Monday, May 30, 2016

Catching up to myself...

I was talking with a friend about transition, and that sense of  resistance and movement experienced when outer circumstances have changed, but my psyche is still back in the old "me." He used the phrase, "catching up to myself," which perfectly captures that sense of in-between. A therapist once described it as being on the monkey bars - there is that moment when you've let go of one rung but haven't quite grabbed hold of the next.

I'm reading a thought provoking book by Rabbi Irwin Kula - Yearnings: Ancient Wisdom for Daily Life.  He writes about the still, small voice, and that "yearning to know ourselves, to comprehend who we are in the world."  Isn't that what the recovery journey is all about?  I was out of touch with my true nature during the drinking/drugging years, and much of earlier recovery. I was very adept at out-running that inner voice of wisdom that usually whispered, "Slow down. Wait and see." For so long, I'd rather make a poor decision than sit in the discomfort of not knowing what to do - those "decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt."

Someone recently said that being quiet is different than being still.  I can be quiet, but getting still is a spiritual discipline.  Rabbi Kula says, "Rather than trying to define who we are, what if we sought an ever-deepening understanding of how much we are?"  For all of my questioning and seeking, recovery - life - seems to unfold whether or not I know what's coming or not. As I'm reminded, "figuring it out" is not one of the 12 steps.  I have questions - about retirement, about my place in this world, about deepening my spiritual connection.  I'd love answers. I'd love the proverbial sky writing or neon lights that say "this way!"  Instead, I have the questions, the sense of spiritual seeking that keeps me on the path. The answers I seek may not even be answers. Maybe it is more the sense of peace of mind, of serenity, of being comfortable in the world.

Life is good today. Life is better when I detach from my own thinking, when I trust in the wisdom of experience. That is surely a gift of long term recovery...

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

What do I bring?

I was in a meeting recently where a couple of fellows with long term sobriety nearly came to blows.  Fellow #1 read a religious tract during his share. Fellow #2 was offended, and in his share, spoke to our singleness of purpose and the importance of sticking to conference approved literature lest the newcomer get confused about our primary purpose.  After the meeting, they had words, which escalated into threats. A few days later someone shared about the incident, saying that he was told that if you haven’t been to a meeting where a fight breaks out, you haven’t been to enough meetings. While I hate to see anger get the best of anyone, I was actually pleased at the display of passion in Fellow #2.  We tend to feel strongly about this program of ours - this lifesaver - and it is vitally important to maintain adherence to the Traditions.

So part of what I bring to meetings is consistency, and a working knowledge of the Steps and Traditions. I am also a piece of living history -  I remember when the Alano Club burned down, and later when the meetings were so full upstairs that 3 rooms spilled into the hall. I remember Norm B greeting at the Grotto, the P.A.S.S. Club dances...  As an old-timer myself now, I am a link to those who were there when I came in, who, in turn, were a link to their predecessors, who were linked to Bill and Bob.  Whenever I share one of Leonard C’s adages, (my favorite being, “Will power will not keep you sober, but want-power will!”) I am drawing on the wisdom of my elders, and I am bringing that wisdom into the rooms. I’ve read that no one truly dies as long as someone remembers them. Well, I remember Leonard, and know his story almost as well as I know my own. It is important to keep his memory alive, and hope that someone will do the same for me someday.

It was immensely important at the beginning for me to see people walking their talk. The old guys and gals would say, “keep coming back!” and next week they’d be right there. They didn’t just tell me to come back - they came back themselves.  I do that for the newer member today.  I go to meetings for my own sanity, and to be that constant, that living, breathing evidence that it really does work.  I believe that a certain responsibility comes with long term recovery.  No, I don't need to be perfect, but it is important that I show up, that I am as real as I can be at any given moment, and that I give that welcome to the newcomer.  

It is also important that I am being nourished in return. It can be disconcerting if I'm consistently the person with the most time in the room.  Being able to give back means that I'm also seeking those places where I can fill my spiritual cup, where I can share freely and openly about the challenges and joys of long term recovery,whether that is in a meeting, across the table at a coffee shop, or on a hike in the woods...    How do you recharge?

Friday, May 20, 2016

Rest in Peace

I just learned that a fellow from one of my regular groups took his own life last weekend.  He is a man who struggled with relapse, and I do mean struggled.  Sober a year here, some months there, another chunk of time in between, but always the relapses.

I didn't know him well at all - we exchanged pleasantries before and after the meeting, and had a couple of brief conversations, but I was always struck by his sincerity.  "This time it feels different." "This time it IS different."  Always the hope, and then too often, the word that he was back drinking or drugging.

I didn't know him well at all, but I've felt like crying all day.  Crying for his mother and his former wife; crying for his sponsors, and those who supported him through ups and downs; crying for all of us who watch the disease take another life.

For all of my somewhat esoteric discussions on the meaning of recovery, the bottom line is this: addiction kills.  Addiction kills via suicide and overdose and homicide and car accidents. Addiction kills via cirrhosis and throat cancer and endocarditis. Addiction kills people and marriages; hopes and dreams.  They say that where there is life, there is hope. Well, for this man, that hope is now gone.

Part of long term recovery, then, is the grieving that comes when one of our brothers or sisters dies related to their addiction or alcoholism.  Part of long term recovery is that on-going question of why one person is able to quit and another doesn't make it.

I am sad today.  I keep picturing this guy's smile, and his earnest declarations that "I'm doing good this time."  God bless you, B.  May you rest in peace.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Questioning the practice...

After my last post, a comment  asked about dogma, about shifting alliances, and that phenomenon of feeling like recovery is flat, boring, why-do-I-have-to-keep-doing-this?  The experience of many, and recovery lore, holds that we're doomed to drink again if we aren't vigilant about our habits. What does that mean as time goes on?

At the beginning, I was probably likely to drink or use drugs if I wasn't in a meeting a day. I needed to establish a recovery lifestyle. Over time, that shifted as work, school, relationships, and new pastimes filled the spaces left open when I stopped using.  Today I have a full and rich life, fuller and richer and alive-er because I am in recovery.  Will I take a drink if I don't go to a certain number of meetings? Not today.  What about my spiritual practice, that evolved from my exposure to the principles of recovery?  What do I need to do to maintain my daily reprieve?

I see friends and acquaintances who've stopped going to meetings and have rich and full lives. I see people relapse who stop going to meetings. I see addiction morph into gambling, spending, or food, with or without meetings.  My point is that it seems very individual.

And, it can be confusing and disheartening when I'm in the middle of the desert, questioning my priorities. It is sad when a home group changes and no longer feeds my soul.  It is uncomfortable when a sponsor relationship takes a turn, or simple drifts. It is a little scary to hear someone with 20 or 30 years talking about drinking again.

But, I don't want my recovery to be based on fear.  While my outlook and emotional sobriety shifts and changes, sometimes day to day, my desire is to stay in a place of gratitude, even when (especially when?) I feel the internal shifts that suggest I might need to do something different for my spiritual growth. For me, that's always meant something in addition to my recovery program. For others, it might be an "instead."

What do you think?

Friday, May 13, 2016

Now What?

On 1/3/1986 I entered a treatment program for my methamphetamine and alcohol addictions.  I immediately jumped into the recovery rooms and haven’t had a drink or a drug since.  On 2/27/1986, I went to my first  meeting to address the family disease of alcoholism (along with the minor detail that I was still sleeping with my heroin addicted, drug dealing boyfriend and wondered how I could help him get clean). 

That was 30 years ago.  THIRTY YEARS. I am dumbfounded on several fronts. 1) I truly went into treatment on the 30 day plan, with the notion that I could win back my ex, who’d already left the country and married another woman.  I did have a tiny smidgen of hope that my life could be different, but really couldn’t imagine staying clean forever. OK, 30 years isn’t exactly forever, but it is a l-o-n-g time. 2) This whole passage of time thing really freaks me out. Where does 30 years go?   I’ve earned a couple of degrees, traveled, completed 10 marathons, gotten married, enjoyed a long term career as well as long term friendships – but 30 years?

And so, if the next 30 goes anywhere near as quickly as this chunk of time, I need to wake up.  Self-care is no longer a theory. “Someday” is now, that elusive here-and-now that I read about and glimpse from time to time.  And that being said, I cannot stay in recovery based on what I did 10 years, or even 10 weeks ago.  What is it that I need to do today?

What does it mean to be in long term recovery?  When I hit the 20 year mark, I thought, OK, this is my life. I am a recovering person.  It’s not that I felt less-than-sober all those years, but I couldn’t argue with 20 years.  20 years felt as solid as anything I’d experienced in my life to that point.  Love tends to come and go. People come and go, as do jobs.  My recovery, one day at a time, can be a constant – as long as I remain mindful of my daily reprieve.  And, it can be a challenge to keep it fresh, to stay engaged, to continue to grow.

30 years feels like it comes with a certain amount of responsibility.  I am an elder.  What does that mean, and how does one practice being an elder without veering  into “bleeding deacon” land? A friend, who recently celebrated 40 years sober, describes a stepping back, a turning over of the reins to the younger generation.  Maybe being an elder means keeping my mouth shut sometimes and seeing where the enthusiasm of those younger in recovery takes the group.

And so, in these pages, I will explore various topics related to long term recovery, both from my own experience, and the experience of others. If I’ve learned anything in these 30 years it’s that I don’t have all the answers. I’m not even sure of the questions sometimes! 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


I was at a conference recently, enjoying a recharge to my recovery from alcoholism – both the family disease and my own. As I wandered past the book vendor’s table, skimming titles, picking up a few books only to put them back down again, I remarked to my friend, “I can’t relate to this stuff. I feel like I’ve memorized all my daily meditation books over the years. I need to write a book about long term recovery.” We chuckled and returned to our seats to hear the next speaker. Later that evening, as my husband and I sat in a noisy restaurant, it struck me: I need to write about long term recovery!   I can’t be the only person who wonders about navigating this “next phase of our development.”  Celebrating 30 years of recovery, I wondered, "Now what?" How am I an example of recovery? How do I stay engaged? Has my application of the principals changed over the years?

So, dear reader, let’s take this journey together.  What are the challenges and joys of long term recovery?  What does it mean to grow old as a recovering person? How do I stay engaged in the process of spiritual growth? Does the bumper sticker, “Expect a Miracle” apply to me too, or is that just for newcomers?  Am I humble enough to keep asking for help?

I’ll explore these topics and more in the coming pages and hope, sincerely, that you will find that spark of recognition that is so important to the “we” aspect of recovery.  Thank you for coming along, on this learn-as-we-go process.