Wednesday, August 31, 2016


As I once heard, I no longer have a drinking problem, but I do sometimes have a thinking problem. And this gem, "My brain would've killed me a long time ago, but it needs me for transportation."  One of the tasks of early recovery was to learn that I didn't have to act on every impulse or emotion.  As I go on, it is equally important to remind myself (over & over & over again) that my thoughts are just that - thoughts, merely wisps of internal conversation.  Comedian Mark Lundholm says, "First thought wrong."  Initially, yes, definitely. Now, not always, but my first thought continues to bear examination. Who's reality am I invested in?  How does my perception impact what I'm thinking, and where will I allow it to take me?

I just listened to a recording of David Foster Wallace's 2005 Kenyon College commencement address - 22:43 minutes of brilliance.  He talks to the new grads about learning to think, about how to go through life conscious rather than succumbing to the mind numbing tedium of the day-to-day. To paraphrase, he describes the spiritual danger involved when I believe that I am the center of the universe and that all that is happening around me is happening to me, whether traffic snarls or lines in the grocery store. He goes on to say that learning that we have control over our thoughts brings power - the power of not being tossed about by the petty annoyances of the world.  Much like is stated in the Big Book (god is either everything, or nothing), Wallace says that we can choose to see the line in the grocery store as sacred, or not, but we need to recognize that this is a choice. Real freedom, he states, comes with awareness and attention.

I am in danger when I think that I know what I know; when I start to believe that my time in recovery is a guarantee of future success, when I start to value my intellect more than my soul.  Awareness and attention. Awareness and attention. And breathing into the joys and struggles of long term recovery.  What is on your mind today?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Relieve me of the bondage of self...

Yesterday morning I found myself snapping at my husband, and then making immediate amends - and this was before 5am.  I did a fair amount of self-flagellation well into the morning. Shouldn't I know better by now? Will responding, rather than reacting, ever come automatically?

I have to wonder about character defects (or defenses - call them what you will, these aspects of ourselves that cause us and others discomfort).  When I first entered recovery, I was, as we say, "a liar, a cheat and a thief."  Those defects of behavior were corrected almost immediately upon embracing sobriety. I had a lot less to lie about when I was no longer using drugs or drinking beer for breakfast.  Through the inventory process, which I initially thought was intended to punish me for bad behavior, my sponsor helped me dig below the offending action to get to the underlying defect  - the place where instincts had "gone awry." Many of those crunchy places were smoothed over with increased awareness. I caught myself and corrected the little fibs, usually before I said them. I stopped being less-than-honorable in my relationships.  I acted as if I was confident until that became a part of who I am.

But what of those tender spots that don't seem to have gone away?  After decades of inventory, there are a few aspects of self that still cause me to wince.  The acting out from those places has definitely mellowed, but there is still the little "ouch" of hearing my mind jump to the same old story line.  For me, it is insecurity and comparison that continue to plague my otherwise peaceful life.  And challenges with feeling too busy - something I've been complaining about in my journal for years and years.  Are these character defects, meant to be eradicated? Or perhaps merely aspects of my character, like my sense of humor or being organized.

I have a hunch that it is in acceptance that I will find peace. The more I focus on "not this again!" the more I am engaged in the losing battle of self change. If I could've changed myself, I would've - a long time ago.  What about relaxing into the process?  The 7th step prayer says, "Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me," not "just the healthy bits," or conversely, "just those parts I hate."  What if I could accept myself as I am in this moment?  One of the Alanon daily readers reminds me that "being human is not a character defect."  

When I snap at my spouse (self-righteousness), or grumble to myself about the person in front of me at the store (impatience), or find myself lacking in comparison to others in the room (insecurity), what if I were to pause and ask myself what I'm afraid of? What if I were to take a deep breath and take stock of where I feel out of balance? What if I were simply to notice?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


Last week I wrote about the internal "to do" list and the desire for open space in my days.  Taking a closer look, how do I balance my program with the rest of my life?

I fully acknowledge that I wouldn't have a "rest of my life" without recovery, but after decades of sobriety, what is the proper ratio of meetings and service to engagement with the greater world? This is a recurring theme in conversations with my peers - the "I got sober to live my life, not just sit in meetings" refrain.

Truthfully, I got sober to get the heat off, to stop the emotional pain, and fully expected to return to the life I'd been living, only dry. I had a very limited frame of reference for a life without substances - an enjoyable life that wasn't "stupid, boring and glum" was not something I could imagine. And then, the alternating exciting and terrifying discovery phase of discerning activities and people and places that have made my life rich and full. So here I am today, as are many of my friends and acquaintances, with lives wonderful beyond imagination; lives beautiful in their ups and downs by virtue of our presence and participation.  We are not looking through a cocktail glass at a life just out of reach - we are living.

And so, now what? It goes back to looking at my reasons for attending meetings and participating in service - am I there to give or to receive?  I need both.  I can't keep it unless I give it away, and I don't have anything to give away unless I am filling my own spiritual well.

I currently participate in several "in home" groups of like-minded folks that meet monthly. This can feel like a deep inhale, giving me freedom from the responsibility of being a long-timer.  And, I attend a couple of open meetings regularly that are a mix of old and new sobriety, that allows the opportunity to give back and to bear witness that 12 step recovery works for the long haul. Some weeks, some months, my formal meetings are fewer and farther between. Life happens. And some weeks I feel like a newcomer, soaking up the joys and pains of those I hear in the rooms.

What is your formula? How do you remain respectful of the process that brought you to long term recovery while honoring the life that you lead today?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

To Do..

I was in a meeting recently where the chairperson, opened with "I've been sober 35 years. Can't I take a week or two off ?"  Well, no. Not exactly.  Are we allowed vacation from the spiritual path? Not unless we are also planning ahead to make some amends for our behavior!  But what about this notion of rest and balance - the "human doing vs human being" that we are told to emulate?  And what happens when the "being" becomes just one more item on the to-do list?  Go to work. Run. Coffee with friends. Meeting. Hike. Bike ride. Picnic. Clean house. Laundry. Read a book. Relax. Meditate. Laundry.

I am a do-er; not compulsively, but definitely task oriented.  Employers tend to love that about me. Loved ones, maybe not so much. What I struggle with is the idea of balance. OK, not the idea of balance - I think it is admirable - but the achievement of same. I find my weeks filled with activity - social,  life maintenance, service, family time, chores...   I often crave space and find myself caught in the trap of "when life calms down, then I will (fill in the blank)."  But the thing is, life doesn't calm down - life just is. How do I balance my low boredom tolerance with the need for quiet time?

I have come to accept that I fill in my own date book. No little genie sneaks into my purse to scribble in step groups and coffee dates and symphonies. My intention each month, as I look at the beautiful blank page of a new calendar, is to leave holes in the schedule. Blank spaces for being home. For puttering in the garden. For cooking a lovely meal rather than just throwing something together. I am the guardian of my time. I need to remember that the next time I impulsively say, "Yes! I'd love to!" There is so much I'd love to do, but sometimes I need the self-discipline to say "No."  Balance is an art. Balance is a spiritual discipline. Balance is a state of being, that like the teeter-totter, moves from one end of the spectrum to the other. Today I feel in that centered spot. I think I'll stay here awhile.

What is your practice for staying balanced?  How do you manage your to-do list so that it doesn't manage you?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016


What do we do if we stumble, and what various forms does that take for those of us in long term addiction & alcoholism recovery?  "They say" that the road gets narrower.  How close to the edge can we go before running the risk of falling off the path altogether?

A dear friend struggles with gambling.  Long term sobriety, and a long struggle with this other killer. Does that mean that he isn't doing something "right?" Does that mean that his years of step work, of sponsoring men, of showing up for others, means naught?  I've known others who's dis-ease has taken the form of overspending, over eating, relationship addiction - all those ways that imbalance manifests in our lives.  Are they sober?  In recovery?  How narrowly or broadly do we define those terms?

For others, that stumble may involve the various ways we stray from whatever we define as Higher Power - busyness (which is often perversely rewarded in our culture), television (when something is called "binge" anything, it's a clue...) - the "lesser" evils that nonetheless serve to distract us from our centered place.

And what about those close-calls? Those there-but-for-the-grace-of god-go-I? For me, that came when my mother was dying. I was in charge of her morphine - of filing up the little syringes that she'd squirt under her tongue every few hours to help ease the pain.  One evening, several months into the hospice journey, I spilled some of the medicine onto my hand.  My alcoholism, on high alert as I walked through those painful days, whispered, "I wonder if you'd feel it if you licked your fingers?"  I wonder.  I wonder, and I consider it grace that I recognized that voice for what it was (fear, grief, wanting to escape). I said out loud, "I see you, you f***er. You can't get me that easy," and washed my hands at the kitchen sink.  And, I felt the stumble. I was acutely aware in that moment of losing my balance. With the excruciating pain of watching my mother die, I could just as easily downed a bottle of the stuff.

How have you stumbled? Where do you feel it when you are off the beam?  How do you find your way back?