Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The topic in my morning meeting this week was the 9th Step, with a helpful reading from Alanon literature. Timely, and it hit me, as I listened to the importance of seeking guidance before making amends, that I’d had two people tell me the same thing in relation to the situation I mentioned last week, but felt it necessary to seek yet another opinion, after trying on my own to figure it out. I’m realizing that “figuring it out” with a brain that is stuck in the “I’m guilty and always will be” mode isn’t productive. As I've heard, the solution to the problem isn’t in the problem, so ruminating on the “coulda, woulda, shoulda” is a dead end road.  Someone who’s views I value responded to last week's post, sharing her experience of learning to trust her teachers. I think that part of that is learning to trust myself as well, and the work I've done to amend my behaviors. My current sponsor (door #3, who had same answer as doors 1 & 2) did suggest a concrete task that will (hopefully) allow me to drop this rock I’ve been carrying for so long. Stay tuned.

I was very fortunate to be invited to see the Rolling Stones in concert this past weekend, which involved a late evening and early (way early) flight – crazy trip that was totally worth every minute of lost sleep. If Mick and Keith can still rock it in their 70’s, I can too, in my 60’s! I’m not one for stadium concerts, but this was much fun, with people on the streets during the day in their Stones gear, and nearly everyone in the huge arena singing along to every number. I’ve always been one who craves experience over things, and this experience both drew on old memories and created a new one. I appreciated the camaraderie of the day – each one of us likely had a unique association with the music, but we collectively shared the moment as we danced in our seats.  It made me think of the program, and the joy of community. Our recovery community has to do with the shared experience of hitting bottom, however that may look individually, and finding our way out. Over the years I've found community in many different places, and am grateful for the ability to connect, whether for an evening or a lifetime.

And I must admit to a fairly sheltered life these days – I’m just not around active drinking much, and people at this show were getting hammered. I witnessed the dangerous spectacle of an inebriated woman falling into the row below (& the group effort it took to untangle and get her back to her right spot). I could feel the initial rise of self-righteousness – “Nothing worse than a sloppy drunk!” -  but that was quickly followed by compassion. I don’t know anyone who starts a fun evening by saying, “I think I’ll embarrass, and potentially hurt myself or someone else tonight! Cheers!” But, having broken the “stop” button, we go on until we fall over, puke, or someone cuts us off. I can only imagine what sorry state I’d be in today had I not found sobriety.  I'm grateful that the drinking life is not appealing; not in the least.

Responding to my Stones t-shirt in the airport at home, a woman told me she'd been to 21 of their shows and wondered if I was going to hit Seattle next. No, one and done for me, though her question made me think of what some call a bucket list. Years ago, before I got sober, a therapist gave me a printed form to fill in: "Everything I've Always Wanted to Do," telling me that there is psychic power in setting intention and writing it down. Over the years, what is on that list has changed, with some things removed (I never did buy a beach house) and some accomplished (I have walked on the Great Wall of China). There are still a few places I'd like to visit, and some things I'd like to do and to learn. For me, it is good to revisit and reevaluate my hopes and dreams every once in a while - what still fits who I am today? And, sometimes, something comes up, like the Stones concert, that I wouldn't have had on my list, but has contributed to my treasure trove of life experiences nonetheless.

Is there a grand adventure that you'd like to take, something you've always wanted to do or learn, or an item on your "someday" list?  What steps can you take to make that a reality? 

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

We just spent a couple of nights at the coast, in the little town I've been visiting since I was a kid. It's gotten pretty pricey, so these days we tend to go a bit north or south, but this particular spot holds decades of memories, from childhood capers with cousins, to weekend long cocaine & booze binges, to recovery meetings around a bonfire on the beach. This is also the place where we put my dad's ashes in 1980, and my mom's thirty-two years later - one of those places where my whole being exhales with the final curve of the highway and first sight of the sea, one of those places that feels like home.

Being the eighth month, I've been working on Step 8 regarding making amends. Most years, my 8th Step list includes myself (Where have I not been true to my heart? Where have I expected perfection rather than progress?), my spouse (Where could I have been more loving?) with the occasional employment, friendship or family snaggle to work through. This year, however, I'm confronting an old situation that is asking for attention.

Literally 50 years ago, I was involved with a guy who was not good for me on several different levels, but my 15 year old self tried to hold his attention by doing something that went against my values. I've talked with two sponsors about the situation over the years, and both advised that the matter was not mine to amend, other than to myself for the ways I desperately sought affection. Sometimes I've agreed with that, but it keeps coming up. I've gone years without thinking about the incident, only to have it bubble to the surface when I'm focusing on the amends process. I find myself feeling like a fraud, thinking that maybe I didn't give those early sponsors enough information, or maybe it's merely my over developed sense of guilt. I can make myself crazy trying to figure out my part, the wheels in my head turning over and over what might have been or what I should've done, then and in the ensuing years.

I realize that anything that tries to get my attention repeatedly requires action, so made the decision that this is the year I want to take responsibility where responsibility is due. Making the decision did not ease my discomfort, and, in fact, heightened it as I played out various outcome scenarios. Desperate to quiet my rattled brain, I took to the internet there on the deck of our beach front unit, in a desperate effort to DO SOMETHING NOW. I say, "thank you" to the power of the ocean that distracted me just long enough to remember the core principle of Step 9, which is, "Thou shalt not run off half-cocked without talking to your sponsor, lest you end up owing amends for your amends." 

I've had that conversation, and now have a Good Orderly Direction on how to proceed. Despite my years of recovery, I don't always know the right thing to do, especially with decades of emotional wrangling to untangle. Talking with a trusted other, who has no attachment to the story, I'm reminded that asking for help can be both the hardest, and the most rewarding aspect of our program. Nowhere in the Steps does it say, "I did it my way!"

Today, I seek the freedom that comes from practicing the principles in all my affairs, not just those that are convenient. If something from long ago bothers me, I need to talk about it, write about it, and meditate on it in order to get to the core of my dis-ease. My sponsor helped me outline a plan of appropriate action, and suggested that I then look to forgive myself. My first sponsor used to say, "If you'd known better, you would've done better." Well, I did know better, so the forgiveness part won't be easy. One day at a time, one right action at a time, I can move in that direction.

Are there any lingering episodes from your history that need attention? How has forgiveness of yourself and others shifted and changed over the years?

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

In another of my “field trip” meetings last week, the chairperson talked about his initial fear that he might be one of those people described in “How it Works” as unable to be honest with himself. His remarks got me thinking about my own journey towards external and internal honesty.

When I came into the program, truth was selective. I told one portion of the truth to my mother, another segment to my sort-of-ex, while I told myself yet another version. I would’ve claimed cash register honesty, but that wasn’t true given that I’d been using my boyfriend’s money (before he became the sort-of ex) to fund my lover’s meth lab. I wasn’t stealing from stores, but only because I didn’t have to, and truthfully, the thrill of shoplifting was one of my earliest adrenaline highs as a kid. I’ve kept a journal/diary since 5th grade, but even in my private writings, wasn’t always honest about my behavior, until, finally, I couldn’t hide from myself. The day after my scrawl literally fell off the page, I wrote about my addiction. I noted that I’d been on a self-destruct path since age 14, and couldn’t imagine what I’d done to deserve the level of punishment I’d been inflicting on myself since then. I did not make the, what now seems obvious, connection that at 14 I started drinking and my behavior deteriorated exponentially as the years went on. I had such a hard time admitting that I was an addict because I knew that meant I’d need to stop and I could not imagine what was on the other side. The process of fully conceding to my innermost self started with that journal entry, however winding the road to treatment a year or two later.

My honesty level vastly improved the minute I got sober because I stopped doing things I needed to lie about. In treatment, I came across a bit of paraphernalia in my belongings. I hesitated for a moment, thinking I could pass it on to one of my druggie friends, but realized that if I hung on to it, I was hanging on to the possibility that I might use it again myself. When I got home, I was no longer shooting dope, so didn’t need to lie to my mother or my sort-of ex or my best friends about what I was doing. I was honest with my new friends about the meth cook lover as I wrestled with how to either help him get clean or let him go. Getting to the place where the truth converged and I told the same story to everyone, because it wasn’t a story, was more liberating than I would’ve imagined.

Emotional honesty was another thing. I wasn’t consciously trying to be dishonest with my feelings, but I didn’t exactly know what they were. I remember cringing in meetings when the topic was “Emotional Honesty” because I literally had no idea what they were talking about. The idea of truly knowing what I was feeling, and trusting enough to share that with another person, was a halting journey. Scared. I knew scared – of you, of the unknown, of the “what next?” question. I knew when I was excited/agitated – from too much caffeine, that cute guy across the room, the thrill of waking up clear-headed. And I knew sad – mourning the ending of the relationship with the man who’d put me through treatment, grieving my father’s death without the buffer of chemicals, thinking of the “what if’s” that I’d squandered along the way.  I knew the feelings, but couldn’t always connect them to what was really going on. I blamed you, or him, or the great big world. I distracted, with caffeine or activity, or impulsive decisions. Eventually, and I do mean eventually, the spinning top that was my psyche slowed to a stop. It wasn’t until I could hold still that I could listen for the quiet voice, the internal knowing that had been buried for so long. It was then that I was able to unravel the emotional ties to my past and to my childhood, to make the connections between history and present reactions, to be able to answer the question, “How am I feeling?” honestly and openly. I wasn’t trying to be dishonest with myself – I just didn’t know what I didn’t know.

How does emotional dishonesty manifest in my life today, now that, theoretically, I do know what I know? I think of times that I expect my spouse to read my mind, or when I fib on my food plan. I think of the times I believe the whispering lure of isolation, or busyness, or when I think I should push on instead of resting. Emotional honesty today means accepting that I am a human being, not perfect, not striving Every.Single.Day, just a person on the path – sometimes strolling, sometimes skipping, sometimes on my hands and knees. In the past, I wanted to already be there, wherever that was. Today, I am more appreciative of the journey itself.

How have your views, or your practice, of honesty with self and others evolved over time? Do you have at least one person who you can be real with about your feelings, your fears, your hopes and your dreams?

** On 8/4, will publish a piece of my writing on being sober a long time. I’m grateful for the support, and say, “Welcome!” to any of those readers who find their way here. Please, join the conversation...

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

On Saturday, we held a “Cousin’s Reunion” at Wilshire Park in NE Portland, which I refer to as our ancestral homeland, given that four of us practically lived there on weekends during high school. That ground is steeped in memories – some good, some not so good, some foggy through the haze of cannabis, mescaline and cheap wine. If those trees could talk...  I often jog through the park on my morning run these days, remembering twirling on the merry-go-round after chugging from a stolen bottle of Spanada or Bali Hai in order to get drunk faster, sitting in a large circle passing a joint, and the shouts to “run!” when a police car climbed the curb (though they usually just told us to go home).

A sense of place figures strongly in who I am today. Years ago, when a friend and I visited Istanbul, I wondered at how it might shape a person to grow up in the midst of such antiquity. Here in the NW, the oldest things are trees, but I, too, am shaped by my surroundings – the soothing sound of rain on the roof, mossy sidewalks, spring flowering who’s intensity brings to mind a mild hallucinogen. My city has changed, with increased density, traffic, and long-time residents displaced to create trendy shopping districts, and it is home.

Like all of us, my sense of home and my sense of self have also been formed by people, more specifically, my people. We’ve grown into various and divergent ends of political spectrums and social theories, but we share solid parenting, childhood capers and a dry sense of humor. We don’t see each other much anymore, with our matriarchs gone, living in different places, and the general busyness of later adulthood, so our relationships can feel tenuous, yet timeless with the deep knowing of shared histories. Life moves on, and, I appreciate this opportunity to reconnect in person with the sweetness of the “how are you’s?” that we really do want to know. I am reminded that we are there for each other should the need arise. 

Kind of like in our meetings. I’ve seen our recovery community come together to help people move (sometimes suddenly), prepare for a new baby, walk through a divorce, attend funerals as support. We are “people who normally would not mix,” and we show up for each other.

I chose not to attend my high school’s all-year’s gathering the day after our family reunion, needing to show up for myself. I needed a dose of solitary self-care after 24 hours of intense interaction time. I can only do so much “conversating” before hitting the reset button. In the not-so-distant past, I was addicted to more, to not missing anything, so would push myself beyond healthy limits. No longer. Recognizing my need for down time has been one of the benefits of the self-examination we get to do in our inventory process. I’m cranky – what’s going on? No, it’s not your responsibility. Perhaps I am hungry, angry, lonely or tired? Or maybe it’s that I’ve been over-eating, or need some alone time. The HALTS evolve just as I do. I can feel just as uncomfortable in my skin from eating unhealthy food as being hungry, from being “over-peopled” to feeling lonely. And “tired” takes many forms – physical, emotional and spiritual.

What are the manifestations of your HALTs these days? Any changes or additions to the basics?

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