Author Archives: mariehelene56

2012 Was Awful. 2011 Will Be Better.

There is no finer way to drive oneself to drink–or insanity–than by trying to improve the past or condemn the future.

There is no more perfect day on which to do it than December 31st.

Drinking is only one of the many temptations I must eschew on this last day of the year.

I am, like many people, a tragic but true believer in psychic time travel. What Might Have Been is the thing I love most in the world. Woulda Coulda and Shoulda are my BFFs. I also enjoy the company of Wishing, Hoping and Just Knowing what’s going to happen. On gloomy days I keep company with Dread and Anxiety and dwell in what the Twelve Step program calls “the wreckage of the future.”

It’s a crazy, painful way to live, and I try to remind myself of this on a daily basis.

New Year’s Eve is a teachable moment.

I try to imagine, for instance, what it would be like if today’s newspapers and blogs carried lists of the Best and Worst of 2012. What if we mapped out the whole year and looked back on it before it even began. For anxious control freaks like myself it would be a dream realized.

What if, at the same time, we looked ahead to 2011 as an opportunity for change, renewal and new beginnings?

Now that for me, and perhaps for you too, would be nirvana.

It would be also insane and impossible.

Of course many of us want to manipulate our past and future–and obviously we can not. You don’t have to be smarter than a fifth grader to know that humans are not capable of fixing history nor looking back wisely on what lies ahead.

Living with the past, we learn in recovery, is about doing our best to find acceptance and make peace with our regrets and mistakes. Facing the future is about courage and openness.

Tonight, I hope and pray I will stay steady and sober, neither falling forward nor staggering back in the darkness.


Posted by on December 31, 2011 in Recovery Journal


Getting There

The man in the cafe car orders a double whiskey with his morning muffin. A few feet away another fellow peruses the Canyon Ranch website on his laptop. I am buried in a book of sober meditations, hoping to morph into a saint before the Acela reaches New York, praying that I will stay straight and behave myself at Thanksgiving dinner. If I have learned anything at all in recovery it is to focus on getting my own act together and not worry about what others will do. There is plenty of work to be done.

This will be my first holiday season without alcohol. I am five months sober.

Thanksgiving is, above all, about showing up. That’s what all of us on this train are doing. Whether we’re drinking or sober, anxious or calm, angry or contented, dreading the family reunion or anticipating it with joy, we have decided to show up somewhere and connect with our fellow humans on this day dedicated to gatherings of relatives and friends.

Showing up is the first step in behaving well. Showing up is where the healing begins with other people. You can’t make friends if you don’t show up. You can’t mend fences without showing up. You cannot feel the growth and change in yourself and others if you don’t show up.

The first thing anyone said to me at an AA meeting was: “Keep coming back.”

That advice saves lives. Alcoholics don’t like to show up. We tend to fear other people. We are afraid they will hurt us or that we are not good enough. We fear shame, embarrassment, hurt feelings, anger, resentment. We fear bad interactions. We fear our own weaknesses and shortcomings, especially our addiction, and the trouble they cause. So we isolate, we give excuses, we avoid the people who could take away our loneliness and help us. We drink, become increasingly morose, and isolate even more.

Showing up is the antidote: Taking a train, a plane, a car, a bicycle, or our own feet out of the house and into the larger, livelier, warmer world.

When we show up, we give ourselves the chance to be courageous, be loved and be truly grateful.


Posted by on December 2, 2011 in Recovery Journal, Uncategorized


All In My Head

Is it the thought that counts?

I think not.

What matters much much more is the action.

Maybe there is an alien civilization where beings connect with one another telepathically, a society of limbless heads soundlessly transmitting.

Not so humans–thank goodness.

I was reminded of this recently when a former love told me that he still thinks about me every day.

At first I was thrilled to hear it. For weeks I thought about him thinking about me and tried to convince myself that this would fill the empty place inside me that longs to love and be loved. I imagined him thinking his way right up to my front door–and then I remembered that he would have to use his legs, and not just his head, to return to my life.

Alas, the thought of a thought is not the same as a smiling face at the door, a hand in my hand, a strong embrace, a caring voice asking, “how are you?” and meaning it.

For years thoughts of thoughts and dreams of dreams and imaginings of imaginings were what passed for my love life. I was a lonely child and a lonely teenager.

A couple of times in my life, I have ventured beyond the thought into the actual sensual and tactile and real-time experience of relationship, of love between two humans. It bears no resemblance to thinking about someone thinking about you.

Being together in the palpable present is all there is when it comes to relationships. It is a sad perspective indeed that has made me believe I should settle for thoughts of thoughts instead of opening myself up to the possibility of an actual warm and loving human within reach and view.

It is time to banish these imaginings and find love not with my head but with hands and heart.


Posted by on October 16, 2011 in Body and Soul



If only I could master the wise and ancient discipline of living in the moment.

I breathe in. I breathe out. I sigh deeply and shake my head.

I understand the goal but find the practice extremely challenging. It seems virtually impossible to keep my restless mind from obsessing gloomily about the past or tiptoeing trepidatiously into the future.

Nowhere would present-moment awareness be more useful to me, and nowhere is it more lacking, than in my romantic life.

At any given time, you can find me brooding about at least one of two types of men. Neither one exists in real time as a present-moment relationship but either species can dominate my thoughts and eat up endless hours.

Type Number One is a former love whom I haven’t seen in years and who exists only in my memory and imagination. Who cares that he is nowhere to be found in the present. In my memory, all the loveliness of our time together is preserved in High Def, and all the frightening fight scenes, hurt and heartbreak, have been erased by Time and Denial.

His image is equally vivid in my fantasies, where I enjoy daily, and sometimes hourly, screenings of The Return of My Ex…a Happily Ever After melodrama about a rapturous reunion whose details change but plot remains the same: He Comes Back, We Surrender to Passion, We Meld With Each Other and Remain Joined and Joyful for All Time.

Type Number Two is someone I know casually whom I am sure is Destined to be My Man at some unspecified point in the…present?…No, future of course. We have almost no contact in the present. When we do have a fleeting encounter, it is committed to memory, where I edit and tweak it into a convincing snippet of a love story. TN2 is a pleasant acquaintance with whom there is enough chemistry to produce a credible fantasy of being a couple but (as with TN1) not enough of a relationship to produce a romance outside of my imagination.

Why do I do these ridiculous things? The most obvious answer is that old bugaboo known as fear of intimacy. In my twisted way of thinking (or the unconscious depths of my brain) a largely imaginary relationship has a couple of advantages: I can control it and I will never get close enough to it for it to hurt me. It also probably came in handy at my all-girls high school to have a fierce romantic imagination that could make a rare date or dance occupy my thoughts for several months. I guess that was better than facing up to the true depths of my teenage loneliness.

Clearly there are some things that I need to recognize…right this very minute:

I left my all-girls institution many decades ago and have no need to invent or enhance relationships.

Friendships or romances that barely exist in daily life don’t exist at all.

Living in my memory and imagination is neither mentally nor spiritually healthy.

Living in my memory and imagination is a great way to end up really crazy and lonely.

The human connection that I am hoping for will only show up in the present and I will only be there to greet him if I’m living in the present.

Guess I’m going to have to take another shot at Being Here Now.


Posted by on September 22, 2011 in Foibles, Follies and Roadblocks


Owning It

Here’s a difficult epiphany:

I am responsible for all of my actions, past present and future.


It stinks to recognize that sometimes I’ve been a bad guy, or done the wrong thing, over the course of a lifetime.

I’d like to think of myself as being Nice and Sweet and Lovable.

I’d like to think that other people, or challenging situations, made me do this or that. Oh how I would love to hand this messy ugly stuff to someone or something else.

I hate the fact that I have become aware that blaming is lame. I used to love passing the buck. It was so much fun and brought so much relief.

I was a lovely, touching victim–especially when I was young, tremulous and tearful from a surfeit of hormones, and painfully thin.

Not only did I think other people were responsible for my lapses in conduct. I believed that I was responsible for other people’s behavior. This created some interesting dynamics in intimate relationships. I spent a lot of time exchanging blame with my significant others, feeling guilty and responsible for their actions and laying guilt trips on them, and ultimately engaging in attempts at mutual control and suffocation. Small wonder we parted–and I was left alone and lonely.

OK, I do know that I can attribute a few of my worst qualities and behaviors to my genes. There’s a good scapegoat. I can also lay a tiny bit of blame on My Childhood and the traumas I endured as I was coming up in the world.

Here’s the bummer, though. Here’s the joke it took me decades to get.

Once you leave childhood and home behind and you’re on your own, you become responsible for your actions, no matter how scarred and crippled you are as a result of your genetic material or the way you grew up.

I sure wish I had known that about 30 years ago. I think I would have watched my behavior a lot more closely.

There is, however, an up side to all this. Recognizing that I am responsible for my own actions also means that I have some say over what I do. No one else gets to control me or my behavior, although I hope that God will weigh in early and often. I am in charge of my actions. The same is true for others. I don’t have any control over what they do nor should I try to exercise it.

And that means:

I’m off the hook. I can concentrate on tending my own garden.

Tending it mindfully and well.


Posted by on September 21, 2011 in Clarity



Tonight I let my dog Brownie take me on a walk. I held onto the leash while she pulled me along.

My beloved hound led me to all her favorite haunts along the winding alleyway. She stopped to munch on bark and tall grass, sniff the dirt by the dumpster and generally browse at her own leisurely pace. Brownie decided which direction we would go when we left the house, which fork in the alley we would take and how long we would spend on our stroll.

How thrilling it was to allow another creature to take the lead; how amazing to let go of control, not grasp and tug on the leash anxiously nor fret about what she was rolling in, eating and sniffing. What a relief to unclench my brain and ramble in the fragrant fall night with my canine in charge. It was blissful to relinquish the anxiety of running things.

Lately I’ve been making a habit of letting Brownie take the lead whenever we go out. I want to practice releasing control, allowing other creatures, other spirits to show me where to go.

An existence that unfolds without me forcing, pushing, manipulating, or insisting is a revelation. I discover that life’s loveliness is a gift that is given the moment my hands and brain stop grasping for it.

Sometimes when Brownie and I are out walking up the broad empty alley on these early fall evenings, listening to the last of the summer crickets and inhaling the scent of dry leaves and sweet clematis, I close my eyes for a moment and allow the Universe to lead both of us.

The feeling is amazing:

Faith. Trust. Surrender. Bliss.

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Posted by on September 18, 2011 in Creatures, Meditations on Nature



I am frightened by life’s open spaces. I clutter up silences with chatter, rush around pretending to be busy. On the rare occasions, however, when I quiet myself sufficiently to allow stillness, wondrous things happen:

In silence I am able to really sense another person.

In silence another person is able to see me for what I am.

I have never been kissed without a very deep silence occurring first.

I have never had an intelligent thought without silence preceding it.

I have never solved a problem without stillness.

I have never had a moment of clarity without stillness.

I don’t know why I feel the need to fill every space. My guess is that making noise and getting busy are things I do when I’m afraid.

It seems the more I long for something, the more I fear it. I long to be close to others. I long to be open and vulnerable enough for miracles to happen. I am dying to unclench my hands and abandon the illusion of control. I yearn for someone else to pick up the thread: another voice, another hand.

I am also terrified of these things.

Filling spaces with noise and activity appears to be a defense against anyone getting close.

They say human beings are made up mostly of water. I think we are comprised mainly of defenses. Defensiveness is a wonderful trait for survival, not so good for intimate relationships and everyday miracles.

I am aware that in order to connect with other human beings and with life experiences, I need to be undefended in silence and open spaces. I fear, however, that if I remain unguarded for too long, I will be scorched or trampled or feel the need to flee–or at least get behind a solid barricade.

Perhaps the secret is to develop accordion-like instincts, or the rhythms of a fish…a fluid ability to be open one minute, and closed the next.

It requires tremendous emotional flexibility to do that, as well as a lot of courage.

I think it would be worth a try.

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Posted by on September 7, 2011 in Clarity, Essays