Monthly Archives: July 2011


“It must be those brief moments
when nothing has happened – nor is going to.
Tiny moments, like islands in the ocean
beyond the grey continent of our ordinary days.

There, sometimes, you meet your own heart
like someone you’ve never known.”

Hans Borli

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Posted by on July 23, 2011 in Norway, Photo Essays


Mirror Mirror

My son is fascinated by astrophysics so lately we’ve been watching reruns of The Wormhole, a television series about quantum mechanics and the nature of reality.

I was intrigued by the episode on the fourth dimension. While I’m no spatial genius, it did get me thinking about the metaphorical possibilities of the concept.

Here’s what came to mind:

When I dive deep into my head–a psychic soup of mood swings, memories, obsessions, compulsions, fears and fantasies–I put myself into a sort of fourth dimension.

Being in my own parallel universe is scarier than any science fact or fiction.

Peering out from my little world, I’m convinced my perceptions are accurate. Truth is, I’m encircled by a fortress of mirrors. Everywhere I look I see only me: my thoughts, my feelings, my projections. My defensive reflections show me what I already know. They confirm my worst fears. I’m trapped inside the dimension of me. I cannot see past my own psyche.

Nothing sends me into my citadel more swiftly than a new relationship. From the moment I meet someone, my projections block the view of my prospective mate, covering his face with every other man in my memory. When he speaks, his words become speeches I have heard before. His actions are indistinguishable from scenes I’ve played previously. I react to him as if he were every man who disappointed or wronged me. I accuse, I cower, I run, I weep, I rage.

I am deep in my head and out of my mind. It’s a great way to lose a guy. Who would put up with such nuttiness? Hallucinations haven’t been hot since Woodstock.

How to escape the Moi Dimension and return to everyday Earth?

Part of recovery is learning to get out of our heads and live happily among other creatures, see the lovely unexplored paths, the spiritual richness of our lives.

We strive to separate projection from truth, I from Thou. We learn to dismantle our defenses and allow enough space around us to permit other people to teach and love us. We start to see and hear and discover things that are not of our own making. We move away from the mirrors.

We begin to live once more in a three dimensional world we can savor with our senses and our hearts.

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Posted by on July 19, 2011 in Recovery Journal


Baited Part II: Keeping Yr Cool

There’s a saying in the Twelve Step program that goes something like this:

“When you’re an alcoholic many drinks are not enough and one drink is too many.”

An essential piece of AA wisdom is to never take the first drink. These words are not as DoYaThink obvious as they seem.

For a problem drinker one modest beverage too often mushrooms into a monstrous binge. Alcoholics can’t stop at one or two the way other drinkers can; usually we can’t stop until we pass out. That is why one is too many.

There is a another step in this sequence: a toxic draught that often precedes the first drink and must be avoided if one is to stay straight.

I’m talking about emotional triggers for drinking and, in particular, troubled encounters with loved ones.

We can not control the hurtful behavior of our nearest and dearest. We don’t want to stop loving them. We can, however, protect ourselves from other people’s craziness by not rising to the bait.

It is much easier, as we know, to not bite in the first place than to try to unhook oneself later. It is amazing how quickly a provocation will dissipate, even from someone with the power to Punk us till it hurts, if we do not allow ourselves to overreact.

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to free yourself once baited? How tough to calm down once you have unleashed feelings provoked by someone you love who is acting out?

It makes sense that civilization’s most memorable myths include tales of wicked genies swirling out of bottles and primordial evil pouring out of Pandora’s box. There is ancient wisdom in the ubiquitous advice to “keep a lid on it” “rise above it” or “take it easy”.

My favorite variation on this theme: “Don’t give it energy.”

The question is, how to stay above the fray? To be truthful I don’t always stifle myself. This week, for instance, I dodged two fights only to slam into another provocation and completely lose my cool. I ran screaming through my house begging God to put me out of my misery with one of the lightning bolts igniting the summer sky, then spent several hours explaining to my stunned 19-year-old that Mom was just being a Drama Queen and wasn’t going to jump out of the second story window (there’s a roof outside the second story window).

On other occasions, I have been more successful at taking a pass on the gleaming hook just barely covered with my love-junkie’s favorite bait, which is, of course, delicious affection.

Here are a few things that have worked for me. Perhaps they can help you, too:

*A brilliant life coach once advised me to imagine a pause button in my hand. Other mental health gurus speak of visualizing a stop sign. When I feel a reaction coming on, I use these tools to simply stop myself.

*Instead of verbal expression, I endeavor to fall silent, stay calm and breath deeply. I try to focus on how to take care of myself rather than how to punish or change someone else.

*I hang up the phone or if the encounter is live and in person I find a way to absent myself. Remember: powder rooms are meant to double as emotional bomb shelters. That’s why they have fans loud enough to mask heavy sobbing and guest towels strong enough to remedy the worst makeup malfunction. Also bear in mind: A hand-carved custom-milled mahogany front door is not just a status symbol. It is meant to be used, preferably after telling an ingenious whopper and offering a chipper adieu.

*I pray like hell to my Higher Power to help me slow my pulse and unclench my jaw. Removing the focus from the other person and myself and placing both of us into the hands of God offers immediate relief. Secondly, it helps me rise above the situation and stay there until it’s safe to come back down.


Posted by on July 12, 2011 in Recovery Journal



I wanted it so badly I could feel it crunching between my aching teeth: The first bitter bite, the heat in my veins, the sweet release of rage, pure and cathartic, roaring out of me.

Oh how I wanted to take the bait. How I longed to wreak vengeance on the person who was dangling the hook.

Have you ever felt like this? Maybe you know what I mean. That Person Who Can Get To You Like Nobody Else has struck again. You feel wounded, wronged, righteous. You want revenge.

You have been baited and you want to bite.

Problem is, you also know that if you take the bait things will get much much worse: pain, entrapment, spiritual annihilation.

Sometimes it’s really hard to back down from a fight, especially if you have the misfortune of having chronically troubled relationships in your life.

It’s tough when you feel righteously wronged. Someone has tried to get you. Someone is spoiling for a fight. You’re not being paranoid. It’s real.

Alas, even when the other guy is out to get you it’s not always a good idea to get into it. For one thing, you probably won’t elicit a confession, to say nothing of an apology. Folks who bait you rarely admit to it. They dig the subterfuge. Copping to something takes the fun out of it.

What’s more if you react to the provocation then you have made it your problem and your fault. The person who will suffer, especially when the perp is denying everything, is YOU.

Finally, and hardest to admit, if you blame the other guy and punish him or her with a tidal wave of rage, you are ignoring the fact that there may have been some small provocation on your part. Did you deserve the evil response? Definitely not. It’s good to keep in mind, however, that behavior is karmic and if you want to stop a negative cycle you have to let it end with you. No fair? You betcha.

What to do with the leftover feelings broiling your brain?

I’ve tried everything, I am sorry to say, including smashing glassware, burning pictures of the Evil One, mixing a batch of cheap cocktails in the sports blender, and unleashing my ire in an apocalyptic fit of drunk dialing. I don’t recommend any of those.

Today, I stomped around the empty house ranting and weeping, then I cranked up Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and “Monster”. It was splendid to sing along.

After this bit of catharsis, I decided to head for the cooler air of the higher ground. I can’t promise I will stay in the peaceful aerie of forgiveness but it’s a pretty good destination for a scorching day in July.


Waiting To Be Wise

I woke up hot and testy this morning, eager to pick a fight with my Higher Power.

Leading my list of complaints was the following:

“Hey God, tell me this: Why do you give us Youth and Beauty first and Wisdom second?”

“Could we tweak that just a little bit?”

This cosmic quandary crossed my mind as I lay in bed brooding about the subject nearest to my heart which is, as you probably already know,the sweet torture known as Love.

Here’s what was bugging me about God’s Gifts as I stomped around my sticky bedroom looking for my oven-friendly wardrobe:

It is a no-brainer that we tend to attract the most promising mates when we are young and beautiful. The problem is that when we find our God or Goddess we’re usually clueless about what to do with him or her. We are Green and Golden but not yet Wise.

Wouldn’t it be loverly if Youth and Beauty were rewards for years of wise living instead of commodities squandered on those who value them least?

I’m convinced that one of the reasons people break up only to regret it later is because they don’t know how to appreciate what they have when they have it. We can’t see how rare and precious a decent life partner is–and how impossible to replace–until the person and the relationship are irretrievable.

I know several women–myself included–who got divorced and immediately began looking for new husbands. Replacing them, or even trading up, was easy, we thought.
How ridiculous we were, how slow to realize our folly. How rich and tragic was the wisdom we received when countless dates and might-have-been mates dead ended.

By the time I got around to crooning rueful renditions of “I Threw It All Away” and “You Don’t Miss Your Water Till Your Well Runs Dry” there was no one, least of all a beloved ex, within earshot.

If only I had been wise enough to hang on until I got wiser. I regret it to this day, and every once in awhile I want to shake my fist at the heavens about the (Not So) Grand Scheme of Things.

I was reminded of these troubling matters recently when I met a stressed out young couple in the neighborhood.

They were a lovely pair standing outside a beautiful Victorian house. The husband was holding their smiling Buddha Child aloft, while the wife set up a stroller.

The man greeted me amiably and made introductions. His wife smiled faintly and said nothing. The husband continued to chat with me while the woman kept her distance and appeared increasingly distressed. Finally, she walked over, snatched the baby from his arms, strapped it into the stroller and began to push the conveyance up the street. I excused myself.

As I retreated from the scene, my heart went out to the young woman. She brought to mind my own struggle to maintain a dependable union in a distracting world.

How well I remember my fruitless frustrating attempts to defend my sweet loving marriage from intrusion. We’d be bringing our sleeping baby into the house, packing the car for a road trip, or turning out the bedroom lights–and an acquaintance would telephone, a neighbor would stop by to borrow a ladder or a fax would arrive requiring immediate attention. Alas, it was hard for me to hold onto affection and trust as waves of new experiences and new people carried us in and out of intimacy.

I’m pretty sure that it was my struggle to balance monogamy with community that drove a wedge between me and the men who mattered most in my life, including my husband. Jealousy and possessiveness, the need to control, fear of abandonment, the need to grasp and cling destroyed my love.

It seems I could not calm my neurotic behavior long enough to realize that these brief and generally harmless encounters with the outside world were actually a tiny part of life. If only I had been able to loosen my grip and flow with life’s little disturbances, I might still be enjoying the blessed company of a partner.

If only I KNEW what I KNOW.

Walking back to my house, I was overcome by an inappropriate but heartfelt desire to share my belated epiphanies with the young couple.

I wanted to tell them: “Wait for the wisdom you need to love each other. It’s coming. It’s worth it. I know it.”

Alas, I really do.



In honor of Independence Day I have decided to free myself.

Weeeeeee. Wahoooo. Yay. Hooooorrrrayyyyy.

Here are the bonds I’d like to break…maybe you share some of them. Maybe you’d like to make a list of your own.

Perhaps we can start a new tradition. How about July 4th Declarations–Mid year’s resolutions with a theme of personal freedom.

And so I present:


(My First Annual Personal Declaration of Independence)


1)My enslaving obsessions and addictions.

2)The desire to control anyone or anything.

3)The need to win the approval of haters.

4)Being nice to those who are not nice.

5)Crippling fear.

6)The need to be liked.

7)Childhood behaviors, roles and rules.

8)Resentment and rage.

9)Tolerance of abuse.

10)Negative emotions and other unquiet states of mind.



Life Lessons: Opening

My serendipitous encounter in the coffee bar may not have led to romance but it got me thinking about the idea of opening oneself up to love–and letting God do the rest.

Deepak Chopra refers to this as putting one’s desires out into the Universe and trusting that an answer will come. It takes faith and patience.

To illustrate by analogy, I will quote my wise friend and singing teacher, Sidra.The most useful piece of advice Sidra gave me–and it applies to much more than vocalizing–went something like this:

“Never TRY TO SING. Use your technique to prepare–open the mouth and throat, breathe, widen the eyes, drop the larynx, tuck the derriere–and then allow the note to happen.”

I have heard sports coaches describe athletic technique in the same way. Whether it’s a golfer’s swing, a skater’s leap, or a swimmer’s dive, the secret is always in the preparation. If you set up your moves correctly, chances are you will succeed.

Relationships are no different. Forcing, controlling, manipulating, striving, denying or drinking your way into a connection never works. Instead, you position yourself for a friendly encounter, and then allow your Higher Power to do the rest.

Sometimes you think you have set it up and it doesn’t happen. You try again. You ready yourself, you act “as if” to quote a popular catchphrase, and you allow the Universe to respond. It helps to try to relax and find ways to be happy in the interim.

This approach even works in the parallel universe known as internet dating.

Matchmaking websites, as you may know, are based on the premise that dating can be as easy as shopping. You pick the shape, size, style and color you want and then order your love from a website the same way you’d order a club sandwich from room service.

The problem with this add-to-cart approach is that it doesn’t factor in your Higher Power. You can demand–and even receive–the age, hair color, and body type you dream of but for magic and chemistry you need the Universe. At some point in your online dating process you have to loosen your grip, open your heart, allow space and mystery, let Spirit play a part.

It’s a simple idea, in a way, but not easy to pull off.

Staying open, trusting, happy and calm while awaiting your tardy Prince or Princess can be tough.

Sometimes I miss being in love so much that I swear I am losing my sanity. I feel so alone that I have to yell OWWWWWWWWW in the painful silence. I want to pick a fight with God and screetch like a petulant child: “Hey No FAIR, MY TURN, YOU PROMISED, When Are We Going to BE THERE?”

The following moves help me stay on course:


Centering myself.

Remembering this: Alone is where I am right now. I’ve been in the loving place before. I can be there again. If I stay positive and trust my Higher Power, something good will happen.

In the meantime, I will marvel at the process.

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Posted by on July 3, 2011 in Clarity, Essays


The Man in the Cafe

It always happens this way. How could I have forgotten?

The Universe sends you people.

You can drunk dial all your exes. You can fire off a thousand emails on dating sites. In the end, though, you have to admit that the best people never come into your life as a result of stress, straining or hyped-up campaigns.

The folks in your life, whether pleasant brief encounters or serious partners, always arrive serendipitously.

So it was that on a recent morning as I was reading a novel in the coffee bar on the Queen Mary II, drinking an overpriced cappuccino and celebrating another day at sea without a hangover, a big tall handsome friendly British business man came and sat down on the adjacent stool.

We said hello, engaged in ordinary chatter. It was amiable and a little bit awkward. I took mental notes: pale blue eyes in a big square face, gruff manner masking kindness, oversized in a nice way. Eventually we said goodbye. He winked, which almost made me blush. It’s been a long time.

I thought about it once or twice during the day. My heart did not pound. I did not obsess.

The next morning, same time, I was in the coffee bar, and he showed up again. This time, he made a point of squeezing into the only seat next to me. Seemed an awful lot like a second date.

We talked more and longer this time. Eventually he left. There was interest but the time was not yet right for either of us to suggest dinner or a rendezvous in the night club later. It was what it was: pleasant, brief, just right. Perhaps there would be a third encounter that would spark a romance.

I did not see him again. I felt a twinge of disappointment but it was nothing like the heart-sinking ruminations I have experienced after those depressing exercises in mutual appraisal and rejection known as bad dates.

To the contrary, I was delighted to discover that it was possible for someone to take an interest, and for me to feel a bit interested myself. More than that, I was grateful to be reminded that finding a person is not an agonizing slog to the summit.

The Higher Power will send us friends. Our part is to let go of control, try to quiet our fears and put ourselves in situations where others congregate, allow people to enter our lives.

The qualities to cultivate are patience, faith, openness, and receptivity, and, most importantly, the ability to be happy in the interim.

The Universe will do the rest.

I am so grateful for the man in the ship’s cafe–not for being a prince made in Hollywood but for bringing a simple life-affirming truth to my attention.

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Posted by on July 3, 2011 in Clarity, Essays