Look Out For #1 But Be Kind to Others


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Back in the ’70s I was enamored with a book called Looking Out For #1 by Robert Ringer. The basic premise of the book, one of the New York Time’s 15 bestselling motivational books of all time, is you have to take care of yourself before you can be useful to anyone else.

In other words, put your oxygen mask on first!

You have to admit the title is a little off-putting, though, egotistical even, especially during this time of continual Donald Trump yammering.

If we believe that happiness comes from being our best, then maybe the idea of looking out for ourselves is a good one. Think about it: Is there anyone else qualified for the job?

Humble and kind

Two words swirl around me–humility and kindness. Be humble. Be kind.

These two words are a firm foundation to build our best self as we look out for number one. (Can you see the beginnings of the plan to be better so you can do better?)

Tim McGraw has a hit song that seems to be everywhere I turn. His lyrics are simple but the message is powerful.

An recent essay in a recent Sunday edition of the Dallas Morning News describes a fourth grade teacher’s idea to remove all her classroom rules but one: Be kind.

The essay’s author writes about one woman’s decision to be kind to herself. “It’s a decision we make every day. We are in total control of decisions, our choices, our lives. I choose to love and I choose to be kind.”

If kindness is the goal, I believe we’re naturally humble, even when we’re taking care of ourselves.

Three more words

My friend Amy, a former Sunday school teacher and Jesus freak (My description and it’s a compliment), says Jesus’ messages can be summed up in three words–surrender, acceptance and love.

Add humble and kind and you have a winning full house hand, not to mention a recipe for a contented life.

I like knowing that a lifestyle with these five words in my heart and on my mind is always available to me. My simple-but-not-easy task is simply to put my oxygen mask on first and breathe them in.

When I keep my focus on me–looking out for #1–I am less likely to judge you, gossip about you or make fun of you.

Buddha said, “What we think, we become.”

If you want to look out for #1 today, let your thoughts focus on five words that will transform not only your thinking, but your place among women and men.

Humble. Kind. Surrender. Acceptance. Love.

Be AND do all these.

Photo courtesy of 5demayo

So, How Are You?


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You’re asked the question many times a day. It may be, “What’s up? What’s going on?” or  “What’s happening?” but the words behind the question are really How are you?

Most of us give a rote answer, like fine, great or I’m okay. Have you ever really thought about the story behind your answer?

There are different stories

There are stories we tell ourselves (and others) and then there are the stories that we let define us. Seldom are the two versions the same. Here’s what I mean:

You have a magnificent day where everything sparkles. Things can’t get much better, you think.

Then the day ends and, as if in a broken magical spell, you return to reality. It’s back to the grind, you think.

Someone asks how you are. You say fine or okay when you’re obviously not as you launch into the details of blah, blah, blah. If you’re fine or okay, why do you act the opposite?

Seeing beyond the question

The How are you? question has nothing to do with what is outside us, the majority of which is out of our control anyway. We–you–need to stop responding to the question from the perspective of what is happening in your life when the person asking the question wants to know how you are being.

When someone asks me how I am, what if I begin my response by repeating the last two words–I am. When someone asks how you are, don’t you begin with I am _______________.

I am well. I am blessed. I am beautiful. I am energized.

Then, don’t say anything more because you’ve answered the question! And that’s the story you need to believe–not the story about how your Uncle Roy decided to leave Aunt Matilda and as a result your cousin came to town, moved in with you and now your boss won’t give you a raise to help support your cousin. Whew!

One more step, call it extra credit: believe your answer because it’s truth. How are you and what’s going on in your life are not the same story. The first is an autobiography and the second is a narrative of events.

Both questions are important but the first gets to the heart of who you are and isn’t that much more important than Uncle Roy, Aunt Matilda and their deadbeat kid?

Photo courtesy of kakisky

25 Years of One Day at a Time


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Within 25 years, one generation begats the next. A child is born, grows up, graduates college and starts a career.

Twenty five years ago, Tim Berners-Lee introduced the web browser and the internet was made available for unrestricted commercial use. The U.S. was involved in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The 911 emergency system was tested in northwestern cities.

On May 20, 1991, in Independence, Mo, I admitted I was powerless over alcohol and made a decision to try to stay sober one day at a time. I was 30 years old and had no idea what was in store for me. All I knew was something had to change–if it didn’t I would probably kill myself.

Fast forward 25 years

Anyone who invests in his or her recovery eventually stumbles upon a milestone. Gosh, I sure didn’t know one would arrive so quickly!

Early on, there were things I had to do to stay sober. I worked with a sponsor, went to a ton of 12-step meetings, read literature and got involved in service work. Generally, I did what I was told because that’s how it worked for millions before me.

As a few years piled up, life got better and I grew more comfortable living life without alcohol. I found out that people who drink socially didn’t really understand alcoholism or its basis in medical conditions. Friends and people close to me fell away, or at a minimum held me at arm’s length, never quite sure what to make of me.

People didn’t talk about addiction back then, not outside of church basements and smoky meeting rooms. No, 25 years ago, the public talked about “those people who could quit if they really wanted to.”

Today, thankfully, we’ve made much progress when it comes to seeing addiction as a treatable health condition. The world of recovery has changed a bit for the better, although we have a long, long way to go in ridding the collective public mind of reasons to shame “those people.”

The next 25 years and beyond

There is still so much to be done because only one out of 10 people who needs treatment for addiction gets it. Someone dies every four minutes in this country.

Think about that for a second–every four minutes. That’s about 350 people each day. Then think of a fully-loaded airplane falling from the sky every day in America. Every single day.

On October 4, 2015, more than 25,000 of us staked a claim in the soggy ground around the Washington Monument in our nation’s capital. We were UNITE to Face Addiction and on that day, we ended the silence around how we treat addiction in this country.

I’m privileged to work with Facing Addiction, the national non-profit birthed on that muddy day in DC. We want to reduce the human and social costs of addiction year-by-year until this devastating public health crisis ends.

You see, I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve spent the last 20 years working in the field of prevention, treatment and recovery and I’ve always been pretty open about my recovery. Now, at 25 years of sober time and 55 years on the planet, I’m through hiding anything about who I am.

Now it’s time to figure out how I can really be of service. I’m talking big picture, as in, what’s my purpose, why am I here and how can I best be of service? Not small questions, to be sure, but I think I’m up to the task of finding the answers.

One day at a time that is.

7 Quotes to Unplug and Enjoy a Vacation


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You plan a vacation and then count down the days, maybe weeks or months, until you leave for the islands or the mountains or the cabin in the woods.

You cannot wait to escape the life that is your every day, to unplug from stress and making decisions.

You get where you’re going and spend the first two days unwinding your mind to get into vacation mode.

The vacation is grand and then it ends. Back to reality, back to work, back to the grind. You may feel refreshed and rejuvenated for a time, maybe a couple of days or a week.

Soon after, though, you find yourself leaving today to go back to the memory of your vacation or to begin planning the next one.

It’s hard to stay satisfied with today, with right where you are in your circumstances. When you’re feeling overwhelmed and under-appreciated, it’s okay if you want to leave.  In fact, you probably should step away for a few moments, if only in your mind, before you snap or yell or do whatever you do when you need a vacation.

Unplug for a minute, more if you can. Give yourself a brief vacation. Right now is the perfect time!

I think I’ll join you because I’ve been back at work less than three weeks after my phenomenal trip to the Virgin Islands and I need to feel the Caribbean breeze on my face again.

Take a time out. If you need to justify your brief absence–or enhance it–take these seven thoughts with you. No need to thank me. Just enjoy your vacation!

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, even you. ~ Anne Lamott

We do well to unplug regularly. Quiet time restores our focus and composure. ~ Daniel Goleman

I find it refreshing to unplug from it for a while. You kind of forget how deeply you get embedded in it. ~ Will Wright

Disconnect from technology and reconnect with each other. ~ Rosemary Wixom

It’s bad for your brain not to unplug. ~ John Green

There are few times that I feel more at peace, more in tune, more Zen, if you will, than when I force myself to unplug. ~ Harlan Coben

Dare to unplug. Go off the grid. Give yourself permission to say yes to your wellbeing. ~ Bonnie Gray

A Late-Night Call From GUS


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Cruz Bay off St. John Island slept while I watched the single light in the harbor. It blinked and I tried to catch it’s rhythm, get in its cadence.

It was the middle of the third night of our Virgin Islands vacation and my spirit struggled to transition from my hectic mainland life to our annual island life.

I sat outside, listened to the cocks crowing and wrestled with my unsettledness. Instinctively I knew that I needed these few hours in the dark with only God and the harbor light as company.

Here’s what God/GUS had to say:

Soften your edges, babe. You’re a little too sharp, a little too jagged.

That’s it, just breath as the gentle breeze sweeps across your face. You are here. Just be. Your job, your only job, is to enjoy.

Be in joy.

Listen. Here the distant waves. Let them soften you. There is nothing wrong, love. You just haven’t arrived with your spirit intact.

You are fixable. In fact, let’s say you are fixed. Right now. Just decide it is so.

Can you do that and be pleased with your decision?

There is no happy. There is no sad. Yes, there is morning and night, high tide and low. Those things are fixed. carved into eternal being-ness.

Then there is the finite you. Trying to soften, be more gentle with you. 

Let go. Release anything and all things that block you and keep you from knowing your worth and your beauty. 

Follow your true north. It is here, right where you are–in you, not out of you. 

Soften. Be. Know that you are perfect in my eyes so let go of those error thoughts. They have no place here where you are.

Feel mercy, feel grace. Sit with these things. They are my gifts to you. Let them guide you back to me. 

There are times when the only thing that soothes middle-of-the-night angst is a good, old-fashioned talk with God-Universe-Spirit. GUS tends to ring my bell in that 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. window that closes one day and opens the next.

You know what I’m talking about, right? For me, that mystical wake-up means there is no sleep until I heed the call. Many years of practice leads me to my journal, as it did a couple of weeks ago in the USVI.

I likened my call to write to a drunken headache that nothing but throwing up will relieve. Yes, it’s a gross comparison, but you get the picture.

And so I vomited on the pages, scribbling in the dark, knowing the words would hardly be legible in the morning light.

And yet, I got the message. We get the message when we unplug from the silliness of daily living and plug into the wisdom of the one who grounds us.

Sometimes the force to listen is strong. Forget about hearing. Just listen. If you’ve ever experienced a pre-dawn call from your higher power, you understand the difference.