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: