Dual-emmas and the Color Gray

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. 

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.

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, 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.

A God Poem

I returned last night from San Antonio where we (upwards of 50,000 people from all over the world) celebrated the miracles of sobriety and recovery.  I chatted with folks from Australia, Germany, Norway, Canada and Mexico, along with others from too many states to list.  To say that the experience was amazing would be the understatement of the last five years–since the last international convention in 2005.

In honor of all those who traveled the airways and roadways to Texas, and for the thousands we represented, I offer these words.

God is.

A simple thing, really, but one that bounces along the outline of thoughts

Like shiny, silver balls from a youthful pinball machine

Careening against tiles and crashing into glass until unexpectedly,

The ball stops.


But in the two-second interval until propelled motion engages,

In a holy fraction of time, five letters intervene,

Interrupting momentum.

A single space and period join two words that shift the pattern,

Refocus the thoughts, redirect the outline until

B follows A and the complex becomes uncomplicated.

God is.

A simple thing, really.

Easily overlooked in the perpetual pursuit of difficulties

And magnification of mental acrobatics.

Leapfrogging from quip to idea to solution,

Ever striving for that elusive answer.

Here, there, around this corner, under that rock?

Easy to forget that simple thing.

God is.

I am.

We are complete; an impenetrable force field of good,

A design for living that transcends all thought, rises above mere thinking.

God is.

A Goat Story

So, a goat wanders up to the fence at Tender Acres, aka, The Manor, the other day.  The dogs were outside and promptly went into a barking frenzy. 

The goat was a beauty, as goats go, tan with thick, curved horns and the expected wirey goatee.  He (only a guess, but it did have horns) was clean, well-manicured for a country goat and had a stubby little hairy tail that flicked nervously.

Every few seconds he bared his teeth and slightly opened his mouth.  Was I really hearing a tiny bleat?  I don’t have a lot of experience with livestock but even I knew that this goat was out of place at The Manor, that someone must surely be out looking for their missing agricultural exemption, I mean, goat.

I do have experience showing up in places where I haven’t been invited and or where I am not especially comfortable.  In either case, like the goat, I’m usually there because I want to know what’s on the other side of the fence. 

Unknown places–and circumstances–usually cause me to feel out of my element.  In the old days, I would mosey up to the bar, order my 7 & 7s or Jack & Cokes, and wait for the alcohol to raise my comfort level.

Once that level was attained, look out.  Who knew what fun and excitement was about to spontaneously erupt.  I’m being sarcastic, of course.

Back to the goat.  As I watched him eye-ball the dogs in his uncomfortable, unfamiliar surroundings, I didn’t notice him sucking down any cocktails to become more comfortable or to have fun. 

I knew one of two things would likely happen, and happen quickly.

Scenario #1:  Mr. Goat would get mean and belligerent, jump the fence and pick a fight with all three dogs, in spite of being outnumbered.

Scenario #2:  Mr. Goat would try to stare-down the dogs (crossing his front legs across his chest if he could) and puff himself up into goat-righteousness.  After a bit, when there was no clear winner of the staring contest, he might shrug his goat shoulders, turn and nonchalantly (but with attitude) walk away.

And that’s exactly what he did.  If he shrugged, I missed it.  If he threw his goatee in the air, I missed that too.  He just sort of left.

Huh.  Can a goat be a teacher?  If you have a goat-like experience in your life, would you jump the fence or walk away?

Circle of Hope

Last week, I had the honor of attending the Circle of Hope Dinner benefiting Fairbanks Treatment Center in Indianapolis (http://fairbankscd.org/).

Some 400 people celebrated the institution’s 65-year history of providing treatment and recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.  One of Fairbanks’ shining programs is its Hope Academy, (http://fairbankscd.org/highschool.htm), a tuition-free recovery high school.  Two of its graduates, one an 18-year-old who began using heroin at the age of 14, spoke movingly during the dinner of her gratitude to the academy for providing a curriculum and recovery program that inspired her to get sober.

Can you imagine being a parent or caregiver of an addicted teenager who receives this incredible gift of hope?

Can you imagine being the teenager feeling the hope of a new life?

Earlier that day, during my flight to Indy, a front page USA Today article described a program in Michigan called the Michigan Prisoner Re-entry Initiative where released prisoners collaborate with cops and receive help finding jobs so long as they stay out of trouble.  This unusual arrangement assists many career criminals turned ex-con obtain well-paying employment and reengage in a society that may not otherwise want them.

Can you imagine what it must feel like to come out of prison, having served time for a decade or more, and a cop–of all people–believes in you enough to help provide a fresh start?

Can you imagine being that ex-offender feeling like life has begun anew?

Hope is a powerful motivator when you have known so much hopelessness. 

Most of us in recovery have experienced both; for me, it was the hopelessness I felt about a year ago that catapulted me into life circumstances where only two things remained consistent–my employment and my sobriety.   

The thing about hope is it has a way of leaking in around the edges of hopelessness when we least expect it. 

One year ago, I had no way of imagining that my circumstances would be what they are today.

I think God graced me with hope in spite of my best efforts to thwart it.  Like a hibiscus beginning to bloom in summer, each day found hope opening a bit more in my life. 

Like the Hope Academy graduates and the recently released Michigan prisoners, hope is the foundation on which my new life began.  Hope is a circle that reconnected me to my beginning, to the innocence of infancy and the humility of renewal.

Do you have a story of hope to share?

Dog Therapy

I’m thinking about brown dogs, three special brown dogs, one the color of lightly toasted bread, one the color of chocolate dipped in copper and the third colored like milk stirred with Hershey’s syrup.

Mugsy the Pug, Maggie, the Lab/Corgi mix and Snickers, the Schnauzer.  If it’s true that the eyes are the window to the soul, these three, the latter two still living, must be centuries-old souls.

I am an overall dog lover–Fancie, a vivacious and spirited Pug puppy bounced into my life as my first dog shortly after I got sober.  Mugsy arrived shortly after and it was his pleading eyes imploring me to rescue him that sealed our bond forever.

He’d been emotionally and physically scarred by a previous owner and saw me as a savior of sorts, I believe.  His past hurts really affected his ability to trust and caused him to be a bit timid.  He had a big bark when he was uncertain about something or didn’t understand a situation and was most comfortable in familiar, quiet surroundings.

As a person trying to find my way in new sobriety, I could relate.

Most days, we’d spend a bit of time nose-to-nose, me lightly caressing the top of his head as he gave me those oh-so-special wet Pug kisses.  The eye contact though, endeared him to me.  We had a connection that required no words, no verbal communication.

Maggie was about a year and a half when she found me online.  She is a beautiful girl with the best combination of both her breeds.  Her Humane Society photo emphasized her eyes–big and brown and soulful.

Like Mugsy, Maggie is sensitive and appears to sometimes be deep in thought about a philosophical canine conundrum. 

My human sensitivity empathizes.

She and I also spent a lot of time eye gazing, again, with no words; we were simply being with each other.

If I am fortunate, perhaps I’ll get to see her and her brother, Porter, a Chihuahua/Jack Russell Terrier mix, from time to time as a part of visitation rights.

Finally, there is Snickers, one of three pups I occasionally get to dog-sit for a few weeks at a time while their parents travel.  Snicks’ sisters, Dora and Whistles, are terrific dogs, but it is the quieter, wiser, more humble Snickers who grabs at my heart.

She comes at me through those doe eyes and grants me adoration and plenty of unconditional love.

For me, animals, and these three dogs in particular, offer a haven against the complications of being human and in recovery.  They live simply and serenely and for the most part, get their needs met on an as-needed basis.  They show me what it’s like to languish and live and love in spite of what may be happening around them. 

How has an animal affected your life?