Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Catching my breath here, from a richly emotion-filled week. The roller-coaster isn’t limited to new sobriety! However, these days, I know that I’m not going to fly off into space with life's ups and downs and am better able to simply enjoy the ride.

Early in the week, our “Too Old to Give a F**k” group had a reunion meeting, having disbanded at the beginning of the year. I felt a welcome exhale as I sat with these women, all with over 20 years of recovery. No B.S. with this group, simply “What is going on today, and how am I applying the principles of the program?” We will meet again.

Saturday morning, I participated in a spiritual circle with women I hadn’t seen since our beloved teacher died two years ago. Taking my seat, I started to cry with gratitude. I’ve done some exploring in those two years, but haven’t found a spiritual home that feels right and checks all my boxes (spiritual vs religious, inclusive, open to many paths, for example). We meditated and shared, and spoke to a pertinent question before deciding that we will meet again. 

And then I jetted off to a local AA women’s conference. What a gift, especially that I got to spend time with my treatment roommate from all those years ago. It feels natural and right to sit in meetings with her – she was quite literally there the day I came through the doors, and we’ve shared living arrangements, meetings, meals and many heartfelt conversations since. We were privileged to hear Lila R. as the keynote speaker, having just celebrated her 50th sobriety anniversary. My Step Group follows her format, from a workshop she gave in Tulsa, OK many years ago. Five of our seven members were there – we should’ve corralled her and shared a group hug! In any event, it was good to spend time immersed in program and hear the experience, strength and hope from all of the speakers who shared how the Steps work in their lives today. 

In between all this sisterhood, I marked my 65th birthday – weird and amazing – and noted the 7th anniversary of my dear mother’s passing. Time does march on, and both these dates prompted reflection on where I’ve been and where I am today. It was providential that I was enveloped in strong women space as I paid attention to my feelings, shared them, and moved on.

In all three settings, it was noted that, as time goes on in life and in recovery, whatever happens, and I do mean whatever, I now have my own experience, strength and hope to draw from. As Lila said, I now know, deeply know, that I will survive whatever life has to give. That is such a difference from earlier years when I allowed the winds of change to knock me to my knees. That might still happen on occasion, but I’m much quicker to recognize what will bring me back to center. What was also mentioned, more than once, is the importance of self-care, including Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, a topic I frequently mention because I need the reminder. 

So what I am thinking about, as I decompress from gratitude-overload, is “Trust the Process.” I used to say, only half in jest, “Screw the process!” because I had no idea what it meant to trust that life was working itself out without my efforts to control. When I was 30, I could absolutely not have imagined having fun without a drink in my hand. When I was, say, 37, I could not have imagined how good life is at 65. When my mother died, I would not have believed I would make peace with her absence. When I had a first date with a handsome guy from SF, I had no idea that 10 years later we’d have built a loving home together. Trust. Suit up and show up. Take it easy. Who knew that the trite little sayings would become a mantra?

Right here, right now, I am typing, with a purring cat nearby and a cup of tea on my desk. Later I will join a group of my cousins for dinner. Tomorrow morning I plan to go for a jog before work, and will hit a 4pm meeting. Period. I do have plans further out, because that is who I am. And, I grow in understanding each day that all I really have is this moment.

Where do you experience the love of the program, and if you haven't felt that lately, what needs to change? Which of the HALTs is your personal demon, and how do you pay attention to your internal signals? Which of our slogans do you refer to when you feel unsettled?

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Back from my travels... We hit a good meeting (25 regulars, 5 visitors) in Budapest where I was reminded of the gifts of recovery, by the speaker and all who shared. In Vienna, we hit a meeting of a different sort, following the format of Big Book Awakenings, a companion to the Big Book (that I'd never heard of). There were just 5 of us sharing on Step One, powerlessness. This meeting was for any 12 Step member - locals were 2 Alanons and 1 dual member. I was struck by the sincerity of the people who lived there (an Austrian, a Californian and a Brit) as they grappled with powerlessness in all its forms - yes, over drugs & alcohol, but as spiritually destructive, over the emotional twists and quirks that impact our daily well-being as the days of recovery add up.

It was mentioned during the meeting that change is initiated by pain - if something feels good, I'll repeat it (again and again). My impetus to change, to surrender, comes when fear or emotional upheaval finally takes me to that place of crying out "I can't do this any more!" There are degrees, from the wailing, on my knees surrender to the head-against-the-wall recognition that my behavior or attitude keeps bringing me to the same place of discomfort. I recently heard a member share that they then need to surrender the surrender. Just because I've turned something over doesn't mean that it will end up the way I think it should (whether that is my negative or positive projection). Such a discipline, this one-day-at-a-time, turn it over process. Stop ruminating? Live in the place of truly knowing that right here, right now, everything is okay? Progress, not perfection.

And now I am home. Being a creature of habit, it is good for me to totally shake up my routine every once in awhile, which happens when traveling. And, it feels so good to be back to my routines (not to mention, my sweet spouse and our 2 cats). 

It took me a long time in this life to acknowledge and own that I function best with structure, which includes food and sleep at regular intervals. How many arguments could've been avoided in my past life if I'd only had a sandwich?! And, how many more wouldn't happen if I just keep my mouth shut, as in Why Am I Talking (WAIT)?  It struck me, while in the back seat of our rental car, speeding through the Austrian countryside, that I didn't feel compelled to add my two cents to the front seat discussion of driving routes. What would it be like to practice that same detachment when my spouse and I are in the car together? (Ah, vehicles - the place where many a happy couple bump heads!) Never mind that I know next to nothing about the Austrian road system - a lack of knowledge rarely stops me from having an opinion. But, whether I am familiar with the streets (I did grow up here, in case you were wondering) or not, I do not need to offer an opinion or a suggestion unless I am specifically asked. Definitely one of my "Alanon-ic" issues, as an adult child of an alcoholic (who thought I needed to have answers) and the eldest of two children (who wielded what little authority I had over my unsuspecting little brother). 

So, it was a very good trip in that I learned some things about Hungary and Austria (which whetted my appetite for more) and I learned something about myself. The trick will be to follow up, whether reading more about the Austro-Hungarian empire or stopping to "THINK" (is it Thoughtful, Helpful, Intelligent, Necessary, Kind) when I feel the urge to suggest. I once heard someone quote Anne Lamott - "Helping is just the sunny side of control." Indeed...   It is helpful to remember that I'm not alone in my mental machinations.

Are there people, places or things in your life that would benefit from applying "WAIT" or "THINK?" I'd be curious as to how you implement the "pause" that can be so challenging for me.  Thank you for reading, and for those of you who chime in with comments.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Speaking of planning (see many previous posts), we've signed up for the AA International Convention coming to Detroit in July, 2020. I've been to every one since I got sober: Seattle ('90), San Diego ('95), Minneapolis ('00), Toronto ("05), San Antonio ('10) and Atlanta ('15) which was my husband's first. The crowds can be overwhelming at times - 50-60,000 sober alcoholics and family members in one place - but the absolute thrill of hearing the Serenity Prayer recited by those 50,000 people in the stadium meetings makes the long lines for coffee (& everything else) worth it. Seeing smiling faces from around the world (including the parade of nations on the 1st night), truly illustrates this world-wide fellowship I feel so privileged to be a part of.

I love conferences – the retreat aspect of being away for a weekend rejuvenates my program, and hearing different speakers’ take on the Steps and daily application of the principles offers the opportunity for new insight into my own thought processes.

My first conference was the 1986 North Coast Roundup in Seaside, OR. Several of our treatment counselors were involved, and thus put me to work taking tickets. At 90 days sober, I was probably still seeing double, but greeting people as they came in was just what I needed to feel "a part of." Having a role, a job to do, created a buffer between my shyness and the rollicking world of AA members. I could “act as if” I was comfortable, and by the end of the weekend, I was. I was told that "service work will keep you sober," and that has definitely been my experience.

Initially, I loved speaker meetings because it meant for sure that I wouldn’t be called on to share - it was several years before I could do much more than say my name in a meeting without crying. I still enjoy the “AA on Saturday night” aspect, though I don’t get quite as much out of talks that sound like stand-up comedy as I used to. When the student is ready, the teacher appears, and when I was new, especially, I reveled in identification with the hard-core tales of descent and eventual redemption. These days, I'm more attuned with hearing how long-timers navigate the "road of happy destiny" over hill and dale.

I'd like to share a meeting pet-peeve. I've recently been in a couple of meetings with out of town visitors. The way I was "raised" in the program (yes, this is my inner "bleeding deacon" speaking), visitors are welcomed, and called on to share. My control issues flare when person after person acknowledges the visitor, yet the chair never calls on them. As I'm writing, I can see that a solution could be to attend a business meeting and add "call on out-of-towners" to the format. Ha! Do I want to be part of the problem (complaining) or part of the solution? I will say that the number of things I take offense to in meetings has lessened over the years. (I used to erupt in heavy sighs if someone talked longer than my attention span, for example). I can always leave, recite the Serenity Prayer in my head, find a new meeting, or remind myself that none of us is without at least one annoying habit.

I'm headed out on one of my grand adventures, so won't likely have a post next week. I plan to hit a couple of meetings while away, and will be back in touch with you upon my return.

What are your meeting pet peeves (if any)? How does your "bleeding deacon" show up when things don't go the way you think they should in a meeting, and what might you do about that?

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

When I was newly sober, there was a crusty old guy (probably the age I am now!) who frequently said, “This is not a dress rehearsal!” I took a gut-punch on that one, guilty of the “someday soon...” mentality that told myself, “Life will get better when...” the boyfriend comes back, or when he goes away; when I lose 10 pounds; when this or that event is over; someday, somehow, out there in the future some miracle of change will magically happen. It never (truly never) occurred to me that life might get better if I stopped drinking and drugging – they were my solution, not the problem. A few months after treatment, I hit my knees when I got home from a noon meeting, in tears, asking “Is this all I had to do? Quit getting high every day, ask for help, and I feel this good?” Definitely pink cloud territory, but I went with it. Life did get better, and quickly, for me. Part of it was that I simply felt good physically – waking up clear headed (vs coming to) felt like a miracle in and of itself. Not puking. Remembering what I’d done the day before... all the tiny successes of daily life kept me coming back.

And, I must admit that I still live with a fair amount of “Life will get better/calmer when...” I finally quit my job; this or that event is over; my spouse gets home from work, or leaves for the day; when I go on vacation or when I get back, etc.  In  many ways I have “recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body,” and I still carry this brain around.  This brain that likes to plan, and jump ahead, and figure things out.

I absolutely LOVE the fresh pages of a new year’s journal or calendar. One of my Thanksgiving rituals is to go through next year’s wall calendar to add in birthdays and important dates, and I salivate over all the choices for a daily planner – What color? What features? I’ve been keeping a diary since the 6th grade, and a few years ago, read from my embarrassing 1986 journal of the first year of sobriety at an “Awkward” event, and only because it was over 30 years ago! Taking a cue from a sponsee, I did go through the decades recently and culled out many years, keeping those that felt monumental (hitting bottom, getting sober, breakups, new jobs, turning 50, for example). I suppose at some point, I’ll let go of a few more, but for now, my daily readers and journal are a big part of my spiritual practice – a way to slow down, hit "pause" and access my inner wisdom.

These days, I like making plans and doubly like when they are cancelled, but my point is that I am future oriented. Fine. Makes me a good employee and party organizer, and not-fine when it means I’m about to topple over because my emotional center of gravity is two weeks out and I’m not paying attention to the right-here-right-now of one day at a time.

This was all brought into stark relief as I cried through the memorial service for the young man I wrote about last week. From the outside, it looked like he had everything going for him – a loving family, great friends, a good heart. And, now he is gone. We just never know – what is truly on another’s mind, what awaits around the next corner, what the state of the world might be as those fresh calendar pages turn in to the new year.

Speaking of the new year and turn of the seasons, I attended an autumn women’s circle last night with a friend. I recognized some of the mostly younger women from the rooms, but many were strangers, though how sweet to come together in community, in varying degrees of internal and external transition, seeking a centering and connecting space. I think of those times I was lost and trying to find my place – in various faiths prior to recovery and just after, then again when a long term relationship ended and I found myself in a running group, a book club, a spiritual study group, and several Step groups. I realized that what people were seeking was community, and felt fortunate (then and now) to have found my tribe in the 12 Step programs. There are other places I feel at home, but AA/Alanon is where I’ve learned how to be a member among members and enjoy the feeling of being known. The company of women hasn't always been my thing, having totally bought in to the cultural b.s. that other women are my competition - an uncomfortable way to live for too many years, because, of course, there is/was always someone cuter, smarter, sexier, etc. I am grateful to have finally settled in to myself, and for the strong women I call "friend" today.

Who do you call "friend" today? Do they know that? And what about One Day at a Time? How do you bring yourself back to the present when your mind takes a field trip?

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

I'm thinking this week about loss and love and the solid truth of "one day at time."  I learned about the tragic suicide of an 18 year old young man, the son of a couple who were close friends earlier in recovery. I cannot begin to image the level of grief his parents and twin sister must be experiencing. I learned at a weekend meeting that a sober young women who'd been in a house fire, died from her injuries. In the same meeting, an out-of-town visitor shared sorrow for her 22 year old sponsee who'd just died of an overdose. 

Over the weekend, also, I attended the 26th anniversary meeting of a woman I 12-stepped when she was just 20 years old – a bona fide miracle of recovery. In my home group, someone took a 34 year chip and another claimed her 14 year coin, and a young woman who's been in and out for 11 years, spoke up, saying it was the first time she'd ever shared in a meeting, but wants to do something different this time.
"Dialectical thinking" is defined as the ability to view issues from multiple perspectives and to arrive at the most reasonable reconciliation of seemingly contradictory information, as in "life is precious and beautiful," and "life is incredibly sad." On a good day, I can hold both fragile truths. On a not-so-good day, I wonder at the seemingly unfair dispensation of emotional devastation.

Like many of us, I struggled with the concept of a Higher Power and good vs evil when I first got sober – what does that mean, exactly? Not Santa Claus – that much I figured out, and then someone said, “If I could understand it, I wouldn’t need it,” which lessened my compulsion to know. Around the same time, I read a good book with a cheesy title: When Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Harold Kushner. His premise is that there are certain forces of nature – plants sprout, bloom and then die; creatures are born and creatures die. It is part of the natural order of things, though as a human, I get attached and thus, grieve. Does knowing that we are part of the natural world make loss any easier? Not necessarily. My level of sorrow is proportional to the level of my love for a particular person, place or thing, and my judgment as to what constitutes the “natural order of things.” 18 and 22 year old’s dying does not seem to be in the natural order of things.

"Acceptance is the answer," according to the old p. 449 (now 417), not because I believe there are no mistakes, but because what is, is, and there are simply things I cannot change. What I can do is take care of myself and my varied emotions so that I can be there for others – grieving parents, sponsors and friends who mourn. The “we” of the program tells us we are here for each other, through good times and bad, through happy and sad. Today, I strive to be supportive, a part of the solution, not part of the problem.

How do you take care of yourself so that you can be there for others in their time of need? If you are the person in need at the moment, how comfortable are you with asking for help?

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The monthly step group I've been participating in for several years takes its format from the recording of a Step workshop by speaker Lila R. Part of her suggestion, which is geared towards those who've been sober for a while, is that we discover a "new idea" to guide the remaining months of the year, through the inventory process and observing our thoughts. An example - if my "old idea" is that I am deficit in some way, which she describes as very common alcoholic thinking, the new idea would be based on the concept that "I am ok just as I am." As someone who often feels a sense of time urgency, a past "new idea" for me has been, "I have enough time to accomplish all that I need and want to do." Other group members have shared new ideas related to the desire to move away from judgement or impulsivity. New ideas are always stated in the positive. If I say, "I will stop _______" my subconscious focus is on the thing I want to stop. If I say, "I will be more loving" (for example), the focus is on the loving.

This year, triggered by a small token that my sponsor gave me, and based on awareness of my tendency to defer, and to impulsively move forward without thinking things through, my new idea is "To Thine Own Self Be True." I keep the little stone where I store my car keys, so I see it several times a day as a reminder of not allowing myself to get buffeted about by what's going on in the world, or by what I think someone else may want or need, or by being in a hurry. I'm reminded to pause (that word again!) and take a moment to decide rather than react out of what I think you want, or simply a desire to keep moving. (I've long felt, however erroneously, that any decision is better than no decision. Hovering is not my strength.) 

It struck me in our Step meeting this weekend, that "To Thine Own Self Be True," isn't just about my wants and needs, but about my true nature. My maternal grandmother was a devout Christian Scientist, a faith that gets a bad rap for not believing in medicine. A positive of her beliefs, though, was that my true nature is perfection. As I kid, stealing and smoking by 9 or 10, I knew the idea of being perfect didn't apply to me. I might've wanted it to, mostly to please her, but the siren call of adrenaline and sneaking around was way stronger than her idea of what I could be. As I grew up, living from my true nature was buried, deeper and deeper, under various substances, and relationship choices, though I still wanted to be better. I used to recite the Lord's Prayer, just like Grandma taught me, before I slept, as a kind of insurance. After a while, though, I understood at a gut level that the way I was living my life was no way, no how, in line with any kind of life a higher power would have for me, so I stopped, one of the subtle signposts on the way to hitting bottom. I couldn't even pretend to pray anymore.

I've long since cleaned up my act, and don't necessarily believe in a deity on a cloud somewhere calling the shots, but I do trust that my true nature is whole and healthy and strong, and that staying connected to my spiritual resources (the natural world, quiet time, journaling, community) allows me to meet the day-to-day from a place of serenity. This comes and goes. I am more centered as I age, both in life and in program, though I still stumble. When I do get off balance, I can seek inner stillness and ask myself: How would I approach  life if I truly believed, and lived, from a place of "enough" vs lack (whether that perceived lack is material or regarding my sense of self)? How would I behave in any given situation were I to come from a place of knowing my full value and true nature instead of that old notion of smallness that can still grab me by the ankles?

I am grateful, today, to be back on track with my program. It seems counter-intuitive, but if I'm not liking meetings, the solution is to go to more meetings. Bingo! The spark is re-ignited.  What do you believe about your true nature? How do you get in touch with the part of yourself that knows all is well?

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

I was happy to chat with a handful of folks I'd known from earlier recovery years at a big AA party over the weekend. Life goes on – we pair off, get jobs, schedules change, we do, or don't continue with meetings, and people who were perhaps strong members of our weekly regimen for years are no longer part of our circle.

At a 33rd sobriety anniversary meeting the next day, the chairperson spoke about the significance of the fellowship when he first came in. Yes. We often hear that "the program is in the book," coupled with "the fellowship won't keep you sober." To that, I say B.S. Yes, the program is in the book and the Steps, but if I hadn't had fellowship when I first came in, I wouldn't have stayed long enough to find that out. I drank and used other drugs as part of my social life - parties, clubs, dinners, picnics, the end of the work day, MondayTuesdayWednesday... Yes, it got ugly and lonely the longer I went on, but always was the belief that I needed the social lubricant of a substance to be in the world. I was desperate to know that I could still have fun while clean and sober, and the fellowship gave me that. We traveled in packs in those early years, dancing at ratty AA clubs, going to movies en masse, dinner parties and backyard barbecues, slumber parties and trips to the coast, hiking and running marathons. If it had just been me, my sponsor and the Big Book, I'd never have known that the whole wide world was out there waiting for me to show up sober. I'd traveled prior to recovery, but  much of that was through the fog of a hangover (I recently realized that I have absolutely no memory of a trip to Reno my boyfriend and I took with my best friend and her husband, even with the details she’s provided). What a joy to explore a city with an eye to more than finding an open bar, and to remember what I did where, and with whom.  

As was echoed by several at the anniversary meeting, I sometimes miss those early days when everything was new and exciting, and our group of pals explored the nuances of recovery together. But, sort of like with a romantic relationship, the initial exhilaration has given way to comfortable contentment. I do not miss the roller-coaster.

One of the folks I ran in to at the party, an older gentleman, talked with me about retirement and what he described as the chance to “get to know someone you may not know very well yet.” That would be me. I do know myself in relation to the structure of the working world. How might that shift and change when I’m no longer responsible for supervision, and time sheets and regulatory compliance? How might that change when I don’t need to run (or walk!) at 5am in order to get to work on time, or when I have an open day to do more than maintenance at home? I am excited to find out.

Excited, and a little nervous. But I think about all the other life transitions that initially might’ve seemed daunting – changes in jobs, relationships, in school/out of school, moving, etc, etc, etc. When a 9 year relationship ended unexpectedly a decade ago, I found myself in “who am I?” mode, feeling the need to reclaim “me” after being a “we.” What did like to do? Who did I want to be when I was able to stop defining myself as just having gotten out of a long term relationship? I think of a job of 5 years, where the boss and I mutually decided that I’d done all I could do there, and I left without a real plan, or even back to the old days when I changed from being a good-time alcoholic & cocaine user to seedy methamphetamine use and production (see Shadows and Veins). What I know today is that nearly every change I thought was a negative turned out to be the best thing that could’ve happened (including the crystal meth chapter, since that brought me to my bottom very quickly). 

I don’t believe in a higher power pulling strings somewhere up in the cosmos, but I do believe that life works out exactly as it is supposed to. As as they used to say, "If things were supposed to be any other way, they'd be different." My ongoing lesson is to relax into what is rather than fighting the currents, and simply stay out of my own way. I seek to meet each day with curiosity rather than expectation, an invitation rather than fear. 

Over time, my fellowship has gotten smaller. There is still a crew out there, for the holiday party and anniversary meeting, but most of my close friends are, like me, living satisfactory lives that are a bit more home and family centered, which seems to be a natural evolution - a good thing. I am forever grateful for all the caffeine-fueled late night talks and "morning meetings" at various kitchen tables. I am grateful for how we held each other's hands through job interviews and first dates, break-ups and college classes, and, of course all the "meetings, meetings, meetings" we grew through together. I am grateful for the deep knowing that is just a phone call or coffee date away.

How has the fellowship shaped your recovery over the years? What, if anything, is different today? What, from your past, seemed like a negative that turned out to be a positive?

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

One of the things I painfully learned, beginning in early recovery, is the importance of being fully self-supporting. When I got to the rooms, my sort-of-ex had been supporting me for a number of years, and helped me out as I gained a foothold in AA. Initially unemployable, (I wasn’t speaking in complete sentences and was still seeing and hearing things that weren’t there) I really didn’t want to be self-supporting. But I cried tears of joy when, a few years later, I signed papers on the mortgage that was now solely my responsibility. Recently reviewing my finances as part of my retirement planning, I was grateful for my Depression era parents, who spent wisely, for two specific ex’s, who imparted healthy and sane views of money, and my second ever boss, who sat me down when I was a young and clueless new wife and showed me her method of managing monthly bills. Despite these good teachers, and my relative financial stability today, I can still succumb to “fear of financial insecurity,” which is essentially a lack of trust. I’m fortunate to have always had a roof over my head and enough to eat, which I recognize is a privilege. Staying clear with what is a need and what is a want helps me maintain a level of serenity in the moment. Money is one of those areas that requires self-discipline, appropriate action, and letting go of expectations for results. Sometimes I experience anxiety, when what’s going out seems to exceed what’s coming in, but instead of panic, I can use those feelings to look at where I might need to rein it in and put away a bit more for a rainy day, which can be anything from an unexpected car expense, to a raise in property taxes, or the chance to travel.

Part of being relieved of the fear of financial insecurity has to do with that other promise that “we will intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle us.” For me, that applies to how I spend  (“Can I afford this?” instead of “I want it now!”) as well as how I interact in the world, whether that is in the professional or personal realm. The “What do I do now?” syndrome wasn’t only related to new non-drinking behaviors (as in, “How do I order pizza without saying, ‘and a pitcher’?”). I often felt confused, which usually meant scared. I remember sitting in my car outside the local community college a few months after treatment, scared to go inside because I didn’t know where to go or what to ask. A year or so later, a class I was in required going to the medical school library for research. I sat in my kitchen, anxious about not knowing where to go, or what to ask – fear, fear, fear, of being embarrassed, of getting lost, of someone recognizing that I didn’t really belong. In both those cases, and many since, I gave myself a talking to, as in “Self, if you don’t do this particular task at this particular moment, you probably never will, so just do it.” I intuitively knew that if I let fear win, it always would. Do I always "intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle me" these days?  Usually. And, I say that because I’ve learned that it is ok to make mistakes, that it is ok to say, “I’m not sure. Let me get back to you,” that it is ok to ask questions, and most of all, that it is ok not to know. Life is not a contest.

I completed my amends process this past week, with written Steps 1-9, and mailing off an anonymous donation. I also wrote a letter to my younger self, taking responsibility for my actions as well as forgiving myself for making decisions based on the fear of not being accepted. I shared the letter with my sponsor, and then burned it in the backyard, and dropped a rock into the ashes to symbolize the letting go. I have taken the action. I have turned it over. I am done.

Today I "know a new freedom and a new happiness." There used to be an old-timer at my daily meeting who’d say, “There are no big deals.” I don’t agree with that, but over time, I’ve come to understand that most of what I labeled "emotional disasters" were simply examples of me attempting to live in the future, or the past. Today, when an actual big deal arises, I know what to do based on my experience and on watching you navigate the world as a recovering person. 

All of the Promises have proven true for me – maybe not every one on every day, but they illustrate my way of life in long term recovery. I clean up my missteps (old and current) and do my best to live with integrity. I used to think that meant riding in on my trusty steed, brandishing the Steps like a shield as I faced down each day’s demons. Sometimes it’s that dramatic, but usually,  living with integrity simply means showing up to work on time, eating healthy, being kind to loved ones and strangers, or curling up in bed with a good book when that's what my soul craves.

Years ago, a friend suggested that I wear the program “as a loose garment.” I think that phrase is in our literature; I believe it comes from the Christian Bible. It’s a good reminder to relax my grip. Today, the Steps and the principles are a gentle guide. When I’m confused about something – what to say, where to go, what to do – I can pause, access my inner wisdom, talk with a trusted other, and know in my heart that it’s all working out, one day at a time.

How do the 9th Step Promises manifest in your life today?

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?