Thursday, April 29, 2010

In All Our Affairs

Yesterday was the day my Wednesday group celebrates birthdays, so I celebrated “officially” and got my chip.

In our line of sponsorship, the sponsor introduces the sponsee, talks about their year from the sponsor’s perspective and gives the sponsee a word or phrase he or she feels represents that year.

My phrase was “in all our affairs.” That’s what my sponsor told me I had done. I had practiced these principles in all my affairs.

She said my marriage had improved because I was learning to say what I wanted and needed for myself. My relationship with my daughter had been transformed. She talked about my service work.

She said she thought it was a quiet year. Not much had happened. Just life on life’s terms. There was, she said, a calmness about me, which she thought might be a gift of the second year. “Don’t get used to it,” she said with a laugh.

I always believe I have an idea about what’s happening on my insides. And it’s always interesting to me to hear what that looks like on my outsides. Call it feedback. Like checking your hair in a mirror.

When my birthday came around, I thought about my year. I wondered what word my sponsor would give me. I like her word. It felt right to me.

But those aren’t the words that rolled around in my own head when I thought about my year. The words I thought of were faith and service. At the meeting I talked about service and how I had benefited from it. I did that because I thought that maybe there was someone who, like me, was skeptical about the claim that I would benefit more from service than those I had helped.

I was wrong.

That claim was absolutely true.

But the thing that most changed in me, I think, was faith.

I was happy to hear my sponsor say that she noticed a calmness about me, because that’s how I feel. Though, for me, it didn’t feel like an uneventful year.

My husband and I have faced what felt to me like pretty major things. We struggled to keep the doors of our family business open. Our incomes from the company and my work plummeted. My daughter’s situation is as bad as it’s ever been.

Here’s the difference. I didn’t freak out. It made me smile to hear my sponsor say that it had been a smooth year because while she is aware of everything I just mentioned, I didn’t seem to get that upset. Hence, she assumed things were not really that dire.

That’s faith.

It’s the greatest gift I’ve received in this program.

I believe that God has directed my life. That everything in it is just as it’s supposed to be. That he’s arranged everything for my benefit. I can only respond with gratitude.

Someone at a meeting shared a saying they had seen taped to their sponsor’s computer. It said: “If you pray, why worry? If you worry, why pray?”

For the last several months, I have doubled the time I spend on my knees in prayer and in meditation and it has made all the difference.

BTW, here are a few things I have taped up on my computer:

“If you don’t hear the voice of God, it’s because you are controlling the conversation” —from Epiphany, on her blog “My Road as I Travel It”

“Resentments are when things didn’t go my way in the past.
Anger is when things aren’t going my way now.
Fear is when I think things won’t go my way in the future.”
—from Kim A, on her blog “One Day at a Time”

“Sponsorship is not placing someone in authority over you; it’s asking someone to hold you accountable.”
—Mr. Sponsorpants

“Go placidly among the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be one good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they, too, have their story.”
—Max Ehrmann, “Desiderata,” from ODAT

It doesn’t escape me that three of four of these came from blogs.

I started this blog as part of my 12th step work. To carry the message. To be of service. Of all the service work I’ve done, I think I’ve benefited from this blog more than anything else. That’s because there’s a tremendous recovery community here online. It’s like attending a great, big meeting every day.

You’ve all taught me so much. I am truly grateful. Thank you for being such an integral part of my journey.

Hubby and I are on our way to the land later today. Take good care and I’ll see you in a few days.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I Accept

I have an Al-Anon friend who wants to leave her husband. When she was new in the program, I told her that I’d always been taught not to make any decisions for at least six months to give the program time to work.

The other day, she told me that it had been six months and her husband still hadn’t changed.

I wondered if we’d been sitting in the same rooms.

The six months wasn’t to see if your husband would change, I told her. The six months was to see if you would.

She was as genuinely surprised at my answer as I was at her statement.

She had been sitting in the rooms of Al-Anon for six months and what she heard were all the stories about how loved ones had changed as the Al-Anons changed their attitudes and behaviors.

I agreed that sometimes that happened. Sometimes it didn’t. It didn’t matter.

The whole point of Al-Anon was to learn to be happy whether the alcoholic is drinking or not. Really the whole point is to learn to be happy no matter what anyone in your life is doing, or not.

I said I’d heard the same stories she had. I’d also heard people share that their husbands hadn’t changed one bit.

“But what are their marriages like?” my friend wanted to know.

“I don’t know,” I said. I imagine their marriages are all sorts of ways. Only they have learned to accept what they had.

The three As (awareness, acceptance, action) had just been the topic of the most recent meeting we attended together. The reading had to do with the tendency to move directly from awareness to action without reaching acceptance. It felt custom tailored to my friend’s situation.

The way I understand the concept is that once I become aware of something, I must learn to accept it before I take action. Acceptance then frees me to make choices. I don’t spend time trying to change things I’m powerless over. Instead, I can work on the only things I can change: my own thoughts and actions.

I repeated a share I thought put it well.

I have a red coffee cup. I wish it were black, but nothing I can do will ever make it black. So I have to accept that it is what it is. My coffee cup is red.

Accepting that knowledge gives me freedom, because I don’t spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make my cup black. Instead, I can focus on the choices that I do have. I can change the way I feel about red. I can use a different cup.

“Not all marriages can be saved or should be,” I told my friend. “That’s a personal decision. Only you can decide that. But if you’re in Al-Anon with the expectation of changing your husband, you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment. Remember, expectations are only premeditated resentments.”

I asked my friend if she had ever seen the acceptance prayer. She hadn’t, so I gave it to her. Here it is:

Acceptance Prayer

God, acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place or thing or situation—some fact of my life—unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in your world by mistake. Until I can accept my Al-Anonism, I can not stay sane; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitude. Amen

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

On the Verge

I’ve had this feeling lately like I’m on the verge of some new understanding. Or maybe it's insanity. My head swirls with half-formed thoughts. Things I read and see and experience feel connected and important, somehow, but I can’t seem to connect the dots. A figure appears in the mist. I squint, but the thing remains blurry and unrecognizable.

It’s not a very comfortable feeling. It reminds me of being in labor and being turned away repeatedly from the hospital because for hours my labor failed to progress. I’m here. I’m uncomfortable. Can we just get this thing over with already?

But babies and spiritual awakenings tend to follow their own schedule. It reminds me that I am powerless. Even over my own body and mind. Sigh.

All I can do in either case is to relax and focus on my breathing.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Rehab for the Rest of Us

In the height of my insanity with this disease, I used to have a fantasy. The fantasy is that I would get to go to a mental hospital or jail. I thought I would at least get some rest. I would have time to read and journal and work on myself.

It's sick, I know. But I didn't get into Al-Anon as a result of my good mental health.

At the time, I was in graduate school, working full time, a single parent and trying to control every aspect of my daughter's life. She wasn't cooperating and my efforts left me exhausted and stressed and resentful.

Of course, it was an inside job. I did it to myself.

I got a program call last night that reminded me of those days. The Al-Anon friend who called me was very much in the same situation. I have known this person for some time. Her sponsor has given her the assignment to call other people in the program and we have talked several times, though I had no idea that we had this in common. Either did she. It's amazing how God directs us to the right people.

I reminded her about the adage of the oxygen mask. When the oxygen mask drops, the flight attendant always tells you to put yours on first. Because if you don't take care of yourself, you're no good to anyone else. I also reminded her about HALT. It was 8 o'clock and she hadn't had dinner. And she was tired.

By the end of the call, I hope she felt better. I know that she was crying when she called and we shared a laugh or two by the time she hung up.

She told me she wanted to look into whether her insurance would pay for a place for her to go to work on herself, like the alcoholic goes to rehab. I shared my fantasy with her.

It would be wonderful to have a place like that. I've never found that place.

Someone once asked me what I would do if I won the lottery. Beyond buying some land, building my dream house, and spending my life doing only work I really enjoyed, I could never imagine what else to do.

But now I think if I had a big pot of money, I would build a place for Al-Anons to go and "detox" and rest and get a good start in recovery. It would be rehab for the rest of us.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

For Your Viewing Pleasure

Hubby and I are glad to be back from a journey of more than 1,000 miles. I'm looking forward to some rest.

Meanwhile, tonight, I'm looking forward to "When Love is Not Enough," Lois W.'s story. It airs tonight on CBS.

I have benefited from generations of Al-Anons who came before me. Lois had to make it up as she went along. I owe her a huge debt of gratitude.

Wishing you all a rest-filled Sunday.

The Language of Recovery

It’s increasingly clear to me that those of us in recovery speak a common language. To me, it’s like mathematics. It cuts across all cultural boundaries and is recognizable to anyone who understands it.

Looking back at some of the people I’ve known, I recognize now that they were in recovery. Sometimes, it’s obvious what fellowship they likely belonged to. Sometimes, I have no idea. But the language is unmistakable.

I think back to a yoga teacher I had early in recovery. My husband and I were on a combination vacation/work assignment in the Costa Rica rainforest. It was a remote location. There were no meetings. But there was yoga, and I was the only guest who signed up. Every day, twice a day, I’d meet with this resort’s yoga instructor and we’d do yoga and meditate and he’d talk recovery to me. I still think of him as an angel God sent to me to help me get through that time.

In the yoga instructor’s case, he told me he had come back from Vietnam using drugs and alcohol. He couldn’t just stop using. He needed to replace his addiction with something more positive. At the time, I thought he was talking about yoga. And that was probably part of it. But now I see that he was talking about program.

A guy I used to date talked a lot about doing things “because he wanted to” or “because it was the right thing to do.” He was not sober, so I presume his program did not involve drugs or alcohol. But it was program language nonetheless.

And so my ears perked up listening to an interview with Michael J. Fox. Here’s what he said that got my attention:

“…I think your happiness grows in direct proportion to your acceptance and in inverse proportion to your expectations. It’s just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. Doing the next right thing.”

Program language.

I may be the last person on the planet who didn’t know Fox was in recovery, but I’ve never been good at following celebrities. So I Googled the topic and found that Fox started drinking excessively after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He found help from “an ever widening circle of friends, all of whom prefer to remain anonymous.”

In the past, I would have thought what Fox said was profound. That he was wise. That I wished I could possess whatever wisdom and serenity he had. The difference is that today I know I can.

Hubby and I are off on assignment. Back in a few days. I'll catch up on our return. Meanwhile, take good care.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Straight and Narrow

My husband and I were talking about Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson this weekend.

We've always had a soft spot for Mickelson. He's a local boy.

What we were talking about his how Tiger was so appealing on the surface. So trim and clean cut, with that dazzling, perfect smile. Mickelson, on the other hand, usually looks like he needs a haircut and could maybe lose a few pounds.

We had just finished watching "Sense and Sensibility" and I was thinking how Jane Austen's books always had one character who was genuinely good, and another who had the appearance of goodness. Think of Wickham and Mr. Darcy in "Pride and Prejudice." People were always taken in by the character with the appearance. Eventually, that character is revealed as a cad, and good triumphs.

Of course those are novels. But I couldn't help but think they apply to Woods and Mickelson, particularly after watching the tear roll down Mickelson's face at the end of the Masters, and the tender way he hugged his wife.

One blogger posted his photo with the caption: "This is what love looks like."

Of course, we don't ever really know celebrities. We just feel we do. And Tiger has sought recovery. Redemption is one of our favorite story lines. I hope Tiger truly finds recovery.

Here's what recovery has meant for me. The road narrows. It starts out wide, with lots of twists and turns and detours. After a while the road straightens. Lanes end. The way becomes clear. There is only one direction. The questions narrow to one: What is the right thing to do? The answers become increasingly clear.

Not always. There's still rain and fog that clouds visibility. But the road is there. Straight and true. And if we are patient and cautious enough to wait for the storm to clear, we can stay between the lines.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

In the Stars?

I attended Alateen certification training yesterday.

As an adult child of an alcoholic, service in Alateen is something that's been on my heart since I started exploring service opportunities a year ago. But I didn't have enough time in the program to qualify.

Since then, I've taken service commitments in my home group, begun my service work in the state prison and taken on three sponsees. I believed I was pretty well committed.

But I also believe in being open to guidance from my Higher Power, and I know that what He has planned for me is seldom what I have planned.

Last week, the area Alateen coordinator announced the training this Saturday and I had just passed my second year in the program (the length of time required to qualify). I'm almost never in town on a Saturday, but there I was, with plans to be in town on a Saturday.

So I attended the training and submitted my references and required documentation for certification.

I don't know what I will do with this. There are two meetings desperately seeking Alateen sponsors, and both are on nights I'm seldom in town.

So while I'm waiting for my certification to be processed, I will pray on this.

I'm not big on Horoscopes since I've learned to rely more on God, but just for fun, I clipped the horoscope on my birthday this year.

It says: "...As you study and take in many experiences, you have the sense that you don't yet know how to apply what you've learned. Hold tight. Your purpose is more obvious in the spring. A door opens to your life's work in April..."

Friday, April 16, 2010

All By Myself

When I was in my early teens, my mother’s boyfriend told me I was aloof.

I was horrified to hear that. I didn’t want to appear aloof. I desperately wanted to be popular. But I felt socially awkward. I didn’t feel like I fit in.

When I got older, I decided that I preferred to be alone. It was easier than being with people. Being with other people wore me out. Trying to think of things to say was exhausting. I longed to escape to a mountaintop or a book or just to be alone with my own thoughts.

At the same time, I was lonely. I had a rich fantasy life that revolved around a mysterious soul mate, who would one day discover the beautiful person I was inside and love me and make me feel whole.

My soul mate would be handsome and wear sweaters. He and I would drink coffee at the edge of the lake a sunrise, take long walks through the woods in fall, read the Sunday paper on lazy Sunday mornings. We never had to talk.

In Al-Anon, I discovered that I’m not alone in this. Many of my fellow Al-Anons, particularly those who grew up in the disease, have what we often refer to as “a tendency to isolate.”

It’s not very mysterious. Like most of my character defects this tendency began as a self-defense mechanism. If I don’t let you get close, you won’t hurt me. If I don’t let you inside, you’ll never know how hollow and rotten it is in there.

So my relationships were a combination of holding you at arm’s length or creating just enough drama to keep you there. Until I got too scared and I blew the whole thing up. Because if I was the one to leave, you couldn’t leave me.

Not long ago, my husband and I attended the wedding of a friend I have known for maybe a dozen years. She was a bridesmaid at our wedding. She told my husband that she used to pour her guts out to me.

“Do you know what I got back?” she asked. “Nothing. I got nothing. Kathy never told me a thing.”

What she said shocked me, but I had to admit it was true. I gave nothing away. Not even to my closest friends.

I took that with me into Al-Anon, and hung on to it for a long time. People would say they found friendships and love in the program. I didn’t know what they meant. I found help, yes. But that magical feeling of fraternity eluded me.

Until I got involved.

I put off service work until I got to step 12. I am, after all, a commitment-phobe. I didn’t mind helping, I just didn’t want to commit to it.

Silly me.

Once I took a service commitment, everything changed. My schedule had changed and the meeting that I would be most likely to attend regularly was a new meeting for me. But it was clear it should be my home group, so I started there.

I started with set up, because I’m compulsively early and because it would give me something to do. I wouldn’t have to talk to anybody. Only when people saw me setting up, they’d ask me questions because I looked like I knew something. So I’d try to be useful.

Next, I decided to really push my boundaries and be a greeter. Of course, I felt shy and awkward, but I remembered how the greeters in my former home group hugged everyone that came in. I remembered how that made me feel, and decided I would do the same.

I’m not afraid to admit I was more than a little nervous about it. My new home group wasn’t a huggy bunch. But I called people by name and hugged them and, to my surprise and delight, they responded warmly. Before long, they were hugging me.

Each time service commitments came up, I picked something different. Before long, the group representative was asking my opinion about things. I realized I finally felt a part of things. Each Monday night, I walked in and felt welcome by people who really did seem to care about me.

Of course, faith played a part. As I started to fill up that God-sized whole with my higher power and stopped trying to fill it with another person, I naturally lost interest in selfish things, just as the Big Book promised. I became interested in other people. I sought out the newcomers. I tried to be useful. Like everything else, that new attitude has bled into the rest of my life, and what a difference it’s made.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Worshiping (Near) the Porcelain Throne

I have an image of people all over the world, on their knees, in the… bathroom.

Before I joined Al-Anon, I never had any idea how much worship takes place there, but it seems to be prevalent. A near epidemic.

The first person I ever heard talk about praying in the bathroom was my sponsor. She has two children and a husband in her home, and sometimes a sick mother. So there’s very little privacy. She said it’s the only place she can be alone and close the door.

Her prayer partner calls her every morning at 6 a.m. and she goes to the bathroom and drops to her knees.

Since she told me that, it seems like I’ve heard a million variations on that theme. Well, at least several.

Usually, I hear that in an open AA meeting. In a time of crisis, at work, in a bar, the speaker heads for the bathroom and falls to their knees.

I believe in praying on my knees. It’s a gesture of humility. In fact the whole idea of prayer is a gesture of humility. It is an admission that there is a God and that it is not me.

I confess that I, too, have begun praying in the bathroom. Not at home. There, I like to pray at the edge of a bed. But when I help out at our family owned business. I’ve become accustomed to a short, lunchtime prayer break and it avoids the possibility of interruption and awkward explanation.

It’s a manufacturing facility, so the bathroom is not nice. But it’s at least a one-hole affair, with little squares of carpet on the floor. And I know who uses it.

I’m still a little creeped out about the idea of resting my knees on the floor of a public bathroom in someplace like a bar. I think that’s a real act of faith.

Just saying.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Searching and Fearless

When my sponsor started working with me, she told me that recovery was a process of discovery and that sometimes there was pain involved, as old wounds were opened and examined, but there would also be healing and growth.

I believed her about the healing and growth. But not about the pain.

I had always believed in the examined life. I kept a journal. For several years, I had been in the process of writing a memoir. It was one of those things I felt compelled to do, though I didn’t know why. I wanted to write it urgently, but found it difficult to find the time. I kept getting stalled.

I looked forward to my fourth step, though I expected it to be mostly an exercise of putting down what I already knew. I thought I knew myself. I knew my strengths and I knew my weaknesses. I imagined my fourth step would be a matter of creating a kind of balance sheet and examining it.

I even tried it on my own, before I had a sponsor, but I didn’t know if what I had done was “right” or “finished” any more than I knew if I had actually “worked” steps 1, 2 and 3. I realized needed a sponsor.

Turns out, there are many ways to work a fourth step. As I read and heard about different methods, I wondered what my assignment would be. I had heard that some did it by writing about their lives. I thought how wonderful that would be. Then I got my assignment.

It was this: Write down all your memories and key moments. Write what happened and how you felt about it.

I couldn’t believe it. It was the assignment I had been waiting for someone to give me all my life. Now I not only had permission to write my life story. It was an assignment. If I wanted to progress through the steps, I had to do it.

But I had to start from the beginning. I couldn’t use anything I’d already done, and I had to write everything pen to paper. No computers.

So I set out to write my life story in earnest. As I wrote, it was like reliving my life. Miraculous things started to happen. People from my past started popping up unexpectedly, out of nowhere, at just the right time in my narrative journey.

I discovered holes in my memory. Big holes. I realized I had lost a whole year of my life in which I remembered virtually nothing. The people that came back into my life helped fill in the holes.

At one point it felt overwhelming. My 30-year high school reunion was also coming up. At meetings, people talked about living in the present, but I felt stuck in my past and mired in regret. I cried a lot. I wondered if I were going crazy. I thought, I came to Al-Anon to heal and I’m falling apart.

At the same time, wonderful things happened. I began my fourth step with huge resentments. Resentments against my mother, my father, my step-father, my former mother-in-law, my ex-husband… it was a long list. But when I wrote about key events, I saw them differently.

I began to realize I carried around a certain narrative of my life. My version of what happened. But as I wrote, I saw my part. I saw where I had been naïve. I understood some things for the first time.

I saw my father and my step-father, “real” alcoholics as defined by the Big Book, as very sick people struggling with their disease. I recognized my mother for the first time as an adult child of an alcoholic and an untreated Al-Anon, who was struggling just to save herself. In addition to the bad times, what came up were all the loving things they did. In short, I saw a group of people who were doing the best they could. Me included.

By the end, I realized I wasn’t mad at anyone. I felt I had carried these grudges under false pretenses. I could let them go. And I did.

In my line of sponsorship, we work a fourth step every year. So, having recently had my second birthday, I’ll soon be getting a new fourth-step assignment from my sponsor. This time, it will be an AA Big Book-style fourth step. People who have shared about doing their inventory both ways have told me that this method revealed some things their first inventory didn’t address.

This time, I’m going into it without expectation, only curiosity and openness about the new lessons the experience may teach me.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Smallest Meeting on Earth

There was only one inmate at our prison meeting last night. My partner and I officially outnumbered her.

This was only my second prison meeting, but my partner has attended this meeting for a year and a half and said that meeting has struggled with attendance the whole time. If things do not improve, she will cancel the meeting.

My partner, who is the Al-Anon prison volunteer coordinator, thought that maybe it would help to turn the program there over to the inmates. We wouldn't run the meetings. We would just attend. It would give them a feeling of ownership.

With that in mind, she put together a folder and presented it to the one inmate who was there last night. She told the inmate she was in charge.

My partner asked the inmate if she expected to be there for a while. The inmate shook her head no. She was getting released in June.

This may be the shortest volunteer assignment I've ever had.

I've always said my God has a sense of humor. I'm sure more will be revealed.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Home Keys

Someone asked me today if I knew what the letters F and J, and the number 5 have in common.

Automatically, I imagined where those letters fell on the keyboard. I could easily picture F and J. They were located where I’d put my index fingers on the keyboard to prepare to type or to rest.

The five would be approximately two rows above my left index finger, though it did not feel as familiar as F and J. I never felt as proficient with numbers. I can touch-type well enough, but numbers still make me want to look.

I didn’t come up with the answer, but I was on the right track. F, J and the number five, all have a little raised bump on the key. The little bumps anchor the home keys. Those are the keys along the center row that a typist uses to get his or her bearings.

Once you learn to type by touch, the home keys are centering. They tell you where you are. You can type in pitch blackness, as long as you know where the home keys are. But if you somehow got off base, your typing would look like some sort of code. It would be unintelligible.

The first typing class I ever took was the summer between junior high and high school. It was the first year I was allowed to stay home. My mom worked during the day, so every summer of my life up until that point I attended YMCA day camp. So this year marked a rite of passage.

But even though my mom had deemed that I was responsible enough to be home alone, she didn’t want me to hang around the house all summer. Hence summer school. I took two classes: marching band and typing.

Marching band was held at 7:30 in the morning. Typing directly afterward. I can still picture the room, with a green chalkboard, polished oak floors and those classroom windows that opened from a hinge along the bottom. The tall windows had to be opened with a long pole.

Being summer the windows were always open. It was still morning, so the sun filtered in through the trees outside with that soft light that holds the promise of the day. It was warm, by then, but not too hot, and I could hear cars pass by on the street outside.

The classroom was set up with rows of typewriters, all manual. I sat near the back of the room, half-way to the windows. The teacher’s typewriter stood on a stand at the front of the class, where she would demonstrate the rhythm of whatever we were practicing. How our typing should sound. Along with the sound, there was a way that typing should feel.

I tried hard at typing, even practicing at home. But I had trouble. My strokes were anything but rhythmic. My fingers never seemed to go where I wanted them to. I had trouble remembering where the keys were. I made a lot of mistakes.

One day, a film crew visited our class. I don’t remember what it was about, whether it was a news piece on summer school or a documentary. The crew walked up and down the rows, pausing at each student. I don’t know whether they were recording video or just sound. But I do remember how scared I felt when they stopped beside me.

I plodded along at first, my heart beating more loudly in my ears as the seconds ticked by. The crew didn’t seem to be moving along. I started to panic. I was aware of how unrhythmic my typing sounded. I kept hitting two keys at once, jamming up the keyboard. My face grew hot.

I couldn’t bear to look at the page. I was sure it was riddled with errors. My hands began to shake. I decided to fake it. I started typing quickly and rhythmically, hitting the letters in no particular sequence. It might not make any sense, but it sounded better. I could only hope that there was no video. Then the crew moved on to the next student and I practically melted in a puddle on the floor.

I took several more typing classes, but typing was always a challenge for me. Ironically, my first job out of high school was as a secretary.

I was hired as a favor to my mom. It was a done deal, only I performed so poorly on my typing test, that the human resources representative left the room to make a phone call—no doubt to my future employers to ask if they were serious. She returned a few minutes later and gave me another chance. Even then, I barely squeaked by at 40 words per minute, with three mistakes. Remedial by any professional standard.

But over the years, I have become more proficient. It’s easier on the computer. I still make mistakes, but they are correctly more easily, and without the impossible-to-disguise evidence of Liquid Paper, correct-o-type or eraser smudges.

But more than anything, I’ve truly become familiar with the keyboard. I place my fingers on the home keys as naturally as I take a breath. It’s been a matter of years of experience, doing the same things over and over. It’s become second nature.

I couldn’t help thinking about this during the discussion of the home keys, and how like recovery it is. It’s awkward at first. When I’m under pressure, I am tempted to go off in a flurry of activity that—while it might sound good to someone who doesn’t have video—makes absolutely no sense to anyone who has eyes.

But today when I get flustered, I can always stop and put my fingers back on the home keys. In recovery, for me, they are the fist three steps. To paraphrase: I am powerless; I can’t do it but my Higher Power can; I think I’ll let Him.

They have become my touchstones. These days, I can even find them in the dark.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Compass to Guide Me

The other night, over dinner with another couple, the topic of foreclosures came up. Specifically, the latest trend: that people who are underwater but not in financial distress are walking away from their homes.

I had just had a conversation about this that morning. A trusted spiritual adviser confessed he didn’t get it. How people could sign a contract, then decide not to live up to it. People were fickle, he concluded. When things were good, everyone jumped on the bandwagon. But when things went south, they jumped ship and tried to distance themselves from commitments they made. I had agreed wholeheartedly.

That exchange was still fresh in my mind, so I said, “I know. I don’t get that.”

I was surprised when the husband of the other couple defended the practice. He called it “strategic foreclosure.” He asked with all the shenanigans the banks were getting away with, why I wouldn’t do it.

“Why would what the banks do have any bearing on my decision to pay my mortgage?” I asked.

Our friend went on to say that there are experts who advocate walking away as the smartest financial decision. The ding on a person’s credit wasn’t all that bad these days because there were so many people who had foreclosures, he said. He argued that the value of my own home was affected by what the banks did. He wanted me to feel as outraged as he did.

“Why should we feel bad about sticking it to the banks?” he wanted to know.

What I wanted to say is that dishonesty and manipulation work against my recovery. I wanted to tell him about the exercise with the folded paper. How if I put what someone had done to me on one side, and what I had done as a result on the other, then tore the paper in half and threw away the first side, what I would be left with is what I had done. I thought about the amends I would have to make.

I didn’t say this. From my experience, it doesn’t help to talk recovery to someone who doesn’t want what I have.

I agreed that what happened affected everyone, us included. But I pointed out that we paid a fair market price for our house and got a good rate on a 30-year fixed loan. No one took advantage of us. The market had changed, yes. And that sucked. But that was reality. I accepted that.

In truth, we’d like to sell our house and live up at the land. But that just wasn’t in the cards for us right now. I felt fortunate that we weren’t among those who need to sell.

My husband threw in the fact that people walking away from their mortgages would just make the situation worse for everyone.

The more we talked, the more agitated our friend got.

I shrugged and said it just wasn’t something we were going to do. My husband asked about dessert. With relief, we moved on to other topics.

A few days later I saw the wife. She was in bad humor. I asked what was wrong.

“I just have some decisions to make,” she said.

I said I was sorry and to let me know if there was anything I could do.

Eventually, it came out. She said that she and her husband had their house appraised and it was worth half of what they paid for it. I took from it that they were considering a “strategic foreclosure.”

“Why is that a problem for you?” I asked.

She looked at me as if I were crazy. “It will never be worth what I owe,” she said.

“Of course it will,” I said.

“Not as soon as people are saying,” she answered. “Not for years.”

I admitted that the situation sucked for people who had to sell their houses in this market, and I was grateful I wasn’t one of them.

“Are you planning to leave?” I asked.

She just looked at me glumly. I dropped it.

Then her phone rang. I heard her say that their massage therapist was coming over that night. She said they got in-home massages once a month, which cost them no more than they would pay for a dinner out and a nice bottle of wine.

Listening to her, I began feeling judgmental and self-righteous. And I realized that works against my recovery, every bit as much as dishonesty and manipulation.

So I decided to think about this couple differently. Instead, of judging them, I decided to view them with compassion. I decided to feel compassion for their distress they felt and for the consequences they may face for the choices that were theirs to make.

At the same time, I felt grateful that I have a program that teaches me to accept what is. That my husband and I can still afford to pay our mortgage and choose to do so. That we will not have to sustain a diminished credit rating or make an amends in the future. I felt grateful for a home I love, regardless of whether any appraiser sees the value in it or not.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Happy Birthday to ME!

Two years ago, I walked into my first Al-Anon meeting.

The night before, I had returned from my last "rescue." My daughter had found her way into the rooms of a different fellowship and recognized that her life had become unmanageable.

I spent a week taking her to different meetings. People would ask me if I was the mother. They would ask me if I was in recovery.

"Oh, no," I'd say. "I'm just here to support my daughter."

I was horrified to think they would think I needed recovery. I didn't think I had anything to recover from. I wasn't the one with the problem.

They smiled and nodded. They were very kind.

But I wanted what they had.

I remember feeling a little scared the first meeting I attended with my daughter. I watched these people file into the room. They looked hard and life worn to me. But the most amazing things came out of their mouths. I could hardly wait to go to the next meeting.

It was my daughter's sponsor who gently suggested that I try Al-Anon.

"You won't have to attend your daughter's meetings," she said. "You can work your own program."

I got off the plane and downloaded a meeting list. The next day I attended my first meeting. I still attend that meeting. It's one of my committed meetings and the one at which I will celebrate my birthday later this month.

My daughter never attended another meeting on her own.

But when I visit or when she visits me, I still attend Al-Anon meetings. She always chooses to come along.

The last time she was here, she told me she thinks I'm inspiring.

Who knows? Maybe one day she'll want what I have.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

If You Don't Believe I'm Right, Just Ask Me

I want to be right all the time. It’s a well-known, well-documented symptom of my disease, closely related to trying to control.

I know this about myself. I accept it. Most of the time, I can see what I’m doing and let it go.

But not yesterday.

Some time ago, I mentioned to my husband that I heard a reference to the movie Hoosiers as it related to Butler University. My husband thought it was odd, because Hoosiers was about a high school basketball team.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “There’s more than one classic basketball movie, I said. Maybe you’re confusing them.”

“No,” he said. He was adamant. I thought he must be wrong, but I let it go.

Then yesterday morning, I heard another reference on NPR. I knew I was on dangerous ground but I couldn’t help myself. I brought it up again.

“I know,” my husband said. “I read something similar in the paper yesterday. I can’t believe how all these news organizations keep getting it wrong.”

I bit my tongue. For a moment. I couldn’t seem to help myself.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Yes,” he answered adamantly. By now I was sure he was wrong. All those journalists couldn’t keep misstating such a basic fact. I’m a journalist. I know how it works. Not that I think we never make mistakes. We do. But there are always legions of people to point that out. Corrections are run. The record is set straight. Mistakes in a high-profile story just don’t keep getting reprinted.

“Let’s check it out,” I said.

This is meant to sound something like scientific inquiry. But really it’s a cover line for me saying: “Let me show you how wrong you are.” It fools no one. Not even me. Certainly not my husband.

So I Googled Hoosiers. Those of you who already know the answer to this question are undoubtedly laughing your butts off right now.

I was.... Wwwwrrrrong.

There. I got it out. I was wrong. Phew.

That’s right. Hoosiers is about a high school basketball team. The connection is they won their state championship at the gym where Butler plays and the movie recreation was filmed there.

So there you have it. My demons are still with me. Only today I can laugh about it.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


I didn’t have a good day yesterday. I was crabby. People got on my nerves. I was anything but serene.

My husband also seemed to be generally irritated. But he had a good excuse. He cut off part of his thumb off on Saturday. Not only was he in pain, he spent the day trying to negotiate the insurance companies and doctors’ offices trying to get a referral to a hand surgeon. He had reason to be grouchy.

Not me. I was baffled. I was prayed up, having devoted extra time to prayer and meditation in the past few weeks. I had been attending meetings, calling my sponsor, doing my daily readings, all the things I had been taught. Just yesterday, I was thinking how wonderfully calm I felt. What happened?

The answer finally occurred to me when I got home and went upstairs to meditate. I could hardly wait. I got comfortable, closed my eyes--then it hit me.

I was tired. I was tired and I failed to H.A.L.T.

Both managers at our family-owned business are out for a few days. One on a planned vacation, the other to attend a family funeral. So my husband and I had to go in earlier and leave later than usual.

I went to bed an hour early to get up an hour early. Only I couldn’t get to sleep, and I slept badly all night.

So I started out tired. I didn't want to be up early. I didn't want to be there at all. What I really wanted to spend time doing was work on some story assignments. Since we would be at the shop longer than usual, I packed a bag with my writing work.

Then I grimly went about everything that had to be done. I was on a mission, determined to do everything that needed to get done for the company as quickly as possible so I could do what I wanted to do. And I wouldn’t rest until I did it.

I didn’t take breaks. I took only enough time to eat a rushed lunch before getting back to work.

It was old behavior.

Only because I was tired, because I refused to take any breaks, I made mistakes. The work took me an hour longer than it should have. By the end of the day I was frustrated and exhausted. I never got to do the work I wanted to do.

I couldn’t wait to get home to meditate, knowing the relief I would feel. Almost as soon as I closed my eyes, it hit me. I needed to H.A.L.T.

H.A.L.T. tells me that when I feel agitated, I should stop and ask myself if I am Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired, and then remedy the situation.

I couldn’t take a nap, but I could have taken it easy. I should have taken the breaks that all the other staff are required to take. Ten minutes spent in the car in prayer and meditation would have done myself wonders, as it did when I finally got home.

I did not spend the day in acceptance. But thinking about the work I wanted to be doing instead of the work I was doing, I robbed myself of any joy that was in it. It was an inside job.

Last night, I went to a meeting. The topic? H.A.L.T.! The facilitator chose a reading from yesterday’s Hope for Today. I had read the same reading that morning. It was exactly what I needed to get through the day. God had given me exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it. Only I wasn’t present enough to receive the message.

Sometimes, God has to hit me over the head before I can hear him.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Our Butterfly Story

Easter Sunday has special significance to me. In just a few days I will celebrate my Al-Anon birthday, when I mark the day I found my way into this program.

That my Al-Anon birthday falls in this season of rebirth and resurrection is not lost on me. Nothing in my life has changed me more.

That said, I can find no better story to tell on Easter than that of "Our Butterfly Story."

The following excerpt comes from a piece I read aloud with my sponsor at the completion of my fifth step. After I read it, my sponsor presented me with a gift of a butterfly necklace to symbolize my spiritual rebirth. I wear it today as a reminder.

Our Butterfly Story

"... We in AA and Al-Anon have much in common with the butterfly, and many use it as a symbol. There are many reasons for this. Long before the time of Christ, the butterfly was a symbol of resurrection and eternal life. Most of us feel that in the program, we have found "new life" indeed... and the butterfly is a visual aid to remind us tat we no longer think, feel or act as we once did. We were trapped in a cocoon of darkness, and have wrestled our way into the sunlight. The butterfly denotes both gaiety and happiness--chasing after them is fruitless for like the butterfly, they flit away. But if we become still and "at one' with God, sometimes one will light upon our shoulder...

"...The butterfly is on earth a very short time, but it spends its time flying from flower to flower, taking pollen from one and giving it to the other, making sure that each shares life with the other... and seeking to make the world more beautiful after it is gone than when it came... that's what you and I are trying to do..."

May your heart be transformed, and your life filled with beauty.

Happy Easter.