Friday, May 7, 2010


There is so much loss and grief in life. It is so difficult to allow grief. It hurts. It paralyzes. It is like standing in bubble gum. Sometimes it lasts for months or years, even forever. We distract ourselves and find ways to avoid facing the losses. We fall into anger or depression or spend our days and energies on bargaining away the loss (trying to make it not have happened with all of our 'what if' thinking and blaming and avoidance.)
Unresolved grief can be like a cancer that eats away at our progress and recovery. Someone once stated that the hallmark of a true adult was one who could see reality, accept responsibility for their own behaviors, and could do their grief work.
The following is a good visual analogy for grieving. It is a myth, but very helpful.
When lions go on a hunt, they pick the oldest and biggest of the pride to sit in the middle of the clearing as they wait for the prey to appear in the circle. This old guy has no teeth and no claws and no clear eyesight----but he can surely roar the loudest of all. So he waits--the prey appears --his roar is enormous--the prey runs into the surrounding brush.
Guess what is in the brush?? The real danger; the lionesses and younger males.
The moral of the story is simple: GO FOR THE ROAR.
It is also the wisdom of grief. You need to cry and allow the feelings and, indeed, lean into them. There is no right way to do this. Just do it. The danger in the brush for us is all of the ways we distract ourselves from the pain and allow it to fester and settle in and contaminate our health and emotional life. Crying is OK. Crying is healthy. Crying is cathartic.
Crying is what the body wants us to do. Wherever did we get the idea that it was not dignified or manly??
This emotional honesty uncorks us for progress and growth and moving on. I always remind myself that blossoming requires moisture.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


The process of change is only easy if it relates to changing your socks. The process of changing what I might need to change to improve myself is less obvious and often hidden to me. In the 12-Step program, it is referred to as Step 4. It asks for “a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”. It is a new focus. We have been really riveted to the inventory of someone else and that has been easy. An addicted person has much of which to be critical.
How many hours and conversations with friends involved hoping that the other person would change? Get sober. Get loving. Get helpful. Get home. Get up. Get with it.

It is both the good news and the bad when we finally realize that the only person we can change is standing in our shoes. And we need to. It is both exhausting and freeing to finally see the amazing truth that we can feel better when we tend to our own growth. Well-- there is a process to change. We cannot change what we do not SEE needs changing. That is when some light bulbs can turn on at a meeting as the person across the table triggers a truth in self with their own story, or you have a moment of clarity. I can remember the day when I pulled into our driveway and suddenly had a full, stunning awareness of how HE must feel coming home to ME. Not a pretty sight.

The next step to change is to actually hear yourself take ownership and verbalize what needs to change.
There is something about sharing it and hearing your own mouth express it all that makes it irretrievable and, surprisingly less awful. Somehow it all seems less powerful and more manageable.

Then the big step of DO. Can I replace judgment with perception? Can I replace reaction with response?
Can I replace impatience with patience? Can I replace resentful with forgiving? Can I replace disagreeable with agreeable? Unkind with kind? Indifference with loving? Not easy--but doable.

Addiction can bring out the worst or the best in us. Why let someone else’s disease make us less? I love this quote (do not know source) “Our goal is to have a relationship with both men and women that does not diminish the other and a relationship with others that does not diminish self.”

Monday, January 18, 2010

Since the house is on fire, let us warm ourselves (old Italian proverb)

The first time I read this, I laughed. I was not sure of just why it was funny, but something inside of me recognized the truth of it and knew it to be wise. It also struck a cord of “oh, darn” – what is it that life is now calling me to deal with? I am tired of needing to cope with life’s stressors. I am tired of needing to do more emotional work. I am tired of the need to change perceptions. How about good old status quo? But the fires in life come uninvited and surely. They can be started by others or by ourselves or just by spontaneous combustion.

As Huxley said: The choice is always ours. The fire is not always our choice, but how we respond is. Attitude is everything. Eventually we decide whether to escape, to let the fire consume us, or to turn the tables and use the heat to our advantage.

The good/bad news is that every life eventually has pain and loss and grief. We can choose whether or not to find the opportunities for growth and insight in each struggle. The expression “Older but wiser” comes to mind.

Some of the gifts of struggle and loss and the warming factors are: acceptance of powerlessness over most people and events; the awareness that I can change things about myself that may have been part of the kindling; the growing knowledge of and reliance on God in my life; the ability to listen better; the willingness to love others even if I would not choose to have lunch with them; the focus on all of the joys and blessings that remain; and the trust that the fire will be contained in time.


Out of the mouth of an Al Anon member came this jewel of a thought. We were discussing the dilemma of whether and why anyone would stay in residence with an active addict. He said he had been thinking about this and felt that he had gone through three stages.

The first was the stage of being a VICTIM. This was when his wife was actively drinking and he was actively living his work life and not really focused on the situation beyond feeling annoyed and challenged and reactive to all of the situations that called for his management skills in the family. He had not identified the real enemy within and simply had not awakened to the source of any problem. He really did not clearly see that there was a problem. He was like that frog in the ever-increasing pan of water being heated on the stove. He just kept swimming faster.

The second stage was that of HOSTAGE. It was a slow awakening to the fact that the bottle in the back of the closet was not normal social drinking. In this stage, he sought help. Coming out of denial and into reality was a slow and shocking journey. He noticed more and more and learned more and more and hurt more and more and tried to control more and more. He recognized that he was losing himself and seemed to be operating in lesser versions of himself. After much time, he finally got it. But----he still felt trapped. It was a great relief to not be taking things personally any longer and it felt wonderful to have the support of others who understood. He still could not see his way clear to leave the situation. For good reason, actually.

He faced the great question of “what will you do if nothing ever changes?” and found that he needed to find his answer. There were so many compelling reasons to not leave the marriage. Money, children, extended family, the comfort of habit, the power of vows once taken. Staying felt wrong. Leaving felt wrong. He was a hostage to the dilemma. This man slowly worked through all of the barriers. He stopped blaming his wife for her choices and illness and relapses and behaviors. He stopped his complaints. He stopped reacting to her and began to accept the fact that his choice to remain was his and his alone. He developed compassion for her struggles and decided that this circumstance in his life had afforded him growth and self-awareness. He now felt that he was in the third stage of leaving (or not).

He saw himself now as a VOLUNTEER in residence. He clearly understood that his choice to remain was in the interest of fulfilling needs of his own. The household became more peaceful and the days more pleasant. There is a story about being a bird in a cage. If you now have an open door to your cage, you can fly out or remain. It is the feeling of being trapped that is so debilitating. If you choose to remain, you can decorate your cage to the max. Then, the choice is truly yours.