Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Contentment

 I attend an online speaker-discussion meeting out of San Fransico most weeks. It is a good group, and one where we've developed friendships over the years of walking over the hill to the meeting place when we're there.  They may eventually return to in-person  but for now, we get to be in the Hollywood Squares. I'm part of a couple of other smaller groups that are cross-country in make-up, able to visit with friends old and new in various time zones. While no one would ever say the pandemic is good, there have been some unanticipated benefits, online meetings being one.

This last week's speaker shared from As Bill Sees It, p. 306, Is Happiness the Goal? Bill thinks not, saying, "I don't think happiness or unhappiness is the point. How do we meet the problems we face? ... In my view, we of this world are pupils in a great school of life." It was Bill's birthday (Nov 26) this past week. Mind-boggling that one simple life (not uncomplicated, but simple), one life of a hopeless alcoholic, could access the formula of one drunk reaching out to another that has saved us so many years of pain and misery.

I don't know that I consciously sought happiness in my own before-times. I sought excitement, sensation - sensation that helped me feel alive, whether the warm glow from booze, the tuning fork energy of cocaine, the buzz of methamphetamine, or the twitterpation of an attraction. Initially, drinking helped me to have feelings, gave me an avenue to escape what felt like the doldrums of a quiet, depressed household. But nearly always, with whatever substance, I overshot the sweet spot. The very few times that I said to myself, "I'll never do that again," I wasn't referring to drinking itself, but to the excess. Maintaining the perfect high was the goal, which could've been the search for mellow or blotto, depending on the occasion.

In these years of recovery, happiness has been a by-product of right-living. When I'm doing my best to live with integrity, there is little remorse and way more contentment. And, my definition of contentment and happiness has shifted over time. Contented used to have more of a zing! connected to doing/seeing/count me in! These days it is quieter - I realized, on Thanksgiving, that the reason I was in a hurry to get going to our two family stops was in order to come back home. I completely enjoyed love and laughter with my brother, and my "sister-from-another-mother," and was very happy to get home to pj's and a turkey sandwich, enjoying a movie with my spouse. Simple pleasures are good.

And now it is Christmas, Hannukah, Solstice, Kwanza - all the various celebrations of light and community and survival (as the northern hemisphere ancients might've noted, we're making it through another darkening of the skies). The pandemic has definitely shifted the focus from outward to interior, though this year I do feel a slight relaxing with vaccines and boosters (fingers crossed the new variant will be mild). I'll do one more year of a particular online celebration, but will open a window and turn on the air purifier for a small in-person gathering as well. Similar to early recovery, when every daybreak was a miracle, coming out of lockdown makes even the simplest interactions seem beautiful and chock full of emotion.

Our internet is kaput this week,  with a technician expected tomorrow.  I get very flustered and frustrated with technology issues I barely understand.  But, once I was reminded this is a luxury problem, I relaxed into being a wee bit disconnected (other than typing on my phone's tiny keyboard,  and no Netflix!). Please excuse any typos these old eyes may have missed on this little screen. 

What is on your heart this week? How do you define happiness or contentment? If we truly are "pupils in the great school of life," what lessons do you want to learn,  and which have you mastered? How will you pace yourself in what is often a busy time of year?

Just in time for a year-end inventory,  consider my 78 page workbook,  "I've Been Sober a Long Time- Now What?" with chapters including aging, grief, and sponsorship. Go to the WEB VERSION of this page to access PayPal & credit card link. Happy trails!  http://soberlongtime.com 

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Grief and Gratitude

 A Facebook memory of a tribute I made to the man I was with when I hit bottom in 1985 popped up today. As I'd stated in the post, we'd shared some love and some laughter, but it was a dark time. He introduced me to Neitzsche and Lao Tsu, along with methamphetamine and heroin. Actually, it was his suggestion I take a break that helped me decide to go to treatment. But he never understood his powerlessness, and died of an overdose in November, 1988 when he was about 43.

As I sit at my desk, I see a photo taken at Christmas, 1974, propped up near the window. The three young men pictured in their 20's are all dead now, two from the effects of alcoholism and one from tobacco-related illness. While these three were in their 50's and 60's when they died, theirs, too, are lives cut short, lives not fully lived. I can sometimes lose sight of the miracle of recovery, the gift of a second chance, the cosmic throw of the dice that left me on this side of the divide. This photograph is a reminder. 

I've been in several meetings lately that touched on grieving - seasonal remembrance of those not here to share a holiday meal and wispy memories of times past, some good, some not so good. This time of year has been dubbed the Bermuda Triangle for alcoholics, with festive drinking occasions and potential family land mines to shake our equilibrium. I'd add to that combo the memories - the empty place at the table, the longing for just one more conversation, one more hug, one more chance to tell our people that they matter.

I can breathe into that longing and stay there, or use it to propel me into gratitude for what is, today. Thinking of those I miss, I can be extra sure to say, "I love you," to those I care for, even if it isn't something we normally say to each other. I can sink into satisfaction that I've been gifted with a life that too many have missed. I don't have to make up for their lost time, but I can be mindful that any dilemmas I may have today are nothing compared to the scrounging and puking and lying and self-condemnation of active addiction. None of my luxury problems amount to anything compared to lives lost, and those still ruled by the disease. 

Grief may be a solitary journey, but as in nearly every experience, I'm not alone. Whatever I am feeling or walking through, someone else is just a few steps ahead as I do my best to accept impermanence, and not merely with a "Whew! Glad it wasn't me this time." I do confess to my interest in the age of people in the obituaries I read each week - older than me? (reasonable) younger than me? (sad) my age? (a little scary). In one of the recent meetings where members talked about loss, someone said that the question shouldn't be "How did they die?" but rather, "How did they live?" That's the important qualifier, the driver of "one day at a time" - how am I present today? (and not in the FOMO/ Fear of Missing Out desire that every moment be exciting, but with recognition that this moment, here and now, is precious) It is in acceptance of my humanness, my noticing the sun on my face or a hug from a friend that peace is found.

While I am a grateful alcoholic, I'm not grateful for alcoholism and the devastation, both quiet and noisy, it brought to my loved ones (and myself) and countless others. I am grateful for sobriety, even with life's ups and downs. With abstinence, I have a fighting chance. So, today, let's take a moment of silence for the alcoholic who still suffers, both in and out of the rooms.

This can be an emotionally complex time of year for we alcoholics. How do you honor all that brought you to this moment, while not getting lost in "morbid reflection?" Whether or not you mark the Thanksgiving holiday tomorrow, will you take time to note gratitude this week? What is on your list?

  

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Self acceptance

 I've long heard people talk about starting and ending their day reading from pages 86 - 88 of the Big Book, the "Upon awakening" and "When we retire at night" bits. Good stuff. Really good stuff, but I've never made that a part of my practice. I have my AM and PM routines, though neither includes a formalized 10th Step, or the above Step 11. But, after hearing yet another member share how their program was enhanced by making this a part of their day, I decided to start, always interested in enhancement. I want to up my game, stay engaged, be entirely willing. 

However...  When I repetitively read something, there comes a point when my eyes glaze and my mind wanders as I lose focus on the now memorized words. Noticing this phenomenon of inattention with 86 & 87, I realized that, for me at least, it isn't so much about adherence to the actual pages, but to their intent. It is a good idea to review my day, whether right before sleep or earlier. It is an excellent idea to reflect on the day ahead when I wake up, and an even better idea to remind myself to get out of my own way and see where I might be helpful or supportive of others. So, here I am, again and still, not reading from the Big Book morning and night, but being more mindful of the intentional pause, the setting of intention, the review that will keep me conscious of the principles of recovery.

In a recent online meeting geared towards women with long term sobriety, someone shared that she'd retired from her profession, and had retired from self-improvement. Oy vey. I've been on the self-improvement train since I was nine or ten years old, from dieting to generalized "Be a better person." The program is geared towards halting hurtful behaviors and attitudes, rightly so - I was a mess of self-indulgence when I got sober. And, doesn't there come a point when enough is enough? I'm not at all suggesting to stop the inventory or working of Steps - just that with 35 years sober and 67 years on the planet, I have traits and quirks and preferences that no amount of Step work can budge (or it would've done so long ago). I desire to continue to grow, spiritually and emotionally, but have come to understand that it doesn't mean taking a machete to my psyche on a regular basis. I'm human. I screw up on occasion with a hurtful word or an impulsive decision. I may have deficiencies, but I am not a defect. I'm so glad to know that today.

I heard something brilliant a few weeks ago, from someone after their relapse. They described how relapse starts by un-working the Steps backwards, as in first you stop carrying the message (12), then you stop prayer and meditation (11). You then stop your personal inventory (10) and making amends (8 & 9). By that time, you likely aren't recognizing any defects/defenses (6 & 7) and aren't talking with a sponsor (5), and definitely not doing any pen-to-paper. Soon you're attempting to run the show (2 & 3) and in all likelihood, have convinced yourself you are not powerless over anything. Maybe you pick up, maybe you don't, but this trajectory sure sounds like the template of relapse stories I've heard. As I've said many times before, we don't just wake up on a Tuesday and decide to drink.

I've argued that once I "fully concede to [my] innermost self" that I'm alcoholic, I can't un-concede, but a friend has pointed out that we forget. We forget the devastation of hitting bottom, the ways we hurt ourselves and our loved ones, and how hard it was to finally make the decision to stop. I can romanticize both the drink and the excitement of early recovery. I once heard someone say they drank because they wanted to start over. I'm under no delusion that I could  recreate the heady days of early sobriety. For one thing, I'm not 31 years old anymore, running with a pack of other newbies in my age range (for me, that was from 21 to 51!). Even were I to drink again, sobriety would never again be "new." New perspective, perhaps, from a new vantage point, but today I'll do my best to follow the suggestion: "Keep Coming Back, but Stay, It's Easier."

Are you a by-the-book person, or a modifier? How do you know when  your modifications veer towards self-will or self deception? And where are you with self-acceptance? Can you be comfortable, most days, with who you are, rather than who you think you should be? 

* * *

Just in time for the holidays, or your year-end inventory, consider my workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" covering such topics as Aging, Sponsorship, Relationships, and Grief & Loss with a narrative, a member's view, and processing questions, with space for writing. Perfect for sharing with a sponsor, trusted other, or in a small group.

If you're not seeing the links in the upper right corner of this post, you can go to the WEB VERSION  to sign up for weekly email deliveries, or to purchase the workbook.   See below to connect (2 options - look for in small print Web Version at the bottom of the page and click): 

(you can shoot me an email at shadowsandveins@gmail.com with questions about the workbook or how to purchase)

 Sober Long Time - Now What? (longtermrecovery.blogspot.com)

http://soberlongtime.com/     

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Gratitude (still and always)

 One of my maternal cousins is a regular attendee of the Portland Symphony, and until Covid shut everything down, I tagged along every other month or so, not because I'm particularly knowledgeable or a huge fan, but for the event-ness of going downtown for dinner and enjoyable music, outside my usual realm. The symphony re-opened in October, and this weekend, I went for the first time in nineteen months. It was fun to put on earrings and something other than sweatpants, showing my vaccine card and sitting with other masked patrons - not quite "normal" but a reasonable facsimile.

Appreciating the grandeur of the venue, a re-purposed movie theater built in 1927, I was struck by just how much I've taken for granted: freedom of movement and the freedom to gather, the ability to make a plan and leave the house without needing to think about space and distance and sticking a mask in my pocket. Our power went out for four hours a few weeks ago - again, a stark reminder of how much I assume: that the lights will go on with a flip of a switch, that I can make a cup of tea whenever I wish, that our home will always be warm and cozy.  

If I'm being honest, I sometimes take my recovery for granted, like it's a given. That's not all bad - sobriety has been my habit, my way of life, for a long time now, so it is the norm - I appreciate that I don't have to think about not drinking like at the beginning. And, I know that my recovery, which I equate with physical sobriety and spiritual growth, requires at least some attention to avoid the dreaded "retrogressive groove." As I've written before, I know that addiction recovery is not one-size-fits-all. I have friends who simply stopped doing what was causing them difficulty, and others who participated in AA for years and no longer do. Meetings work for me, with the regular reminders of what it was like, as well as bearing witness to, and learning from, the life-on-life's-terms of my peers. And, if I'm practicing the Steps, I can't very well carry the message if not in the company of newer folks, at least some of the time. I can both enjoy the relative calm of long term sobriety, and do what I need to do to keep it, knowing that what's needed shifts and changes over time.

I hope I don't take my spouse or good friends for granted, knowing that relationships require nurturing in order to continue and thrive. I am fortunate to have several friends who are of the "take up where we left off" variety, which could be weekly, monthly or a few times a year. I've read, and heard from others, that the pandemic has resulted in a culling, a winnowing of relations, from a nebulous group of acquaintances defined by circumstance (work, meetings, hobbies) that likely included regular contact in the before-times, to those people I'd drive across the miles to see.  One friend recently heard the actual words, "I've decided not to continue our friendship." That would sting, though I can appreciate the level of honesty and courage involved in speaking that truth. These days, I spend time with my walking group and with women I've known since our school days or soon after. Actually, I spend most of my time alone, or with my spouse, though need to be mindful of balance. Retirement is a transition, learning how to be in the world sans schedule. Retirement in a global pandemic is a learning opportunity as well, impeding engagement with the greater community. The pandemic slow down has been a cosmic lesson in waiting, never my first choice. Whether job decision, relationships, or dinner, I was long an "act now, question later" type person. I'm actually enjoying learning to ponder before I leap.

When I find myself in awareness of all I take for granted, I turn to the trusty gratitude list - all the more timely, this being November. From hot running water to good friendships, I have much to be thankful for. I'm told that gratitude is a spiritual elevator, a tool as well as an attitude. I can't "make" myself feel grateful, but simply the exercise of listing all the things I might be grateful for, were I so inclined, leads me to a better frame of mind.  

What, or who, do you sometimes take for granted? How might your attitude change if you were mindful that those things you assume are a given are actually a gift? How do you define being in recovery? What are the regular practices that keep you from forgetting how far you've come? Retired, or working, are there areas of your life that are on hold, that require a "wait?" How do you stay in acceptance, rather than attempting for force the issue or foresee the future?

*** 

Just in time for the holidays, or your year-end inventory, consider my workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" covering such topics as Aging, Sponsorship, Relationships, and Grief & Loss with a narrative, a member's view, and processing questions, with space for writing. Perfect for sharing with a sponsor, trusted other, or in a small group.

If you're not seeing the links in the upper right corner of this post, you can go to the WEB VERSION of this page to sign up for weekly email deliveries, or to purchase the workbook.   See below to connect (2 options):

 Sober Long Time - Now What? (longtermrecovery.blogspot.com)

http://soberlongtime.com/