P P and T

Yesterday afternoon, as I traveled by taxi and train to my family’s Thanksgiving celebration, I was imagining a sequel to the film “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” which, as you probably know, depicts a tragicomic trip to Turkey Day.

My movie would be called “People, Places and Things,” a holiday fable whose moral would be a recovery saying I recited over and over again as I journeyed from Washington DC to New York City and checked into a hotel:

”I have no control over people, places and things.”

I whispered those words to myself on the Quiet Car of the Acela train when the folks across from me continued their drunken shouting even after I had pointed out that talking was verboten. And repeated them in despair when, having exited the train and pushed my way to the taxi stand, I realized that my laptop was still aboard the Acela and heading to Boston.

I mumbled them despondently in the back of a taxi stalled in traffic because of streets blocked off to make space for the ginormous balloons of the Macy’s Parade.

I recited them through tears of frustration after quarreling with a hotel manager who had booked me in a space too small to accommodate both me and my adult son who will be coming from Vermont today to join the gathering.

”Sir, you put me in a room with only one bed but I reserved a pull-out couch.”

”We have no record of that request, ma’am.”

“I specifically asked for a pull-out. My son is a grown-up. We don’t share a bed.”

”You should have double-checked the confirmation email we sent you.”

”No one told me to check the email. I trusted you.”

”I’m sorry, Ma’am,  but we are fully booked. All the rooms with sleeper sofas are taken. Here is a voucher for a free breakfast tomorrow.”

And I am chanting them today as I eat the free kale frittata in my room-for-one, having just spoken to my son about returning to Vermont after dinner.

Recovery is all about relinquishing our need to control. It’s about accepting the things we cannot change and handing things over to our Higher Power. We are taught to “let go and let God” and “wear life like a loose garment.” If we don’t loosen our grip, frustration and resentment are likely to lead us back to addiction.

Letting go brings us tremendous relief from unhappiness but it is difficult to master, especially during the holiday season when we feel pressure to have an insane amount of fun and make everything turn out perfectly. At the same time, the chaos that ensues when millions of people are traveling, shopping, eating and trying to be perfect, pretty much guarantees that our attempts to have our way will fail.

There is, however, a miraculous thing that happens if we give up trying to change the things we can’t. The sweet and reasonable side of life shows up all on its own to help us out.

For instance:

After I stopped sobbing in my hotel room and decided to check my email, I discovered that my laptop had been found on the train and would be returned to me via FedEx.

When I decided to not sulk in my room last night and went ahead with holiday plans, I had a lovely time with my relatives and a magical encounter with my sister’s adorable Tibetan spaniel.

Walking back to my hotel after socializing, I caught sight of one of the balloons that had stalled the traffic: a magnificent white goose with a golden beak. It was delightful.

And today I convinced my son to take the train back to New England rather than slog sleepily through traffic and weather in his Subaru.

People. Places. Things.

They are wonderful.

As long as we don’t try to control them.

Have a great Thanksgiving, dear readers, and thank you for letting me share!

Street Music

Recently, as I related in a previous post, my recovery fellowship lost a young and very beautiful friend to suicide. At a memorial in honor of our lovely acquaintance, several people shared about how difficult it is for individuals who are afflicted with severe mental illness to summon the strength to keep living. Every day is a struggle to hold onto faith and courage,  to show up for loved ones, to not look for a way out. Our friend was incredibly courageous, it was noted again and again, and she kept going as long as she could, until she simply could no longer find the strength to walk another step.

I do not want to compare my relatively minor trials to my late friend’s agonizing hallucinations and despair, but I do know that many people, including me, suffer occasionally from the feeling that getting through the day requires a superhuman quantity of courage and effort. To be honest, and I feel ashamed to admit it, there have been a handful of days when I have considered the possibility of ending my own life because I did not know how to banish a sense of suffocating darkness. So far I have managed to not conceive of an escape plan. I have found resilience. I have rebounded. I have faith that with the help of my Higher Power I can keep finding my way back to a bright and serene place.

Sometimes, however, I need powerful encouragement to get back on my feet. Luckily, there is a very strong piece of recovery wisdom that has helped me hold onto hope. I carry it with me everywhere, I’ve written about it a couple of times, and sometimes I clutch onto it fiercely. I definitely think it has saved my life.

Don’t quit before the miracle.

When I first heard this beautiful proverb, I thought it was telling me to hang in with my recovery way of life because at some point along the road something marvelous and exceptional was going to happen. An amazing bit of luck would land in my lap: an extraordinary life partner, a small fortune, a creative opportunity that would brighten and broaden my world.

Over time, however, I have stopped expecting the pots of gold and grails and other epic dreams to come true. Instead I have become aware of the small miracles that appear in my life each day and inspire me to keep going. All I have to do is summon the energy to hoist myself out of my despair, or maybe it’s just ennui, long enough to take a look around and open my heart to everyday magic, and it never fails to show up:

For example:

The magic of running into an old friend.

The magic of a beautiful break in the clouds or a fresh breeze after a storm.

The magic of street musicians or a sweet song that comes on the radio.

The magic of a loving encounter with another human being.

The magic of receiving a real card or letter.

The magic of animals and babies spotted on a walk.

The magic of laughter and silliness.

The magic of pain or sadness ending.

To not quit before the miracle is to carry on each day with my ordinary endeavors, while holding onto the faith that bright and shiny moments will occur and remaining open to the luminous energy they bestow.

I am certain that my beautiful friend, in her 40 years of living, experienced episodes of spontaneous joy and everyday miracles. There were many happy stories at her memorial–about fishing trips with her Dad, her passion for drawing and hearty restaurant dinners, and her loving attachments to family and friends. Surely these brighter interludes offered respite from  her pain.

I pray that I will hold onto my faith in miracles.

I wish the same for you.











Nutty Noel

I wasn’t planning on writing about the holidays quite yet.  But then I went out to do errands today and everywhere I went I saw people getting their jolly on. Folks were up on ladders hanging lights and wreaths. I heard strains of holiday music in a department store and came upon a jaw-dropping 25-foot Christmas tree and enormous gilded throne for Santa in the lobby of my local shopping mall.

Clearly Noel has arrived early this year–so I might as well get in the spirit of things and offer a post in honor of the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

Some recovery sayings are so helpful that you want to give them a big Santa Claus hug. Here’s one that never fails to rescue me during the holidays. I hope it will be helpful to you, too, as the days get shorter, the food gets richer, the sentimental soundtrack gets louder and psychological triggers start popping up everywhere:

All people, including ourselves, are to some extent emotionally ill and frequently wrong.

Those brilliant words, authored by AA co-founder Bill W., brought me a tremendous sense of relief and gratitude when I first read them in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.

Keeping them in mind can help me survive any trying encounter with loved ones–and challenges are plentiful during the holidays, when normal levels of mental illness and irrationality ramp up to the stratosphere.

I am speaking primarily of my own behavior, which can be counted on each late November through early January to regress to childhood, complete with frequent weeping, sugar highs, fairy tale expectations and loud carol singing.

And other people? Well I have noticed that they, too, can be moodier and perceptually challenged as the year comes to a close.

It was all much much worse when I was drinking. No surface was left undecorated, no song was unsung (especially those in a minor key late at night when I was alone and morose) no cocktail untried, no punches pulled with my equally inebriated significant other. Holiday fights were epic.

Now, armed with sober wisdom, and the gift of sobriety itself, I find I try to give others the space they need at Yuletide, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa to engage in nostalgic craziness and regression. I try to remind myself that at holiday parties many of the people around me are  emotionally unhinged and drunk off their asses and I need to hold onto my sense of humor and perspective when dealing with them.

And I try to practice the same tolerance and kindness with myself and remember that, drunk or not, I am capable of lapsing into mental malaise and perceptual distortion, especially when lights are twinkling, sentimental music is playing, boards are groaning under trays of sweet and fatty food,  the air is thick with spicy smells  and my mind is overflowing with sentiment and memories.

I am grateful that my sober sayings are there to help me 24/7/365.  Let It Snow and Hang Up the Mistletoe. I feel ready for the miracles and the madness.










A lot of sayings in recovery underscore the importance of self-care.

I am not talking about getting a pedicure.

Sober self-care is serious business. It’s about taking responsibility at every level for our own wellbeing and, especially, refraining from asking our friends and family to do for us what we can do for ourselves.

A friend of mine in recovery thought up a perfect expression for this type of self-sufficiency:

It’s an inside job.

A sober “inside job” means  using our own inner resources to solve our problems rather than dumping them in the laps of our friends and family. Taking ownership of our feelings, our actions and our own care is part of becoming reliable people who don’t prey on others.

This doesn’t mean never sharing our problems, or never asking for support. I am not talking about retreating into stoic loneliness. The “inside job” perspective on our self-care is all about being responsible and reasonable–as opposed to self-centered and all-about-me needy–when it comes to what we ask of ourselves and others.

When we take the “inside job” approach, we are doing the opposite of what we did as addicts. Alcoholics, drug abusers, gamblers, and other addicts not in recovery will do anything to sustain our deplorable way of life. That means using and abusing others, and insisting that they take care of us emotionally, physically and financially. We expect them to finance our vices, heal our self-inflicted wounds, clean up our messes and really do anything that allows us to pursue and deny our addiction, and we are shamefully selfish and insensitive about how much our demands hurt our loved ones.

And when it comes to the needs and wants of others? We are blinded and deafened by our self-centeredness. We could give a rodent’s derriere.

I have been on both sides of this behavior. In my drinking days I manipulated and took advantage of numerous loved ones in my efforts to drink, deny and not suffer any consequences. Thinking about the folks I leaned on financially or dumped on emotionally, I feel a terrible sense of shame.  I still have amends to make to some people for my behavior during my brief but intense love affair with fine wine.

I also need to recover from the addicts who have attempted to use, abuse, manipulate and prey upon me in order to sustain their addiction, their selfishness and their denial. I still need to get better at setting boundaries and turning away the active addicts I meet along my recovery journey who want to drag me into their self-centered craziness.

The ultimate nuttiness comes when I become trapped in a relationship with an addict, and then in my distress lean too heavily on other friends and ask for too much support rather than drawing boundaries or ending the relationship. In this situation I am spreading toxicity when I should be containing it. I am asking others to do for me what I must do for myself.

Self-care is essential to maintaining a sober state of mind and body. We don’t need to do it perfectly but we need to keep at it one inside job at a time.







Like Me

Some of our wisest recovery sayings are not very pretty. Here is one that grates on me–but the message it carries is critical to my sobriety:

I am just another bozo on the bus.

The message is humility.

The search to be special, to be uniquely appreciated and loved, in our overpopulated world is risky at best and tragic at worst.  Despite our culture of approval-seeking, in which millions of us chase after clicks and “likes” and emojis every day with our tweets and our posts and our endless selfies, it seems doubtful that most of us actually find the gratification we hope for. Are not other people usually too busy posting, tweeting or uploading their own selfies to take the time to make us feel special?

Moreover, an era of oligarchs and one-percenters, in which more and more of us are being forced to fight over a smaller and smaller share of wealth and opportunity, is not a great moment in which to strive for uniqueness and affirmation.

And what happens when we fail in our quest to feel like one in 7.7 billion? Those of us who are vulnerable to addiction might relapse in response to the pain of recognizing our own ordinariness.

But humility–now there’s an idea just right for our times. And an idea that keeps us sober. I don’t mean to disparage the heroic legions who are fighting for economic and social justice. You have my total support and admiration. Humility works no matter what.

Humility, and its sister, gratitude: Those are the states of mind to strive for on a planet we share with billions of others. If we practice acceptance as well, nothing can steal our serenity.

When we are humble, grateful and accepting, getting one “like” or one heart emoji is wonderful, and when we get no response at all, we can handle it. There is a lot to be said for lowering ourselves and our expectations: low is not necessarily a bad thing.

One of the lessons we learn in recovery is that we are more than ego and life can be more than gratification of desires. The need to be special or unique is not so much a quest for real love and companionship as it is a way to bolster our pride and vanity. Recovery encourages us to do better. We learn that it is actually rejuvenating, a relief, really, to stretch ourselves beyond our self-preoccupation and self-pity and appreciate other people and the larger world. We discover that the love and fellowship of a few true friends, relationships in which we give as well as take, apologize for our wrongs and practice tolerance of imperfections in ourselves and others, are far more precious than feeling singular. We begin to see that the need to set our unique selves above or apart from others, even if encouraged by success or legions of internet followers, tends to leave us lonely.

Maybe instead of recoiling from the idea, indeed the reality, of being one of billions on the human journey, we should look around this bus we are on, start a conversation with our fellow passengers, listen to what they have to say, do what we can to offer them comfort and friendship, and accept their gifts of love. Instead of trying to stand out and dominate and be special all the time, what if we found joy and discovery, love and serenity in  the experience of being one of many.

There’s a place on this post where you can click “like” if you agree with what I’m saying or enjoy my words. There’s a link that you can click to find out more about my new book. If I am following my own advice, and the wisdom I have discovered in  recovery, I will be very thankful for your  “like”  and  express my deepest gratitude and joy if you acquire and read my book. I like love and attention and a little success as much as the next bozo on the bus.

Then I will remind myself that it is not feeling special but being humble that keeps me sober–and being sober allows me to have a life.

About the author: Mary Ellin Lerner is a journalist and blogger who lives in Washington, DC. Her new collection of essays, “Sober Heart: Reflections on Life and Love in Recovery” can be purchased at:








While I strive to include a wide variety of sober wisdom in this blog, I find that certain proverbs crop up more often than others in my recovery journey.

For instance:

Rejection is God’s protection.

I didn’t always love those words but  in recent days I have come to appreciate them.  Truth be told, I’ve been something of a rejection junkie my whole life–especially when it comes to romantic relationships. Cads and creeps, bounders and blighters and every other type of man behaving badly have been my specialty. I wish I could believe that my proclivity for rogues is a rarity but I know (and I bet you know, too) that it isn’t.  A lot of us gals seem to gravitate toward loutish lovers.

Usually the reasons are complex and buried in childhood. In my case, or so therapists have told me, my psyche twisted a lonely youth (with lovely but busy parents who entrusted others with my care) into the unfortunate conviction that the only people worth loving were unavailable. Men who offered crumbs of affection, were only interested in me sexually, or were abusive, did not strike me as undesirable.  No alarms sounded in their company. I was used to longing, loneliness and emotional pain.

Before I found recovery and its message of self-care, including the proverb about rejection and protection, I did not feel that being rejected was the work of a loving Higher Power. To the contrary, I suffered through each failed relationship,  believing that this was simply the way life and love worked. I had no idea that, having protected me with rejection, God was encouraging me to find a kinder gentler version of love. It didn’t occur to me that my Higher Power was ending my relationships so I could find something better.

Even after several years in recovery, I still found myself chasing after reluctant suitors while ignoring any opportunity for a positive connection.

As I evolved from a beautiful and sexually alluring young woman into a Woman of A Certain Age whose youthful spark, while not completely extinguished, was appropriately diminished, I discovered  that my love life had vanished.

I blamed the death of romance on various culprits having to do with age and recovery. Maybe I was too sober. Maybe I needed those glasses of wine to find love. Maybe men lost interest in you when you hit 60. Maybe I was simply too old.

But then I kept seeing and hearing things that contradicted my theories. I learned that a sober woman I knew was engaged at 74 and another one in her 60s. There was a friend’s mother on Facebook in her 80s snuggling with a boyfriend on a couch, another friend in her 70s posting pictures of her new man.  And I could not deny that in my early 60s I had plenty of “likes” and “views” on the dating website to which I had reluctantly subscribed.

It seemed hard to hold onto the theory that my problem with finding love was age or sobriety.

And then, on a recent afternoon, as I walked into Starbucks for  my daily infusion of sugar and caffeine,  I saw something that inspired a powerful epiphany about my predicament.

A woman who looked to be in her early fifties and a gentleman of a similar age were in front of me in line and he was groping her like an amorous drunk. First he planted a kiss on her neck. Then, standing behind her, he wrapped his arms around her waist and bumped his groin suggestively into her backside. This was followed by more neck kissing and more grinding from behind while she grinned with what appeared to be a mix of pleasure and embarrassment.

I felt a little embarrassed for her as well, and annoyed at their antics. I wanted to tell them to get a room. But I could not deny that among my feelings were pangs of envy.

And I realized what was getting to me.  The man had all the earmarks of a cad and a bounder. His moves were rough and domineering. His face had an unpleasant sneer. He reminded me of my last bad relationship. And I longed to be in her place.

Then it dawned on me (and this is really twisted):

The trouble with my love life wasn’t that I had gotten too old for romance and relationships altogether but that I could no longer attract those scoundrels who appealed to me the most. As I passed 60, I had aged out of employing my looks and sexuality to get crumbs of attention from womanizers and users, the knavish men who had attracted me all my life.

The demise of my troubled love life with age was the ultimate expression of rejection as God’s protection. But I was heartbroken. I didn’t want the predators to prey on others. I was screaming “Come back. Don’t Go!”  to my disappearing ne’er-do-wells just as surely as I had silently said those words to my preoccupied parents decades ago.

If God was protecting me from something bad in order to help me find something better, I had no idea where to go or what to do.

And I still don’t, although I am coming to believe that kinder and gentler love is at least a possibility. The only prince in my romantic history was introduced to me by my mother who at 93 is still a beautiful and vibrant woman and brilliant with email and Google. Maybe she can help again.

In the meantime, thank goodness recovery sayings, like apps, are plentiful and cover all contingencies. And there is one that comforts me now:

More will be revealed.

I look forward to whatever (and whomever) comes next.
























With Gratitude

Thank you so much for visiting. I am happy to say that this blog has had more than 1,000 hits in its brief existence, and I appreciate my readers more than I can say. I am also very grateful for the “like” and “love” emojis you have posted on Facebook in response to my essays, and the appreciative comments when something amused or touched you.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

Recently, I published a book, Sober Heart: Reflections on. Life and Love in Recovery, which is a collection of essays very similar to the ones you have been enjoying here. It’s all about my recovery journey, The perspective is hopeful and good-humored and I share many lessons I have learned from my own missteps and foibles.

I think you would really enjoy reading it. And I hope you will click on the following link and order your very own copy today. Or consider giving it to a friend as a holiday present:


If you are based in the Washington, DC, area, you can save on shipping and pick up a copy at Politics and Prose, a delightful bookstore and cafe (you might already know and love it!) located at 5015 Connecticut Ave., NW, near the corner of Connecticut Ave. and Nebraska.

Thank you so much for your support.

Your grateful friend and recovery blogger,

Mary Ellin Lerner


Sometimes we find ourselves in situations in recovery where we need to summon all the strength, inspiration and prayer we can find within and around us in order to stay sober. I am talking about those extremely triggering circumstances that in the past would have driven us straight to the bar–or the corner drugstore (or corner drug market, depending on our addiction).

Recently, I had the opportunity to practice all of my sober skills, recite all my recovery sayings and forage through my entire serenity toolbox in order to navigate a particularly stressful interlude in my life.

I am referring to a moment that could have been staged by Murphy himself, since it exemplified all of his laws. While the details are unimportant, I found myself stuck in circumstances in which I felt as if I were behind enemy lines: trying to survive in an environment that seemed at once threatening and a tiny bit insane. There was no easy exit. I did not want to relapse and find a drink–although I considered it. I was there to offer support to a loved one. I simply had to put up and shut up.

And the first sober saying that came to my aid was:

Ego is not my amigo.

Feeling proud and full of oneself can be a tremendous rush–until someone bursts your bubble and you have to experience the excruciating pain of deflation. It occurred to me, during my recent stint in the danger zone, that I should have left my pride and ego at home. Keeping a humble perspective with rock-bottom expectations is a wonderful way to get through any situation–especially one where others are ego tripping and power tripping and duking it out for supremacy. You can kind of be like a slender motorcycle zipping through stalled and honking traffic. It is a great relief to not be a player. If I let go of pride and ego, then those who choose to wound or dominate or compete have nothing to push against. I can feel serene no matter what.

Another bit of wisdom, to which I refer often and which I have mentioned frequently in this space, is:

Restraint of pen and tongue.

Watching what I say is essential in unstable or hostile situations. During my recent sojourn behind enemy lines, I felt compelled repeatedly to listen and nod amiably in response to statements that as far as I was concerned were fabrications.

More than once I had to repress the desire to shout out: “No, that’s untrue!”

But I did not. I restrained my tongue (and my pen, too, which I suppose I could have used to scribble an improvised protest sign). I didn’t want to make trouble.

The importance of this second proverb was underscored when, unable to repress my reaction completely, I expressed my distress in a quiet voice in a quiet corner to the loved one who had brought me into the situation–and received an angry dressing-down in response, after which I apologized profusely and fled the scene.

When it was over, despite my best efforts to behave in a sane and sober fashion, I found myself in emotional turmoil: hurt, angry, ashamed. I was a mess. And so I called on yet another sober proverb to bail me out–one of the simplest and most profound maxims we say in recovery, borrowed from the writings of William Shakespeare:

To thine own self be true.

There was only one thing I could do to be completely true to myself in that moment. In the silence of my apartment, where it could do no harm to me or anyone else, I wailed. I wept. I cried and cried and cried until I had washed away every single triggering hurt.

Then I dried my eyes, said a prayer of thanks to my Higher Power, and stood up to face the rest of the day, feeling newly confident that as a sober person I will be able to survive, albeit imperfectly and tearfully, any challenge that comes my way.











Fire and Rain

I always thought that I’d see you again.

Those lyrics, from James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain,” have been haunting me this afternoon as I mourn the shocking loss of a sweet and beautiful friend from my recovery group who took her own life a few days ago.

It is a very human habit to assume that the people we love will be with us forever–a poignant expression of our paradoxical need  to find comfort and security in the shadow of our own mortality.

Our belief that we can and must protect our loved ones from death and disaster is equally fervent. Moreover, the daily miracles wrought by our valiant first responders give us faith in the power and efficacy of rescue.

One of the tragic ironies of loving those who are addicted and/or mentally ill is our need to believe that our troubled loved ones can be saved just as readily as victims of fire or weather.

To the contrary, it seems that addicts and those afflicted with profound mental illness are some of the hardest people on the planet to rescue. Unlike victims of natural disasters, people suffering from emotional illness, including addiction, frequently feel no conscious desire to be saved.

This was certainly true of my soulful and radiant friend. The last time I saw her, I was attempting to save her life.  I encouraged myself to hope that she might turn a corner in healing from her addiction and mental illness. And because the rescue seemed a tiny bit miraculous, I allowed myself to believe that my Higher Power and hers had plans to bless her with imminent recovery.

It was a beautiful golden October afternoon. Some impulse (later I would label it divine inspiration) compelled me to dial her number. She picked up on the first ring.

“How are you?” I asked.

“I am thinking of killing myself.”

Panicking, I sent up a prayer and said in my steadiest voice:

“I’ll come get you. Where are you?”

“I’m in the park. I have pills.”

“Don’t take them. I am coming. We will go to the hospital.”

And then the soft-voiced miracle:


I raced over to the park and to my enormous relief she ambled out of a stand of trees, graceful and composed as always, if a bit paler than usual, in jeans and a simple tee shirt: a tall and slender dark-haired girl taking an ordinary stroll on a glorious early autumn day.

She was hungry and wanted lunch. So before the hospital we drove to a Greek taverna and had a simple meal of falafel and salad. She appeared calm, even cheerful, as we made small talk. Then halfway through the lunch she began speaking about the dark visions that had pushed her to the brink of suicide: amorphous demons that seemed to have commandeered her brain and body and were about to invade the minds and bodies of her friends and family. She felt terrified and helpless in the face of an impending apocalypse.

From lunch we drove to the hospital–a clean and cheerfully appointed clinic with sparkling equipment and kindly nurses–and checked her in. They offered her juice, gave her a pair of bright blue pajamas to change into and prepared to wheel her up to the psych unit. I said goodbye to her, we hugged, and  I asked if she wanted me to visit her. “I will call and let you know,” she said. She was smiling when I left.

A few days later, I telephoned and discovered that her mood had darkened. She said she felt melancholy because it was a Sunday and all of the other psych patients had visitors while she had no one. I offered to drop by in a day or two. She said yes. But the visit never happened. On the appointed day she didn’t feel like seeing anyone. Then I heard she had gotten out of the hospital and was spending time with a caring friend. Things sounded hopeful.

A week and a few days later she was gone.

There is an adage in recovery that says we should not ask too much of our loved ones. As I mourn the loss of my friend, I wonder if asking too much includes expecting the people we love to submit to our well-intentioned attempts to rescue them.

No one should ever regret trying to save a life.  Of course we must do what we can to help the sick and suffering in these days of epidemic mental illness and addiction.

We don’t need permission to reach out a loving hand–although it is always good to pray for guidance from our Higher Power, and to follow the words of the serenity prayer as we attempt to aid loved ones in crisis:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

RIP sweet and beautiful friend, cherished and now mourned by everyone who knew her and never imagined she would leave us so soon.


















Sometimes the sayings you learn in recovery aren’t the ones hung on the walls of the meeting rooms or taken from the pages of sober literature. They are wonderful catch phrases that you hear when people share at meetings.

The other day, for instance, a woman offered the following:

“Why” is not a sober question.

Since overhearing those words, I have been pondering them–and marveling at their wisdom.  While asking “why” is obviously invaluable in many areas of life–from scientific research to daily problem solving–it is a query with which we should exercise caution when endeavoring to maintain a sober outlook.

“Why” is certainly compatible with a sober state of mind in circumstances where we know that finding an answer is possible and finding an answer will do some good (for instance, “Why won’t my car start?”, “Why does my head ache?”)  Asking “why” is disruptive to our sobriety, however, in situations where we are powerless to effect change and therefore need to practice acceptance in lieu of questioning what is going on.

Most addicts are familiar with that highly triggering question laden with self-pity and drama–“WHY ME?”–and all the other useless hand-wringing “whys” with which we waste energy wondering about things we cannot change, such as the past, other people and the weather.

Asking “why” in situations where an answer won’t help us feel better or solve a problem only serves to provoke negative feelings that can leave us vulnerable to a relapse–frustration, resentment, sadness, shame. The good news is that most if not all of these difficult emotions can be preempted if instead of asking “why” we simply accept the things we cannot change, as outlined in that brilliant microcosm of sobriety known as The Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

Giving up the “why” habit can be challenging. Despite more than eight years of endeavoring to practice sober acceptance, I still find myself tempted to look heavenward, sigh with exasperation and ask my Higher Power to tell me “why” something happened that I simply have to accept. In recent days, for instance, I have been questioning rather than accepting various troubling situations in my life, and making myself miserable in the process.

As the nostalgic parade of fall and winter holidays approaches, for instance, I have begun tormenting myself with questions of why I messed up the two Big Love Affairs of my life. Even if I could figure out definitive reasons why these Grand Amours fell apart and devise strategies that might have helped me get along better with these men, it would do me no good. One of my true loves passed away earlier this year, and the other is happily remarried. My hair-tearing, breast-beating “whys” about old loves do nothing but torture me and if I keep flogging myself I might just reach for a glass (or three) of hard cider whilst awaiting trick or treaters on Halloween.

Not all of my whys are emotionally wrenching. Some are preposterously trivial. Nonetheless they drive me to an agitated and resentful state.

For instance, the other night during a bout of insomnia, I turned on my favorite shopping channel, whose happy hosts and cozy live broadcasts from a plush suburban set have a soothing effect on my synapses. On this particular evening, however, I noticed that the broadcast was different from the live jewelry show listed on my program guide. Instead the network was offering a pre-recorded program on stretchy pull-on jeans known as “jeggings”. Worse, when the hour was up, the jeggings show was broadcast again. And yet again an hour later.  “Why is this happening?” I asked myself to no avail. “My program guide shows a lovely variety of retail offerings and instead I am forced to experience this dreary parade of stick legs and thunder thighs encased like sausages in stretchy fabric.”

Not satisfied with pondering the programming mystery, I called the shopping channel’s 800 number. A weary young woman attempting to be friendly said, “Hi, I’m Brittany. What is the number of the item you wish to purchase?”

“I don’t want to purchase an item. I want to know why you keep broadcasting the same program on jeggings hour after hour. The TV guide said it would be all sorts of things like jewelry and shoes and cute tops.”

“I am sorry. I can’t tell you why.”

“Why not?”

“I have not been given the information. There must be some reason but I don’t know it. I would connect you to Customer Service but they are closed now.”

Despairing, I asked, “Why is Customer Service closed. Shouldn’t they be open 24/7 for the nation’s number-one shopping channel?”

“I don’t know why, Ma’am. You can try them later.”

Reluctantly I hung up, as a tidal wave of “whys” rushed into my frustrated and panicky brain. Why the programming snafu? Why didn’t Brittany know why? Why was there no Customer Service in the middle of the night?

And then I remembered:

“Why is not a sober question.”

Finally, mercifully, came the aha moment. This, like the rueful reflections about my exes, was a situation where “why” was neither useful nor pertinent. “Why” and its answer would offer no relief because the problem was out of my hands.

Instead, acceptance was in order.

Acceptance and problem solving. I would have to figure out another way to cure my insomnia. I would have to find another outlet for my romantic impulses.

Maybe, I reasoned, I should consider asking “how” instead of “why.”  If I asked “how”, that would lead me to the specifics of “what” and “where.” And those questions would lead me to actually do something about my various predicaments.

And finally, if I followed those magical adverbial stepping stones they would bring me to yet another sober proverb–and, at last, a profound answer to almost any dilemma:

“We must live in the solution.”