Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Inner feelings

 I've found my way (or the way has found me) to the social media algorithms for aging - aging women in particular. I don't mind so much, though it is eerie to suddenly see ads for something I was only thinking about along with the articles about getting older. I'm now seeing all sorts of lovely pieces on aging with grace, aging with "screw you Madison Avenue!" or aging with an eye to the inevitable.

Many of the pieces I read talk about how one feels the same inside all along, though the image in the mirror has changed. I remember my mother talking about that - how she felt the same as she always had, even as she entered her 80's. I agree, though I do have more confidence in myself and my ability to handle life-on-life's-terms than I did when younger. But yes, I was a mischievous and energetic kid who liked reading and climbing trees. Climbing trees is probably not a good idea these days, but the rest still fits. I like to throw parties, I'm drawn to people who make me laugh, I love the beach. How much of who I am and always have been is innate, and how much is learned, and does it really matter at this point?

So what is different, besides the smile lines and saggy neck? Friends and I talk about a shift in energy. What used to include working all day, attending an evening meeting then maybe dinner or a movie afterwards has morphed into quiet evenings at home. A day now feels full if I have two things scheduled, where before, cramming the calendar was the norm and actually fed my energy (I've long said I'd rather be busy than bored). I used to bounce back quicker from a long run/walk or a strenuous hike. I've always needed my 8 hours of sleep, but these days, the getting there is more of a challenge. I have less interest in the latest anything and prefer shopping in my own closet.

On an internal, emotional level, life is generally calmer because I'm not as twitched about people, places and things as I might've been. That's in context of course - an election year here in the US has plenty of opportunity for rumination - but overall, I'm more aware that the beat goes on, with or without my input. There are still blips on the path - a diagnosis, a loss, a change in circumstance - and, I now have years and years of walking through the fears, stumbling over the boulders and watching you do the same, knowing that yes, I am and will be OK.

Maybe it's about redefining what "OK" means. It certainly isn't that every single thing goes my way, that the neighbors will never take my parking spot or that I'll be able to zip the cute jeans. It doesn't mean that I'll never get a scary diagnosis or that no one I love will get sick (I remember my aunt, near the end of her life, asking, "You didn't think I'd live forever, did you?!" Well, yes, I'd kind of hoped...). It doesn't mean that the roof won't leak, or the beloved pet won't die.  What it means today is that I am OK - the internal me, the part of me that observes all the stuff happening in me and my world. And I very much realize that this contemplation is a luxury and might be a different conversation if I didn't know where I'd sleep tonight, or where my next meal was coming from. Always, perspective...

In a recent meeting, someone shared that they prefer the idea of living the Steps vs working them. I like that image. In earlier recovery, I did have to work them - consciously wondering which Step applied and how to use it. I no longer feel like a project, like damaged goods, and over time, the Steps and the principles have simply become a part of my world view. So, for me, the question is, how do I apply the Steps, in my own relatively comfortable life, while being aware of the suffering around me, as well as making myself available for service (whether in program or the greater world)? Deciding where I'll point my attention, how I will greet and accept the various feelings that arise in the course of a day, how I will implement the pause - all keep me in contact with the Steps and the principles of the program.

How has your internalized view of self changed over the years, and how are you still the person you always were? Has the inventory process helped to unravel the parts that were learned and the parts that are simply you? If life is a series of lessons, what is it you are learning today? How do you live and apply the Steps to life on life's terms, the big things and the small, knowing you are ok, no matter what?

* * *

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 

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Decisions

 My stepdaughter's birthday was this past week - our relationship being one of those unexpected gifts I hadn't known I'd wanted. 

I spent a lot (a LOT) of time in my 30's and early 40's on the decision. I was aware I'd kind of done life backwards - when my friends were having kids as young marrieds, I was drinking my brains out, intuitively if unconsciously knowing I probably wouldn't/couldn't stay sober for 9 months. I was then faux-retired, traveling with my boyfriend, neither interested in curtailing our lifestyle.

And then, sobriety at 31 - still in the childbearing years, without a prospect. I could hear the clock ticking, and explored having a baby with a gay friend, but while that was still in the planning stage, met the guy I'd be with for the next 9 years, someone even more ambivalent than I was about parenthood.

And so, he and I muddled through, sometimes talking about marriage and kids, mostly not. I did talk about it for hours with my running pal - training for marathons gives one a lot of time to converse. We were both aware that time was slipping away while saying things like, "When I finish my degree," or "After the next race," obviously not compelled.

I did an awful lot of thinking, however, including checking out several books from the library that were very helpful. One suggested that I journal in one color ink when I was certain I wanted a baby and another color when I was just so-so. That was a great and eye-opening tool, and one I've used for other decision situations. This book also said that whichever path I chose, there would be some regrets, and that not having kids didn't mean that I'd have to be a super-achiever in other areas. Again, useful information for other either/or matters

Eventually, mother nature took the decision from me, though by then, I'd written my master's thesis on the validity of not having children in a culture that hadn't quite caught up with the reality of reproductive choice. And the beat went on...  I never even dated anyone who was actively parenting.

Then I met this guy, this extrovert, who had a 9-year-old daughter. It was a bit of a process for all of us, but our relationship is one of the highlights of my life. As it was for my mom, who'd always said, "Whatever makes you happy, honey," but was so very happy herself to have a granddaughter. 

So what does all this have to do with long-term sobriety? A reminder to myself that, even though I had my hopes and dreams about how life would or could turn out, the details were/are in the hands of the Fates. As always, I can make plans but the outcomes are not in my control. That can feel scary, or "thank goodness!"

I went out to dinner and an in-person meeting last week for a Program friend's 36th anniversary. I will say that while it was nice to see people, it didn't feel like something I need to do again. Friday nights used to be a required meeting/social night, when I lived for the weekend. I drank every night of the week, but on Fridays, especially, it felt important to fill-in-the-blank with meetings and meetings people. These days, whether related to post-pandemic or simply getting older, I'm less inclined.

In any event, the Friday birthday person will always be in my memory for something she said, probably 15 years ago: "When I know better, I have to do better."  At the time, I thought "Crap!" because I knew better but wasn't doing better. Funny how I can hear something 46 times and on the 47th have that "ah ha" moment.  I read somewhere that maturity includes the ability to foresee consequences, then behave accordingly. That is much easier as time goes on, vs the old days of act-now-pay-later. 

This came up recently with a "should" vs self-care. Gratefully, I'm in a place where self-care usually wins out, but still sometimes with the guilt-battle of thinking it's not ok to want what I want or feel what I feel. It used to be that the agitation of that inner-conflict would push me towards a peace-keeping decision, no matter the cost to my serenity. Today I'm better able to slow it all down, take a deep breath and know that if nobody's bleeding and nothing is on fire, I can do what's best for me. 

What is your process when you have a big decision to make? What parts of your life are different than what you'd thought would happen? What about the "When I know better, I have to do better?" Does that trigger a "Yes!" or an "Uh oh"?  What is it you do when an old "should" is trying to convince you to let go of your serenity?

* * *

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 

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Connections

 I'm thinking about connections this week, the gift of our shared histories and recoveries - like Dr Bob said after meeting Bill that first time, "He talked my language." How many times have I heard a complete stranger say what I'm feeling? How many times does someone share something that lights a flame in me, or triggers an insight? 

A good friend and her husband are moving out of state. I say "good friend" though this isn't someone I've hung out with all that much. But we've been in various Step Groups together over the years, have socialized, and have shared many, many meetings together, and deep conversations - that intimacy we can have in Program where we weave in and out of each other's lives. Connections.

I'm also thinking of a small group that meets online every 2 weeks, starting for a good friend's 30th anniversary during the pandemic. The wonders of technology let us stay connected from multiple cities across the country, where if left to our own devices, we might see each other once a year. Connections.

The Big Book says "We are normally people who would not mix." What I like to say in response to that is, "I would've drank with any of you," and we might've been best friends by the end of the evening, or the end of the bottle or bag. I still cringe when I think of my ex and I getting chummy with the out-of-town band at one of our local spots, inviting them over the next night to party Portland-style. Oh man, did the next morning's hangover have us saying, "What did we do?" followed by a phone call to back out of our offer. Embarrassing, but we knew we'd never see these people again, so what the heck. I/we had lots of grand plans in those days - the brilliant ideas of the sitting-on-the-barstool variety that never, ever came to pass. I am still and always grateful to wake up clear headed each morning, remembering what I did the day before and with whom. 

My spouse and I made it through the big rummage sale this past weekend, a little bit richer, a little less in the garage, sharing laughter along the way. Knowing it could be a dicey time, we started each morning with the Serenity Prayer and our intention to go with the flow. Interesting, isn't it, to actually talk about what is, or might be, going on rather than relying on mind reading? Ha! I will also say that being in recovery has taught me how to comfortably talk with strangers, thus I made a couple of sale-pals as we counted down the hours. I also paid attention to the still, small voice that was not so still and not so small when it shouted, "Get out of here!" on Sunday. Because a friend was there to help out, I was able to take an introvert's break, catch the bus home for a quiet couple of hours, and return refreshed and ready to load out when the time came. Thank you, Program tools. Thank you "to thine own self be true." Sometimes the connection is with myself. 

What are the connections that feed you today, whether particular meetings or particular people? How do you honor the connection to your higher self when the busy world wants to distract you? Is there a potential disruption to your path that could be averted with a conversation?

* * *

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 


Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Centered...

 In a meeting last week, someone pointed out that they would never have imagined the life they have today. I was verklempt as I realized that yes, my life is wonderful, and it is the life I'd always imagined for myself - simple and solid, centered on home and relationships.

I've written about that before, how when I was married to my first husband (way too young) I'd imagine what life could be like. And then, in a long-term relationship with a man who traveled extensively for work, I longed for what I thought of as normalcy - a mate who comes home at night to a casserole in the oven, simple and solid. It took a long time, even in to sobriety, to realize that never could've happened given the circumstances.   

Part of my unconscious dilemma of being able to acknowledge what it was I wanted in life is that I didn't even know who I was. I was unsettled, but from what? Starting to drink and drug at age 13, my sense of self was defined by whoever I was with at the moment. Sure, my core personality (very shy and introverted until that 3rd drink) was there, but I would've had a hard time describing myself. Getting sober at 31gave me the opportunity to grow up, to define what it was/is that matters to me, learning to listen to the still, small voice.

Richard Rohr, in his post from March 15, says, "We do not find our center; it finds us." Ahh, that feels like a relief, an exhale. Now that I do know who I am, I don't have to search under rocks, try, try, try to "find" peace of mind. If I'm not careful, that sense of center will fly right by when I'm distracted by the issue of the day - last week it was a flat tire, this week it's preparing for the big rummage sale, next week it could be just about anything. I need to handle the affairs of the day while still leaving space for the mystery, to metaphorically or actually smell the flowers.

When my spouse came home from work after my emotional reaction to the idea of living the life I'd always wanted, I started to literally weep as I expressed my gratitude, which was also attached to the year anniversary of my surgery. I've since heard from a couple of people that those anniversaries of diagnosis or treatment continue to be a touchpoint, even years after the fact. Just one more reason I appreciate your experience, strength and hope, guiding me along places I hadn't even known I was going.

One of my daily readers says, "I can live spiritually in the simple acts of daily living."  I need that reminder as we mark the Equinox, sometimes, still, thinking that "spirit" is out there in the forest or a bed of daffodils, when, really, the spiritual life is in the flat tire or doing the dishes as well. Quiet moments in nature are wonderful, and I spend most of my days in the kitchen or in the car. How do I bring my focus back to the bigger picture? 

Back in the day, did you have a vision for how life might be in the nebulous "someday?" How does that imagining compare to how your life looks today?  How does your sense of self contrast with how you were in the world before recovery? With the earth in brief balance between light and dark, how do you re-center if you're feeling off?

* * *

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