Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Another week...

 I'm sure she is quoted often, but I will post here as I need to be reminded: "How we spend our day is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing." (Annie Dillard, in "The Writing Life")

As someone who has lived with a sense of time-urgency for much of my life, I can read that as "Oh crap, I'd better hurry and do something productive!" or, what I'm aiming for, a gentle approach that whispers, "Ah, here you are enjoying the sunlight on your face."  When I think of those years spent bound by the clock, always thinking I could squeeze in one more thing, with "more" being the operative word, I move into supreme gratitude for today being enough. 

I've had a couple of mental gyrations this week. One has to do with trying to get a handle on heartburn. I'm thinking of that part of the Big Book that describes the decision point of going on to the bitter end or accepting spiritual help, and how most of us hover, trying to figure out another angle. I'm doing the same thing, to a lesser degree: my beloved cuppa strong black tea contributes to heartburn and switching to coffee upsets the old GI tract. Waaaaaa! But I like tea and coffee. I don't want to quit! But I also don't want the consequences. I'll keep experimenting (Ha ha! Not yet ready to say I'm done with either.)

Another area of internal conflict has to do with the temp job I just finished. As my time came to an end, I offered to stay on-call. It seemed reasonable at the time, but as I've readjusted to the glories of retirement, I've had second thoughts. When I first took the job, I was excited. When I thought of staying, the energy was flat. I did a Pros and Cons list, with all the Pros related to "should's" and "what if's" - very fear based, while the Cons consisted of "I just don't want to." Today, that is enough. I've learned the hard way that fear is never a good reason to take, or stay, in a job that doesn't feel right. Sure, work is work and isn't always unicorns and rainbows, but I've got to like what I'm doing if I don't want to make myself crazy. So, I took a deep breath and sent an email, taking back the offer, only to get an immediate reply from my friend/supervisor telling me that the reconfigured wage wasn't great and she recommended I not take it. Thank you Universe, for the wisdom to listen to my inner voice, and for the confirmation that I made the right decision.

What I did this week, with heart soaring, was spend a day working for our local Election Board (and will do so again in the fall). I had a short gig feeding a friend's cat. I planted squash in the vegetable garden, shared in a Speaker Meeting, took some good long walks, and facilitated our 50th high school reunion committee. As a friend, aka Tarot Lady, tells me - what is mine to do will show up. I don't need to tie myself in knots trying to figure out "what's next??" All I really need to do is live one day at a time.

In a meeting last night I was hit by a lightening bolt of understanding when a person said, in reference to Step 7, that we don't really know what's next. It struck me that trust is what this whole thing is about. Trust and surrender to what is, whether you think of that in terms of a deity, or simply the natural progression of life that takes care of itself without my feeble (or well planned) machinations. All I've ever wanted was to feel ok, to live relatively comfortably in the world. In the past I had a lot of screwy ideas about how to get there, with self-centered fear driving the defects/defenses of control or acting out. Recovery has been a process of learning healthy coping skills, which mostly consists of staying out of my own way. The sun will come up tomorrow and I will do what is in front of me, and then the sun will go down and I'll have whatever internal resources I need to do what I need to do going forward.

We talk about triggers - those emotional booby traps that elicit fear or negativity - but a friend recently told me about glimmers, the moments of inspiration or insight that shine the light of sanity or awe on the path ahead.  I'm grateful where that light has shined this week.

Are there areas where you know you should do a particular thing but just don't want to? How do you discern what is inner rebellion and what is valid? Often, when I'm driven to a pros & cons list, I already know what it is I want to do - how about you? What makes your heart sing these days, and are you spending enough time doing that?


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See the Feb 4 post for a sample of the 78-page workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" available as hard copy (mailed) or PDF (emailed - ideal  for those of you outside  the U.S.). Portland Area Intergroup also has a supply available.  Go to the WEB VERSION of this page, if you don't see the purchase link in the upper right corner



Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Serendipity

 We were in Michigan visiting family last week, with an overnight in Detroit, specifically so I could visit the Motown Museum, aka Hitsville, USA, the building where so many of my lifetime favorite music was made. We were supposed to be in Detroit in 2020 for the International Convention, which, as we all know, was canceled due to covid. Then, the museum was part of my agenda. This time, I was saddened to learn it was closed for renovation but was determined to at least visit the site and take pictures of the building. 

Imagine my delight when we were invited inside by a guy in a suit out back who thought it a shame that we'd come all the way from Portland, Oregon and couldn't see the exhibit. Actually, "delight" barely covers it. When he said, "Give me a minute and I'll take you inside," I started to cry, and once inside, especially in the sound booth and recording studio, found myself nearly overcome with emotion, feeling the joy of the space related to the music, the artists who'd given their all, and the places where the songs intersected with my own life.

Some places are just places, and some places carry the vibe of history and emotion, depending on what we bring to the experience. Friends referred to Motown as my Lourdes, my hajj, and they weren't too far off - it felt like a pilgrimage. I talked with several people about spaces that carry the vibration of meaning, a palpable connection to what occurred there. For one friend, it was unexpectedly at Kitty Hawk, seeing the hill where the Wright brothers launched. I experienced it at the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. My brother and I both felt it at the tomb of Mary Queen of Scots in Westminster Abbey - an almost physical presence in the space, a presence that reached across the centuries to say, "I am here." 

Sometimes that feeling is in the natural world, like at the Redwood Forest, or the Narrows at Zion, but it is always unexpected and absolutely cannot be conjured. I expected to feel something at the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington, DC, which was impressive, but to me, just a wall. Like a hoped-for spiritual experience with working the Steps - "OK I'm ready for my awakening!" - it just doesn't happen that way. At a morning meeting we attended several times in East Lansing, a member talked about levitating three feet off the ground when he finally shared his Step 4 with a sponsor. Most of my 5th Steps have been helpful, but no fireworks. I set myself up when I expect to feel a certain way, whether that is predicting joy or sorrow or anything in-between.

It seems to be, like my experience in Detroit, a matter of being in the right place at the right time, through no actual planning.  I can want an ah-ha moment but it either happens or it doesn't, and sometimes the wanting itself moves the hoped-for experience further away. Serendipity and synchronicity, by their nature, are random, unexpected. And that's ok. As I've said before, if everything is special, then nothing is. And, upon reflection, in each of the moments of awe, those that have bordered on an out-of-body experience, I've been fully present, in the moment, not planning ahead or looking back. Maybe that's the fourth dimension we're rocketed to - the here and now. Simple, but not easy.

We had a good visit with family, and a great time in Detroit, where after the Motown experience, a local picked up our dinner tab and said, "Tell people this is Detroit." We attended in-person meetings at the East Lansing Alano Club, and hit a sweet, small group at a soup kitchen in the Motor City. In both places, I felt the vibe of recovery - the quiet joy of how we come together to seek sobriety or celebrate the lives we've been given. There were a number of court slips to be signed at the Lansing club house meetings. My hope, always, is that a person will hear something in a meeting, or in a conversation with a member, that moves their motivation from getting the heat off to seeing the light.

Have you had experiences where you were awed by a place or a circumstance? What was that like?  Knowing that "this too shall pass" applies to the good times as well as the not-so-good, how can you cultivate being in the present moment so that serendipity has a chance to show up? Are you available to talk when a newcomer is at your meeting?


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Check out the post from Feb 4 for a sample of the 78-page workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" now available in PDF or hard copy. Email me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com with any questions. For those of you local in Portland, Intergroup has just restocked their supply of the workbook - head down to see Garry and the crew for AA literature and the little back room with non-conference approved offerings.


 


Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Perceptions

In marking a friend's 35th sobriety anniversary this week, he noted he hadn't expected to grow old in recovery. Isn't that the truth? I came in on the 30-day plan to get the heat off, with absolutely no idea I'd still be doing the deal all these years later. As grateful as I am on a daily basis, I'm also thankful that I didn't have a crystal ball back then - the life I have today, as simple as it is, would've scared me - maybe right back to the bottle. College?? An actual career? Talking from a podium?? Being a step-mom? No thanks  - sounds like more than  I'm capable of. Fortunately, life on life's terms generally comes at me incrementally.

When I was a young girl, maybe 7 or 8, I wanted to grow up to be a horse. Not have a horse, be a horse. Then I hoped to be Pippi Longstocking, or someone adventurous like her - I had a recurring dream of joining the Navy, sailing off to ports unknown. And then, puberty hit and all I wanted was a cloaking device. Was it merely hormones, or a combination of internal combustion plus the emotional dynamics of family alcoholism? I'll never be able to separate those two - which came first, the chicken or the egg - but finally, finally, I've been able to release the hold that my perception of the past had on me. But it is interesting (to me, at least) to watch the progression of my dreams get smaller as I got older - from independently traveling the world (Pippi) to wanting to be a teacher (because I loved school in the early years) to thinking maybe I'd like to be a secretary. There's nothing wrong with office work - I've done my share, and I like the organization involved - but from sheer adventure to sitting behind a desk says more about my growing introversion than about my abilities. The world became scary, but really, it was my fears of not being "enough" that shrank my view. (I should add that I did a lot of traveling with my pre-recovery boyfriend, which was amazing and I often felt like an imposter, like Room Service would say, "'Who do you think you are?") 

So much of what I believe is perception, whether about the past, or my current interactions. I recently heard someone say that 2 + 2 = 4, but so does 3 + 1, or 6 - 2. There are lots of ways to get at the "right" answers of this life. The combination that works for me won't necessarily be what's best for you - and maybe what worked for me last week or last year isn't what is called for today. That is an on-going lesson, the Alanon-ic belief that I know what's best for others (or in AA, what is described as the Director - "if only people would do as he wished!" Big Book p.61). But I also don't always know what is best for myself. My inner guide is much wiser these days, but sometimes still it is the scared part that steers me towards a particular decision. A good rule of thumb - does this course or that feel expansive or does it make me shrink? And always the reminder that "wait" is an action. If I don't know what to do, it's ok to do nothing until the way is clear.

We're on vacation this week, so will just do a short post since I'm typing on my phone. Happy trails to you, wherever your journey takes you, whether to a movie on the couch or a travel adventure.

If alcoholism/alanon-ism is a disease of perception, how do you catch yourself entertaining old ideas? Often our perceptions are spot on, but sometimes not. How do you know the difference?


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See the Feb 4 post for a sample of the 78 page workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" available as hard copy (mailed) or PDF (emailed - ideal  for those of you outside  the U.S.). Portland Area Intergroup also has a supply.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Letting go...

 How does one do that "letting go" thing, you may ask. It's a question I certainly had for my treatment counselors all those years ago. One in particular, a wise and gruff older gal, said to me, "You just let go!" moving her hands from closed fist to open, which was of little help at the time. Hold on, let go, manipulate, obsess, release in very small increments - this has been a tough lesson. Often I don't even realize I'm trying to control until I notice my (metaphorical) clenched fists or shallow breathing. Uh oh. Have I forgotten my powerlessness? 

In a new-to-me online meeting this past week, a member shared that the Steps are tools, not weapons. Oh yeah. I can sometimes come at the self-correction part of Steps 6,7 and 10 with a bludgeon. I did that, again? Will I ever learn? Crap.  (you get the idea)

What if I was to truly employ the strategy a sponsor gave me long ago, which is to imagine holding that tender part of myself in my arms, saying, "Ah, here you are again. What is it you need to feel safe (or loved, or secure)?" As I very well know, behavior is rarely changed via punishment, whether self-imposed or otherwise.

I am certainly far from perfect - how boring would that be? This last week, the person in the big SUV behind me honked when I didn't take a left turn. I didn't take the left turn because I could see that the very long train I'd been trying to out-maneuver since leaving Costco 10 miles earlier, had traffic stopped up ahead. I may have given him a snarky wave, ala "take a breath, buddy" and will admit to wishing the train delay on him, and...  within a few blocks was singing along with the radio. I don't hold on to stuff as long as I once did, especially random traffic slights. And, really, how important is it? 

I've written here about my transition from running to walking, and have likely mentioned that I participate in a weekly training group. This last week I was invited to join the ranks of Pace Mentor, which essentially means showing up (which I do anyway) and earning a pair of shoes and a cool t-shirt. Unlike running mentors, who need to maintain a consistent speed, the walking mentor is a pretty low-key position, but I got a little misty telling my husband about it. For so many years I told myself I wasn't an athlete - I never, ever played any sports after summers of street ball as a pre-teen. The perceived humiliation of the President's Fitness Test (those of you Americans in a particular age range will know what I mean) didn't help - there was no way in hell I could shimmy up that rope. And then high school, when even the idea of getting dressed and undressed in front of strangers had me nauseous (and earned my only ever "D" for non-participation). Then I got sober and someone suggested that walking helped with detox. Then someone else recommended Jazzercise, the aerobics classes set to pop music. And then I started to run and tackled a marathon, inspired more by Oprah than my gazelle boyfriend. 10 marathons later, I transitioned to walking to save my creaky knees, with a goal of striding off into the sunset. So I guess I am an athlete. I don't need to make excuses, being wary of "I'm just a walker." I suit up and show up, and as I often joke, "I'm not fast but I'm consistent." In my personal before-times I didn't show up consistently for much, unless it was happy-hour or the dealer. Vive la difference.

So, this week I'm thinking about self-acceptance, and letting go (of my foibles and yours). I'm sitting in gratitude, reveling in not working (yay!) and plotting out time that is now, once again, my own. I'm not the best at letting go, still, but those little visuals, like the closed and open fists, help, as does thinking about all the things I've stressed about in the past that never came to be. One day at a time, right here right now, all is reasonably well.

What does letting go mean to you today? Are the ways you conjure the energy of release any different now than what you may have done in the past? Can you continue, again and again, to forgive yourself for stubbing your toe on people, places and things? What are labels you once gave yourself that no longer fit? How would you describe yourself today?


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Check out the post from Feb 4 for a sample of the 78-page workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" now available in PDF or hard copy. Email me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com with any questions. For those of you local in Portland, Intergroup has just restocked their supply of the workbook - head down to see Garry and the crew for all the AA literature and the little room with non-conference approved offerings.