Monday, April 06, 2009

Don't Give Up

There was a lady in our women’s meeting tonight who sat next to me but kept her head down for most of the meeting. When they called for newcomers to identify, she reluctantly introduced herself. She wore despair and shame like a cloak. I had the strongest urge to reach over and hold her hand, but I knew that would really send her over the edge. I mean really…who does that?

It was a great meeting. There was a lot of laughter and some real heartfelt sharing. I could “feel” her next to me, and I noticed my focus shifting off of the meeting and on to her. I wanted her to feel something….anything….I wanted her to walk out of that meeting with HOPE.

When the meeting ended I asked her what she thought. “Did she like it?” She said “well no, it was too overwhelming.” I remember that feeling. She asked how long ago I stopped drinking. When I told her she looked sad. She said she would like to just be able to stop for 24 hours. I could smell the alcohol on her breath and coming from her pores. I told her I understood.

The fact is that most alcoholics, for reasons yet obscure, have lost the power of choice in drink. Our so-called will power becomes practically nonexistent. We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago. We are without defense against the first drink.

from There Is A Solution Big Book Alcoholics Anonymous

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


I have these moments in life that I think of as “peak moments” – small experiences that may be insignificant and brief, but they touch my heart so profoundly that I know I will carry them with me always. I treasure my “peak moments”. They’re very personal, hard to explain, and I rarely speak about them. They are those “you had to have been there deals” that just don’t translate into words. I play them back like little movies sometimes, when I need comfort or renewed hope, or just to remind myself of how rich life can be sometimes.

I had a “peak moment” last week. My daughter was down from Seattle for seven days. She’s lived up north for three years now and we still suffer from separation anxiety. We talk daily and live this kind of calendar limbo thing where we count the months between trips. I think when we are finally together emotions run high. We’re happy, we’re sad, we share stuff, and we talk talk talk. If you’ve read any of my previous posts about her or then you know that she has had some challenges to face. She has had even more, but I wouldn’t write about her “stuff”. When she arrived this time she was dragging with her a bruised ego and broken heart, one of the worst I’ve ever seen. I wanted to hug her pain away. She’s also at a point in her life where she has some real important choices to make about her future. But oh, that pain………funny how when our hearts are broken we question and second guess everything – all of our choices.

So, back to that peak moment. We were on our way out to dinner, driving down the freeway. It’s late, its dark and the colored lights of businesses are flying by. My car is small and we’re sitting side by side, she’s not saying much. I punch on the radio and Paul Simon comes on singing Graceland. I reached over and took her hand, we listened to the lyrics and we drove on. That’s it. That’s my peak moment. See? I told you they don’t translate into words.

The song is about a guy whose wife has left him and he is broken hearted, so he is going to Graceland. His traveling companions are “ghosts and empty sockets”. He sings about a girl in New York City who calls herself the human trampoline. And I know my daughter feels exactly like that girl. But then he says when she’s falling, flying tumbling in turmoil she’s bouncing into Graceland. Graceland? I don’t think he’s talking about a place in Memphis. He’s talking about when you bottom out Grace saves the day. Finally he says there’s some part of me wants to see Graceland. And I may be obliged to defend every love, every ending or maybe there’s no obligations now. Maybe I’ve a reason to believe we all will be received In Graceland.

I thought about God’s Grace. How grace is always there for me and will always be there for her. I think Graceland is everywhere. I know I felt it last week on the 91 freeway.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Pill Anonymous

I hated all the hoopla when Anna Nicole Smith died. The media circus was hardly tolerable. Sometimes I feel ashamed to even own a TV when coverage is so crude. But current events have caught my interest. Apparently Ms. Smith’s doctors are being held accountable for her death. Prosecutors allege that they "repeatedly and excessively furnished thousands of prescription pills to Anna Nicole Smith, often for no legitimate medical purpose." Now this is HUGE news, BIG HEADLINES. Anna Nicole Smith was after all a celebrity.

For the people at the Wednesday night Pills Anonymous meeting in Anaheim the news of Anna Nicole Smith’s overdose was not headline stuff. We didn’t even blink. We’ve buried friends. And doctors supplied our pills. Repeated and excessively.

Pill addiction is insidious. People don’t talk about it, but most know someone who is taking just a “few” too many benzos or opiates to manage their anxiety or pain. It’s one of those underground addictions that are hard for loved ones to gauge, especially confusing because prescriptions are written by doctors.

We know. We’ve been there. The Pills Anonymous introduction (read at the beginning of every meeting) says in part:
Although we have subjected ourselves to substances every bit as powerful as street drugs, our “Dealers” — sometimes knowingly, often unwittingly — were physicians and pharmacists, so we have usually had to commit few, if any, crimes to obtain our “fix.” Insurance companies often paid for at least part of our abuse. Our illegitimate activities were usually limited to acts which illustrate our astounding capability for deceit, such as getting prescriptions from multiple doctors simultaneously, stealing medications from our friends’ and family’s medicine cabinets, and occasionally forging prescriptions. We memorized the contents of the Physicians’ Desk Reference (PDR) so that we could precisely describe symptoms that elicited the prescription we craved. And above all, we hid our pills and our conniving not only from those who know us but, by denial and delusion, from ourselves.

The people who come to Pills Anonymous are just like the people who reach out to any other 12 step fellowship. We come together once a week to support each other, and work a program of recovery from using pills addictively. According to the
SAMHSA Health Information Network one-third of all U.S. drug abuse is prescription drug abuse. And yet there are usually only about 10 people at our meeting. At the end we have a moment of silent prayer for the addict still suffering out there. I know there are a lot of them. I’m so sorry it is too late for Anna.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Addict Cats

Well now we know where they go at night ..... and why they have such a bad attitude in the morning

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

God Does Not Have Ears

I’ve always been fascinated by prayer beads. I don’t have any, but some of my friends do, and I have a blogging friend who makes beautiful beads, and someday I’ll indulge myself and buy some. I like to think about the ritual of saying a prayer with beads, fingering each stone and offering up a piece of my heart. I like the idea that each bead might represent something. I could use the beads as a gratitude list. I’d say a prayer of thanksgiving touching each bead as I think about all of the amazing things that I have been given in sobriety. My husband, my daughter, my home, my job, my family and friends. All of these things seemed lost to me years ago. I could use the beads to consider my journey, touching each bead and asking my Higher Power for knowledge of His will for me in each area of my life. Each bead could represent a family member or friend, or someone still suffering as I pray for God’s blessings on them.

Prayer has never come easy to me. My spiritual journey has been an intense evolution of discarding some childhood notions and establishing a new relationship with a God of my understanding. I see constant evidence of God in my life, but I want to feel connected. When I am alone, the conscious contact with God can feel elusive. More often than not while praying at night I fall asleep. (I trust the Lord knows I’m tired.) My husband and I have just recently started praying together. They are short, sweet prayers of gratitude. It is incredibly intimate to pray with someone you love. Awkward but intimate. When I pray in groups, it just feels like words. I sneak my eyes open and find other people feeling the same way.

There are times though when my prayer connection is absolute and overwhelming. These times are when I pray without words. I simply close my eyes, quiet my mind and offer up my feelings. I picture all of my joy, pain, confusion, hope, defeat, everything beaming straight up to God without one word spoken. I’ve decided that God does not have ears. I can talk to him heart to heart. But I do think I am going to get some beads.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Give It Away Or Choke On It

I met a friend for coffee Saturday morning. A man was sitting outside of Coffee Bean reading by the entrance. I glanced at him and smiled. “Good book?” I asked. “Oh yeah” he answered and then launched into what can only be described as a ten minute rant about what he was reading and what is wrong with America today. Apparently (according to him) the poor and the middle classes are sucking the life out of this great country and the new administration is poised to give “it” (whatever “it” is) all away. I’m not good at confrontation, and I was not raised to be rude, but this was getting increasingly uncomfortable. I excused myself with something less than grace, made a mental note to say a prayer for his black heart and went on inside.

The next day at church was Compassion Sunday. That is the day when we feed the homeless and distribute groceries to anyone who needs help. They made an announcement that demand was unexpectedly up 60% and our supply was dangerously low. So an appeal went out to bring food for the bank next week. Is this what he meant? Is this the sucking?

As my husband and I left church we looked at the line of people waiting for meals and groceries. I saw myself in it. Before I got sober I used to take my little girl by the hand and we would go to a place called S.O.S. (Share Our Selves) They would give us peanut butter, bread, lettuce, and diapers…whatever. It helped. It helped a lot. Yes my own bad choices were the reason I was in that line. Yes I was an addict and my money was going to drugs. But I have to wonder if I had not been given that food, would I have the compassion today to turn around and give others food? If people had not helped and believed in me, would I know how to help and believe in others? Everything in this life is a circle and it starts with the compassion of my Higher Power’s Grace. He was working in my life long before I even got sober.

Who is to say that reaching out and helping someone now is a waste of effort or America’s money. In sobriety I have learned that in order to keep something I have to give it away. I would rather live with compassion as my guide than a black heart that is so wounded it needs to rant at strangers outside of a coffee shop on a beautiful day.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wartime Prayers

I honestly think that sometimes the best indication of what’s going on in America can be gauged by the spam we get in our email. For the last month my junk email box has been overflowing with three predominant themes: Emails advertising online prescription tranquilizers, replica Rolex watches, and Viagra.

Now, everyone knows that times are hard, and stress levels are at an all time high. But really, are Americans comforting themselves by putting on junk jewelry, getting stoned and screwing?

Wartime Prayers Paul Simon

Times are hard, it's a hard time
But everybody knows all about hard times.
The thing is, what are you gonna do?
Well, you cry and try to muscle through
Try to rearrange your stuff
But when the wounds are deep enough,
It's all that we can bear,
We wrap ourselves in prayer.

Because you cannot walk with the holy,
If you're just a halfway decent man.
I don't pretend that I'm a mastermind
With a genius marketing plan.
I'm trying to tap into some wisdom,
Even a little drop will do.
I want to rid my heart of envy
And cleanse my soul of rage
Before I'm through.
A mother murmurs in twilight sleep
And draws her babies closer.
With hush-a-byes for sleepy eyes,
And kisses on the shoulder.
To drive away despair
She says a wartime prayer

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Take A Step Back

I don’t know how much longer I can work in a drug and alcohol treatment center that is court ordered. Most of the women aren’t here because they’ve seen the light. They’re here because they’re feeling the heat. I haven’t worked with one yet that was really “on fire” for recovery. I don’t mean that to sound judgmental. Lord knows they arrive with a shitload of baggage and this is just another stop along the line. Some of them are just doing their time, they aren't really serious about recovery. It breaks my heart to know that there is a solution, and it is available to anyone with a little willingness and faith. I don’t know why some of us choose life and some choose the inevitable jails, institutions and death.

When they violate and leave, it seems there’s little or no hope for them……..And their children…what happens to those sweet children that had just begun to feel they had a safe place to lay their head at night?

I’m relatively new at this. I haven’t learned how to divorce my feelings from “the job”. I was warned in the beginning that I might eventually suffer from compassion burnout and wouldn’t feel anything. I’ve been doing this for a year now and (for me) it’s quite the opposite. I’m on compassion overload. Lately there has been one too many heartaches. I think I need to step back for awhile.

Point Blank Bruce Springsteen
Well I saw you last night down on the avenue
Your face was in the shadows but I knew that it was you
You were standin' in the doorway out of the rain
You didn't answer when I called out your name
You just turned, and looked away just another stranger waitin' to get blown away
Point blank, right between the eyes
Point blank, right between the pretty lies you fell
Yea point blank, you've been twisted up till you've become just another part of it
Point blank, you're walkin' in the sights,
Point blank, livin' one false move just one false move away
Cause point blank, bang bang baby you're dead.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Attitude Adjustment

The more I listen to the news, the more powerless I feel. All I can change right now is my response. Here are some random acts of kindness that I will use to adjust my attitude.

Keep birdseed in the feeder
Smile at all the really old people I see
Ask store clerks how they are doing today
Hug my friends often
Take clothes to a charity
Take food to a food bank
Say something nice about someone I don’t like
Really listen to people
Take a pie to my fire station
Pass some favorite books on to friends
Make some music mix cds for friends
Visit a lonely person
Call my mom more
Let someone go ahead of me in line often
Tell others they matter to me

Friday, January 23, 2009

What About The God Deal?

When I share with people that I’m in a 12 step fellowship they often ask about “the God deal”. It’s an interesting question, and my answer is probably never the same. My concept of spirituality and Higher Power evolves constantly, and of course it’s very personal. I think what many people really want to know, but hesitate to ask is “hey, if I go to AA do I have to get onboard with this whole God thing?”

My answer to that is “It may not be the whole God thing, but you’re gonna have to get on board with something.”

The good news is that each person gets to choose what that “something” is in the beginning, and then grow along spiritual lines. Maybe your spiritual awakening will be as literal as it sounds….your spirit will begin to wake up. After years of being absorbed with self you will realize you are not the center of the universe.

Being addicted is the highway of destruction. There are other highways. With a little willingness and without all that incessant mind chatter you might discover a new path. At the foundation of our program is the ability to choose and define our own Higher Power and our own concept of spirituality. It doesn't matter what religion we are (or aren't). It's a journey. Many of us have seen a lot of hell and we are looking for a little of heaven. In the end we’re all gonna have to serve somebody.

Bob Dylan Gonna Have to Serve Somebody

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

You might be a rock 'n' roll addict prancing on the stage,

You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage,

You may be a business man or some high degree thief,

They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief
But you're gonna have to serve somebody,

yes indeed You're gonna have to serve somebody,

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

You may be a construction worker working on a home,

You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome,

You might own guns and you might even own tanks,

You might be somebody's landlord, you might even own banks

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Every Stone A Story

I've been working for a year now in a residential treatment center for female alcoholics and addicts. The facility is a six month program for pregnant women or mothers with young children. It's one of the only places around here that a pregnant woman or mother can get treatment and bring her children with her. Many are jail releases; most are on probation or parole. All of them are addicted, lack parenting or any kind of social skills and arrive with a criminal record and a story. Their stories include trauma and despair, broken lives, broken families, broken hearts. The reunification with their children can be chaotic. They trust no one.

When I first started working here I was so naive. While I was studying for my degree in Addictions I imagined making a difference in lives. I based my imaginings on my years of twelve step meetings and sponsorship. I thought I'd go to work, bond with the clients, introduce the steps
and save lives.

Reality in a treatment center like this is quite different. The twelve steps and bonding will be important to each client at some point, but the first order of business is to teach them not to put a fork in each other's eye in the dining room. The mothers need substance abuse treatment and counseling. The children need to be loved, nurtured and healed. The cycle of abuse stops here. It takes a village to heal these children.

I have learned so much in the last year I feel like a different person. I am living the concepts of "sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly" and "first things first". I am learning there are many effective approachs for treating addiction and each person has pain and trauma that needs to be considered as part of the treatment. I understand that my ego thought I could make a difference. That will never happen. Only God can make a difference in people's lives and my job is to show up and do God's work.

Some make it out of here clean and sober and go on to transistional housing with happier healthier children in tow. Some get violated, sent back to jail and their babies go into a foster care system that can be brutal. There are days I leave and think I can never go back; but there are days I get to hold a newborn brought into this world by a clean and sober mom who has new hope.

She down on the corner, just a little crime.

When I make my money, got to get my dime.

She down with her baby, wind is full of trash.

She bold as a streetlight, dark and sweet as hash.

Way down in the hollow, leavin' so soon.

Oh, St. Teresa, higher than the moon.

Show me, my Teresa, feel it rise in me.

Every stone a story, like a rosary.

Joan Osborne St. Teresa

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Season of the 2nd Step

I think I'll always look back at this period of my life and think of it as the “Season of the Second Step”. It seems like every day I have to rely on the assurance that God can and WILL restore me to sanity. You might think this would be a onetime event, and then we could all wash the holy water off our hands and go on home. But apparently I require restoration over and over. I seem to be slipping in and out of sanity, so to speak.

Insanity is a strong word, and I hate like hell to apply it to myself. The first time I worked my steps I thought it referred to all the “stuff” we did when we were out there drinking and using. It’s easy to look back at all of that wreckage and say “that’s insane; I must have been out of my mind.” Well, truth be told I was out of my right mind back then. But what about the insanity and wreckage that happens now in sobriety?

If I want to acheive and maintain emotional sobriety then I guess I better take a look at that wreckage and start cleaning house. Bill W. had something to say about emotional sobriety.
AA History - The Next Frontier: Emotional Sobriety - Bill W. "Suddenly I realized what the matter was. My basic flaw had always been dependence -- almost absolute dependence - on people or circumstances to supply me with prestige, security, and the like. Failing to get these things according to my perfectionist dreams and specifications, I had fought for them. And when defeat came, so did my depression. "

I can relate to that. I've been relying on people and circumstances to fill my needs and give me a sense of security in uncertain times. More than ever it is clear to me that I am powerless. Powerless over people, places and things. Powerlessness, the unknown, uncertainty ---these are words that strike fear in me. My response used to be medicate medicate medicate. Now my response is different. On a good day its prayer and surrender. On a bad day, everybody duck and cover.

It’s not enough just to be aware of the potential for insane behavior. Awareness and getting into action are entirely different things. When I read in the Big Book about the guy who put whiskey in his milk it tells us that “sometimes the insane thought wins out.”
Dr. Silkworth writes "The human mind has a marvelous ability to protect itself from outside influences. Although the conscious portion of the mind may have a sincere desire to find out what’s wrong and to it, the subconscious part will block any such effort by putting up a bewildering variety of misleading motivations, misinformation, and misdirections. The more important—the deeper—the particular hang-up is, the higher and thicker this wall will be. If the problem is big enough, the conscious thinking mind will not even be aware of its existence, and the mind that does become aware will still be powerless to do much about it."

Well, the mind alone may be powerless to do much about it. But I have a Power Greater Than Myself. So.... back into action, every step, fearlessly and thoroughly. But today, and for awhile I imagine, it’s the 2nd one that’s saving my life.