Recently in recovery Category


Part of recovery is learning to be grateful for the good things in your Thanksgiving isn't the only time of year that I make gratitude lists, or give thanks for my many blessings.

Today I'm enjoying a blissfully luxurious day alone at home, curled up on the couch with my new (and working!) MacBook Pro, alternating between online amusements and the lure of the HD channels on our TV. I've come across two things that have really touched me, so I'm sharing them both here with my readers.

The first, which many of you have probably already seen, is the "last lecture" by CMU Professor Randy Pausch. It's extraordinary. I've watched it four times, and every time it makes me laugh, and cry, and remember what's important.

The second is much lighterweight, but it made me happy. It's an MTV Unplugged performance by Bon Jovi, with two of the members of All American Rejects, singing "It's My Life." Better on a 46" HDTV, obviously, but still a beautiful rendition.

Enjoy. And may your Thanksgiving holiday be filled with food, fun, and gratitude. Mine will.

a prayer

I'm not particularly religious, as anyone who knows me is aware.

But I love this prayer, attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

For too much of my life, I believed that where there was injury, it was my job to sow retribution. One of the gifts that recovery has brought into my life is a recognition of how much damage that approach does--to me as well as those around me.

unconditional love

I'm not a big fan of self-help books. The few I've read have felt like bad mail-order medicine--tastes awful, costs too much, and never works the way it's supposed to. So I've resisted blogging for the past week or two because I've found my life substantially changed by a book that you can in fact buy in the self-help section of a bookstore. While I'm not concerned about the book's labels, I suspected that anything I wrote about it would be perceived negatively by my fairly intellectual audience.

But one of the things that's starting to change inside of me is my concern about what other people think. I'm discovering how much of an (often unconscious) motivation it has been for my actions, and how crippling that is. I can say without hesitation that as a result of this book, I'm a happier, more centered person today than I have ever been--and that despite some significant personal turmoil over the past few months.

The book is Loving What Is, by Byron Katie. It was recommended to me by my dear friend Linda Stone, someone whom I trust and respect, or I might never have looked at it. I started with the audio version--I have an Audible subscription, and here in Seattle I have a significant (at least an hour a day) commute. What did I have to lose by listening to it? It's not like the time would otherwise be spent doing something useful. But before I'd gotten halfway through the recording, I knew I wanted the book, as well. And before I was finished with the first book, I knew I wanted the second one, too.

How has it changed me? Slowly but surely it's helping let go of my unrealistic expectations of the people around me and my unrelenting need to control them, and it's forcing my attention back on myself and my thoughts. It's like a crash course in the first step of a twelve-step program. Actually, it's a crash course in all twelve steps, with a non-denominational spirituality that works well for my world view, and an astonishingly simple (but not necessarily easy) approach to dismantling your own thought process and then putting it back together in better working order.

And because I've changed my approach to my own thoughts, I'm finding that I'm less angry, less frustrated, less annoyed, less unhappy. And I'm more centered, lighter, and happier. I laugh more. I cry less. I don't yell and snap at the people around me. I don't fume silently because of other people's actions (or inactions).

How long will this last? I don't know. But it doesn't feel temporary. It's not like a diet, or an exercise program. I don't think I can stop thinking in this new way now that I've started. It feels so right, so unforced, so clear a path. It feels as though I'd have to work much harder to stop feeling this way than to continue. One of the things that I particularly like about Katie's approach is that it is so much in harmony with other spiritual ideas that have resonated with me--from the 12 steps of Al-Anon to the concepts of attachment and detachment in buddhism to the simple admonition that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

I have no idea if this book will help anyone else around me, and I'm finally reaching the point where I realize it simply isn't my job to push other people onto a path (although, like Linda, I can see the value in at least pointing out that a path exists). I suspect that it's much like attending a 12-step program--if you try to do it before your mind is ready, it won't do you any good at all. But if you come to it when you're in a place like I was--frightened, angry, lost--perhaps it can help you, like me, find your way out of that, and into a place where you can love yourself, and the world around you, unconditionally.

on forgiveness

I'm always happy when my aggregtor tells me there's something new on Ftrain. Paul Ford doesn't write in his blog often, but when he does it's always worth reading.

His essay yesterday, on the occasion of his 31st birthday (happy birthday, Paul...), struck some responsive chords in me. I've been thinking a lot lately about sins and confessions, retribution and forgiveness. It's worth reading the whole piece, as always, but these last two paragraphs are the ones that affected me the most:

The other day an ex-girlfriend called me up after a couple of years of radio silence. She said, I wanted to apologize for how I treated you. I was so angry. I smashed a plate after we broke up. I never broke a dish before or since. And I said, well, you did treat me badly. And you were hard on plates. But I don't feel any anger. People don't mean to do that shit, but they do. I've done it too.

I felt a little righteous, because while it does stroke the smug part of the brain to hear that you were wonderful and she was wrong. But I didn't feel that way for long, because righteousness is not much in comparison to the feeling of resolution that came because I knew that I had given another person some peace. I've been forgiven for things as well, some pretty dreadful, violent things, and it's hard to be forgiven but there is nothing like it; once, after being forgiven, I walked out into the sunlight and the world was stripped of predators, and I no longer was waiting for retribution from mystical forces I do not believe in. So hell, I said, take all the forgiveness you need. We hung up and I thought for a while, and told my girlfriend about that phone call because telling everything is a way to keep the lines crossed, tangled, and braided. She understood, and the focusing ring on the inner camera turned a little more, the picture resolved, a little sharper. Which is what I want for year 31: more resolution.

turning it over

The third step in 12-step recovery programs is "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of god as we understood him." I'm not a religious person, and the wording of this step has always been a little difficult for me. Similarly, the Al-Anon slogan "Let go and let God" has been tough for me as well.

Today, however, has been a good day for remembering that even if I don't know exactly what I'm turning things over to, the idea of taking something difficult to manage and "turning it over" is worth trying.

This morning, we got a call from the person to whom we thought we'd be renting our house while we were on sabbatical. She had decided to rent a place downtown, instead--which plunged me into a moment (well, more than a moment) of panic. I spent most of the morning feeling overwhelmed by everything that had to be done in the next three weeks: sort all of our belongings into store/ship/sell/toss categories, box up the first two categories, dispose of the second two categories, move all of our furniture into storage (either off-site or in the basement), sell my car and buy a new one for the week-long drive to Seattle, get to all of the various doctor and dentist appointments we're cramming in before we leave, etc, etc etc.

Gerald finally said to me around lunchtime, as I was sorting through car specifications, posting our house to every online listing site I could find, and hovering dangerously close to my emotional redline zone, "just turn it over."

My first thought was "Don't be ridiculous. If I let go of all this, it won't get done, and we'll be even worse off." But then I realized he was right. I needed to let go of trying to control everything, and trust that if I did the next right thing, the rest would follow.

The first thing I did was think through worst case scenarios. What if we didn't rent the house? Well, we'd be okay. We'd probably have enough money between RIT and Microsoft to cover the expense. And we could always ask a realtor to find a tenant for us--we'd get less money, probably, but it would be something. So I posted the house online, and let it go...either it would rent or it wouldn't, and freaking out about it wasn't going to change the outcome.

Then I thought some more about the car issue. The motivation for getting the new car right away was to avoid driving across the country in an old car that might break down. But...what if I sold the car before I left town, and then flew to Seattle with Alex instead? I looked again at the benefits Microsoft had offered, and realized that one of them was a month-long car rental. So, we could fly to Seattle, pick up a rental car at the airport, drive to the corporate housing, and have a month to squirrel away cash for a bigger down payment on a car. I emailed the relocation support person to let her know our plans had changed, and another big task dropped off my "must do this week" list.

After dinner, I went to my Monday night Al-Anon meeting, and talked about how good it had felt to "turn it over" today. Walking out, I felt really good about where I was. When I walked back into the house at 10pm, Gerald was on the phone with someone, laughing and talking. I figured it was a friend or family member, until he said "Well, my wife just walked in--why don't you talk to her and she can tell you more about the house."

It was a woman from LA who'd seen my post on the U of R off campus housing site. Her husband is doing a one-year residency at Strong Hospital starting in August, and they don't want to move all their furniture across the country. They were hoping to find a furnished house that could accommodate them, their two small kids, and her mother--and that had a good school district for her older child, who's about to start kindergarten. It's a perfect match--for them and for us.

So tonight, my IM status message is "an attitude of gratitude." Which is, I know, a platitude. And I'm okay with that.


In the suggested opening for Al-Anon meetings, there's a line that says "In Al-Anon we learned to keep the focus on ourselves." That's a surprisingly hard thing to do--particularly for those of us who've lived with alcoholism.

This past weekend, one of the daily readings from Al-Anon's Courage to Change book was on that topic, and I've decided to copy it and put it up above my desk where I can read it and be reminded of its wisdom every day. And while it's copyrighted material, I think I'm well within the boundaries of Fair Use if I post just that day's reading here.

exorcise yourself

One of the nice things about being on the quarter system is that right now, when all my friends at semester schools are tearing their hair out with end-of-term stresses, I'm cruising through the first two weeks of a new quarter. That means I've got time to do catch up on some reading--and some blog wandering, which is always fun. Dori Smith pointed me to 43 Folders, a blog on time management and productivity that I'd heard good things about. They, in turn, sent me to Bloodletters - Hack Yourself, which is an excellent motivational essay. Here's an excerpt:

Find the demon.

Do you know what I'm talking about? It's the little voice in the back of your head that's always whispering, "You can't." You know the demon. You may think you hate the demon, but you don't. You love it. You let it own you. You do everything it says. Everytime there's something you want, you consult the demon first, to see if it will say, "You can't have that."

What you don't realize is that your demon doesn't know anything. It's an idiot. It's nothing but a parrot, repeating back to you anything negative that it's ever heard, anything that makes you hurt, makes you squirm. If a teacher once told you "You'll never accomplish anything," it was listening; it hoards words like that and repeats them back to you to watch you jump. It doesn't know what it's saying. It doesn't care.

Exorcise yourself.

The whole essay is great--and it's right on target for those of us in recovery for co-dependence. ("Stop assigning blame. This is the first step. Stop assigning blame and leave the past behind you.")

So, today? Today I'm working on exorcising myself. Seems like a good way to spend the day.

democratic codependency

Okay, I've gotten the pettiness out of my system now, I hope.

The irony is that at the end of the day, my life probably won't be significantly disrupted by the results of this election. But many of the "heartland" people who voted for Bush--they're the ones whose children will die in the war, whose health care will be stripped away, whose jobs will be at risk. And the people most likely to be drafted into this war didn't care enough to vote--youth turnout was no higher this year than it was four years ago, it seems.

Yes, I know that many people who didn't vote for Bush--whether here or abroad--will be affected, as well. I'm not trivializing that. Just noting the irony that here in the US, Bush's "base" is likely to suffer more than many of his detractors.

Viewed through the filter of my recovery process, it feels as though the democrats are the co-dependents in this country, and the republicans are the addicts. We keep thinking if we just tell them they're doing the wrong thing that they'll see the error of their ways and change their behavior. But they won't--at least not through our sheer forces of will or displays of rationality.

Hand-wringing will get us nowhere. Lessig is right...we need to let it go, and move forward. We need to fix ourselves before we try to repair those we see as misguided. We need to understand how we encourage and enable what looks to us like insanity. (One of the things that people in Al-Anon come to realize is that they often end up looking far more insane than the addict in their lives.)

So, what happens next? Me, I'm taking a break from political thought for a couple of weeks. And then I need to think hard about how I become a force for positive change, rather than simply a shrill critic of what I see that's wrong.

all about al-anon

Now that I've been in Al-Anon for a little while, I'm starting to find a lot of comfort not only in the steps of the program but also in the rhythm of the meetings themselves. I find that if I go more than a week without attending one (I usually go 2-3x/week) that I can feel the difference in my mood and attitude. I was explaining to my kids this week why I go, and what we talk about, and I realized that most people don't here's a beginner's guide to Al-Anon meetings. I've not found much about meetings and what they're like anywhere online, and I wonder sometimes if more people might be willing to go if they had a better sense of what it would be like. (The official Al-Anon site does have information for newcomers, but the information is embedded in graphics that require javascript to display, which makes them pretty inaccessible. :/ )

on the road again: alabama to florida

(This was written yesterday morning...)

One night in Birmingham at my stepdaughter's house, four in Randolph at the Lawley Farm. Now we're back on the road, headed to a week of relaxation on the beach in Navarre, Florida. The boys are in the back seat, playing Super Smash Brothers Melee (ah, the luxury of a built in video system with hookups for a game console), I'm in the front seat with several fully-charged batteries.

We didn't have much Internet connectivity on this trip. I was able to check email occasionally on my mother-in-law's dial-up connection, and last night Gerald and I went to dinner in Montevallo and made a brief stop in the parking lot of a cafe with free wifi. The cafe was closed, but their network was running, so I took advantage of it to grab the developer's beta version of MT3.1 so I could work on the courseware this week.

While it was nice to see family in Alabama, it was also difficult in some ways. There's something about being in a parent's house that brings out the ten-year-old in all of us, and that's often not a good thing. Being in recovery helped us deal with those stresses much better than we have in the past, however, and unlike our trip two years ago, we're headed down to the Gulf already in pretty good spirits.

Much as I'd like to spend this next week doing nothing but soaking up sun and salt spray, September's rapid approach has me thinking about work. I actually had my first teaching nightmare in a long time last night. In it, I watched from my office as my colleague Weez led a masterful class, which ended with the students singing and swaying with her gospel-style. That would have been fine, except the students that went into the classroom after her class sat there for 90 minutes before I realized that I was supposed to be teaching them--I'd somehow confused the times on my schedule, and thought I was teaching at 6 rather than at 4. I rushed into the classroom as they were beginning to leave, most of them angry and demanding refunds of their tuition. Ugh. (Weez thought this was pretty funny when I recounted it to her...I haven't yet gotten to to that point.)

So there's a balance to be struck this week. Some rest and relaxation, certainly. But also a gradual ramping up of intellectual activity--work on the grant research, and course prep (not to mention memorization of my teaching schedule!) so that the re-entry shock next week isn't too great.

how's that working for you?

At an Al-Anon meeting a few weeks ago, the subject was control. (That's the subject of a lot of Al-Anon meetings, actually.) Or, more accurately, the illusion of control. The hardest thing about dealing with an alcoholic is letting go of the false belief that through sheer force of will you can change their behavior. You can't. One of the women in the meeting said that when she finds herself trying (yet again) to change someone else's behavior, she asks herself "...and how's that working for you?" It's a great line, because it highlights the futility of that behavior.

But what is working for me is the Al-Anon program itself.

Last night, a woman at one of her first meetings asked the group whether she'd be able to walk out with an answer to her main question--how to detach from her sister's self-destructive behavior. It scared her, she said, to hear that some of the people in the room had been coming to meetings for as many as 20 years. How could she wait that long for help, she wondered.

Many of us answered. One person reminded her that recovery was a bit like going to the gym. You can't walk in and say to the trainers that you need to be fit right now. If you ask how you can be strong and fit like them, they'll tell you to start doing what they're doing...and to keep doing it. You have to keep coming back.

But just like going to the gym, you can see some results soon. Maybe not the first day, but certainly in the first few weeks. You start to recognize the flaws in your thinking, in part because you hear other people talk about how they recognized theirs. You hear about new ways of interacting with people. Those of us with co-dependence issues, for example, tend to tie their emotional state directly to the people around them. So the idea that I could be happy even if the people I cared about were not...well, that was pretty novel. Amazingly (to me), it's even true!

This summer I've spent a lot of time on my emotional well-being (through the recovery process, and healing time with my family) and my physical well-being (through the resumption of regular exercise, and a return to anti-depressants). What's suffered has been my intellectual well-being, as evidence by my lack of attention to blogging (my intellectual gym, really) and other scholarly activities. As the new school year approaches, it's time to shake off the summer doldrums and shift my brain into a higher gear...hopefully without losing any of the ground I've gained in other areas of my life.

the beast

It's stalking dooce.

I've seen it outside my window of late, as well.

The good news is, we both know what we need to do to banish it.

stop dancing around the elephant

I went to an Al-Anon meeting tonight where one of the participants said something that really stuck with me. When you live with an alcoholic, he said, the disease is like the proverbial elephant in the middle of the room. At first, you dance around the elephant, pretending it's not there. When you finally acknowledge the elephant's presence, however, it doesn't disappear. It's still sitting there, as big as ever. And you're still dancing around it, still trying to avoid getting trampled.

Letting go of denial--acknowledging that the elephant is there--is only the first step. After that comes detachment--figuring out how to stop caring so much about the elephant. For those of us who live with the elephant, many of our problems come from the unending and inevitably unsuccessful attempts to make it go away. What Al-Anon is teaching me to do is to take the focus off the elephant, and put it on myself and my own needs. When I stop focusing on the elephant, it gets smaller. It will never go away--that's important to accept, as well. But the more I focus on it, the more dominating and damaging it becomes.

As I thought about that on the way home, I was reminded of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which I took the boys to see earlier today. I started thinking about the elephant as a boggart...but that's not really it. Making it ridiculous isn't the solution. In many ways, the elephant is more like a dementor, ready to suck the life out of you if you can't draw on your own inner strength and summon a shield--a patronus. For me, right now, Al-Anon is teaching me how to summon my patronus, and protect myself from the elephant in the living room. Eventually, I'm hoping that it will shrink into a corner, no longer the center of all of our attention.

recovery, skepticism, and my "higher power"

I'm going to try to blog some of my recovery process. I'm doing it for two reasons. One is that there's value to me in writing it down, and hearing from others about the process. The other is that there's precious little out there in the way of personal stories of recovery, outside of the meetings themselves.

(I know that I don't owe this to anyone--I'm doing it because I want to, not because I feel obligated. But Anil's right that people in a semi-anonymous medium can sometimes turn nasty. I'll delete comments that I consider to be destructive or meanspirited, and I will close comments on all the recovery entries if that happens regularly.)

eating my words

Before my temporary fame of last week, my most-linked-to post ever was my entry on depression, entitled "control freak." In that post, I said:

I've been lucky enough not to have needed a 12-step program.

Well, that's no longer true. Last week, for reasons that I'm not yet (and may never be) willing to blog about, I started attending Al-Anon meetings.

If someone you love is an alcoholic, it's not just their problem--it's yours, as well. And my being a "control freak" is both a result of that problem and a contributor to it.

As anyone who's gone through this will tell you, trying to change the person who's an alcoholic is a futile process--their change has to come from them, not you. The silver lining in all of this is that it's given me the push I needed to make some changes in myself. So some of the energy that in the past has gone into my blog will, at least for the time being, be channeled into taking care of myself in the real world, and working on some aspects of myself that could bear improvement.

How much, if any, of this I blog about is yet to be determined--because it's not just about me. I have to strike a balance between my desire to share this process with others (there's a lot to be gained from hearing the stories of people going through difficult experiences, I think), and my desire to protect the privacy of people I love.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the recovery category.

productivity is the previous category.

research is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.


Category Archives