Wednesday, February 13, 2019

"Be confused. It's where you begin to learn new things. Be broken, it's where you begin to heal. Be frustrated, it's where you start to make more authentic decisions. Be sad, because if we are brave enough we can hear our heart's wisdom through it. Be whatever you are right now."  (S.C. Lourie)

How often do I sit in the moment-ness of my emotions? Where am I open to both the earth-shattering surrender and the quiet nudge? When do I pause and ask "Now what?"

When my favorite aunt, my father's sister, died, I felt like I'd been kicked in the stomach. It wasn't unexpected - she'd been ill, though blessedly it was a fairly swift decline. I'd had the opportunity to tell her I loved her, knowing it would likely be the last time. And, as she said, at 86, "You didn't expect me to live forever, did you?" Well, yes, I'd kind of hoped...

When I got word that she'd passed, I went up to Forest Park, in need of both nature and a good sweat. I turned off Leif Erickson onto a steep trail I usually avoided, grateful for the pain in my legs and my lungs. About halfway up, I sat on a bench, staring at the wall of evergreens just ahead. I was barely aware of my own panting, or the forest's chatter. In some sort of trance, I had the sensation of being in the extreme here-and-now, the fourth dimension that we read about, but rarely experience. I'm not describing it well - spiritual experiences are tough to put into words - and the instant I became conscious that I was in an altered state, it dissipated, but the memory of it is clear. I was confused. I was broken. I was sad. And that's all that I was in those moments.

Being in that liminal space between dream and awake, the living and the dead, then and now,  reminds me of a visual once given to me by a therapist to illustrate transition from one state of being to another. She described being on the monkey bars as a kid, that moment when you've let go of one rung, but haven't quite reached the next. For just that second, you are suspended, in-between. We talk about it in AA as the hallway - when HP closes a door, She opens a window, but you need to get out of the hall. Not so quickly, I would say. Maybe where I grow is in that in-between space - in-between my mother's life and fully accepting that she is gone; in-between coupled and single, or conversely, single and married; in-between being loaded and sober, working and retired, young and old... I speak of these in-betweens as mental states - that place of transition where I haven't quite let go of the old way of being but haven't fully grasped who I'm supposed to be now. "Be frustrated - it's where you start to make more authentic decisions."

I sat with my Cabal on Monday, a tiny group that is growing old together. We often talk about what is happening to our bodies and our states of mind, trying not to wonder too hard about what comes next. I so appreciate this, and other small groups of those I've known over time. We saw each other come in to recovery, riding that roller-coaster to a good life. Not a perfect life, but a good life.

I'm not as maudlin as my post might suggest. I've actually been feeling energized and chock full of hopeful anticipation. But hearing the above quote today, took me to past places where I was unsure and unsettled, those places of accepting a new reality. I am grateful for inspiration, for those portals to memories of those times that shook my foundation. What do you think of when you read the opening statement, whether it is a past transition or current?

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

I recently thought of an ex’s old pal, Scott Mc, who died with 15 years on the program. Scott was an animal, a hardcore runner. Once, he crossed the finish line of a half marathon near me, leaned, retched, wiped his mouth and said, “Great run!” A few years later, in the ER trying to reassure his young daughter, he said, “Honey, if you have cancer, I’ll run the Portland Marathon backwards.” She did, and he did, weaving and bobbing for 26.2 miles. Scott dropped dead at the end of a 100 mile event, not because he wasn’t trained, but due to a congenital heart defect. Someone who was there said that he had a look of surprise on his face before he passed.

I think of Scott’s dedication and sheer force whenever I’m feeling whiny about a run. But I also think of his not knowing he had a heart defect, though I imagine, as an ultra-runner, one probably always has aches and pains. This leads me to (a bit of a stretch) thinking of those times when I didn’t “know,” or more accurately, couldn’t admit that something in my life was off-kilter. I’m thinking of dissatisfaction with a particular job that I tried to convince myself was my fault, when it was simply a terrible fit. I think of those relationships where I spent energy trying to convince the other person that I was right for them. I think about the times I look outside myself for who or what to blame, when what I really need to do is change my situation, which can be as simple as leaving a home group that doesn’t fit anymore.

Step Two = Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity... "Restore" means to re-establish, put back, return to a former condition. I used to half-joke that it would be hard to restore what wasn't there to begin with, thinking of  the insanities that led to my admission of powerlessness - believing I could run my body on Kit-Kats, milk, and methamphetamine; hoping, with fingers crossed, that my boyfriend would understand my intentions (which were never malicious) rather than react to my behavior; thinking that no one could see the mess I was in...

But the truth is that sanity and centeredness were always there - the "great reality deep within." I tried to hide from the truth, I did everything I could to outrun the truth, but my deep reality is that I knew all along what I needed. I was simply afraid that what I needed was beyond my abilities. Whether it was leaving a relationship or a job, or knowing that I was killing myself, I knew in that still, quiet place within what was real, and that what was real wasn’t how I was living my life. 

Thirty-three years ago, sanity meant summoning the courage to hold still and say "I'm scared. I don't know how to do this." At various points along the way, it has meant saying, "I've never been here before. Will you help me?" Today, I have various definitions - Being sane means practicing self-care. It means listening and bearing witness to each others' joys and sorrows. Sanity means showing up for my feelings and for each other; still and always it means finding that place of silence, that place of listening to my heart instead of the flutter of my emotion or the logic of intellect.  

If I’m truly practicing Step Two, I’m making time for those quiet moments of sitting, or journaling, or talking with a friend, in order to hear the still, small voice above the clamor of the day-to-day. How do I distract myself these days? Busyness has always been a socially acceptable avenue, and after my ex died in December, I found myself diving in to a pile of chocolate, after having not for close to a year. Practicing Step Two, or any of them, doesn’t mean that I don’t stumble along the way. And tackling the big problems with the Steps is automatic - it's in the application on a daily basis where I sometimes forget. The Steps do become internalized over time -  and the desire to stay conscious of my chosen spiritual path is why I "keep coming back." 

How do you try to distract, or distance yourself from reality these days (& what "reality" is it that you might not want to acknowledge)? What do you do to get back on track? What Step(s) do you take to be restored?

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

As January swiftly turns to February, I shift my focus from Step One (powerlessness) to Step Two (being restored). I did a written exercise that I learned from a friend, who heard about it at a conference. I'm convinced that there are very few new ideas in our recovery program, but I am always grateful for the cross-pollination that happens when we attend out-of-town meetings, conferences, or just different groups here at home, then bring what we've heard into our regular meetings. And I love hearing from the travelers who make it to my home groups - different accents, different emphasis, new perspectives. Thank you!

The exercise has to do with the God Box, that handy, tangible tool for letting go (mine is a lovely little hinged box, decorated by a sponsee). Ideally, I write the object of my obsession on a tiny piece of paper, put it in the box and shut the lid. Presto. OK, so I don't always stop thinking of the issue du jour, but the act of writing and physically letting go is a helpful reminder that I am not in charge. By writing down a situation for the God Box, I am admitting my powerlessness, and seeking the restoration of sanity promised in Step Two. Please, HP, help me release my worries to your care.

The idea, then, is to go back through the God Box periodically and jot down outcomes. What happened with my brother's health? My ex's health? My worries over a particular speaking commitment? And on and on. Making note of both positive and painful outcomes, I was reminded that Creator provides strength to walk through all of it, with relative grace and dignity. Not without tears, or sadness, or butterflies, but walking through nonetheless.

I used to have a sealed "God Can." For years I stuffed worries and concerns, insecurities and fears into the little slot. For a long time, I thought it would be cheating to open the can, but last summer decided it was time. Prying open the lid, I found crumpled or neatly folded notes about jobs, relationships, my mom's illness, getting married, health, finances, running goals - nothing too big or too small. That's the beauty of a God Box - it contains what worries me, without concern for what anyone else might think. Just like the box I went through this week, nearly all those things I'd crammed into the can had resolved, in one way or another. And that's the point, right? It all works out, one way or another.

There were a few unfinished items in my current God Box. I jotted down the current date, and recommitted to trust, closing the lid once again on my mental gyrations. What do you do to remind yourself to "let go and let god?" What would you put in the God Box today?

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

I just learned of a documentary titled “The 13th Step,” about sex offenders and other criminals being sentenced to AA by the courts, then preying on vulnerable members. I agree that it is a problem for the courts to sentence non-alcoholics to 12 Step groups – AA isn’t, and shouldn’t be, everything to everyone. The friend who watched the film tells me that it goes on to describe AA in mostly negative terms, and that I probably shouldn’t watch it unless I feel like getting mad.

I may or may not watch it, based on my friend’s review (& those of several members online). There is enough in the world today that angers me without looking for trouble. I will say that it bothers me when people who have either been unsuccessful in 12 Step recovery, or had a negative experience, knock the whole thing. If it doesn’t work for you, find what does, which could be another type of support group (Smart Recovery, Rational Recovery for example), church, or nothing at all. But please leave the rest of us out of it. It does work for many. That doesn’t make us weak, or sheep, or not caring about the vulnerable member. And for the record, “AA” is not an entity that controls the hundreds of thousands of groups around the world. It is up to the individual group to monitor its own. Here in Portland, there is a workshop coming up on “safety in the rooms,” including predatory behavior and racist, sexist, homophobic and other hurtful language. We need to grow and evolve, whether that is through a group inventory, a workshop, or, rarely, a Restraining Order, so that the still suffering alcoholic/addict has a safe place to go. It is also up to the more seasoned group members to confront the lurkers and 13th steppers and let them know that their behavior is not ok.

So much for the soapbox. After a grieving December (ah, that it were so easy to impose a time limit), and the joy of my “victory lap” this month, I’m feeling spent...drained, though not in a negative way. There is an aspect of coming through intensity, whether positive or not so much, that feels like a deep breath, a re-centering.

Thus, on with the year!Two friends/sponsees and I met last evening to begin a study of the Traditions as applied to relationships. I’ve done many Step studies over the years, but this is my first intensive look at the Traditions. As we read from the 12x12, I thought, “This is good stuff!” I’m sure I’ve read that section of the book at least once over the years, but, unlike the Steps, the Traditions are just “there.” Yes, yes – they are the “why it works” vs the “how it works” of the Steps, but I’ve never spent much time with them. This could be interesting! And, it is always good deepen my program and stay engaged with the literature.

Tradition One says that “our common welfare should come first.” How do I apply that in my marriage, my friendships, with family,or at work? Can I consciously put my self-centeredness aside for the greater good? What do you think?