Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Catching my breath here, from a richly emotion-filled week. The roller-coaster isn’t limited to new sobriety! However, these days, I know that I’m not going to fly off into space with life's ups and downs and am better able to simply enjoy the ride.

Early in the week, our “Too Old to Give a F**k” group had a reunion meeting, having disbanded at the beginning of the year. I felt a welcome exhale as I sat with these women, all with over 20 years of recovery. No B.S. with this group, simply “What is going on today, and how am I applying the principles of the program?” We will meet again.

Saturday morning, I participated in a spiritual circle with women I hadn’t seen since our beloved teacher died two years ago. Taking my seat, I started to cry with gratitude. I’ve done some exploring in those two years, but haven’t found a spiritual home that feels right and checks all my boxes (spiritual vs religious, inclusive, open to many paths, for example). We meditated and shared, and spoke to a pertinent question before deciding that we will meet again. 

And then I jetted off to a local AA women’s conference. What a gift, especially that I got to spend time with my treatment roommate from all those years ago. It feels natural and right to sit in meetings with her – she was quite literally there the day I came through the doors, and we’ve shared living arrangements, meetings, meals and many heartfelt conversations since. We were privileged to hear Lila R. as the keynote speaker, having just celebrated her 50th sobriety anniversary. My Step Group follows her format, from a workshop she gave in Tulsa, OK many years ago. Five of our seven members were there – we should’ve corralled her and shared a group hug! In any event, it was good to spend time immersed in program and hear the experience, strength and hope from all of the speakers who shared how the Steps work in their lives today. 

In between all this sisterhood, I marked my 65th birthday – weird and amazing – and noted the 7th anniversary of my dear mother’s passing. Time does march on, and both these dates prompted reflection on where I’ve been and where I am today. It was providential that I was enveloped in strong women space as I paid attention to my feelings, shared them, and moved on.

In all three settings, it was noted that, as time goes on in life and in recovery, whatever happens, and I do mean whatever, I now have my own experience, strength and hope to draw from. As Lila said, I now know, deeply know, that I will survive whatever life has to give. That is such a difference from earlier years when I allowed the winds of change to knock me to my knees. That might still happen on occasion, but I’m much quicker to recognize what will bring me back to center. What was also mentioned, more than once, is the importance of self-care, including Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, a topic I frequently mention because I need the reminder. 

So what I am thinking about, as I decompress from gratitude-overload, is “Trust the Process.” I used to say, only half in jest, “Screw the process!” because I had no idea what it meant to trust that life was working itself out without my efforts to control. When I was 30, I could absolutely not have imagined having fun without a drink in my hand. When I was, say, 37, I could not have imagined how good life is at 65. When my mother died, I would not have believed I would make peace with her absence. When I had a first date with a handsome guy from SF, I had no idea that 10 years later we’d have built a loving home together. Trust. Suit up and show up. Take it easy. Who knew that the trite little sayings would become a mantra?

Right here, right now, I am typing, with a purring cat nearby and a cup of tea on my desk. Later I will join a group of my cousins for dinner. Tomorrow morning I plan to go for a jog before work, and will hit a 4pm meeting. Period. I do have plans further out, because that is who I am. And, I grow in understanding each day that all I really have is this moment.

Where do you experience the love of the program, and if you haven't felt that lately, what needs to change? Which of the HALTs is your personal demon, and how do you pay attention to your internal signals? Which of our slogans do you refer to when you feel unsettled?

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Back from my travels... We hit a good meeting (25 regulars, 5 visitors) in Budapest where I was reminded of the gifts of recovery, by the speaker and all who shared. In Vienna, we hit a meeting of a different sort, following the format of Big Book Awakenings, a companion to the Big Book (that I'd never heard of). There were just 5 of us sharing on Step One, powerlessness. This meeting was for any 12 Step member - locals were 2 Alanons and 1 dual member. I was struck by the sincerity of the people who lived there (an Austrian, a Californian and a Brit) as they grappled with powerlessness in all its forms - yes, over drugs & alcohol, but as spiritually destructive, over the emotional twists and quirks that impact our daily well-being as the days of recovery add up.

It was mentioned during the meeting that change is initiated by pain - if something feels good, I'll repeat it (again and again). My impetus to change, to surrender, comes when fear or emotional upheaval finally takes me to that place of crying out "I can't do this any more!" There are degrees, from the wailing, on my knees surrender to the head-against-the-wall recognition that my behavior or attitude keeps bringing me to the same place of discomfort. I recently heard a member share that they then need to surrender the surrender. Just because I've turned something over doesn't mean that it will end up the way I think it should (whether that is my negative or positive projection). Such a discipline, this one-day-at-a-time, turn it over process. Stop ruminating? Live in the place of truly knowing that right here, right now, everything is okay? Progress, not perfection.

And now I am home. Being a creature of habit, it is good for me to totally shake up my routine every once in awhile, which happens when traveling. And, it feels so good to be back to my routines (not to mention, my sweet spouse and our 2 cats). 

It took me a long time in this life to acknowledge and own that I function best with structure, which includes food and sleep at regular intervals. How many arguments could've been avoided in my past life if I'd only had a sandwich?! And, how many more wouldn't happen if I just keep my mouth shut, as in Why Am I Talking (WAIT)?  It struck me, while in the back seat of our rental car, speeding through the Austrian countryside, that I didn't feel compelled to add my two cents to the front seat discussion of driving routes. What would it be like to practice that same detachment when my spouse and I are in the car together? (Ah, vehicles - the place where many a happy couple bump heads!) Never mind that I know next to nothing about the Austrian road system - a lack of knowledge rarely stops me from having an opinion. But, whether I am familiar with the streets (I did grow up here, in case you were wondering) or not, I do not need to offer an opinion or a suggestion unless I am specifically asked. Definitely one of my "Alanon-ic" issues, as an adult child of an alcoholic (who thought I needed to have answers) and the eldest of two children (who wielded what little authority I had over my unsuspecting little brother). 

So, it was a very good trip in that I learned some things about Hungary and Austria (which whetted my appetite for more) and I learned something about myself. The trick will be to follow up, whether reading more about the Austro-Hungarian empire or stopping to "THINK" (is it Thoughtful, Helpful, Intelligent, Necessary, Kind) when I feel the urge to suggest. I once heard someone quote Anne Lamott - "Helping is just the sunny side of control." Indeed...   It is helpful to remember that I'm not alone in my mental machinations.

Are there people, places or things in your life that would benefit from applying "WAIT" or "THINK?" I'd be curious as to how you implement the "pause" that can be so challenging for me.  Thank you for reading, and for those of you who chime in with comments.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Speaking of planning (see many previous posts), we've signed up for the AA International Convention coming to Detroit in July, 2020. I've been to every one since I got sober: Seattle ('90), San Diego ('95), Minneapolis ('00), Toronto ("05), San Antonio ('10) and Atlanta ('15) which was my husband's first. The crowds can be overwhelming at times - 50-60,000 sober alcoholics and family members in one place - but the absolute thrill of hearing the Serenity Prayer recited by those 50,000 people in the stadium meetings makes the long lines for coffee (& everything else) worth it. Seeing smiling faces from around the world (including the parade of nations on the 1st night), truly illustrates this world-wide fellowship I feel so privileged to be a part of.

I love conferences – the retreat aspect of being away for a weekend rejuvenates my program, and hearing different speakers’ take on the Steps and daily application of the principles offers the opportunity for new insight into my own thought processes.

My first conference was the 1986 North Coast Roundup in Seaside, OR. Several of our treatment counselors were involved, and thus put me to work taking tickets. At 90 days sober, I was probably still seeing double, but greeting people as they came in was just what I needed to feel "a part of." Having a role, a job to do, created a buffer between my shyness and the rollicking world of AA members. I could “act as if” I was comfortable, and by the end of the weekend, I was. I was told that "service work will keep you sober," and that has definitely been my experience.

Initially, I loved speaker meetings because it meant for sure that I wouldn’t be called on to share - it was several years before I could do much more than say my name in a meeting without crying. I still enjoy the “AA on Saturday night” aspect, though I don’t get quite as much out of talks that sound like stand-up comedy as I used to. When the student is ready, the teacher appears, and when I was new, especially, I reveled in identification with the hard-core tales of descent and eventual redemption. These days, I'm more attuned with hearing how long-timers navigate the "road of happy destiny" over hill and dale.

I'd like to share a meeting pet-peeve. I've recently been in a couple of meetings with out of town visitors. The way I was "raised" in the program (yes, this is my inner "bleeding deacon" speaking), visitors are welcomed, and called on to share. My control issues flare when person after person acknowledges the visitor, yet the chair never calls on them. As I'm writing, I can see that a solution could be to attend a business meeting and add "call on out-of-towners" to the format. Ha! Do I want to be part of the problem (complaining) or part of the solution? I will say that the number of things I take offense to in meetings has lessened over the years. (I used to erupt in heavy sighs if someone talked longer than my attention span, for example). I can always leave, recite the Serenity Prayer in my head, find a new meeting, or remind myself that none of us is without at least one annoying habit.

I'm headed out on one of my grand adventures, so won't likely have a post next week. I plan to hit a couple of meetings while away, and will be back in touch with you upon my return.

What are your meeting pet peeves (if any)? How does your "bleeding deacon" show up when things don't go the way you think they should in a meeting, and what might you do about that?

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

When I was newly sober, there was a crusty old guy (probably the age I am now!) who frequently said, “This is not a dress rehearsal!” I took a gut-punch on that one, guilty of the “someday soon...” mentality that told myself, “Life will get better when...” the boyfriend comes back, or when he goes away; when I lose 10 pounds; when this or that event is over; someday, somehow, out there in the future some miracle of change will magically happen. It never (truly never) occurred to me that life might get better if I stopped drinking and drugging – they were my solution, not the problem. A few months after treatment, I hit my knees when I got home from a noon meeting, in tears, asking “Is this all I had to do? Quit getting high every day, ask for help, and I feel this good?” Definitely pink cloud territory, but I went with it. Life did get better, and quickly, for me. Part of it was that I simply felt good physically – waking up clear headed (vs coming to) felt like a miracle in and of itself. Not puking. Remembering what I’d done the day before... all the tiny successes of daily life kept me coming back.

And, I must admit that I still live with a fair amount of “Life will get better/calmer when...” I finally quit my job; this or that event is over; my spouse gets home from work, or leaves for the day; when I go on vacation or when I get back, etc.  In  many ways I have “recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body,” and I still carry this brain around.  This brain that likes to plan, and jump ahead, and figure things out.

I absolutely LOVE the fresh pages of a new year’s journal or calendar. One of my Thanksgiving rituals is to go through next year’s wall calendar to add in birthdays and important dates, and I salivate over all the choices for a daily planner – What color? What features? I’ve been keeping a diary since the 6th grade, and a few years ago, read from my embarrassing 1986 journal of the first year of sobriety at an “Awkward” event, and only because it was over 30 years ago! Taking a cue from a sponsee, I did go through the decades recently and culled out many years, keeping those that felt monumental (hitting bottom, getting sober, breakups, new jobs, turning 50, for example). I suppose at some point, I’ll let go of a few more, but for now, my daily readers and journal are a big part of my spiritual practice – a way to slow down, hit "pause" and access my inner wisdom.

These days, I like making plans and doubly like when they are cancelled, but my point is that I am future oriented. Fine. Makes me a good employee and party organizer, and not-fine when it means I’m about to topple over because my emotional center of gravity is two weeks out and I’m not paying attention to the right-here-right-now of one day at a time.

This was all brought into stark relief as I cried through the memorial service for the young man I wrote about last week. From the outside, it looked like he had everything going for him – a loving family, great friends, a good heart. And, now he is gone. We just never know – what is truly on another’s mind, what awaits around the next corner, what the state of the world might be as those fresh calendar pages turn in to the new year.

Speaking of the new year and turn of the seasons, I attended an autumn women’s circle last night with a friend. I recognized some of the mostly younger women from the rooms, but many were strangers, though how sweet to come together in community, in varying degrees of internal and external transition, seeking a centering and connecting space. I think of those times I was lost and trying to find my place – in various faiths prior to recovery and just after, then again when a long term relationship ended and I found myself in a running group, a book club, a spiritual study group, and several Step groups. I realized that what people were seeking was community, and felt fortunate (then and now) to have found my tribe in the 12 Step programs. There are other places I feel at home, but AA/Alanon is where I’ve learned how to be a member among members and enjoy the feeling of being known. The company of women hasn't always been my thing, having totally bought in to the cultural b.s. that other women are my competition - an uncomfortable way to live for too many years, because, of course, there is/was always someone cuter, smarter, sexier, etc. I am grateful to have finally settled in to myself, and for the strong women I call "friend" today.

Who do you call "friend" today? Do they know that? And what about One Day at a Time? How do you bring yourself back to the present when your mind takes a field trip?