Wednesday, November 13, 2019

I don't want to write today. I've made a couple of starts, avoiding what I'm really thinking about, which never seems to work. Like we hear in the rooms of recovery, what I don't look at directly will eventually come out sideways, though I don't always realize that at the time. Let me just start out by saying that life can be hard.

Someone I've been close to since I was 15 is facing some tough medical diagnoses. My efforts at writing this afternoon have been interrupted by schedulers for various tests and appointments, each with a list of instructions. Damn it. And damned cigarettes. I'm doing my best to stay in the moment - there is no diagnosis today, and even if there is one on Friday, it will still be Friday and the sun will come up and go down as the heaven's see fit.

Someone else I've known a long time (since 5th grade) is on her end of life journey, choosing to make her transition at home, with friends and family as support. I will sit with her this weekend, not because we've been particularly close over the years, but because that is what friends do. That is what friends do, and as I learned via my mother's experience, kindness matters. Kindness and attention and showing up, even if it is uncomfortable.

We got to visit our home-away-from-home group in San Francisco this week, with another good meeting in Sausilito for good measure. I jokingly referred to myself and my enthusiastic husband as "meeting tourists," not as in "just visiting" but as in loving to connect wherever we go. I can hear the same message in my home meetings, but there is something refreshing about the perspectives I get in new-to-me groups.

In our early morning meeting on Monday, a member shared about walking through the illnesses of several old friends, and his realization that it isn't about him. Several people in the Tuesday nooner talked about the same thing - the pain of losing people, and the lessons of showing up with integrity. It shouldn't, because it happens so often, but I am still amazed that I hear just what I need to hear, when I need to hear it. I may go in to a meeting with arms folded and eyes internally focused on my pain, but I invariably hear someone speaking to exactly what I'm going through. I know that to be true today, and can trust it will be true tomorrow.

One day at a time (the absolute hardest of our program suggestions), I am able to suit up and show up, in good times and in bad. As someone at my regular Wednesday meeting says in the closing, "God grants me the serenity..." - not a request, but an affirmation. Good Orderly Direction, Great Outdoors, Grace Over Drama - my peace of mind comes from within, no matter what is going on around me.

I will admit that the first of those medical calls this morning felt like a kick in the stomach, but by the end of the day, I've moved back to center. I am grateful to be back in our cozy home after a lovely vacation. I am grateful for attentive and kind medical professionals, and insurance. I am grateful that all I really need to concern myself with is this moment. As a counselor in treatment used to say all those years ago, "What time is it? Do you have a place to sleep tonight? Have you had enough to eat today? Well then, stop your bellyaching!" She was definitely a hard-ass, but her point was well-taken, and one I remind myself of, over and over again.

This human existence is marked by high points and low, but I've come to understand it is the small moments that define a life. While our "high point" hike in Marin on Monday was amazing, it was singing "Mairzy Doats and Dozy Doats" in the kitchen over a late supper with my 90 and 80+ year old in-laws that defined our trip, along with goodnight kisses from the tiny nieces and nephew the night before. Today's phone calls were jarring, laced with the foreboding of a low point, but laughing with my friend about this sudden interest in his lungs lightened the mood. If I pay attention to the moments, to the connections, all is well.  I know where I'm sleeping tonight. I've had enough to eat. And tomorrow is another day.

What is on your mind and heart today? Are you called to show up for someone? Or perhaps you are opening to someone showing up for you? How do you remember to let go with love rather than clutch on to fear?

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Halloween was last week. As I waited for the doorbell to ring, with a mix of hopeful anticipation and dread (cute kids v. strangers at the door) I flashed to when I was four or five, crying because the kids in costume at the door frightened me. It is murky – snippets of my own memory combined with family lore, but I do have a sense of cowering behind an armchair as the doorbell rang.

I think I was fearful from the gate, a nervous kid, with anxiety dreams that I still remember. A professional might attribute it to my mom going back to work so soon after I was born, or maybe because I ate way too much sugar. We didn’t have TV (though the babysitter did), and lived in a fairly idyllic small town. Who knows? Maybe it isn’t about blame or reasons or figuring it out. I used to think that if I could point to a particular episode or event, I would be rocketed into a fourth dimension of healing and understanding of why I kept tripping on the same emotional roadblocks, the same fears dressed up in new clothes. It wasn’t that easy. What I came to realize, over time, is that recovery and healing is many layered, with events and episodes and DNA all tangled into one. Nature or nurture? Yes. 

Over the years, those peaks and valleys of my various apprehensions have smoothed out. Nearly every fear that had me grasping on to the illusion of control has happened, and what I’ve learned, time and again, is that I am stronger than I’d thought. I recently read the quote from Brene Brown, "You can choose courage or you can choose comfort, but you can't choose both." I agree, to a point. I don't always choose courage. And fear may be familiar, but it is certainly not comfortable.  Usually, it is a matter of one foot in front of the other, fearfully or otherwise, drawing on my own experience, strength and hope and that of others who've walked the path before me. Fear of the unknown gets me every time, but if I'm able to move forward without the urge to foresee or attempt to control the outcome, that is courage.

My current bout with anxiety has to do with attempting to see in to the future. I go in and out of nervousness about retirement and all the changes that will bring. Please don’t say, “Oh, you’ll be fine” – that never works. Whether it was a speaker meeting, a work presentation, or a marathon, having someone say, “You’ll be fine,” doesn’t allay my internal tuning-fork energy. I know I’ll be OK on some level, and I still twitch.

I came to realize, in talking with and listening to others, that I’ve been trying to think my way out of emotional turmoil. As I heard in a meeting, you can’t fix a broken chair with a broken chair. As much as I may wish it so, I simply cannot know what I’ll be doing and how I’ll be feeling in July of 2020, or November of that year, or February, 2021. I am right where I’m supposed to be, with some trepidation and some excitement about the next phase of my development. And, I do not need to figure it out. It was extremely helpful to hear someone in a meeting share the question he asks himself when he’s in an emotional wringer. What he said was, “How am I inviting Higher Power into this situation?” What I heard was, “How am I utilizing my spiritual resources?” Not “How hard am I thinking?” but how am I surrendering to the moment? Rather than letting my anxiety run wild, how am I acknowledging my fears then letting them go, whether that is putting pen to paper, talking with someone, meditation, a walk outdoors, or simply taking a conscious deep breath (or all of the above).

Along with reminders for self-care, anxiety (aka future-tripping) is my recurring theme, along with time-urgency. What are your recurring themes? Has that changed over the years? I’d love to hear how you bring yourself back to the moment.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

In treatment, we were instructed to complete a “Significant Event” form and turn it in to our counselor each evening, making note of whatever it was that got our attention that day. Sometimes it was a walk on the beach, or the phone call that didn’t come, or the hard conversation with my mom on Family Day. Other times it would've been something I’d read (page 449?! Mind blowing!) or an interaction with a peer. While not specifically linked to Step 10, I now recognize this as my first experience in the daily inventory. What mattered today? What did I do well? What behavior or words need amending?

An acquaintance has recently started posting a weekly list of "10 awesome things she has witnessed or experienced." I like her idea, and it has raised my antennae on noticing positive goings-on in the world rather than the negative loop I can experience with the affairs of politics or the wounded planet. Paying attention to all the good that is happening changes my frequency – if I’m focused on the bad stuff I can feel myself constrict. While not suggesting a Pollyanna attitude, I feel a deep relaxing when I take note what is hopeful, whether that is grassroots organizing, people finding their voice, or someone planting trees where there were none. I can bring it closer to home with my own behaviors: acknowledging a friend’s process, thanking someone for their meeting share, writing a gratitude list (which always includes recovery, a warm place to sleep, & hot running water), or pausing to respond in kindness rather than reacting. It comes back to the question of "how do I want to be in the world today?" Do I want to be part of the solution or part of the problem?

Step 10 asks us to promptly admit our wrongs. As my recovery has progressed, I view that directive as not just making amends to others, but as paying attention to my own peace of mind, as in my recent realization that I want to spend more time outdoors. Making amends to myself means that I got up on the trails last weekend, and have a date to share Forest Park with a newly relocated neighbor on Saturday. It means turning off the TV and snuggling in with a good book before bed. It means not putting off until “later” what I feel the nudge to do today, even if that means trading a task for sitting in silence.

Step 10 also means holding myself accountable. I have a writing project that is in the final stages before printing, and what do I do? Why, clean my closet, of course! I am a fairly dedicated person – I run regularly and go to the gym, I make a healthy lunch each day, I write this blog every week. But for some reason, when it comes to my larger writing undertakings, I have a tendency to dance all around the project, still holding on to the old idea that I need to wait for inspiration, for the perfect conflux of time and motivation and a good cup of tea. Rubbish! 90% (99??) of writing, or likely any creative endeavor, is simply doing it, suiting up and showing up and trusting that the juices will flow at some point. What I’ve found is that if I make it a habit, sometimes through gritted teeth, in a very short time I find myself wanting to get to my desk – the project takes on a life of its own that says, “Me, now please!”  And so, by publicly stating my intention, I will draw myself to the finishing touches, looking forward to saying, not, “I am working on...” but “I have just completed....”  Stay tuned.

I have entered that phase of my work life where I'm marking the lasts, as in last September, last October, etc. If all unfolds according to plan, this is my final Halloween at my workplace. Each year, staff and I perform the "Monster Mash," reworked to the "Monster Meth." Today's presentation was epic, a fabulous example of fun in recovery. I told a friend, who remarked "Remember when we were newly sober and it was the 'first this and that?'" I do remember, which makes so many of these "lasts" all the sweeter. It really could've gone either way back then, and I hope to never forget that.

What got your attention today? Can you think of 10 awesome things you've seen or experienced this week? (& thanks to Jillene for that idea.)  How do you apply Step 10 to your relationship with yourself?   

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

I’ve been feeling disconnected from October. Autumn in general, and October particularly, is my favorite time of year – crisp days, brilliant colors, the return of soothing rain. I was gone for two weeks, overlapping September and October, and threw myself into a full schedule upon my return, which has left me with the sensation that my heart hasn’t caught up with the reality of October now drawing to a close. I came back from my trip to darker mornings, the leaves having turned, and the rains definitely back, only to feel like, “Wait – I’m not ready for this yet.”

Part of it likely has to do with the fact that I haven’t been outdoors much recently. I run (jog) in the dark several mornings, but that is more maintenance than an outing. Always, one of my intentions for the new year has to do with hiking and being outdoors, and this year, that seems to have quietly slipped further down my list of priorities. I am sad about that. I am sad that I am no longer a distance runner. I may train to walk the Portland Marathon next year, but my days of going out for a 20 mile run are likely over, and I miss that -  not out of losing fitness and vitality, per se, but because I love it. I love the adventure of setting out on the roads or trails for 2 – 4 hours, with the accompanying sense of accomplishment, and the so-good tired of being physically spent, muddy from the trails in winter, salty with sweat in the summer, drenched in rain all seasons.  Marathon running has been part of my identity since 1995, and it is hard to let that go. My non-runner husband keeps telling me that the 10k is a respectable distance. Kinda, but not really. (My travel friend and I vowed that the 10k is as low as we’ll go, with a 5k falling in the “why bother?” category – with apologies to the 5k walkers & runners out there.)

Aging, in recovery and in life, brings so many gifts – less concern for what others think, a wealth of experience to draw on, friendships over time, and an increased appreciation for hearth and home vs hitting all the latest hot spots, for example. But there is also a great deal of loss: our elders and contemporaries, night vision and all the physical indignities (including hearing our much younger physicians say, “As we age....” in relation to one complaint or another), along with the stark reality that the time ahead of us is less than the time behind. Straddling the fence of acknowledging loss and celebrating the gains can throw off my equilibrium from time to time. Acknowledging it helps, as does sharing with others on the path.

In a recent article about "the change" that we women go through, (sorry, fellas) I read that "..menopause is not an end. It's a beginning. A searing initiation. A crucible in which a more essential version of ourselves is forged. We go through the fire and come out refined - focus on the things we care about most" (R. Marantz Henig).  I look forward to fully unleashing my spiritual warrior. Whatever our gender, I do think that the energy of discernment is available, the wisdom that comes with age, if we are open to it and consciously detach from the daily drama. (Limiting TV helps me in that department, as does taking a step back at work to ask, “How important is it?”)

Last week, I went for a walk on my lunch break, having not for some time (Am I really that busy? No.) Over the weekend, I was conscious of moving from my brain to my senses on my morning run and as I spent some time in the yard, pausing to breathe into the dampness. I’ve increased my awareness that in the future, I’d be better served easing into homecoming rather than diving into the deep end of the pooland would do well to heed the advice I recently texted my step-daughter: “pace yourself.”  I’m reminded that I demonstrate my values by how I spend my time and my energy. If I say I value spending time outdoors, then I need to get outside. If I value balance (hello Libra), I need to be diligent with my schedule and leave those open spaces that I crave. Every week won’t be perfectly balanced between social time and solitude, appointments and home chores. I won’t get to the woods every week. What I can do is strive for overall attention to “want to” vs “have to” so that when I look back at the month, the time won’t have shot by in a blur.

What parts of your identity, what favorite things, have shifted as you age in life and recovery? What new passions and pastimes have you discovered? How do your actions demonstrate your values?