Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Home Sweet Home

 Ah, it's good to be home after two weeks in Ireland, both North and the Republic of. What beautiful countries. In addition to visiting with friends, and the usual tourist stuff, we hit some great meetings (several AA and one Alanon for me). I always appreciate the cross-pollination of attending meetings in different cities and towns. What I will say about Ireland, specifically, is that they say the Serenity Prayer really fast! I was still on the "God, grant me" and they were already halfway through!

At a speaker meeting, the leader shared that his first sponsor, in those often-hectic early days of sobriety, told him that he suffered from "painfully acute self-awareness." Oh my, yes. Relieve me of the bondage of self, oh please. Intense self-awareness plus a good dose of self-doubt made it pretty darned uncomfortable in this brain of mine. How enlightening it was (and is) to hear others talk about the same feelings that rattled around in my head. Maybe I'm not such a freak after all! I'm so grateful that the edges have softened over time. 

I had a wonderful reunion in Dublin with a woman I last saw when she was a teenager, in Miami, in 1988 and I was a couple of years sober. Her parents, and my ex and I, were good friends, which meant we spent a lot of time with her and her three siblings during my drinking years. She married an Irishman, moved over, and stayed. It was fun and heartwarming to share memories and get up to date, and to learn that her father was sober for 20 years before he died, and one of her brothers has been clean now for 15 years. Healing happens in many forms, and for me, healing often comes via revisiting important relationships and connections.

I had a cosmic moment in a small village on the coast of Northern Ireland, where we spent a few days on our own (with hubs driving on the opposite side of the road!). At one of the tourist sites, I realized I'd misplaced my wallet, and upon returning to our lodging, realized it wasn't where I'd thought it might be. Retracing my steps, no one had seen it, but everyone recommended that I cancel my credit cards. I didn't, with the gut feeling that it would turn up, and when I went to bed that night, envisioned going to the bakery first thing in the morning, knowing, believing that they had it, and would've held on to in since I told them, "We'll be back tomorrow." Well, that's exactly what happened. The staff people said they realized who the wallet belonged to, but didn't know where I was staying, so held on to it, since I'd said, "See you tomorrow." Trust - in the good people of Cushendall, and in my gut. 

While there, I had a drinking dream - the first in a very, very long time. In the dream, someone handed me a tall glass, filled to the brim with some sort of layered drink. I brought it to my lips, but then put it down, saying, "I'm not willing to throw away 38 years of recovery for a sip of this." It is always a good reminder that the disease is alive and well in some part of my psyche, and that recovery has the upper hand, at least for today. 

And so, the beat goes on, reacclimating to the day-to-day of life at home, reconnecting with my regular groups, walking in our neighborhood, planting the garden I'd delayed while away. Vacations can be weird - while gone, it felt a lot longer than two weeks, and now that I've readjusted to our time zone, it feels like I never left (except for the few Euros on my desk, and the new box of teabags in the cupboard). I am grateful for the resources, good health, and energy to follow my heart; good friends across the sea, and my adventurous spouse. I sometimes think that my story could've gone either way, when the disease still whispered its siren song, but here I am, here we are, all these years later, living life on life's terms, which is sometimes rocky and sometimes grand.

When is the last time you had a drinking or using dream? Does your recovery-self come in to play while sleeping? How has the painfully acute self-awareness of the drinking days and early recovery mellowed out over time? What does "relieve me of the bondage of self" mean to you today?

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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. And a reminder that the workbook, 78 pages of discussion and processing questions, is available at the Portland Area Intergroup at 825 NE 20th. for you local folks.



Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Inventory

 

I'll be home in time for next week's post, but here is an oldie from May, 2018. Thank you for your understanding of these repeats... see you next week.


April was the month of inventory - 4th month, 4th Step, searching and fearless. In the group I participate in, we use a format for the yearly inventory that focuses on our own behavior and attitudes. Ideally, if I'm practicing the principles in all my affairs, I stay current with interpersonal upsets. Which is not to say that annoyances and lurking resentments don't creep up. "And," if I am doing my reasonable best, I deal with my humanness as it grabs my attention, which most of the time includes acknowledging that pesky spiritual axiom that if I'm upset, I need to look within myself for the source of my discomfort. I heard someone once say that if I have a resentment, it's because I haven't yet accepted my powerlessness over the situation, person, place or thing. I hate that part. It's easier to point the finger (the government! my co-worker! my spouse! my whoever!), but that momentary flash of righteous indignation and self-satisfied glee doesn't last. Owning my part, which sometimes takes input from a trusted other to figure out, and being willing to do something different, either in the moment, or next time, is the foundation of continued growth.

So then, May is the time for Step 5, admitting to "God, myself and another human being," the exact nature of my errors and mistaken beliefs. What I've realized is that Step 5 is also about boundaries. In the old days, I would've told anyone anything, and did. In Step 5, I'm told to share with "another human being," as in one other person. This includes learning what to share in a general way at group level, and what is better for the sponsor or trusted other. My first sponsor once cautioned me against doing my therapy within the relationship I was struggling with - i.e., for me, don't take all my anguish about my insecurity in romantic partnerships to the person I'm currently in partnership with. That has "fix me!" written all over it, and was what I was looking for, whether implicit or explicit. I'm not suggesting that we should be dishonest, but one of my hard lessons was that my partner was not the sole provider of support, and was not there to process every.single.emotion I had. Another friend once wisely said, "I have lots of feelings during the day - I just don't need to attach a sentence to every one." Amen, and something I'm still learning.

We had a very lively discussion, in Step Group, about the "nature of our wrongs," and the false beliefs and fears that can get in the way of "happy, joyous and free." Most of my defects, or rather, defenses, have to do with worry and anxiety about what might come to be. I can trace that back to the emotional uncertainty of growing up with active alcoholism, but I'm no better at foreseeing the future now than I was at age 10. One of our members quoted Bob D, of Las Vegas, who once said, "Stop trying to clear up the wreckage of your future!" Oh my God. That felt like an epiphany. At 32 years sober, that phrase hit me as if I'd never heard the term "one day at a time." The real question isn't whether or not I'll be OK next week, or in 2 years or in 10. The REAL question is "Are you OK right now?" And to that, the answer is nearly always, "Yes." As we were often asked in treatment, when flailing about with one imagined crisis or another - "Do you have someplace to sleep tonight? Have you had enough to eat today? Well, then, you're OK." I didn't want to hear that at the time, but that is absolutely correct. There are emergencies. There are valid fears, certainly, but most of my "what if?!?" is based on fantasy. Another truism heard in a meeting: Higher Power is in the right-here-right-now. If I'm off balance, it's because I'm reaching out into the future, where I'm all alone with my brain.

Most days, I'm steeped in gratitude for what is and am aware of the blessings of a safe home, a strong marriage, a good job. But, I do get out in the ozone, especially when I lose my spiritual balance. For example, living next door to a rental can feel stressful and trigger my safety and security fears. Will this group of tenants be nice? Will they hold loud parties on the front porch, like the last crew? Will they take all the parking spots? Not earth shattering, but events that do impact our quality of life. This weekend, there was some confusion about who was moving out and who was staying. I reacted to my perception of events and took some action, which precipitated a scolding reaction back my way. My initial response was to blame one of several parties, but instead, I phoned my sponsor to vent. She chuckled, bless her heart, and helped me to see both the humor in the situation, and my part. Grrr.  I did some writing, slowed down enough to breathe, and kept my mouth shut. My on-going battle with impulsivity might end up on my next inventory, but yelling and creating chaos will not.

And that, for me, is the essence of on-going Step work. Sometimes I do clean up the wreckage of my future by not creating it in the first place. It is an on-going process.

Where are you with your inventory, either daily or a yearly housecleaning? What keeps cropping up for you? Can you accept and forgive yourself, and move on? Who will you share your findings with?

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Name it, claim it, tame it

  I'm away for a couple of weeks, and unsure of wi-fi access and time zone differences, so will be re- posting a couple of early blogs. This one is from January 2017:



This week I had an experience where a past hurt, in the form of shame, reached across the years to remind me that no matter how much time I have in recovery, I still have emotional work to do.

In a brief exchange, someone responded to me with unexpected sarcasm. Usually, I would brush it off, but these particular words, in this particular tone of voice, cut me and I started to cry. After their apology, I got off of the phone, but the tears didn't stop and I remembered that "when I'm hysterical, it's historical." I know that when my reaction to a situation is out of proportion to the event, there is a deeper root.

So, I intentionally sat with the intensity of the pain. As I was able to quiet my mind, I could sense that my tears were very young and from a place of feeling small and defective, like a nuisance. I don't remember my parents ever speaking to me with sarcasm or hurtful words, but I do recall the sensation of being in the way. What I know from years of recovery work (inventory, outside help, education) is that often, as little children, we make decisions about the world and our place in it that are based on our perception, not necessarily the reality that an adult might see. We, or rather, I, carry this worldview into adulthood, and without exposure, I run the risk of continuing to react to stressful situations like the wounded 5-year-old I once was.

Getting to those inner layers of truth isn't easy. For a time, into early recovery, I'd misplaced the journals and diaries I'd kept since 5th grade. When I finally found them, buried in a closet, I opened the volumes from 7th & 8th grades, hoping for a miracle revelation. I was looking for the one entry that would explain why I started drinking, why I had such low self-esteem, why I was starting on the journey of alcoholism. No such luck. There was an entry that said, "Dad got home from the hospital today. He had a nervous breakdown," followed the next day with "I wore my new yellow jumper to school. Greg H said hello to me in the hall." Introspection was not a trait of 13-year-old me.

Sometimes the Universe does hand me lessons on a silver platter. When I'd been sober quite some time, I stopped at Mom's to introduce her to a new date. When I saw her a few days later, she asked, "Does he like you?"  Not, "Do you like him?" or "Are you compatible?" but "Does he like you?" Thank you, dear Mother, for that illustration of one of my basic flaws - being more concerned with whether "he" likes "me" than vice versa.  Another time, when once more I heard a berating voice in my mind chastising me for some minor mistake, I had the realization that it wasn't even my voice, but my Dad's. And not a voice he used with me, but one he used, out loud, to himself. Oh. I can stop that now. I truly don't need to carry my father's self-criticism any further.

But, it is rarely so obvious. It is much easier to blame and point the finger - He shouldn't talk to me like that! She needs to be nicer to me! (Beware the "shoulds" in any form!). The more painful, but ultimately more rewarding process is to slow it down and wait for the story to unravel. When have I felt like this before? Does this remind me of anything from my past? What do I need to do to take care of myself?

What I did this week was allow the tears. I wrote about it, and in the healing magic of putting pen to paper was able to see where my hurt in the present was attached to the past. I then shared about it - with 2 trusted friends, and then in a general way, at one of my regular groups. And I talked to the other person involved, calmly, and from my point of view (when you said this, I felt that), finishing with "Thank you for triggering me, because it helped me to heal."

I am certainly not claiming that my feelings will never be hurt again, but by taking the time to dig deeper than the zing of emotion this time, I hope to be able to put spiritual distance between the feelings and my response next time. And in that spiritual space I can remember that the winds of other people's moods do not need to impact mine. I can remember that what made sense at 5 or 6 years old doesn't anymore. I can remember that speaking my truth can take the power out of my pain or confusion or shame. No matter what 5-year-old me thought, I am not defective. I am not a nuisance. I am no longer small.

How do you practice self-care when your emotions are triggered? Where do you need healing? Who do you talk with when old reactions get triggered?

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Just for Today

 In a discussion focused on Step 3 this last week, I realized that, for me, Step3 was both an event and an ongoing process. I had an intense surrender experience in very early sobriety, and... every day I have the opportunity to get out of my own way, which is definitely of the "progress, not perfection" variety.

I told a story in the 3rd Step meeting about an experience I had in a church I attended years ago. I participated in a pre-service book study, and at one point, the decision was made that we'd each share our faith journey over the coming weeks.. There were 5 or 6 people in the group, all normies - a couple of PK's (preacher's kids), a few who spoke to being raised in the church, and me. When it was my turn, I thought, "Oh my god, what am I going to tell these people??" I gave a sanitized version of my story, culminating with hitting my knees in surrender and saying "I can't do this anymore." Afterwards, one of the fellows came up to me with tears in his eyes, saying, "You've had a direct experience of God - I'd give anything to feel what you described." I said something to the effect of "Be careful what you pray for because I had to almost die to get to the point of giving up." My point today being that the spiritual journey is different for all of us. For me, it was sudden, and also of the educational variety. What exactly is this higher power business? What indeed?

Maybe this HP business is about how we care for each other, in ways big and small. One of my retirement gigs is as a temporary/on-call elections worker, which means a flurry of activity a couple of times a year. I'm part of a team that goes to people's homes to assist them in voting, whether reading the ballot to a sight impaired person, or transporting a ballot for someone with mobility issues (we've had Vote by Mail in Oregon, successfully, for over 20 years). I so appreciate people's gratitude - they asked for help, and got it, which is not always the case in this hectic world. And it's a gift of recovery to be able to be of service in different areas, in and out of the rooms. I can beat myself up for not doing "enough" - a characteristic of my Alanon-ism - but the truth is that most days, I do (and it's more accurately, most weeks, or most months with an eye to the ever-elusive balancing act between self-care and self-sacrifice). 

As a wise friend once told me, adults gather information before making a decision. (Thanks JG) Well, my spouse and I are starting to gather information about his retirement, likely in a few years, but not too soon to start planning. Retirement is not just about money, though of course that figures in. All the checklists I saw as I prepared had to do with "How will you spend your time?" That's one more plus in the AA column, where we have community and opportunities for interaction to the level we prefer. I was wisely told not to jump right in to a new gig, volunteer or otherwise, but to give myself at least a year to settle in to operating off of a time-based agenda. Of course, the pandemic made that easier for me, but it was a challenge, having been so accustomed to the clock. Again, progress not perfection, of the one-day-at-a-time variety.

I'm, once again, leaving on a jet plane, so my next 2 week's posts will be drawing from earlier blogs as I'm not certain of wifi connections - kind of like re-runs on TV. We had a counselor in treatment, all those years ago, who'd say, "You can do anything you want to do, as long as you don't drink or use." Part of that had to do with discovering what it is I really want to do. In theory, I could've run for President or Mayor, but more along the lines of what I actually want to do is to read good books, walk in the woods, sit at the shore, share laughter with my spouse and with good friends, and travel (which nearly always includes checking out local meetings). Years ago, my good friend and I were in an English-speaking meeting in Florence, Italy. An American shared about wondering why he'd use precious vacation time to go to a meeting. My thought, then and now, was that if I wasn't sober, I wouldn't be on vacation, and I certainly never thought twice about whiling away hours in a foreign bar (or crashed out in a hotel bed with a massive hangover). 

Sitting in my backyard the other day, I overheard a fellow on a bicycle say to his pal who was apparently leading the way, "I don't even know where I am!" I'm grateful that today, I know where I am, and who I am and where I'm headed, whether near, or far from home. 

How has Step 3 shown up in your life, either as an event or an on-going process? How are you of service, in or outside the rooms? How do you walk the line between pushing yourself ever-so-slightly and knowing that who you are, and what you do, is enough? Thinking of life in general, do you know who you are and where you are headed, just for today?