How to Practice the Fine Art of Listening


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“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

The ability to listen well is a skill often arrested by addiction.

I’ll speak for myself here, although I’m pretty sure my lack of social graces while in the throes of alcoholism wasn’t much different from anyone else’s. Back then, I didn’t care about the sound of anyone’s voice but my own.

When drinking, I waxed philosophical with deep conversations broken by an occasional slurry “ya know what I mean?” I only took a breath when I paused to slurp from my glass, dixie cup, can or bottle.

At that point it was your turn to take me hostage with your jib-jabbering. The exchanges between us were meaningless but did serve to bolster our egos.

What a miserable way to co-exist!

Sobriety doesn’t make you a rousing conversationalist instantly

Listening, like the rest of the skills most teenagers and young adults learn as they mature, is stunted by alcohol and drugs. For example, I had a 15-year span of hard drinking, from the time I was 15 until I was 30. So in addition to stumbling through the minefield of early recovery, I had to re-learn all the stuff that alcohol drowned.

Thankfully, I’m a quick learner.

Unfortunately, not every sober newcomer has a mentor who models social skills. Believe me, there are plenty of folks out there with decades of recovery who remain poor listeners. They still thrive on the syllables of their own boasting.

For that matter, there are plenty of non-recovery people doing the same.

Learning the art of deep listening creates vibrant new experiences

Here are some listening tips I’ve picked up through years of observing and practicing. I’m convinced that all relationships great and small would benefit from more listening, in fact, the world would be transformed!

  • * Look at your conversation mate’s mouth instead of her eyes. You’ll be able to concentrate more on what she’s saying plus you’ll have the added benefit of avoiding direct eye contact which intimidates many people.
  • * If you’re having a one-on-one in a crowded room, look down and tilt an ear slightly up, then lean in a bit. This adjustment avoids the temptation to look around the room or become distracted by other conversations.
  • * If seated at a table, put on elbow on the table and rest your chin on your fist or open palm. Again, lean in and let yourself fall into conversation captivation.
  • * You can also do the above when standing. Simply place your fingers on your chin while your elbow rests on your other folded arm. You’ll look so engaged–and you will be with a little practice!
  • * Ask questions. The best communicators don’t interject their own stories unless they have an experience with the topic. Even then they dodge any opportunity to play the one-up game. Questions indicate a deeper connection.
  • * Give physical cues like a slight tilt of your head, a nod, smile of recognition or even touching the other person’s hand or shoulder.

It’s okay if you’re uncomfortable at first–that’s natural. I’ll let you in on a secret. I really, really don’t like social functions where you stand around blah-blah’ing with a bunch of people who are rotten listeners. I know I’m in for 60+ minutes of inanity.

But, give me 60 minutes of intimate conversation with someone who asks questions and practices at least one or two of these tips and I’m in heaven!

Unless you want to be Jeremiah Johnson living out in the woods, you have to talk with people. Why not make it a mutually satisfying adventure? Let me know how it goes!

I’d love it if you’d leave a comment below and if you liked this post, please share it with your social media connections. Thanks so much!

Love and hugs to you!

Photo courtesy of jppi

We Are All in Recovery


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“We are all damaged. We have all been hurt. We have all had to learn painful lessons. We are all recovering from some mistake, loss, betrayal, abuse, injustice or misfortune. All of life is a process of recovery that never ends. We each must find ways to accept and move through the pain and to pick ourselves back up. For each pang of grief, depression, doubt or despair there is an inverse toward renewal coming to you in time. Each tragedy is an announcement that some good will indeed come in time. Be patient with yourself.” Bryant McGill

Let me ask you something. Has there been a time when you shifted from one set of values to another?

Maybe you once considered yourself a Democrat and now align more with Republican values. Or maybe you were raised in one religious denomination and as an adult you attend a church in a different faith.

Heck, I’ll ask the question more directly: What does the word recovery mean to you? Without considering addictions, do you consider yourself in recovery?

We are all in recovery

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the impossibility of living several decades without experiencing any shifts or change. There has to come a time when we see things or do things differently. When we do, others are affected in ways great and small, sort of like collateral damage to our bombshell decisions.

Chances are you’ve been someone’s collateral damage. I know I have. The question is not about what happened but whether you chose to retaliate or recover. What did you do with the damaged parts of yourself?

To be human is to be hurt. The beauty of living is that pain gives you opportunity to recover and be different. @bheretoday (Click to Tweet)

Making changes in your life takes courage and requires faith. Throw in a smidgeon of patience and a bit of “oh-what-the-hell”-ness and you’re well on your way to recovery. But first, you have to:

Drop the remote control

I have a theory. If you’re cruising through life on remote control doing the same things all the time, your chances of ever questioning your beliefs, attitudes and opinions are fairly low. You tell people you’re happy with the predictability of your days; you even respond with “same-old, same-old” when asked what’s new.

On the other hand, if you’re fully present to each moment, the chances are good that at some point you’ll question a whole bunch of things in your life, like whether you’re with the right person, in the right job or living in the right place.

People change. They recover from mindsets they once held. They stretch and grow and reach and understand they want to be different. They want to be relationship with people in a different way and maybe even with different people.

They want to be better, to change, shift and live better. My God, if that’s not recovery, I don’t know what is.

When you look at your life and feel at peace because of changes you’ve made, that’s recovery. @bheretoday (Click to Tweet)

When you look at someone else’s life and realize you no longer want it because you like your life, that’s recovery squared, mathematically speaking.

Go ahead, make that shift, be that change. Somewhere in your future, there’s a new you thanking yourself.

Photo courtesy of GreenThumbsUp

19 Selfless Qualities of Self-Love


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All you need is love . . . love . . . love is all you need. 

Is it true that love IS all you need? For the sake of this post, let’s say the answer is yes. The All-Holy day of celebrating love, after six weeks of in-store Valentine’s Day advertising, finally arrives this weekend.

But this isn’t a post about Valentine’s Day.  God knows the universe is being bombarded with 45-bazillion posts about V-Day.

This post is about one of my favorite topics: self-love–the very stuff our mamas used to say was self-ish.

I don’t know about your upbringing, but I was often accused of being self-absorbed, wallowing in self-pity and engaging in too much self-analysis.

All of which led to self-abuse with alcohol and drove me away from self-love.

What’s (self) love got to do with it?

As far as I can determine, we humans are the only species capable of loving ourselves. We possess this incredible, unique gift that other creatures–like the Wallabies and the Jackrabbits, for example—would dearly love to have, and yet we’re groomed from infancy to feel guilty when we show self-love.

Ironic, isn’t it?

To be clear, the self-love I’m championing is not arrogance, egotism, pride or narcissism. In fact:

Self-love has very little to do with how you feel about your outer self. It’s about accepting all of yourself. ~ Tyra Banks

In theory, those four words–accepting all of yourself–seem relatively uncomplicated, doesn’t it? But for those of us who spent several decades searching for self-acceptance, those seven syllables are more likely to cause trips to the grocery store for pints of Ben & Jerry’s.

At least we’re not going for pints of liquor.

As promised, qualities of self-love

Self-love has lots of first-string qualities you’ll want playing on your home team. They are, in no particular order, all hyphenated words starting with self:

Confidence      Discipline      Support      Regard      Assurance      Care        Employment      Worth      Taught      Interest      Esteem      Exam      Help     Protect      Acceptance      Assertive      Promotion      Appointed      Respect

Imagine how much healthier our world would be if we all elevated these qualities of self, which each stem from self-love, to a higher level. Can you imagine?

The bottom line is you simply have to put yourself first. Oh sure, we chuckle when we hear air travel personnel instructing us to put our own oxygen mask on before assisting others, but isn’t that the truth? If you want to be present to anyone else, you must first be your own present.

Tweet: If you want to be present to anyone else, you must first be your own present. http://bit.ly/1FpI7hw @bheretoday #selflove

Give yourself the gift of self-love. Sit with each of the 19 qualities shown in the box above. Meditate with them. Breathe them in, just as you would breathe from the oxygen mask.

You are worth each and every one of them.

Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all. ~ Whitney Houston

Photo courtesy of markgraf

Book Review: Dark Wine Waters


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Late last summer, just before Recovery Month in September, Fran Simone emailed to see if I’d be interested in taking a look at her book, Dark Wine Waters: My Husband of a Thousand Joys and Sorrows. She thought I might want to write about it here, for Recovery Month.

Sure, I said, send it on. My blog calendar was pretty full for Recovery Month 2014 but I told Fran I’d see what I could do.

Rigorous honesty, right? Fran did indeed send her beautiful book and here’s the truth: It became buried on my desk.

You see, Recovery Month is a tiny-bit hectic for a recovery writer. I’m a piling sort of writer anyway—put Dark Wine Watersstuff away in desk drawers and I have a hard time finding it—so there are sensible stacks on my desk that grow out-of-control during hectic times.

Please consider this my amends, dear Fran. I’m sorry I didn’t read your book then but I have read it now—and I am moved by its transparency. Thank you for your bravery.

For the readers

I want to tell all my friends in recovery and those who love us that Fran’s Dark Wine Waters may cause you to cringe repeatedly as you read. That will be a normal response so don’t panic.

You will quite possibly shed tears at times too, and don’t be surprised if you become enveloped in sadness. That was my experience as I read.

Please don’t turn away in fear of these emotions. One of Fran’s gifts to her readers is the idea that feelings need acknowledgement. They must have a safe place for expression and that safe place begins within the confines of our hearts.

Tweet: Without expression, feelings congeal, becoming resentments we use to beat ourselves and our loved ones. http://bit.ly/1uRU1uf @bheretoday

Dark Wine Waters is a memoir of Fran’s life with her husband  Terry and their relationship with alcoholism and drug addiction.

Much of the book describes their painful, tortuous descent into the belly of the beast, played out with lies and subversion, disappearances and blackouts. In many ways, the day-to-day drama is different only in the details of other stories lived every day in every town, perhaps on every block, in America.

Terry’s drunken escapades—and Fran’s valiant efforts to hide them behind a normal facade—felt intensely familiar to me; I suspect they might to you as well.

The gut-kicker

Terry’s story is so much like my story, like many of our stories yet society still looks past him—and me—and says, “why can’t you just stop?”

Fran writes about the times when Terry thought he could stop on his own. She also writes about how she thought she could get him to stop—on her own.

But alcoholism and drug addiction gradually took possession of his body and their lives. It rendered them powerless to stop its onslaught.

That’s what the disease of addiction does. It ravages the wiring in our brains and does its damnedest to convince us we’re in control. There’s nothing wrong, we think; just drank a little too much.

Virtually all Americans are affected by addiction, whether they’ll admit it is another story. Too many remain hidden behind walls of shame and denial.

But thank God for the Fran Simones of the world who have stepped from behind the wall as family members of the afflicted. Thank God she now knows she didn’t cause Terry’s disease (or her son Matt’s), she couldn’t control it and she certainly couldn’t cure it.

There are 23 million people in the United States who are in recovery from a addiction. Another 20 million suffer with substance use disorder; a large portion of them don’t get the help they need. For every person afflicted, there are several family members and loved ones deeply affected by the disease. 

Thank you, Fran, for sharing your family’s story with us. May you find continued peace in recovery and retirement!

For a copy of Dark Wine Waters, click here. Please leave a comment and I’ll enter your name into a drawing for a free copy.

Photo courtesy of richcd

15 Incredible Sources of Inspiration


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As 2015 sprints by (can you believe we’re already entering the last week of the first month of the year?), I’m trying to decide if the bloom of the new year rose is still pungently hopeful. The answer is yes, especially after a weekend of greyhound-inspired good feelings.

There’s good news and bad news about good feelings. They feel squishy and huggy when they’re happening but after a bit when the dopamine levels in the brain dip, you need a little something more to throw your hat toward.

Here’s the ringer for your hat: Create a list of incredible sources of inspiration that’s personal for you. I’ve put mine together to help you get started.

The year will ebb and flow so refer to your list often so you’ll stay right-sized. Remember this:

Kornfield

My list in no order of importance with the exception of #1 and #15 (saving the best for last):

1.  My life in recovery from addiction–as I approach my 24th anniversary, I love knowing that inspiration waits around every corner. 

2.  Greyhound Adoption League of Texas (GALT)–With the tagline “No Grey Turned Away,” this organization, its hearty band of volunteers (including me!) and the beautiful grey babies fills me to overflowing!

3.  The ocean and beach walks–There’s something about stepping toes on the beach that instantly calms my mind and relaxes my body so that I can feel the awe of God’s inspiring landscape.

4.  U.S. Marine Sgt. Andrew Paul Tahmooressi and his enduring courage while in a Mexican jail last year–Enough said.

5.  Prayer and worship–I’m a lapsed church-goer but a staunch believer in the rhyme and reason of both prayer and worship (neither of which has rules!).

6.  My Bloggers Alliance–This stunning collection of men and women are my models, my muses and my mentors.  

7.  Young People in Recovery (YPR)–Inspiring seems like a tame word to use for these friends and colleagues in recovery, many of whom weren’t born when I entered recovery!

8.  My little brother–Jeff turns 50 later this week (Holy Cow!) and although we live far apart and we aren’t as close as we once were, I’m grateful for the care he provides for our father and for the principled life he lives.

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9. The process of learning–I pray that I’ll always find inspiration in keeping my mind and my heart open to learn.

10. Spending time with like-minded friends–Taking time to mindfully listen creates so many opportunities for rich conversations and I cherish these times with friends.

11.  Art in all its forms–Paintings, glasswork, pottery, stand-up comedy, movies, Broadway shows, music, and so, so much more: count me inspired!

12.  Playfulness–Also considered an art form by many, there’s something about singing to my dogs, dancing while cleaning the house or just old-fashioned silliness that fills me with joyous inspiration.

13.  Restfulness/napping–Necessary for my inspiration list because I don’t do enough of either but I’ve recently discovered that there is serenity in surrender.

14.  My work as a recovery writer–When I lost my dream job at a national non-profit two years ago, a part of me died only to be resurrected by the inspiration of an older dream that found expression.

15.  The sweetness of my heart connection–Becky inspires me to be a persevering writer, a more patient mom to our four-leggeds, an unconditionally loving companion, and B-2 to her B-1.

It’s your turn! What would be at the top of your Incredible Sources of Inspiration list? Please share in the comments below and pass along this post to your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest pals via the icons below.