Monday, February 26, 2018

Jealousy –Don’t Be Ashamed

No, you do not have to be ashamed of jealous feelings. Just having them is punishment enough. 

There may not be a worse emotion to experience than jealousy. We all know anger, sadness, grief, even lust. But jealousy has the extra-special overlay of social shame. Jealousy is the one we whisper to friends if we tell them at all. Or when a friend suspects and asks, “Are you jealous?” we hem and haw and maybe lie: “No, I’m not jealous I’m just angry that she… or that he would….”.

Even in recovery, even in a women’s meeting, bring up jealousy as a topic and you’ll get a lot of platitudes, and some pseudo-spiritual advice about self-love and not comparing, but then if you are lucky, some brave woman—probably in longer recovery—will fess up that yes indeed she has felt this monster taking over her mind. Maybe she’ll tell a now-funny tale of really bad behavior fueled by alcohol and jealousy before her recovery. She keyed a car, she sent a note, she tossed a drink.

That laughter? It’s way better medicine than God talk and platitudes when you are in a full-blown jealousy attack. Jealousy tries to tell you that you are alone in your weirdness, so laughing with other women is the balm. 

Jealousy is awful. Admitting it is awful. So how does it get us? And what is it there for?

All emotions have a function. Anger gives us protective adrenaline is scary situations. Sadness softens us so we slow down in times of loss so we don’t get hurt. What does jealousy do?
Jealousy is a response to manage anxiety. How about that? Jealousy is connected to anxiety. Yeah, anxiety—the other most miserable feeling to feel. What a duo.

Think about this:
You get jealous when you are anxious about a relationship: Is he with me? Does she love me? Could I lose him or her? The anxious bubbles come over us and they start to weaken us. 

So, jealousy steps forward and says, “Need some energy to kick that feeling back?” Wearing all green jealousy attempts to manage your anxiety: “Feel this instead.”

Here’s how I’ve seen it play out in me: I’m unsure of him, and I start to feel anxious. I want to make myself feel safe again, so I want to control him—I want to close all the doors, so to speak, so he’s all mine.

Yep, I know it’s a creepy way to think, but it’s rarely a conscious thought. Jealousy moves underground and very fast. Jealousy is a way—a really bad and ineffective way --to manage my anxiety.  The flawed thinking (or not-thinking) is this: “If I can just control him/her and make her/him love me, only me, then I will be safe.” 

But it’s not true. What I’m doing when I succumb to jealousy’s whispered bad advice is to make myself less safe. I tie myself to a rock, and I begin to lose parts of my life: I monitor, watch, and control the other person. All that takes my energy and focus away from my own life and I begin— it happens so fast—to deteriorate.

So, what’s a girl to do when you start feeling green? (And oh, the reason for green was the belief that jealousy was caused by an excess of bile that can actually cause a slight green tinge in the skin). 

What to do? Do the exact opposite of what you feel: move away from the target and the subject, move toward your life and interests and passions quickly. Immediately invest in something that is very you, and—the big step: tell people. Tell your sponsor, recovery friends, even a stranger—who has no connection to the folks in your life. Find the humor quickly—telling other people your freakiest fantasies will move the humor up and forward. Tell your friends that you want them to help you find the funny. They can give you spiritual advice tomorrow. 

And remember that it’s anxiety that jealousy is trying to help you with, so go exercise, dance, breathwork and meditation and your other best tools for managing anxiety.

More on recovery and relationships in "Out of the Woods" published by Central Recovery Press. 

Monday, February 05, 2018

Russell Brand on Recovery

Russell Brand is a comedian, and an actor, and by his own admission, an addict. A recovering addict.

Also, he swears a lot. A whole lot. Like every other word starts with F. So that makes quoting him very hard, but I want you to trust me on this: Russell Brand is smart and funny, and he has a great recovery message.

His newest book is called, “Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions.” 
And it is his take on our program of recovery.

Basically, it is a memoir—his crazy story of being self-destructive and then recovering, and it’s also a work of translation: Brand takes the Twelve Steps and basic recovery principles and puts them into his own words, hence sentences filled with the word that starts with F.

Here’s an example: 

Step 4: “Write down all the things that are F-ing you up or have ever F-ed you up and don’t lie or leave anything out.”

Sound like a tough sponsor? Yeah, kinda like that.

Or Step Three: “Are you, on your own, going to un-F yourself?” 

Maybe this isn’t the first recovery book you want to give a newcomer, but then again, maybe it could be. No holds barred, no sweetness, and it is pretty dam funny. If you are later in your recovery you’ll be a teeny bit shocked at first, but then you’ll be calling your recovery friends and reading to them what Brand has to say about surrender, and meetings, and yeah….his version of Step Six.

Ok, yes, all that bad language. You can’t leave his book on your coffee table if you have kids (or a mother, mother-in-law, nosy neighbors etc.)  But you will find yourself dipping into Brand’s book for a fresh perspective or fast first aid in any emotional crisis.

 ...and yes, there is also this other great book about long-term recovery (my book, no swearing) published by Central Recovery Press:

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Taking Recovery to Work: The Political World

We are in a recession—or we’re not. Things are getting better—or they’re not.  We don’t know whether to get our hopes up or to hunker down.  The national and state politics are scary.  But it’s the political scene we enter tomorrow morning that will keep most of us tossing and turning tonight.

Office politics. Those are the hardest politics we face.

A young friend recently said to me, “I don’t want to work where there are politics.” 

I understood her distress, but I thought, “Then go home and make pot holders.”  There is no work without politics because there is no work without people.

Any time we organize ourselves into a business, a women’s club, a church group or a scout troop there will be politics. 

The trend toward making the workplace feel like home doesn’t help. By loosening the home and work boundary we get to have—at work—all the goodies that belong at home: sibling rivalry, parental intrusion, and fights about money, cleaning and table manners.  Maybe if work were less like home we’d go home to get the things we’re supposed to get there: love, companionship and intimacy.

Another complication we add at work is using the word “team”. I know it’s supposed to be a metaphor for playing nicely together, but we forget what really happens on teams: hierarchy, competition and rivalry. Do you watch March Madness? Then you see great teams –and great coaches-- and a lot of sweating and swearing and glaring. 

So, it’s inevitable that we have office politics.   Every day each of us carries our emotional baggage to work in an invisible tote bag and then we pick from it throughout the day. But this is not necessarily a bad thing.  Working with other human beings is a creative process—and that is always messy.

 Maybe the best we can do is to try not to draw blood, and to say we’re sorry when we do.  But like the sign in every casino says, “You must be present to win.”  We need the politics in our workplaces and in our communities to work out who we are and how we get better. 

I’m an optimist. I see the messiness of human beings as a good thing.  You might roll your eyes and call me a “Pollyanna”, but that fictional girl is not a bad role model. The Dali Lama has very little on the 11-year-old girl that Eleanor Porter created in 1912.

Pollyanna is the story of a girl who went through so many painful events with the most difficult people , and she was able to remain optimistic and make changes for the good.
It can feel safer to stay with the negative, but pessimism is actually lazy. To stay optimistic takes courage.  You have to keep believing that things will work out even if it’s not the way you hoped they would.    

Now in our nation and our workplaces we get to make that choice. We can moan and groan, or we can choose optimism.

Friday, January 12, 2018

What We can Learn from French Women

You have read the articles about how French women shop, dress, cook, flirt and even parent their children. We have been told that they are more elegant, chic and more mysterious than we “pursuit of happiness” American gals.

So, we wonder “Could I learn to be all of that?” Well, the mystery has been solved—or more accurately, we are being let in on the secrets. And it’s really good news. 

The “secret” to being charmingly French is not in the 100 splashes of cold water (on face and breasts), and it’s not in the wine with lunch and dinner (thank goodness, after all, we tried that), and it’s not even in having a collection of Birkin bags and Hermes scarves.

Author Jamie Cat Callan is touring the country right now to teach us that the big secret to French charm is in one’s thoughts and attitudes. 

And certainly, every woman in recovery, knows about “think it through” and “attitude adjustment”. We know how to do that.

Last week I drove to Chatham, New York—a beautiful village south of Albany and North of Manhattan—to see—and hear—Jamie kick off her book tour for “Parisian Charm School—French Secrets for Cultivating Love. Joy, and that certain je ne sais quoi”.

At the Chatham Bookstore Jamie kicked off the evening in a most French way with beautiful foods by Alexandra Stafford, and French music and a great deal of laughter. 

Then Jamie spoke about French style—fewer clothes, but clothes you absolutely love, French food—they eat much less than we do, but always the finest quality so they are more satisfied, and French dating—they don’t! French women have friends of both sexes and socialize in groups, and maybe a special relationship develops over time—over a long time.

The French spend time with their families –immediate and extended (yes, even if dysfunctional or troublesome), and they embrace their history—personal, cultural and national. 

The biggest take-away from Jamie Cat Callan and her years of French life and study and practice is that French women are different but we can borrow their qualities: savoring, thinking, moving—and speaking—slowly, and being more present in the world and in the day. It is those qualities that lead to their great wardrobes and great skincare and not the other way around. 

"Parisian Charm School" may not technically be a recovery book, but it is a book for recovering women-to help us recover a sense of self, self love and care, and a charming new life.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Happy Introvert Day!

It is January 2nd! The day that introverts get to breathe a sigh of relief.  We can come out of hiding; it’s safe to answer the phone and we can stop pretending we feel the flu coming on. Yes--the holidays are over. 

From mid-December through New Year’s Day, those of us with an introverted nature live in a state of perpetual dread. The weeks of office parties, neighborhood potlucks and open houses drain all our energy. But today we can relax; we made it through.

I speak from experience. I am an introvert. It surprises most people because I’m outgoing and friendly and very far from shy, but I prefer one person and one conversation at a time. 

I fought this for years, always trying to be someone else. I made myself go to parties; I tried to fix what I thought was “wrong” with me. It didn’t help that other people would press, “But you’re so good with people” as if being introverted meant living on the dark side. But I finally got it. 

This is also one of the blessings of long recovery. I no longer eat or drink in order to fit in or to numb the discomfort of social activities I don’t like. It’s a great relief. 

It’s no wonder that we introverts are sometimes defensive. Seventy-five percent of the population is extraverted; we’re outnumbered three-to-one, and the American culture tends to reward extraversion. 

Here’s what introverts are not: We’re not afraid and we’re not shy. Introversion has little to do with fear or reticence. We’re just focused, and we prefer one-on-one because we like to listen and we want to follow an idea all the way through to another interesting idea. Consequently small talk annoys us.

Many great leaders are introverts and many of our better presidents have been introverts: Lincoln, Carter and the John Adams—both father and son.  No, maybe I’m not being totally fair, but life isn’t fair to introverts. Introverted kids are pressured to “speak up” or we were hounded to “be more outgoing”. 

The philosopher Pascal wrote, “The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.”  Introverts do. So let’s make January 2nd, Happy Introvert Day. We’ll be quiet and happy. And grateful as another year of “Out of the Woods” recovery begins.

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.