Wednesday, December 12, 2018

I am writing this in limbo, having received word late last week that someone very important to me is in hospital on the other end of the country, in renal failure. What I'm told by a friend who is there, is that it is terminal and just a matter of time.

A matter of time - God's time, not ours. I often say that I don't believe in a puppet-master god, but that's what it has felt like this past year. Having reconnected with my first husband, making living amends and rekindling a nice friendship, I was feeling that the only missing link from those days was another ex - the man I was with when I hit bottom. We'd had a very intense relationship that encompassed the ending of my marriage, my father's death, his brother's heart attack, and Mt St Helen's erupting, among other things. It ended (though that itself was protracted) when I was unable to put down the needle. But God bless him, seriously. By all rights he could've kicked me to the curb and no one would've been surprised. Instead, he worked with my cousin to get me into treatment - paid for it, and then helped me get on my feet in that crucial first year of sobriety so that I could focus on recovery. I am eternally grateful to him for essentially saving my life. We had only sporadic contact over the past 10-15 years - he'd gotten married and had four kids (after a 1st marriage with another four children). Events transpired in his life last winter, resulting in his sister-in-law reaching out to me with his phone number.

We've had several good and necessary conversations over the past year, which felt like prayer answered. And then, feeling in my gut that something was wrong, I got word that he is in hospital. I am heartbroken, and so very grateful for the re-connection that we've had.

I was struck by the irony on Sunday that while I was completing a half marathon, the person who insisted that I go to treatment was dying, likely from the effects of his alcoholism. Life certainly hasn't turned out the way I thought it would. And I'm seeing the stark reminder of the benefits of recovery, thinking of dear Walt, who outlived a 30 year diagnosis of liver disease by living a sober life, compared to my ex, who didn't.

My ex is a good man. Was Walt a better man? What about Richard, my meth cook lover who died of an overdose so many years ago. He was a good man too. I think of young Jenny, who drank herself to death, and Brad, who took his own life, and countless others over the years who've died directly or indirectly from the disease. And then I think of those of us who have been able to walk away from the darkness. I know it has something to do with willingness, with suiting up, but I still don't understand the mechanics of the thing.

How do you quantify desire? How do you measure willingness, the willingness to step through the fear of doing something you've never done before, without the buffer of drugs or alcohol? How, exactly, does surrender happen, that moment when something snaps inside and you say, "I just can't do this anymore"?  It is certainly not logic - we all know that you can't think your way out of addiction. And you can't just feel yourself sober either. If that were the case, a bad case of the "what did I just do?" would've led straight to recovery. The surrender that we hear so much about is the spiritual equivalent of laying oneself bare, flat out "God, take me," and then being willing to stay in that terrifying place of not knowing what's next.

The Steps outline it perfectly, especially when I read them through the lens of desperation. One is that I am utterly and totally powerless. What a place to be, and one that takes so long to realize. Thank goodness for Two, the coming to believe that we can be restored, and then Three, making the decision to trust. We then have the task of putting pen to paper to determine what, exactly, we are turning over, and then in blessed Step Seven, say "My Creator, I'm now willing that you have all of me." Here I am, coming out of the fog, lost and confused. Guide me, please.

The ongoing relevance of our program is that I can apply that one, two, three & beyond to whatever troubles me, though I still need to have that moment of remembering that I am not in charge, which usually comes after beating my head against the wall of self-will. "Figure it out" is not one of the Steps, though how I do try.

So today, I balance sadness with gratitude. I pray that my dear friend is at peace, however this chapter of his story turns out, forever grateful for where and how our stories intersected.

Several times over the years I've had those God-shot coincidences of crossing paths with the exact person I needed to talk with. What about you, and how did that turn out?  Where do you find your place of surrender today, with whatever part of the "ism" that you struggle with?


Wednesday, December 5, 2018

I was honored and privileged, over the weekend, to sit with a small group in hospital as our good friend, Walt G, made his transition. Such a blessing, these program relationships. At one point, the ER nurse asked, “So how are you related?” We decided that  “cousins” fit – different last names, same story, though with variations. As we stood by his bed and said the Serenity Prayer, I felt the power of the “we,” the power of connection, the power of love, for our friend, and for his long-term partner. No matter what my dis-ease sometimes whispers to me, there is nothing in this life that we need to walk through alone.

At one point, during a nurse hand-off, it was mentioned that our friend had cirrhosis, from alcoholism. I felt it important to speak up and note that yes, alcoholism, but that he’d been sober for 30 years. The “cunning, baffling and powerful” of this disease is that it sometimes gets us long after the drinking is done. Our friend had a good, long life in recovery.

So I'm thinking, today, about life on life’s terms – the highs and the lows and everything in between.  Contrary to what the old timers used to say, there are big deals, though even the little deals can trigger my emotional roller coaster.  We switched out our big Christmas tree for a table model this week, which means the opportunity to trim down the holiday decor. But, it isn't just "holiday decor." It is memories of the Christmas spent with friends in Florida when it was so cold, lizards froze on the sidewalks. It is the favorite pink glass ornament that Mom always let me put on the tree as a kid. It is ornaments given as gifts, and purchased on various vacations, some from childhood and some from Mom's tree. I'm feeling both efficient and melancholy as I look at what to keep and what to give away.

I'm thinking of that duality, the ability to hold seemingly opposing emotions - sad and happy, relieved and grieving, excitement and fear. It took a long time for me to be able to move beyond black & white, good/bad thinking to "this, and..."  With time (step work, good sponsorship, therapy) I’ve been able to understand that I did bad things, but am not a bad person. My father was more than “the alcoholic” in my childhood. Bad things do happen to good people (an excellent little book, by the way – by Harold Kushner) and people that I love do die. I understand that “happy, joyous and free” is not an everyday high, but a state of mind. I understand that it is possible for fear and hope to coexist. I can anticipate missing friends who are moving, and be excited for their adventure. I can love my job and be ready to quit. 

This time of year lends itself to reflection on the year passing by and that yet to come, especially as I feel the shock and sadness of these most recent losses. A friend asked, "What is going on?!" when I told her of another friend who is currently in the hospital with kidney failure. I think what is going on is that we are getting old. As much as I don't feel what I think 64 should feel like, I am an old person. I am an old person who has been fortunate enough to have loved and lost and loved again. I am an old person who has been blessed with close friendships, and many more acquaintances of the meeting variety.  Honoring those who have moved on while allowing my sometimes mixed emotions is an aspect of maturity that I'm just beginning to get on a deep, soul level.

Even as I do my best to detach from the busyness this month, I'm unable to avoid traffic that grows exponentially each week, overcrowded parking lots and busy stores. How do you carve out a quiet moment to appreciate the connections that make this time of year special? What are some of the dueling emotions that you're feeling, and are you at peace with the whole package of your humanness?

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

I’m reading a book, translated from Norwegian, titled Silence in the Age of Noise, by Erling Kagge. The author, who has trekked across Antarctica and to the North Pole, speaks to the importance of finding the quiet place within, even (especially?) when the noise of the world fills our ears. The book is a series of small essays. In one, he writes about being in gatherings of those in their 60’s, 70's and 80's, and how the main regret voiced is that they hadn’t realized sooner that this is life. Not someday, not later, but now. That reminded me of what an old guy used to say in meetings when I first came in to recovery, his words cutting to my core: “This is not a dress rehearsal.” No rewind, no undoing what’s been done, no time out while we get our shit together.

As much as I sometimes feel like the years have gone by in a snap, I am beyond blessed to have lived, to be truly living my life. I have had peak experiences that still give me goose bumps. My challenge, be it intellectual or emotional, is to incorporate those peak experiences into the day-to-day. “Life” isn’t just the high notes, the adventure souvenirs and dance parties.  Life is also, and maybe more so, noticing the falling leaves that chase me on my morning run, the way the rain sounds on the roof, cooking a tasty, healthy dinner, waking up next to the person who loves me back. Life is the newcomer who shows up next week, the sponsee who takes the risk of trust, those who do the service that keep our meetings running.  Every day is full of little miracles, if I but pay attention. I very well could’ve died behind the wheel, or at the end of a syringe, so waking up each day is a miracle, and one I vividly acknowledge, even though it has been a long time since I came-to with a hangover.
  
As the fog lifted, and I surrounded myself with like-minded others, I developed the capacity to dream, envisioning what could be, then taking the steps to get there – signing up for that first class, running an extra mile, picking up the phone. I think of recovery as both pushing myself beyond my comfort zone, and as a journey of discovering my rhythms and the daily rituals that ground me. I am grateful beyond measure for the vision of Bill, Bob and the first 100, who wrote a book that is as relevant to me with 30+ years sobriety as it was at 30 days. They saw the joyful possibilities of lives reclaimed, even though they were only three years in when the book was published.

One of the challenges of long term recovery is to remain teachable – in and out of program. I learned a new word this week: Petrichor = a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather. Who knew?  I also read an interesting article in the NYT Magazine (see link) that describes humans as the only species that can time travel, able to remember the past as well as imagine the future, and how important it is to allow our minds to wander. That seems to dovetail with the idea of inner quiet. Not every moment needs a screen or a keyboard, a radio or TV. Not every moment needs a book or some other distraction. Sometimes, what I really need is to simply sit still and breathe.

December approaches. How will you find moments of quiet reflection amongst your real or perceived obligations? How will you let yourself off the hook if the holiday season isn’t something you look forward to, but simply endure? If you do enjoy this time of year, how will you pace yourself?

****
A friend very unexpectedly died early today. She was a cousin to my oldest and dearest friend, a woman I've known for something like 45 years - funny, energetic, always full of life. I am in shock, as is the family, and I send my deepest love and condolences.  Tell your people that you love them, not later, but today. Godspeed T.A. Gone too soon. 



https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/11/15/magazine/tech-design-ai-prediction.html

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

This is the time of year that reflections on those final months of active addiction seep into my awareness. In late October or early November of 1985, I was railroaded into the Care Unit (or so it felt), signing myself out after 4 nights (I have my mother's day planner from that year. The notation reads: "jeanine signed out of Care Unit against medical advice! She'll call later".  I'll never forget the look on her face across the Thanksgiving table when she said, "I just don't understand." I didn't understand either, though did my best to justify my behavior.

Somewhere between that look, and a phone call from my sort-of-ex a week later, I had my moment of truth. For me, it was catching my reflection in a mirror as I searched for a vein that wasn't there. In a rare moment of insight, I saw my future if I continued on the same path and it was a blank wall. So when the phone rang in the middle of the night with my ex on the line from parts unknown and he said, through the crackle of an international call, "Jeanine, you need help," a little, tiny voice that was me said, "ok." I don't remember consciously deciding to admit I needed help. Thank you, God, for that the part of me that wanted to live.

I am older now. I used to think of who I was at 31 and cry at the damage I'd done to myself and those I loved. Today I simply shake my head at the chaos I created and contributed to. With gratitude, I think of the people on both sides of the divide (addiction/recovery) who contributed to my sitting here today, healthy, and very sober nearly 33 years later.

Today, on this eve of Thanksgiving, I light a candle and sit in gratitude - for my health and recovery, for a strong marriage and good friendships, for family connections over the miles and the years, for work I enjoy, for community, for peace of mind most days. I remember those no longer here, and today choose to focus on the love rather than the loss.

As I drove away from my home group last weekend, I noticed another member walking down the street, a member who'd left the meeting 45 minutes earlier. I have no idea what other obligations they had, but it struck me that it has been a long time since I walked out of a meeting because I was uncomfortable in my own skin. I didn't really know what that meant - "uncomfortable in my own skin" - until I experienced the internal comfort of serenity. Not boredom, as I initially thought of it, but true serenity. It's been quite a ride to get here, and I'm grateful for every minute of it.

Our Christmas lights went up on a recent dry day, though I won't turn them on until December. I won't listen to the holiday music station until then either. I plan to savor this quiet week before the hustle & bustle begins in full force to really feel my gratitude for this amazing, yet simple life.

What or who is on your gratitude list today? We're having a quiet Thanksgiving at home - what about you? May you enjoy the blessings of the day, whatever you do in solitude or community, or somewhere in between. My prayers, today, go out to those suffering the results of the California wildfires, and to all those who grieve so many recent and untimely losses.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

I realized, as I sat in the second meeting in a week with the topic of “fear,” that a big piece of my “ism” is the “what if?” syndrome – what if this, that, or the other thing goes wrong, and not just wrong, but terribly wrong? I understand on an intellectual level that this kind of thinking is a product of anxiety, of trying to predict the future that may have made sense as a young child, but doesn’t serve me now. I’ve gotten a lot better with changing the channel, with saying to myself, “we don’t do that anymore,” but can still get quite a story going in my mind.

Another aspect of my “ism” is the “it will get better when...”  Things will calm down after vacation, the holidays, that project, the summer months, etc, etc, etc. This, again, is a form of anxiety and anticipation, an attempt to live in the future. Maybe, when I’m doing my 3rd Step in the morning, I can ask to be given the discipline to stay in today. Someone once said that their new year’s resolution was to only have conversations with people who were actually in the room. I can resolve to only think about what is going on today, here and now. Wish me luck.

I am a planner and an organizer, and lately I don’t feel so organized. It is frustrating to try to fit my desired life into after-work hours, when all I often want to do is eat dinner and watch Jeopardy. Everything that needs doing does get done, but I can feel the internal urge for more – more time, more space, more energy for the want to’s vs the have to’s.

I am a planner and an organizer. I like having things to look forward to (ahh – the other end of the “what if?” spectrum). I like having things (trips, parties, coffee dates) to look forward to, and it just hit me that planning takes some of the mystery out of the future. I know what I’m doing on April 10, 2019. I know what I’m doing next Tuesday. Hmmm. The question for me, in long term recovery, is how to accept and appreciate my innate characteristics while being mindful of where they veer into “instincts gone awry” land.

In the first meeting on fear I attended last week in Taos, NM, a member shared that fear is a necessary emotion, and can keep us safe. It is having a right-relationship to fear that is the challenge – which of my fears are real and within my control, and which are fantasy or totally out of my power to influence?  I have some fears around financial security in retirement. I have some impact in this department, and can continue/ increase my efforts at saving. I have some fears for my brother’s health, with a surgery pending, and have absolutely no control over his innards. What I can control is my response. I can flail about, or turn it over to Higher Power and show up as needed.  What is my choice to be?

I just ordered a fancy new 2019 planner that has a section for dreams and goals. My drive and motivation, as related to my career, has definitely ebbed over time, but I do feel that internal push – for what, I haven’t quite yet identified. Other than looking forward to not going to work every day, what are my dreams and goals? I've earned my degrees, self-published my novel, run 10 marathons - what's next, as I enter these later years?  The urge for space to allow those dreams and goals to surface feels more urgent as the time to stop working draws near, and, one day at a time, I am where I am.  

Part of craving space is seasonal, a drawing inward after an active summer. I continue to adore November,  especially now as the temperatures and leaves drop. There is a poignancy to bare branches against the sky, evoking both exquisite sorrow and intense gratitude. This time of year I can hold both, gently and with reverence.

Some people’s "what if" shows up as “what if I had done/said something differently, while others are future directed, and I suppose, some aren't troubled by this at all. What type of "what if" are you, and if not that, is there another twist of thinking that takes you off center? How does Step 11 (November) bring you back to a place of calm?

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

I was privileged to attend Shabbat for Solidarity (for those lives lost in Pittsburgh) with a friend on Saturday. Having never been to Jewish services, I found myself exhaling into the ritual, the observances that felt both ancient and current; the expression of gratitude to God for this life, for our whole being, for our history and our future, neither of which are in our control.

As a kid, I sometimes went to Mass with my Catholic cousins, and again, resonated with the ritual - the holy water and sign of the cross, the incense and the priest's vestments. Where did my craving for ritual come from? In our house, the evening cocktail was ritual. There were half-hearted efforts to get me to various Sunday Schools, but none stuck, especially as Dad's drinking got worse.

I craved ritual and structure when, as a 10 year old, I'd cut out homilies and folk wisdoms from magazines, taping them to the wall beside my little desk. Ritual and structure are what I craved when I attended a local evangelical church with friends in 9th grade, though I instinctively knew I didn't have what it took to give up worldly pleasures. Smoke pot, or go to church - it was an easy choice. Ritual and structure are what I craved when I converted to Islam, desperately wanting a framework to help make sense of my chaotic life. But again, hedonism won out, in this case in the form of cocaine. Always searching, never finding...

And then, eureka, the 12 Steps with structure and ritual galore. Years ago I was at our local Alano Club at the holidays. All three meeting rooms were packed, so I perched at the top of the stairs, and while I couldn't make out the words in any of the groups, I was comforted by the cadence and tone of people speaking from the heart.Wherever, and in whatever language, there is a sameness in the way we gather and what we read, and how we share, the ritual and structure I'd been looking for in all the wrong places.

I have several friends who have returned to the faith traditions of their childhood. I don't have much to fall back on in that department. My mom did instill the belief in a loving and caring Power, but there was no practice, no tradition as she'd removed herself from the formal observance of her mother's religion. I've dabbled in organized religion and unorganized spirituality in the years since, but most consistent has been the 30+ years of practicing the spiritual way of life as outlined in the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, which allow me to go as deep or as superficial as I so desire on any given day. Sometimes it is just about staying sober and sane. Other days, it is about digging deep into that conscious contact with a Power Greater than myself, and both ends of the spectrum are OK.

November feels like a quiet month, with crimson leaves that seem lit from within and rain on the roof as I sleep. I've made a commitment to return to daily meditation, which is a habit too easy to slip out of. Sitting comes more naturally with the shorter, darker days, and if I say it here, I'm more likely to hold myself accountable, more likely to establish and reinforce my own ritual of going within.

This is an early post as I'll be hither and yon - see you next week on my regular Wednesday.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

October sure zoomed by! This coming weekend I’ll gather with our Step Group to discuss how we applied, and were mindful of Step 10 during the month – Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it. Not “if we were wrong,” but “when.”

As I’d mentioned, I attended a women’s conference earlier in the month. The speaker who addressed 10 & 11 really nailed the concept of the daily, spot check and yearly inventory with practical guidelines. I often say that my gut is my Step 10 – I know when I’ve said or done something that goes against my values. I always have, though did my best to outrun or ignore my guilt in the past. The Big Book talks about that - how we act out when drinking, then drink to cover up the shame over acting out – a vicious cycle. I cringed when I first heard someone say, “When I know better, I have to do better,” because there were still a few areas where self-will was in control. But, these days I do know better... 

So yes, my gut is my warning bell, and I benefit from a more formal inventory on a regular basis or as triggered by a situation or event. Not everyone does, but I find the act of putting pen to paper extremely helpful in getting to the root of my usually self-induced discomfort. Where have I been selfish, self-centered, fearful or resentful? What about impulsive, self-righteous, impatient? Am I acting on the same defect(s) or defenses that I don’t like in you? It always comes back to that – the spiritual axiom that if I’m upset with you, it is really about me.Sometimes all I need to recognize my part is a pause, a step back. Sometimes a phone call to my sponsor or a trusted other is in order, and sometimes it is in hearing someone else speak their truth in a meeting that brings the “a-ha” moment. My “a-ha” moments are frequently accompanied by a “darn it!” as in, “here I am again,” but that leap from defense to return to sanity is a shorter ride these days. When we say that “the road gets narrower” in long term recovery, it means that the old excuses and justifications don’t work anymore. I’m less able to B.S. myself, which results in fewer attempts to B.S. you. When I know better, I have to do better.

It’s Halloween, which used to be a MAJOR drinking occasion, weeknight or not. I have an old photo of myself in costume, probably 2 bars in to a 4 bar night in about 1983. Oy. My first sponsor used to say, “You did the best you could with what you knew at the time, Jeanine.” Let’s just say that I didn’t know much. Thank you Higher Power, for sanity and sobriety.

- - - - - - - - - - 

I feel the need to veer, just for a moment, into the area of current events. I am sickened and heartbroken by this last week's news - the brutal assassination in Istanbul, pipe bombs, the massacre at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, and the killing of two African-American people at a grocery store, gunned down because of their race. Our program has no opinion on outside issues, but I do. I am a human, and I hurt with these reports of one heinous act after another. In the meeting I attended yesterday, we were reminded of self-care, and our primary purpose, which is to stay sober. Yes, and, I need the "courage to change the things I can." I can vote. I can double down on self care so that I'm able to show up where needed and not just curl up in a ball. I can talk with like-minded others, not in an ain't-it-awful way, but with an eye to solutions. As one person, I don't have much power, but I am clinging to the idea that there are more people in this country who have love in their hearts than hate.

How do you process disturbing news, whether in your personal life, or the national stage? How do the Steps help you identify the things you cannot change versus the things you can?

Wednesday, October 24, 2018


I attended a sweat lodge ceremony this weekend, closing a circle of women who've been meeting together for years now, and marking the one year anniversary of our friend and teacher's passing. There was weeping and hollering and singing and silence; there was teaching and reminding and expressions of joy. 

One of the teaching moments had to do with the concept of bardo. Technically, in Buddhism, bardo is the state between death and one's re-birth. It can also apply to ourselves feeling in-between, that idea of letting go of one way of being without having fully grasped the next. An article by Pema Khandro Rinpoche (7/15/17 - see link below), speaks to the capacity for growth that is inherent in uncertainty. It is when we "lose the illusion of control [that] we can discover the creative potential of our lives." The author writes of the heart wrenching that comes with the death of a loved one, and the sense that nothing is the same, because nothing is. But there are other places, too, that can feel empty, the exhale that feels like letting go, which, depending on the degree, can leave me feeling untethered. Not necessarily a bad thing, but a thing that takes some getting used to. 

It seemed fortuitous that "bardo" was addressed during the sweat. Though she was speaking about the death of our friend, I'd gone in to the day feeling like the ground is shifting beneath my feet: I've recently submitted a writing project for consideration of publication, which means what I do now is wait, an in-between if there ever was one. And, I'm now 20 months from retirement, which is too far out to actually do much other than continue to show up, and wait, while doing what is in front of me to do. While neither is monumental in the grand scheme of things, I grew up learning to see around corners - it is hard to both anticipate and relax. 

We have friends who are relocating across country soon, just because they want to, which both intrigues and frightens me. I'm a stay-put kind of gal, though I recognize that my spiritual task is to balance my seemingly innate desire for stability with my soul's urge to grow, along with the deep understanding that nothing ever really stays the same. How do I allow that open spaciousness, or more to the point, how do I infuse the day-to-day with creative energy rather than seeing “creativity” as something separate? How do I truly live with a beginner's mind, an open palm?

When I entered recovery, I was faced with the exciting and terrifying challenge of creating a sober life. At different points along the way, I’ve needed to envision myself as a writer, a single person, a wife, a sponsor, a student, a supervisor, a grieving daughter, a step-mother. All required thinking of myself in ways that I hadn’t before. All involved a period of in-between, of not-knowingness, of “what in the heck do I do now?”  Today, I can draw on my own experience, and the experience of countless others. The beauty of our program is that there is always someone around who has gone through what I’m experiencing. And as a tail-end baby boomer, there isn’t much I feel that is different and unique, much to my chagrin. We are more alike than we are different. Remembering that helps me to navigate what, for me, seems like uncharted waters. I am not alone. That could be the rallying cry of recovery: I AM NOT ALONE.

And so, today, I will relax into the in-between, trusting that I will know what I need to know, when I need to know it. Where do you feel the creative potential of change in your life, whether that is internal or external? What helps you remember to surrender, to let go?







https://www.lionsroar.com/four-points-for-letting-go-bardo/

Wednesday, October 17, 2018


This has been a period of spiritual significance, from anniversaries of passings to celebrating new life, from walks on the beach to running in my neighborhood, from meetings and rich program connections out of town to a local women’s conference this weekend, all of which remind me of God’s grace. When I first got sober, I was deathly afraid of karma, of getting “what I deserved,” which would’ve been a public stoning, by my estimates. But, I did get what I deserve – a life that is “happy, joyous and free" (Big Book).  Not all days and in all ways, but overall, I am abundantly blessed with good health, strong relationships, and this way of life that allows me to both receive and give back what was so freely given to me.

At the conference this weekend, the woman who shared on Steps 2 & 3 had us close our eyes at one point to imagine all those people who’d prayed for us to get sober, and to thank them. As she pointed out, it wasn’t just family and loved ones. At the end of most of our meetings, we hold a “moment of silence for the still suffering alcoholic.” Were they saying that in meetings in 1984, and ’85 and ’86? Can I believe that it wasn’t just my mother and my cousins, my dear friends and my significant other that were wishing and hoping and praying that I would find health? Can I picture the positive energy emanating from those circles of people holding hands, and holding a vision of recovery in their minds? I can. I can, because I participate in that circle several times a week, literally 1,000’s of times over the years. In talking about prayer, and how we sometimes think we’re too busy, another speaker said, “Really? God saved your life and you don’t have 10 minutes to express your gratitude?” Word.

I’ve been paying attention to the natural world, to those subtle messages that are there if I keep my eyes open, not just to the physical realm, but to the spiritual as well. I live in a city, yet at home, and even in San Francisco, saw coyotes. Raccoon frequently cross my path on early morning runs. When I visited the cemetery over the weekend, four beautiful deer walked through our family site and on up the hill, and a week ago, I saw a doe and her fawn during my lunch time walk at work. Glorious. So, yes, animals in the city, going about the business of staying alive, and by pausing, I can step outside the concerns of my little mind to remember the bigger picture, and that "nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God's world by mistake" (Big Book, formerly p. 449).  I’ve learned that coyote is a trickster and transformer. Raccoons are a symbol of cleverness. Deer represent sensitivity, intuition and gentleness in Native American tradition; in Buddhism,  deer symbolize harmony, happiness, and peace.

I sometimes use the Runes to remind me of my true nature. I frequently pull the stone that suggests I strive to “live the ordinary life in a non-ordinary way” (The Book of Runes, R. Blum) .  My life is fairly ordinary – I go to work, make dinner, hit my meetings, etc, etc, and I can bring a spiritual, Higher Power focused lens to all that I do. Those little visits from Mother Nature remind me that there is way more to life than my “to do” list.

Years ago, a woman chaired a meeting on the topic, "What if God really is running the show?" Ha! What if? What if this Presence and Power that saved my life and has had me covered all these many years, continues to hold me in Her gentle arms? What if the part of me that twitches and wants to know what's next could simply take a deep breath and say, "Oh yeah. I'm not in charge." What a monumental relief, when I remember.

Speaking of God shots - a few weeks ago I had dinner before a meeting with a small group. After, at the meeting, one of the women came up and said, "I know you!" I replied, "Dude, we just had dinner together." She then told me that I'd been her counselor in 1995 when she was just 17. I totally remember her, and a funny thing she used to say. What a gift to connect in the rooms after such a long time. And then, this weekend, I spoke to a woman I've known vaguely, asking why she is Facebook friends with my cousins. "Because they're my cousins!" she said. So cool to connect the dots.

Miracles, small and big, are all around, if I but pay attention. Years ago, I heard Shakti Gawain, author of Creative Visualization, speak. She described this life as a beautiful bowl of fruit, but so often, we have our face stuck in the bowl, so don't recognize the wonder of it all. I remember that when I find myself focused on the three feet in front of my windshield, or barely notice when a squirrel runs by. As the Big Book says, God is either everything or God is nothing. Today, I choose everything.

Where do you see Higher Power, however you define that (Creative Intelligence, the still small voice, Universal Truth, Jesus, Allah, Yahweh, Nature, etc)?  In the natural world? In your daily meditation book? In faces of people you love? Where can you create sacred space to inhabit the pause? 







Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Very grateful to visit family in San Francisco this week, which included hitting our home-away-from-home group as well as another meeting across the bay that we like. Attending meetings while traveling is a given, and it's especially sweet to check in with people we've come to know.

In my regular meetings, I can be lulled into personalities before principles with comfort of the familiar. In away meetings I am more apt to focus on the message instead of the messenger, more open-minded and in the moment, rather than allowing myself to drift to the grocery list or the fill-in-the-blank that can plague me at home where I sometimes lose track of why my butt is in the chair. Same reason as 30+ years ago - in order to stay sober and to grow in my ability to practice the principles.

What I heard this week was that the act of sitting in a meeting is spiritual practice - seated in silence, listening respectfully, speaking my truth if so moved. I was reminded of both the pain and the beauty involved in surrendering to not knowing what's next. From a dear friend of my husband's, who has been walking through health issues, I heard, loud and clear, the message of "don't wait." Don't wait to take care of my body. Don't wait to appreciate the love in my life. Don't wait to let go of that which no longer serves me (& never really did).

Family meals, a walk on the beach, a visit to the Botanical Gardens, and our daily meetings sent me home full of love and the serenity of vacation. My chosen task is to carry that mindset into the workaday world. Laundry needs doing, bills need paying, but I can do so with intention rather than rushing through the motions. I try to make my first conscious thought of the day "thank you, God, for this amazing life." I sometimes forget the "amazing" as I hurry through the day's tasks. Today, I find a quiet joy in the relative simplicity of coming home - cats purring, the prospect of sleeping in our own bed, a beautiful autumn day; happy to travel and so happy to be home.

What does "home" mean to you? Who are you glad to see during your week, whether in meetings, work or where you live? Do they know how you feel? 


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

My 4th grade best friend’s mother just died. In 4th grade, we had 3 little wooden figures we played with in class, and planned our trip to London to meet the Beatles. Growing up, we were in the same peer group – not close, but around, including at reunions and events as the years went by. Her mom was great – a regular in the neighborhood, who I’d see at the grocery store or out and about until just recently. I cannot claim to have known her well, not like some of my other classmates, but she was a fixture, a part of our history. I think of continuity and connection over time as I mourn her passing, and the passing of that generation of moms and dads who saw us through our youth – some lovingly, some not, but a part of who we are today. I feel for my old friend.

Another friend, who lost her mother as a young teen, once said, “Losing your mom was probably easier for you because she lived so long.” She apologized after I started to cry. For those of us close to our mom’s (acknowledging that not everyone is), losing her is hard at any age. The thing with my mom's long life is that she was always there. I did, childishly, think she would live forever. For me, much of the grieving was around change – change in my running routes, change in how my little family celebrates, change in how I spent my time, loss that left me feeling untethered in the world. Change sometimes comes with pluses, but change resulting from loss has been hard to adjust to. At first I cried daily (I probably shouldn’t have been allowed to drive for the 6 months preceding and 6 months after) then weekly, and slowly over time the tears come just every so often, prompted by a song, the realization that I can't just pick up the phone to call her, a sunny day...  What I was told when she was dying is that those who’ve lost their mothers understand, and our grief is solitary and specific.

Grief is another of my recurring themes. How can it not be? This is a season of loss, approaching the 1 year anniversary of 3 friends who died last autumn - Jayna, Grace, and Janet. The world is a little quieter without their laughter, a little emptier without their presence. The same goes for my friend's niece, a beautiful young woman gone too soon. And, October brings the anniversary of mom's passing - 6 years now.

 I will say that everything healthy I know about grief has been learned since entering recovery.  A feeling of dis-ease used to hit me in August. Once I heard someone share about the anniversary phenomenon, I understood that it was a visceral memory of losing my dad in August of 1980, a loss I didn't have words for at the time. I've learned from others, and from experience, that it is way, way better to grieve in the moment, because the feelings will definitely find a way out at some point or another if you don't. I used to think that grieving was time limited, finite, and sometimes chastise myself for "still" feeling sad, though not for long these days. I've learned that grieving is a sign of love, and that while the intensity may abate over time, the loss is always there.

So as this glorious fall season begins, with beauty and with sadness, with life and with death in the natural world and my own, I will light a candle as the days get shorter. I will reflect on warm memories. I will honor those who have gone on.

What do you do when feelings of grief and loss arise? How do you honor your loved one(s) and practice gentleness with yourself?



Wednesday, September 26, 2018

My Dad wasn't much in the advice department, but one thing he did tell me was "Always buy a Chevy, because anyone, anywhere can fix it." This was back in the day when one could simply pop the hood and tinker around a bit to get a car running smoothly. Contrast to this past week when I had my windshield replaced (flying rock), which included a separate trip to the dealer to have the lane-departure alert cameras reset, and oh, by the way, there is an electrical something-or-other recall, blah, blah, blah. Technology is positive in many ways, but simplification is not one of them.

This brought our "Keep It Simple" slogan to  mind, always a good reminder for this complicated brain. One of my 20+ groups (we call ourselves, "Too Old to Give a F***") met last Tuesday, and most of us acknowledged an internal urge for open spaces and simplifying as the seasons change from summer to fall - taking a deep breath, reflecting on a lovely summer, and becoming aware of the need for a step back to enjoy the simple pleasures of raking leaves, harvesting the last tomatoes, appreciating cool mornings.

I've noticed "calendar creep" these last few weeks - filling in the empty spots I've learned to protect. As tempting as it is to say "Sure!" I know that I function better in the world when self-care is my priority. This doesn't mean a month without plans, but it does point towards balance: friend time/solitude, active/passive pursuits. I've come to understand that balance is an ideal - not homeostasis, but a flow from one end of the continuum to the other. It's when I allow myself to operate on auto-pilot that I need to put up the internal "Stop!" sign and reevaluate.

Time, and how I spend it is another of my recurring themes, but isn't that what long term recovery is about? Dozens of inventories later, I understand most of what trips me up, and recognize my defects/defenses/patterns before they take complete control. What joy! I recently read an article in Time magazine that older people (& kids) are happiest. I get it. While not every day, in every way, I'm definitely centered and serene more days than not. And I'm pretty optimistic to begin with, so if there is more of that on the horizon, I'm in!

Something that has brought unexpected joy recently is my newly re-upped library card. I hadn't been to a library in years, as in decades. I like(d) to buy books, to own them - see my old friends on the shelf. But, part of preparing for retirement is my plan to de-clutter, and to save money - hence the library card. I've been twice, and have another book on hold. What freedom! I don't need to commit to a particular title - I can check it out, and if I don't like it, back in the slot it goes! And it feels like a tangible step towards my two(ish) year goal. Paying down the mortgage is one thing. Carrying home a book or two is real and solid and now.

So as I dive into a new stack of reading material and watch for the leaves to turn, I will be mindful of the daily inventory - am I centered today? If not, how will I refocus towards my priorities? One of my favorite Alanon readings reminds me that what is urgent is rarely important, and what is important is rarely urgent. Exactly.

Keep It Simple is a great slogan. Which one(s) do you rely on to steer yourself back on track? Are there any shifts in your external or internal world as the seasons change?

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

On Saturday, I attended a friend’s 90th birthday party. 90 years! The changes she’s seen since 1928! This woman, auntie and grandmother in my “sister-from-another-mother’s” family, is inspiring – enthusiastic and engaged, full of stories from way back when and what’s going on today. One thing I especially appreciate are her reminders of our connections to our people who’ve passed, pointing out that they are still with us, if we simply pay attention. At the party, she wore a hat that belonged to her mother – generations connected through time, and respect.

The next day, we drove down to celebrate our daughter’s move in to her college dorm with brunch and a trip to Home Depot. A rite of passage! I’ve know this young woman since she was 9 years old, and sitting at the restaurant, it felt like she’d gown up in a flash, sharing her excitement and fears, her concerns and hopes for this grand adventure. And she listened as her Dad and I talked about our experiences at her age -  generations connected through love and hopeful anticipation.

Sandwiched in-between, a friend and I attended an 80’s nostalgia concert: Among other songs, Boy George sang one of the anthems to a painful break-up that was part of my hitting bottom, and the B-52’s pounded out a number that was a dance-party staple in early recovery. Much of the crowd was gray-haired, like myself, with a surprising number of younger folks in full 80’s regalia (or what they imagined it to be) - generations connected through the shared experience of music.

We are privileged with connections over time in our program. While I do participate in several small groups of women with over 20 years sobriety, I especially appreciate meetings with those both old and new. Listening to someone with 30 days or less reminds me of the despair and confusion of the early months. Those in the middle are often eloquent in their descriptions of the return to emotional sobriety. And we old-timers remind all of them, and ourselves, that it is alcoholism, not alcoholwasm -  generations, connected through the wisdom of awareness.

I so appreciate this stage of my life. Sure, parts of me are saggy that used to be firm, but that is minor compared to the peace of mind I experience most days, and the joys of connecting with  generations both before and after mine. I can learn from everyone along the spectrum, as long as I am mindful of keeping an open mind and a listening heart. 

Where do you connect with your elders, or those just beginning their journey, whether in meetings or in your family (however you define that)?  Recognizing that we can be both learners and teachers, where do you fit on the continuum today? What have you gained over the passage of time that has surprised you?

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

We drove over the mountain this weekend, to visit the town where my family lived until I was eight years old. My spouse had never been there, and I looked forward to sharing my history with him - the smell of juniper, and volcanic rock crunching underfoot, hot dry days and chilly nights. What I wasn't prepared for was the onslaught of emotion, the grieving for my parents and my fairly idyllic-in-retrospect early childhood.

Coming up on the sixth anniversary of my Mom's death, and just after the 38th year since Dad died, I'd noticed that I wasn't thinking of  Mom quite as often, and it sadly felt like she was slipping away. I wouldn't wish grief on anyone, but there is a comfort, a closeness in mourning - the exquisite pain of loss. Her knick-knacks on my shelves don't seem as drenched in melancholy, her wristwatch I sometimes wear is just a watch.

And then we got to Central Oregon, and that first inhale of juniper brought tears to my eyes. We hit a Friday night meeting and I mentioned that, while I'd never had a drink in Bend, my Dad sure did. When I told the group how he'd prop me up on a bar stool at the old M&J Tavern, with a pile of peanuts to play with, several members, in unison, cried out, "It's still there!"  So, the next day found me bawling on the sidewalk outside the little dive, neon sign from time immemorial still marking the spot. Daddy? Oh my God, I miss you. I miss our huge green lawn (that looks tiny today), I  miss you carrying me on your shoulders and teaching me to ride a bike. I  miss catching June-bugs on hot summer nights, and our little family crossing the street to watch Friday Night Boxing on TV with Irene and Carl. I cried for the time I ran, screaming "Mama!", from the babysitter's house, chasing the car because she'd forgotten to kiss my goodbye. I cried for summers at the local pool, and climbing the tall pine in the lot behind our house, for Mom propping me up with my new baby brother.

I must've been born shy, overly concerned with other people from the gate. In first grade, Mom packed me into a snowsuit in order to stay warm as I trudged the four blocks to school. I cried, not wanting to look like a baby, and peeled off the suit a block away from the building, traipsing through the snow in my little dress and saddle shoes. I was shy, and sometimes scared -  of my Aunty from California, who showed up one day with turquoise eye shadow and cat's eye glasses, of trick or treaters, of the dark. But I was happy. I loved school, and learning to read, I loved Mama Wise's old dog, even though he bit my face. I loved watching the Mickey Mouse Club while eating supper on a TV tray.

I've been back to my old town at least half a dozen times since I got sober and I've never had this emotional of a reaction. Of course, I haven't been there since Mom passed. It's ironic that whenever I seem to think I'm "over" grieving , she makes herself known to me - a little reminder, crying at a certain song or time of day, or the way the hot wind blows on the high desert. And, there was something sweet about sharing all the stories and places with my supportive husband, who gave me the space to mourn.

I am not in charge - of my grief, of my recovery, of my loved ones' health, or mine, of the stars in the sky. But what I do know today is that I can experience grief and gratitude at the same time. I know that the work I've done, and continue to do, in sobriety, allows me to feel my feelings as they occur, not years later seemingly out of the blue. I am grateful for the spiritual distance that the Steps have created between me and my history, a distance that changed blame to appreciation.

How does grief show up in your life today, whether for a particular person, or a time in your past? How do you use the Steps to move through whatever you are feeling today?

Wednesday, September 5, 2018


A co-worker, someone I supervise and consider a work friend, confronted me on a behavior last week related to my impatience – that internal tick-tock that wants me to believe there is never enough time. I wish I could say this was her stuff, but, alas, it is mine. So much mine that I heard similar feedback regarding my control issues at home. Damn it.

My Dad used to shout, “Slow down!” as I ran from the bathroom back out to the street ball game, still pulling up my pants. Slow down. But I didn't want to miss anything, and I'd better hurry, and if I wasn't careful, I'd run out of time. Hurry. Hurry.  I know I’ve written about this before, but confessing my faults is not enough to change the behavior (obviously). I'm seriously considering having “pause” tattooed on my right wrist as a firm reminder. As a less invasive option, my co-worker suggested a sticky note on my calendar, reminding me to “take a breath.”

Fortuitously, I had a sponsor meeting on Friday. She asked, several times, “what was your part?” I had a hard time seeing it. I’ve been doing this work long enough that the layers of the onion are down to those that feel like my skin. I'd been working on Step 8 (August) and in re-reading the chapter in the 12x12, discovered lines I’d never seen before – it’s not merely a list, but an on-going process of amending behavior so that my relationships are clean.

Step 8 led me to an inventory – I did some reverse engineering, first listing the manifestation of this particular characteristic, then looking for the core beliefs under the acting out. I can see that, as a kid, it felt like no one was in charge, so somebody (me!) had to be. I know that I internalized my Mom's belief that if you are on time, you're late.  From a distance, I can see that if I’m right, that makes you wrong. I can see that  underlying fears are the “chief activator of my character defects.” I also listed the positive aspects of the sometimes offending characteristics (I do get things done, which can be an asset), as well as what the healed nature of my core beliefs could be – for example, there truly is enough time, I am safe and don’t need to be in charge of anyone but myself.  So, Step 8 pointed to inventory (4 or 10), which took me to sharing with my sponsor (5), which  sent me back to 3, 7 and 11 – turning it over, asking for continued awareness and the strength to change, seeking knowledge of HP’s will for me and the power to carry that out.

Old behaviors can feel automatic. Case in point – I attended my former home group on Saturday. At the beginning of the meeting, we are advised that the church asks that there be no food or beverages in the room. Heck, I wrote the format. But, there I was, 20 minutes in, opening a power bar without a second thought. I was hungry, I would eat. Even the snap of heads turning towards the crinkling wrapper didn’t bring to mind what I’d heard just minutes earlier. Good grief.

I understand that there are aspects of my character that are simply that – aspects of my character. However, long term recovery doesn’t give me a pass for actions that hurt other’s feelings, or go against the rules, just because I’m hungry, or want to move on to the next thing. My impatience is MY impatience. It always comes back to that. As I was running yesterday, I had the thought that when I do my Step 3 in the morning, I can turn over my character defects as part of “my will and my life.” It felt like a brilliant idea, until I realized, “Oh yeah – that’s called Step 7!”  Humility, remaining teachable, trying to keep an open mind when I want to defend – all challenges for this long-timer who sometimes thinks she has it under control (Argh! There’s that word again!).

Today, and just for today, I will strive to listen more than I talk, to sit still when I want to leave, to be as respectful as I want others to be to me. My sponsor lovingly reminded me that I will make the same mistakes again, that I am, after all, human. And, by doing my level best to practice the principles today (not next week or next month), I am less likely to create situations that require an apology.

What characteristics continue to trip you up? How do you practice pausing in the moment? (that isn’t a rhetorical question – I’d love to see your answers).


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

I’m thinking about the fluid nature of my recovery program. There are moments (days, weeks, months) when I'm neck deep in meetings , conferences, active sponsoring, and step groups, desperate for the solace and  sense of belonging I receive in my community.  Other times are more attuned to journaling, meditation, candles and my home groups - a quieter flow. Initially, I was conscious of any tendency to slack, hearing the old-timer’s voices in my mind – “Meeting makers make it!” “I come to meetings to see what happens to people who stop coming to meetings!” And so on. That instruction was good and right when I was younger in sobriety – I needed the structure. That structure is also beneficial during any kind of life change, be it positive or negative. My default is to isolate, so being with my people is a comfort I don’t always recognize until I’m sitting in it. But, over time, I've come to understand that sometimes, self-care is staying home from a meeting. Sometimes, self-care means curling up with my journal and a recording of the ocean, if I can't actually be at the sea. Sometimes self-care = silence.

I recently heard the  SAMHSA (Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration) definition of recovery: 1) Recovery is individualized and self-directed 2) Recovery doesn't follow a linear progression, nor is it time-limited 3) There are various access points to recovery and can progress through various pathways, which often change over time 4) Recovery likely flourishes within a community.

I love it when the scholars verify what I know to be true from my own experience.  Recovery is very individual. 12 Step programs have 100's of thousands of members, and while we have our guide, we each "work the program" in our own way. Some sponsors are very structured in their approach, some not so much. Some of us work the Steps continuously, others yearly, or just once at the beginning, and so on. And, recovery doesn't follow a linear progression. Amen to that. How many times have I confronted an issue I thought I'd dealt with, only to come at it from a different angle on the spiral a few years later? Two steps forward, a couple to the side, a hop or a skip, and here we are, on that road of happy destiny.  And various pathways that can change over time... I have a friend who drifted away from meetings and went back to drinking, and another who is sober for decades after leaving AA. I know people who move from 12 Step to church, and back again; others who simply stopped using whatever it was that was out of control. Many paths...

And community - During a rather frenzied time in my life, I participated in a book group, a running group, a church discussion group and my 12 step meetings. I realized, sitting in those "other" communities, that most people simply want to belong somewhere, to something, and how fortunate I am to have a community of my peers, people who have been where I've been. There are a few other places where I feel I belong, but my 12 Step communities have been the most consistent.  So, paying attention to my heart, listening for the still, small voice, I will notice when and where my spirit gets fed, and where I can be of service as well.

I keep coming back to these thoughts of how my application of recovery has shifted over the years.  Here I am, nearly 64 years old, coming up on 33 years sober, 7+ years married,  and a couple of years from retirement. Life is good. Life is good, and, feels different than it did 4 years ago, or 14, or even 2.  I guess that's the idea - same can equal stagnant, so feeling a shift might indicate that I'm right where I'm supposed to be, even if I don't always know where that is. 

Where do you feel an internal push or pull, as the seasons prepare to change? Are you moving away from, or towards your true nature?

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

My work requires re-certification every 2 years. I am in that process, which is, essentially, writing a check and submitting documentation of continuing education hours. I realized that this may be the last time I write that check, assuming I follow my retirement plan. I might re-up for 1 more stint, "just in case," but I don't need to know that now. The bigger reflection point is looking back on a 30 year career with gratitude.

30 years ago, I was called to do the work I do, yet was terrified and so very doubtful of my abilities. Part of my work involves speaking to an audience, a sometimes disinterested and distracted audience. (thank goodness for the practice that I get in meetings). I was absolutely certain, at 33 years old and newly sober, that I would be unable to fulfill that component of the work, so probably shouldn't even begin the needed education. But, I did, and my work has been a series of taking one small step beyond my comfort zone, and then another, and then another.

It's an odd place to be, this getting older - and I'm very aware that it is a gift not all get to enjoy. A friend who is a few years ahead on the calendar is thinking about the "lasts," as in last day on the job, last run, last time hiking, last trip on an airplane...   So  much of recovery has been about "firsts" (holiday season, date, birthday, job). Shifting the view includes thinking about mortality. There will be firsts with this next phase of my development (first Social Security check, first day without an alarm clock), but, yes, with an eye to the lasts.

I've been journaling specifically about this winding down of my career, and realized that I'd been only thinking of the ending, rather than also the new beginning. I've not thought of myself as someone who gets my identity from my work - I enjoy it, but I enjoy my not-work time too. But, work provides structure - I have someplace to go, a purpose. In what ways will I define purpose and meaning outside that structure? I trust that more will be revealed, in its own time.

What are you looking forward to at this stage of your recovery, of your life? How can you both prepare and let go?

***

You might notice that I've added a link to Oregon Recovers on my blog page. I was honored recently to hear the founders and supporters, including Oregon's Governor, speak about the need to increase recovery resources so that all who seek recovery from substance use disorders can find it. Oregon currently ranks 50th in the nation in access to treatment - not good, when even a few days delay can change the entire conversation. Oregon Recovers is an advocacy group for those of us who are usually anonymous. Their mission statement is below. Check them out at www.oregonrecovers.org to learn more.

"Oregon Recovers is an inclusive statewide coalition comprised of people in recovery–and their friends and family—uniting to transform Oregon healthcare to ensure world-class prevention, treatment, and recovery support services for Oregonians suffering from the disease of addiction."

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A friend and I hiked in the Olympic National Forest this weekend. I say, "a friend," by which I mean one of my closest and dearest. We were in Quileute to search for the One Square Inch of Silence plaque in the Hoh Rain Forest, and, more importantly, to celebrate his 33rd sober anniversary. We met when I came in to treatment in January, 1986, where he'd gone with 4 months sobriety under his belt. He left a week after I arrived, one of those chance encounters that has ended up being one of the sustaining relationships in my recovery, and in my life.

Somewhat in jest, as we made our way back to the Seattle Ferry early Sunday morning, he asked, "How did we stay friends all these years?" I think a lot of it has to do with being "litter mates." We share a "coming-to" story, were taught similar lessons in treatment, and we've both stayed on the path of 12 Step recovery. We lived together for a time, cementing our new friendship, along with another treatment alumni, Ruth. He was 21, just a kid, though a kid who'd seen more than his share of alcoholic drama. I was 31, coming out of the meth fog, and Ruth was 60, my mom's age, who's drinking increased when one of her sons was killed in a car accident at Christmas time. Together, we traveled up and down the I-5 corridor, hitting meetings, going to dances and potlucks, and starting each day with our meditation books and the coffee I'd learned to drink in treatment.

We know each other's families, so that when my best friend talks about his grandmother, I remember sitting at her kitchen table in Montana, eating the bacon and eggs she'd fried up. He remembers my mother's laugh. He knows my ex's and I know his. We've cried together over heartbreak, laughed and mourned together, and everything in between.

I'm blessed to have several dear friends who fit this category of shared history, where we can talk every so often and it feels like just yesterday. And, this has been a summer of reunion, from the official 8th grade event, to music in the parks or hikes with friends I don't see so often anymore. Staying connected seems to take more of an effort these days. Life gets complicated, or so we tell ourselves. Where we were once a roaming band of singles, most are now familied-up with grand kids and nieces and nephews, spouses, step kids, in-laws, and aging parents vying for attention. Our meeting habits have changed - no longer do we insist on a meeting a day, with fellowship before and after. We are reaping the benefits of long term recovery, one day at a time. And, with a bit of  "been there, done that" that comes with aging, there is no longer the need to attend every opening, see every movie, hear every band. I joke that I love making plans, and I love when they get cancelled. Home is definitely where my heart is, along with my books, our cats, and various projects. A cozy night with my dear husband wins out, nearly every time.

We never did find the One Square Inch of Silence, though not for want of trying as we splashed up and down the undulating Hoh River Trail in the pouring rain. It was truly a weekend of "the journey, not the destination." Much like true friendship, which is a journey of intent, commitment, and picking up the phone.

Who do you connect with regularly? Who do you want to reach out to? Where is the journey taking you this week?

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

After a two month absence, I was back in my Step Group this weekend as we reviewed our efforts at working Step 7 during July. Always a meaningful discussion, and so helpful to hear how others apply our principles to daily life. It’s one thing to read about the Steps, and quite another to do the deal in the cold light of day (or the dark and gloomy night).

I was particularly struck by the reminder that when I act out of a place of anxiety and fear, others’ anxiety rises, and we’re off to the races. Like meets like, which certainly applies to the emotional energy I bring to a situation. It always comes back to me, and the vital importance of staying centered. Self-care isn't just bubble baths and candles. Self-care means prayer and meditation, saying what I mean (without saying it mean), along with doing my best to take my own emotional temperature before pointing the finger of blame. And yes, it is a lifelong process. If I were to rewrite Step 7, I'd say something like, "HP, please increase my awareness of my defenses and challenges, and grant me strength to do something different in the moment." It is that increased awareness that is both the gift and the curse of seeking maturity and internal peace.

On to Step 8. At face value, we make a list, but deeper, this Step is about amending behavior going forward. When first working the Steps, I made a list of people I had harmed: Who did I hurt, and how, intended or otherwise? Who did I lie to, cheat on, steal from (whether that was material goods or time and affection). Over time, my Step 8 grew to include those relationships I shortchanged by not being genuine, by not speaking up, by saying “yes” when I meant “no.”

At this point in recovery, and with most of my sponsees, the 8th Step list is small, as in maybe one or two people, and generally includes oneself. When I do my yearly housecleaning inventory, not a lot new comes up because I’ve done my best to stay current with Step 10. So Step 8, as a practical matter in long-term recovery, means being kind, keeping my mouth shut when there is no real reason to speak my mind (1. Did they ask? 2. Am I the HP? If the answer to either is "no," then stop talking).  

I don’t expect to like everyone I meet. I can respect someone’s recovery without wanting to hang out. However, if I find there are relationships, past or current, that cause me an internal cringe, what do I need to do to get and keep my side of the street clean? Don’t gossip, for one. No one else needs to hear about it if I’m not crazy about someone. Don’t gossip, and cut the other person some slack. We’re all just out here being human, which, according to one of my Alanon readers, is not a character defect.

I can also practice cutting myself some slack. So I’m not perfect, even with all this sobriety? Thank goodness – wouldn’t that be unbearable? But, or rather, and, I can be mindful of my particular “isms” and do my best to think before I speak, pause before I act, pray before making a decision. It only takes a couple of seconds to check in with myself and use the THINK – is what I’m about to say Thoughtful, Helpful, Intelligent, Necessary and Kind? 

I keep coming back to the importance of the pause because it is where I struggle. I can run for four hours at a stretch, I can show up to work on time every single day, but pause for three seconds? What an order!  But, from what I hear in my meetings, I am not the only one. What a relief. I gain such comfort from sitting in a circle of like-minded others as we trudge the road, laughing at our foibles, crying together, celebrating our accomplishments - such a gift. 

What is your particular "ism?" What trips you up in your efforts to practice the principles in all your affairs? How do you apply the Steps in your daily life?