Clothing and Spending

More than two hundred years ago the poet, William Wordsworth, wrote, “The world is too much with us; getting and spending we lay waste our powers.”

Many women in long-term recovery would agree with him. Long after we gave up drink or pills or food we are still –maybe secretly—struggling with managing money, too many trips to the mall and painfully joking that, “My name is Diane and I am a shoe addict.”

photo credit: Orin Zebest via photopin cc

photo credit: Orin Zebest via photopin cc

Yes, it may be true that no one dies from a shoe overdose but it’s also true that we are not “happy, joyous and free” when we are ashamed or afraid because of our money or shopping issues.

In my new book, “Out of the Woods” I write about clothes, and shoes and even ways that woman use cosmetics in recovery. It’s light-hearted but also deadly serious. Our growth simply continues and it can be easy to switch from a chemical addiction to a behavioral one. It’s all about our motives, honesty, self-care and talking honestly to other women in recovery. Yes, I too have spent time in a meeting checking out another woman’s clothing instead of the speaker’s message.

I love clothes and had to try many strategies in my recovery. In Chapter Nine of “Out of the Woods” I tell you all about my inventories: emotional and sartorial both. It’s a woman’s issue and a recovery issue. And the very good news is that we can laugh and heal at the same time.

This blog was written by Diane Cameron, author of OUT OF THE WOODS

This blog was written by Diane Cameron, author of OUT OF THE WOODS

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Newcomer Envy

After many years of recovery I can still feel shame when this happens. And it happened again just this week: A man in my home group celebrated 6 months and he was glowing. His life was transformed, he had found a deep faith in his Higher Power, his surrender was total; he had completed his step work and was quoting the Big Book. His “share” was more lecture than personal story, but still I bit.

I was jealous.

I know better. I knew better. But I could feel myself become envious and annoyed. I knew that I should be happy for his newcomer’s pink cloud and his new life but my own smallness revealed my envy. After all these years and all this work—I’m still trying to surrender, have absolute faith, and be a perfectly perfect person.

I know, I know.

This is also why I wrote “Out of the Woods”. In my new book I talk about the awkward things, the difficult things and even the embarrassing things that can happen to us in long-term recovery. Envying a newcomer is just one of them.

In the book I write about those moments when I wish for a meeting for people who have ten or 15 or 20 years. Not to leave other people behind but to be bale to say, “Does anyone else feel like this?” and to laugh at something like envying a newcomer.

I know better. You know better. But still.

I’m sure I did exactly what he did. In fact I know I did. I was the young woman bringing recovery literature to a family Thanksgiving dinner and passing it around like hors ‘dourves.

So you’d think I’d have more compassion.

But what I know now—and what I have written about in “Out of the Woods” –is that life happens to all of us, and that we need those pink clouds and happy days to give us the ground under the harder parts of our recovery. And as we stay in recovery a long time those harder parts will come on their own.

My red-faced humility is this: When I hear those newcomers speak of their transformed lives and the perfect peace that recovery has given them, I still want what they have. So I keep coming back.

This blog was written by Diane Cameron, author of OUT OF THE WOODS

This blog was written by Diane Cameron, author of OUT OF THE WOODS

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Take Five and Lighten Up


The porch light was burnt out and I walked carefully up the brick walkway to our house. Because it was so dark, I analysed every footstep. I inched up the stairs and fumbled the key into the lock. Once inside, I turned on the light. Now I could walk easily, without worry. As I moved around the house, I realized I had literally “lightened up.”

Turning a little light on a subject makes the journey easier. So often, we’re focused on tasks and responsibilities, and we forget to lighten up, lift ourselves up and laugh.

Here are a few easy ideas:

Be Your Own Off-Off Broadway Musical

Think about something that happened to you today and make up a song about it. Pretend you are in one of those melodramatic operettas; sing with great passion and emotion. Sing in the car, the shower or in front of a live and probably giggling audience. Your own glorious silly singing will light you up!

Swing Your feet

Sit where your feet can’t touch the ground and swing your feet. You’ll get a delightful sense of irresponsibility. It’s a relief to not always have your feet on the ground.


Bat a Balloon

Blow up a brightly colored balloon and bat it around. This is a great way to lighten up the energy. Do it after you’ve completed a hard task. Do it during that late afternoon draggy period.  Do it when you get home from work. See how long you can keep it up in the air.

Embrace A Dream

Create a five-minute dream-collage. Think of someplace you’d like to go, something you want to do, or some way you want to feel. From old catalogues or magazines, tear out pictures or words that represent this dream, then tape them on an index card or piece of paper. Place your dream-collage where you can see it.


Give Someone Good Luck

Drop a nickel, a penny, a dime and a quarter on the sidewalk as you walk. Imagine who will pick them up. Imagine how they will smile and feel luckier and happier.

Deborah is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey

Deborah is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey

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No Man is an Island─Even on St. Thomas

“As caregivers, we need to connect with each other and share our stories. ”

Those were the opening words of our host, Murlene Vanbeverhoudt at a recent caregiver’s gathering at the charming Pistarckle Theater in St. Thomas, USVI.

We were honored to share stories from Love in the Land of Dementia with 75 people, a mixture of family and professional caregivers and community members.


The Team Who Organized the Event

Love in the Land of Dementia Event in St. Thomas

Large audience in St. Thomas


Love in the Land of Dementia Speaker

Deborah Shouse on Stage in St. Thomas

Seven Secrets for Building Strong Connections

During our time together, we invited people to discuss some of the wisdom they’d garnered from their caregiving journey. Here are some of their insights.

“When my mother, who has dementia, feels tense, I try to remember to smile at her. A smile always puts her at ease.”

“Simple, loving touch helps me communicate with my friend who has Alzheimer’s.”

“I try to accept my husband just as he is.”

“Every week I visit a friend who has Alzheimer’s. Before the visit, I prepare myself by slowing down and knowing I will need to be patient. I also bring her favorite foods — bread and cheese — and I bring her favorite music. I never mind if she asks the same questions again and again; I am grateful she asks me questions. When I play her music, her face lights up and sometimes she gets up and dances.”

“I treasure hearing the old stories. My mother and her sister both have memory loss but they can talk vividly about their growing up years.”

“My mother doesn’t know what she had for breakfast but she does remember in detail how to dig a coal pit and how to skin a pig. These are the stories she’s been sharing with my son, who is in college, studying physical therapy. At first he wasn’t that interested in the stories. Then he learned that later on in the semester, he’s going to be skinning a cat in biology lab: he’ll have inside knowledge from his grandmother’s pig story!”

“I try to avoid saying ‘No’ to my clients who have Alzheimer’s.  Hearing ‘no’ can set up a resistance. Instead, I move onto another subject. I distract them and try to accomplish my goals in a slightly different way.”

Striding into The No-Share Zone: The Importance of Self-Nurturing

We also talked about the many stresses of being a caregiver.  Some of the issues included frustration with communication, exhaustion, and feeling overwhelmed.

Several people who ran caregiver’s support groups urged everyone to connect with a group.

At the end of our session, we told our story, The No-Share Zone, which celebrates the importance of self-nurturing.  To conclude, we all nurtured ourselves with chocolate and with a luscious lunch. (We ate dessert first!)

Connecting Through the Maze of Dementia

St. Thomas is a beautiful island, rich with pristine beaches, first-class snorkeling and sweeping vistas. Equally beautiful is their community of caregivers, each on a deep emotional and spiritual journey, trying to keep connected through the maze of dementia.

We welcome your insights: what have you learned from your journey through dementia?

Deborah Shouse,


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Baseball and Spiritual Life

The first thing I learned about baseball is this: If you raise your hand a man will bring you food. I learned this at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, and in my first year as a fan I spent most of the game facing the wrong way. Raise my hand, get ice cream, raise my hand, get popcorn, raise my hand, get peanuts. It was 1958.

Two years later I understood it was a game. On summer afternoons I’d beg my brothers to take me with them to the ballpark. I was falling in love with baseball.

John Gregory Dunne wrote that, “Baseball is the couch on which we examine our psyches”. George Will said, “Baseball is the universe”. And catcher Wes Westrum said, “Baseball is like church, many attend but few understand.”

We have these sayings and many more because baseball is one of the greatest sources of metaphor in American life. Maybe only 12-step recovery has more sayings and code words than America’s Game. And in many the heart of baseball is like the heart of recovery.

Baseball is one area of our lives where we surrender the clock to the event. But there is something else in this game that asserts the spiritual: In baseball we begin and end at home. The goal is to get home and to be safe. That’s also the goal for us in recovery. We drank because we thought we’d be safer socially or we’d be more comfortable. Then alcohol turned on us and we were out in left field feeling unsafe and we feared we’d never ever get home again. Then each of us experienced the miracle of recovery. Something happened. We found our way to a meeting. Many people say that when they came to their first meeting they knew they were home.

This is the kind of deep spirituality I write about in “Out of the Woods”.

In the new book I write about finding your true faith community and finding our way home. We crave this in baseball. We experience it in recovery. We are keeping the faith.

This blog was written by Diane Cameron, author of OUT OF THE WOODS

This blog was written by Diane Cameron, author of OUT OF THE WOODS

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From Awareness to Action

Awareness Does not in and of Itself Change Behavior.

In order to be successful in and sustain any process of meaningful change, both awareness and action are requisite. Translating conscious awareness into intentional action in recovery from addiction and/or chronic pain is similar to the process of learning and building new skills in any area—be it sports, reading, video gaming, cooking, auto repair, keyboarding, gardening, plumbing, or meditating. In order to get better at anything it is necessary to: 1) learn the techniques that work, and 2) practice what works with consistency and persistence.

The process of learning and skill development has four stages according to Milton Erickson, MD, the renowned psychiatrist and psychotherapist who had an extraordinary grasp of human perception and behavior, with an emphasis on unconscious processes. Erickson’s four stages of learning—unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, and unconscious competence—characterize virtually any skill development process. To illustrate this process with a concrete example, I went through each of these stages when I committed to learning how to eat with chopsticks shortly after arriving at UC Santa Cruz for college.

Unconscious incompetence is a state of obliviousness—not knowing how to do something, but also not knowing that we don’t know how to do it, and therefore not caring about it one way or another. Before I started thinking about learning how to eat with chopsticks I was unconsciously incompetent in this area. I didn’t know that I did not know how to use them and didn’t care. At the point that I decided I wanted to learn how to use chopsticks I progressed to conscious incompetence. I became consciously aware that I did not yet have the skill and experience to use them proficiently. I was functionally incompetent, but set about working to acquire this skill regardless of how foolish I looked or inept as I felt during the learning process.

Someone with considerably greater knowledge and skill taught me the essential techniques of using chopsticks. Through testing out and learning these techniques along with ongoing practice that included fine-tuning what worked most effectively for me, gradually and progressively I was able to achieve conscious competence. I had developed the level of skill I sought, but still had to think very deliberately about how I positioned, held, and manipulated the chopsticks as I used them, especially when eating rice—among the ultimate tests of chopstick proficiency.

It was only by continuing to carefully and consciously practice eating with chopsticks over the course of dozens and dozens of repetitions that my ability reached the level of unconscious competence. At that point, I no longer had to think about how to use them; I could do it automatically. Unconscious competence is also known as mastery. When athletes are described as being “in the zone,” they are in a state of unconscious competence. They are playing at such a high level that the game seems to yield to them, yet their performance may appear effortless, almost as if they were operating on autopilot. It is as if they are in sync with the universe and have tapped into its cadence.

Skills such as accepting things we want to change but can’t, and tolerating distressing emotions and physical sensations without acting on them in ways that make situations worse, are incredibly difficult to master. Moreover, skillful recovery generally requires a high degree of moment-to-moment conscious attention. While achieving anything but occasional unconscious competence in recovery may not be realistic for most, becoming increasingly consciously competent and skillful in recovery from both addiction and chronic pain surely is.

The real test of one’s learning and ability to apply that learning skillfully in any area is what happens when we have to perform under stress—when we challenged in some way. This is especially true in recovery. It can seem easy when life is going smoothly. It’s not unusual for people, particularly in the earlier phases of recovery (once the storm of post-acute withdrawal has passed), to be lulled into the false belief that it will always be so. But how do they respond when presented with adversity—in relationships, health, finances, job/career, etc.? When the shit hits the fan (and sooner or later it always does, for everyone), the ability to be successful depends on how well people have developed the skills of recovery through dedicated learning and consistent practice. This is true whether someone has been in recovery for one year or twenty, and is the essence of translating awareness into action.

This blog was written by Dan Mager, MSW, author of SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED

This blog was written by Dan Mager, MSW, author of SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED

This blog originally appeared on the Psychology Today website

This blog originally appeared on the Psychology Today website

Posted in Addiction, Addiction & Recovery, Addiction News, Author News, Blog, Chronic Pain, Pain Recovery, Personal Development | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lean In–Go Toward

Has this happened to you: You learn a recovery skill, or a strategy in early recovery that –over time– kind of slips away, and then later you get to revive it? In “Out of the Woods” I write about this phenomenon that happens in long-term recovery.

It happened to me this week. I had the opportunity to remind myself of a strategy I learned from one of my early sponsors.  In my earliest days when I told my sponsor about a person or a situation that I was afraid of or that I was trying to avoid she would say, “Go toward her,” or “Lean into that” or “Go toward them.” It wasn’t easy but it always worked. It’s brilliant life advice. It got me through a lot of situations in early recovery.

But then, probably, I thought I knew how to live and that great advice slipped from memory. But this week –more than 25 years later–finding myself dreading a meeting and then a person and then a project–I thought, “Hey, go toward it; lean in.” And it worked.

This is also why—in “Out of the Woods” I write about going to meetings in later recovery—and how you find the number of meetings that is right for you. (That’s in chapter five.) I want to remember my early recovery–not just for how painful it was back then (and it was) but also to remember how carefully I listened to sponsors and other recovering people. Pain is a great motivator to learn. In later recovery we can remember to keep learning even when pain is not the trigger.

This blog was written by Diane Cameron, author of OUT OF THE WOODS

This blog was written by Diane Cameron, author of OUT OF THE WOODS

Posted in Addiction, Addiction & Recovery, Alcoholism, Author News, Blog, Family & Addiction, Personal Development, Relationships | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

I Had No Idea: Spotting an Eating Disorder

“I had no idea,” a radio host said to me after I’d explained my experiences with an eating disorder. “I had no idea,” the physician said as I was educating her on symptoms to look for in patients who may suffer from eating disorders. “I had no idea,” my grandmother wrote in a recent letter to me after reading a copy of my book.

Eating disorders are secretive, and when I was in my illness, I was secretive too. I fiercely protected my illness at any cost. I knew the demands of my illness were dangerous and even possibly fatal, but to be or feel “fat” felt more petrifying. So I went to any lengths to hide it. Those of us who have suffered through an eating disorder become as secretive as our illness. I left the dinner table early, and outright lied — telling my parents that I’d either eaten when out, or had homework and would eat downstairs. I binged in any place or any time I felt I could be alone. I purged the same way. I would make excuses to my friends, telling them that I was either allergic to the food in question or had already eaten, or I would overeat in front of them, telling them that I had not eaten in days due to a stomach flu. When exercising with friends, I was unable to connect with them. I was constantly occupied by the speed at which I “must” exercise in order to lose weight or shed the binge. To my loved ones I appeared unavailable and disconnected. Truth be told, like many who suffer from eating disorders, I didn’t want anyone to know that I was sick. If they knew, I might have been forced to stop.

Eating disorders carry an overwhelming emotional and physical burden due to malnutrition, predisposed genes, environmental stresses, and the constant demands and consequences of the eating disorder. Near fifty percent of those suffering from an eating disorder also meet the criteria for depression, and many others will meet the criteria for other mood disorders, such as anxiety. This was definitely my story. I felt tortured by the daily demoralization of my illness and the feeling that I was never enough — no matter what I did! Due to a deep fear of the unknown, I was unwilling to let go of the need to control my body. It was this fear that made it impossible for me to disclose my vulnerabilities to others. I believed that my illness would save me from myself, from the world in which I lived, and when it got to the point where I realized it wouldn’t, I felt trapped in the cycle of self-destruction and truly believed there was no way out. One of the ways I hid my emotions was by isolating. I sought comfort in my room and withdrew from activities. I slept more frequently than before my illness, and my mood changed dramatically — my negativity permeated all those around me.

Individuals with eating disorders are not necessarily underweight: In a world where being obsessed with body weight is wildly accepted and even promoted by the media and societal norms, it is difficult to spot an eating disorder. The misconception that only people who look overly thin and “sickly” or “obese” have an eating disorder can make it almost impossible to spot, unless you are the actual sufferer. My weight fluctuated on any given week when I was in the throes of my eating disorder. With yo-yo dieting comes yo-yo body size. Although my weight fluctuation was extreme, I often landed in the “just above average” weight range or body mass index (BMI), according to medical charts. Yet my eating disorder was severe enough to kill me. Statistics show that Eating Disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

Stigma kills. I wish with all my heart that eating disorders were viewed in the same way as a broken arm or a red, splotchy skin allergy. I wish that the shame and guilt surrounding illnesses based in our brains would disappear, that these illnesses were as outwardly discussed and supported as physical illnesses. I am hopeful that one day they will be. They should be. This is why I share my story with you. I want everyone to know that eating disorders cannot always be identified based on a person’s body size. And that just because your weight may be in a “normal” range according to onlookers or weight charts, it does not mean that your eating disorder is not destroying you or your loved ones. I want you and your loved ones to know that there is nothing to be ashamed of by either talking about your own eating disorder or finding ways to talk to someone else about concerns you might have regarding eating or other behaviors relating to nutrition, spending calories, or efforts to make your body “perfect.” I want you to know that you can get help and that there are people to help you. I want you to know that you are not alone, and that becoming “fully recovered” from this illness is so very possible.

You see, the statement “I had no idea” is a phrase readily spoken about this illness that affects approximately thirty million people. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

This blog was written by Robyn Cruze, co-author of MAKING PEACE WITH YOUR PLATE

This blog was written by Robyn Cruze, co-author of MAKING PEACE WITH YOUR PLATE

This blog originally appeared on the NEDA website

This blog originally appeared on the NEDA website

Posted in Addiction, Addiction & Recovery, Eating Disorder Recovery, Family & Addiction, Personal Development | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Recovery is a Process

Arrested development is a sad relative that accompanies the already nasty beast that is addiction. Which means: the emotional development of an addict becomes arrested at the time, stage-in-life, level of maturity, that addiction began (Chapter 6, IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU — EXCEPT WHEN IT IS).

Say what??

A parent can watch a daughter or son begin to emerge recovery, gladdened as the one they have raised begins to become recognizable again. What joy! He or she is coming back!!!

Well, not exactly… Recovery is not the kick-start of a new life, but a process. The addict who chooses recovery gets to pick up where he or she left off before substance abuse took over body, mind and spirit. For parents, the blessing is mixed. Yes, their loved one may be gradually emerging, but reclaiming ground that has been lost over years, perhaps decades, requires real work and perseverance. And patience, all around.

A young person who was drawn into addictive behavior as a teen or pre-teen years has been developmentally stunted. They cannot have developed a mature, disciplined work ethic to hop back into in her or his twenties or thirties, hustling out to land a job as the doors of rehab swing shut. Moreover, there may have been legal consequences that make employability dicey if felony charges were leveled for any reason during active addiction.

There is no quick fix here. The good news is that people DO survive the roller coaster of addictive behavior to hold down jobs, live independently, and form nurturing relationships in productive lives that might be laughingly referred to as “normal.” An employer willing to give an addict in recovery a chance may rewarded with grateful, disciplined employee, a pure joy for her or his parents. May any parent reading these words be so fortunate.

May this mother be so fortunate! While watching my adult offspring in recovery struggle with an already challenging workplace, I have to remember how far the road to recovery has been, that it is not the shortest distance between two points, and that it is not up to me to hope for, let alone expect, a time table performance.

I work my own 12-Step program, practice an “Attitude of Gratitude,” and wear a ring with the Serenity Prayer inscribed inside whenever I need it, which has been every day for some time. I am grateful when my loved one is sober and can share a meal, watch a movie, spend the night. I try to catch myself from worrying about when “real progress” (by my definition!) will begin, when my no-longer-young offspring can be truly self-sufficient, maintain a loving and stable relationship with the opposite sex, gain a toe hold for a future with some kind of stability.

This has been a rough week. One of my favorite actors, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, lost his battle with heroin addiction, leaving behind a long-term relationship with the mother of his three children, all under the age of 11. Revered by all his colleagues in theater and film, he thanked his mother for taking him to his first play when he received the Oscar for Best Actor in 2005.

My apprehensions are nothing next to the loss of his loved ones this day.

An attitude of gratitude — bring it on! May Phillip Seymour Hoffman bestow a final gift with a wake-up for the deadly disease that addiction remains. May he not be blamed, but understood, so that those who survive may live our lives in relationship to our addicted loved ones removed from the problem as we work our own solutions by taking care of ourselves.

May Phillip Seymour Hoffman rest peacefully. May his family find peace.

This blog was written by Barbara Victoria, author of IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU EXCEPT WHEN IT IS

This blog was written by Barbara Victoria, author of IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU EXCEPT WHEN IT IS

Posted in Addiction, Addiction & Recovery, Author News, Blog, Family & Addiction | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Recovery Life is a Real Life

Most of us in “double-digit” recovery have learned that the twelve steps and working a program are part of a good life, but we also know that these do not protect us from illness, job troubles, problems with kids and family, all manner of loss; the things that fall in the basket called “life happens”.

Plenty of “life” still happens to us as recovering people. And sometimes, after you have some time in recovery, it can feel like life hits harder or hurts more simply because we have fewer “helpers” to ameliorate our pain. We also know, in our wiser moments, that not having painkillers—the chemical or the human kind—actually helps us get through things faster even though we can still hurt like hell some days.

What people in long recovery do have though are a set of skills and a richness of experience to fall back on. We recognize our patterns; we cut through our defenses sooner; we learn not to fight the inevitable. We have learned to surrender when we see the wall coming instead of waiting, as we did in the past, to slam into it.

We are also able to see the things that happen to us with a tiny bit more perspective. By the time we reach double-digit recovery most of us have had at least one experience of something we were sure wasn’t supposed to happen. And in many cases we’ve seen that these experiences turn out to be spiritual lessons or stepping-stones to something really great.

I wrote the book Out of the Woods so we can compare notes and to reassure you that there is no one way and no right way to be recovering. As I interviewed people for the book I found that some of us still go to three meetings a week while others go once a week or once a month.

In the chapter on attending meetings in long-term recovery I explore how to determine “your number”—how many is the best number of meetings for you. And which meetings? And which programs? That’s what makes long-term recovery challenging and exciting!

This blog was written by Diane Cameron, author of OUT OF THE WOODS

This blog was written by Diane Cameron, author of OUT OF THE WOODS

Posted in Addiction, Addiction & Recovery, Author News, Blog, Family & Addiction | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment