Wednesday, April 17, 2019

I’m just back from a long weekend in New York City – hustle, bustle and nearly constant noise. My friends and I travel there with some regularity. When I first arrive, I’m energized by the frenetic activity. By trip’s end, I’m grateful to return to my relatively quiet corner of NE Portland. I find NYC to be a place of contrast – for example, coming and going from our midtown hotel usually included stepping around or over a couple of street drunks, either carousing or passed out on the sidewalk. A few steps later, we’d dodge skipping 7 year olds.  And I truly love the melting pot that is so evident on the streets of the city –different languages and cultures, food and ways of dress. This is my America – a celebration of humanity in our glorious variations and sameness

I feel so very fortunate to have again enjoyed my two travel buddies, who share my passion for adventure. We’ve taken at least 15 trips together and have it down to a science: one of us is planning & research, one has the credit card, and one handles technology. Who knew, when we initially met in meetings all those years ago, that we’d be traveling the world together - celebrating milestone birthdays, running marathons, seeing the sights. So grateful. And, as I’ve written before, grateful for all of my long-term friendships, both in and out of the rooms. These connections with people who knew me as a kid, or when I was drinking, or from early sobriety, are even more precious as time goes on. They don’t need the back story because they are the back story.

I hit a couple of meetings while away – another of my favorite things to do. The accents were different, the ending had a different cadence (keep coming back , etc) and the formats weren’t what I’m used to, but the message was the same -  one day at a time, we work on whatever blocks us from the sunlight of the spirit, which is nearly always our own thinking and attitudes.

The meeting topic in my morning group yesterday was “gratitude." Fortunately, I inherited my mother's optimism, though can get into a negative loop when thinking about the environment, the “what if’s” or fear of financial insecurity, to name a few. Over time, and believe me, it was over a long time, I’ve been able to mentally change the channel when I catch myself in a downward spiral. What also helps is to do a mental HALT check – disregarding the internal nag when I’m tired, or hungry. It’s amazing what a nap or a snack can do for my attitude. I also use the catch-all prayer of “Thank you, God.” (Years ago, a local fellow shared that he promised God a song, which ended up “Oh thank you God” sung to the tune of “O Christmas Tree.” I still sing it!) Another Gratitude List note – I learned that if I have trouble falling asleep, I can run through the alphabet with something I'm grateful for (AA/Alanon, Bouquets of spring flowers,  Cozy evenings, Drama-free days, etc)

Sometimes, gratitude can be a diversion, a Pollyannish head in the sand – some things aren’t ok. I need to be aware of what I'm feeling  before rushing to a gratitude fix as a cover up. I eventually get there, but sometimes the path starts with frustration or sadness or fear. For me, genuine gratitude is realistic. Sure, I can always pull out "air to breathe and food to eat," which are true, but my gratitude lists have more meaning when I honestly consider my many blessings, starting with good health and sobriety. 

What are you grateful for today, in this moment? If you're not there, what feelings might need acknowledging? If you like to travel, what are your favorite places, and why? 

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Spring cleaning! April is the time to declutter and air out, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Always with the inventory is the question, “What no longer serves me?” whether we’re talking about an old idea or an old pair of jeans.

Initially terrified of the 4th Step, listening to tales of woe, I now welcome the process as an opportunity to dig down on whatever manifestation of my “ism” is causing distress in the moment. Not 10 years ago, or when I was a kid, but today. The Steps aren’t a magic wand, but, for me, the act of putting pen to paper heals in a way that simply thinking about a problem never does. The sharing with a trusted other post-inventory, sometimes adding in ritual or ceremony, allows me to breathe into my higher self (which includes forgiving my humanness). Some of those pesky defenses/defects keep popping up, but the edges are so much softer now. I’m better able to (finally) say, “Oh, there you are again (fear, self-centeredness, grief, etc). What do you need?” Often, merely naming the emotion, giving it just a moment’s attention, is all that it takes to release the hold. Breathing in, breathing out...

In the physical realm, I’ve been on a paper-reduction project at work, recycling pounds of paper no one has touched in this century. Why do we hang on to so much? Because you might need it someday – the refrain of many raised by Depression era parents. True, maybe someday, but these days I'm applying the closet rule – if you haven’t worn it (or used it) in a year (ok, two) let it go. My new refrain is “someday is now” and if there isn’t an immediate need, farewell! I’m not a total Marie Kondo devotee (The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up)  but I definitely utilize some of her methods – do my possessions bring joy? Are they useful? Are they validly sentimental? I have a long way to go, but “progress not perfection” is very much in action.

I’m posting a day early before leaving on a long weekend adventure with my two best traveling buddies. Vacation, even a mini, can feel like a clean start. There is the going away, completely out of my usual element and routine, and the sweetness of homecoming, usually with a fresh outlook on my work, my relationships and my home. What no longer serves me? What do I want to celebrate and honor? What would today’s inventory show?

Thank you for reading, near and far. Where are you, in this 4th month, with the inventory process? Is it time for an annual housecleaning, metaphorically or actually? What is telling you that it needs releasing?

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Lately I’m feeling like a human doing instead of a human being. Work has been busy, and off work time seems to be sucked dry by the various maintenance tasks that keep the week running smoothly – the cats need to be fed, dishes need washing, laundry needs folding, the occasional vacuum, bills, etc - Arghh!! And as much as I don’t want to acknowledge it, part of my frustration seems to be related to a shift in my overall energy level. I’ve always been a “the more you do, the more you can do!” kind of person, but that is shifting to “I’ve had enough, thank you.” 

I'm also bearing the the collective weight of working in behavioral health care - I've witnessed, and listened to, a lot of pain over my 30+ years in the field. Fortunately (or I couldn't have done it for so long), I am a generally optimistic person, and at work, would characterize myself as a bringer of hope and humor.  And, there are only so many stories of abuse and neglect and outright depravity one can listen to without becoming just a wee bit jaded.

In her book, Trauma Stewardship, L. van Dernoot Lipsky: writes, “In traditional Chinese medicine, there is a belief that dis-ease in one’s being comes in part from stagnant energy... An important part of well-being in this tradition is keeping the energy moving and not allowing it to stagnate around any one feeling or issue.” My energy has definitely been stagnating around my work, which is why is it SO important for me to laugh with friends & loved ones, to hike in the  woods, and get on an airplane every once in awhile. 

Monday was the 1st of the month, which reminded me of the tiny thrill I used to experience when those two days coincided. As a kid, starting at 9 or 10, I was always coming up with a plan, whether that was losing weight (yes, at 10 years old) or being more helpful around the house. "Monday the 1st" felt like an auspicious beginning, though my plan, charts included, rarely made it through even the first week. But, I’d sit at my little desk, with a ruler and notebook paper and the best of intentions, convinced that with the right formula I would not only do better, I would be better. It makes me sad to think of the little girl who was convinced that she wasn’t ok as-is.

I continued with these types of plans after leaving home, but alas, I am an alcoholic, which impacted my moral compass. My best laid plans for emotional or physical discipline held little weight once I was into the second bottle of wine. Thank GOD for the Good, Orderly Direction provided in the 12 Steps, what I’d been looking for all my life. And for so long, I worked the program, continuing to strive for not just doing, but being better. Speaker Lila R. says that at the core, most alcoholics suffer from the “not enough” syndrome – I know I have. But as I heard in a meeting this week, relief comes with the realization that, in long term recovery,  I am no longer working a program, with its inherent hammer, but am allowing the principles of the program to express through me. 

It has taken a long time, but I no longer operate with the gaping wound of “not ok.”  It flares, especially when my self-care is off, but I’m better able to see that while temporary circumstances might not be ok, I’m just fine, defenses (defects) and all.  I’m just fine because I surrender on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis to the knowledge that I’m not running the show. I’m not running your show, or the guy in the car that just passed me’s show; I’m not running the weather show, or the passage of time show. And particularly, I’m not running my show. I suit up and show up, and try to stay out of my own way.

Where are the places that your energy gets stuck? How can the Steps and principles of the program guide you to a place of letting go? 

Wednesday, March 27, 2019


FaceBook reminded me that it's been 7 years since I published Shadows and Veins, the novel loosely based on the last few years of my addiction. Every so often, I receive a royalty deposit of $1.78 or thereabouts, which always brings a chuckle. I will never get rich from my writings.  But, amount aside, those little royalties mean that someone, somewhere is reading my book (it's in the local library too). This is an absolute dream come true, a primary goal realized. As a kid, shivering underneath my grandmother's purple quilt at night, reading one adventure or another long after mom's call for "lights out!" I imagined that someday I, too, would write a book that would take the reader someplace that hadn't been before. It took many decades to have something to write about, and to develop the discipline to actually sit down and do it, but here we are, 7 years later.

Part of what the publishing reminder also means is that it was 7 years ago that my dear mother went on hospice care, which means in October, it will be 7 years since she passed. And oh, do I miss my mother. Less acutely than in those first few years, but I feel the empty space, nonetheless. I am a relater - long term connections are important to me and she was my longest and strongest. 

My mother is gone, though her memory is in nearly all that I do, and I am beyond blessed with several long and strong relationships. A couple of weekends ago, we had dinner and watched a ball game at one of my oldest and dearest's house. As she and I huddled in the kitchen, talking while the guys cheered the home team on TV, we marveled at how many Saturday evenings we'd spent in various kitchens, talking about this and that - sometimes with raucous laughter, sometimes in conspiratorial whispers - and here we are now, coming up on 64 and 65 years old. We met at 18, and now she's a grandmother several times over, and I'm getting ready to retire. Crazy.

And crazy that I went dancing on Friday night with women I've known since grade school. Granted, it was a "happy hour" event (6-7:45pm - perfect!), but there we were, grooving to old R&B. Where we used to talk about curfews and boys, our conversations these days are more about Medicare and politics, but again - crazy. 

Crazy in a good way. I definitely inherited my mom's attachment to stability, which means, like several of my friends, I live near the neighborhood I grew up in. I’ve shopped at the same grocery store for decades, and am coming up on 10 years at my employer. Several of my friends are movers, uprooting every so often to try out another part of the country and sometimes that appeals to me, but I know I'd eventually want to come home. 

“To thine own self be true” is my theme for this year, which means knowing what that self is. It took time in recovery to understand that I crave stability, that I am practical, that I do best with structure, and that yes, I feel better if I make the bed each morning. My self-awareness was pretty low when I first got sober. At 31 it was all about “him,” whichever him(s) was in the picture at the moment. Bringing focus inside my own hoola-hoop, learning to listen to my gut, paying attention to my own particular HALT’s – are all part of the journey. With long term recovery, it would be disingenuous  to claim that I don’t know who I am. What have I been doing all these years if not inventory, and sponsor talks and bouts of therapy; practicing the principles in all my affairs (with the emphasis on practice)

I am many things – a wife, a step-mom, a sister, a cousin, a friend. I am a supervisor, co-worker, a team member. I am a (slow) runner, a traveler, a reader, a lover of old Motown. And, I am a woman in long term addiction recovery – without that designation, none of the others would be possible. 

Who are you, today, as a person in long-term recovery? Has how you would describe yourself changed over the years? If you were to apply "To thine own self be true" today, what would that mean?