “No, you can’t access your  fear and anger right now. Please come back later.”

I’d make a lot with the thought-stopping Freedom ap. And I bet it would be a bestseller.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Happy Birthday to AA

It is from June 10, 1935 when, as we say, “One alcoholic reached out to help another alcoholic,” that we date the birth of Alcoholics Anonymous.

From that rough beginning in Akron, Ohio when Bill Wilson talked through the night with Dr. Bob Smith, that a fellowship of millions grew into an international community with numerous step-children: OA, NA, DA, Al-Anon, CODA, ACOA and the list goes on and on. 

(There are 200 different fellowships that use the principles of the Twelve Steps.)

Millions of people (nearly 4 million) have discovered the wisdom of the Twelve Steps and how it can be applied to many troubling life problems and addictions. 

Today as we look back at that first date we also acknowledge the people that preceded Bill and Bob in Akron. We gladly welcome to the party those whose roles prepared Bill Wilson to get to that day and that historic phone call--figures like Rowland Hazzard, and Ebby Thacher, and even Carl Jung.

The success of our program is founded on the simple principle: “You can’t do it alone.” 

Make a wish. Have a cupcake.

Happy Birthday AA.

Friday, June 05, 2020

What Can You Do?

What can you do?
Writers use your words.
Yoga teachers use your platforms.
Artists use your art.
Musicians use your songs.
Poets use your poems--yours and others.
Friends talk to your friends.
Parents talk to your children.
Teachers teach.
Preachers preach.
And people in recovery, this is not an outside issue.
This is the very soul of recovery. Speak up.

Black Lives Matter. 

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Transferring Addictions in the COVID Days

This week I had the opportunity to do a guest post for Central Recovery Press--CRP. That great team published my book, Out of the Woods-- A Guide to Long-term Recovery.

Now, more than ever, people in recovery need guidance on managing addictions--substances and behaviors, while so many resources are out of reach.

Here is this week's post on "Transferring Addictions"--and how not to:)
Big thanks to Patrick Hughes and the team at CRP

Here's the link:

Please share this with your recovery community.

And for more on life in long-term recovery please take a look at  Out of the Woods:

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Ebby Thacher Died March 21, 1996

On March 21st, 1966 Ebby Thacher died in Ballston Spa New York. Ebby was Bill Wilson’s sponsor and the man who first carried the recovery message to a very ill Bill W. in Brooklyn thirty years earlier. Ebby’s role is documented in our Big Book in the chapter called “ Bill’s Story” and in the many history books about AA.
The message that Ebby brought to Bill that cold, damp night was not AA, of course—there was no AA until later that year. 

But Ebby offered Bill the message and the practices of The Oxford Group—an evangelical Christian movement that saved souls and saved “drunks”. 
Our AA twelve steps evolved from the six similar steps of the Oxford Group.
Ebby struggled to stay sober while Bill and then Bob went on to become the “founders” of Alcoholics Anonymous. 

But on this day we must remember that there would be no AA, and no Bill W and Dr. Bob, without Ebby. In that way Ebby was well used by God
We never know the role we are playing in someone’s life or what our momentary actions might mean to something or someone much later. 
Thank you Ebby for carrying what you could and doing what you did.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Recovery in the Time of Virus--Online Meetings

Folks--in my community meetings are canceling and closing in light of the virus and to respect the suggestion for "social distancing". Smart thing to do, but where's a meeting?

It's time to try some new technologies--and some old ones.

Take a look at the link below to see some options for online meetings, phone meetings, conference calla and  Zoom (video) meetings too.

And, it's important to remember right now: newcomers will be having a much harder time and we all know that our substances and behaviors are more tempting.

Use these methods for your own recovery and maybe reach out to one or more new-ish people as well each day.

Remember how it worked when you were new? You called your sponsor every day--or you left voicemail messages just to check in. You said things and trusted you were heard. Your sponsor called back as needed.

Make those same deals now with friends in recovery. Make your voicemail available to others.

And, pull that big blue book off your shelf. What a great time to commit to reading The Big Book cover to cover again. I guarantee you'll see things there you never saw before.

Double the effect by making that commitment with a sober friend and keep checking in, "What page are you on?"

Here's the link below:

And please, add your suggestions in the comments suggestion.

Monday, March 09, 2020

Quit Like a Woman, by Holly Whitaker

So, Holly Whitaker’s book about alcohol and how to quit is on the market. There has been a lot of press and a lot of talking. The talking has tripped into AA meetings, and without naming names it’s been discussed. I’ve been asked, “Have you seen that book by that woman?” Yep. And I knew just who they meant. 

I have the book right here, and it’s great.

I know, I know…she says some things about AA, and she says AA didn’t work for her, and some people in AA have taken that personally. I know.

But here’s the thing: It’s OK to not like AA. 

Whitaker’s book, “Quit Like a Woman—The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol” is about—get this—Not Drinking. 

I think that is very OK. She tells her story, and she did a ton of research, and she comes down on the side of not drinking. Huh. 

And she talks about why she/we are better off without excesses of alcohol and mind-altering substances. She talks about her jobs, and relationships, and her relationship with herself all being trashed by her drinking. 

So, if you are sober or love someone who is, you just got to be going, “Go, Girl—tell them.”

Whitaker quotes a lot of Alcoholics Anonymous literature including the Big Book in her book. And I loved seeing all those very familiar words and phrases right there in her pages. 

Again, “Go girl.”

Here’s what I really think: If you are in this “Out of the Woods” club…and that means you have ten or more years of sobriety, you can only say, “Thank God there is another book to help some women stop drinking.” And, “Thank goodness, this Holly Whitaker, is offering an alternative to AA.” Because really, this book is an “outside issue” but don’t we all want lots of people to understand that alcohol abuse and misuse hurts lives and families? And we all know that AA isn’t for everyone. As “old-timers” we are OK with that.

If you’ve been around awhile it means that AA mostly does work for you, and you have plenty of friends for whom it just did not click. So, don’t we all want someone to find their way to their recovery—whatever they call it?

I know, I know....You may be mad because “She said she didn’t like AA”  Most newcomers don’t like AA. Remember when you were new, and you said things like, “It’s a cult” and “they pray” and “It’s about God and I don’t do God.” 

So, cut her a break. 

The most important part of this very important book is in the subtitle: “The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol.”

I think we can all agree she’s got that right, and she makes an excellent and eloquent case for that “radical choice” and that culture and that obsession. 

So, read this book. You’ll learn a lot, and you’ll appreciate that she is reaching and educating people that those of us who love AA are probably not able to do.

You go, Holly Whitaker. You wrote an important book.