Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The Journey Continues

I've been reading articles lately about retired people who don't feel relevant after leaving paid work, who feel useless, like they don't matter. I also keep reading about the importance of staying engaged in life as we get older.  Thank goodness for our 12 Step programs. Anytime I take on a service commitment or reach out to a fellow member, I am engaging. Any time I talk or text with a sponsee or sponsor, I am engaging. Anytime I listen or share in a meeting, I am engaging.

In a recent birthday meeting, I was struck how this particular group tells the truth, the sometimes painful, not always pretty truths about how we muddle about on this journey of life. Truth-telling, solution-focused meetings are what bring me the quiet joy of gratitude, of connection, the permission to be real. I can enjoy the "AA on Saturday night" aspect of speaker meetings, with the cross between stand-up comedy, pathos and universal truths, as well as more general groups with newcomers where members tend to share their "pitch" and I'm starkly reminded of "what it was like." There is a place for all of it. The beauty of where I live, and now with online meetings, is that I have choices. 

Sometimes those choices have been around participating in home meetings where a select group works the Steps from the Big Book, 12x12 or various other sources (One Breath at a Time, a Women's Way, etc). One such group started as an Alanon Step Study but has continued over the years as simply a small support group, a place to be with others I've sat with over time. I gain wisdom from new-to-me voices, and, thrive with the cosmic exhale of being known.

I recently heard G.O.D. described as "Ghosts On Demand" - kind of funny, but kind of true. I have the ghosts of loved ones who reside in my heart, as well as the "ghosts of Christmas' past," the treasure trove of memories that either sting or comfort. And then there are the ghosts of stories about myself and my circumstance, wisps of beliefs that may or may not be true today depending on if I'm looking through the darkness of self-doubt or the light of recovery. Ghosts on Demand. How often am I pulling old ideas off the shelf rather than living in the here and now?

I shared recently that it might be spiritually arrogant to assume I've done all (most?) of my causes and conditions work but heard from others with decades of experience that they, too, feel done with that part of the journey. Done with the blame, with the focus on what was done, or not done, done with looking backwards to find the directional coordinates for today. Time takes time, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, and by putting in the emotional and spiritual work, today I am free. 

I drew on this realization when speaking at an in-person Alanon meeting over the weekend. I've come to understand my Alanon journey as having three overlapping phases. First was what brought me to the rooms - a relationship with a practicing heroin addict, learning all the ways I was powerless over his choices. After he died of an overdose, I could've stopped going, but I recognized part two of the journey had to do with the lengthy process of unraveling how I was impacted by my father's alcoholism. Part three of the concurrent journey has to do with marriage, as in who do I bring to the equation? I asked for a new experience, but am I using the same old strategies and dysfunctional tools? Bits and pieces of the past grab me every now and then, but these days it really is more about the here and now, about strengthening the "pause" muscle, about my spiritual fitness. 

And of course, just when I'm feeling super-centered, we get invited to a party, an actual post-pandemic party by a friend of my spouse's. My first thought was "Strangers?! Oh no!" I swear that my introversion has grown stronger during the last three years. Stay home? OK. And, I was able to do a reality check and perspective shift to "People I haven't met yet? Interesting!" It really is about self-care (HALTS) and being willing to ask myself, "What else might be true?"

Do you have at least one place (meeting, friendship, family) where you can be totally you, vulnerably real? Where do you get your spiritual and emotional nourishment these days? Where are you on the causes-and-conditions journey? Is there anyone you need to let off the hook today (including yourself)?

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January could be time to think about a new year inventory. See the Jan 13, 2023 post for a sample of the "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" workbook with 78 pages of topics, member's views, and processing questions. Available in PDF format for those of you outside the US (or who prefer that format) or hardcopy mailed to you. Email me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com with questions. Note that the workbook is also available at Portland Area Intergroup at 825 NE 20th 



Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Lines in the Sand

 I am personally acquainted with a small handful of people who have definite histories with addiction to drugs, but nowadays have a drink now and then, no problem. I know a few others who simply quit when it got bad enough, on their own, no problem. And I do know of a few who stopped participating in 12 Step recovery and, over time, fell back into alcoholic drinking, big problem.

What does this have to do with me? Not much, directly, but my mind can get going, along the lines of "Maybe I could have a glass of wine now and then," to rules about what is and isn't recovery. I need to be careful of both - the disease on my shoulder whispering, "Aren't you just a little thirsty?" as well as any rigid ideas of what others should or shouldn't do.

I had a good dose of experience with that (pardon the pun) while working in medication-assisted treatment. Talk about stigma! I can't tell you how many times I heard, "I don't believe in methadone," to which we'd reply, "Methadone is a medicine, not an opinion." Harm reduction is real. Harm reduction saves lives. Someone else's definition of recovery is really none of my business, unless I'm directly involved and I rarely am.

After a relationship with a chronic, secretive relapser, I thought it important to lay the cards on the table with the new guy I was seeing rather than assume he was on the same page (and we know that assume makes an ass of you and me). And so we talked about our individual commitment to abstinence and recovery, the expectation that this would be a clean and sober relationship. When the former boyfriend relapsed, several people told me I needed to leave him until he had a year clean again. I didn't, and if the unforeseen happened now, I don't know that I would either - it depends on the situation. But, or rather, and, as time goes on, I have fewer lines in the sand. If I truly accept that alcoholism is a disease, I can broaden my views. I'm not saying that I would be ecstatic in a relationship with a relapsed alcoholic, just that I can't say today how I'd react. And that is where recovery comes in - the pause, the gathering of information, the discussion with involved parties vs marching out the door (as well as letting go of the need to know today what I might do in a hypothetical situation in the future).

And, while I'm very much a feeler, I am also a thinker. Give me a bone, a "what if?" and I'll gnaw on it a good, long while before admitting I'm powerless, over both the potential happening as well as my thinking about the same. Taking the presumed deity out of the equation, I love the phrase, "Be still and know that I am god." Be still and know that I am all I need to be, knowing all I need to know in this very moment. Be still and release the internal chatter. Be still.

On another note, a recent posting from Richard Rohr says, "Most of us are really only good at one or two things. Meditation should lead to a clarity about who we are and, maybe even more, who we are not. This second revelation is just as important as the first." So much of early recovery was the discovery piece - who am I? What do I like to do now that I'm not getting drunk or high every day? Who might I become? Through the years I discovered that working in treatment was my calling; that I'm a great manager and organizer, but not much of an ideas or innovative person. I've learned I'm a decent writer, though lack the oomph required for promotion; that I have stick-to-it-ivness; that I have poor eye-hand coordination, so no team sports, but point me in a direction and I can run or walk for a very long time. I've learned that I struggle with the beginnings and endings of romantic relationships, but am very good at middles, that I function best with a certain amount of alone, quiet time, but can be social or "on" when required. 

Now, two-plus years into retirement, I'm again at that place of "Who do I want to be" and "What do I want to do?" Are there re-evaluations to be done regarding what I'm really good at, and what I'm not? As I've released the long-term notion of "time" as my higher power (never enough!! too much to do!!) what is the rhythm of my days? 

Do you ever find yourself in judgement about another's recovery? How do you remind yourself that, unless they ask, it's none of your business? How have you set boundaries with those closest to you, about what you do or don't expect in that relationship? What are the one or two things (or three or four) that you are really good at? What do you know to be true about what isn't your forte? How do you utilize that information without using it to avoid trying something new?

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Welcome to our new subscribers. 2023 is going to be a good year. And if not, we have the tools to deal. This could be time to think about a new year inventory. See the Jan 13, 2023 entry for a sample of the "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" workbook with 78 pages of topics, member's views, and processing questions. Available in PDF format for those of you outside the US (or who prefer that format) or hardcopy mailed to you. Email me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com with questions. Note that the workbook is also available at Portland Area Intergroup at 825 NE 20th 



Friday, January 13, 2023

Now What Workbook Information and Sample

See below for information and sample from the workbook, I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?   My weekly blog sprung from the idea that there was a need for writings related to long term recovery, and the workbook followed:

Now What? is a 78-page workbook (see Table of Contents below). Each section includes writing on the topic, a member's view, and processing questions with lined space for writing (Note that the PDF is not in writable format). It is suitable for individual use, for working with a sponsor/sponsee or in a small group.

Now Available in PDF format for $12.95 for those outside the U.S. (or who prefer that format) or hard copy mailed for $19.95. See PayPal/credit card info on the WEB VERSION of the blog page at:    http://soberlongtime.com

A sample from the Introduction:

At the beginning, we are rightly focused on the act of sobriety: What are my physical needs as my body adapts to functioning without substances? How do I sleep through the night? How do I order pizza without saying, "and a pitcher of beer?" What about the family wedding coming up, or those initial holiday seasons? These are real concerns as we develop new, sober habits, and learn to live with integrity. Early recovery can be an exciting time, packed with adventures and markers on the journey of a new life - working the Steps for the first time, identifying a home group, connecting with a sponsor, beginning the amends process. We also learn to function sober in the workplace, and in relationships, navigate who we need to let go of, and what it means, exactly, to "stick with the winners." ...

But what about long-term recovery? What are the markers for ten, twenty, thirty years and beyond? We note the milestones, those five and ten-year anniversaries, but what else? How do we keep recovery alive and vibrant as we age, both in physical years and recovery time? 

What are the tasks of long-term recovery? What about the shifting roles in our groups? How do we deal with grief and loss as time progresses? In 12-Step recovery, we speak to the "alcoholic who still suffers." Sometimes that is the person in the room with the most time.

Table of Contents:

Taking Stock
Meetings
Sponsorship
Medication and Illness
Other Addictions
Grief & Loss
Aging as a Long Timer
Young People as Long Timers
Relationships & Intimacy
Our Work Life
Principles of the Steps, Revisited

Email me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com with any questions.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Lessons?

The events in our lives happen in a sequence in time, but in their significance to ourselves they find their own order.   Eudora Welty

As much as I might try, I rarely know the lesson of a circumstance while I'm in the midst of it. Breakups, job loss, college insanity (every term, like clockwork, despite past evidence of success), the hard work of excavating causes and conditions would sometimes have me shouting at the sky, "What are you trying to tell me?!" (I don't believe in a HP pulling strings, but sometimes it can feel good to yell at something). For example, I'd long wondered if I'd connected with my first husband too young, just this summer recognizing that he probably saved me from myself, the myself that was enamored with the handsome, careless philanderer, or the myself that would've gotten in all sorts of trouble away at college. I wondered about the lesson when my boyfriend of 9 years left, right before the company I worked for closed abruptly, and several people I knew died, "You've got my attention, Life, now what do you want?!"

I spent time this week with women I've known since grade school, our monthly date, joined by two we don't see often. People often remark on how great it is that I'm still friends with these women, most of them known since I was nine years old. Is there a lesson here, about loyalty and shared experience? About the sweetness of seeing our mothers in each other's faces, or laughing about some long-ago antics? I have long term friends in program too - those who were "litter mates" and those I've met along the way, some for a season and some for a reason, as the saying goes. Do I need to know the significance, the lessons in various relationships? Maybe not, even though I'm prone to figure-it-out-itis.

Maybe the lesson(s) are about paying attention, then and now, not letting important connections wither on the vine, releasing what no longer fits, be it job or lover or notions about who I am. Maybe the lesson is that there is no "lesson," that I can keep doing the same thing until I don't anymore, whether from exhaustion or simply moving on.  If it were as simple as a "lesson" I could read a book and move forward. Experience is my teacher; other people show me the way (either how to or how not to proceed).

A magazine article I recently read addressed people's fears around being alone. I cannot relate, often preferring my own company to social interactions (that's one of the things I love about meetings - I can get my social fix for an hour or so, and then go home.) The Big Book says that, through Step work, we'll see that we can "be alone at perfect peace and ease"(p.75). As an introvert, that's never been a problem. For me, it always comes back to balance - is solitude a spiritual practice or an escape? Both and neither, depending on the day and time, my motivation and state of mind. This same magazine had a piece on "questions every woman should ask herself." I could relate to only one or two. Getting older is its own reward.

On another topic, in a meeting last week, people spoke about knee-jerk reactions, those times we spout off in anger or rudeness despite our best intentions, usually with those we're closest to. Is this a place to work Step One, admitting powerlessness over my reactivity? Is this one more place where I recognize that I cannot fix myself? What is it about the surrender that so often leads to a desired outcome? Not automatically, but it does seem that acknowledging I'm beat allows for a new energy to arise. Someone I consider a role model of spirituality wondered how to integrate the knee-jerk (emphasis on "jerk") self with the spiritually centered self. I suppose that is the crux of our Step work with slow improvement over time as serenity becomes stronger than ire, but never reaching perfection. I just learned the acronym - STOP = Spirit, Take Over Please. Now if I can remember that in the moment(s)!

Being January, a focus on Step One powerlessness and unmanageability is never a bad idea. What am I powerless over today? Well, just about everything outside the proverbial hula-hoop, but more accurately, what or who is it that I erroneously believe I have power over, which sets off a raft of unmanageabilities?

How do you best learn? From a book, from others, from experience, or maybe a combination? How does the phrase about being alone at perfect peace and ease strike you? What do you do when you don't feel at ease, either with yourself or others? What might be in need of surrender as this new year begins? What comes up when you ask, "What am I powerless over today?"

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This could be time to think about a new year inventory. See the Feb 4, 2022 entry for a sample of the "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" workbook with 78 pages of topics, member's views, and processing questions. Available in PDF format for those of you outside the US (or who prefer that format) or hardcopy mailed to you. Email me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com with questions. Note that the workbook is also available at Portland Area Intergroup at 825 NE 20th