Tag Archives: Recovery

Need Something Lost? I’ve found your answer.

11 Nov


Ever since my daughter Maria was little, she has had the perfect knack for losing things. Keys, parts, phones, money, hearing aids, the other shoe, clothes, documents, you name it, Maria has lost them. And sometimes never to be found.

One year, in autumn, she lost my keys. We searched high and low, tore the house apart. Never found them. In December, I was removing the pumpkin from the porch, getting ready to replace it with Christmas decorations, guess what we found behind the little orange sphere? My keys. What were they doing THERE??? One of life’s mysteries, I guess.
Yesterday she was in the kitchen, looking for the honey.

“It’s over there, behind the burners on the stove, next to the olive oil,” I told her. She retrieved the jar and slathered some honey on her cornbread.
Last night I wanted the honey for my tea. I looked behind the burners on the stove, the kitchen table, the counters. Not there. I searched the cabinet where the spices are kept. No honey. I looked in the pantry. Nope. The fridge? Could she have? Honey doesn’t go in the fridge, I’ve told her over and over, because it crystallizes and hardens…nah, not there either, good.

I checked where the pots and pans go, the plates and cups, even checked the dishwasher. You never know. I looked in the living room. Not a trace. Her bedroom? Fear gripped me as I thought of venturing into her room. Cautiously, I opened the door (lest any of the debris leak out), poked my head in, and a quick visual search from the doorway revealed no honey jar there either. Whew. I exhaled deeply and shut the door. The bathroom? Could she have???? I won’t tell you what I did find there, but thankfully honey was not on that gross list.
I decided then that God only wanted me to put lemon in my tea last night, no honey, dear. This lesson has been learned over the years, that my attachment to things need not be more important than my relationship with my daughter. When she was very young (and still sometimes today), I would freak out. “Where did she put that? How could she have lost it? What happened? What the hell is going on?”

There were times when I yelled and screamed and blamed Maria for her carelessness and forgetfulness. Folly of course, because she probably inherited these traits from me. The stress I caused was unbearable sometimes. Over the years I learned that it did no good to yell at Maria, on the contrary, it was counterproductive in the extreme. The anxiety of the loss of something would transfer to her developing psyche and the damage was evident. The forgetfulness increased. The losses mounted. Unhappiness and chaos reigned. Fortunately I sought counsel from people I trust. I realized that things can be replaced, but my children’s well-being could be irreparably damaged by a mother on the warpath. I am learning to let go of my attachment to things, and instead value the quality of how I nurture my children. I aim for progress, not perfection in this arena. But over the years, we’ve gotten better both at being organized and at letting go.

This morning Maria rifled through the kitchen looking for something to eat, and again asked,  “Mom, where is the honey?”

I reminded her that she was the last one to use our favorite sweetener, I had no idea where she could’ve stashed it, and my search had proven fruitless.
We were both in the kitchen laughing hysterically then. She’ll finish high school next year, and we’ve been examining career options. Hey, Maria could work for the Mafia, no, nothing illegal. What about the CIA? If they need something “Lost,” just hand it over to Maria, the world’s official “Hider.” She’ll hide it so well that even she can’t find it. They can torture her, won’t matter, because she CANNOT remember, it’s like it never happened. “Honey? What honey? We had honey? I like honey!” Just keep swimming, Maria.

Maria came into the kitchen as I was writing. She sauntered over to the refrigerator for water. And guess what? She found the honey, hiding behind her sister’s leftovers. Another day here.


Fear attracts

29 Aug

glass menagerieDid you ever read the play The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, or did you ever see the movie?

In the story, the mother, Amanda, has raised her two children without their father, who deserted the family when the children were young. The daughter, Laura, had polio as a child, and walks with a limp.  Laura is painfully shy and has dropped out of high school, then also dropped out of a secretarial school her mother encouraged her to enroll in. Laura spends her days tending to her collection of glass animals. The son, Tom, is a frustrated poet who works in a shoe factory to help support the family.

The mother has two great fears:

  1. Laura will grow up and become a spinster (an old, unmarried, lonely woman).
  2. Tom will leave them, just as his father did.

Because of her fears, the mother is full of anxiety and constantly berates her grown children. Because of the anxiety the mother projects on Laura, Laura becomes even more withdrawn and shy. Laura never leaves the house, preferring the company of her glass menagerie.

The mother nags Tom endlessly, asking him to find a suitor for his sister, to better himself, to work harder for the family. Tom brings home a male co-worker, but Laura hides in her room while the mother flirts with the guest. Finally Laura comes out of hiding, only to learn that the guest was someone she had a crush on in high school, and he is already engaged to another. The guest also breaks Laura’s favorite animal, her unicorn. Laura is emotionally demolished and retreats to her room.

The mother blames the whole thing on Tom. Tom should’ve known who the guest was, and that he was already engaged. Tom was innocent of these crimes. Eventually he can’t take it anymore, and he packs his stuff and leaves the household for good.

What I took away from this play: by focusing on her fears, the mother brought them into being. The things which she feared most, she caused to happen by her emotions and behaviors. The mother’s negative energy brought her fears to life.

The law of attraction is the name given to the maxim “like attracts like.” The law of attraction is used to sum up the idea that by focusing on positive or negative thoughts, a person brings positive or negative experiences into their life. In the play, the mother’s constant negativity brought the very things she feared to fruition.

My philosophy, eclectic at its core, is that I trust there is a benevolent Force in the Universe which is taking care of everything. I can let go of my fears and anxieties by confiding them to someone, bringing them to the light of day. That way I can discern my most of my fears are usually needless, often childish, and frequently not based in fact or reality.

I get reminded that “everything, everywhere, is already all right.” The earth is self-correcting. What is supposed to happen is what will happen. I can choose negativity and anxiety, or I can trust that my Higher Power has my back and positive adventures and gifts come my way. This has been true for me so far, and I trust it will continue to be so.


Everything I Know I Learned from Someone Else

19 Apr



You may have heard it said, “This program has taught me how to live.”  It got me thinking: What are the basic tenets by which I live? Where did they come from? Is it true I didn’t know how to live before I found recovery?

Someone said in a meeting: “In order to have self esteem I have to do esteem-able acts.”  I used to think I won the lottery if a clerk accidently gave me back too much change. Then I heard a cashier in a meeting share about how his drawer was short and his pay got docked. This opened my eyes.  I discovered dysfunctional finders-keepers-ism and latent larceny in plenty of my actions: sneaking into parking spots instead of waiting my turn, helping myself to stuff I convinced myself was “free,” taking more than my share, the list is endless. If I saw someone else doing the things I was doing, I would lose respect for them. That’s when I realized that when I behave badly, I lose esteem for me. So if I want to feel good about myself, I can’t be doing that stuff.

My friend reads the Course in Miracles all the time. I am fortunate to be one of the recipients of her knowledge. When there is a conflict with someone, she reminds me that it is probably the ego that feels threatened. She tells me “whoever is closest to God apologizes first.” Naturally my ego believes it’s the closest to God, pushing me into apology.

Other important lessons from the Course are: “Every relationship is an assignment from God,” and “Whatever is missing from a relationship is what I fail to bring to it,” and “If it’s good for one then it’s good for everyone.” These are vital when difficulty with others arises. When we ponder whether we should open our mouths and speak, we put our words to the following test: “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” Those words were passed on by Cynthia.

Spiritual truths are universal. Most people know that the Golden Rule—Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—is written in some form in different religions, from Christianity to Buddhism. (More here: Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

An old woman in an old TV movie passed this along: The police were setting up a stakeout from inside the woman’s home. They cautioned her that it was a dangerous operation and she would probably want to seek shelter in the back of the house. She shook her head, declaring, “Young man, it’s not the things I saw and did in my life that I regret, it’s the things I didn’t do and the things I didn’t see. I’m staying right here. I don’t want to miss this.” Don’t pass up opportunities that may only come once. The Latin term is Carpe Diem—Seize the day.

In my fourth treatment center, our counselor Chuck was speaking to the group. “You guys have addictive personalities. Why don’t you channel that into something worthwhile? Get addicted to eating healthy, to going regularly to the gym, to volunteering–something that will make you feel better instead of worse and have positive long-lasting effects.”

My friend Sam told me “We move in the direction of our most dominant thoughts.” Be aware of our thoughts because they are directly related to how we feel. If we think we are not having a good time, we probably aren’t. Be careful what we keep in our heads. If we concentrate on doom and gloom we are certain to find it. But if we look for reasons to be grateful, we are rewarded. As the Great Book says, “Seek & ye shall find.”

Important to our interpersonal relationships is the knowledge that Sandy O. imparted to me: “We teach people how to treat us.” Understanding that we are in control of whether and how we get along with others makes for healthier interactions. Lori J. added that with people we have an inner circle, an outer circle and a platform for people who are launching into or out of our lives. Not everyone is going to be our best friend, and we won’t get invited to all the events. Don’t take it personally.

In an episode of Law & Order, one of the characters was left standing at the altar. Her coworker assured her that “Rejection is protection.” She had to undergo the immediate pain of abandonment and betrayal which may have saved her from years of agony in the future.

I believe I mentioned before that Claudia taught me “Everything everywhere is already all right.” Because as my morning meditation reminded me, we can view our problems as opportunities for growth and change instead of as reasons for feeling defeated. We use the tools we were taught in the steps: 1. Identify the problem. 2. Believe that a way out is available. 3. Seek guidance and implement the solution. 4. Take stock of our situation and look for our part in it. 5. Talk it over with someone we can trust. 6. Get ready to 7. Ask God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. 8. Decide where we need to be accountable and 9. Make reparations where necessary. And the rest of the steps teach us to not rest on our laurels, keep in touch with God, and spread the word by practicing the principles we’ve learned.

Guiding values can come from many sources. We keep our eyes, ears and our mind open and life-affirming philosophies can take the place of dysfunctional ones.

Thanks for reading.


The Twelve Steps: A Primer

18 Apr

12-steps-keep-it-simpleMany people who are not ensconced in Twelve Step recovery have no idea about what the Twelve Steps are. Neither do many people in recovery understand the Twelve Steps. What I offer here is my condensed interpretation of the Twelve Steps, based on more than 25 years of being in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. To be clear, I’ve been working on my recovery for that long, but in twelve-step, we count continuous sobriety, of which I have 11 years in a row, with no alcohol, drugs, nicotine or nitrous oxide. This is not to say that I am an expert, but as it says elsewhere, the steps are a design for living that works.

To begin to solve any problem we initially must identify the problem. So it is with alcoholism. The first step states, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.” Obviously this is from Alcoholics Anonymous. Other programs have substituted various words or phrases for the word “alcohol.” Narcotics Anonymous uses “our addiction,” Overeaters Anonymous replaces “alcohol” with “food;” some fellowships just admit to a general powerlessness, i.e. “we admitted we were powerless” without giving an object. This step says, “I can no longer control my substance use or addictive behavior,” or, “The negative consequences of my using have become greater than the benefits I receive.”

Notice two things here. The steps are plural and written in the past tense. This says: You do not have to do this alone, We took these steps together; and We have recovered, you can too; here is how we achieved this miracle.

The second step reads “We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” After admitting we had a problem, we now acknowledge that we had actually been “insane” as regards our substance, behavior and  thinking, and we cannot fix ourselves. We need help. People often seek assistance from others who have expertise. (Think of Home Depot and Fry’s Electronics. They hire knowledgeable people who help customers select the right products.) It was pointed out to me early on that a “power greater than myself” could just be you and me together.

We go much further in the third step when we say “We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” Many people balk here. We may be haunted by a bad experience with God or religion or believe that God has turned His back on us, or are already damned for eternity due to our actions. We may have no knowledge of God, or have proven to ourselves that God doesn’t exist. We have protested, “How can I turn my life over? I’ll lose myself in the process.” A newcomer is usually assured by the veteran that these thoughts are not new, and all that is needed is willingness to make a decision, and try something different. It may be pointed out if we were so proficient at running our own lives, would we now need the help of the fellowship?

We are advised to choose a God of our own understanding, utilizing the basic criteria that our God be “loving, caring and greater than ourselves.” We are reminded that GOD can be an acronym for Good Orderly Direction, and are often advised to use the group or the fellowship as our Higher Power, or to borrow a God from someone else. The action involved here is that we decide to turn our will over. This is accomplished by practicing the remainder of the steps.

The fourth step strikes fear into the hearts of many. “We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Not many addicted people are willing to delve into how they’ve made a mess of their lives, which means we actually have to take responsibility for ourselves. Sometimes we’ve been victimized so brutally that we fear looking back would re-traumatize us. There are books and workshops and programs and weekend conferences devoted to explaining and conducting the fourth step.

Making allowance for the mistakes of others by acknowledging that they, like us, may be spiritually sick sows the seeds of compassion and forgiveness during the process of the fourth step. We learn to look for our part in past situations.  We may come to forgive ourselves. We look at the past with an open mind. Where have we been selfish, self-seeking, dishonest and afraid? We are advised to “uncover, discover and discard” those behaviors and ideas that are no longer beneficial to us. For example, people who have been victimized often view the world as harmful and view other people with suspicion. This puts others on the defensive and does not allow for healthy discourse. By realizing that we engage this way, we can decide whether to continue.

In the fifth step, “We admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” It has become common practice for recovering people to share our fourth steps with our sponsor, someone chosen to help us through the steps. Reviewing our past and sharing our secrets relieves us of the shame and guilt that entombs us. Through this process, our sponsors help us define our character defects and moral shortcomings which we become ready to have God remove in the sixth step and humbly ask Him to do so in the seventh step.

This is followed by Step Eight: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all;” and Nine: “Made direct amends to such people whenever possible except when to do so would injure them or others.” These actions encourage us to take responsibility for ourselves and exercise compassion toward others.

Steps Ten, Eleven and Twelve are known as the maintenance steps. “We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.” “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.”  “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and practice these principles in all our affairs.”

In the textbook which outlines the program of recovery known as the Big Book of AA, it stresses that the Twelve Steps are a program of progress, not perfection. The aim of the steps is for us to learn to live in accordance with our personal values and to cultivate a relationship with a God of our understanding.


Is “You Are What You Eat” Really True?

18 Apr

healthy food

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that  26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. This doesn’t take into account the number of people with substance use disorders. Even though SUDs are in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, they are not listed on the NIH website as mental disorders. At the same time, people the world around are eating more processed and genetically-altered foods, laden with preservatives, pesticides and unnecessary additives like sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.

Allow me to relate some personal experience. When my daughter was 14 years old, she began exhibiting a number of symptoms: intolerable irritability, inability to cope with stress, quick to anger, easily frustrated, extreme mood swings, poor grades, memory problems, bouts of crying and sadness and irregular menstrual cycles. At first I attributed her symptoms to hormones. Some school officials were murmuring “Attention-deficit” and “Hyperactivity Disorder,” and recommended medicating my child. I refused, but when the problems continued to worsen I sought medical attention. Fortunately, I had an awesome osteopathic family doctor. He referred us to a nutritionist where several tests were performed using blood and spit that was collected.

The diagnosis: she suffered from what they termed  “leaky gut syndrome.” They explained in her gut, an imbalance of the normal bacteria caused the mucus lining of the small intestine to develop tiny holes, and toxins from food were leaking into her bloodstream, creating the havoc of symptoms I described above. They prescribed a strict diet with no sugar, gluten or dairy products for several months, and placed her on probiotic supplements to help even out the bacteria and yeast in her system. One yeast that was particularly out of balance was Candida. Within a few days of removing the sugar, gluten and dairy from her menu, she displayed a remarkable transformation: my happy-go-lucky daughter returned, and all of her symptoms abated.

In my daughter’s case, I am fortunate that her physician didn’t prescribe psychotropic medication. There are many problems that people suffer from today which may be caused by something in their diet. With all the processed food that is the staple of American eating habits, and the proliferation of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), it may be that sensitivities to these kinds of “food” are causing many of the symptoms and disorders that we are seeing.

What mother of a toddler can’t vouch for the observable behavioral differences after their offspring indulge in sugar-laden treats? Salesmen can confirm that people are more amenable to making a purchase on a full stomach. Alcohol and drug treatment centers urge clients to beware of being too hungry, angry, lonely or tired. Yet these same treatment centers dispense nutritionally-deficit coffee and donuts to their clients. Maybe that’s one way to keep patients coming back for more treatment.

I am not so obtuse as to claim all mental illness is caused by poor diets, or too much junk food. I am suggesting that we take a closer look into the link between people’s behaviors and what they are eating. Some of the symptoms that may mask as mental illness like fatigue, mood swings, nervousness, anger issues, migraines and eating disorders may in fact be caused by food allergies or sensitivities.

The old saying “we are what we eat” contains truth. Our bodies are designed to extract nutrients from our food. But processed food is laden with preservatives and derivatives of food in  forms that are toxic to sensitive people. Are not many alcoholics and addicts  sensitive people?

And what about the long-term effects of GMOs on our bodies? There are processes that take place at the molecular level which are being disturbed by the introduction of genetically-altered foods. The processed food industry opposes measures attempting to require labeling of their products. If they are not worried about the consequences of these foods, why not let the public know what they are consuming?

At least one recent study has shown that depression may be a neuropsychiatric manifestation of a chronic inflammation in the intestinal tract.  And Julia Ross, a clinical psychologist and author of The Mood Cure states that modern dieting can bring about a condition where neurotransmitters (serotonin, catecholamines, GABA and endorphins) are not being produced by the brain because of the absence of certain amino acids in the diet.  When these neurotransmitters are low, Ross says, some people become irritable or quick to anger, even becoming violent, which Ross believes leads to many incidents of domestic violence. Other people exhibit signs of depression, becoming apathetic or having no energy, suffering shakiness, teariness and in general an increased inability to deal with stress. Still others are overwhelmed by anxiety.

My advice? Check with a physician or a nutritionist and examine what we are eating. There are dozens of website devoted to this subject. GreenMedInfo.com and The World’s Healthiest Foods (www.wh.org) are two that are recommended.


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