Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Self knowledge

 Maybe not every single time, but in general, I continue to hear words of wisdom and helpful phrases in meetings. Case in point: "I have to act better than I feel in order to feel better about how I act," a variation on the theme of acting my way into right thinking, vs thinking my way into right action. Oh, how I had good intentions. Good intentions that frittered themselves away with each ice cube plopped into a glass. I banked on being judged by my intentions, which were nearly always honorable. But, alas, it was my actions that told the tale of who I was.

At the reunion, I took a deep breath and thanked a woman for always being kind to everyone. She was of the upper echelon in high school, but you'd never know it by how she treated others (and trust me, some people were very status conscious in how and with whom they interacted). I also said to her, as a way of making amends to my 15-year-old self, how embarrassing it was in retrospect to recall how I attempted to use my popular cousin as entry to the "cool kids" group. She may or may not have remembered that conversation from 1970, but I do, and the metaphorical pat on the head that told me I was excluded. At the time, I at least partially meant it when I said, "I didn't want to be part of that anyway!" when I was passed over for a particular club (I started school in that transition between old and new - 50's & 60's sorority style clubs giving way to sitting in a circle in the park passing a joint). I did mean it, and can still feel the sting of being left out, whether from a family gathering or something I'm not invited to. 

I do know that, as an introvert, I am better with a role, such as hostess, at gatherings. I learned that within my first few months of sobriety when our treatment counselors "volunteered" my roommate and I to collect tickets at the North Coast Round-up. I would've been petrified to talk to strangers, but in my official duty, I had a reason to put my hand out in greeting. These days I think of myself as being at the extroverted end of the introvert continuum, which just means I can be comfortable with people as long as I can retreat to my solitary couch with a cup of tea after too much social time.

Self-knowledge is so important to my peace-of-mind. How many years (decades?) did I try to fit my square peg into a round hole? As I heard in a meeting this week, self-examination is different from self-absorption, and... I function better (as in more serenely, which benefits you and me) when I'm conscious of my general operating instructions. For me that means knowing that I get super cranky when I'm hungry or tired, and that I reach a saturation point with social interactions. I have friends who thrive on people, or who can go all day without eating. The point is, "To thine own self, be true."

We had a good time at our first in-person conference this past weekend - Summerfest in Eugene. It was good, and a bit surreal, to be in a crowd, with some masked, most not. I'm still digesting what I heard - I appreciate how "what it was like, what happened and what it's like now" comes in different flavors and focus depending on who's talking. I was very happy to run into a person who'd gone through the treatment program I retired from, now themselves working in the field. As an AA vs NA person, I rarely see former clients, so it is all the sweeter when I do get the reminder that the work I did mattered, that one life is better and healthier than before.

Following the conference, we drove to the coast, gratefully watching the temperature drop as we neared the ocean (from 95 to 65 degrees). We stayed at the Sylvia Beach Hotel, a funky inn in Newport, Oregon, where all 21 rooms are themed with a different author. I felt myself exhale into my element, realizing that I'd been missing the nourishment that comes with stellar conversations and stacks of books. I hadn't known what was lacking in my day-to-day until I tasted it, and along with messages I heard at the conference, told myself to be mindful of living from the heart, not just habit. Where am I just dialing it in, and where am I engaged? How can I best reignite sparks of joy that get hidden underneath grocery lists and laundry? Paying attention is a discipline, one I hope to strengthen.

What have you heard, or been reminded of, lately that sparked your curiosity?  What do you know about your modus operandi and how do you honor those particulars? How does "to thine own self, be true" play out in your life today?

* * *

Thank you to those who purchased the "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" workbook at Summerfest! You can always purchase from me directly via the link on the web version of this blog page (hard copy or PDF), or at Portland Area Intergroup. Stay tuned for other entities that may carry it soon!


Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Reflection

 After reading last week's post, a friend, intrigued by the letter writing exercise, wondered if it is truly possible to write a letter "from" my 15-year-old self without the adult censor stepping in. Probably not, so I revisited the page, doing my best to release what I think the 15-year-old me "should" feel. The first letter was mostly related to people who've died and won't be at the reunion - valid and true - but the more honest response the second time around had more to do with whether or not any cute guys would be there, and would I look chubby in my new pants (never mind that I weighed 30 pounds less at 15 - the fear of chubby has been with me since about age 11). 

Today I can let my inner teenager be dorky and superficial because that's who I was. A few years into recovery, I found journals that had been missing for nearly a decade. Knee-deep in family of origin work, I was excited, hoping to find the key phrase or entry that would unlock the "why" of who I was and how I'd been impacted by the family illness at 11,12 and 13 years old when my father was hitting bottom with his alcoholism. What did I find? Not much. One entry said, in the loopy handwriting of a 12-year-old, "Dad got home from the hospital. He had a nervous breakdown. Greg H. said hi to me today. I wore my new yellow jumper to school." So much for the heavy emotional impact I was looking for. Did I have feelings about Dad's visits to the psychiatric ward? I must've, but at the time, didn't have the language or inclination to describe it. 

Today I can be mindful of not attributing more maturity or introspection to my younger self than was actually there. Any emotional processing or recollection I do of my childhood or teen years, or the years I was hitting bottom myself, are purely conjecture, perspectives from the vantage point of sober adulthood. My first sponsor used to say (and maybe even had a t-shirt) "It's never too late to have a happy childhood." It took me awhile to agree with that. Awhile and lots of therapy and tears to release the losses and celebrate what I did have as a kid - parents who loved me, imperfect, but genuine, a best friend, a safe home, food on the table.

The reunion - drum roll - came off well, very well, with close to 100 attendees. As I'd hoped, a wider range of people showed up than might've at a fancy-dress banquet, talking, laughing, and gnawing on the chicken wings someone brought. My greatest pleasure was in hearing the exclamations of "Is it you?!" or "Remember when we....?" and the comparisons of neighborhood proximity "I grew up on 45th, and you were on 43rd, and this cluster of friends were on 44th."  I'd be lying if I said we didn't naturally drift in to groups similar to when we were in school, the people we hung out with, but there was a lot of crossover between those "who normally would not mix." With age and experience and life under-the-belt, the old distinctions (athlete, stoner, etc) simply don't matter. How have you been? Who are you now?

My lessons from the weekend have been related to letting go/letting be - a skill intensified by these pandemic years, with several classmates calling-off due to Covid status, as well as realizing that I may have been in charge, but I wasn't in control. I set the table, so to speak, with help from friends, and what people did with that was up to them. Some sat mostly by themselves, some flitted about, some scanned the crowd for people they hadn't yet said "hello" to. All in all, a good weekend of connection.  

As a friend said, "I thought getting older would take longer." So very true. And so very true that getting older is a gift denied to many. As I write this, a friend and strong local AA member who relocated to the Midwest to be closer to family - "Three-Dog John" - has just come to the end of his life, having lost his courageous battle with several health issues. John, and his trusty little dog, Kevin, were a fixture at our 12x12 Club, sober for decades. An intrepid hiker and outdoorsman, he fought health issues, including a leg amputation, with grace and dignity. Today, I give thanks for who he was in my (& my spouse's) sober life, once again reminded that there are no guarantees.

How do you discern what are actual memories, and which are colored with current perceptions (and does that distinction really even matter)? How have views of your childhood or using years changed with the distance of time? How do you recognize the precious nature of this life without drifting into morbid reflection? Who needs to hear that they matter to you?


* * *  See the Feb 4 post for a sample of the 78-page workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" available as hard copy (mailed) or PDF (emailed - ideal for those outside the U.S.). Portland Area Intergroup also has a supply available at 825 NE 20th Ave, suite 200.  Go to the WEB VERSION of this page, if you don't see the purchase link in the upper right corner, or email me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com with questions.  This weekend, we'll be at Summerfest in Eugene, OR and I'll have workbooks with me, if you're in the area and would like to purchase directly.


Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Connections

A few months ago, someone in a meeting described writing a letter to their particular fears. I did that with my mixed feelings around the upcoming reunion - not fears exactly, but memories of times gone by. I wrote to my teen self, and then imagined writing back from that 15-year-old. It was a helpful process. It isn't always my first go-to, tending to ruminate before saying to myself, "Oh - there are things I can do to get out of this loop," but I nearly always find putting pen to paper to be cathartic. So, sharing about it in meetings, writing about it (here and inventory), putting it in the "god box" - all simple, yet effective solutions that have brought me to the sometimes-elusive place of letting-go. Letting go, and looking forward to..

I've been to several high school reunions. At year 10, I was hammered, four years away from treatment and a couple of years away from the methamphetamine that brought me to my knees. I think I was at the 20th, concerned that all I'd have to say to "What have you been up to since high school?" would be, "Well, I got sober." I missed the 30th, and by the 40th, felt no shame about being in recovery or the various detours life had taken. What I know today is who I am, and what my life is, has less to do with the outer trappings than I used to think. 

I do love the recovery connection I share with several classmates, some I have on-going relationships with and some not. Whether we're in each other's lives or just see each other at these events, there is that understanding, the "you get it," that's irreplaceable - kind of like the little nod we give each other in the grocery store or out and about. I see you, and I know you see me.

And in the realm of being seen, I shared hilarity with a classmate/program pal this week as we realized we had three boyfriends in common (and I use that word loosely), back when getting drunk and making out constituted a relationship. Oh what a journey. 

One of my daily readers quoted "It is more important to want what you have than to have what you want." I appreciate the reminder that it isn't money, property or prestige that brings me peace of mind (though lacking financial stability can certainly be a deterrent). Gratitude for what I do have (a good marriage, strong friendships, health, sobriety) rather than focusing on my "wants" or "not enough's" keeps me in a place of humility. Some of my wants are valid and can lead me to action (i.e. if I want more friend-time I pick up the phone), so it can be a matter, again and again, of getting still enough to listen to my heart.

Along those lines, a speaker in a recent meeting said that he now has everything in his life that he thought he never wanted. I remember very similar thoughts after getting sober, making a coffee date, going to a sober dance or a potluck... things that felt sort of corny. What a joy to find out that what I thought would be "stupid, boring and glum" was anything but. In 1972 what I thought I wanted was marriage to my boyfriend, two kids just like my mom, and work in an office. As that marriage started to falter, I had little inklings of a desire to travel and maybe go to college someday. It wasn't until the fog of substances cleared that I allowed myself to dream, to set goals and work towards them, releasing those along the way that no longer fit.

We started planning this reunion last October, so that in itself has been a goal and a journey. When I find myself obsessing, whether it's about a race, a speaker meeting, a vacation or a party, I remind myself that these are merely a few hours out of the whole. On Monday, I'll be on to the next thing, which very well may include sitting in the backyard with an iced tea and some new memories to complement the old.

Is there at least some balance between wanting what you have and longing for what you don't have? Are there components to recovery life you initially thought were silly?  What dreams or goals are whispering to you today? If you are in the middle of a consuming project, how do you keep it in perspective?

Readers  I so appreciate the texts and email responses to these posts. Do feel free, if you wish, to add your comments to the blog page as well (or instead of). Thank you for reading.

* *  *

See the Feb 4 post for a sample of the 78-page workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" available as hard copy (mailed) or PDF (emailed - ideal for those outside the U.S.). Portland Area Intergroup also has a supply available at 825 NE 20th Ave, suite 200.  Go to the WEB VERSION of this page, if you don't see the purchase link in the upper right corner. Contact me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com with any questions

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Use it or lose it...

 Riding my bike to an Alanon meeting, and especially walking back up the hill I can normally power through, it struck me that it's much easier to stay in shape than to get in shape. With recent travel and other schedule disruptions, my usual wellness routines have been a bit off, and I'm definitely feeling my quadriceps screaming, "Use it or lose it!"

I think the notion of staying in shape vs getting in shape also applies to my program, my spiritual fitness. Whatever my practice, it doesn't serve me to simply pick and choose, for example the old two-step of One and Twelve we used to hear about, or to merely utilize program principles when it suits me. Practicing the principles, for me, means consistency - meeting attendance, sure, but not just that. It also means routines of meditation and journaling, reading, and connecting with others on a similar path as well as living in the solution instead of the problem (whatever the problem may be on any given day). 

I'm not great at reaching out, suffering from "I-can-do-it-myself-ism," which seems more pronounced as I gain years in recovery. It was somewhat easier at the beginning, with questions around getting through the holidays sober, or all the other firsts that I looked to others to explain. These days, reaching out doesn't usually even directly relate to recovery, but more to my human need to see and be seen - not in the old way of being on the make or at the latest event, but on a soul-to-soul level. I recently found myself crying over two past losses in conversation with a good friend, feeling the sweet vulnerability that is a by-product of trust. I may not always recognize when I'm in the emptiness of disconnection, but I do recognize the exhale when sharing an honest laugh, or tears or disclosures. And sometimes that sense of relief comes simply from being with someone(s) I know on a level deeper than "How are you? I'm fine." I'm so grateful for the life experience that has resulted in most of my relationships being of the real-and-true variety instead of superficiality. As a new friend recently said, "I no longer have time for shallow." 

I no longer have time for shallow but must admit that my inner teenager still carries around the old fears of comparison. I'm having a slew of feelings around my upcoming high school reunion (duh, you might say). I enjoy throwing a party, so am excited to see who shows up, and... the part of me that remembers feeling lost and invisible, the me who spent most of my non-class time smoking cigarettes at the donut shop or reefer in the park, is triggered. It is my own inner critic that whispers, "Why are you, of all people, facilitating this thing?" And then I read the Nov 11 Daily Reflection that mentions being willing to let go of "arrogant self-criticism." Ouch. Ouch but oh yeah. I can acknowledge the feelings and let them move through without getting stuck in the "me, me, me." I am not 15. I am not stoned. I am not paralyzed with self-centered fear. And, most importantly, I am not in charge. I got the permit, I've helped spread the word, I've made the mix-tapes, and it will be what it will be. 

Life is interesting, isn't it? As one of our committee members texted, "Who would've imagined 50 years ago that we'd still be in touch and would be communicating via hand-held computers?" Indeed. I can trust that I'm not the only one with gray hair and some extra pounds, and did that ever really matter anyway? I look forward to seeing people. I look forward to asking if life has turned out the way they imagined it. I look forward to connection.

What are your routines? How do you achieve, practice or maintain spiritual fitness? What connections feel important for you to maintain or perhaps rekindle?  How do you honor and acknowledge old tender feelings without getting stuck? 

* *  *

See the Feb 4 post for a sample of the 78-page workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" available as hard copy (mailed) or PDF (emailed - ideal for those of outside the U.S.). Portland Area Intergroup also has a supply available, 825 NE 20th Ave.  Click on the words  ViewWEB VERSION at the bottom of this page, if you don't see the purchase link in the upper right corner.