Wednesday, August 14, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

A reminder that you can sign up to get these weekly blogs in your email - see the box to the upper right of the page.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

I crawled out of my cozy comfort zone and went to a couple of new-to-me meetings last week. I've returned to a meditation meeting that includes instruction and 15 minutes of silence before general sharing. Refreshing, and positive reinforcement for my fledgling meditation practice.

I may or may not go back to the 2nd meeting – it is huge, and so not my demographic, but, or rather and, I heard exactly what I needed hear, despite my initial judgments that the members were too young and too hip for me to learn anything. I’ve been using the Set-Aside Prayer (Let me set aside everything I think I know about the 12 Steps and my program so that I can have a new experience) so attempted to keep an open mind. What I heard was, in order to benefit from the program, I need to actually work the program, not just sit in the rooms. Bam! Someone shared about running on fumes, having moved to a city with few meetings, which caused me to inhale deeply with recognition. Bam! I am fortunate enough to live in an area with literally 100’s of choices per week, but have been operating as if I can only attend a specific two. 

In a moment of clarity, I realized that I’ve been simply dialing it in. I've been half-assing my monthly Step group, picking at what's wrong instead of what's right with my home group, skipping my mid-week meeting - in essence, running on fumes, otherwise known as "resting on my laurels."  Busted.     
Do I think I’ll drink today? No. But, recovery is about so much more than not drinking. I crave emotional and spiritual growth, which isn’t going to just drop out of the sky while I'm watching TV. It’s up to me to, yes, do the work of on-going self-examination. To that end, I picked up a new (to me) book, The Alternative 12 Steps,  by Martha Cleveland and Arlys G, not because I have a particular problem with the g-o-d word, but because I seek a new perspective and appreciate the descriptions of "spiritual resources," which are unique to each individual. The Steps aren't punishment, though that's what I once thought, but a tool to recognize and build on my strengths. (see the link to AA Agnostica for additional secular resources)

Complacency, as I’ve written before, is a sneaky devil, convincing me that I'm too tired, have too much to do, etc. to go to a meeting or work a step, blah blah blah. Complacency also uses my fears to further draw back. If my default is to isolate, those fears have nowhere to go, which increases my feelings of separateness. Through the magic of speaking out loud, I've identified the maladaptive whispers, replacing them with, "That meeting sounds interesting," "Tuesday works for me this week."  Shake it up.

And so, I'm back on the beam. The whole gist of recovery is to become familiar with my patterns, and develop relationships with those people who can point out my blind spots. For me, getting off track starts with boredom, or agitation, the "is this all there is?" mind set. It takes me a while to realize that I'm out of whack, and more time to move from blaming outer circumstances to looking at where I'm off center.  And then, the choice: how long am I willing to stay uncomfortable? When and how will I take action contrary to my spiritual lethargy?  In the past few weeks, I've visited a couple of houses of worship, two different meetings, am reading two new recovery books, and have listened to great music in the parks with old friends - all part of the recovery deal.

How do you recognize when you're veering off track? Is there someone in your life who you can ask, if you're not sure? What helps you get back to serenity? And how, exactly, do we remain teachable?

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

I’ve been wandering in the spiritual desert lately. OK, not exactly wandering – more like setting up a tent with my old friends, Restless, Irritable and Discontent. I’ve fallen out of love with meetings, which makes me sad. In thinking about Steps 6 & 7 for June & July, I find myself wondering if I am entirely willing to allow for change, or am I too ready to accept that this is now the way it is? I’m reminded that if I’m unhappy, it has to do with me. The program is the program – what am I doing or not doing that has me out in the weeds?
I realize that even (especially?) in long term recovery, I’m as sick as my secrets, so made myself talk about my various discomforts this week, and in talking, identified the creeping tendrils of fear, specifically, fears around this lack of zest for meetings – AA/Alanon have been my life for decades. What does it mean if that changes? It was pointed out that I am in transition, both with my recovery program and in life. At 33 years, I don’t need meetings in the way that I did in the past. Several close friends have chosen to stop, which has me questioning both their choice to quit and mine to keep going. What does recovery mean as a long-timer? Where do I give back, and as important, where do I get nourished? I realized that, while I benefit (& hopefully am helpful) in meetings with a mix of new and older recovery, what I really need at this point is to be with my peers – less “plug in the jug” and more “this is where I’m afraid/excited/engaged/overwhelmed/etc.”

Some of my, until now, unnamed fears are related to my pending retirement – still a ways out, but the ground is moving beneath my feet. Today I attended a yearly conference, likely my last. I’m coming up on multiple “finals” as the year progresses – a relief and a bit scary. I have my plan, my finances are in order, and I don’t actually know what is next, which is always a scary spot. A good friend validated my concerns, reminding me that there are several big passages in life, and retirement is one of them. And in listening to friends who are a few steps ahead, it is a process, this leaving of one’s work-identity and structure. Some are loving it, some not so much. I imagine I’ll experience a bit of both. As much as I don't like being "right where I'm supposed to be," there is some comfort in knowing I'm not alone in my angst. And as a tail-end baby boomer, I don't suppose there is anything I'll experience that hasn't already been felt by a million or so of my cohort. 

Speaking of cohort, a group of grade school gals met for dinner a couple of weeks ago. Several I've been friends with all along, while am getting to know a couple more via the wonders of social media and these occasional get-togethers. One asked, as the meal winded down, "What brings you joy?"  Some hesitated, while a few had quick responses. What does bring me joy? I put much of my life in the "contentment" column, as in "pleasant" and "enjoyable" but what brings outright joy, which I think of as the high twinkles? People named spending time in nature, grand-kids, music, travel, and good health. I added, "gatherings like this," getting a good dose of satisfaction from these long term connections. That is also a shift – after not seeing many of these people in 40-50 years, some of us regularly get together these days to listen to music, chat on Facebook, or share a meal. Another transition, this stepping both forward and backward in time.

So, awareness, action, acceptance. I was taught that talking about something takes the power out of whatever I’m ruminating on, and it did seem to help. Talking, formally (meeting) and informally (with friends), having a good cry on my husband’s shoulder, and putting pen to paper has helped to clear the fog a bit, as has looking up meetings I might attend outside my usuals. There is a fine line between surrender and action – where am I on that continuum?  

A friend recently said “turn your problems into projects.” How might that apply in the realm of the spirit? In the spot check inventory, where are you today with willingness and being entirely ready for Higher Power to move in your life?

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

I had my performance eval at work last week, with  my supervisor noting how my goals have shifted from last year's grumbling “try to stay motivated” to some specifics I want to get done in this final year at work. I’m back in love with my job, appreciating why I do what I do, while making mental note of all that I won’t be doing in the future (staff conflict – no thank you). This slight shift in perspective, as in, “this is the last July I’ll be working,” “this may be the last person I hire,” helps me take a step back and appreciate rather than criticize.

Shifts in perception – that’s what  Alanon gives me. Initially the shift had to do with my boyfriend’s drug use, learning that I didn’t cause it, can’t control it, and can’t cure it. Later, the shift was related to the family disease – looking at the places where I erroneously blamed my dad for decisions I was making today; coming to fully understand that my dear parents did the best they could and that dad’s alcoholism and depression were not my fault – that 10 inch drop from the head to the heart. These days, the shift in perception has to do with the illusion of control, as in “I am not the boss of you.” The shift is also related to an increased ability to see my insanities, not always immediately, but I’m usually able to recognize my ism’s as just that, and not truth.

A friend has just flown home from the UK, which made me think of my first visit to the vast Heathrow airport in 1978, only my second airplane flight ever. I'm now grateful that I didn't wake the stranger next to me in the middle of the night to show him Greenland through the window, realizing when the sun came up that it was the wing of the plane. Perspective.  I remembered being told about a classmate who’d passed through Heathrow with her family, on their way to the old country several years earlier. She’d  never traveled, and was freaked out by the melting pot of International Arrivals – Sikhs in turbans, Muslim women in the chador, Africans in their colorful garb. At the time, before travel was on my horizon, I was perplexed by her reaction, since I couldn't wait to see the world and its inhabitants. Different perspectives, different expectations. 

Steps 4-9 used to scare me, as if the inventory was a Ouija board, full of mystery.  Of course, the reality is that it was my story I was writing, my story as I saw it at the time, a perspective that has definitely shifted over the years. For a long time, my history sat on my shoulder, whispering that I would be found out as an impostor – who did I think I was, anyway? Time, and working the Steps helped put the past where it belonged.

Death has shifted my perspective: Mom, Doug, Jer, Janet, Jayna, Teracita, Walt, Hassan, Ronnie – all the recent reminders that this life doesn't last forever, and that we really don't know what's around the corner. Do I think about that every day? No. Usually I simply slog through the week, doing what's in front of me, but when I take a few moments to sit in the silence, I have a deep appreciation for life, and for the connections I’ve made over the years. I can focus on the loss, or I can focus on the love. Perspective.

I’m grateful that, for the most part, I inherited my mother’s optimism. I work in a prison. Minimum security, with skylights and beautiful gardens, but essentially a cage. Some days I focus on the absurdity of razor wire atop the chain link fence, keeping men confined for set periods of time, while other days I marvel at the lovely flowers (this week I saw both a hummingbird and a bunny) and barely notice the fence. Perspective, which, for me, is related to the state of my spiritual condition as well as how much sleep I’ve had, and if I’m too hungry (those pesky HALTS again). It can also be a matter of choice. Where do I focus my attention, and if that attention is in a ditch, or on the razor wire, can I shift my view?

Where does my perspective need to shift today? Time often feels like a higher power. A shift would mean relaxing into the now instead of the next week. A shift would mean truly internalizing “one day at a time” and “easy does it.” A shift would mean going with the flow while honoring my inner planner. What about you? Are there places where a shift in perspective would increase your serenity?

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

A couple of weeks ago I crossed paths with a running acquaintance. We've seen each other on various courses over the years, and share a hairdresser. She's now 75 and still doing the deal, though shifted to walking 6 months ago. She asked if I were walking full time now. I joked about my slow jog (slog) but it both stung and motivated me. In my mind, I'm still a runner, though she isn't the first person to ask if I'm enjoying my walk. I've blown the others off, but I value this woman's view as she's seen me over the 25 years I've been out there. What I realized is that if I'm going to call myself a runner, I need to run. I saw her again this week, and she may not have noted it, but I was 7 minutes faster on an 8 miler than 2 weeks ago, so obviously I was walking last time, no matter what I tell myself. To run faster, you need to run faster.

This made me think of the creative process as well as the recovery process. If I call myself a writer, I need to write. My novel, Shadows & Veins, took years to complete as I initially waited for inspiration to strike. And then I learned that you just need to sit down and do it, sometimes poorly sometimes soaring, but do it. So, if I'm a writer, I need to write. If I call myself a friend, I need to pick up the phone every once in a while. If I say I am in recovery, I need to do recovery things. This looks different for everyone, and for me, means that I strive to leave a clean life on all levels - emotional, physical and spiritual. 

Sometimes that is complex and sometimes very simple. I'm thinking of the trite little sayings that, over time, have gotten stuck in my head like the jingle from an old TV commercial. Keep it Simple. Easy Does It. Think.  Also, the acronyms - STOP = Spirit, Take Over Please. ISM = I sponsor Myself (as in, not a good idea). FEAR, which has many incarnations - F*** Everything And Run; Face Everything And Recovery, and what I heard this week: Future Events Already Ruined. Oh my god - how often do I pollute an upcoming experience with the "what if's?" (which are nearly always negative). 

Living clean means making the conscious effort to eat well, get enough sleep, get up from my desk every hour to move around. It means spending time each day in prayer and meditation, keeping commitments to my sponsees, showing up. It also means all the different ways I've internalized our recovery program, from those silly slogans to the gut-check. One day at a time, it means an "attitude of gratitude."

An old memory was triggered today when someone spoke of his significant other overdosing, and his fears as he prodded her awake. It made me think of a time that my lover overdosed and I found him beginning to turn blue. I'd like to say that I immediately jumped into action, but must admit that I hesitated. If I called an ambulance, I might go to jail for the drug-making equipment in my basement. He surely would. Luckily, he came to, and lived for a few more years before the disease claimed him. I am beyond grateful today that the trauma and drama of active addiction is merely a memory. And Richard E, I sincerely hope that you are resting in peace.

What are your various labels? Are you doing what you are called to do in your heart? If not, where can you carve out time for yourself and your inclinations? What does it mean to you to live clean?

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

And the beat goes on...  I made a conscious effort this week to mix it up a little - got to a couple of meetings I don't usually attend, and went to a church service with a friend in lieu of my home group. None of these were earth shattering, but it was good to shake up the routine just a bit. Funny thing about routine - I thrive with structure, and after a while, structure can be mind-numbing. I find myself  asking, "What day is it?" when the alarm goes off. Is this a running day, or a gym day, morning Alanon day, or an early-to-work day? Is it drag-ass Tuesday, or whoosh! Friday already? And the beat goes on.

Actually, one of the meetings I hit was my home group for at least a decade. I used to live for that group and lunch after as we supported members through having babies, an end of life journey, coming out in public for the first time, marriages and divorces, relapses and recovery. It was a home group in the best sense of the word. And then, one day it seemed, the meeting shifted. It got huge, and the demographics no longer felt like my peers, so, a friend and I started another meeting, which has been growing strong for a long time now. For years, that group fed me, and hopefully, I gave back, but then it, too, felt like more of an obligation than a joy and I shifted, yet again. Such is the nature of recovery - mine anyway. Noticing discomfort, taking a look at my contribution to my dis-ease, and making a decision to stay or go. That in itself is such a process - do I need to write inventory, or simply take a nap? 

In any event, it felt really good, warm and comfortable to walk into that former home group, in a new setting, with so many familiar faces. I was greeted with a hug by one of the members, who was a kid in treatment when I worked with youth decades ago, telling me he'd thought of me this past week while at Multnomah Falls. (Don't tell anyone, but I let one of the teens parallel park the extended van on an outing, after three pitiful attempts on my part.)

After the meeting I had a reassuring talk with a former sponsor and old friend. A few years my senior in the program, she shared that she'd also been feeling a little flat about AA recently. As we agreed, our desire to pull back from meetings isn't about getting out and doing other exciting things, it's about the desire to be home, just puttering around. Goals shift and change over the lifespan, and being "out amongst 'em," as my dad used to say, just doesn't hold the appeal it once did. Home, good books, boxes of photos to sort, cooking a tasty meal, watching a movie... that is the draw today.

And the draw today also has to do with on-going spiritual growth, which I can’t get sitting at home with a movie, or my Big Book – they used to call that “pipe-lining,” when it’s just me and HP. I need people, living examples of recovery in action. Just this week, in my early morning group, an old resentment was triggered. As I internally fumed with justification for my anger, I got smacked upside the head with an understanding of my part in the situation. That’s not what I was expecting when I woke up that morning. I would’ve been content to carry that resentment for a long time, but here I am, letting go. I likely wouldn’t have come to that surrender at home cooking dinner - I needed to hear what other people shared about their experience with troubling relationships in order to see a bigger picture. OK, God, I get it – “We” not “me.”

 Happy Summer Solstice, dear readers - wishing everyone a peaceful and enjoyable season. Where are you with any lingering resentments? Are there places in your life, or your program, that would benefit from a gentle shake-up?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

I've just started reading Sallie Tisdale's book, Advice for Future Corpses, about coming to terms with  mortality - our own and our loved ones'. Wow. I'm only a few pages in, but already the sticky-note markers are flying. My only caveat is that I'll no longer read it right before bed - much too thought provoking.

I do think about my mortality, more so as the clock ticks. There came a point when I fully understood that the time ahead of me is less than the time behind me, so what do I want to do with that? Tisdale recommends getting familiar with, and comfortable with the fact of death. Flowers die. Beloved pets die. Strangers die. Loved ones die. We will die. I will die. 

Early in recovery, I toyed with the notion that I would probably drink again were I to receive a terminal diagnosis. Why not, right? I've since seen it go both ways - someone who drank, and and several who didn't and at this moment, I prefer the latter. As an African proverb (I don't know the exact source) says, "When death comes for me, let it find me alive."

A few years ago, the Cabal, a small group I've been meeting with for a decade now, tackled the Steps as related to the aging process. 1. I am utterly powerless over aging. No creams, vitamins, exercise, surgery or positive thoughts will stop the calendar from turning. 2. A Power greater than myself can restore me to sanity, with sanity meaning acceptance. 3. I surrender and attempt to trust the process. I can inventory my fears, share those, and then offer myself to my Creator, the good and the not so good, the wrinkles and arthritic hands, and can move to more fully accept that I am right where I'm supposed to be (4,5,6,7). I'm not as strong as I used to be. I don't run as fast as I once could. But I am WAY more comfortable in my own skin. The trade off is worth it. For about a year, I was part of a group of women with over 20 years sobriety. We called ourselves "Too Old to Give a F***" because, really, who cares? I'm being flip, but the truth is, I don't care about the same things I used to care about - my concerns are more inner than outer directed these days, less about what you think about me and more about the state of my soul.

My goal is to live to a healthy 100. Why not? I've completed 10 marathons, and a 100 mile bike ride - 100 years old seems like a good, round goal. But whether I have 30 years or 30 days remaining, what do I want to do with my precious time? I'm not suggesting productivity necessarily, though there are items on my to-do list. I'm thinking more about what I'd like to experience, what I'd like to learn more about, what fears I'd like to release, who I'd like to spend time with, and who needs to know that I love them.

Tisdale suggests identifying what I am specifically afraid of in regards to dying. My mother had a peaceful death, at home, as she wanted. Her experience informs my fears - I don't have biological children. Who will sit with me at the end? Will I be alone? I have fears about things undone. (Tisdale quotes her Buddhist teacher as saying, "I'm not afraid to die. I'm just not ready.")  I'm not ready, materially, emotionally, or spiritually, and I am fully aware that I don't get to decide. That's one thing that amused and annoyed my mom. She was a planner (as am I) and as her time grew near, said with just a hint of sarcasm, that this wasn't something that could be decided. We did plan - the paperwork was all in place. But you can't plan for the feelings. I couldn't plan for the experience of grace, of the beauty and the agony of watching my mother die. She seemed to make peace with it, over time, though that was a process. I can only imagine.

And so, I will continue my journey through the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, over and over and over again. I will do my best to remain present, and teachable, in this and all areas. I will appreciate the joys that are mine today, and there are many.

In thinking and writing about death, I'm not feeling morbid, or particularly sad. I am being realistic, and curious, and grateful for growing older with a clear and sober mind. This life is amazing - the boring days and the peak experiences, and everything in between, one day at a time.

Do you think about mortality? What are your fears, if any? Where does your mind go when you meditate or daydream, when you think about the future?

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

We were fortunate to visit our home-away-from-home group over the weekend - Bernal New Day in San Francisco, a short walk from the in-laws. It's always a good feeling to be welcomed by familiar faces, and to hear a fresh take on how we practice the principles in our daily lives. We hit another good meeting in Berkeley, and again, good to visit a new group, and visit with my spouse's former sponsor.  

Even at home it's necessary for me to mix it up every so often lest I slip into "personalities before principles." The home group and my regular meetings provide many things – comfort at being known, stability,  consistency, and the sameness can be a soporific. I'm not mentally and spiritually challenged if I (think) I know what so-and-so will say each week. So, hitting a different meeting, or bringing a beginner's mind to my usuals, keeps the miracle alive. That being said, I know that I am lucky to have literally 100's of groups to choose from in any given week. I still remember the English speaking meeting in Prague that my friend, Cheri, and I attended years ago. "Please, tell us your story!" the group of 4 or 5 pleaded, having heard each other many times over. 

I was taught that there are two times to go to a meeting – when you want to and when you don’t. I have a long-entrenched meeting habit that has served my recovery well. When I look back over the years, I’ve had a handful of dry patches, or “spiritual deserts,"  and then “bam!” one day I’m in one of those meetings where the room seems to levitate and I remember, “Oh yeah – that’s why I’m here.” For today (or this week), I can suit up and show up. I can see if there is a different meeting to work into my schedule. I can listen to truly hear rather than letting my mind drift. I can reach out to a newcomer, or otherwise be of service. I can get back to the Step group I've had to miss for two months...  I know I've written about this meeting ennui before, and will likely again. One of the challenges of long term recovery is staying engaged. Some ebb and flow is to be expected, and it is important to keep my eyes open.

Speaking of miracles, my husband and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary this week, which means we've been together nearly 10 years. The miracle is that I was finally able to get out of my own way and let Higher Power choose. The miracle is that with two distinctly different ways of being in the world, we have built a sweet life together with the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions as our base. Grateful every day...

As we turn the calendar to June, I am now 13 months from my planned retirement. I expect the time to alternately drag, and fly by. Much like early recovery, I'm turning to people farther along the path for guidance, experience, strength and hope. As with all major (& minor) life events, I rest assured knowing that there are others who have walked this road ahead of me. I can feel myself beginning to detach from my long and positive career, and, today I am employed and have work to do before letting go. One day at a time...

What do you do when you find yourself bored in meetings? How do you re-light the fire for recovery? How do you stay in the moment when you have something you're looking forward to (or dreading)?  

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

I met with my sponsor yesterday in the first of our Tradition study series, focused on applying the 12 Traditions to marriage/partnership. After a false-start with a couple of friends, this has traction, and is a way to both hone in on the area of relationship, my final frontier, and invigorate my program. The seduction of the “retrogressive groove,” the lull of “all is well” can be deadly. I don’t walk around (much) waiting for the other shoe to drop these days, and I am well aware that personal and spiritual growth don’t occur in a vacuum. I had a teacher in grade school who was always telling us, “You won’t get this by osmosis!”  Same for the principles of our program, though I do think, if I’m paying even the slightest bit of attention, some of it does rub off. I watch as you walk through challenges with integrity, I listen as you describe how you overcome dishonesty, I hear it when you talk about your desires for a better life, and it impacts how I see the world and my place in it. But, in order to make it mine, and not merely theory, I need to apply what I hear and read and observe to my life, my relationships, my situations.  As a fairly concrete thinker, that used to confuse me – what does it mean to work a program? So I asked a friend, who told me that, to her, it means thinking about what she reads, writing about how it applies to her, and then acting on the new information: pause, think, consider the consequences.

All around my house, in little nooks and crannies on bookshelves, stuck in or under various stacks of literature, sometimes in my purse, are slogans, quotes, or inspirations that I've jotted down or copied onto bits of paper. Sometimes I’ll come across one of these missives and wonder at my state of mind when I noted it, at what was either troubling me or exciting me at the time. Sometimes I take a deep breath of recognition – “Ah, thank you HP, for the reminder,” and sometimes I think, “Eh, not so much” and throw it away.  I appreciate this tangible evidence of past meetings and chance encounters, these tiny efforts to capture and integrate spiritual lessons.
 This is what I came across this week – from Kabir, a 15th century Indian mystic:

“Be strong then, and enter into your own body;
There you have a solid place for your feet.
Think about it carefully!
Don’t go off somewhere else!
Kabir says this: just throw away all thought of imaginary things,
And stand firm in that which you are.”

"Stand firm in that which you are." Not the imaginary of what I hope to be, or what I should be, or what I used to be, but “that in which you are,” right here, right now. What I was taught early on is that right here, right now, everything is ok. I have a place to sleep tonight, and have had enough to eat today. When I can keep my brain where my butt is, I know, I know that all is well.

Are your heart and mind in the same place as your feet today? What speaks to you in Kabir's poem?

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

I stopped meditating about a year ago.  During vacation with friends, with little alone time, my already tenuous practice stopped. I tried to re-up a few times over the ensuing months, but it just didn’t catch - until now. I’ve been drawn to the chair in the past couple of weeks, and am actually sitting each day – maybe only 10 minutes at a time, but it’s something.

I’ve never been consistent enough with meditation to experience noticeable benefits. I am a wee bit hyperactive and have a really hard time holding still, much less quieting the internal chatter. I’ve long felt inadequate when it comes to the “and meditation” aspect of Step 11 since I can’t pretzel myself into the lotus position, have never gone on a silent retreat, etc, etc, etc. And then I was reminded that when Bill W. wrote about meditation in the 1930’s and 40’s, he wasn’t talking about the eastern version that we picture “nowadays.” To Bill, meditation meant reading and reflecting on inspirational literature,  like the St. Francis prayer in the 12x12. That I can do. I’m a good reflector, just not a good sitter. And I’m also reminded that there are many ways to meditate – the walking meditation that Tich Nhat Hahn describes, drawing, playing music (or listening) - anything that moves my mind to the “zone.”  Running can be meditative. Gardening definitely can be meditative. It all depends on the energy and intention I bring to the task.

Sitting on my little chair last week, I cracked the deck door in order to hear the rain. At this point, I can’t still my mind at will, but I can set the stage – a comfortable spot, quiet or soothing sounds, sometimes a timer (sometimes not). My sponsor, whatever I bring to her, always reminds me of the practice.  Step 12 says that we “practice these principles in all our affairs.” It doesn’t say, “Pass the test with an 'A' each time” or “Gain complete mastery.” I (because of repetitive practice) do have mastery over some of my glaring defects – the lying, cheating and stealing variety. I’m much improved on others – impulsivity, mind-reading, and impatience, for example. Being in recovery over time brings the opportunity to see patterns, habitual behaviors and attitudes that can feel current and new, but that are usually tied to some past belief.  The arduous process of unraveling the tangled web of reactions has been the gift and the challenge of living in recovery, of living in the present moment rather than being blindly propelled by the past.
* * *
We listened to an old speaker CD on a mini-road trip this weekend - Patrick W, the local fellow who coined the song "Oh Thank You God" (to the tune of "O Christmas Tree."). I was at the meeting that was recorded in 1989 and am certain I sang along with the crowd, and still sing his song when moved by gratitude. I feel fortunate to have grown up in recovery with the WWII era old-timers and their rock bottom stories. At the time, I remember thinking, "If this guy can do it, I can too," which is a huge part of how this thing works - inspiration, instruction, example, and laughter, the kind that leaves me shaking my head in wonder. As we say, "you can't make this stuff up."  A note of thanks to the trusted servants who are taking the time to convert the old cassette tapes to CD's. I appreciate hearing the voices and stories from my past.

Who were your inspirations when you entered the world of recovery? How do you practice Step 11, whether sitting, walking or otherwise?

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

I drive a curved overpass on my way to work each day, either in my vehicle or on the bike. There is a spot where I can see Mt Hood in the distance to the east, majestic in her glory, often with a sunrise backdrop. Until just recently, I hadn’t realized that a few feet on looms the flat top of Mt. St. Helens to the north. I’ve driven this path for nearly 10 years. Did someone cut down a tree? Did I simply not notice?

What else might I be blind to, as in defenses and defects? It can be tough to rout out old ideas, because they’re my ideas, and can feel true and right (though usually  more along the lines of righteous). Where might it be helpful to pause (that word again!) and ask, “Is this actually true?” or “Might there be a different way to view this?” whether an interaction with another person, a situation, or my own thoughts, which can sometimes feel like they have a life of their own. Someone recently shared with me that she tries not to believe her own brain, along the lines of “First thought wrong.” I might expand that to “First thought defensive” or “First thought protective” and go from there. A clue for me is the amount of energy behind my thinking – am I  absolutely certain or adamant? Maybe that means I could take a breath and a step back.

My sponsor and I have agreed to work through the Traditions as related to partnership. This has always been the final frontier for me. Keep your resentments – relationships are my number one offender. My number one offender, and my great teacher, where I have the opportunity to learn about detachment and non-attachment, letting go, boundaries, autonomy, and intimacy. My spouse and I are coming up on our 8th wedding anniversary, and 10 years together this year – crazy, and yes, apparently I blinked a few times because here we are in 2019. While I’ve not regretted it for a minute, I must admit that being married was initially an adjustment for me – the whole give and take of physical and emotional space when I’d been doing things a particular way for eons.  And while I no longer view myself as damaged goods, or a DIY project to be solved, I do seek continuing spiritual growth, which means practicing the principles consciously, truly committing to self-care, communicating even when it's uncomfortable or I'm in a hurry.

* * *
I triggered myself this week – My eyes were dilated in an emergency eye appointment (that turned out to be nothing worrisome), which left me looking like a tweaker, minus the tongue-chewing euphoria. Seeing my huge pupils in the mirror took me back to the dark days of trying to avoid looking my mother or boyfriend in the eye, lest they recognize that I was in an altered state. I am so grateful not to live in secret anymore – the lies, the deceit, the excuses, the ugliness inside and out that went along with my alcoholism and addiction. I am grateful for health and recovery, though still coming to terms with the age-related "what-have-you's" that keep popping up. 

One day at a time, I relax into the aging process. One day at a time, I do my best to remain teachable. One day at a time, I practice gratitude for this glorious life in recovery.  

Where do you find yourself noticing something you hadn't seen before, whether on your morning walk or the pages of a favorite book? How have your loved ones changed, or is it your perception that has shifted? 

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

I recently over-reacted to something my spouse said -  the old “if I’m hysterical, it is historical” mode.  I can know that, intellectually. The challenge is to uninstall my buttons, so they don’t get pushed. Easier said than done, but apparently I’m not alone – in sharing the interaction with trusted others, what I heard was, “Ah, I do that too" -  the “we” of the program in action. I may think I’m the only one who (fill in the blank), but I am nowhere near as unique as I’d believe. And, I’m better able to move into “awareness, acceptance, & action” when I can forgive myself for being human.  As fate would have it, my early morning’s meeting topic this week was related to applying the 4th Tradition to relationships – Every group (person) should be autonomous, except in matters affecting another group (person) or AA/Alanon (the relationship) as a whole.

Autonomy - what a concept.  I am a helper and a manager by profession, the eldest of 2 children, and have truly believed that I could wrest satisfaction from this life if only I managed well. And I do manage well. However, I have a stronger desire to be a healthy spouse in a loving relationship, which means continuing to look at what residual baggage I bring to the present moment.  I am grateful that Alanon and has been a part of my program for as long as I have been sober, as it has been instrumental in helping me deal with the causes and conditions that contribute to my dis-ease. Somewhere along the line, I picked up the idea (& ran with it) that if I’m not in charge, no one is, and my ideas are usually right. Alas, my ideas might be right for me. My responsibility in any relationship is to focus on myself – my reactions, my words, my own hoola-hoop. Speaker Lila R. reminds me that you are safer when I’m practicing self-care. For me that doesn’t just mean getting enough sleep and eating right, but the deeper (& harder) aspect of letting you know my desires. We sometimes hear that as “stating my needs.” Well, my needs are air, water and shelter, but I have many preferences. If I can remember that they are just that, I’m better able to let go of the throttle.

* * *
On the way to a great conference this past weekend, we listened to a speaker CD with the message: “Don't let the life AA gave you get in the way of your AA life.”  Several speakers at the conference, while addressing the newcomers, also talked to us old timers about keeping the program alive, not letting it get stale, and to beware of starting to believe our own BS simply because we have been sober for decades. That is the quest of this blog and other work I am doing on long term recovery -  I do not want to drift away. I know some who are no longer engaged in the program and are doing great, and others who’ve gone back to active addiction. I’m not willing to throw that set of dice, and besides, I like you people.  At the beginning of my recovery the disease knocked on the front door, saying “I know where my boyfriend is cooking meth – wouldn’t a shot feel good?” or “A drink would sure relieve this pressure.” These days it is much more subtle, showing up in the whisper that I wrote about last week (“you don’t really need a meeting today”).  It can also show up in self-righteousness, judgment, or just general crankiness – anything that separates me from you and from my Higher Power/Serenity.

In the “god-shot” department: I’d decided that part of my retirement process would be reaching out to my various supervisors from over the years to thank them for my long career. In a serendipitous moment at the conference, we happened to sit right next to my very first supervisors and teachers (W.T. was the Director and his wife A.T. was the Nurse Manager of the program where I trained and was then hired). After the closing prayer, I told them both (through tears) how much I appreciated their guidance in getting me off on the right foot all those years ago. This is not a regular conference for us, these people now live in Arizona, and if we’d sat on the other side of the 1,000 person room, I might’ve missed them. As we hear, be careful what you pray for (or set intention for) because you never know how that will show up.

How do you, or might you, apply the 12 Traditions to your personal relationships today? How do you accept your imperfections along with your awesomeness?

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

I subscribe to the “Honest Guys” Facebook page, out of the UK,  consisting of a daily nature photograph and a gentle nudge towards inner peace and kindness. Pleasantly, with all the chatter, ads and political posts, this message shows up front and center the first thing every morning. Recently, the photo was of an emerald evergreen forest, with a mossy floor, and sun rays filtered through the trees. It immediately transported me to a place we called “Fairyland,” out behind a cabin our families used at Cannon Beach when we were kids. The funky little place, with sloped floors and rickety wooden bunk beds, belonged to Charlie, an old school buddy of my dad and aunt’s. We may have only been there a handful of times, but in memory, it was paramount. Out back, walking along the fence line and beyond, Charlie showed us young ones the magical forest of Fairyland. It was stunning – huge, old growth pines, a thick, mossy covering on the ground, and often, rays of sun shining through to the forest floor. Charlie walked us out to a large tree who’s root system created a little seat, firmly instructing us to go no further else we incur the wrath of the goblins who lived beyond. Enchanted and terrified, we never stepped beyond the marker tree. 

Until, of course, we did. As we got older and bolder, we thought, “Why not?” taking those first steps towards reality. Reality wasn’t goblins or bad guys, but a clear-cut a few hundred yards beyond - heartbreaking in its ugliness. Even though we knew better, we’d hoped to find an evil castle or other signs of magical wonder. Already jaded at 11 or 12, we probably lit up a stolen cigarette and said, “We won’t tell our moms that we know the truth.”  

I remember both the magic and the let-down of the fantasy Fairyland, an archetypal movement from the innocence of childhood to the harsh reality of the world. Despite the harsh realities, I don’t want to get stuck in that place of “Ain’t it ugly?” When I find myself focused on the clear-cut of the political world, or my appointments and to-do lists,  I can consciously turn towards the peaceful forest, the place inside me that knows all is well, the place that remembers whatever really needs doing will get done. As one of my daily readers says, “What is urgent is rarely important, and what is important is rarely urgent.” 

I believe it was Marieanne Williamson who wrote (& I paraphrase) that there really is only one path – I’m either moving towards Higher Power/Spirit/Peace of Mind or away. Which direction am I facing today? And if I’m facing the internal chaos of anxiety or worry, how do I turn myself around? Ah – I can’t turn myself around, but I can surrender in the practice of Step 3 (made a decision) and then ask for guidance via Step 11 (knowledge of HP’s will for me and the power to carry that out). I sometimes read Step 11 as related to the big deals, the ones that need “power.” But maybe the “power” to carry out God’s will is as simple as shifting my focus, taking a deep breath, reading inspirational or centering literature. Slaying dragons, the internal goblins, can be in the small decisions as well as the big.

For me, that showed up last week as a noticing. I missed two of my regular meetings due to scheduling conflicts, and then a third on Thursday, because the sun was out. I noticed on Sunday (home group day) a slight hesitation, a whisper of “you’ve got so much to do,” and realized, on a gut level, how easy it would be to simply drift away from my 12 Step practice, which includes regular meeting attendance. So easy to give in to the “Life is good,” “I’ve got this,” “I’ve got a lot to do” trap. I’ve got a lot to do, and life is good because of recovery, and the grace that delivered me from the hell of my addiction. Not “I’ve got this,” but “Higher Power has this” – always has and always will.

I’m recently truly feeling “one day at a time,” especially after attending a moving memorial for Ronnie S., a really good guy who was killed in a motor vehicle accident – too young, too soon, totally unexpected. This moment is all we have. Am I going to face the beautiful forest, or the clear cut? Trust, or give in to my fears?  Slip away, or maintain my commitment to my spiritual practice? What is your choice today? How does the disease talk to you, and what do you do when you notice that?