Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Consistency

 Most of my weekly meetings are online - as I've written, I love being able to regularly see friends who live in other places without buying a plane ticket. I do attend one in-person meeting and have made that my Wednesday noon habit, even buying a yearly parking pass to further cement my commitment. This week, I didn't want to go. It was a beautiful day with the garden calling, I was tired from not enough sleep the night before, blah blah blah. But I went anyway, knowing that if I didn't go this week, it would be easier to skip next week too, and maybe the next. 

I'm not afraid I'd drink if I skipped a meeting, or that I'd have an Alanon relapse (so much harder to measure!) but for me it's more about consistency, mindful that if sobriety loses its priority (slip) I could be headed down a potentially dangerous road. It's not that I walk around in fear. I genuinely like meetings - I like "us" and I appreciate the reminders and nuggets I hear in your shares. And I am a creature of habit. Years ago, in talking with my therapist about the tug of war between my early morning run and a series of late nights that necessitated a nap (I love my naps), she suggested I might skip my run sometimes. Oh no, I replied. Of course, there are times when I stay in bed, or skip the meeting, or eat the burger, but flexibility is not my strong suit. Sometimes it's about going through the motions and being pleasantly surprised, whether it's a walk on a rainy morning when the sun comes out, or going to a meeting I might've skipped and hearing just what I needed to hear (or being able to share my experience with someone I wouldn't have otherwise). And sometimes it is simply going through the motions without a prize at the end!

I do know that many of my peers in long term recovery don't attend meetings, while many do. Where I might've had rigid ideas about that in the past (you'll drink!!), I've come to truly understand that we each do this thing called a sober life in our own way. Take what you like and leave the rest. The not drinking part is non-negotiable for this alcoholic, but the rest of it is up for grabs, shifting and changing over the years.

I was honored to be invited to a "Now What?" workbook group, comprised (mostly) of women I've known in the rooms for years. It was wonderful to hear the workbook in action, as well as to receive some feedback. I sometimes suffer from lack of motivation, or more realistically, differently-directed motivation, but I am considering a "Now What? Part 2" that would consist of past blog posts with expanded processing questions. It's hard to believe that I started this blog in 2017, with the idea morphing into the workbook. I admitted to the group that I haven't actually answered the workbook questions myself! On the To-Do list...  

What I mostly appreciated in the meeting was sitting with solid, long-term women I've known for years, taking the emotional risk to go deep. I miss that. A small group of friends and I attempted a spiritual circle, with the idea of meeting and talking about a quote or a reading (crosstalk encouraged), but it didn't quite take. The pandemic changed so much related to gathering, as well as intention, but my longing for community is still there. I do get that in my online groups, but there is something to be said for sitting across a table, coffee mug in hand.

And so here I am - appreciating my online connections, wanting and not wanting to go to an in-person meeting, riding the up and down moods of long term sobriety, knowing that "this, too, shall pass," whether that is the highs or the lows.

Does consistency figure in to your program/your life? What about flexibility? Where do you experience community? If your current level of connection isn't working for you, what is an action you might take to change that? 

I've had some questions about how to purchase the NOW WHAT workbook. You need to go to the WEB VERSION of this blog page for the link on ordering. Please contact me at SoberLongTime@soberlongtime.com  or shadowsandveins@gmail.com with questions. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Milestones...

 I recently read an article/poem about how the discomfort I may be feeling (or have felt in the past) is related to growth, to becoming, to moving to the next phase of my development. In reading the piece, I felt an exhale, a settling in to what is. 

I'm not feeling any particular pull or yearning, though as I've written, am very aware of turning 70 - very aware that 70 is not the new 40, no matter how good I feel; very aware that the end is way closer than the beginning; very aware that every day truly is a gift. Grade school/ high school pals and I are planning a group birthday dance party and lawn games at the park this summer, the park where many of us drank away our high school weekends. It should be a hoot, with me in charge of the playlist - old R&B from the 60's and 70's, disco, some new stuff - and another in charge of lawn bowling, etc (what she is calling the Honored Citizens Games or PE in the Park). We may get 10 people or 50 - in any event, it will be fun.

And, it is fun watching my cohort celebrate their birthdays throughout the year, whether with a big trip or a quiet evening with family. I'm into milestones, and 70 feels like a big deal. Yeah, just another day, but for those of us who didn't think we'd make 30, it is a big deal.

The month of May corresponds with Step 5, the sharing of our inventory with another human being and whatever notion of a higher power we have. For me, that is related to being completely honest with my innermost self, not hiding behind this justification or that rationalization. And then talking with a trusted other, whether that is a sponsor or a friend. And then, seeking to change, or amend, whatever behavior or attitude that is causing me or others discomfort or pain. Without the Steps 6/7 intent to change, the inventory process is simply an exercise of "woe is me," self-flagellation. Being human is not a character defect (from Alanon Courage to Change) but when the same thing comes up on inventory after inventory I have to ask myself, does this trait really stand in the way of my usefulness, and if so, what am I going to do about it? If not, then put down the rock. I don't get points for beating myself up, no matter how familiar that may feel. 

On our walk Sunday morning, my spouse and I stopped in at an estate sale, one of those "everything must go" affairs in a house that a neighbor said had been in the people's family for several generations. He also noted that the most recent inhabitants were hoarders, which was evident by the sheer mass of items for sale. It made me a little sad, like when over the winter, I passed a house with a big dumpster out front, next to tables set up with canned goods and clothing, office supplies and knick knacks (according to the fellow in charge, he'd just bought the place from a widower who either didn't want to, or wasn't capable of dealing with a full house). I look around our home, our comfortable and homey abode, and think about the fallout if, heaven forbid, something happened to both of us at the same time. My brother would likely be of the dumpster variety, but what a burden to place on anyone. I am nowhere near a minimalist, but I feel closer and closer to Swedish death cleaning. Use it or lose it? I'm not ready to chuck everything, but when I walk into a room or open a closet with a groan, I can take it as a sign. 

So, sliding up to age 70, aware of the transition to "old age," (I could pretend in my 60's, but not really anymore), use it or lose it, or at least organize the closet, and see how I can utilize the Steps to walk through uncharted territory.  One day at a time, the clock marches on and on until it doesn't.

Where are you in either sobriety or belly-button age? How do you mark your birthdays or anniversaries these days? Are you in acquiring or releasing mode, whether that's related to possessions, relationships, tasks, or states of mind? How has Step 5 come in to play this month?\

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Ready for an inventory or small group discussion? Check out my workbook "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" with 78 pages of topics, member's views, and processing questions.  Available in PDF format ($12.95) for those of you outside the US (or who prefer that format) or hardcopy ($19.95 mailed to you). Email me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com with questions.  You can order from the WEB VERSION of this page, payment link on top right. Note that the workbook is also available at Portland Area Intergroup at 825 NE 20th 

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

"Someday"

 In my sporadic decluttering efforts, I recently went through a couple of drawers of art supplies - craft and construction paper, calligraphy pens and ink from a long ago class, colored pens and pencils, glitter...  Mind you, I don't actually do arts or crafts, but I certainly could, in that elusive "someday"...

I shared a photo with my brother of a box of colored pencils that I'm certain I've had since we were kids, along with my "someday" intentions. He emailed back, "I hate to think we can never change and take up the activities we thought we wanted to do. At least give them a reasonable shot...The practicalities of life steer the ship for the most part. Darn." Darn indeed. I've got these cool colored pens and pencils, but maybe after the laundry, or the TV show, or the long walk. It really is about priorities, and about making space. I make space for writing each week - it is part of my routine (and thank you for coming along), but the other stuff - the birthday cards I used to make for friends or the collages - haven't raised to that level of attention or intention.

But I also wonder, is it ok to pick up those pencils without a driving passion, without an eye to a gallery showing or gift shop sales? Is it ok to simply putter around and draw misshapen cats, or stick figure people? In grade school, there were two girls identified as the artists (Kiki and Bunny), and they were very good. Their flowers looked like actual flowers (or whatever the subject was). I'm sure I internalized the "I'm not any good" message, though actually, it is true that I'm not skilled at representational drawing. And while kudos to Grandma Moses, maybe it is ok to just doodle. (Of course, I do know it is ok, after I tell my inner art critic to shut up).

So then, giving up the internal whisper that I must do things well or not at all, whether cooking or drawing or running a race (I gave up that dream years ago - somebody has to bring up the rear!). Back to my recent musing about parenting - I was in therapy at the time, and my counselor suggested I think of the concept of "good enough parenting." I didn't employ that thinking, but have utilized it to be a good enough step mom, a good enough supervisor, a good enough 12 step member, or as we read, a worker among workers, no better, no worse.

It took me awhile in sobriety to understand that thinking poorly of myself was just as much of an ego trip as thinking highly - both evidence of self-absorption, or as my sponsor says, the "me me me" syndrome that is sure to lead to dissatisfaction. Relieve me of the bondage of self, oh please.

In a meeting last week on the topic of Step 11, the speaker suggested that instead of asking for guidance, one could ask to be open to guidance, which in his belief, is always there, if I'm paying attention - to the chance encounter, the unexpected conversation, a passage in a book that speaks to me (even if I've read it 50 times before). That would imply that getting quiet is an avenue to my inner wisdom, which can equal simply sitting still, or more formalized meditation. This speaker also quoted someone else (I don't know about you, but I don't have an original thought in my head!) saying that meditation is a blue-collar undertaking - you clock in and clock out and what happens in-between is none of my business. I like that image as I do, still, sometimes chastise myself for not doing it "right." Then I remind myself that Bill wasn't writing about Eastern sitting-on-a-lily-pad meditation, but the idea of reflecting on an inspirational reading. I can remember that in the moments I spend quietly with my journal, or noticing spring's glory on my walks.

We attended a retirement party for a friend this week - someone I've known since early recovery. He would've been about 25 to my 31 when we came in, which amounts to a lot of life lived in the meantime. I'm often struck with "who would've thought?" when contemplating my long-term relationships. Who would've thought we'd have walked each other through parents dying, relationships ending and then beginning, children growing up, grandparenting, getting a career and then retiring; health scares and travels, relapses and back in the saddle? I am wealthy indeed, and not in the ways that I may have thought were important.

Is there a hobby or other pursuit you'd planned to do "someday?" Does it still call to you? If so, what is a small gesture you can make towards it this week? Can you release any lingering notions of perfectionism? How does your internal wisdom show up these days? How do you measure your wealth?

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Ready for an inventory or small group discussion? Check out my workbook "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" with 78 pages of topics, member's views, and processing questions. Available in PDF format ($12.95) for those of you outside the US (or who prefer that format) or hardcopy ($19.95 mailed to you). Email me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com with questions.  You can order from the WEB VERSION of this page, payment link on top right. Note that the workbook is also available at Portland Area Intergroup at 825 NE 20th 

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Life moving on

 In responding to last week's post, a friend noted that the "pause" helps them stay in awareness rather than automatic response mode. If (and that's still a big "if" for me) I can pause, no matter the situation, I can ask myself "What else might be true?" instead of the story I'm telling myself. This makes me think of a moment of judgment I was in at the grocery store a few years ago, related to the cashier's appearance and demeanor. As we chatted, they shared about their two adopted special needs kids, and what a joy it was when those kids had a success at school. I can forgive myself for my sometimes-petty nature, and remember, always, that all is not what it may seem on the surface.

A friend and I are planning a big trip next April, and this week got together with another friend who's had that experience, gleaning advice and direction. That friend talked about her own unexpected psychic rearrangement on the journey and suggested that while we may have an idea of what we hope to gain, it would be good to try to stay open to whatever may actually happen.

Ah yes - plan, but don't plan results, especially in the realm of the heart. I think of my very limited vision when I first got sober. All I really wanted was to get my boyfriend back. It was several years before I understood that I couldn't have stayed sober in that relationship and thank you HP that he didn't return. As I've heard, it doesn't have to feel good to be good, and I certainly don't have all the information when I'm operating from my emotions. 

I think about several folks who say they've lost their sense of purpose as they've retired, or simply gotten older. I could debate "purpose" as I've strived to disentangle myself from the notion that productivity equals worth, but have very rarely felt adrift at this stage. Or invisible, as some of my peers describe. I don't get the same kind of masculine attention I might've 20 years ago, but thank God! And I've had male friends speak to the gift now that the libido no longer runs the show. As a friend reminds, we are mammals, with generally predictable life stages of maturing, the child-bearing capability years, and the decline/aging. How will I embrace the time I have left, including the odd feeling of having outlived my father?

 This week I signed up to walk the Portland Half Marathon (13.1 miles) in October. Maybe it was related to my dad, but as I filled in my bib message of "Happy 70 Bday," I started to cry - gratitude? Wonderment at being this age? The disbelief as I grow old with friends I've had since grade school?  And maybe related to this year anniversary of cancer treatment? Whatever - I can feel the feelings and let them linger or move on through, as the case may be. 

I ran the full marathon for my 60th birthday, with spectators singing "Happy Birthday" along the course. Hard to believe that was 10 years ago now, which is a huge reminder to be present and pay attention, because the next 10 will likely go as quickly. Years ago I read "It's Only Too Late if You Don't Start Now" (B. Sher). Is there anything I'm putting off for the elusive "later?" As I've heard over and over again - If not now, when?  

I frequently pass by my high school going to and from errands. This week I drove by at lunch time, passing groups of boys in twos and fives. I could tell the cool kids from the not, as well as the stark difference between what must've been freshmen and seniors. Oh those 9th graders looked so young, making me think of how young and immature we were when drinking ourselves silly at the local park. Babies, though I certainly didn't think so at the time. 

Observing the obvious maturity in the 12th graders as compared to their underclassmen also made me think of how we come into the rooms - often still dressed like the street urchins or barroom drunks that we were, bouncing off the walls with the half-filled coffee cup so's not to spill. And then, over time, the spinning top slows down and we/I began to dress my age, act more my age (ha - that's debatable) and settle in to this sober life - still fun, but not quite as frenzied. And then, one day, I realized that the sober life was simply my life, and that my AA friends were simply my friends. Today, gratefully, we speak of aging sober and the challenges, or rather, opportunities inherent in experiencing loss, whether those we love, or our own physical or mental capabilities. With program, we need not walk this path alone.

How do you strengthen your ability to pause? Whatever your particular calendar age, what did you imagine that to feel like compared to how it actually is? How do you both stay in the moment and take care of yourself for the long run? And happy May Day, the ancient European marker of the halfway point between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice. Enjoy!

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Ready for an inventory or small group discussion? Check out my workbook "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" with 78 pages of topics, member's views, and processing questions. (See the Jan 13, 2023 post for a sample.) Available in PDF format ($12.95) for those of you outside the US (or who prefer that format) or hardcopy ($19.95 mailed to you). Email me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com with questions.  You can order from the WEB VERSION of this page, payment link on top right. Note that the workbook is also available at Portland Area Intergroup at 825 NE 20th