Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Moving forward

 I attended the online Beacon Group this week (noon EDT), on the topic of Step 4 as related to fear and sex (they do Step 4 resentments separately). I could relate to so much of what the (female) speaker shared about the times we grew up in ("love the one you're with"), including being the first generation with access to effective birth control - we at least imagined we had all the freedom in the world. 

What the speaker said, and my own sponsors have echoed over the years, is that the sex inventory isn't simply a matter of making a list of where my behavior hurt myself or others but looking beyond the "I did this" to uncover causes and conditions, like the mistaken idea that I'm OK only if you say so.

All of the 4th Step, whether resentments, fear or sex, benefit from looking at those deeper layers of the "why" I act out in a particular manner - what am I afraid of? Am I looking outside myself for a fix?  If I'm angry at a particular person, place or thing, am I forgetting my powerlessness? What are my fears, real or imagined? Am I operating on self-reliance or figure-it-out mode? 

There aren't many blinding revelations in my inventories these days - the same characteristics tend to pop up. Which brings Steps 6 and 7 to mind. What does it even mean to become entirely willing? I can say to myself that I no longer want to do or think x,y or z, then 15 minutes later, I'm up to my elbows in a justified x or z. I supposed that's why I keep coming back. Progress, not perfection. 

In the Step 4 meeting, the speaker referenced a quote I've heard before that's attributed to Michaelangelo. When asked how he possibly created the magnificent statue of David out of a piece of rock, he said he simply chipped away at everything that wasn't David. For some reason, that brought a tear to my eye, thinking of the immature girl I was in 1986, who had a lot of chipping away to do. But it also triggered a deep recognition of the here and now - are there trappings of personality, behaviors or habits that may have been adequate and appropriate to the younger me but that might not serve as I move into this next phase of my development? Do I walk my talk in all areas, or am I cutting corners? Do I automatically point the finger at you, you or you, ignoring the three pointing back at me?  This upcoming milestone birthday really has me thinking, and feeling what it means to apply program tools to the aging process. 

And then, as the fates would have it, I was in a meeting with someone five years ahead of me on the calendar, talking about this exact topic (funny how that seems to work - when the student is ready, the teacher appears?). They spoke to the idea of developing a matrix, a structure of sorts for how they want to be in the world going forward. I resonated, and love making a list! It's not so much a bucket list of things to do before I die, but the energy I bring to the tasks and adventures I'm drawn to. People talk about the joy-meter as an indicator of satisfaction with their days. I think of that along a continuum from pleasant and enjoyable to fun to outright joy. Joy has a measure of excitement, whereas pleasant and contented feels calmer, but no less satisfying. 

In the manner of an inventory, I've started to jot down experiences that come to mind with that measurement, looking at patterns or commonalities. Sitting on the couch, or at the beach, with a cup of tea and my journal is definitely a positive experience, but with a different energy level than the time friends and I rode bikes into Central Park on a glorious November day. I'm realizing that the events that bring me joy or satisfaction are directly tied to my values. I wouldn't enjoy rock climbing, for instance. I do value adventure, but also safety and security. 

When I think of the emotional and spiritual energy I want to experience and bring into the world going forward, what comes to mind is connection and conversation, going to new and beautiful places as well as appreciating "home" in all its incarnations. And... I don't want to turn this new idea into simply another To Do list of things to accomplish. Yes, I'd like to learn Spanish (and have a CD set that's been on the shelf for a year), so can add learning and stretching my mind to the matrix, along with finding beauty in the everyday - carry water, chop wood. And while reliving the past isn't necessarily part of the deal, a good friend points out that all those memories are part of who I am today so I can celebrate the good times and not so good, the people who've come and gone. 

This whole aging business is a process. I've never been here before, but just like in sobriety, I can follow the taillights of those who are on the road ahead. We can learn together and from each other. 

How do you use the inventory process in long term recovery? How do you move beyond the superficial act or action to get at causes and conditions? How might the inventory be useful in the aging process? 

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The NOW WHAT workbook is 78 pages of topics and processing questions, great for solo exploration or in a small group. Go to the WEB VERSION of this blog page for the link on ordering (PDF for those outside the U.S., or hard copy mailed to you).. Please contact me at SoberLongTime@soberlongtime.com  or shadowsandveins@gmail.com with questions. And a reminder that the workbook, is available at the Portland Area Intergroup at 825 NE 20th. for you local folks.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

People who would not mix...

 My long-term friend, the Tarot Card Lady (on Instagram and Facebook) noted in a recent post related to the daily card, that instead of tying self-image to what we do, try looking at what it is you (I) enjoy. What a concept, especially as related to the subtle shift from achieving and striving to simply be-ing. 

I thought about that while on a long walk, realizing that despite my internal protests, I am an athlete, a distance-walker (previously runner). The story I tell myself is that I'm not really an athlete because I'm so slow, or too this or not enough of that. And then I sit at my desk and look up at a wall of medals and photos of me at various events. Oh yeah, I guess I am an athlete. I'm also a writer, though again, the internal voice is around "not enough" - not good enough, not self-promoting enough, not productive enough, blah blah blah. OK Critical Self - just hush.

The question could be, not "What do you do?" but how do you inhabit your life? How do you show up for yourself or others? When I review my day, is the image of a flurry of activity, liked or tolerated, or maybe a "What did I do today?" Or, satisfaction with time spent alone, with friends, with family? I don't always have choices in how I spend my time, but most of the time I'm able to go with "want to" rather than "have to" or "should," which is definitely a gift of long-term recovery (and getting older!).

What matters to me these days is connection - talking and laughing with people I love, like the group of old school chums who get together monthly, or the cousins who meet for breakfast every other month, being intentional about staying connected after our mothers (the glue) are gone. This past week I invited myself to a small gathering of one of my home groups, with a visiting member in town. What a joy to sit across from each other in person, to share our passion for recovery, still lively all these years later. And then on Sunday, I got to hear an out-of-town speaker who my husband has raved about for years, and now I know why. For me, the program hits my heart via a mixture of laughter and tears, celebration and solemn acknowledgement of how fortunate we are to have made it out alive. 

Later on Sunday I drove to a local rural park for a Celebration of Life for a long-time member. I didn't stay long, as I didn't know anyone there, but felt it important to show up and give my respects to this person who'd been key to my early sobriety. About six months ahead of me, he had a broken leg when we first met, and was staying at his dad's house near me. I don't remember if I volunteered or was assigned to give him rides to the daily nooner, but I knew that he sure needed a meeting (ha ha and so did I). He shared wisdoms and insights that I still draw on today, like "If I only go to one meeting a week and miss it, that means I'm two weeks without a meeting." One day I told him how I sometimes missed the physical sensation of my drug of choice. As he explained it, that was a part of life we experienced that not many people do, but that it was over and now we got to focus on being sober. Made sense at the time, and got me through that day without picking up. On another occasion, on our way to the nooner, I stopped at the meth cook's place to drop off some things he'd left at my house - we were still kind of involved, but those early months of my recovery were rocky as he grappled with the change. Anyhow, on the front porch, he started to give me grief (I think he mentioned how I'd gained weight - well obviously, since I'd stopped methamphetamine and started eating). My pal Kelly, simply got out of the car, all 6 foot 4 of him, and said, "Is everything alright?" which sent my semi-significant other back into the house. Yes, everything was alright.  Yes it was, because I was letting go of one life and picking up another. Kelly was a biker, a drug addict, larger than life, who in these later years, played Santa for kids of women in treatment and gave new guys a place to stay. He definitely walked his talk.

We are normally people who would not mix - the biker, the social worker, the naturopath, the artist, the attorney, the librarian, the engineer, the hospitality staff...  Normally, maybe not, but what is "normal" anyway? Just the setting on a washing machine, according to a friend. There wasn't much "normal" about my life before recovery, but by the grace of the 12 Steps, I've been able to take my place in the human race. Being a productive member of society wasn't a particular goal of mine, but once here, it sure feels better than being part of the problem.

How do you inhabit your life today? How do you respond when asked, "What do you do?" How might you shift your response to who you are rather than what you do? What does community mean to you? How have you connected this past week?

Tomorrow is the 4th of July holiday here in the U.S. - something to celebrate for some, not so much for others. Whatever you do on this day off, stay safe.

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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 26, 2024

In a blink...

 On one of my morning walks this week, I paused to chat about the weather with a woman watering her garden, Saying she frequently sees me passing by, she wondered how far I walk and was impressed with my answer of "three to five miles." This led to disclosure of my upcoming 70th birthday, to which she replied, "Oh, you're so young!" telling me she's 82 and hopes for another 10 years. We both remarked that if the next 10 goes as fast as the last, we'll exhale a couple of times and be there. 

I suppose it's part of the developmental stage of later adulthood to talk about later adulthood - in awe, complaining, marveling at the passage of time. with so much happening in what seems to be the blink of an eye.  In a blink of an eye, my heroin addicted boyfriend was dead from an overdose. In a blink of an eye, my stepdaughter went from child to young adult. In a blink of an eye my mother went from a tow-headed toddler to a sorority sister to a young, pregnant wife and beyond. And now my cohort is turning 70. In a blink...

And in a few blinks of an eye, I went from shivering denizen to happy, joyous and free, crossing that cavernous divide between "then" and "now." I am still and always impressed at those early members, starting with Bill and Bob, who were essentially navigating in the dark. Imagine being "AA Number 3," the man on the bed in the print hanging on so many meeting and clubhouse walls. Here were two fellows who talked like you thought, and were sober, sparking just a glimmer of hope that life could be different. I sometimes take for granted the hundreds of meetings available to me, forgetting that at the beginning, it was groups of twos and threes gathering in each other's living rooms (while the wives hovered in the kitchen). I think of the ice baths, lobotomies and other efforts at a "cure" and am forever grateful for how the stars aligned to bring AA to life.

A friend recently, brilliantly, pointed out that we don't simply deal with "life on life's terms," but also "people on people's terms." Obviously, but how often do I forget that it's not "life on Jeanine's terms," or "other people on Jeanine's terms?" (cue emoji of woman smacking herself in the forehead) My spouse and I joke that we're both eldest siblings, and both always "right." Funny, yes, when I can remember that me feeling large and in-charge is simply a mental construct, not based on the Universe bestowing that designation on me (ha! that would make my younger brother always "wrong," which he might argue at 66 years old and successfully navigating the world up to this point). Some things do happen in a blink, while others, like the process of self-examination and change can feel like slogging through quicksand. Will I ever learn to pause? Will I ever (fill in the blank that fits for you)? One day at a time, one choice at a time can be a relief, or a "not this again..."

What I've heard is that sometimes the days drag by while the years fly. It took years to relieve the grief over an important relationship ending. It was probably four years before I could think about my deceased mother without crying. It took about six months to stop dreaming at night about work, with the theme of "Oh, I'm no longer in charge!" and probably a full year to think of myself as a walker instead of a runner. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, sometimes in a blink and sometimes with an exhale and sometimes when I least expect it, I will know what I need to know when I need to know it (with the reminder that "figure it out" is not one of the Steps).

We've just entered summer here in the Northern Hemisphere, a time of outdoor music, garden blooms and a longing to sit on a bench or a beach and read good books while eating watermelon. Some days are like that, and some days are filled with tasks, service, a few "have to's" and some "want to's". This sobriety gig is a good life, a very good life. 

How have your conversations with your peers changed as you've gotten older in life and in recovery years? How much has gone by in a blink, and what still can feel like a slog? What do you do when you catch yourself feeling in charge of the world or your loved ones? Where can you utilize the idea of "people of people's terms?"

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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 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.