Wednesday, June 12, 2019

I've just started reading Sallie Tisdale's book, Advice for Future Corpses, about coming to terms with  mortality - our own and our loved ones'. Wow. I'm only a few pages in, but already the sticky-note markers are flying. My only caveat is that I'll no longer read it right before bed - much too thought provoking.

I do think about my mortality, more so as the clock ticks. There came a point when I fully understood that the time ahead of me is less than the time behind me, so what do I want to do with that? Tisdale recommends getting familiar with, and comfortable with the fact of death. Flowers die. Beloved pets die. Strangers die. Loved ones die. We will die. I will die. 

Early in recovery, I toyed with the notion that I would probably drink again were I to receive a terminal diagnosis. Why not, right? I've since seen it go both ways - someone who drank, and and several who didn't and at this moment, I prefer the latter. As an African proverb (I don't know the exact source) says, "When death comes for me, let it find me alive."

A few years ago, the Cabal, a small group I've been meeting with for a decade now, tackled the Steps as related to the aging process. 1. I am utterly powerless over aging. No creams, vitamins, exercise, surgery or positive thoughts will stop the calendar from turning. 2. A Power greater than myself can restore me to sanity, with sanity meaning acceptance. 3. I surrender and attempt to trust the process. I can inventory my fears, share those, and then offer myself to my Creator, the good and the not so good, the wrinkles and arthritic hands, and can move to more fully accept that I am right where I'm supposed to be (4,5,6,7). I'm not as strong as I used to be. I don't run as fast as I once could. But I am WAY more comfortable in my own skin. The trade off is worth it. For about a year, I was part of a group of women with over 20 years sobriety. We called ourselves "Too Old to Give a F***" because, really, who cares? I'm being flip, but the truth is, I don't care about the same things I used to care about - my concerns are more inner than outer directed these days, less about what you think about me and more about the state of my soul.

My goal is to live to a healthy 100. Why not? I've completed 10 marathons, and a 100 mile bike ride - 100 years old seems like a good, round goal. But whether I have 30 years or 30 days remaining, what do I want to do with my precious time? I'm not suggesting productivity necessarily, though there are items on my to-do list. I'm thinking more about what I'd like to experience, what I'd like to learn more about, what fears I'd like to release, who I'd like to spend time with, and who needs to know that I love them.

Tisdale suggests identifying what I am specifically afraid of in regards to dying. My mother had a peaceful death, at home, as she wanted. Her experience informs my fears - I don't have biological children. Who will sit with me at the end? Will I be alone? I have fears about things undone. (Tisdale quotes her Buddhist teacher as saying, "I'm not afraid to die. I'm just not ready.")  I'm not ready, materially, emotionally, or spiritually, and I am fully aware that I don't get to decide. That's one thing that amused and annoyed my mom. She was a planner (as am I) and as her time grew near, said with just a hint of sarcasm, that this wasn't something that could be decided. We did plan - the paperwork was all in place. But you can't plan for the feelings. I couldn't plan for the experience of grace, of the beauty and the agony of watching my mother die. She seemed to make peace with it, over time, though that was a process. I can only imagine.

And so, I will continue my journey through the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, over and over and over again. I will do my best to remain present, and teachable, in this and all areas. I will appreciate the joys that are mine today, and there are many.

In thinking and writing about death, I'm not feeling morbid, or particularly sad. I am being realistic, and curious, and grateful for growing older with a clear and sober mind. This life is amazing - the boring days and the peak experiences, and everything in between, one day at a time.

Do you think about mortality? What are your fears, if any? Where does your mind go when you meditate or daydream, when you think about the future?

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

We were fortunate to visit our home-away-from-home group over the weekend - Bernal New Day in San Francisco, a short walk from the in-laws. It's always a good feeling to be welcomed by familiar faces, and to hear a fresh take on how we practice the principles in our daily lives. We hit another good meeting in Berkeley, and again, good to visit a new group, and visit with my spouse's former sponsor.  

Even at home it's necessary for me to mix it up every so often lest I slip into "personalities before principles." The home group and my regular meetings provide many things – comfort at being known, stability,  consistency, and the sameness can be a soporific. I'm not mentally and spiritually challenged if I (think) I know what so-and-so will say each week. So, hitting a different meeting, or bringing a beginner's mind to my usuals, keeps the miracle alive. That being said, I know that I am lucky to have literally 100's of groups to choose from in any given week. I still remember the English speaking meeting in Prague that my friend, Cheri, and I attended years ago. "Please, tell us your story!" the group of 4 or 5 pleaded, having heard each other many times over. 

I was taught that there are two times to go to a meeting – when you want to and when you don’t. I have a long-entrenched meeting habit that has served my recovery well. When I look back over the years, I’ve had a handful of dry patches, or “spiritual deserts,"  and then “bam!” one day I’m in one of those meetings where the room seems to levitate and I remember, “Oh yeah – that’s why I’m here.” For today (or this week), I can suit up and show up. I can see if there is a different meeting to work into my schedule. I can listen to truly hear rather than letting my mind drift. I can reach out to a newcomer, or otherwise be of service. I can get back to the Step group I've had to miss for two months...  I know I've written about this meeting ennui before, and will likely again. One of the challenges of long term recovery is staying engaged. Some ebb and flow is to be expected, and it is important to keep my eyes open.

Speaking of miracles, my husband and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary this week, which means we've been together nearly 10 years. The miracle is that I was finally able to get out of my own way and let Higher Power choose. The miracle is that with two distinctly different ways of being in the world, we have built a sweet life together with the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions as our base. Grateful every day...

As we turn the calendar to June, I am now 13 months from my planned retirement. I expect the time to alternately drag, and fly by. Much like early recovery, I'm turning to people farther along the path for guidance, experience, strength and hope. As with all major (& minor) life events, I rest assured knowing that there are others who have walked this road ahead of me. I can feel myself beginning to detach from my long and positive career, and, today I am employed and have work to do before letting go. One day at a time...

What do you do when you find yourself bored in meetings? How do you re-light the fire for recovery? How do you stay in the moment when you have something you're looking forward to (or dreading)?  


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

I met with my sponsor yesterday in the first of our Tradition study series, focused on applying the 12 Traditions to marriage/partnership. After a false-start with a couple of friends, this has traction, and is a way to both hone in on the area of relationship, my final frontier, and invigorate my program. The seduction of the “retrogressive groove,” the lull of “all is well” can be deadly. I don’t walk around (much) waiting for the other shoe to drop these days, and I am well aware that personal and spiritual growth don’t occur in a vacuum. I had a teacher in grade school who was always telling us, “You won’t get this by osmosis!”  Same for the principles of our program, though I do think, if I’m paying even the slightest bit of attention, some of it does rub off. I watch as you walk through challenges with integrity, I listen as you describe how you overcome dishonesty, I hear it when you talk about your desires for a better life, and it impacts how I see the world and my place in it. But, in order to make it mine, and not merely theory, I need to apply what I hear and read and observe to my life, my relationships, my situations.  As a fairly concrete thinker, that used to confuse me – what does it mean to work a program? So I asked a friend, who told me that, to her, it means thinking about what she reads, writing about how it applies to her, and then acting on the new information: pause, think, consider the consequences.

All around my house, in little nooks and crannies on bookshelves, stuck in or under various stacks of literature, sometimes in my purse, are slogans, quotes, or inspirations that I've jotted down or copied onto bits of paper. Sometimes I’ll come across one of these missives and wonder at my state of mind when I noted it, at what was either troubling me or exciting me at the time. Sometimes I take a deep breath of recognition – “Ah, thank you HP, for the reminder,” and sometimes I think, “Eh, not so much” and throw it away.  I appreciate this tangible evidence of past meetings and chance encounters, these tiny efforts to capture and integrate spiritual lessons.
 This is what I came across this week – from Kabir, a 15th century Indian mystic:

“Be strong then, and enter into your own body;
There you have a solid place for your feet.
Think about it carefully!
Don’t go off somewhere else!
Kabir says this: just throw away all thought of imaginary things,
And stand firm in that which you are.”

"Stand firm in that which you are." Not the imaginary of what I hope to be, or what I should be, or what I used to be, but “that in which you are,” right here, right now. What I was taught early on is that right here, right now, everything is ok. I have a place to sleep tonight, and have had enough to eat today. When I can keep my brain where my butt is, I know, I know that all is well.

Are your heart and mind in the same place as your feet today? What speaks to you in Kabir's poem?

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

I stopped meditating about a year ago.  During vacation with friends, with little alone time, my already tenuous practice stopped. I tried to re-up a few times over the ensuing months, but it just didn’t catch - until now. I’ve been drawn to the chair in the past couple of weeks, and am actually sitting each day – maybe only 10 minutes at a time, but it’s something.

I’ve never been consistent enough with meditation to experience noticeable benefits. I am a wee bit hyperactive and have a really hard time holding still, much less quieting the internal chatter. I’ve long felt inadequate when it comes to the “and meditation” aspect of Step 11 since I can’t pretzel myself into the lotus position, have never gone on a silent retreat, etc, etc, etc. And then I was reminded that when Bill W. wrote about meditation in the 1930’s and 40’s, he wasn’t talking about the eastern version that we picture “nowadays.” To Bill, meditation meant reading and reflecting on inspirational literature,  like the St. Francis prayer in the 12x12. That I can do. I’m a good reflector, just not a good sitter. And I’m also reminded that there are many ways to meditate – the walking meditation that Tich Nhat Hahn describes, drawing, playing music (or listening) - anything that moves my mind to the “zone.”  Running can be meditative. Gardening definitely can be meditative. It all depends on the energy and intention I bring to the task.

Sitting on my little chair last week, I cracked the deck door in order to hear the rain. At this point, I can’t still my mind at will, but I can set the stage – a comfortable spot, quiet or soothing sounds, sometimes a timer (sometimes not). My sponsor, whatever I bring to her, always reminds me of the practice.  Step 12 says that we “practice these principles in all our affairs.” It doesn’t say, “Pass the test with an 'A' each time” or “Gain complete mastery.” I (because of repetitive practice) do have mastery over some of my glaring defects – the lying, cheating and stealing variety. I’m much improved on others – impulsivity, mind-reading, and impatience, for example. Being in recovery over time brings the opportunity to see patterns, habitual behaviors and attitudes that can feel current and new, but that are usually tied to some past belief.  The arduous process of unraveling the tangled web of reactions has been the gift and the challenge of living in recovery, of living in the present moment rather than being blindly propelled by the past.
* * *
We listened to an old speaker CD on a mini-road trip this weekend - Patrick W, the local fellow who coined the song "Oh Thank You God" (to the tune of "O Christmas Tree."). I was at the meeting that was recorded in 1989 and am certain I sang along with the crowd, and still sing his song when moved by gratitude. I feel fortunate to have grown up in recovery with the WWII era old-timers and their rock bottom stories. At the time, I remember thinking, "If this guy can do it, I can too," which is a huge part of how this thing works - inspiration, instruction, example, and laughter, the kind that leaves me shaking my head in wonder. As we say, "you can't make this stuff up."  A note of thanks to the trusted servants who are taking the time to convert the old cassette tapes to CD's. I appreciate hearing the voices and stories from my past.

Who were your inspirations when you entered the world of recovery? How do you practice Step 11, whether sitting, walking or otherwise?