It’s Time to End the Silence


IMG_3589

See the photo above this post? It was taken last week on a sultry summer afternoon near the foot of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.

Now imagine the grassy area that you see stretching toward the Washington Monument filled with tens of thousands, maybe upwards of 100,000 people on October 4, only 70 days from this writing.

Can you see them on both sides of the reflecting pool? If you look closely at the photo, you can make out the World War II Memorial which looks like it’s right next to the Washington obelisk. Actually, it’s about halfway between the Lincoln and the Washington monuments.

About three quarters of a mile past the Washington Monument lies the Capitol Building currently encased in scaffolding. From the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, the National Mall stretches nearly two miles.

Can you picture the scene on October 4th? People from every state in the nation, every walk of life, every diverse background, coming together to form a united bond against the common enemy: addiction.

It’s time; it’s our time

The UNITE to Face Addiction Rally is all-systems go for October 4th. I hope you’ve heard about it by now; I’ve written about it here a couple of times.

What is UNITE to Face Addiction? It’s a transformative event that will make history as thousands come together to ignite and build a movement to address one of the most pressing health issues of our time.

UNITE to Face Addiction is a grassroots advocacy initiative bringing together people, communities, and organizations working on addiction solutions across a wide spectrum. We are coming together to let the nation know that addiction is preventable and treatable, that far too many of those affected have been incarcerated, and that people can and do get well. Addiction can no longer be ignored.

October 4th is our day; it’s our time. At this writing, we are 70 days away from October 4th, the day 50,000+ people descend on the National Mall to help the 22 million Americans with addiction, to stand up for the 23 million in recovery and to end the silence around the crisis that kills 350 people every single day.

That’s right. One person, usually a young person, dies every four minutes from an alcohol- or drug-related incident.

It’s our time.

The National Mall

My sweetie and I wanted to get a taste of what it might feel like to be at the Rally on October 4th.
Sitting on the steps beneath the Lincoln Memorial, I could almost hear the echoes of all those who took their place in history while leaving the memories of their causes on the Mall.

I thought about how the ground had shaken with the footsteps of marchers for civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights. I thought about how the water in the reflecting pool had collected all the tears shed for lives lost when breast cancer and AIDs were shameful secrets.

The very air around us absorbed decades of cries demanding freedom to live with respect and dignity, free from stigma and discrimination, deserving of empathy and respect.

Soon–in less than 70 days–people in recovery from addiction, their families and friends and entire supportive communities will take to the National Mall to stake our well-deserved place in history.  It’s time to end the silence that shrouds addiction and come together as a single unit demanding solutions.

It’s time to let the nation and the world know that we are Facing Addiction. It’s time to Recover Out Loud.

Join us, please. For more information, go to FacingAddiction.org.

Drop Your Black/White Self–Embrace Gray!


file000179237539
Originally published in July 2010; reprinted here while I’m on a tiny hiatus this week working on the UNITE to Face Addiction campaign.
In the July edition of O, The Oprah Magazine, Martha Beck describes the either-or, black or white personality type (http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Martha-Becks-Problem-Solving-Strategies-Decision-Making-Advice).You know, the person who, when presented with two options, can make a snap decision and by golly, not be persuaded off the point.  It’s the car buyer who says, “I’ve driven Fords all my life, never had a problem, had 10 of them, why would I buy a Chevrolet now?It’s the consumer who buys the same brand of bread, milk, ice cream or potato chips even when presented with another brand at a lesser cost  because he or she has always purchased that kind.  It’s the traveler who would never contemplate flying to a destination even though driving by car takes a thousand times longer.

Responding to dual-emmas

Republican or Democrat.  Aisle seat or window.  Baseball or football.  Mashed potatoes or baked.

Beck writes that “limiting ourselves to one answer means we often stop seeing what’s actually happening” and that we tend to make these decisions based on our history of always responding in the same way.

I’m usually envious of people who easily make decisions about where to sit on Southwest Airlines or which side dish they want with their steak dinner.  Plus there is a part of me that is hyper-critical of my inability to choose one side of the fence.  It’s the “what if the grass is greener?” syndrome.

Admittedly, I am minimalizing what Beck calls “dual-emmas.”  Her article discusses deeper life decisions, like whether to begin dating two weeks after a major break-up.  There is a camp of people who would emphatically say either, “Life is short, go for it,” or “Are you crazy?  Why would you do that to yourself so soon?”

Then, there is the camp where I live:  “Uh, I don’t know.  If I didn’t, would I . . . on the other hand, if I did, I think I might . . . but what if I . . . and on the other hand, I think . . .

My problem is I think too much and then I run out of hands.  My life is full of dual-emmas.  I can see both sides of situations and have spent much of my life saying dumb things like, “Let me be the Devil’s advocate here,” only to discover that the Devil doesn’t need an advocate.

Learn to be a both-and person

In recovery, I’ve convinced myself that my old journalism school training of considering situations objectively has become a detriment.  Seeing something from multiple angles can be exhausting.  I’ve often wondered if considering multiple outcomes makes me kind of wishy-washy; just make a decision, for God’s sake!

Now though, Beck gives me permission to not feel pressured into being an either-or person.  I can be a both-and person!

I don’t have to force myself into black or white.  I can be gray!

My friend Cathy Dunn, a very wise woman, says, “Gray gives you permission.”

Now that is a statement of freedom.  All these years I thought the color gray was dull and lifeless.  What an epiphany to realize that gray actually is the direct route to a technicolor life!

Thank you Martha Beck, and to my pal, Cathy, may you be blessed with a rich palette of shades of gray.

Photo courtesy of gamerzero

K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple Sweetie


_DSC0862One of my early recovery mentors was a diminutive woman named Shirley Rapp who lived and breathed the 12 steps.

Shirley, who died a few years ago, wrapped her recovery around me when I was new and scared. She’d say, “Now honey, you’re gonna be alright. All you have to do right now is stay sober and God will take care of everything else. Just keep it simple, sweetie.”

An acronym of love

I don’t think KISS–originally known as Keep It Simple, Stupid–is talked about much anymore. I never liked that version of the acronym anyway. Shirley’s version–Keep It Simple, Sweetie, is much gentler and more loving.

When you’re new to recovery, keeping things simple is a really, really good idea (not a bad plan for long-term recovery either!) but attaching a derogatory term like stupid only emphasizes a recovering person’s low self-image and esteem.

Instead, using sweetie eliminates the negative connotation. It’s softer and helps me take it easy on myself.

Most recently, Keep It Simple, Sweetie has opened my eyes to the beautiful surroundings of working the 12 steps all over again with a woman who reminds me a little bit of Shirley.

Step One: Powerlessness and Unmanageability

Working through the steps with a couple of decades of sobriety is an interesting proposition. For instance, I didn’t really understand that honesty is involved in becoming aware of my lack of power and seeing how my life is unmanageable.

Digging into what honesty means is daunting. Think about this one: Dishonesty includes the delusion of control.

Being honest implies telling the truth which is fairly easy until you begin to consider all the lies we tell ourselves, like: we’re happy when we’re not, we’re satisfied when we’re not or we’re okay when we’re not.

So, are you completely honest today?

Acceptance is the key

The trick is to do this work with no judgment. Any thought I have like, I should know this already with 24 years in recovery needs to exit the head space.

Instead, I keep it simple, sweetie. Go easy, be loving, be gentle. Listen to the words of Melody Beattie as you say then aloud:

We do not move forward by resisting what is undesirable in our life today. We move forward, we grow, we change by acceptance.

And these words:

Overcome not by force. Overcome by surrender.

Just as I never really thought about Step One including honesty, I also didn’t realize that it included acceptance.

I’ve always just plowed through the first step as it’s written: I am powerless over alcohol and my life is unmanageable.

There’s a fairly famous story in the book Alcoholics Anonymous called “Acceptance Was the Answer” (fka “Doctor, Alcoholic, Addict”) in which the author describes finally getting to the core understanding of how it is possible to stay sober.

Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept my life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.

Indeed, acceptance is the necessary response to  all my problems–real or perceived–today.

Now that’s what I call keeping it simple, sweetie.

Photo courtesy of scottsann

Gay Marriage: Yay! Now, Addiction Recovery . . .


file701299029783There’s a part of me that remains awestruck by the Supreme Court decision that makes gay marriage legal anywhere in the United States. I mean, seriously, did I ever think that the law would change in my lifetime?

No I did not.

I want to believe that love always wins but then I see so many of my friends posting on social media that they’ve had to “unfriend” people they knew, were even close to. In the meantime, purported Christians with a pulpit or lectern–let’s be clear that they’re mostly just old white guys–thump their chests and quote the Bible.

“Jesus says you’re a sinner . . . but he would forgive you and so do I.” Can’t you feel the condescension? Then they try to convert you to their brand of righteousness.

Some people are natural-born dividers.

They shove a wedge between themselves and whoever thinks, acts or believes differently from them. Oh, their righteous and religious indignation is impressive, but in the end, they lose.

Why?

Because love does always win.

I’ve lived long enough and have been in recovery long enough to know that no matter what swirls around us, if we want to be happy we have to love and be loved.

Sad and depressed people focus on the things that divide us instead of choosing to see what unites us.

If it were easy, more people would choose love. But setting your sights on love takes commitment, fortitude and a willingness to let shit go. I’m telling you, love ain’t for sissies.

We’re told in 12-step meetings that love and tolerance of others is our code. Tolerance and acceptance of others’ behavior is a problem for a lot of us, especially when our “rights” are trampled.

Don’t get me wrong. I am over-the-moon thrilled that the Supreme Court ruling fell on the side of love. But I have to honest. I’m also jealous.

There is still so much love missing for people with addiction. The LGBT community suffered decades of shame and stigma before the gay marriage ruling. When will people in long-term recovery, their friends, families and supporters get to shed the shame and stigma attached to addiction and recovery?

Will we get a flag of freedom raised after eliminating employment and housing discrimination or criminal justice inequalities or inadequate treatment care options?

Yet people in recovery struggle every day. People trying to get into recovery fight the system’s substandard levels of response every day.

People die from addiction every single day. In fact, one person–typically a young person–dies every four minutes from addiction. That’s the equivalent of a jet falling from the sky with no survivors–every single day.

The time to show love is now.

We’re ramping up to a phenomenal rally on the National Mall in DC on October 4th. Called UNITE to Face Addiction, tens of thousands of people will descend on the nation’s capital demanding recognition of the love that it takes to stand up for recovery.

My sweetie and I will be there. I’ve already told her to prepare for me to be a blubbering mess. I don’t care because on that day, I’ll stand on the Mall as a gay woman with marriage rights and as a person in long-term recovery.

I can almost feel the love now.

Photo courtesy of Arashdeep

Surrender to Recover; UNITE to Face Addiction


5057210527_b5d69ae811_zHave you ever wondered why some people “get” recovery and other people–actually, most people– don’t?

I’ve asked myself that question for years. Come to find out, so has my dear friend and recovery mentor, John.

Don’t you love honest and transparent conversations with people you love?

Miracles and a servant’s attitude

I’ve known John for more than 20 years. I’ve always appreciated his direct, often matter-of-fact way of looking at recovery from alcoholism and other addictions.

He’s the one who taught me about the ickiness of self-pity (“Sometimes we sit in our own s*&t because it feels warm.”).

I’ve admired his compassionate nature and his dedication to the active growth of his spiritual life.

Last week, I learned something new about John, and it’s a biggee. I learned that as a man in long-term recovery, he never gives up on people who are so very sick with addiction, even when their lives are at risk. He never lets go of hope.

“How can I?” he asked me. “I don’t know when God is done with them.”

John believes in miracles and in being a servant of God.

The gnawing, haunting question

So, why do some people stay in recovery while a majority of people don’t?

John and I drilled deeply into the why behind never drinking or using drugs again. Or maybe a better question is why do some people surrender completely and some never do?

For me–and for John–the willingness to surrender our lives every day is a beacon that guides our travels. Oh, we continue living as willful, bull-headed people, but we make sure that the Power that guides us is bigger than our wills.

People who surrender are willing to change, to accept new ideas, thoughts, beliefs and actions. They stay open to learn new things. Perhaps above all else, they are honest with themselves.

Honesty, open-mindedness and willingness–those are the essential elements that drive my life in recovery. Millions of people never reach the H.O.W. of recovery though. I believe the layers of fear, shame and self-loathing are wrapped too tightly, making it hard to break free.

Society doesn’t help–doesn’t do a very good job of ripping those layers away from the outside. If it did, maybe my brothers and sisters who struggle with addiction would find the inside work easier.

We’re working on it, though. There’s a nationwide campaign underway to help people understand why it’s necessary to treat everyone with addiction with the same love and hope that John shows his friends.

UNITE to Face Addiction

Lapel StickerUNITE to Face Addiction is a grassroots advocacy initiative that is demanding solutions to a national health crisis that impacts more than 45 million people directly.

On October 4th, the group will mobilize on the National Mall in Washington, DC to let the nation know that addiction is preventable and treatable, that far too many of those affected have been incarcerated and that people can recover.

We can eliminate the shame and stigma that can keep people with addiction trapped in a cycle of self-destruction. It’s not their fault . . . finding fault is not the point. Finding solutions is the point.

We have to make recovery mainstream so that more people and their loved ones have a welcome and broad entry point. It’s about time, don’t you think?

I’ll be on the National Mall the first weekend in October. I’d love to see you there too.

We are–and will–UNITE to Face Addiction.

Photo courtesy of Portland Prevention