Monthly Archives: March 2010

Into the Light

In this season of budding renewal, of Passover and Easter, I have been thinking about those moments in which one embraces the opportunity to be reborn spiritually, and opens oneself to the light.

Spiritual renewal is not a part-time job. It requires commitment. There is no vacation from being a good person, nor a sober person. The same is true for safe, reliable, consistent, grounded and sane.  Who would want to escape such grace?

Addictions drag us into darkness. They make it impossible for us to be steady, stable  and positive. Addictions control our moods and behaviors, making us unpredictable, unreliable, sometimes even scary. Spring light is indeed too bright for the hungover human weighed down by an aching body and a soul drained of energy and hope.

The Alcoholics Anonymous Serenity Prayer encourages us to “accept the things we cannot change…change the things we can.” There are many aspects of our humanity, relationships and circumstances that we cannot change. We can, however, commit ourselves to being sane and sober. Full time. One day at a time.

Think of it as surrendering to the rhythm of the season. Why resist such green and fertile possibilities? As Bob Dylan says:

“He not busy being born is busy dying.”

On the eve of Passover and Easter, with new life blooming all around us, what better time to get busy being born.

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Posted by on March 28, 2010 in Recovery Journal


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Hopelessly Devoted

I am so grateful to the person who searched for “hopelessly devoted” on this blog. It’s an important topic. Thank you for prompting me to explore it.

I have spent years of my life in hopeless devotion. I would not wish it on anyone.

If you are hopelessly devoted, I pray that you will find the support and strength you need to let go. I hope I can help you get started by sharing a few thoughts.

Let’s begin by considering the word “hopeless.” The absence of hope is the bottom of the emotional spectrum. It is one notch or two away from “deeply depressed” and a close cousin to “suicidal.”

Hopelessly devoted is essentially a synonym for a love that has no hope. True, healthy love is overflowing with hope. Hopelessly devoted also implies a passion that is either unrequited or unequal. Who needs that?

Devotion is essential to a healthy relationship. The deep surrender and discipline of devotion, when mutual, is certainly a goal that any two people in an intimate relationship would want to reach. But not when it is hopeless or one-sided.

How do we get into the unhappy state of hopeless devotion? And how can we get out of it?

I used to think of hopelessly devoted as being an obsession with an unattainable love object who leads you on and then dumps you. While he moves on, you remain attached to him. In this scenario, the hopeless and helpless devotee is victimized by the object of her obsessive love.

After years of exploring my own ill-fated infatuations, however, I have come to look at it in a different way.

Being devoted to someone who is not devoted to you is, indeed, hopeless. But you are not a helpless victim in the situation. I have learned, through therapy and research, that remaining in love with a rejecting suitor is a matter of choice, not of submitting to someone else’s will. I now know that if I hang onto a futile infatuation, it is because I want a hopeless situation.

Want a hopeless situation?  Yes I do. It is my fear of intimacy that makes me hang on to someone who does not care about me. That sounds horribly self-destructive, and it is. The good news is that I can change my own thinking and behavior.

To move from hopeless to hopeful devotion, we need to open ourselves up to someone who will actually return affection. This is a frightening prospect for those of us who crave but also fear intimacy.

Fear of intimacy can come from various sorts of early traumatic experiences with love. For someone used to working hard for affection and not getting much in return, a hopeless devotion can be a way, as Freud explained, to try to fix the past by repeating it.

But as students of Freud’s “repetition compulsion” theory know, repeating a hurtful pattern does not solve the problem. Nor does it cure a fear of intimacy.

How to move past this dilemma? It starts by learning to open your mind to people who are capable of returning your affection. You have to move “caring and loving” to the top of your list of desirable qualities. It is frightening at first. Sweet and affectionate people can be scary to those who fear intimacy and are not used to being loved in a healthy way. It’s ok to reach out to a therapist or support group for help in doing this. You need to learn to resist the magnetism of the unresponsive lover and to move in the direction of someone who can join you in your devotion and in the love you truly want and deserve.

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Posted by on March 19, 2010 in Essays, Hopeless Devotion


Daylight Saving Time

“Turn on the dark, I’m afraid of the light,” cries the hero of a wise Shel Silverstein poem. The character happens to be a bat, but I understand the sentiment, especially on this day when clocks are set forward and the light lingers and lingers.  In the brighter, longer spring days, everything comes into sharper focus–in the natural world, and in the heart.

Buried memories and feelings come to light, some beautiful, others carrying that deep sense of loss and longing that Brazilians call “saudade”. The reawakening of nature wakes the human soul like a bedroom lamp pulls us out of slumber, like the ugly closing lights chase the last drunks out of a bar. The brightness brings clarity but also evokes fear. Sometimes we want to cover our eyes and beg for darkness, like Silverstein’s bat.

So it is with recovery. When we stop drinking, we illuminate our lives. Memories and feelings flood our consciousness. As in March, the landscape illuminated by sobriety is harsh at first. Mud is still more visible than grass. The air is cold, the skies overcast and the streets littered with detritus left by the winds and snows of winter. The days of tulips and balmy temperatures seem very far away indeed.

It is tempting during the tough early days of recovery to want to run back into the comforting darkness of a bar and a memory-erasing drink. This is the time that tests our courage. We need to take our inspiration from nature–the birds that have the faith to return in March and build their nests in the lingering chill;  the flowers that push through the mud toward rays of sun that are pale at first. We have to keep reaching for the light.

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Posted by on March 14, 2010 in Recovery Journal


Spring Cleaning

It might be the ugliest day of the year. Under a grim gray sky, a damp, penetrating chill hangs in the air. The snow is filthy, the grass streaked with mud, the streets littered with fallen branches. Every front yard has some forlorn aspect: a fallen tree, a toppled garden ornament, scraggly shrubs, bent by heavy snows.

My own house is showing the wear of a long winter. The floors and walls look sooty and drab, furniture is out of place, the kitchen is crying out for a new coat of paint and cabinet repairs. Even the dog, badly in need of grooming, is resembling a remnant of shag carpeting. Her eyes are barely visible through layers of long matted hair.

I am struggling to keep the dinginess from seeping into my soul. I look for affirmation from the outside world and feel irritable and depressed. I want to put the covers over my head and wish it all away.

The more I try to ignore the mess, the unhappier I get. There is only one solution. I need to use some everyday alchemy to transform the ugliness into beauty. It is time to grab a broom and a sponge and start anywhere. Sweep the winter grit off the porch, wash the fingerprints off the walls, and, in the words of a familiar prayer,  “cleanse the thoughts of heart and mind.”


The Best Things In Life

I have never been so glad to see anything as I was to see a tender little cluster of white crocuses in a neighbor’s yard this morning. After enduring weeks of  a winter that was rough in every way,  I stepped out into the first warm rays of early spring. It was like walking into a pair of loving arms.

These days I am quite dependent on nature’s embrace. How grateful I am that she bestows affection without prejudice. The sun’s rays fall equally on the blessed and the troubled. Birdsong and bright flowers are ubiquitous.

I am thankful that as the days have gotten longer the sun has become a playful companion, putting her radiant face up to my windows and doors, beckoning me to leave my shell of loneliness and venture out into the world. It’s as if the fingers of light playing on my drawn shades were  gentle hands reaching for me and pulling me out of my ennui, inviting me to shake off shyness and fear, dare to hope, dare to smile, dare to dance.