Another Coconut Cake

With my sons Noah and Nathan
With my sons 

Yesterday the last of my family who were here for my 50th birthday flew home. I hoped I’d wake up this morning with something amazing to say to you about aging with grace, the wisdom of years, or the spiritual meaning of wrinkles.

Instead, I feel worn out, uninspired and, um, thicker.

I blame the coconut cake. The large, moist, yummy-beyond-belief one they make at Montague’s Parlour, here in Colorado Springs. Since I got only one slice at the party, I had the brilliant idea the next day to buy another one to celebrate my daughter-in-love’s upcoming birthday.

After that celebration with Kelsey, we kept the rest of the cake on the island in the kitchen. For the next couple days, I unofficially ate coconut cake for breakfast, lunch, even for between-meal snacks.

One afternoon, Kelsey caught me standing at the cake, my fork loaded in mid-air, not a plate in sight. I was embarrassed—until she laughed and said, “I’ve been doing that all day, too. That’s my fork on the counter.”

Now you can see why I love this girl so much.

And you can also see why I might never again as long as I live want another bite of coconut cake. Which gets me thinking today about the difference between over-indulgence and addiction. I can’t tell you how many times I drank wine until I it made me sick. Or worse, felt compelled to drink even though I was already sick. But not once did I lose my taste for alcohol.

It’s as good a proof as any of the insanity of addiction—and that I’m not addicted to coconut cake.

Still, it was a good reminder that I’ll always be vulnerable to compulsive behaviors that bring pleasure in the moment but leave me with regret.

This morning, as I totter about with a fresh pound of frosting around my waist, I wonder why I did that. Why did I find it necessary to treat my body so recklessly? What painful feeling was I trying to numb?

Maybe I was nervous about having all these people here to celebrate…me? Maybe I figured I had earned the right, thank you very much, to pig out on my birthday.

Or maybe, quite possibly, I just adore coconut cake.

One of the hazards of spending so much time thinking and writing about recovery issues is that I can get too serious, sifting everything through the grid of addiction.

Sometimes, the truth is simpler. Maybe I’m spiritually flat today because, for almost a week, it’s been hard to pray and meditate in my office when a daughter or sister is sleeping there on a blow-up bed.

Maybe I’m emotionally weary today because I’m companied out.

Last night, I made it to my first meeting in a week. I had little to contribute, apart from this truth: “I’m really sick of Heather. It feels like it’s been all about Heather for weeks. And yet, at the same time, I miss my own soul. Does that make sense?”

They all nodded. That’s how I know it’s going to be all right.

As long as I don’t see another coconut cake again. Forever.

Okay, for a couple weeks.

My daughter-in-love Kelsey with her own cake
My daughter-in-love Kelsey with her own cake


Secretly Hoping for Edmund’s Demise

edmundborderWhen I was newly sober, I had a list of possible tragedies which, should they come to pass, I thought would warrant a relapse. Surely, if my husband died or I got terminal cancer, no one would begrudge me a drink, right?

But since part of me hoped for such an excuse, I amended the list to include the more bearable scenario of my dog Edmund’s sudden and tragic passing. 🙂

Which might explain why twice during my early recovery Edmund was almost killed due to negligence on my part. Once a car hit him because I had him off leash. Fortunately, he’s so small he bounced off the front spoiler and rolled away to safety. Another time, while lowering my passenger seat for a nap, I inadvertently pushed Edmund out the rear window and onto the freeway in Denver. Fortunately, traffic was stalled and we noticed he was no longer in the car before we drove off.

If you’re an alcoholic, you understand why I used to think, When’s this little prick gonna die so I can drink?

Today, the idea that I might drink seems unlikely—a fact which, ironically, makes me more vulnerable to relapse. Especially when you consider I never saw it coming when, at six months sober, I drank at Dave in the Minneapolis airport.

So, in the spirit of vigilance, here’s an unscientific list of conditions that may increase our risk of relapse.

  1. We have a history of slipping. The more we relapse, the more relapse starts to feel like an option we can come back from—until we can’t.
  2. We were active in our addiction for many years. It makes sense that the longer we used or drank, the more deeply engrained those patterns of behavior can be, and the harder to break.
  3. We have been in recovery a long time. It’s true. The longer we stay sober, the harder it is to remember our powerlessness, and the easier it is to think we’ve changed enough that we could handle a drink.
  4. We have a lot of YETs. We haven’t yet got a DUI. We haven’t yet lost our job, our kids, or our marriage due to our stupid habit. Yets are good news until they make us wonder if we’re really alcoholics or addicts like the rest of those people we meet in meetings.
  5. We aren’t part of a recovery community. Most of us just can’t do this thing alone. We need the support and accountability that comes from being vulnerable with—and deeply connected to—others on the same journey.
  6. We take prescription meds that can be addictive. For many alcoholics and addicts, this is a slippery slope that takes us right back to our drug of choice.
  7. We keep our recovery secret from friends and family. If the most important people in our lives wouldn’t know or care if we relapsed, we probably don’t have enough at stake in our sobriety.
  8. We live or work in an environment rife with “triggers.” Repeated exposure to situations that weaken our resolve—for example, excessive stress, anxiety and conflict—set us up to seek relief in our bad old ways.
  9. We think we’re beyond danger. There’s a big difference between healthy confidence and the kind of cockiness that results in complacency. The latter is likely to lead us to a drink.
  10. We are unwilling to seek outside help. Many of us get sober only to discover we need to address other mental health issues, which if neglected, can threaten our sobriety.
  11. We fail to take the actions our program suggests. We rely on God to keep us sober, but God relies on us to do our part. Unless we take the steps historically proven to help, our sobriety is likely to be precarious.
  12. We don’t help other alcoholics. We often remind each other in meetings that we keep what we have by giving it away. Assisting newcomers reminds us of the nightmare we’ve been saved from, and helping others gets our attention off of ourselves.

You know what? Reading through this list right now, I realize that at least three of these apply to me today. This doesn’t mean I’m doing anything wrong, it just means that like everyone else in recovery, I need to stay vigilant if I want to stay free.

By the way, don’t worry about Edmund. Let’s face it, he has good reason to believe he’ll live forever.

In the meantime, I no longer secretly hope for his demise.  And if he dies, I promise not to drink at his funeral.

I’d love to hear from you today. What do you think I should add to this list? What else puts us at risk of relapse?

In case you’re interested in this topic, I wrote another post about relapse called No One Will Know if I Eat This Cake: The 12 Lies of Relapse.  



Worried About All the Wrong Things

Image by Matthew Grant, click to visit site.
Image by Matthew Grant, click to visit site.

This week I’m spending a lot of time working on a speech I’ll give Tuesday—and practicing the delivery of it on my computer’s video cam.

Wince is too sweet of a word to describe what it’s like to watch it back. If, like me, you still want to believe folks who say you don’t look your age, I can’t recommend this approach.

Trust me, it has occurred to me that I might just be worried about the wrong things. It’s not about me, right?

Still, since I’m too distracted by revelations about my face to write a post, and since Sober Mercies releases in paperback this Tuesday, it seems a good time to run an excerpt that seems to relate.

Here it is:

“In typical, self-centered fashion, I had imagined that treatment would be all about me. I had pictured myself spending a lot of one-on-one time with the staff psychiatrist while he probed my psyche to solve the mystery of what drove someone as nice as me to drink myself blotto. Sure, I knew the other patients would be there, hovering in the background.

But in my mind, the camera was always focused on me, front and center.

It was nothing like that.

I quickly learned that rehab is nothing if not a group activity. It’s like one long experiment in the study of how people develop intimacy with strangers. Naturally, whether or not this is a good thing depends largely on who your fellow residents happen to be. These are the people who will see you with bed-head at six a.m. when you stumble half asleep down the hall to have your vitals taken. Who will learn your most shameful secrets. Who will see you exposed for what you are—a blubbering drunk in Banana Republic clothes.

Who won’t like you.

It was true. Right away, several of the residents decided I thought I was better than them. During dinner in the school-style cafeteria that first night, a lesbian and meth addict named Geneva mocked me for being so “put together.” She said I looked like one of the damn counselors. She was sure if I met her on the street, I wouldn’t give her the f*@*#ing time of day.

Others at the table nodded or snickered.

I had half-expected this—not quite fitting in. But I was taken aback by the open hostility. I went to my room and cried. What did these people want from me? Should I not put on makeup and blow-dry my hair? Should I wear only T-shirts? Forgive me for not knowing what a “tweaker” is! (It’s a methamphetamine addict.) I don’t think I’m better than any of them! I insisted to myself.

And yet, I did think I was different. I just wasn’t in the same category as these hard-core alcoholics and drug addicts. I’d never stolen anything. I’d never spent time in jail or on the street. I’d never woken up naked in Vegas, unsure how I got there and who was in bed with me.

That night, I phoned Dave and told him I’d met a drug-addicted lesbian named Geneva who hated me on sight. I told him I missed him. I missed Edmund (my dog). I missed being at home in our house on our wide, pretty street where no one ever looked at me funny, wore pajamas to dinner, or asked me what I was ‘in for.’


On the upside, before I came to treatment, I had envisioned myself here curled up in a corner, sweating profusely, delirious with pain, and perhaps suffering small seizures. But that never happened. Much to my relief, during those first couple days, I was given Valium to help me cope with the physical symptoms of withdrawal.

In the meantime, because I was new and detoxing, I was temporarily excused from most of the program activities. Since I didn’t have a roommate, this allowed me plenty of time to wallow in self-pity. In fact, I was so worried about being ostracized that I forgot to worry about not being able to drink.

At around eight on that first night, the irony hit me. Instead of climbing the walls with craving as I’d expected, I was alone in my room, calmly reading a book, desperately upset because a lesbian didn’t like me.

Obviously, I had worried about all the wrong things.”

P.S. Just so you know, Geneva turned into a great friend and I eventually realized I was exactly like all the other residents.  🙂


An Unbalanced Woman

shutterstock_119146966Last Friday I got bonked upside the head about how out of balance my life is. I had planned a day of important tasks and healthy choices. But by 4:30 that afternoon, I’d spent four hours trying to fix a broken blog post and had once again missed my opportunity for yoga.

Disappointed and angry, I glanced around my office at the chaos that seems to magically erupt there and pretty much represents the state of my life. A voice in my ear said, “You keep thinking balance will happen naturally when your life calms down. But what if your life won’t calm down until you impose some balance?”

Bingo. Light bulb.

Big aha now in hand, I spent most of dinner on Friday night talking to my husband Dave about how I need to find balance. It felt like progress just to say it out loud.

Saturday morning I was supposed to go for coffee with a friend in recovery who I mentor. It’s our usual routine, but she wanted to meet 15 minutes early. No big deal, right? But late Friday night I decided to resent it. All that lost sleep, you know? So I set my alarm to give me just enough to time to get ready, but not enough for morning meditation or breakfast.

I grabbed a cup of coffee as I flew out the door. Once in the car I realized, Oh yeah, this is the mug that’s too big for the cup holder. Driving with one hand, I turned on the air conditioner—Why was it already so hot?!—and the blast of stale air shot a speck of something into my left eye. Using my steering hand, I tried to rub it loose from my contact, which made it worse. The pain was excruciating. I wanted to pull over, but I was already late to meet my friend who is always—I now realized—rudely prompt. She tries to beat me on purpose!

Sure enough, she was waiting in her car when I raced into the parking lot. As I angrily tried to put the car in park with my coffee hand, I got discombobulated and spilled the entire mug onto my suede purse. My first thought when I saw the lake of coffee was, “My new smart phone is in there!” I had recently bought it to replace the one that got water-damaged in my purse because I couldn’t take time to tightly screw the cap on a water bottle.

Now I flung open the car door and lifted the sopping mess over my lap to dump it onto the pavement, where its entire contents—loose tic tacs, receipts, money, make-up, broken pen parts, gum wrappers, wallet, phone, and seven pairs of reading glasses—I can never find a pair!—spilled out everywhere, because I never zip up my purse or my make-up bag, either. Furious, frantic with pain in my left eye ball, I jumped out of the car and turned to use the window as a mirror so I could claw out my contact, all the while yelling into my reflection, “O-kay! I need balance! I get it! I get it!!”

This is how my friend found me when she came around the corner. Not exactly a paragon of serenity.

Almost a week later, I wonder if the bigger problem is that I don’t actually believe in balance. I know it’s a good idea in the same way I know that keeping my purse zipped is a good idea. But do I really believe that balance is worth the effort? That it will ultimately work to my advantage?

My life would seem to indicate otherwise.

Or maybe the real problem isn’t what I believe, but the other voice in my head. The one that says: Forget about the underbelly of your life. Pay attention to the parts that show. Try harder! Work longer! Move faster! Can’t you see that you’re losing?

If only I could remember what contest I’m trying to win. 


Okay, folks. So my problem is mainly that I’m a slob because I’m sort of a workaholic. I’ve decided the one flows from the other. I’m always in a hurry and imagining I have important things to do. How about you? I’d love to hear your wisdom! 


I Can’t Help It if I’m Right

Not long ago I was at a women’s recovery meeting where we passed a basket and each of us drew a slip of paper printed with one of the slogans we often use, such as, “One day at a time.”

The plan was to go around the room and each woman would share her phrase and what it meant to her.

But the slip I got seemed boring, ho-hum. Since there were a few slips left over, I exchanged mine for a different one. Big mistake, since it was obviously meant for some other woman. It read simply: “I am frequently wrong.”

First let me say that I’ve never heard that one. Not once. And second, how come the same thing always happens to me at Chinese restaurants? The fortune inside my cookie is always clearly intended for another person at the table.

When it was my turn to share in that meeting, I didn’t appreciate the way everyone laughed when I read my slip. It was almost like they thought it was perfect for me.

Thankfully, my husband can attest to the fact that I am frequently right. In fact, he’s learned over the years not to second-guess me when I’m certain of a fact, because he hates being embarrassed when he’s proved wrong.

But it was a mistake to tell Dave about what happened at the meeting. I even showed him my little strip of paper. He pretended to sympathize, but it was all an act, because the next morning I found the strip taped to the fridge.

I guess it’s only natural that he would have some resentment about my ability to be right so often. Maybe I’ve asked him one too many times to, oh puleez, say my favorite three words to me. And they’re not, “I love you.” They’re, “I…was…wrong.”

During my drinking years, I thoughtfully provided Dave with tips on how to make a strong apology. I even boiled the key ideas down to three easy-to-remember “A”s: Admit you were “wrong”; Affirm my hurt feelings; Ask my forgiveness.

Fortunately, I’m self-aware enough these days to recognize that I may not always be right. I’m sure I’ve been wrong. Somewhere in the past. Probably when I was still drinking.

But back to that slip of paper on the fridge. One day, just out of curiosity, I wondered, what would happen if I meditated on that phrase for a couple weeks? I am frequently wrong. I am frequently wrong. I am frequently wrong.

I can recite those words in my head just fine. But why do I choke on them as they come out of my mouth? “I was wwwaah. I was wrrrrooo.” It’s just so hard to say!

Somewhere along the way, I think I learned that being wrong or mistaken is the same thing as being weak. Or less. Or bad.

But what if I did get totally comfortable with the idea of being wrong, even frequently wrong? How would it change me?

Aside from the fact that Dave wouldn’t recognize me, humility might look good on me. 

Maybe you’ve heard the trick question: Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?

I’d rather be both. But today, maybe, I’m going to choose to be happy.

Just don’t tell Dave.


Edmund the Arrogant

Be honest. Could you say no to this dog?

I’ve been trying too hard with the blog lately, and it’s catching up with me, and my editor husband, too. After debating blog or marriage, marriage or blog, I’ve come down on the side of marriage, at least for today.

That means, I get to pick an easy writing target, Dave gets to be off the editing hook, and my dog Edmund gets to sacrifice himself on the altar of my blog. (Thank God dogs don’t read).

I know, it’s a bit of a whiplash from Wednesday’s “Crimes Against Grace,” but I’m hoping we’ll naturally stumble into more spiritual territory.

I named Edmund after the obnoxious boy who ate Turkish Delight in C.S. Lewis’, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I must have known at first sight that Edmund would be a brat. We often call him a prick, which is too offensive for a spiritual blog, I agree, but it captures Edmund perfectly. (And you should see the synonyms!)

I know, lots of little dogs bark and snarl and pretend they’re big, especially when they meet another dog who actually is (“Don’t embarrass yourself!” I tell Edmund, as he lunges at a Rottweiler. “That’s a real dog!”).

But where Edmund earns his “pr–” label best is with his arrogance. Case in point. There’s a dog down the street whose fenced front yard we walk by most mornings. The dog is named Enya, and she’s one of those new mixes, a schnoodle, I think.

Well, Edmund thinks she’s dumb. Or something. No matter how much she bounces around and barks and leaps and tries to get his attention, Edmund puts his nose in the air and rushes past, like she’s not even there. Or like he’s embarrassed that she is.

That’s fine, except for when the dog’s owner is on her porch, watching us go by. Do I apologize? I’m sorry my dog is so stuck up!

This morning as I was walking Edmund on his leash down the alley, he smelled something delicious and was determined to veer off toward a bit of rotten garbage. I held firm while he pulled so hard that he was strangling himself on his collar. It sounded like his throat was being slit.

Does he get it that it’s his own insistence on going after garbage that is choking him?

Aha! See, I told you we might stumble onto a spiritual point. The metaphor is obvious, but I’ll say it anyway. How often do I go after something that isn’t good for me and find myself suffering, not because God is trying to hurt me, but because of my own insistence on chasing something rotten?

Which reminds me, Dave and I used to joke about creating a dog food brand with a name that would appeal to dogs, not owners. The dog isn’t interested in veggies and lamb. The dog wants you to purchase flavors such as “Dry Cat Crap,” “My Owner’s Undies,” or “Other Dogs’ Butts.”

Don’t you think that would sell? Seriously! Or are owners too busy projecting onto their dogs what flavors they themselves would go for?

Ding! Another metaphor opportunity! And you were worried. For this one, I’m going with my tendency to project my human nature onto God and imagine I know what He wants without asking. (It’s weak, but I’m trying, people).

Here’s another thing about Edmund. I used to think that dogs who knew how to properly beg, how to sit upright, paws to their chest, had been trained. It never occurred to me that the posture could be totally instinctive.

Now I know better. It’s pretty embarrassing when company is around and we’re eating dessert. At first, they think he’s cute. “Oh look! How long can he sit upright like that?”

“You have no idea,” I tell them. Edmund can maintain this posture as long as any circus dog. He can even turn his head and look around the room with nary a sway, never losing his balance. 

Ding! Ding! One last spiritual point. I think there’s a certain kind of begging that happens naturally for us humans, too. It’s an inward posture our soul assumes, a wordless pleading for more of God that rises up in us any time we catch the sweet scent of His grace. It’s worth waiting for, worth a little wobbling.  

I sip my coffee and the morning sky is gray, but I have new hope that I can keep blogging even on days when I think I have nothing to say. Besides, so what if I disappoint a few people? No one likes people who try too hard anyway. 

Wait a minute. That’s why Edmund doesn’t like Enya!

Okay, so have a blessed day. And be sure to hug an obnoxious dog, since he probably can’t help it any more than you. 

Two Words I Need to Hear

Today I want to pass on a short YouTube clip a friend alerted me to on Saturday. Because it’s funny. And because God used it to speak to me. Loudly. You could even say rudely. It’s an old clip that’s made the rounds, but if you haven’t seen it yet, you need to. Plus, this post won’t make sense unless you click here:

 Yep. A lot of our problems could be solved by those two simple words: Stop it!

Watching this woman respond to Bob Newhart’s rebuke reminded me of all the drama I used to create around small events in order to make them big enough to drink over. 

 But getting hooked on drama isn’t just something that happens to addicts or alcoholics. It happens to people.   And forgive me, but women are the worst offenders, which is why we talk about “drama queens” and not “drama kings.”

Not long ago, I was explaining to a friend over coffee that I hadn’t had a period (sorry, guys) in several months. “I think I might be in early menopause,” I told her. 

Wow,” she said, with genuine concern. “I went through that a few years ago. It was traumatic to think I couldn’t have a baby now.”

That’s what I’ve heard,” I said. “But I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to have a crisis over it or not.”

We both laughed at the joke. But why do we act this way?

I’m sure it’s partly just human nature. We’re attracted to what makes us feel part of a bigger, more exciting story. Drama is what makes TV and movies entertaining and keeps us on the edge of our seats. But since life is rarely like the movies, we look for ways to feel alive, to feel central to the action. Sometimes, it doesn’t even matter if it’s good or bad, so long as something is happening. 

Plus, if something important is happening to us, or even to someone near us, it makes us feel important. All eyes are on the woman in crisis. 

Of course, I’m not minimizing legitimate trauma and suffering. But in recovery, we tend to view all drama with a wary eye. The reason it makes us nervous is that it tends to get us wound up and stressed out and next thing you know we want to calm down, be soothed and comforted. And guess where that leads? 

Last week I rushed into a cafe to meet a friend, late and flustered. When she asked how I was doing, I downloaded for five minutes. “My life is going to be chaos until March, at least,” I explained, feeling a little self-important.  Oh the drama!

She looked at me quietly for a moment. Then she asked serenely, “Why have you already decided that your life will be chaos? It doesn’t have to be unless you decide that it will be.”

She was right. Stop it! She was saying. Just stop it!

But here’s the good news. I heard her. I heard myself. And more importantly, I heard God.

I’m sort of making a joke of it here, but this drama business is actually serious stuff, especially for people on a spiritual path. When we get hooked on chaos and upheaval, we are reaching for meaning and significance in circumstances instead of God. And when we beg, steal, and borrow trouble, we buy into the illusion that the world revolves around us. 

Today, I want to choose peace. I want to relax in God’s arms at the very moment I could choose to freak out. I want to bring calm into the lives of others, not a spoon to stir up trouble. I want to Stop it. 

But now, I’m worried. Now that I’ve written this blog, every time I find myself lathered up about something that doesn’t deserve soap, I just know I’m gonna hear God say, Stop it! Just, Stop it!

Only in my head, I’m gonna picture Bob Newhart as God. And that feels like a problem. 

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