Wednesday, August 3, 2022

August Prompt

 Prompt August 2022

If we had known better, we would have done better.  This is a profoundly relieving thought.  Thinking about my childhood, I realize I created survival tools that turned into my laundry list traits.  Using a format below helps me explore these experiences.

What I Knew. What I Didn’t Know.

I knew I shouldn’t do it –

carve my initials in the wooden

headboard of my bed.  SCB. 

That must be what I wrote.

I didn’t know I was marking

it as mine, a place that should feel safe.  

Why this claiming, naming?

I knew that after dinner

at my grandma’s house

we would play Scrabble,

a game of luck and wit, 

my brother taking so much time 

we’d end up shrieking:

“just make a word!”

I didn’t know words

would be my livelihood,

didn’t know the game

was practicing for life,

taking turns, rules,

waiting, the strive to win.

I knew my chocolate pudding

always burned. I knew to wait

for bubbles, lower heat, stir,

keep it moving slowly, stir,

but I could never wait, the

heat too high, my appetite

too great. The bottom always

stuck, crusted to the pan.

I didn’t know I’d outgrow

chocolate pudding, mature to

mousse, profiteroles or chocolate-

covered macaroons. 

I didn’t know

I’d not outgrow impatience, would

never let things take their time, 

or learn the value of small bursts

of steam, before I’d start to boil.

Connection to Recovery:

This poem reveals a number of my laundry list traits. The image of scratching my name in my bed connects to wanting safety. The Scrabble game connects to a fierce desire to win. And finally, the chocolate pudding connects to impatience and a sense of urgency that has propelled much of my life. I can see the seeds even in my childhood.


1. Play with the format of “what I knew/what I didn’t know.”  Make a list and see what themes unite the items on your list.

2. Or begin with a few laundry list traits and connect them to childhood experiences, even ones that may seem trivial, such as making chocolate pudding.

July Prompt


The following poem is written in my father’s voice about one of my mother’s projects to shame him into stopping drinking.

Future Entrepreneurs of America

She’s at it again – saving me from myself.

The army she’s enlisted are my kids.

She’s offered them a prize to prove a point.

A nickel for each bottle they can ferret out

and bring her, the best ones half full—

so she can have the fun of pouring

spirits down the kitchen drain.

They choose to think this doesn’t hurt,

that I’m beyond humiliation – or else

I’d surely stop.

I hope they never get to be

a nickle’s toss from hell.

1. Choose any painful memory from childhood and do a free-write from the point of view of another person in the story.  

2. Experiment with dialogue.  Turn your story into a poem where the two spouses each give their point of view.

3. Imagine that person had an emotional “bottom.” Write about the bottom with the compassion you would extend if that were your bottom. 

Connection to Recovery: By writing in my father’s voice, I allow him to voice his fears, which creates empathy. In the poem, he is aware that he can’t stop drinking.  This reminds me that his alcoholism was not a moral failing, as we believed at the time.  It reminds me that alcoholism is a disease.

Friday, June 10, 2022

June Prompt--Note We meet Sunday June 12 and Friday June 17. No session Sunday June 26

 I first started drinking in bars in Manhattan when I was 18, imagining the bars would lead to those dreamed-of cocktail parties. That didn’t happen. 

Against the Odds

Sunday mornings were devoted to The New York Times.

On Saturdays at midnight, I’d buy mine at the corner 

of 64th and Lex, with change scrounged from my purse,

tuck it on the front hall table to read through Sunday noon.

The drinking age was eighteen, a bar on every corner.

Stingers were my drink of choice, a minty hit

of crème de menthe and brandy, as good as Crest, 

without the need to spit.

First, The Lexington Café. 

Then on to Carlow’s, J. G. Melon’s.

The East End Grill.

Then Barnaby’s.

I was a horseman’s daughter, knew not to bet against

the odds. But at O’Flanagan’s, a maybe cute guy

one stool over said, I’ll bet I can get you into bed by midnight.

The stingers took him on.

Midnight. I left him passed out on his Murphy bed

in Brooklyn, crept down four flights, 

scrounging for the change to take a cab. 


1. Write about any incident you are ashamed of, particularly if it involved one of your addictions (alcohol, people, food, shopping, praise, TV, etc.).

2. Write about any time you put on a mask of being worldly or sophisticated and how that worked out.

3. Bring some compassion into the piece for the person you were then, a person before the tools of recovery.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

May 2022 Prompt--NOTE: Schedule Change for May: Sundays May 8 and May 29. No Friday workshop.


The following poem makes it sound as if the three letters from my father were of similar value to his broken coffee cup.  However, I realize how blessed I am to have letters written to me when my dad was apparently sober.  Many of us in recovery have broken relationships with family who have died and nothing of the person to treasure.  

What’s Left
Three letters my dad wrote me 
from the Walker Gordon Dairy,

“I won the spelling bee when I was ten.
Spelled raspberry and won.”
“Tell that old battle axe of a mother
of yours I miss her.”

a cracked coffee cup  --
the one he stored for safety
on the sill above his bunkhouse bed.

Connection to Recovery:

Despite his alcoholism, my dad wrote to me in college. He was thinking of me, proud of me.  He was more than his disease, as we all are. My father had a way with words. He wanted to be a writer. Through recovery, I can live that unfulfilled promise for him.

1. Do a free-write about what you have left from an important person who died.  Write about concrete objects, such as dishes, furniture, or photographs.  You can let these items stand as symbols for other things, but in your free-write, just try to imagine things.  If you have none, make them up.

2. Then write a poem about one of those items, describing it with as much particularity as you can.

3. Imagine a letter from a caretaker from your childhood who has died.  Do a free write about what it would say. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

April 2022 Prompt. NOTE: NO regular Friday night meeting this month.

 In thinking about my family history, I saw the image of a ball of tangled yarn.  My mother was accomplished in needlecraft, but she got tangled up with my father, a bitter alcoholic.  And that made my childhood chaotic and crazy. I also like the fact that “yarn” means two things--a story and wool to knit with. Words with double entendres or ambiguity often attract me.

Here is a poem that takes a knitted scarf and pulls it apart, a metaphor for what we do with our family “story” when we examine what really happened. 

The Scarf

I find it in the attic, a knitted jumble.

The moths have had their way, birthed

tiny winged creatures, left lacework in their wake.

I find an end, work loose a strand,

pull it gently, release the weave of years,

smooth out the long toughness of the yarn.

                           It falls in circles at my feet, like the first curls

                          of a daughter’s hair, the curls her parents

                          snipped with silver scissors, then 

pasted in a baby book to mark a moment

when the beauty they had made

was enough to make them whole.


1.Think of your childhood and write about any object that seems significant to you.  

2.Choose a specific object, like the yarn above, not an abstract idea.

3.What object do you have today that belonged to your mother, father or significant caretaker that seems to symbolize something about their lives?

4.Find an object from your parents or grandparents that seems odd or mysterious.  Write about it and create its significance to your story.

5.Take your writing and put it into lines and stanzas.  Experiment with different stanza lengths.  Try one long stanza. See how this changes your work.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

March 2022 Prompt

 March 2022 prompt

Before recovery, I knew I had buried memories. Haunted by a sense of dread, I tried to think my way into the past.  My body’s response—anxiety, a tightness in my throat, a clenching in my stomach—told me that something bad had happened. Then I realized that I was looking for one big traumatic event. Maybe there was no such event.  I ultimately decided that I would discover what I needed to know when I needed to know it, relying on my Higher Power to reveal memories when I was able to handle them.

Writing about what I don’t remember has helped me uncover the feelings underneath my fears.  I become more patient. This poem was inspired by moving day, when my mother, brothers and I left my father on the farm and moved to town.  I have no memory of that day.

I Don’t Remember

Forget. Forget-me-nots.

Knots. Twisted shifting stems

of not enough. Where are they?

I don’t remember.

Forgotten.  Like the violets,

sprung up in the field, wild,

choked by growing leaves.

Where was he? Where was I?

Was there a moving van? Was he

standing on the stoop? Don’t go!

Leaving.  How did I get here?

Jump/cut. Frame 1: painting my

desk from brown to white.

Frame 2: pink ruffled bed skirt.

Organdy curtains. How did I 

get here? I forgot.

Names of flowers, states on diner

placemats. State of dejection.

Despair? Euphoria? 

The violets have died.

Next year, they’ll pop up again

but I won’t be there.

Next year, I’ll be in the ruffled

bedroom. Where will you be?

I don’t remember.

Connection to Recovery:

Even if I can’t recall how I felt in certain situations, I can access the feelings by asking myself  how an ordinary child would have felt. There is relief in allowing myself to be ordinary. There is also relief in realizing I don’t have to find  one big traumatic event to be worthy o recovery. I can be patient and wait for memories to surface in my Higher Power’s time.


 1.Write about any childhood event that you know was significant, but which you can’t recall.  It could be moving, first day at school, any event you suspect you have denied recalling.

2.Connect with a feeling of dread from your childhood.  Does that dread connect with any person, place, or thing?

 3.Notice that the poem above feels fractured, disjointed, as if the narrative is not clear.  That is intentional.  Don’t try too hard to connect the dots.  Just see what bubbles up. 

Friday, February 11, 2022

February 2022 Prompt

 Recovery Writers Prompt

for February, 2022

Amends to Ourselves

It’s often said in program that we should begin by making amends to ourselves.  But how do we do this? I suggest asking the “committee,” those voices in our heads that criticize us.  In ACA, this is referred to as the Inner Critical Parent.  We can apologize to our True Self for the messages we told ourselves and acted on—dysfunctional beliefs and rules we internalized as children.

My Bad

I know I called you fat, criticized the way

you looked in jeans, particularly from the back.

That roll around your middle—I know it hurt when

I said it was permanent.

Your grandmother had that midriff too. 

Remember her at 67 

in your graduation photo?

You made her dresses in flowered

fabrics to stretch across her middle. Did you

love her less when she was more?

Also, the wrinkles and your saggy neck.  It’s so damn

tempting for me to focus on the folds, to mourn the taut

tanned flesh you used to flash around. I’m sorry

you feel old, but remember your mother didn’t get

to age. Take comfort in the years you got she didn’t.

Did I make you take the first job that was offered?

Did I tell you money would compensate for feeling

 bored and terrified

 Did you believe me when I said

you’d never succeed without a man to get you clients?

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for all those men I talked you into falling for. 

They were dramatic, yes, flashy smiles and smooth tongues.

 I let you fantasize about forever 

when they were only good enough.

 Forgive me.  I let you settle.  

Those masks I made you wear—the sultry student,

pretty lawyer, good daughter, complacent companion,

know-it-all—I’m sorry I dressed you in disguise.

I told you Saturdays would bring unrelenting suffering

unless you had a project or someplace to go. I told you

that you had no friends, no one to talk to, life an

endless game of show-and-tell and you with nothing

much to show or tell.

I lied.  I was afraid to tell the truth.  I was afraid you

would leave unless I kept you entertained, running,

judging, always on the move. I was afraid to say

I love you just the way you are.

Connection to Recovery:

I can recognize the voice of my Inner Critical Parent, who may have been trying to help me, or may have been repeating what was said to her. I can see the inner child within me who developed survival strategies to overcome the voice of the Critical Parent, strategies which ultimately backfired into looking outside myself for love and affirmation. I see that my Inner Critical Parent taught me the power of drama to distract myself from pain. By allowing my Inner Critical Parent to apologize to my Inner Child, I both affirm my true self and develop some compassion for the Inner Critical Parent. That compassion helps soften the voice of the Critical Parent. 


1. List all the judgments you make about yourself and then apologize for treating yourself so badly. Consider ways in which that critical voice may have helped you survive in the past. Gently ask that critical voice to step aside. 

2.Notice all the judgments you make about others. Do you ever make these judgments about yourself? Write about another person who do not like and see how many of the judgments could also be made about you.

3.Find a photo of yourself or look into a mirror and stare into your eyes. What do you need to say to yourself? Write a poem or free-write.