Hemingway or Wilson: The “I’m Okay” Story

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Have you considered how often you say the words “I’m okay?”

Usually the response follows a question from someone asking how you are or how you’re feeling. I heard the words during a talk given recently by author and philanthropist Mariel Hemingway. She appeared at an Enterhealth reception at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.

The “I’m okay” story around mental health and addiction

Ms. Hemingway is known for her philanthropic work around mental health and addiction; in that work she speaks about her family–her famous grandfather, as well as her mother, father and sisters. Suicide from mental health conditions is rampant along with, in her case, obsessive attempts to control the out-of-control circumstances created from addiction and depression.

From the time she was young until she was 16 and moved to New York to make the movie Manhattan, Hemingway cleaned up the messes that followed her parents parties. In the middle of the night, she would get rid of the evidence, as she said, in hopes that the new day would bring hope (her word) and changed behaviors.

Like so many of us who grew up in homes where addiction was as much a part of the household as the furniture, Hemingway believed her role was a normal one. She believed every family had a fixer.

Ultimately, she spent decades trying to find where she fit, once she gave up her fixer role. She sought her identity through diets, religions, relationships and behaviors but nothing fit just right when she tried it on.

Finally, an answer

The answer to the identity she sought finally came during a private audience visit with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. She and a group were allowed to ask questions but she simply sat quietly next to His Holiness periodically exchanging a smile.

He must have sensed her seeking because at the end of the visit, he leaned over, touched her and quietly said, “You’re okay.”

So simple, yet so profound–and so much of what I know but have to practice. I no longer have to run from my story or fix my past because I am okay in this moment. As Rev. Neil said yesterday at Cathedral of Hope, sometimes when the glass feels half empty, the best we can do is simply be grateful for the next breath we draw.

Moment by moment, being present is a powerful exercise.

It doesn’t matter whether your family name is Hemingway or Wilson or any other name, Mariel reminded us that there are always gifts and baggage.

I say it’s time to let go of the baggage and embrace the gifts. For that realization, I am grateful and I’m okay.

Photo courtesy of takeasnap

Political Theater Lacks Compassion

Positive reinforcement word Compassion engrained in a rock

Like most of you, I feel disgusted with the daily tabloid-like fodder coming from the presidential candidates’ camps. Decency, respectability and admirability, like Elvis Presley, left the building weeks ago.

Political theater? We’re living the 2016 version of The Nightmare on Elm Street only this is no dream and Freddy Krueger is alive and well–he just has better hair.

Oh, I’m no Hillary fan either, except, she at least has  a comprehensive plan to address substance use disorder and addiction.

But even that topic, which is dear to my heart, takes a back seat to what is really missing in this election cycle.

Compassion.

The theater playing before us is not meant to be a laughing matter but it certainly is a joke. The joke’s on us–and it’s a cruel one–because we’re losing so much of what makes America great.

We need not lose ourselves too.

We have to dig deep

I’ve been tuning out a lot of news lately. I try not to watch the political back-and-forth too closely. I’ve decided that in this final month before the presidential election, I’m going to reach for the one thing that Jesus thought was “the dominant quality of God,” according to author Marcus J. Borg.

That quality, even more than holiness, is compassion.

In his book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, the Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith, Borg describes Jesus as a political rebel-rouser. He showed/demonstrated how to defy those who followed the lead of ridiculous men, even those who were rich and powerful.

“For Jesus, compassion was the central quality of God and the central moral quality of a life centered in God,” Borg writes. “These two aspects of compassion are combined most clearly and compactly in a single verse . . . ‘Be compassionate as God is compassionate.'” Luke 6:36

Jesus walked a walk of decency, compassion and reverence for people, not the possessions or status symbols that leaders and rulers of the time worshiped.

Jesus eschewed the rules of the day in order to be the Golden Rule.

It’s time for us to do the same

Admittedly, my view of the political theater is from the cheap seats. But I know this: there was a time when our country’s leaders were admired and emulated. Children were told they could grow up to be the president.

The presidency was held in high regard. Today, many believe it is little more than something to be mocked and derided.

It’s a sad situation with no single, nor simple solution.

Sometimes we must be our own solutions. We must take the lead, be the change.

Between now and November 8, a little less than one month from now, I intend to lead with compassion, the highest quality of Jesus, Gandhi, the Buddha, the Dalai Lama and other people of Spirit.

Then I’ll cast my ballot along with what will hopefully be a good majority of Americans. Political theater: the show must go on.

Celebrate Recovery Month 2016

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A friend of mine sent me a text yesterday saying she relapsed with addiction. She asked me to take her to a 12-step meeting–we’re going tonight so she can establish a new sobriety date.

I’m proud of her for reaching out. But why wouldn’t she? If she suffered with food allergies and ate chocolate cake even though chocolate and gluten cause an allergic reaction, would she tell me?

With every other health condition, when we “relapse,” we get the help we need, whether it’s medical, behavioral, spiritual. There is no shame, no blame, no judgment.

Addiction is different.

I’ve often said that if I relapse I don’t know if I could face my recovery support system–my friends, my sponsor, my meetings. Man, talk about internalized shame.

But if I practice what I preach–that shame and stigma should be eliminated from every facet of prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery from addiction–then I would hold my head high and say, yes, I did relapse into my disease. The chemicals in my brain rearranged my thinking and caused me to take an action I knew would be harmful.

If I practice what I preach, I would say, although I relapses, I’m here now. I’m grateful that I have X amount of time in recovery, in spite of this relapse. Yes, I have a new sober date but I’m ready to move on.

That’s likely what I’ll say to my friend tonight.

Every day is a miracle day, a day to celebrate recovery from addiction.

If you’re nice to people, do good things for others (including animals–definitely animals!), apologize when you’ve been an ass, treat yourself decently and remember to thank the God of your understanding for your recovery, then addiction stays in the back seat.

Recovery isn’t rocket science; it’s actually fairly simple. But my magnificent, magnifying mind can eff it up in a heartbeat.

When I start thinking about my needs, my plans, my desires, I’m screwed. Maybe not today. Maybe not even next week. I might be able to get away with grisly behavior for a few days, but not much more than that.

Did I run my needs, plans and desires by God? Did I pause when I was agitated or did I say the first asinine thing that came into my head? Who exactly has been in the front seat driving my MINI?

Lucky for me those errors in judgment that make me and those around me crazy have not sent me back to alcohol or other substances. I don’t know why I’ve been spared that hell on earth while others around me die every single damn day from addiction.

It could be me tomorrow. Or my beautiful love. Or my father. Or my friend.

But today, please God, let us be sober. Let us feel your power and your love, feel it surging through us like water surging at Niagara.

Then, let us turn to our brothers and sisters who struggle, to their families, and figure out a way to help them find peace. Show us how to reach out, how to open our hearts and our minds to help another who suffers.

Let us do what you would do if you were here. Let us love unconditionally as if our lives depended on it, because, in fact, they do.

Happy Recovery Month.

16 Quotes From Saint Teresa

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Mother Teresa, known as the “saint of the gutters,” died nineteen years ago today. Yesterday, Pope Francis declared “blessed Teresa of Calcutta to be a saint” during a canonization Mass in Vatican City.

Two words come to my mind when I think of Mother Teresa: Love and service.

She tended to others as I imagine Jesus did, with humility, grace and joy. She ministered in places and situations that few others would go.

Pope Francis said of her work,”mercy was the salt which gave flavor to her work, it was the light which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering.”

Many have captured her words over the years. Today, I wish to honor the woman, the newest saint, with a few of the messages she shared about love and service.

A life not lived for others is not a life.

Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.

I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather he will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?

It is not the magnitude of our actions, but the amount of love that is put into them that matters.

Love to be real, it must cost—it must hurt—it must empty us of self.

If you judge people, you have no time to love them.

In loving one another through our works we bring an increase of grace and a growth in divine love.

Why can’t there be love that never gets tired?

If we want a love message to be heard, it has got to be sent out. To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.

There is a terrible hunger for love. We all experience that in our lives – the pain, the loneliness. We must have the courage to recognize it. The poor you may have right in your own family. Find them. Love them.

The greatest science in the world, in heaven and on earth, is love.

I must be willing to give whatever it takes to do good to others. This requires that I be willing to give until it hurts. Otherwise, there is no true love in me, and I bring injustice, not peace, to those around me.

At the hour of death when we come face-to-face with God, we are going to be judged on love; not how much we have done, but how much love we put into the doing.

Let us more and more insist on raising funds of love, of kindness, of understanding, of peace. Money will come if we seek first the Kingdom of God – the rest will be given.

If we pray, we will believe; If we believe, we will love; If we love, we will serve.

I’m just a little pencil in the hand of a writing God sending a love letter to the world.


Champions of Change, Survivors of Storms

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In and around the Texas Gulf Coast town of Rockport, there are magnificent centuries-old oak trees that grow nearly horizontal to the ground.

We saw them recently, on a few days respite from life in suburban Dallas. I was astounded by these incredible examples of God’s enduring strength, these champions of change and survivors of storms

There’s a lesson here about learning to lean where I’ve previously stood flat-footed and braced against the storms of life.

You can learn to lean and not break

There are times when the winds of this world threaten to snap you into  two pieces. I really don’t think I’m the only one who experiences the destructive nature of howling winds that slash at my metaphorical windows. They screech at you until, in your anguish you just know that you’ll be ripped from your moorings. Life as you know it will be finished.

Remember: those bent oak trees are still beautiful in their bentness. And you, no matter how storm-battered, are still beautiful too.

The trick to withstanding the storms of life is learning to pause, assess and respond without reacting.

How to get onPAR (Pause, Assess, Respond)

It’s okay to take deliberate steps away from crushing news. Lord, I can see how people become surly and jaded. When I’m exposed to nonstop news, including the diatribe on social media, I tend to sink into quicksand of sarcasm and criticism.

At those times when I find myself overwhelmed by life’s grittiness, I’m trying to pause (I’m not always successful!) before getting sucked into the grime.

I assess the situation. Do I need or want to play? Is there an option to walk away and not participate?

Once I determine my part, then I respond instead of reacting (the former being a proactive stance).

Here’s an example: Say there is some sort of work drama that affects my department or my piece of the work plan. I can’t walk away but I can choose to sit quietly and keep my mouth shut!

That’s only one example of two trillion.

I’m fortunate that as a contractor, I work alone in my home office. I don’t get pulled into the vortex of office life. But that doesn’t mean my world is always peaceful! Here’s what I do when faced with daily vicissitudes:

I take a break. I write. I pray. I take the dogs for a walk and I deliberately notice the stillness of the water in the lake. Peace, be still.

I breath and I bend, grateful for my flexibility.

One day at a time, I lean toward flexibility and fluidity searching for a profound sense of grace and fortitude. All will be well because all IS well.

So long as you bend but don’t break.