Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Be-ing vs do-ing

 In a recent Public Broadcasting documentary about the artist Edward Hopper, one of the historians said, "Some people are born as who they're meant to be," implying that he was on his trajectory from the gate. That stuck with me, thinking of all the times I've heard people in the rooms talk about how sobriety has allowed them to become who they were meant to be. What does that mean exactly? Was I not myself when drunk or sticking a needle in my arm, when the substance of the moment was making decisions for me? Like many of us, I grew up being told I had potential. Potential. What does that even mean?  Back then, potential and a few dollars would've bought me a pack of cigarettes and a drink. Potential. There's a lot of pressure in that one word.

Maybe that becoming who we were meant to be has to do with our goals and dreams. I never let myself dream much about the future, knowing my follow-through muscle was sorely lacking. I often go back to the great addiction movie, Boogie Nights, thinking of the two women sitting on the bed, coked to the gills, talking about all the things they planned to do, with the hideous hangover making even getting out of bed a chore. 

So, I kept my world pretty small. I say that, though traveling to faraway places with my boyfriend, but that's as far as it got - the next trip, where should we eat, dare I sneak a wee bit of cocaine in my luggage? But never any plans for myself. Sure, I thought about taking a class, and even did a couple of times, but my boyfriend's schedule took priority. I'm not complaining - it was an exciting time in many ways, and we genuinely cared for each other, but as far as me being me - I didn't even know what that meant.

When I was married to my first husband, in my early twenties, I had a daydream about living on my own, going to college, growing tomatoes in my garden and having friends who were mine, not just because their mates were friends with my spouse. Very simple, and a little sad to think that was all I wanted. And then, a few years into recovery, I realized that I had it. I was going to school, had a group of new friends, and tomatoes in the yard. What else might I achieve if I but dreamed it? For me that meant working in treatment, visiting the Great Wall of China, earning a couple of degrees, running marathons. The Big Book tells me that my wants might not always be granted, but my needs always will. I can say that for me, it's been both, maybe because, over time, my wants have come into line with my needs - still fairly simple, and simpler as time goes on.

What does all that mean today, aging in long term recovery? Way less about achieving and more about being present. I always liked the sound of "I'm a human be-ing, not a human do-ing" and as time goes on, that makes more and more sense. Paying sweet attention to relationships as I bear witness to the fragility of this life; paying attention to the beauty all around me (and seeking that out if there is too much concrete in my days); paying attention to my spiritual practice as I heed the old-timers who came before me saying "The solution to all my problems is spiritual in nature," (recognizing that 99% of my "problems" are mere annoyances).

And so, one day at a time, I will reflect on the "me" I was meant to be to see if there are any remaining gaps. I will pay attention to my surroundings as spring blossoms appear. I will value dear friends and family, even those who's worldviews are different from my own. I will use the slogan, "How Important is It?" to clarify what does and doesn't matter. And, I will plant tomatoes when the time is right.

Do you feel like you've become who you were meant to be? What dreams did you have coming in to recovery? Have you achieved those and/or readjusted? Where are you on the continuum of reaching for achievement and relaxing into what is? What is it you most appreciate today?

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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, February 14, 2024

Acceptance / Surrender

 An out-of-town family member is in poor health, which raises the question of whether to get on a plane, now or later. It is so easy to move along in life thinking that things will always stay the same. We'll fly to visit twice a year, staying in "our" room, walking to our home-away-from-home group. We might, in passing, acknowledge that no one lives forever, but that isn't our reality, until it is.

Like with my sister-in-law's dementia. She's been in her adult foster home for a number of months now, and does still recognize my brother when he visits several times a week. What a sad thing, to see the one you love fade away. And how terrible to understand that you are the one fading. I suppose at some point, one doesn't know what they don't know, but the initial stages must be devastating.

And, if you're in long-term recovery, by now you've surely lost someone, or several someones, to the disease, to sudden death or a lingering illness, to Alzheimer's or other cognitive decline. One of the developmental tasks of later adulthood is getting comfortable with grief. Comfortable? Maybe more like familiar - familiar as a snarling dog I sometimes pass on my daily walks. I know it will be there, but I still jump when he barks.

A magazine article on change quoted Sylvia Boorstein as saying, "We can struggle or we can surrender...Surrender means wisely accommodating ourselves to what is beyond our control. Getting old, getting sick, dying, losing what is dear to us...is beyond our control. I can either be frightened of life and mad at life - or not."

And therein lies the struggle - right there in the "or not." When a neighbor and I walk together, we'll generally say "hello" or "good morning" to those we pass. We've learned to say, "Or not," when the person, earbuds or no earbuds, ignores our greeting. Or not. We're having a nice walk and can look at the non-reply(s) with humor. 

Can I take that "or not" energy into the rest of my world? A counselor in treatment, in response to the drama of the day, always said, "Oh well." "Oh well," shorthand for surrender to what is, which makes me think of the people I've met through my volunteer gig driving cancer patients to their treatment. To a person, with only one exception, the folks I've interacted with have been cheerful, grateful for another day, appreciative of the small things. 

I remember that feeling in brand-new recovery - the pink cloud of amazement that the sun came up, the flowers bloomed, that I hadn't stuck my head in the toilet the night before. I get glimpses of that sense of wonder, a mere wisp of awe as I look at clouds in the sky (and not just the taillights of the car in front of me). I can talk about mindfulness, but how does one actually pay attention to the little miracles in the everyday? (as I wrote in the Now What? workbook, is "'Expect a Miracle" only for newcomers?) I suppose it has to do with intention, about paying attention, about the infamous pause.   

I am a journaler (no surprise) and in reviewing several past years, I see the theme of the same few character aspects. So, how do I move from "woe is me" to "oh well," from whining to turning it over? I think of the fine line between acceptance and surrender, which are maybe just different sides of the same coin. If I could've changed myself, I would've. I've run marathons and gone to grad school while working full time. I can do hard things. And....apparently I'm not entirely willing to be restored to sanity in all areas. Stubbornness? Lazy? Thinking I can be in control of the continuum of helpful to hurtful if I just try hard enough?

I keep coming back to this theme of persistently troubling characteristics, but isn't that what long term recovery is about, honing in on what persists? I don't know anyone who's yet achieved sainthood - we just keep suiting up and showing up. Perhaps when I can truly view my characteristics as old friends, we can work together, or not. 

How has life on life's terms contributed to who you are today? What program tools do you reach for when you find yourself struggling with what is? How does self-acceptance play into how you work Steps 6 and 7?

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Thinking of a new year's 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, February 7, 2024

Step Two, etc

 And here it is, February, time to focus on Step Two, being restored to sanity. Actually, Step Two is about believing I can be restored. It was pointed out to me that the line, "For by this time sanity will have returned," isn't until the discussion of Step Ten. 

I'll buy that. Despite coming to believe, I was all kinds of insane in the early days and years, mostly around confusion about what I could and couldn't control, which is what still gets me! When working Step Two today, I take a look at how insanity is showing up, as well as asking what would sane behavior or thoughts look like?  And I was taught that talking with another program person about what's going on in my head is a form of Step Two, the Power Greater being exposing whatever it is to the light of day and of reason.

I recently unearthed a magazine from January 2023 that had gotten buried (me who vowed to never give up print journalism now routinely reads newspapers and newsletters online). An article in this new year edition asked a series of questions, some silly and some thought provoking. Oh, how I loved a magazine quiz or questionnaire when I was growing up, those that purported to give insight into one's personality or the future. In retrospect, I see that I was hungry for guidance, for direction, even if from the Ladie's Home Journal. We weren't a church family, I didn't belong to any clubs or anything that would've provided the structure I unconsciously craved, which lead me to permanently borrowing (i.e. stealing) a book from our grade school library called, "Put Your Best Foot Forward," chock full of advice on skin care, wardrobe and how to talk to boys. It was dated by the time I discovered it buried on a shelf, but was my bible for a couple of years. 

I remember feeling so very grateful when I first saw the twelve Steps. OK, grateful and a little apprehensive - I need to do what?? But deep inside I felt the exhale of "Ahhhh, this is what I've been looking for my entire life."  Funny how so much of recovery has been like that - finding something, whether a truth about life or about myself, that I didn't even know I was seeking. But I guess that's how it is with the "ah-ha" moments - I can't force the awakening or surrender, but I can do my best to stay open, one day at a time.

I got to spend time with a dear friend this weekend, a friend since treatment over 38 years ago. As another long-term friend pointed out, we are very fortunate in that we were able to stay sober, and how that lead to staying connected. I live in the town where I hit bottom and have spent my recovery, so perhaps I'm more inclined to connections over time, but part of it is intention. Intention, and picking up the phone for a call or text check-in, at least some contact over the year, though with good, old friends, we can pick up where we left off, no matter how much time has passed. I appreciate shared history, especially as I get older in both recovery and years on the planet. Fortunate indeed.

How do you know when you're crossing the line towards insane behavior or attitudes? Who do you talk with to get back on the beam? How have you incorporated the Steps into how you face the world (and yourself)? Is there a friend you might want to reach out to this week?

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Thinking of a new year's 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, January 31, 2024

Justification

 I'm frustrated with myself this week - frustrated and annoyed. I saw my Primary Care Physician, an overall positive visit, but my blood work had a couple of less than stellar results, results that would undoubtedly improve were I to drop the proverbial 10% of my current weight. Insert big sigh.

I am a tracker, so can look back and see that it was Sept 2020, when I moved from running to walking that my weight started to creep up (creep, recede, leap, and climb). A famous marathoner, Meb Keflezighi, once remarked that he'd have to run six-minute miles to burn the calories from one banana. While I don't even claim to breathe the same air as Meb, I am proof-positive that the body gets accustomed to a particular amount of activity. Were I just starting out, walking three miles would be great. It's still great, but my metabolism wonders what happened to the 10 mile trail runs.

As others my age have said, it's not so much fitting in to my jeans as it is about health and wellness. The kicker is that I've long been secretly and quietly judgmental about those with lifestyle ailments. (I'm still mad that my mom didn't quit smoking when my dad died from tobacco-related cancer.) Judgy, and here I am, with three pudgy fingers pointing back at me.

What does this have to do with recovery? I don't have active alcoholism in my life today, but I do carry around this brain, this brain that sometimes justifies and rationalizes and looks for an out. Staying conscious of my internal machinations keeps me honest. Oh, self, isn't it interesting that you are now suffering from the same choices that you might denigrate in others? Hmmm. How do I right-size myself while acknowledging my humanity, a worker among workers, person among persons?  And how do I keep an eye open for various ways my "ism" tries to find a way in? Spending? Food? Gambling?  Relationships? Over-doing or dishonesty in any form? I've seen too many people open the door of dis-ease, even just a crack, with eventual disastrous results. Stay awake, stay aware.

I read in Alanon literature that self-acceptance is key to change. I can't change anything when my energy is invested in fighting it (whatever "it" may be). So, a deep inhale of "this is where I am today," on a quest of what a friend says, is a mere 5% improvement. 5% is doable, whether that it related to the length of today's walk or tackling a particular character aspect that is troubling. Progress, not perfection, one day at a time.

And always, balance matters. I realized, feeling a little crunchy over the weekend, that I've gone at least two weeks with only appointments on the docket. Of course, an ice storm stifled plans, but I need to remember that I do need people, social people, friends. This is a path I've walked before, so one would think I'd be more aware. One would think - ha! Again, progress not perfection, with progress being that today I notice sooner and can follow the thought trail to the core discomfort. HALT? Yeah, usually, in one form or another. Where can I make a 5% shift today, this week?

Do you harbor any judgements that prove to be a mirror to yourself? How do you move from judgement of self to self-acceptance using the 5% guide? How do the HALTs show up in your life today, and what do you do when you recognize it?

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Thinking of a new year's 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