“Feelings,” I have been told by many of the old timers in the AA rooms, “don’t matter.”
I have always struggled with that notion because, as a kid, I learned very early in the game that I needed to be a silent observer in my family. If I weren’t, if I decided to confront my siblings or my parents, I would pay the consequences—a smack across the face, a sarcastic remark, or worse, just indifference.
In this early family environment, it would be safe to say that I had learned to shut down, not just as a defense against negative reactions from my family, particularly from my emotionally unpredictable mother, but as my way of surviving.
I thought for a long time that being detached from my emotions was, of course, a far more superior form of living than those in the muck of emotional tantrums. (I might add here, that I used to think that any strong emotional reaction related to joy, grief, or rage was a reaction “out of control.”) Continue reading
Theism as a Cultural Heirloom
As a non-theist, it is often difficult to talk about the God of Western culture without offending someone. Even if individuals aren’t theologians, there is a tendency to fall back into a default mode with any discussion about God.
In that mode, some go on the defensive trying to protect what is considered sacred and allegedly timeless, not because they are necessarily connected to a specific sky-god theology, but because the culture has committed itself to a belief in an exterior anthropomorphic deity.
Inside of this mind-set, any discussion of God can descend into a defense of a Western cultural norm, a societal commitment that must be protected because traditionalists often believe that a culture will lose its integrity if it gives up its theocentric beliefs. Continue reading
Insanity, some tell us, is doing the same things, over and over, expecting different results.
But what about expecting different results from other people, situations, or events—a brother-in-law saying something kind; a Verizon tech person avoiding jargon; an American movie not bleeding into sentimentality; morning commuters driving with less rage; a politician not speaking from an ideology; a cable news show understating a news flash; a doctor faxing a prescription on the same day; a bank mortgage department answering the phone with a real person; a muffler replacement being under three-hundred dollars; a teen-age son not saying “whatever.”
Some of us in twelve-step recovery programs have never belonged to a religious institution. Some once belonged but have left. Some are still emotionally connected to their religious heritages, even though they do not practice their religions.
There are a minority in recovery programs who have chosen Buddhism, a non-theistic sect. If they are practicing Buddhists they participate in daily rituals: chanting; silent, sitting meditation; or walking meditation.
Others in twelve-step programs have developed a very eclectic collage of practices, values, and beliefs they have gleaned from Pema Chödrön, Osho, Krishnamurti, Andrew Cohen, Deepak Chopra, Gurdjieff, among others
There is a vast number in recovery programs who remain attached to their Judeo-Christian heritages and continue to practice their faiths of choice.
I grew up in a family of screamers, duckers, fighters, and scramblers. If that didn't work, my family withdrew into icy silence. That's what we thought bedrooms were for: our little caves of isolation where we could get our way in frozen-lake invisibility.
If that didn't work, we could always go to plan B: smart-ass sarcasm.
At the same time I was watching the pro-active survival skills of my siblings, I was being taught in Catholic elementary school that saints suffered quietly. They accepted their lots in life with passive surrender. And many quietly walked the gauntlet of martyrdom with angelic resignation, assured of a first-class room in the heavenly kingdom.
In my little elementary school mind, Christ was the icon of emotional stability. He may have thrown the gambling rabble out of the synagogue in a fit of rage, but his life seemed more about waiting his turn in the queue of acceptance and surrender. He was the gentle fisherman, the quiet shepherd. Not the raging truck driver or the sweaty faced hockey player, fists thrashing the air.
In my childhood, adolescence, and throughout my adulthood, I constantly pursued the “key” to sanctity. At one time, I thought all I had to do was go to mass, receive holy communion, confess my sins, and read spiritual books. The world, over time, I thought, would adapt to all the higher spiritual goals I had set out for myself. Or, on my journey to sainthood, I would be above it all. Continue reading
This is the second in a series of blog posts in which I expand upon key concepts from my e-book, “A Recovery Journey: The Beginnings”
So, you have a great day at school. Your teachers laugh at your jokes. You get a 95 on your math exam. You talk to one of your teachers during lunch. They tell you are a remarkable young man. You leave the school at three and walk home. You’re in high gear. The world is your oyster.
Then you walk through the front door of your home. Your mother is screaming at your father. You duck as a frying pan comes flying across the kitchen. She’s yelling at your dad, “you took Janet to the drive in, didn’t you? I saw the popcorn in the back seat of the car. You’ve been sleeping with her again.” Janet was my red-headed Brenda Star look-alike aunt, my mother’s sister-in-law.
That was the daily routine: Great day at school. The Inferno at home. Kids, of course, learn to make connections, as irrational as they may be. When they are nurtured in one place and are dragged into the emotional muck in another, they begin to believe that, not only are there no guarantees in life, but that life cannot be trusted to offer any permanent security. They will always ask themselves, “when is the other shoe going to fall off?” And they view happiness as an occasional blip on the machine of life, more often than not, set on disappointment. Continue reading
I was at an AA meeting recently when someone criticized what he considered to be the psychobabble at meetings.
For some of us in the rooms, such criticism is often a back-door way of hiding behind the literature of AA in order to avoid being honest about our our motives, our rationalizations, our hidden agendas, our imperfections, and, of course, our strengths and virtues.
Accusing others in the room of “psychobabble” can be a convenient way of avoiding any journey that might take us deeper into ourselves. It can also be a way of remaining stuck, safe, even smug. Continue reading
This is the second part of a two part series on “Owning Up, Emotional Honesty.” In the first part, I discussed the confessional-box tradition I grew up in and my many years of therapy.
In this part, I discuss the importance of what twelve-steppers refer to as the “rooms,” the meeting places where we go to “share,” as they say, “our experience, strength, and hope.”
Those of us in peer-group recovery programs like AA, NA,
OEA, and SA know very well the importance of hanging out in “the rooms.”
They are often cold, damp church basements with concrete walls that have been painted over so many times they begin to look like melting taffy. But they are the rooms where I go three or four times a week, if not more, to learn how to live in the real world.
As a recovering alcoholic of over twenty-six years, I take great consolation in knowing that others in these church basements are struggling with all the issues that normal, earth-people deal with every day: money, relationships, anger, a boss, an adolescent child, a new job, or Verizon tech support. Continue reading
This is a two-part series on owning up, honesty, and emotional transparency. In the first part, I discuss my confessional-box heritage growing up as a Roman Catholic. I then go on to cover the contrasting role of therapy in helping me to be more honest about myself.
In the second part of this two-part series, I will discuss the significance of recovery meetings in opening me up to my daily emotions and behaviors and my on going relationships in sobriety. As they say in the rooms, “it ain’t over until it’s really over.”
Governments will often hide its dirty little secrets behind the mantel of “national security.” Corporations and large institutions (including churches) seem to like silence because they fear a customer backlash, a class-action suit, or media exposure. Or they often cover up a questionable ethical policy with public relations departments which have mastered the art of linguistic subterfuge.
And, in the world of advertising, truth is often enhanced with glowing images of a product or service in order to dull the minds and senses of a potential customer.
Closer to home, families often hold on to their own white-elephant-in-the-living-room secrets to protect a family member or to defend their we’re-just-a-happy-little-family public image.
So, when do we learn to “own up” to our own truths? I’m not talking about a factual transcription of a mortgage transaction or a detailed “and-then-we-did-this-and-then-we-did-that” description of a cruise to the Caribbean. Or a lengthy machine-gun rant about how a husband “ripped me off of my alimony.”
I grew up in a Roman Catholic confessional-box culture. I was taught, as a child, to “own up” to my sins, to tell on myself in a dark box of a room with only a punctured out plastic window divider between me and the priest. And I was always in the kneeling position, my hands held in prayer resting on a small shelf as I weekly went through the “bless-me-father-for-I-have-sinned” Saturday afternoon ritual. Continue reading
Grief and Addiction Recovery by Glynis Sherwood MEd, CCC, CSAC
A while ago I received this email from a woman experiencing the opposite of the positive emotions she had hoped to find in recovery.
“I’m in recovery from alcoholism and should feel happy, but I feel sad and angry and empty – almost like I’m grieving. But not only has nobody has died, in fact I got my life back. I’m worried that if I keep this up I’m going to start drinking again. How do I make sense of my emotions and hold onto my recovery?”
As you can see from the desperation of her tone, this woman feels confused, fearful of relapsing and maybe a little guilty about feeling grief rather than joy in the midst of her recovery. But not only are feelings of grief common in recovery, mixed feelings ranging from joy and sorrow can be present too, adding to the confusion. It’s hard to deal with such emotions, but that does not mean that these feelings are wrong. Our emotions are there to tell us what we need, and if our legitimate needs are being satisfied or thwarted. It’s the same way with grief. But how do we understand the role of grief in addiction recovery? Continue reading
I never liked contact sports. Whenever I worked out, it was always a single-player engagement like jogging, swimming, or running frantically on a tread mill. Even today, I continue to exercise by myself, even though I am sometimes in a gym or in a park walking with others.
During my college teaching years, committees were, for me, the most difficult arenas to get anything done. Discussions were often endless, tangents seemed to be the norm, and listening levels almost non-existent.
Even my experiences with institutional religion, growing up Catholic and attending Catholic institutions right up to my Masters Degree, my notion of community was limited to Sunday services or singing in a choir. Continue reading
During my active alcoholic/addiction days, I vividly remember believing that if I descended into the booze enough, I would somehow come out car-wash clean. My repressions would be lifted. I could be my real self. I wouldn’t have to hide. I would be diamond-cut perfect. And, of course, I would have a winning style and personality.
What is it about this “descent” thing? Dante certainly believed it. Buddha had to go through his moments with his demons. Christ had his Gethsemane and his desert temptations. And soldiers have their foxholes.
No pain, no gain, as the saying goes. Continue reading
Buddhists tell us that desire and craving keep the wheel of samsara (suffering, the threat of mortality, the cycle of fight/flight, emotional/physical pain) in constant motion.
And desire can be both the cause and effect of suffering. As a cause, it can lead us into more suffering. As an effect, it can drive us away from suffering in the same way that we can dive into momentary pleasure to avoid pain. Continue reading
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that Americans love instant solutions. Chris Prentiss, in a television ad promoting his book, The Alcoholism and Addiction Cure, does not claim outright that a cure for alcoholism can be acquired immediately. But there is no doubt that he views recovery as much less than a life-time endeavor. And there is little doubt that he views recovery within some kind of time-frame in which all the recovery/cure process will take place.
For all intents and purposes, once the cure process begins and the client surrenders to Prentiss’s approach, there will come a time when the addiction will be in complete remission (make no mistake about Prentiss’s model here; his time-frame for a cure is quite finite).
Prentiss’s how-to-reach-the-finish line approach is very similar to the world of television ads about instantaneous cures from headaches to menstrual cramps. The entire subtext of these pharmaceutical ads is all about the finishing line, the immediate conquest. Continue reading
I grew up in a Christian tradition. My education, all the way up to my Master’s Degree, was at Catholic institutions. I was steeped in Catholic liturgy, studied for the priesthood, wanted to become a Trappist monk.
Even though I have formally left the Catholic Church and its theistic tradition, I still think of myself as a cultural Christian—I discuss Christianity, I participate in dialogues about Catholicism, I make references to classical Christian music, I often refer to the role of Christianity in Western history. I do all of this with the inherited legitimacy of an insider.
I say all of this by way of an introduction to prepare my readers for the voice I purposely take on in this essay. It is the voice of a very secular “Mother Jones” writer who sees himself as a guerilla-journalist camping out in the hills of a very foreign institution.
I must also make it very clear that, when I question some of the outdated theology and dogmas of the Catholic Church, I do so as someone still culturally and intellectually connected to my Catholic heritage, even though I have officially left the Church. I also think it is important for my readers to know that I continue to be positively affected by so many of the nurturing and loving clerical servants within the Catholic Church who taught me so much about the need for self-examination and service. These humble and poorly-paid servants will always be in my heart. Continue reading
(This is another blog post on addiction and may help non-addicts understand the many-layered world of addiction, a world I once inhabited and continue to recover from. Because addiction is an equal-opportunity emotional and physical derailment, I purposely shift between the pronouns, “he” and “she” to avoid the impression that men have a monopoly on the world of addiction).
My drug of choice was booze. But the behavior and emotional patterns I exhibited could apply to all addicts. Each addiction obviously has its own uniqueness, but, in working with cross-addicted individuals, I have found many of the emotional and psychological traits to be the same. Continue reading
Woody Allen once said that whenever he was somewhere, he always wanted to be somewhere else.
We are never satisfied, it seems, to be where we are. There is always some other goal to attain, some other fantasy to fulfill, some other dessert we haven’t tried.
I say that to all my twitter friends because right now I would rather be conversing with all of you. But today I must engage myself in the beautiful discipline of expression, to dip my feet into the pool of some thoughts I have been having about my own addiction (alcohol was the addiction of my choice). Continue reading
Before I started to write an essay on surrender, I went to my twitter page and tried to send another one of my many “What are you doing” twitter messages. Up popped a mysteriously serious black-and-white message, “HTTP Server Error 503.” I was back in Kafka land, the world of high-tech jargon, a cosmos that leaves old-timers like me speechless and cantankerous.
By doing some google research, I found out that my provider (whatever that means) is allegedly “working on the problem,” but that I should expect a delay. Given the fact that I have no clue about providers, I was forced to surrender to the land of technological obscurity (And, by the way, I’m from New England: I’m a guy who doesn’t like to be “beholdin’,” especially to some invisible “provider”).
After experiencing this mixed curse of temporary high-tech impotence, I felt gently nudged to start writing my essay for a twitter-friend in Vancouver. So here I am, my initial procrastination morphing into foxhole surrender.
I was listening to an NPR program, “On Point,” the other day and a writer was being interviewed about his book in which he claims that alcoholism is not a disease but an ism of choice.
I don’t believe there are too many recovering addicts or alcoholics who would give themselves over to the generalized assertion that all you have to do is “will” yourself into sobriety. Those of us who have been in the rooms for a while would not deceive ourselves into the naïve belief that one’s individual will can unilaterally “conquer” or defeat the enemy of addiction.
Over the many years that I have been in alcohol recovery, I still remain grateful that alcohol rehabs were available when I first chose to stop drinking. During the first year of my sobriety, I continued to go to an out-patient counselor whose professional experience proved to be invaluable.
However, around the last month of my first year as an out-patient, I began to sense a need for closure. My counselor also seemed to have run out of material, and I had sensed that his usefulness was beginning to become more frayed. It wasn’t that he had suddenly become an incompetent counselor; it was just that recovery issues for him were limited to the more immediate, day-to-day behaviors and relationships during that first year. He was not trained to deal with deeper, more chronic psychological/psychiatric issues.