Wednesday, May 20, 2020

"It’s not true that life is one damn thing after another; it is one damn thing over and over.”  
  ~ Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna wasn’t writing about “stay home, stay safe,” but she sure could’ve been. While things are visibly loosening up here, the days can still feel like a perpetual Groundhog Day, the movie where Bill Murray lives the same twenty-four hours over and over again. In most of the meetings (zoom) I’m attending, folks are sharing about their ups and downs, from acceptance to irritation to fear and back again, as well as gratitude for our individual circumstances, especially sobriety. If I were drinking & drugging, I can almost guarantee I wouldn’t be following any old stay-at-home orders. But, I learned in early recovery that whatever I'm feeling in the moment will pass (happy or sad, good mood or pissy). My challenge is not to make any major decisions when I'm in a funk.

I've come to realize, yet again, that one of my coping skills, and one I overlook too often, is the power of connection. Last Friday, I went for a (masked & distanced) walk with a good friend I don't see much anymore. During the course of our visit, I apologized for letting "life" get in the way of time together. The drift came on subtly - new husband, conflicting schedules, the couch calling my name after work...   And then I wake up and realize I've been married nearly 9 years and what started as an adjustment has become habit. Living with someone for the first time in just under a decade, I relished both together time and the luscious solitude between our shifts. I guarded that time, which meant less hanging out with friends. I usually just want to get home. Some of that home urge is probably a natural evolution of aging - I need to pace myself in ways I've never had to before. No matter what my internal self thinks, I am old.  And, I'm very aware that’s a privilege. Sunday was the anniversary of my father’s birthday. He died at 56. I will always regret not having a sober, adult relationship with him, in the category of “if I’d known then what I know now." I can use his brief life as a reminder to truly live today, which means both celebrating all that goes in to the word “home” and maintaining and nurturing my important and valuable friendships.

Someone in a meeting this weekend reminded herself of the slogan “Get out of the hallway,” related to the annoying adage that “god doesn’t close one door without opening another.”  Ugh, and not always true. Sometimes I need to hang out in the hallway for a while. The trick is not to set up a lawn chair and get comfy. Right now I am very much in-between, not very productive at work, while itching to make that final leap into freedom. My replacement was designated last week - one more step in this part of the journey.

My husband’s first sponsor often said to him, “Do the work and the gifts will come.” Yes. Sometimes the gifts of recovery are wrapped in sorrow, loss or change, and sometimes in ribbons of joy. Either way, all I really need to do is suit up and show up, just like the old timers used to say. Suit up, show up, and pay attention to those little nudges that say, "Pick up the phone."

What are your coping mechanisms when life feels either topsy-turvy or outright boring? If where you live is opening back up, how do you feel about that, and how will you continue efforts to stay safe while venturing out? What does suiting up and showing up look like for you 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

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

As I've been noting on these pages, my intended last day of work is June 15, capping off a 30+ year career and 10 years at my current employer. I had grand plans for my departure, including two work parties and a big celebration with friends, as well as traveling to the AA International Convention in Detroit, plus lots of free concerts in the parks over the summer. Cancelled, cancelled, cancelled. Zilch, nada, never mind.

Because of the virus, we are down two staff  and are limited to the services we do provide based on our Governor's order of no more than 10 people in a room. This has made for some creative finagling of space and time, while wearing masks and gloves. Never a dull moment as we try to recreate a program after 49 days of "stay home, stay safe," and I'm busier on the front lines than I've been in years.

To that end, I've twice offered to stay a little longer, or come back part time. They haven't yet chosen my replacement, and I hate to leave my co-workers in the lurch. The first time I offered, my supervisor said, "That's ok" and the second time, she ignored my question. I'm taking the hint that it is time for me to go.

I realized, over the weekend, that I have a case of separation anxiety. Saying "good bye" is not something I'm very good at, be it a job or a relationship that no longer fits. Heck, I hang on to cardboard boxes, and houseplants that are way past their prime. I attach, which can be a nice thing in the long run, but not always in the short. Sometimes, you just have to let go.

I naturally find myself reflecting on my career as I clean out files at the office and think about the journey from frightened and self-conscious trainee to competent professional. The funny thing is, on paper, I didn't qualify for the last 3 jobs I've had, but was in the right place at the right time. I can use that as an example of getting what I need, when I need it during these bouts of insecurity.

And so, my lesson, in these final months, continues to be about letting go - of what I think I need, of how I think things will work out, of what is next. Those would be lessons of a major life change on a good day - even more so during this time of covid when what we know shifts from one day to the next. Suit up and show up - those early instructions continue to apply, despite my efforts to complicate matters.

So much of what I've done since getting sober has felt like a calling, something my psyche pressed me to do: my long career in addictions treatment, pursuing a Master's Degree, completing my novel, writing the Now What? workbook... That also applies to certain jobs and relationships, whether getting in or getting out. When I get still, I know what to do - which doesn't mean I don't then question my decisions. I'm coming to understand that doubt is part of the process.

I suppose, then, that a bit of separation anxiety is to be expected. What do I do with those feelings? Today I wrote a recommendation for the person I hope gets my job, and started to cry - for me, for him, for the next phase of both our journeys. I was alone in my office, and let the tears flow, anticipating that there will be more in the coming weeks. I can remember that "being human is not a character defect" and that sadness and grieving is a reflection of love. I've loved my career, and I've been good at it. I can celebrate that as I step away, knowing that the good work I started will continue, one person at a time, one day at a time.

When I stumbled through the steps of a smoke-filled treatment program in 1986, I had absolutely no idea where the path would lead. It was not my intention that my decision to take a break would turn into a lifetime of abstinence and recovery. I could not have imagined the wonderful and tragic places the journey has taken me thus far. I wonder what's next?

What do you do when faced with the need to make a decision, big or small? How do you handle any creeping doubts? What helps you trust the process?


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, May 6, 2020

Following last week's post, a reader asked which Steps I adhere to, in inventory and otherwise. The short answer is, "many." I was raised in AA in the Big Book. Over the years I've done the Step 4 columns as outlined, various worksheets, and most often, a pen-to-paper narrative of what's on my mind. In small groups, or solo, I've worked through the Steps via the 12x12, the Alanon literature, A Woman's Way Through the Twelve Steps (S. Covington), One Breath at a Time (K. Griffin), and whatever else may have crossed my path, including a group I've participated in for several years following the format from a Lila R workshop. I'm currently appreciating The Alternative 12 Steps (M. Cleveland and Arlys O), a secular guide to recovery. My most recent 4th Step was from a format that lists current fears, and discerns whether they are real or imagined. I am not a purist when it comes to working a program.

I'm also not hardcore about much of anything other than "Don't pick up." In early recovery, I met with a group of women every week to explore various spiritual paths. Once we did Hindu chants, another time, guided meditation; one week prayers to Mary, another, drumming. Having grown up with a linear view of the world, I cried out in frustration one week - "Which one is right?!" My friends answered, in unison, "They all are!"

And that's how it works for me, today. I am of the "Take what you like and leave the rest" club, as well as "We cease fighting anything or anyone" (big book, p. 84). In early recovery, the capital "G" god bothered me, and still does to an extent, as it implies a certain brand of dogma. But, as one of my treatment counselors was known to say, "Oh well..."  I have become fluent in translating the "god" to grace-over-drama (thanks to a sponsee), group of drunks, great outdoors, etc. I don't fight the literature today. I do form it into what works for me, or seek something that does. The "He" of the "We" is bothersome, but in most meetings in Portland, readers feel comfortable substituting "She" or "It" or removing gender all together where possible (though that can make for some very awkward sentences). I do hope that future versions of the big book or 12x12 modify the gender-specific language, but for the moment, I'm able to work with what's in front of me.

And that's the point for me - the Steps work in my life, whatever slant I may put on them at any given time: I surrender to what is. I get out of my own way. I examine what stands between me and serenity and how my behaviors impact others. I talk about that with a trusted other. I amend what needs amending. And I strive to live in such a way that my actions don't hurt others going forward. And you, please, do what works for you. I know that there are many paths that lead to sobriety, and many roads to follow in recovery - programs, religion, family connections, meditation, walks in the woods.  And, some people just quit. More power to them. If the hell of your addiction and alcoholism was anything like the hell of mine, do whatever it takes to get and stay out, and maintain a bit of sanity and serenity along the way. I needed a structure to crawl my way out. How I've used that structure, or modified it, and gone back to basics only to drift off in another direction again, has changed over the years - as it should (in my opinion). My first sponsor used to say, "You grow or you go." I take that to mean in my spiritual life as well as my dealings in the world.

My old buddy, Boxcar Leonard, was an atheist. He had a whale of a story, drinking sterno while riding the rails, shipwrecked in the South Pacific, shanghaied out of a bar and waking up 3 days at sea. He'd occasionally mention his lack of a belief in a higher power, but mostly that was a private matter between him and his sponsor. What he did believe in was AA and the power of recovery, and he shared that far and wide (at least up and down the I-5 corridor). And when we said the Serenity Prayer at the end of a meeting, he skipped the "God" and joined in on "Grant me the serenity." It worked for him.

That being said, I know that words matter, and I have choices today. If something doesn't feel right, I can move along. I can ask others what they're paying attention to, what drives them, what inspires them. Long term recovery has ended up being a series of trying things on to see what fits. My spiritual resources and connections are my spiritual resources and connections. Sometimes I celebrate that with like-minded others, but mostly, mine is a quiet surrender, a seeking to hush the internal chatter so that I can hear the still, small voice of wisdom.

I am back at work after nearly 50 days away. Getting dressed and leaving the house in the morning has felt a little like, as a kid, putting shoes back on in September after running around barefoot all summer. And it is good. And it is temporary, as I eye my retirement date mid-June. A few people have asked what I plan to do next, as in consult or work part time. I am heeding those further along the path who, to a person, counsel against rushing into just another version of an agenda. Take your time before diving in to the next thing, they tell me. Don't be in a hurry to fill your calendar, they advise. Listen for what it is you want to do rather than what you think you should do. I will do my best to simply show up.

Welcome to any new readers prompted by the AA Agnostica post this week. Though most readers tend to "converse" with the topic via email, I do welcome any comments you may want to add to this page. Glad you are here.

And so, what are your spiritual resources at this point in your recovery, and has that changed over time? How do you work the Steps - from a book, a format, or your own interpretation? How is your recovery helping you manage in these strange times?  Stay safe...


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, April 29, 2020

Many years ago, nearly 40, to be exact, I converted to Islam, on paper anyway. I went through the ceremony massively hung over (not an auspicious beginning, and it was all downhill from there). Like much of what I was doing, it seemed like a good idea at the time. I was in a relationship with a semi-secular Muslim man, and without consciously knowing it, was looking for some sort of outside structure to help me feel ok on the inside. It didn't work.

Today, I am not a practicing anything (other than a 12 stepper) but I do note that it is the month of Ramadan in the Islamic world. Ramadan, like Lent for Christians, is the ritual of giving something up for a time period in order to move beyond the mundane. But it's not just about the giving up. As in all ritual, the true meaning lies deeper than the superficial act. In her book about marriage to a Muslim man, The Accidental Jihad, Krista Bremer notes that "Ramadan was meant to break our rigid habits of over indulgence, the ones that slipped into our lives as charming guests and then refused to leave...[not just] the big addictions...but the little ones that took us gently by the hand and led us stealthily away from the truth." In looking at her habits, she writes, "I began to notice how much of my thinking revolved around what I would consume next," be that food or media or old ideas.

Having just completed the 12 Step ritual of a Step Four and Five, I'm thinking of Six and Seven, which can be a brief review,  moving on to Eight and Nine, as instructed in the Big Book, or an occasion for deeper awareness of what it is that comes between me and my spiritual center, me and true serenity. Do I say, "Yeah, I want to be rid of this or that characteristic," then keep doing the same old things, or do I look beyond the apparent defect for the underlying belief or rationalization?

For example, am I so enamored of my own thoughts that I don't notice the brilliant azalea blooms on my morning run? Do I tell myself "just one more" when I know that sugar can be a compulsion? I once heard that whatever I think about most becomes a higher power - romance and finance are big ones for people like us. Or it could be my plans and designs, rationalizing just a few more minutes on social media, my calendar - anything that keeps my brain busy and distracted from the stillness that is my inner guide.

During this time of slow-down, I've been better able to observe my thinking, watching where my mind runs off on its own. I believe it was Marieanne Williamson who wrote, "I'm powerless over my first thought, but not my second." How often do I follow myself down the rabbit hole of obsession, self-righteousness or fear, all of which serve to take me further and further from inner peace? I don't practice a religious renunciation, but I can practice the detachment from my automatic thoughts that the program encourages.

I'm coming to the end of my personal slow down, going back in to work on Friday. It will be very different, providing services at a 6 foot distance, but I will be back at my desk for the final month of my career. I am both relieved and a little nervous, compounded by reflecting on this 50 day break when maybe I should've accomplished more, or at the very least, experienced an epiphany or two. I am not alone in thinking I should be doing/feeling/discovering MORE during this pause. Truthfully, this is new territory for all of us, and is slightly disorienting. I missed a regularly scheduled sponsee call yesterday because I forgot it was Tuesday.

I've had flashes of apprehension at the level of busy I'll be going back to, but remind myself that I'm talking about just 29 work days. I can do anything for 29 days. Ha! There was a monumental a gal in Portland AA when I first came in -  Phyllis S - a big lady with lots of red hair. She was a fire and brimstone speaker, and at some point in her talk, as she described the ODAT concept, her voice would rise a few decibels and she'd shout out, "I can do anything for 24 hours! I can hold my finger up a tiger's ass for 24 hours, so I can surely go without a drink, one day at a time!"  She, and others like her, got my attention, and let me know that maybe, I, too, could do this thing called recovery - no matter what.

In the many years since, I've had my own versions of the tiger, times when I held on for dear life. Change is rarely easy, even if I choose it myself. So, I breathe into transition - from all-day pj's to work garb, from enjoying this time with my spouse to putting on a mask and going into the world, from work-at-home mode back to the trenches. And when the time comes, I will do it in reverse, letting go of my work identity in order to discover what's next.

How are you doing as the slow-down continues? Has your state passed its peak? How are you staying sane and serene, whether that is via the Steps or jigsaw puzzles or neighborhood walks?  Stay safe...

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