Wednesday, December 11, 2019

I few years ago, I was at the HOWL conference in Hood River, perusing the literature table with a friend. As I thumbed through the various daily readers and other texts, many of which I own or recognize, I said, “I’m in long term recovery – where is my literature?” We laughed, and I joked, “Maybe I should write it.” Later that evening, as my husband and I enjoyed pizza on the waterfront, it hit me: Maybe I should write it! Maybe should write a book on long term recovery.

Out of that initial idea came this blog as I wrapped my mind around what and how I would write for those of us who've been sober a long time. I started these weekly posts on 5/14/16 and am honored to have readers locally, as well as in Madison, Seattle, and the Oregon coast, along with Dubai, Prague and Mexico. After a share on the AA Agnostica website (www.aaagnostica.org), I believe there are some Canadians out there as well. Thank you, all, for your participation in the conversation, whether that is in person, via email, or the occasional comment on the page (Please! Share your thoughts with other readers!).

In the meantime, the idea struck of a workbook with topics and processing questions, including input from others on the path. Because I am a somewhat haphazard writer, it has taken awhile to gel, but I’m very happy to announce that the workbook is at the printers and will (hopefully) be ready to market before the new year. Stay tuned.

Over the years, I’ve come to recognize that when an idea seems to come from nowhere, it is usually meant to be, especially if it feels too big for what I think I can handle. The intuitive thought doesn’t usually show up in neon lights, but the still, small voice is insistent and doesn’t brush off easily, though it can take time to realize the message. Often, those gentle nudges come to the surface when I’m journaling, or out for a quiet, early morning run. The world often feels far too noisy, which clutters my already busy brain. Intentionally seeking quiet helps me silence the internal chatter, as does remembering to take a deep breath.

And I’ve had to do a lot of breathing lately as life-on-life’s-terms has hit in anticipated and unexpected ways, most notably with health concerns for my loved ones. With some challenging medical news on Monday, I now realize that I immediately went into “fix it” mode until I sat in my Alanon circle Tuesday morning and began to cry. I was reminded, in yet another helpful after-the-meeting parking lot conversations, that it is ok to be concerned, that it is ok to feel. Exhale. While it is my default/old tape to move from information directly to action, I was reminded that acceptance and turning it over are vital if I want any peace of mind.

Later that afternoon I went to the grocery store, and ran into an old high school friend, and then a grade school pal, and a co-worker.  As I walked to my car, I stepped over a syringe cap, reminding me of what life used to be like, and as I turned my face to feel the rain, I felt myself sink back into my body. Yes. All is well todayLife goes on. Groceries are bought, beds are made, cats are fed, doctors phone. I can honor and experience my emotions, and by doing so, allow them to move through. It’s only when I try to stay in super efficient-mode that my feelings come out sideways and I find myself taking my car keys into the bathroom, or missing a familiar turn because I’m so wrapped up in non-productive thought. 

One day at a time, one day at a time, one day at a time. As much as it annoys me, I am SO not in charge. But, also, I am so not alone. My loved ones and I have such support and caring. When I give it even a moment's thought, I know we'll be alright, one day at a time.

What dreams are trying to get your attention?  When have you listened to your heart and taken a leap of faith that was the right thing at the right time?  If struggling with acceptance, what can you do today to move from your head to your heart?

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

I did some traveling down Memory Lane this weekend at a friend's 60th birthday celebration. She's long since moved out of town, but what a delight to see her, and the other two members of our early recovery crew. Meetings and potlucks and conferences galore! We were in each other's weddings, and attended the memorial for one of our's husband, gone far too soon. For several years, after I'd acquired a video recording camera back in the pre-cell phone & tablet dark ages, we recorded "Dreams & Goals," a sometimes rambling, giggle-filled commentary on what we thought life would be like in the coming years. Staying sober topped the list, along with getting married (though most of us were single), maybe having kids and/or a career, writing a book - basically we had no idea, which didn't stop us from being shy and silly in front of the camera. A couple of years ago, my husband inadvertently donated this old VCR tape to Goodwill. When I started to cry, said husband (a definite keeper) made his way to the distribution center and miraculously retrieved it. I need to watch it again and see what of those early intentions came to be.

Time. Time passing; time creeping or speeding by, depending on whether I'm looking forward to something or not, or simply not paying much attention. I heard several good messages in my weekend meetings regarding surrender, which somehow feels related to the idea of time passing, which it will – whether I’m ready or not. It feels like just yesterday that my friends and I were enjoying slumber parties and trips to the coast, but it’s been more like 30 years – 30 years full of life-on-life’s terms, jobs and illnesses, break ups and make ups, some of us going to meetings, some not, and the ability to pick up the conversation as if we’d seen each other last week. Time passes. People and situations change, as do I, thank goodness. I still carry around the character defaults that plagued me when I first got into recovery, but with time and Step work, their hold is less a death grip than a gentle reminder that I am human. And, I hold dear to my heart the friendships that guided me through those early years of exploration: Who am I? What is it I like to do? What are my values?

On another note, I had a good “parking lot conversation” with a fellow Alanon member yesterday morning. She’s new(ish) to recovery and has just had the light bulb moment of awareness that her parent’s illness was not her fault. Talk about a journey! It took decades for the true understanding of that fact to move from my head to my heart. I could tell you that I knew it, but until I felt it in my gut, with a sense of true compassion for the little girl who thought her daddy would be ok if she were “enough” as well as for my alcoholic father, who carried his own internal demons, I was trapped. The awareness didn’t just happen – I’d done therapy and multiple inventories around my childhood. But what I know is that I can only prepare myself for the change we ask for in Step 7 – the actual shift isn’t something I can conjure up just because I want it. For me, it was a dramatic moment, but sometimes the hoped for change comes subtly and I realize one day that, “Oh, I don’t do that anymore.” Or “Hmmm – did I actually just pause?”

Surrendering to the moment – at work, at home, in my head – is part of that preparation for the magic of the Steps to take hold. Surrendering to the busyness of the holiday season, surrendering to changes in friendships over time, surrendering the circumstances of others’ lives, surrendering my own recovery trajectory. I do the “work” (showing up, self-care, practicing the principles), period. Just because I meditate extra hard, or am a good sponsor, or blah, blah, blah, doesn’t mean that I’m rewarded with joy and positivity. Life happens. Surrender means that I give up the illusion of control, and through that, gain the strength and good humor to walk through whatever shows up on any given day. Sometimes the One Day at a Time concept seems too simple to wrap my complicated mind around. Other days, I say, yes - just for today.

This time of year I have several rituals to mark the season: I go through my new wall calendar and write in birthdays and important dates, we decorate a tree with our daughter, and at Solstice, I share with a group of women what I want to release from the old year and bring in to the new. What, if any, seasonal rituals do you participate in, either solo or as a group?


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

I've been talking to, or stopping by to see my friend every day since the "c" word (cancer) was spoken aloud. We still don't have a prognosis or treatment options, but that ugly word is floating in space - once uttered, a word like that can take on a life of its own. I see my role as a tether to the here & now, not there & then - a tough place to be when my own feelings are on high alert. Hence meetings, meditation, talks with good friends. And paying attention to where my own historical grief is triggered. Potential loss triggers acute memory of other losses, and I find myself in this dark and poignant time of year, thinking of those who’ve left this plane during the autumn and winter months: my dear mother, cousin Doug, my friend's sister Janet, teacher & friend Jayna, my ex Hassan, dear Walt... I know that we each have our list.

I stopped by his house last Wed. We touched on the medical stuff, but mostly talked about the upcoming Thanksgiving meal, keeping it positive, keeping it light. As I headed towards my regular meeting and turned on to the busy four-lane boulevard, bumper-to-bumper at 6pm, it felt like I'd entered a gentle flow with multiple drivers letting cars in from the side streets, making room for each other. I felt the spirit of the holidays deep in my heart, the kindness of strangers as we made our way in the dark. With my emotions in a fragile place, I found myself tearing up as “Rocky Mountain High”, of all things, came on the radio, with that swelling of feeling that is sadness and joy wrapped into one. A few miles later, a group a pre-teen boys danced at a bus stop, not to the song I was listening to, but in perfect time with that rock & roll 4/4 beat. Again the tears as I reflected on the beauty and brevity of this frail human life. One day we're dancing at a bus stop, or in the school gym, or at a noisy club. Blink a few times, and we're at the end of a stethoscope, hearing what no one wants to hear.
As Mary Oliver so beautifully writes, "What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" I ask myself that question, often with a "what have I done?" spin.  I think about life and death and all that comes between. I think about my powerlessness over so very much. I think about the continuum, especially now that I'm officially an elder. I will say that it's easier to accept  life and death as part of the spectrum when it is death and illness in general we’re talking about - way harder when it is yourself or a loved one. Harder still when it comes in multiples, like it is for several of my friends. All we can really do is love each other. All we can really do is let the car into our lane, smile at the boys at the bus stop, and share a Thanksgiving meal.

And today, all is well. Pies are baking, house is clean(ish). Tomorrow, our small family will gather, plus one. We will look at old photo albums, stick olives on the ends of our fingers like when we were kids, and likely eat a bit too much. I’ll put up the Christmas lights over the weekend, go on a hike , attend a breakfast potluck, go to a 60th birthday celebration, and attend a memorial for a grade school classmate who just passed. As we officially enter December, I will be mindful of giving myself the gift of quiet amongst the holiday hustle & bustle, noting the restful nature of darkness as we move towards Solstice, always and forever, one day at a time.

Today, I am grateful for my recovery community, which includes you, dear reader, wherever you are. May the spirit of gratitude and giving thanks carry you along, this day and always. What is on your gratitude list today?


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Those who read my blog on the web page www.soberlongtime.com will notice “Now What Workbook pending” along with PayPal options in the upper corner. I am hoping to have the workbook ready before the new year, which might be a good time for self-reflection. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

I've sat in literally 1,000's of meetings over the years - sometimes propping my eyes open to stay awake and other times, rocketed into the fourth dimension. I hear such simple brilliance, often from the least expected source, and often write down what moves me so I don't forget the minute I walk out the door. In cleaning my desk this weekend, I came across a note reminding me that I can't worry myself to a safe place. On another piece of paper, I'd jotted down, "I might be able to outrun something chasing me from the outside, but I'll never outrun what's chasing me on the inside." Whew. How true is that? And thank you to the anonymous persons in some meeting(s) over the last few years who uttered those words. 

I've been engaging in "pre-traumatic stress disorder" over the past week (another borrowed term), trying to anticipate how I will emotionally handle a good friend’s illness. The doctor hasn't given a prognosis, but that hasn't stopped me from putting one foot in the past and one in the future, trying to see what cannot be seen. I wasn’t in the line when crystal balls were passed out, but my mind sure over-amps with the “what if’s” and imaginary scenarios.

Life is messy, and the more I'm able to remember that, the better for my peace of mind. As a kid, I wanted people and situations set in concrete. Predictable meant safety, or so I thought. I still prefer structure - for example, my lunches for the work week are made. But, and that is a huge BUT, or rather, AND, very little in this life turns out perfectly, whether that is the pretend vision of a Hallmark holiday, or the trajectory of someone's illness.

Though, what is my definition of “perfect?” As I think about it, I have experienced pretty darned close to perfect many, many times. I made a great pot of soup this weekend - a perfectly seasoned mix. I think back to a bike ride with friends in NYC one November, ending in the brilliant fall colors of Central Park. That was a perfect day. Our wedding day was too warm, and I wish I could go back and experience it again in slow motion, but that was a perfect occasion full of laughter and love. I could probably list 300 more days, events, or interactions that were absolutely perfect, in the moment and in retrospect.  

So what is the difference between what I see as perfect and what I view as not? My attitude? My concern for another’s perceived pain (emotional or physical)? Maybe it’s the whole classification thing, the belief that some things are “good” and some are “bad” when in reality, life just “is.” For every “perfect” day, there are as many that were just so-so, and probably as many that were painful or sad or just plain hard. A line from an old blues song comes to mind – “You’ve got to take the bitter with the sweet.” As much as I may prefer “happy, joyous and free,” life is life. 

The 12x12, in Step 10, says that “it is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed...there is something wrong with us.” (p. 90). I agree, in principle. I know that “acceptance is the key” and the something “wrong” with me is that I am a feeler, an empath, I care. I can philosophically understand I will have no peace until I settle in to what is, but I reserve the right not to like it.

So many of my friends are experiencing loss right now – of good friends, family members, old classmates, loss related to their own aging process...  This is part of the deal, and a challenge. For me, a big part of the challenge is being mindful to not cross the line between compassion and care-taking, of trying to control (fear) and relaxing in to the process. One day at a time, I am grateful for our program, and for strong relationships where I can deal with my emotions so that I can show up for others with integrity and grace. Again and always, self-care is key.

On a positive note, today is the 10th anniversary of the first date with my dear husband. I could never have predicted how sweet this is when we had that first conversation at a potluck. The crystal ball failed me there too! (thank goodness) Again one day at a time, I am grateful that I didn’t run away, that I held still long enough to see what would unfold.

Are there times that you’ve tried to predict what would happen in the future, or worried yourself into a snit? How do the Steps and the fellowship bring you back to today?