Friday, July 13, 2012

Last words

Rita Barsky, Ph.D. left this earth on July 11, 2012, but her spirit remains.

She wanted everyone to know that the message remains the same:

#1: Do what is right for you
#2: Keep your head where your feet are
#3: Avoid anyone who does not make you feel good about yourself

She considered it an honor and a privilege to contribute to your recovery process. 
She believed that you all have what you need inside of you to continue in your recovery process and her message to you is: “Never give up on yourselves no matter what anyone says.” 

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Life is uncertain. This may sound like a simple statement but uncertainty is what is responsible for each individual’s life experience. I believed for the longest time that children needed security and certainty when what they really need is for someone to assure them that they are capable and able to cope with life’s uncertainty and they don’t have to be afraid. Nothing they do will make life more certain and when something happens good or bad it is simply life happening.

Children that grow up in alcoholic/addictive homes learn very early that the only thing for sure in life is nothing is for sure. Unfortunately that lesson is distorted by the belief that they are responsible for the behavior of their parents or caregivers. That if they are good enough, quiet enough, smart enough or successful enough they can control the addictive behavior. They are convinced that they are the cause of the problems and are responsible for fixing them. Many children of alcoholic/addict families grow up believing that they have to find a way to control life and not live with uncertainty. As adults we not only believe we can control everything, control becomes our primary focus. We attempt to control our environment and the people around us and we are constantly frustrated in the attempts. This reinforces our sense of worthlessness and failure. We take life’s uncertainty personally.

If only we knew that simple truth, “life is uncertain” that it cannot be controlled and what we need to do is learn how to cope with the uncertainty. How does one learn to cope with uncertainty? The twelve step programs teach us that it requires courage as well as awareness, acceptance and action. First we need to be aware that uncertainty is a fact of life and certainty is non existent. Nothing we did in the past or will do can cause, control or fix life. Life is worth living and experiencing. We neither deserve all the good things in life or all the bad things in life. We need to learn to embrace the joy and the pain. We just need to live our life in the moment, to the best of our ability.

Next we need to have the courage to show up for ourselves each day. We need to accept that we cannot control outcomes and we are not responsible for outcomes. Most alcoholic addicts are very anxious people we are afraid to live our lives or pursue our dreams because of the uncertainty of the outcome. In order to pursue any goal, love another human being, have a family or simply make a decision we need to be willing to suffer the anxiety that comes with not being able to predict the outcome. Each time we accept that challenge we gain another level of acceptance and ability to endure uncertainty. The twelve step programs provide the support and the steps to learn how to “live life on life’s terms one day or one moment at a time”. I know I have already said this but the action we need to take is “to just live life”.

I will leave you with this quote: “Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.”
John Allen Paulos

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Breaking Down Walls

I recently spoke at an Al anon workshop and the topic was breaking down walls. I think it is a very important topic, especially for those of us who are in recovery. It is important to be able to distinguish between healthy boundaries and emotional walls.

The concept of healthy boundaries is something most recovering people are not familiar with. Being able to maintain a boundary and not feel coerced into doing things we are uncomfortable doing is usually very difficult. On the other hand, we are all too familiar with the concept of emotional walls which can keep us lonely and isolated. Emotional walls serve the purpose of protecting us from hurt. The problem is we keep them up long after they are useful to us. Most of us build them thick and high; and it takes courage and self love to start to dismantle them.

Recovery provides the opportunity to become aware of the walls it took a lifetime to construct. Initially many of us believe protecting ourselves with emotional walls was the only way to feel safe. We are lonely and too afraid to trust anyone and we certainly don’t trust ourselves or our ability to keep ourselves safe.

Some of the most common bricks in our wall are anger, dishonesty, perfection, superiority and control.

The brick called “anger” is massive, as is the way in which we express it. Angry people are hard to approach and keep others at a safe distance. In addition, an angry reaction toward someone can be the end of a relationship. If we don’t realize that we are angry it is hard to understand why people stay a safe distance away. The twelve step programs teach us that anger is often an expression of fear. What are we afraid of? Often we are afraid that others will see us the way we see ourselves: as our distorted perception lending itself to diminished value and fraudulence.

Another brick is “people pleasing” or saying yes to something when we want to say no. If we agree to do something that we don’t think is in our own best interest we are being dishonest. I call it depositing in the bank of expectation: we are hoping to get something in return for our selfless act. When it doesn’t happen, we can become angry and disappointed. Sometimes when we agree to something we don’t want to do we will react in a passive manner and find a way not to do it, either completely or in part. This behavior makes us look unreliable and not trustworthy. The result is we are not asked again and we elicit anger from the people we disappointed. Alternatively, if we agree to do something we don’t want to do in order to be liked or to prevent anger from another, it can cause us to become angry and resentful toward them. The “people pleasing” brick results in us no longer liking the very people that we wanted to like us and therefore were afraid to say no to.

The bricks called perfection, superiority and control all compliment each other. Most people strive to be perfect due to fear of making a mistake.

“Superiority” creates a two way wall. When we project an attitude of superiority people are either afraid to approach us or they resent us. We make them feel bad about themselves. If we are superior we have a difficult time finding people we have things in common with, no peer group, and engender isolation. Many of us project an attitude of superiority and confidence when in reality we are afraid we aren’t good enough. We are afraid no one will like us or that we are unlovable. This, in turn, can reinforce the wall of “anger.”

Perfection makes it almost impossible for anyone to share things with us. We tend to feel that no one can do things the way we want them and we therefore do things ourselves. If we are perfect no one can measure up to our standards.

Control denies others of any participation in our life. Control is a wall that seems to be almost universal in the fellowship. For many of us asking for help is a sign of weakness when in reality it is a sign of strength, honesty and true humility.

Fear is the mortar that binds the bricks of anger, control, superiority and perfection. Healthy boundaries are an expression of self love, worthiness and awareness. Our needs are not more important or less important that other’s needs but certainly equal in importance to others’ needs.

Courage is the tool that tears down the bricks. Tearing down emotional walls requires courage and a change in behavior. I believe most human beings want to feel a sense of belonging and love. For love to exist some of the emotional walls we have erected must be torn down and replaced with healthy boundaries.

I recently heard this poem by Derek Walcott read on public radio and searched for it on the internet. Please read it, again and again.

Love After Love

The time will come when, with elation you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror and each will smile at the other's welcome, and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart to itself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life, whom you ignored for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, the photographs, the desperate notes, peel your own image from the mirror. Sit. Feast on your life.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Self Blame

It is hard to be cheerful or happy when you’re scared to death. This holiday season many of us are feeling stressed and fearful about our futures. In addition we are feeling angry and resentful. We may be in fear of, or have lost our job or lost significant amounts of money in our retirement accounts. In some extreme cases we may be losing our homes.

For the addict/alcoholic we have a tendency to beat up on and blame ourselves for our unfortunate circumstances. We spend a great deal of time beating up on ourselves for perceived mistakes that may lead to losing money, job or home. The other feeling is, I’m defective and I deserve this.

Self blame is a useless exercise and only serves to distract us from sober thinking and paralyze us so we are unable to take any action. It enables us to feel shame and guilt and does not do anything to effect a change in our circumstances. It is not uncommon for the alcoholic/addict to have a tendency to take on more responsibility for a situation than is realistic. Often when we find our self in a difficult or unhappy circumstance we do have some responsibility for it. The alcohol/addict tends to take all the responsibility for the situation. It is important to recognize that the need to be completely responsible is directly related to our need to control. “If it is my fault I can fix it.” The feeling that we somehow deserve life’s negative outcome serves to reinforce our tendency to be a victim.

It is an important component of the recovery process to honestly take responsibility for our actions and make amends wherever possible. It is equally important to be willing to let go of events that are not our responsibility and outside of our control. Navigating this delicate balance is essential to maintaining a sober mind. The shame associated with being a victim deserving of bad things leads to anger, resentment, depression, isolation and loss of the ability to ask for help. The result is loss of mental sobriety and in many cases physical sobriety.

Whatever has been lost in the current economic crisis it is critical to protect both our mental and physical sobriety. It is important to acknowledge what actions created the problem and to not lose the lesson. I have heard it said at meetings that there are no victims only volunteers. It is important to keep our head where our feet are and use the tools of the twelve step program to not fall in to despair; to stay in the day and enjoy our life and our holidays.

As the end of 2008 approaches it is my hope that we all have a better 2009.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Anxiety and Worry

Worry seems to be an inherent human condition. Most of us worry about things we cannot control and many of us attempt to anticipate all eventualities. Those of us that grow up in alcoholic/addictive families learn to worry well and often from a very early age. We live in a continuously stressful environment where the only certainty is uncertainty. The alcoholic/addictive parent is unpredictable and as young children we spend a great deal of time attempting to avoid and control their uncertain behavior. We are doomed to failure and the result is frustration, shame and guilt. The belief that we have somehow caused the unhappiness of the alcoholic/addict leads us to the conclusion that we do not deserve to be happy. We spend a great deal of time trying to find a solution and create a happy life. We are anxious and worry all the time and as a result we often are irritable and angry. Anxiety and the worry that result from it are punishing and deprive us of happiness. Many of us seek happiness through alcohol, drugs, food, sex, work and other addictive, self defeating behaviors.

The sad news is that there is not enough alcohol, drugs, food, sex and money in the world to relieve the anxiety and worry. Many of us loose control of these behaviors which ultimately serves to increase our frustration, shame and guilt. They handicap and diminish us, obstruct our thinking and distort our reality. The result is our anxiety and worries become exaggerated.

Anxiety and worry can make it difficult or in some instances impossible to function. We can become overwhelmed and often paralyzed with fear over some insignificant or misinterpreted incident. We begin to question our own ability and judgment which can lead to an inability to act in our own behalf or to self- sabotage. We become vulnerable to manipulation. A good example is the current financial situation that permeates the news recently. We are being bombarded with doom and gloom. It is entirely possible that many of us will experience some financial problems. If we allow our anxiety to cause us to react we may not make the right decision for our self. This is a time to follow my basic rules: keep your head where your feet are; for today you probably have what you need. Do what is right for you; don’t make decisions while you are anxious, make sure you think before you act. Finally stay away from people that don’t make you feel good about yourself. People are afraid and fear can be contagious, try to avoid conversations that are full of someone else’s anxiety. Talk to people who are knowledgeable and sensible.

The good news is that we do deserve to be happy and while we may be powerless we are not helpless. We worry because we want to avoid pain by preventing or resisting some undesirable outcome. While it is not possible to avoid life’s realities we can relieve anxiety by taking responsibility for ourselves and being aware of our anxiety triggers. It is important to be aware that many of the things we project happening are usually unrealistic. Life events are mostly random and that it is a waste our precious time to try to control the outcome. Additionally, if we focus on managing our anxiety and worry when there is a crisis will be better able to cope.

When we are feeling anxious it helps to take action. Probably the most important thing to remember is to breathe. When we are anxious we tend to breathe short shallow breaths. Taking a few minutes to do some deep breathing it will help the anxious feeling. Some people use exercise, yoga or meditation to relieve stress and anxiety. It can be helpful to listen to music, read a good book or do some other activity that will distract us from the focus of our anxiety. Twelve step meetings and professional counseling can help us to learn tools and exercises to cope with stress and anxiety.

Remember: Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy. ~Leo Buscaglia

Monday, June 2, 2008


The concept of detachment can be very difficult to grasp, especially for those of us who have grown up in alcoholic/addicted families. Living in an alcoholic/addicted family can be a very painful, frightening and frustrating experience. We are often witness to our loved ones repeated, self destructive behavior. Many of us determine to live a very different life which gives rise to our compulsion to control the people around us. We come to believe in a sense of power and responsibility; power that we have control over the behavior and feelings of others and that it is our responsibility to do so.

Many of us harbor the delusional belief that we are in control of every aspect of our lives and the lives of our loved ones. That it is our responsibility to order the lives of our parents, our partners, our children, our friends and anyone else that is in our world. We are oblivious to our own pain. We are happiest when every thing goes according to our perception of correct, and miserable and angry when it deviates from our plan. Many of us believe that control is our job and consequently we are out of control. The need for power and control leads to distorted and irrational thinking.

Father Martin said, “The only one sicker than the alcoholic is the alcoholic spouse”. That statement touches a nerve with many of us, our spouse is sick, but we have no idea how sick we have become. We believe we are powerful and in control. This type of distorted thinking leads to frustration and a deep sense of failure when we can’t control our loved ones’ behavior. Detachment requires that we do not interfere with the consequences of anothers actions. The goal is to recognize that it is our fear, guilt and outside pressure that manipulate us to intervene and prevent some terrible fate that might befall a loved one.

Learning to detach can be difficult and when we are in an alcoholic/addictive relationship it requires support. Twelve step recovery programs and professional counseling are usually necessary. Detachment is non judgmental and requires compassion for the alcoholic/addict; it means learning never do for someone what they can and must do for themselves; to allow others to be who they are not who we want them to be; to let go and establish emotional boundaries; to allow learning through natural consequences and resist the urge to rescue.

It is important to learn we are not responsible for anyone but our self. As long as we focus on someone else’s problems we are distracted and don’t have to take personal responsibility for our own behavior. The key to detachment is learning "love of self" and maintaining our own mental sobriety. We can find the wisdom to know the difference between what we can and cannot change if we focus on our own needs and problems, only then will we achieve mental sobriety.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Mother's Day

Mother’s Day may be the most emotionally charged holiday on the calendar. In the days and weeks leading up to Mother’s Day we are surrounded by advertisements designed to elicit emotional spending on gifts and cards for Mom. The ads describe this perfect person that is sweet and kind; a woman who has sacrificed for her children and loved them unconditionally. A mother that is a person that deserves to be honored.

Mother’s who are, alcoholic/addicts or codependent with the alcoholic/addict may not fit that picture of motherhood. They often have a very limited ability to provide the love and nurturing children need. Mother’s Day can be a painful reminder of broken promises and disappointments for their children. It is probably true that Mom did the best she could. She allowed us to use her body as the vehicle to enter the living world. That is an act that deserves to be honored.

The twelve step programs teach us that no one can be all things to all people, even mothers. People don’t let us down; it is our expectations that let us down. It is important to learn self acceptance, self trust and self love. We need to make sure not to break promises or to disappoint our selves. The fact that we managed to survive our childhood is evidence that we have the capacity to take care of and love our selves; that we have the courage and tenacity to overcome our distorted perception of love and the inability to trust.

It is my belief that human beings do not so much need to be loved as to loving. We need to learn to love our selves as we can not give what we don’t have. The wisdom of the twelve steps of the addiction recovery programs provides a roadmap to achieve trust and self love; by participating in the recovery process and reaching out to those individuals that have the ability to meet our needs it is possible to develop realistic expectations of others and of our selves.

On this Mother’s Day honor you mother for the role she played in giving you life; honor all the people in your life that may have served as a surrogate mother and helped you mother you; honor you as the true source of your ability to love and make it a Happy Mother’s Day.