Wednesday, July 1, 2020

This week, I "attended" online meetings in Detroit (since we can't be there in person), Budapest (with other visitors from Rome, Kazakhstan, Haiti, and the UK), and San Francisco, along with our local home group. I am grateful for the opportunity to connect in this way, especially after going to our first in-person meeting at the Oregon Coast, which felt only marginally safe. The new normal isn't normal at all.

The reading in one of the literature meetings I sat in on prompted several to share on "It's the journey, not the destination."  I've probably said it myself, but do I truly believe it? Sometimes the destination is the focus - the degree, the mortgage, the wedding, the retirement date. But then what? The events are merely markers, but sometimes my focus on the marker makes the before and after anti-climatic. A friend once shared how everyone kept telling him that his wedding would be the happiest day of his life. "God, I hope not!" he said, "Is it all downhill from there?"

If I (mostly) believe in the journey vs the destination, why do I keep torturing myself with "Life will get better/calmer/back to normal when... (fill in the blank)" keeping me in a vague dissatisfaction with the here and now, no matter how awesome the day. It's a Catch-22. I look forward to an event, yet imagine life after as being somehow more settled. I suppose there is some accuracy to that - preparing for a big trip is different than doing laundry once back home. Married life is way more ordinary than the flurry of wedding planning. And, when I live in "it will be calmer when..." I'm perhaps numbing myself to both the high and low points of the journey, as well as the inevitable plateaus. I too often see the destination as a place to take a breath before moving on to the next thing. Because there is always a next thing, whether of my choosing or the universe's.

These last few years, what I've really wanted was time and space - to exhale, to do the little (& big) projects on my list, to spend time with friends in the woods or on the bike, to do more than mere maintenance on weekends. And now I have it. I've already felt a shift in focus, but still notice the familiar time urgency knocking at the door. I will assume this is part of the transition from work life to retirement, a chance to pay attention, to inventory.

The hard work of Steps 6 & 7, in long term recovery, means looking at those characteristics that have become so habitual as to feel like "me," so entrenched as to make me believe my thoughts. Can I pause when agitated or doubtful when agitated is so familiar that I don't always recognize it? Can I release self-judgement and simply observe and label the emotion?

I'm told that meditation can help and listened intently this morning in a meeting on the topic. After sharing my usual "I'm not very good at it" line, I realized, in a "duh!" moment, that the gifts of meditation don't generally come in the actual sitting, but in development of the spiritual muscle that allows me to take a step back from my thoughts during non-meditating time. Even knowing better, I find myself thinking that I should be moving closer to nirvana, now that I've sat in meditation for over 90 days. Come on, people! Where's my enlightenment? Where's my out-of-body experience? One more time, I'm looking for the high, the destination. Breathing...breathing into the journey.

I am able to chuckle at the presumption I'd be through this transition, a mere two and a half weeks into my new way of being. I can still hear my dad's voice yelling,"Slow down, Jeanine!" as I ran from the bathroom to the in-process street ball game, while pulling up my pants, not wanting to  miss anything. I may always be a busy-bee, job or no job, destination or journey. A goal is to make that a choice, not an unconscious urge. One day at a time. One day at a time.

Is it the journey or the destination that most often gets your attention? If you meditate, what benefits do you experience, either when sitting or after? What part of the internal or external journey is your focus this week?

Note that in lieu of the International Conference, there will be a virtual offering during the month of July. For details go to aa.org

NOTE: “I’ve Been Sober a Long Time – Now What? A workbook for the Joys & Challenges of Long Term Recovery” is a 78 page workbook, 8 ½ x11 format, with topics (such as grief, aging, sponsorship) that include a member’s view and processing questions. Available at Portland Area Intergroup at 825 N.E. 20th or online through this blog page. If you would like to purchase online, you will need to go to the WEB VERSION of this page to view the link to PayPal or Credit Card option.   Email me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com if you’d like more information. ALSO to note - from the web version of this page, you can sign up to have my weekly post delivered to you via email (upper right section of the page).


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

I didn't mention in last week's post that my husband's follow up scan, post radiation and chemo, was clear, as in cancer free. Such a relief. I expected as much, but SO good to have it officially verified. What a roller coaster of emotion, from fear/terror to overwhelm to acceptance and gratitude - sometimes all in the same day. My meetings, trusted others (many who had similar experiences) and the cancer counseling offered by the hospital were all helpful. Once again, the "we."

I was reminded by a friend that when I actually feel my emotions, it is a relief. Being stuck, as in trying to ignore or outrun that which I hope to avoid is what's painful. I try to pay attention when I feel off kilter - is there a feeling I'm trying to suppress? Some emotion I don't want to acknowledge? Sometimes it's just a matter of saying, "I feel kind of crappy today" and letting that be ok. I'm definitely one who prefers "happy, joyous & free," though recognize that isn't a guarantee. Just because I actively work the program, am of service, meditate, etc etc etc doesn't mean that every day will be unicorns and rainbows. I'm not doing something wrong if I'm in a blah mood. I've learned that "this too shall pass" applies to random feelings as well as the big stuff.

A meeting I was in this week turned into a discussion of current events and protests, which left me slightly uncomfortable. Tradition 10 says that our program has no opinion on outside issues. The program has no opinion, but as an individual I certainly do, and my opinions impact my emotions, which impacts my serenity and quite possibly my sobriety. In heated political times in the past, when viewpoints bled into meetings, I've worried about the newcomer who is there for relief from alcoholism and may have different beliefs but wants to be sober (or recover from the effects of someone else's drinking in Alanon). I don't think there is a right answer - as human beings we can't ignore what is going on in the world, and I want to be very careful of our primary purpose.

In another meeting last week, someone used the term "pivot point" to describe those places where life could've gone one way or another, depending on our decisions. I think of the moment I sat outside the treatment center at 11pm, realizing at a subterranean level that if I didn't go in right then, I probably never would. Another pivot point came when I found paraphernalia in my belongings, and hesitated. A pivot point - am I going to do this thing, or half-ass it? And then, recovery decision points including going in to the community college to ask questions, when  "Maybe another day" would've been easier, along with all those times I pushed myself an inch further than my comfort zone with school, or jobs, or challenging discussions. I think of a particular moment when my spouse and I had just started dating when I thought, "Here's your out," but instead, decided to simply wait to see what would happen next.

Pivot points. Choices. Doing the next thing, even if I don't know if it is the right thing. I often think of Elizabeth Gilbert's well known book, "Eat, Pray, Love." At the very beginning, she is crying on the bathroom floor in the middle of the night, wanting an answer to a huge life question. The answer she got in the moment was "Go back to bed." So often, when I'm looking for sky-writing or billboards, the answer is simple - Go ask someone. Hold still. Have something to eat.

Pivot points rarely announce themselves - it is generally in hindsight that I realize something could've gone either way. And, pivot points are not just about big events. Go to a meeting? Go for a run? Tackle that project? Take a nap? Not every choice moves me closer or further away from some Ultimate Goal, but each choice, whether to practice self-care and gentleness or push myself a little, impacts the next. And, as someone who has been schedule-driven for so long, I am noticing the quiet voice, the new voice, that whispers, "There is no deadline. You have all the time that you need." This is a pivot point of sorts for me - will I dive into the next thing, or simply wait and learn to appreciate the stillness?

What have been pivot points in your life, big or small? Did you realize it at the time, or later? What comes up when you spend time in silence today?

  NOTE: “I’ve Been Sober a Long Time – Now What? A workbook for the Joys & Challenges of Long Term Recovery” is a 78 page workbook, 8 ½ x11 format, with topics (such as grief, aging, sponsorship) that include a member’s view and processing questions. Available at Portland Area Intergroup at 825 N.E. 20th or online through this blog page. If you would like to purchase online, you will need to go to the WEB VERSION of this page to view the link to PayPal or Credit Card option.   Email me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com if you’d like more information. ALSO to note - from the web version of this page, you can sign up to have my weekly post delivered to you via email (upper right section of the page).

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

I often tell myself, and anyone who’ll listen, that I’m an anticipator, that as a kid I learned to see around corners. I’ve been known to say that I live 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months into the future, trying to figure out what’s next, as if seeing it coming will better prepare me for what I might feel then. It struck me, as I was running a few mornings ago, telling myself the same old story about “well, of course, I’m an anxious type – it comes from blah, blah, blah" to just STOP. My dad quit drinking when I was 11. He’s been gone since I was 25. I’ve been in recovery since I was 31. How bloody long am I going to use the excuse of “I’m an anticipator because…” to keep me from living in the here and now? They say that slow growth is good growth – if that’s the case, I’m verging on excellence. I don’t tend to think of myself as an excuse maker, but isn’t that what I do each time I say, “I grew up in an alcoholic home, so X,Y,Z?” I’m in no way saying it isn’t important to do the internal work of recovery. I had to get up to my elbows, via the Steps and therapy, to unravel my adult responses to what did or didn’t occur when I was a kid. And, while I don’t claim to be cured, I “have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of  mind and body.” (BB xiii).  Facing Steps 6 & 7 with intent, as I do in June, means that my defects/ defenses/ dysfunctions will present themselves to me, even those I wouldn’t have identified 4, 5 or 10 years ago. As I wrote last week, “What else?” “What else?” And “What else?” is there to know? When I know better, I have to do better, which includes busting myself when I gain awareness of things that may no longer be true or no longer serve the person that I am today, or want to be. 

A friend died unexpectedly last week – on Facebook one day, and the next, a post that he’d passed. He was my first husband's cousin, and a high school classmate. We weren’t particularly close in these later years, but he was always there, in a funny message, or a text thanking me for "keeping an eye out" for my ex, in the grocery store parking lot, or the park for our many reunions . That is the strange part of those who leave suddenly – here they are and then they aren’t. After my father died, I’d tease mom about “no lingering illnesses!” thinking I’d prefer her to just be gone. But, I think that is probably tougher.  I mourn the loss of an old friend, and I further internalize the fact that you just never know.

And then, this damned disease claimed another of our own this weekend – a fellow I’d known for years who struggled, struggled, struggled with staying sober; the guy in the back of the room who always raised his hand for “Anyone under 30 days?” But he kept coming back, talking about what he needed to do “this time.” I felt for him – it obviously wasn’t working out there, and it was confusing to understand what kept him from a full surrender to the disease. He talked about thinking he could control it. But he couldn’t. I felt for him, and I feel for his wife and daughter. And, I once again, experience  gratitude that the in-and-out dance hasn’t been my path. It must be excruciating. I can't help but think about my friend, dead from a heart attack, who'd likely give anything for just a little more time... 

So, here I am – retired. Monday I was employed and Tuesday I wasn’t, and that’s all I know about that. I don't need any answers today about "what's next." As I settle in to my new reality,  I am more fully appreciating the importance of ritual and ceremony. A few weeks ago, I was adrift with the news that covid had taken away our ability to mark the occasion. Now, having experienced the small but meaningful gatherings, including a surprise (& masked) party that three dear friends brought to the house, I feel fully launched into this next chapter.

There is something to be said about closure. Because of the virus, my old friend's official farewell was for family only, but a small group of classmates, guys from the neighborhood, gathered at his elementary school today, in the field, to share stories and blow bubbles, and bid the life force that was RLJ adieu. Gratefully, one of the attendees spoke of my ex, also of the neighborhood, recognizing that we hadn't been able to gather for him when he passed either. In a very interesting coincidence, I got home to a card I'd sent to the hospital in April when I couldn't visit my ex as he was dying, just now marked "Return to Sender." I don't know what I believe about life and death, but I can tell you that sometimes my loved ones feel very near.

What old ideas or old stories keep coming up for you? How do you acknowledge loss? What about those little coincidences that leave you scratching your head with a "Hmmm..."


NOTE: “I’ve Been Sober a Long Time – Now What? A workbook for the Joys & Challenges of Long Term Recovery” is a 78 page workbook, 8 ½ x11 format, with topics (such as grief, aging, sponsorship) that include a member’s view and processing questions. Available at Portland Area Intergroup at 825 N.E. 20th or online through this blog page. If you would like to purchase online, you will need to go to the WEB VERSION of this page to view the link to PayPal or Credit Card option.   Email me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com if you’d like more information



Wednesday, June 10, 2020

It seems that when one is preparing for a major life change, like retirement, people have opinions. People have opinions and advice and their own fears or excitement come pouring out. Their comments can be entertaining, annoying, valued, or terrifying, depending on where my center of energy is at the moment. If I’m feeling secure in my decisions, I can take what I like and leave the rest. When I’m a little shaky or insecure, I worry if I’m making the right move. It’s usually a little of both.

Things people ask/say to me about retiring: Where will you live? Will you work part time/doing what? Won’t you be bored? I would be bored. You’ll love it. It takes a year to adjust. Don’t jump into anything right away. Stay busy. I slept a lot at first. I’ll never retire. I can never afford to retire. I’m right behind you! (or just ahead). You’ll lose track of days (as in, every day feels like Saturday). Don’t over schedule. Don’t under schedule. From an older lady in the post office – "You’d better find something to do! I’m bored to death!" Thank goodness for our programs - you can increase your meetings! Lucky You! You’ll love it. You’ll love it. You’ll love it. You’ll be fine. And from one of my trusted others, in regards to last week's post about identity – “It’s like a free-fall.”

Whew! I am very much not an adrenaline junkie, despite my time as a meth addict. I’m afraid of sheer drop offs and cliffs, I don’t downhill ski, I would never bungee jump. And… the image of free-fall, as in flying, causes me to exhale deeply with delight. I sometimes use the Runes to access my inner wisdom, and lately have been pulling the stone that points to taking “an empty-handed leap into the void.” I can choose to view that void as a deep, dark chasm to be feared, or, a portal to an open meadow or long, sandy beach. As I stand on this precipice, this jumping off place, which will I choose?

It’s about transition, that moving from one place to another, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and it seems to be swirling all around me. Two friends retired in the last few weeks. Another is preparing to move, with her spouse, to a smaller town where they can afford to buy a house. Someone else is moving out of state after completing her degree. A spiritual sister has entered hospice after a long battle, preparing for her final journey. Some are proceeding with long term plans in spite of current events,while others are newly inspired by this covid time to ask, “What truly matters?” Time of my own. A home of our own. Family. Dying with dignity.

And the world feels in transition at the moment, both with the virus, and the enlarged attention to inequities that have gone on far too long. I read a meme recently that said maybe 2020 isn’t a mistake. Maybe 2020 is a hitting bottom of sorts, where we get to individually and collectively ask, “Now what?” I was reminded in a meeting over the weekend that working the Steps gives me the opportunity to keep asking “What else?” And then, “What else?” And then, “What else?,” again. What is it I need to learn at this exact moment in time?

A gift of these times are the Zoom meetings we can attend, anytime, anywhere. Two weeks ago, I “attended” the English-speaking meeting in Budapest that I’d gone to last fall, and then this weekend, “went” to a group in Bristol, England. What a beautiful thing, to be connecting to our fellowship in different places, only to hear the same words, the same concerns, the same joys. Today I am a grateful alcoholic (& member of Alanon).

 *  *  *  *  * 
Despite my thwarted efforts to arrange the lights and the actors, I did get out of the way and today my crew gave me a tailgate party in a parking lot across the street since we can’t officially gather in our county. My husband stopped by, to meet the people who’d been sending good thoughts while he was sick, and a few former co-workers joined in. A security guard rolled through and asked what we were doing, saying “Congratulations!” when we gave him the scoop. And then back inside, our clients gave me a lovely card along with some flowers picked from the grounds (with permission). In both settings, I shared the story of how I came to my career, out of my own treatment experience. It was a really good day. And it’s been a really good run. I am grateful for 30+ years of helping people change their lives. Officially, I've got three more days of work, but, essentially I'm done. I'm done and I'm amazed that this thing I've been planning for the last few years is actually happening. One day at a time, life moves on. What do they say? Sometimes the days drag, but the months and years fly by.

And now, I get to see what’s next!  What transitions are happening in your life, from the change of seasons to moving, to re-evaluating your place in the world or anything in between? How do you remember to open your palms with curiosity rather than clenching tight? How do you ride the wave of change?

NOTE: “I’ve Been Sober a Long Time – Now What? A workbook for the Joys & Challenges of Long Term Recovery” is a 78 page workbook, 8 ½ x11 format, with topics (such as grief, aging, sponsorship) that include a member’s view and processing questions. Available at Portland Area Intergroup at 825 N.E. 20th or online through this blog page. If you would like to purchase online, you will need to go to the WEB VERSION of this page to view the link to PayPal or Credit Card option.   Email me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com if you’d like more information