Wednesday, September 11, 2019

I'm thinking this week about loss and love and the solid truth of "one day at time."  I learned about the tragic suicide of an 18 year old young man, the son of a couple who were close friends earlier in recovery. I cannot begin to image the level of grief his parents and twin sister must be experiencing. I learned at a weekend meeting that a sober young women who'd been in a house fire, died from her injuries. In the same meeting, an out-of-town visitor shared sorrow for her 22 year old sponsee who'd just died of an overdose. 

Over the weekend, also, I attended the 26th anniversary meeting of a woman I 12-stepped when she was just 20 years old – a bona fide miracle of recovery. In my home group, someone took a 34 year chip and another claimed her 14 year coin, and a young woman who's been in and out for 11 years, spoke up, saying it was the first time she'd ever shared in a meeting, but wants to do something different this time.
"Dialectical thinking" is defined as the ability to view issues from multiple perspectives and to arrive at the most reasonable reconciliation of seemingly contradictory information, as in "life is precious and beautiful," and "life is incredibly sad." On a good day, I can hold both fragile truths. On a not-so-good day, I wonder at the seemingly unfair dispensation of emotional devastation.

Like many of us, I struggled with the concept of a Higher Power and good vs evil when I first got sober – what does that mean, exactly? Not Santa Claus – that much I figured out, and then someone said, “If I could understand it, I wouldn’t need it,” which lessened my compulsion to know. Around the same time, I read a good book with a cheesy title: When Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Harold Kushner. His premise is that there are certain forces of nature – plants sprout, bloom and then die; creatures are born and creatures die. It is part of the natural order of things, though as a human, I get attached and thus, grieve. Does knowing that we are part of the natural world make loss any easier? Not necessarily. My level of sorrow is proportional to the level of my love for a particular person, place or thing, and my judgment as to what constitutes the “natural order of things.” 18 and 22 year old’s dying does not seem to be in the natural order of things.

"Acceptance is the answer," according to the old p. 449 (now 417), not because I believe there are no mistakes, but because what is, is, and there are simply things I cannot change. What I can do is take care of myself and my varied emotions so that I can be there for others – grieving parents, sponsors and friends who mourn. The “we” of the program tells us we are here for each other, through good times and bad, through happy and sad. Today, I strive to be supportive, a part of the solution, not part of the problem.

How do you take care of yourself so that you can be there for others in their time of need? If you are the person in need at the moment, how comfortable are you with asking for help?

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The monthly step group I've been participating in for several years takes its format from the recording of a Step workshop by speaker Lila R. Part of her suggestion, which is geared towards those who've been sober for a while, is that we discover a "new idea" to guide the remaining months of the year, through the inventory process and observing our thoughts. An example - if my "old idea" is that I am deficit in some way, which she describes as very common alcoholic thinking, the new idea would be based on the concept that "I am ok just as I am." As someone who often feels a sense of time urgency, a past "new idea" for me has been, "I have enough time to accomplish all that I need and want to do." Other group members have shared new ideas related to the desire to move away from judgement or impulsivity. New ideas are always stated in the positive. If I say, "I will stop _______" my subconscious focus is on the thing I want to stop. If I say, "I will be more loving" (for example), the focus is on the loving.

This year, triggered by a small token that my sponsor gave me, and based on awareness of my tendency to defer, and to impulsively move forward without thinking things through, my new idea is "To Thine Own Self Be True." I keep the little stone where I store my car keys, so I see it several times a day as a reminder of not allowing myself to get buffeted about by what's going on in the world, or by what I think someone else may want or need, or by being in a hurry. I'm reminded to pause (that word again!) and take a moment to decide rather than react out of what I think you want, or simply a desire to keep moving. (I've long felt, however erroneously, that any decision is better than no decision. Hovering is not my strength.) 

It struck me in our Step meeting this weekend, that "To Thine Own Self Be True," isn't just about my wants and needs, but about my true nature. My maternal grandmother was a devout Christian Scientist, a faith that gets a bad rap for not believing in medicine. A positive of her beliefs, though, was that my true nature is perfection. As I kid, stealing and smoking by 9 or 10, I knew the idea of being perfect didn't apply to me. I might've wanted it to, mostly to please her, but the siren call of adrenaline and sneaking around was way stronger than her idea of what I could be. As I grew up, living from my true nature was buried, deeper and deeper, under various substances, and relationship choices, though I still wanted to be better. I used to recite the Lord's Prayer, just like Grandma taught me, before I slept, as a kind of insurance. After a while, though, I understood at a gut level that the way I was living my life was no way, no how, in line with any kind of life a higher power would have for me, so I stopped, one of the subtle signposts on the way to hitting bottom. I couldn't even pretend to pray anymore.

I've long since cleaned up my act, and don't necessarily believe in a deity on a cloud somewhere calling the shots, but I do trust that my true nature is whole and healthy and strong, and that staying connected to my spiritual resources (the natural world, quiet time, journaling, community) allows me to meet the day-to-day from a place of serenity. This comes and goes. I am more centered as I age, both in life and in program, though I still stumble. When I do get off balance, I can seek inner stillness and ask myself: How would I approach  life if I truly believed, and lived, from a place of "enough" vs lack (whether that perceived lack is material or regarding my sense of self)? How would I behave in any given situation were I to come from a place of knowing my full value and true nature instead of that old notion of smallness that can still grab me by the ankles?

I am grateful, today, to be back on track with my program. It seems counter-intuitive, but if I'm not liking meetings, the solution is to go to more meetings. Bingo! The spark is re-ignited.  What do you believe about your true nature? How do you get in touch with the part of yourself that knows all is well?

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

I was happy to chat with a handful of folks I'd known from earlier recovery years at a big AA party over the weekend. Life goes on – we pair off, get jobs, schedules change, we do, or don't continue with meetings, and people who were perhaps strong members of our weekly regimen for years are no longer part of our circle.

At a 33rd sobriety anniversary meeting the next day, the chairperson spoke about the significance of the fellowship when he first came in. Yes. We often hear that "the program is in the book," coupled with "the fellowship won't keep you sober." To that, I say B.S. Yes, the program is in the book and the Steps, but if I hadn't had fellowship when I first came in, I wouldn't have stayed long enough to find that out. I drank and used other drugs as part of my social life - parties, clubs, dinners, picnics, the end of the work day, MondayTuesdayWednesday... Yes, it got ugly and lonely the longer I went on, but always was the belief that I needed the social lubricant of a substance to be in the world. I was desperate to know that I could still have fun while clean and sober, and the fellowship gave me that. We traveled in packs in those early years, dancing at ratty AA clubs, going to movies en masse, dinner parties and backyard barbecues, slumber parties and trips to the coast, hiking and running marathons. If it had just been me, my sponsor and the Big Book, I'd never have known that the whole wide world was out there waiting for me to show up sober. I'd traveled prior to recovery, but  much of that was through the fog of a hangover (I recently realized that I have absolutely no memory of a trip to Reno my boyfriend and I took with my best friend and her husband, even with the details she’s provided). What a joy to explore a city with an eye to more than finding an open bar, and to remember what I did where, and with whom.  

As was echoed by several at the anniversary meeting, I sometimes miss those early days when everything was new and exciting, and our group of pals explored the nuances of recovery together. But, sort of like with a romantic relationship, the initial exhilaration has given way to comfortable contentment. I do not miss the roller-coaster.

One of the folks I ran in to at the party, an older gentleman, talked with me about retirement and what he described as the chance to “get to know someone you may not know very well yet.” That would be me. I do know myself in relation to the structure of the working world. How might that shift and change when I’m no longer responsible for supervision, and time sheets and regulatory compliance? How might that change when I don’t need to run (or walk!) at 5am in order to get to work on time, or when I have an open day to do more than maintenance at home? I am excited to find out.

Excited, and a little nervous. But I think about all the other life transitions that initially might’ve seemed daunting – changes in jobs, relationships, in school/out of school, moving, etc, etc, etc. When a 9 year relationship ended unexpectedly a decade ago, I found myself in “who am I?” mode, feeling the need to reclaim “me” after being a “we.” What did like to do? Who did I want to be when I was able to stop defining myself as just having gotten out of a long term relationship? I think of a job of 5 years, where the boss and I mutually decided that I’d done all I could do there, and I left without a real plan, or even back to the old days when I changed from being a good-time alcoholic & cocaine user to seedy methamphetamine use and production (see Shadows and Veins). What I know today is that nearly every change I thought was a negative turned out to be the best thing that could’ve happened (including the crystal meth chapter, since that brought me to my bottom very quickly). 

I don’t believe in a higher power pulling strings somewhere up in the cosmos, but I do believe that life works out exactly as it is supposed to. As as they used to say, "If things were supposed to be any other way, they'd be different." My ongoing lesson is to relax into what is rather than fighting the currents, and simply stay out of my own way. I seek to meet each day with curiosity rather than expectation, an invitation rather than fear. 

Over time, my fellowship has gotten smaller. There is still a crew out there, for the holiday party and anniversary meeting, but most of my close friends are, like me, living satisfactory lives that are a bit more home and family centered, which seems to be a natural evolution - a good thing. I am forever grateful for all the caffeine-fueled late night talks and "morning meetings" at various kitchen tables. I am grateful for how we held each other's hands through job interviews and first dates, break-ups and college classes, and, of course all the "meetings, meetings, meetings" we grew through together. I am grateful for the deep knowing that is just a phone call or coffee date away.

How has the fellowship shaped your recovery over the years? What, if anything, is different today? What, from your past, seemed like a negative that turned out to be a positive?

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

One of the things I painfully learned, beginning in early recovery, is the importance of being fully self-supporting. When I got to the rooms, my sort-of-ex had been supporting me for a number of years, and helped me out as I gained a foothold in AA. Initially unemployable, (I wasn’t speaking in complete sentences and was still seeing and hearing things that weren’t there) I really didn’t want to be self-supporting. But I cried tears of joy when, a few years later, I signed papers on the mortgage that was now solely my responsibility. Recently reviewing my finances as part of my retirement planning, I was grateful for my Depression era parents, who spent wisely, for two specific ex’s, who imparted healthy and sane views of money, and my second ever boss, who sat me down when I was a young and clueless new wife and showed me her method of managing monthly bills. Despite these good teachers, and my relative financial stability today, I can still succumb to “fear of financial insecurity,” which is essentially a lack of trust. I’m fortunate to have always had a roof over my head and enough to eat, which I recognize is a privilege. Staying clear with what is a need and what is a want helps me maintain a level of serenity in the moment. Money is one of those areas that requires self-discipline, appropriate action, and letting go of expectations for results. Sometimes I experience anxiety, when what’s going out seems to exceed what’s coming in, but instead of panic, I can use those feelings to look at where I might need to rein it in and put away a bit more for a rainy day, which can be anything from an unexpected car expense, to a raise in property taxes, or the chance to travel.

Part of being relieved of the fear of financial insecurity has to do with that other promise that “we will intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle us.” For me, that applies to how I spend  (“Can I afford this?” instead of “I want it now!”) as well as how I interact in the world, whether that is in the professional or personal realm. The “What do I do now?” syndrome wasn’t only related to new non-drinking behaviors (as in, “How do I order pizza without saying, ‘and a pitcher’?”). I often felt confused, which usually meant scared. I remember sitting in my car outside the local community college a few months after treatment, scared to go inside because I didn’t know where to go or what to ask. A year or so later, a class I was in required going to the medical school library for research. I sat in my kitchen, anxious about not knowing where to go, or what to ask – fear, fear, fear, of being embarrassed, of getting lost, of someone recognizing that I didn’t really belong. In both those cases, and many since, I gave myself a talking to, as in “Self, if you don’t do this particular task at this particular moment, you probably never will, so just do it.” I intuitively knew that if I let fear win, it always would. Do I always "intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle me" these days?  Usually. And, I say that because I’ve learned that it is ok to make mistakes, that it is ok to say, “I’m not sure. Let me get back to you,” that it is ok to ask questions, and most of all, that it is ok not to know. Life is not a contest.

I completed my amends process this past week, with written Steps 1-9, and mailing off an anonymous donation. I also wrote a letter to my younger self, taking responsibility for my actions as well as forgiving myself for making decisions based on the fear of not being accepted. I shared the letter with my sponsor, and then burned it in the backyard, and dropped a rock into the ashes to symbolize the letting go. I have taken the action. I have turned it over. I am done.

Today I "know a new freedom and a new happiness." There used to be an old-timer at my daily meeting who’d say, “There are no big deals.” I don’t agree with that, but over time, I’ve come to understand that most of what I labeled "emotional disasters" were simply examples of me attempting to live in the future, or the past. Today, when an actual big deal arises, I know what to do based on my experience and on watching you navigate the world as a recovering person. 

All of the Promises have proven true for me – maybe not every one on every day, but they illustrate my way of life in long term recovery. I clean up my missteps (old and current) and do my best to live with integrity. I used to think that meant riding in on my trusty steed, brandishing the Steps like a shield as I faced down each day’s demons. Sometimes it’s that dramatic, but usually,  living with integrity simply means showing up to work on time, eating healthy, being kind to loved ones and strangers, or curling up in bed with a good book when that's what my soul craves.

Years ago, a friend suggested that I wear the program “as a loose garment.” I think that phrase is in our literature; I believe it comes from the Christian Bible. It’s a good reminder to relax my grip. Today, the Steps and the principles are a gentle guide. When I’m confused about something – what to say, where to go, what to do – I can pause, access my inner wisdom, talk with a trusted other, and know in my heart that it’s all working out, one day at a time.

How do the 9th Step Promises manifest in your life today?