Monday, June 12, 2017

Letting Go--Throw the Ball

Letting Go is a topic I can never hear about enough. I love it when it’s the topic at meetings, and I really love it when people talk about how they let go—what exactly they do that helps them. 

Letting go is probably the answer to 99% of my questions. (What should I do in my relationship? Let go. What should I do about that cranky relative? Let go. What about the future I am worried about? Yes, let go of that too.)

But still, and often, just as in my newcomer days, I can sigh and say, “But how?” and I try to keep the whiney tone out of my voice.

So, I love the advice on letting go from the amazing Melody Beatty. Beatty is a recovering woman, recovery writer, and a recovery role model. I highly recommend her books especially the day meditation book called, “The Language of Letting Go.” My first sponsor gave me that book in 1983 and I still read from that dog-eared, underlined, tear-stained copy every day. 

So here is her advice on how to let go:

*If you are holding onto a worry or a problem or a person—think of that as holding onto a baseball.

* If you have tried to solve a problem three times (and worry doesn’t count) then stop yourself. Let go. Throw the ball.

*If someone asks you for advice, you give them the advice one time. Then throw the ball to them. Let go. Say nothing more.

*If a person has not asked for your advice, or if you offered some advice and the answer was “No thanks,” there is nothing to throw. Let go. The ball is not in your hands.

It might be helpful—if you are really struggling with an issue or a person—to get a small ball to hold, name, and then toss. Let that ball go off the cliff, into the river, let it roll down the road or anywhere away from you.

That’s what letting go looks like. Let it go.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Total Commitment to Your Recovery

There is a value at looking back in recovery. Where did you come from? How did you get here? Addiction and recovery move in circles and cycles. Even though we say, “Look back but don’t stare” and there is value and sometimes efficiency in looking at your own story.  

The book, “Women Who Love Too Much” by Robin Norwood was such an important
part of my early recovery. It’s fair to say that my intervention was a book. That book. The right book at the right time. I was so unaware that I had a problem with alcohol, and I had a million rationalizations for my disordered eating, but my relationships problems were front and center. I could see them; other people could see them. So, I read the book.

I was desperate and desperate enough to turn the pages even though what Norwood was revealing was very painful. I was on every page.

And then, like a pinball machine, I felt every bell and buzzer go off when Norwood linked relationship problems to alcoholism, drug addiction and eating disorders. Dam her! And yes, thank her! --her book saved my life. Because of that relationship book I found AA and a couple more Twelve-step programs, and a therapist, and a group.

And now, 31 years later, I can hardly believe that was me. Except…

Today it’s not alcohol, drugs or food that can undo me. But my thinking still needs work. And I still need to look at issues like scarcity, fear, control, desire, and the addict’s mantra “More” …. yes, I still want more: more shoes, more work, more energy, more recognition, more comfort, more confidence, even more yoga, and things that are seemingly good for me. But there is a fine balance between desire and dependence.

So, when I did dip back into Robin Norwood’s miracle book, “Women Who Love Too Much” I find this paragraph--it's underlined, starred, and highlighted, and it’s still very relevant: 

“Total commitment to your own recovery requires that you suspend your own use of alcohol and other drugs. Mind altering substances mitigate against your fully experiencing the emotions you are uncovering. It is only through deeply experiencing them that you will also gain the healing that comes with their release.”

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Happy Mother's Day Medea

 If productivity was down in your workplace this week you can blame your mother. Across the city workers were lingering through their lunch hour in card stores reading and sighing. Buying a Mother’s Day card is not easy.

For some, the card that says, “Mom, Thanks for being perfect” is fine, but for the rest of us, with complicated mothers and complicated relationships, the search for the right message is tough.

But even as children–of all ages--struggle to summarize their
maternal relationship in a card, those on the receiving end have mixed feelings too. Most of us know we don’t come close to the platitudes in those greeting cards.

What is a good mother? Do we measure up? On this day that celebrates kindness, patience and sacrifice many of us squirm remembering our less than ideal maternal moments; We wonder if we’ve done something really bad along the way and worry whether our worst day as a mother damaged our kids.

Mothers who hurt their children is a painful topic. The reality of mothers’ hostile impulses against their children is old news in psychological circles and parenting books, but we rarely allow parents to admit those feelings.

Thank goodness, most of us don’t act on our thoughts, but some mothers have struggled with the limits and lost. When we hear about them, many of us know--in the privacy of our hearts--that it was just the grace of God, good friends, a reliable baby-sitter and money in the bank that kept us from taking their place.

 So maybe we should, especially on Mother’s Day, have some compassion for the mothers who lost it, those women who did the unthinkable; they hurt their own child. If some mothers weren’t so newsworthy for their sheer failure at mothering the rest of us would not know where to draw the line in self-judgment.

We can count ourselves lucky and a little grateful that most of us have slapped but did not scald, screamed but did not hit, or cursed but did not kill. When we react to a child-abuse horror story with the common, “Can you imagine?” the truth is that most of us can.

We owe a debt to those mothers because they give us the outside limit from which to measure our parenting. The “bad” mother relieves us of the shadowy fear we all carry. 

We can’t talk about bad mothers without mentioning Medea; the mythological woman who killed her kids to punish their philandering father. But Medea got to her breaking point after a world tour of abuse, abandonment and humiliation.

After being dumped in a strange country with no way home, she lost it and she killed. Medea’s story is a myth but, as with all myths, it points to something real in the human psyche. When we read about women who hurt their kids a healthy mother has to stop and ask herself, “How did that woman get there?”  Nobody starts out wanting to kill their children; nobody starts out thinking scalding is reasonable discipline. It’s baby steps all the way.

Every mother who lost it at least once, or who did something she swore she’d never do, can be grateful for everything that keeps her from crossing over to the territory of the terrible mother.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Russian novelist, wrote: “If only there were evil people somewhere committing evil deeds, and we could separate them from us and destroy them, but the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” That includes yours and mine.

So for Mother’s Day let’s thank the good mothers and show a moment of compassion for the “Medeas” of the world, who in their tragic solution to life’s problems show us where we ought not to go.     

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Taking Recovery to Work: Making Decisions

The Practice of Discernment

One friend asks, “Should she change jobs?” Another thinks about changing her whole career. A coworker debates, “Should she buy a house or continue to rent?” Someone else talks about graduate school versus yoga teacher training. 

“A choice between goods” is one definition of discernment. Not right or wrong, good or bad, but a choice between goods.

But how do you “do” discernment? 

Years ago my spiritual director gave me this list of tools for discernment:

Sitting still
Asking God
Get quiet and listen for the subtle
Think and feel
Then use your gut, your courage and your integrity.

Another good discernment practice, if you have time, is this:
Fully describe option A to yourself: the graduate program, the classes, location, books, homework, money, and benefits, people. Declare (to yourself) that this is the choice you have made. Live as if that is the final choice—that and only that for two weeks. Pretend to yourself it’s a done deal and go about your life as if that is true. Pay attention to your body, energy, heart and head.

After two weeks again fully commit yourself, but now to option B. Again, make full mental commitment—two whole weeks. Now what do you notice or sense in your body, mind, heart, energy? Write about what you notice and sense. What messages do you get?

Talk to people who have chosen either options –or similar ones—and then pray for a sign.

For more on discernment in recovery take a look at "Out of the Woods--A Woman's Guide to Long-term Recovery" published by Central Recovery Press.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

April is Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month. This means we’ll see poets on postage stamps, poem-a-day emails, and the poets-in-the-schools will be working overtime. But if talking about poetry makes you shudder you’re not alone.

For many people the thought of poetry brings back memories of seventh grade. If we were lucky we had an English teacher who loved poetry so much that when he or she read poems aloud we could viscerally experience the power of words meeting air.

But there were other teachers who made us memorize Old English or deconstruct poems
about marriage and mortality, topics not exactly top-of-mind for 12-year-olds.

The bad 7th grade poetry scenario went like this: The teacher read a poem that described a rose opening on a summer day, and we thought, “Oh, the poem must be about summer, or beauty or nature, right?” But the teacher would sigh heavily and say,  “No, this poem is speaking about war and man’s inhumanity to man”. 

After repetitions of that experience many people never wanted to pick up a book of poems again. We’d come away feeling the deck was stacked in this “what does the poem mean” business, and that poems were a code we couldn’t crack.  

This month we get another chance. We have April in which to reclaim poetry— good, bad or even silly—as part of our lives. After all, before 7th grade teachers got hold of it poetry was our first language, our history, and even our music. We don’t have to let it drift away. It’s our right to take poetry back and to remember that poetry is in the Psalms, in nursery rhymes, and at the heart of many children’s stories.  After all, “Green Eggs and Ham” is a poem too.

Part of reclaiming poetry though is recognizing poets. We don’t have poet celebrities in the United States as some other countries do. In Canada poet Ann Carson is on magazine covers and they write about what she wears and where she goes. In Chile Pablo Neruda was a diplomat. One of our finest poets, Robert Bly, didn’t register in American consciousness until, after 40 years and 20 books of poetry, he wrote a self-help book for men.

We have tiny bits of poetry in our civic life. Bill Clinton gave Maya Angelou recognition when he asked her to read at his inauguration.  Robert Frost recited  “The Gift Outright” at John Kennedy’s ceremony in 1961.  Because of the sun’s glare that January morning Robert Frost could not read the poem he had written for that day so he recited his older poem, with its famous lines: “Something we were withholding made us weak. Until we found it was ourselves we were withholding from our land of living…such as we were we gave ourselves outright.” Later, the poem had perfect resonance for our, “Ask not what your country…” president. 

Sometimes poetry helps us make sense of events. Auden’s “September 1, 1939”, which was passed around and read aloud after September 11th, was the perfect poem for that sad autumn, and it’s true again as we live through more war. William Carlos Williams said it in one of his poems: 

“It is difficult
to get the news from poems.
Yet men die miserably every day,
for lack
of what is found there.”

Maybe that’s what our 7th grade teachers knew: that poems can help, and they can heal, and sometime a poem can say what no treatise or speech ever will. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

I Didn't Come This Far to Come This Far

Years ago, in the beginning of my recovery, I heard an AA speaker talk about how recovery unfolds layer after layer. And, he said, it's kind of like a game show: you can choose to stop at any point, take the recovery you have so far, and go home. Some people want abstinence, some want abstinence and peace of mind, some want better work or relationships or social lives…and some—and I knew this this was me, want “the whole enchilada.”

At that time I named that my “all-encompassing recovery”, maybe what you might call “holistic recovery”. I wanted freedom from alcohol, drugs, compulsive eating, and “loving too much”.

I knew, almost before I really understood it, that there was a common root to my addictions and if I was going to pull out that root I’d have to face down all my addictions and troubling behaviors. And now of course, we know that the roots are tangled in myriad forms of fear. 

This week a friend who is a personal trainer posted this phrase on her page: “I didn’t come this far to come this far.” She meant that in terms of weight loss and getting in shape but immediately that phrase took me back to my “all-encompassing recovery”

Today that “all-encompassing recovery” means: physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, mental, social, and work/career/dharma—what we do in the world. Yes, that’s a lot to look at, but in long-term recovery we can have a long-term perspective, and we have the time to do a lot of that work. It’s also true for folks with long recovery that the relapse possibility is hiding in that list above. Your weakest area: financial, work, social, spiritual or physical will take you out. Hence, “constant vigilance” means more than staying away from bottles and bars.

That personal trainer also made me think about something else: What many recovering people often miss is physical recovery—not just the “not using” but true health and wellness. And physical concerns are an enormous threat to relapse.

We also live with the sad paradox that recovering people used to spend untold amounts of money to hurt themselves with drugs, alcohol or binges but then won’t later spend on their physical healing: the gym, yoga, massage, acupuncture, Reiki, a health coach etc. 

You can be a spiritual giant but physically unwell. Or you can choose holistic recovery and make it fun to work on all the parts. You have come this far, so keep on going!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Why Take Our Recovery to Work

I’ve been writing about “taking recovery to work” for several months now. This morning in my quiet time I found myself—again—praying about a situation in my workplace, and I thought, “Hmmm, I don’t hear a lot of people talking about this.”

We do hear recovering people talk about resentments that kick up at work, or jobs they got or jobs they lost. Sponsees call me when they want a new job or maybe about money worries connected to their ability to earn. And we also hear a lot of joking about work, “Boy, I would love to say XYZ to my boss.” Etc.

But why is it we don’t –often enough—bring our recovery to work?

Early in recovery we focus recovery on our physical health—“help me to stop using/bingeing/drinking/smoking. And then, soon after we start to apply recovery principles to our relationships—the most urgent ones first: our partner, our kids, our ex-partners, and then maybe to other relatives and then to friendships too.

We, if we are lucky and diligent, see the patterns in our own behavior. And we know, when we face our role in those relationships, that we cannot do it alone. We need to have the help of a loving sponsor and maybe a small group of dedicated recovering friends. Folks who will not enable us.

But, it seems, bringing this same focus on ourselves and with recovery principles, to who we are at work comes very late if at all. You may have thought, as I have at times, listening to an old-timer in recovery—speaking truth, humility, love and gratitude—“I could never be that person’s coworker”, as they reveal how opposite all of that they are in the workplace. 

So what’s going on? Maybe it is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: we take care of ourselves, then partners, then kids, then social life first. Or maybe we imagine that work falls into some other category, or that people at work are outside recovery? But can that really be?

I think bringing a focus to recovery at work is crucial if only for the simple, self-serving reason that work is where we spend most of our time, and where so much of our stress comes from.

Now, to be clear, I don’t write about recovery at work because I have it figured out. Nope. I don’t have answers as much as I have questions. And because even with 32 years in Twelve-step programs I am still baffled on many days and genuinely tortured on some.

I try to sort out what recovery suggests to me as an employee, as a boss and supervisor, as a colleague, and as a team member, and what does recovery mean when I am successful and also when I am unsuccessful, and when things at work are fair or unfair? And would I know the truth of that with out deep recovery work?

So please join me in this. Ask questions, make suggestions and please share ways that you bring your recovery principles and practices to your workplace.

Read more about long-term recovery in "Out of the Woods--A Woman's Guide to Long-term Recovery". Published by Central Recovery Press.