Thursday, October 27, 2016

Full Circle...

When I was 10 years old, I saw the Beatles in concert at the Memorial Coliseum in Portland. More accurately, I saw 4 specks on a stage far away, and heard mostly the screaming of the girls around me. Afterwards, my two friends desperately wanted to find the stage door so that we could see John, Paul, George and Ringo in the flesh as they entered their waiting limo. I knew that it would upset my dad if we weren't at the appointed spot at the appointed time, so we gave up the quest and proceeded to our ride home. Last week, I had the opportunity to see Ringo Starr and his All Star band - a great show. Up past my bedtime, I scooted out as soon as the last chord was played, and there, as I rounded the corner of the Keller, was Ringo getting into his waiting  limo, flashing a peace sign to the few of us in the vicinity. My inner 10 year old squealed just a bit. I saw a Beatle, in the flesh, much as I'd wished some 50 years earlier. It felt like a completion of sorts, a satisfaction of that long ago desire.

There have been other times and situations that have felt like the Universe taking a thread from the past to lead to an outcome I never would've imagined. For example, the man that I was with for 6+ years at the height of my alcoholism, left me after I started sticking a needle in my arm. He put me through treatment, but it was a painful break-up and once sober, I struggled with how to make amends since he'd left the country and married another woman. In the way that Spirit has, he phoned a few years later to ask if I'd be willing to talk with his wife, who had developed a dependency on prescription medication. Full circle - the chance to use my darkest and most painful past to help the man I'd hurt so badly.

Despite knowing better, I'd long viewed that man as my one true love. I had to ask myself, "Really? Are you saying that you blew your one cosmic chance by the time you were 29?" I knew that it didn't make sense, but the heart doesn't always respond to logic.  And then he phoned, after nearly a decade's silence, just to say "hello." In the course of our call, I realized that this man was very dear to me, and that we'd shared a very intense time together, but that my one true love would've come back. That call helped me to close the door on feelings I'd been hanging on to for decades. Within a month, I met the man who, a year later, asked me to marry him. Without  the completion and closure prompted by that conversation with my ex, I don't know that I would've been open to the love I am privileged to enjoy today. Full circle.

According to Webster, "coming full circle" describes "a series of developments that lead back to the original source, position or situation or to a complete reversal of the original position." In Oct 1985, I began that final slide of hitting bottom, spending 4 days in a care-unit before signing myself out. This is the time of year that I reflect on those last months and days of active addiction, especially as I approach a milestone - I was 31 years old when I went in to treatment, and in January will celebrate 31 years of sobriety. The first half of my life was impacted by the disease of alcoholism - the family illness and my own. Being sober as long as I was alive under the influence feels like a turning point, a marker of sorts, a coming full circle to perhaps "a complete reversal of the original position." I am a recovering woman. While not cured, I have recovered from a "seemingly hopeless state of mind and body" (AA Big Book).

Where will these next spirals on life's journey take me, now that the scales are even? What other threads from the past will reveal themselves as no longer valid? A sponsor once said that she began to truly recover when she realized that her reasons for acting out were 40 or 50 years old. Indeed. Where do I stand today, based on my spiritual practice rather than a long ago story?  What about you? Are there places where you've come full circle?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


"It is never too late to become what you might have been."   George Eliot

This quote came across a friend's news feed the other day, and has fully lodged in my brain ever since.  I am intrigued with this idea of continuing to grow and become, and the notion that there is no finish line, as long as I'm alive.

A friend told me about her self-challenge to do something she's never done before, once a month between her latest birthday and the next.  That intrigues me too, though once a month seems like a lot for this structured individual. I don't know that I have room for 1 new thing a month, and at first pass, I thought that'd I'd have to try pretty hard to find things I've never done before, and that I'm interested in. But, last night I helped to sell merchandise at a concert (Ringo Starr - awesome show). I've never done that before.  And next month I'm going to see the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. I've been to New York, but have never seen the Rockettes.  Maybe I can accept the personal challenge to get out of my very comfortable,  fully carpeted and air conditioned rut. OK, so my life is hardly a rut, but I do have my well-honed preferences and habits.

The real challenge here is to be open to opportunities to stay fully engaged with life and the world around me, my program and the Steps of recovery without the dreaded complacency settling in. "Comfortable" can be dangerous for us alcoholics.We are told that we have a "daily reprieve," and when I start thinking that I've got it all figured out, I'm probably headed for trouble. Continuing to take personal inventory, being of service - whether that is to the newcomer, the old-timer, or the neighbor down the street - helps me stay focused on the here and now as well as the adventure of becoming.

"It is never to late to become what you might have been."  That notion had a certain urgency when I was newly sober and wondering what I might do for work, what I might do with my life now that I was free from addiction.  As I age, in both recovery and years on the planet, the "what next?" is softer, but still there.  I've been blessed to have accomplished many of my desires: I earned my degrees, I published my novel, I own my home, I've run marathons, and marathons in amazing places...  But I've always been a seeker, whether that is for the spiritual key to whatever locked door I'm knocking on, to exploring beautiful places, to the quest for emotional, physical and spiritual health.  I will keep this quote posted where I can see it, to remind me that whether once a month, or as Higher Power sees fit, I am open to the joys and challenges of long term recovery.

And just maybe the becoming has to do with self-acceptance. I can seek without striving. I can grow into the idea that right here, right now, everything is exactly the way it is supposed to be.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

To Thine Own Self Be True...

A few days ago, a friend shared her struggles with the ending of a relationship. It wasn’t the relationship that was troubling her, but several well-meaning friends who were giving their opinions about what she needed to do. I suggested our slogan, “to thine own self be true.”  I need to heed my own advice.  Normally, I sit down to write this blog on a topic I’ve been thinking about, and the words flow. Yesterday, I assumed my usual position, and kept getting stuck on one topic or another.  When I walked away from the computer and relaxed into the frustration, I realized that what I really want to write about is my mother, though my logical brain was telling me to do anything but. Head vs heart – the eternal battle. To thine own self be true...

Today is the 4th anniversary of my dear mother’s death. A few weeks before she passed, she held my hand and said, “I know you’ll always miss me, just like I still miss my mother.” I thought, “Oh great. Grandma's been gone for 40 years. Does it ever go away?”  Well, not in 4 years it doesn’t. The 1st months were so painful. I now understand completely what it means to be grief stricken. The overwhelming, physically painful sadness has dissipated, but the tears and that empty space in my heart still sneak up on me. I recognize the sorrow more quickly these days, and find that if I simply sit and acknowledge the loss (“hi Mom”), it flows through me more gently. It is when I tell myself that I “shouldn’t” be feeling this way after 4 years, or when I try to self-will my feelings into something else, that I get stuck and cranky and wonder what’s wrong. Nothing is wrong. I miss my mother. Period.

My mother, Laura, was descended from Oregon pioneers. Her father, Hal Hoss, was Secretary of State, though died in office of tuberculosis in the 1930’s. Growing up in the Depression and during WWII, she knew how to make the best of hard times. This was helpful after she met my dad on a blind date, and married him in 1947.  With 2 little kids and a hard drinking husband (he got sober when I was in 8th grade), she did her best to maintain a stable household. Part of that was greeting us after school with chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven, and a cold glass of milk. She wasn't perfect, but those cookies sure tipped the scale in her favor. We fought a lot in my surly teenage years, but became friends after I got married, then divorced, then connected, then unconnected, becoming even closer after dad died in 1980. I did my best to hide my addictions from her, which mostly worked. And in my recovery years we made peace for the childhood stuff, and came to that wonderful place of enjoying each other's company. Oh how she loved to laugh. As her physician said, when I serendipitously ran into her in the grocery parking lot, my mom had that joie de vivre, a zest for life.  
And then she died, after battling tobacco-related lung disease for longer than she admitted. By all counts it was a good death – she died at home, in her bed, just as she’d wanted. She was alert and capable until she passed, and got up for a bite of my birthday pizza 2 days before.  And then she simply went to sleep, or wherever it is people go as they prepare to leave. I sang to her the Christian Science hymn that she used to sing to us as a lullaby, I recited the Lord’s Prayer, I held her hand. And then, when she was gone, I gently and gratefully turned off the noisy and necessary oxygen tank, so glad to remove her from that tether.

Life is a series of letting go, of grieving. Those of us in recovery know that all too well. We grieve the loss of our innocence, the loss of our dreams, the loss of companions to the disease.  And as we stay sober for a long time, we mourn for our loved ones – our parents and siblings and sponsors and friends. Loving means that at some point we will hurt. Grief is a gift of that love. 

So this morning, I lit candles and sat for some moments with my memories. I spoke with mom's cousin, Betty, the only living relative of that generation. Betty's husband of 67 years was recently placed in an Alzheimer's facility. In acknowledging how hard that is,Betty said, "I wish I could talk with Laura May."  I do too.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Self care...

As time goes on, I am convinced that self-care is the key to my serenity. The AA Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions, in Step 10, tells us that "It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us." Ouch. But honestly, quite often, that "something wrong" with me is that I am tired, or hungry, or haven't been taking care of my needs for fellowship or solitude, or plain old R&R. I can say for a fact that I like you and my life circumstances a lot better when I've had enough sleep.

When we enter recovery we learn about H.A.L.T. - don't get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired, each of which can be triggers to reach for some sort of relief, usually the bottle or the bag.  I thought I knew about self-care - heck, I'd quit smoking even before I quit drinking, and most days I'd have a protein shake and a handful of vitamins before my first shot of methamphetamine. In actuality, I had to learn to pay attention to my individual cues and respond appropriately.  Tired? Take a nap; not drink a lot of coffee. Hungry? Eat something nutritious, not a candy bar. In early recovery I finally figured out that I don't do well when I'm hungry - my hands shake, I don't think straight, I get lightheaded. What a relief to know what was wrong, and what to do about it - kind of like alcoholism. Name it, claim it, tame it...

Self care also applies to my emotional state. When I've convinced myself to keep quiet when all would be better served by speaking up, I am not being true to myself or to you. I don't do it too often, but when I say "yes" when I really mean "no," we both suffer by my acting from a place of resentment. Again, and always, it comes back to the "pause."  Take a breath. There is no hurry. As I've heard, if it is a good idea right now, it will still be a good idea in an hour, or a day.

Speaker Lila R. says that my best gift to you is to take care of me. Amen to that. Get enough sleep, get enough meetings, detach from workplace drama, go for a walk. The actual list probably looks a bit different for each of us, and is one of the gifts of long term recovery. I know what works for me today. I start my morning with a cup of tea and my daily readers, usually followed by a run. I end the day with a brief meditation, some stretching, and a couple of evening readers, and cut myself some slack the next day when the cats wake me in the middle of the night (let's hear it for naps). Self care is a goal that calls for adjustments on a day-to-day basis, though the basics are the same.

I think of self care as both a journey and a destination. What is your practice and how do you know when you are on track, or off?

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Posting comments. ..   I'm hearing from a few folks that they aren't able to comment.  I believe that after you type in your response,  you then need to check one of the little boxes below indicating that you are posting as Anonymous,  with Gmail,  etc. Hope this helps because I'd love to hear your thoughts.