Thursday, September 29, 2016

Expect a Miracle?

A popular recovery bumper sticker says, "Expect a Miracle." What does that mean, exactly? What constitutes a miracle? I was part of a discussion in a church group a number of years ago and one of the members questioned the liberal use of "it's a miracle!" By this man's reasoning, we are past the age of miracles when the sick were healed by simply touching the hem of their Lord's garment. To him, a miracle was walking on water, not merely a baby born with all her fingers and toes.

Maybe not today, at 30 years sober, but at the beginning, the fact that I'd been able to stop using drugs and alcohol felt like a miracle on par with feeding the multitudes. For me, it was very much an example of spontaneous healing - one day I needed to ingest mind altering chemicals, and literally, a day later, the compulsion was lifted. A miracle, being that it was not of my own doing. If I could've thought my way out of my addiction, I would've. This was freedom born of surrender. I can cite many examples, witnessed or experienced directly, of interactions that could be considered Divine intervention, or the right amount of money that showed up at just the right time, the phone call that came out of nowhere. Miracles? Grace? Certainly to the persons involved.

So in my recovery-focused opinion, miracles do happen. Maybe not big-M Miracles, but certainly the little-m miracles of emotional healing, doors opening, paths illuminated, forgiveness bestowed. My question then, is does "Expect a Miracle" apply to those of us in long term recovery too, or is it solely for the newcomer who is so fresh and open to the wonder of sobriety. I am so grateful for recovery, and I must admit that most days, the wonder has rubbed off.  In early sobriety, "Expect a Miracle" meant the upheavals associated with getting my life together - school, work, repaired relationships, the magic of a sunrise seen from the appropriate vantage point (vs after being up all night).  What does it mean now?

If  I equate "miracle" with hope, what is it that I hope for today? Good health, continued sobriety, love that grows, strong friendships? Returning to the book "Yearnings," Rabbi Kula describes hope as meaning to "pull oneself into the future but stay fully present." Can I expect a miracle, many miracles, and keep my feet on the ground and my butt in the chair? Can I remember that familiarity with this good life doesn't make it any less amazing?

Expect a Miracle. What does that mean to you?  What is it that you hope for?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Serenity in a crazy world...

 I am deeply saddened and disgusted and appalled  by what is going on in this country, from shootings, to pipe bombs, stabbings in a mall, the ongoing protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and on and on.  And this is just in the past 2 weeks. This isn't meant to be a political blog, though I do have my opinions. What concerns me, and what I ask myself when feelings of despair rise in my heart, is, how do I maintain my serenity in the midst of what feels absolutely insane?  How do I stay close to God without sticking my head in the sand?  I've tried turning off the TV, but the violence is still happening and I still learn about it. Pretending it isn't there won't make it go away, and doesn't make me feel any better.

AA literature tells us that we will reach a place where we will be able to "match calamity with serenity," and that troubles will be seen as an opportunity to strengthen our spiritual connection.  My superficial response is yes, I have achieved these things and so much more. I am no longer tossed about by my own internal judge & jury and I am less impacted by the actions of others. But recovery has given me the gift of awareness, of participating in my own life and being open to the experiences of others in this world.  And that can be painful.  It is painful to think that who I see as cousins, nephews, or friends, are seen by others as a threat, simply because of their skin color.  It is frustrating that my plans to travel need to be weighed out with how much danger I'm willing to tolerate.  It is heartbreaking to watch one more unarmed  black man shot down on camera, or an African American mental health worker shot trying to help his ill patient, or a solid police officer killed in a protest gone violent.

I read a piece at work this week titled "What do I do when this all starts to seem normal?"  How do I shield myself from accepting that school shootings and massacres in bars and one more officer down is the new norm?  It is not. Something is terribly wrong here, and I am at a loss. I don't know whether to pray or cry, so I do both. I do what I can to speak up and build bridges. I try my best to focus on what is true and good and right.  I do my best to be part of the solution. But so often I simply feel helpless.

How do you get centered in the midst of what is happening in the world?  What tools do you use to stay aware, yet detached? How do you walk in this world during troubling times?

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Road of Happy Destiny...

On Wednesday, I had the gift of reconnecting with my original sponsor, the wise woman who patiently listened to my tales of woe as I learned to navigate this sober life. We met at Camp 18, and as I drove west on the Sunset Highway, I was hit with wave after wave of memory covering the decades I've traveled that road on the way to the coast.

When I was little, the family would pull over at Oney's by the huge Paul Bunyan sign. We were told it was for a bathroom break, but I now suspect it was so Dad could stop in the bar for a "snort" (what he called a highball). Oney, a crusty old gal, had a talking parrot, a great distraction while Dad lingered and Mom hoped to get going. After Dad sobered up, we'd usually drive on through to Cannon Beach, but those early years always included the stop.

My first husband and I had our honeymoon at the coast, a month after we were married and could each get the time off. My next relationship was with a man who bought a house in Tolovana. By this time, my alcoholism was in full force. Sometimes we wouldn't even see the beach all weekend, but would drive like bats out of hell early Monday mornings to get me to work on time.  And then there was Richard. We once stopped at the water fountain in the middle of the night to make out. Youth and methamphetamine is all I'll say about that.

A couple of years later, on January 2, 1986, Richard and I pulled over under a streetlight so that I could shoot up before going into treatment. I remember the cold, and how he got out of the car because he didn't want to watch. I remember thinking that this might be the last time. Thankfully it was.

On that same road, my Mother and best friend drove every weekend to visit me in treatment, hoping that this thing would take. A few months later, while driving to aftercare,  my new best friend told me he was gay. The Sunset became the road of many truths.

I was fortunate enough to have access to the Tolovana house in those early years, which ended up being the site of many a sober slumber party. We'd crash there after hanging out at the Little Yellow House in Seaside, or the weekend of the North Coast Roundup. One summer a group of us held a bonfire meeting on the beach, so grateful for connection, for life.  These days, my dear spouse and I hit the Year End Round up in Seaside, or drive down for a weekend. The road hasn't changed that much. I anticipate the particular bumps, and the tunnel, and the grove of birch trees as we get closer to the ocean, passing the "For Sale" signs at Oney's, Paul Bunyan still standing.

Driving the hour-plus to Camp 18 this week made me think of the "road of happy destiny" described in the Big Book that we sometimes trudge, sometimes skip along, and sometimes traverse on our hands and knees.  The road itself doesn't change that much, but my experience of it does based on my particular circumstances, my particular state of mind. Heading west on highway 26 will always take me to the sea if I just follow the path. And, if you'll indulge my metaphor, the sober road can always lead to serenity if I follow the directions: don't drink, continue to take daily inventory, right my wrongs, let go of the notion that I am in charge.

There are so many benefits to living where I grew up - the memories, the traditions, the familiarity. The same apply to long term recovery. I am grateful to have memories today. I am grateful for re-connections. I am grateful that the path is there for the taking.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Solitude vs Isolation...

I am a person who functions best with routine. My dear spouse has a work schedule that changes every 3 months. This has been a bit of a challenge. Just when I get acclimated to a particular homecoming time, it shifts, and then shifts again, and yet again. My task, always, is to maintain my center regardless of what is going on around me.

Where I often find myself is in the middle of the "solitude vs isolation" dilemma.  How do I balance time with my husband, precious time with friends, and my introvert's need for solitary regeneration? How do I continue to stay aware of my motives so that I can catch myself when I'm using being an introvert as an excuse for isolation?  When am I lonely, but telling myself that I'm f-i-n-e?

The poet Marianne Moore once wrote that "the cure for loneliness is solitude." I didn't understand what that meant when it was first suggested to me nearly a decade ago. I was anticipating the passing of my favorite aunt, was navigating a break-up, and felt alienated from the social community I'd been a part of for the preceding few years. Determined to experience SOLITUDE, I spent many a winter night reading Rilke while listening to a Miles Davis CD. It was tragic - all that was missing was scotch and a cigarette.  I was trying so hard to reach a healing place, but all I felt was sad and alone.

Lonely wants someone or something to fill the void. Solitude is like a deep breath. And trying to justify my gyrations around escaping loneliness is uncomfortable, though it can take  awhile to recognize the discomfort for what it is. My first reaction to discomfort is to want to change it - somehow, some way, whether that is trying to out run it, smother it with chocolate sauce, or just pretend it isn't there. What I've come to realize is that my feelings just want to be acknowledged so that they can move through me without needing to demand attention. Sitting still, whether in company or alone, is often what is needed, and generally the last thing I think to do.

I am a human being. Sometimes I will feel lonely, and sometimes I will want to be alone. Sometimes, too, I will seek the company of those friends who've walked this journey with me for many years. And, I will nurture myself through schedule changes, grateful for that my spouse and I both have work we enjoy.  I will continue to pay attention to those quiet urges that want solitude, or laughter with friends, or a cozy evening with my love.  I need all three and not always in equal measure. One day at a time, I will choose, consciously.