Wednesday, November 30, 2016


When I was small, maybe 6 or 7, I padded off to the bathroom in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve. Sleepily traversing the short hallway in our tiny 2 bedroom house, I caught the reflection of something shiny under the Christmas tree that hadn't been there when my brother and I had been tucked in. I vividly remember the sense of excitement and wonder as I realized, "Santa's been here!"  Being a good girl, I went back to bed instead of to the tree, a mid-1950's version of sugar plums dancing in my head.

I don't imagine that one ever recaptures the wonder of a child at Christmas, but there have been a few moments that came close.  A decade or so ago I was at an opiate treatment providers conference in Orlando, of all things.  A colleague and I took an afternoon to visit Disney World, and rode "Peter Pan's Flight" on a lark. At the moment the pirate galleon crested Wendy's bedroom window, gliding over London's skyline, I gasped, as thoroughly enchanted as a nine year old. I was flying! 

In early recovery, so much filled me with awe and gratitude. The simplest of acts seemed unbelievably sweet or difficult or magical for the fact of doing them sober. My senses were coming back to life, a sensation both terrifying and exhilarating. Being an active participant in the world rather than skulking around at the edges brought a joy I hadn't realized was possible.

What about today? I've written about this before, but as the holiday season is upon us, the questions come back to me.  Where do I find wonder today? How do I avoid turning into the jaded old-timer who's seen it all, and then some? What does it take to be enchanted with the holiday lights in the neighborhood, or the lights coming on in someone else's eyes?

These days, I am most often moved to reverence in nature. Nature, and Radio City Music Hall, where I recently visited for the first time. I was captivated by the beautiful auditorium and the sense of connection to both my mother's generation and to the hours I'd spent watching the Rockettes synchronized kicks in movie re-runs on TV. Wonder has a component of  child-like innocence that I am unable to conjure by wishing it so. I can ready myself, but grace, however you define that, cannot be scheduled. I can walk into a beautiful theater, or along a forest path, but what I experience depends on the moment and my willingness to be aware.

It does seem that being open to wonder, cultivating pleasure in simple things, is a discipline. That really isn't an oxymoron. I can drive home from work narrowly focused on the steering wheel and whatever drama of the day is running through my mind, or I can take a breath and look up at the amazing November sky. I can go for a run in the morning and notice absolutely nothing, or I can consciously turn my attention to the trees changing colors and the sound of rain on the pavement. I can listen to the delight in a child's voice when they see snow for the first time, or watch a person new to recovery shake their head with amazement as the simplicity of recovery suddenly makes sense.

Whatever you celebrate this season, be it Hanukkah, Christmas, Solstice, Kwanza, or simply the movement of the winter sky, are there moments in your life that inspire awe?  Where is your focus, right here, right now? How can you, how can I, step back from what only seems to be important to appreciate the many wonders of this life?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Gratitude as a practice...

I was fortunate enough to inherit my mother's optimism, so keeping an "attitude of gratitude" has been a recovery tool that is fairly easy to practice. Not every day, not all the time, but generally speaking, I am an optimistic and grateful person, very aware that my story could've gone either way during those dark days of addiction. I survived. No, I've thrived, and for that I am thankful every day.

I do, however, carry around the remnants of growing up in an alcoholic household where I learned to see around corners and anticipate what was coming next. In my world, predictable equaled safety. I am not one who readily embraces ambivalence with a sense of adventure. I will dive in, eventually, but only after testing the waters with one toe and then another.

These feel like uncertain times. The scared little kid that still lives somewhere inside of me is nervous. Whichever side(s) of the recent election you were on, what happens next seems to be up in the air. It will be different. It is different, and the not-knowing has me wobbling between fear and confusion with a desire to pay attention to every detail as meted out by various sources, or to hide under the covers. Neither is particularly helpful, but is where I go in my efforts to find a balance point.

What I can do instead is step back from the fray with compassion for myself and others, and take a moment to remind myself of all that I am grateful for: that I didn't die with a needle in my arm, or behind the wheel of a car, that I have a strong marriage with a sober man, that I enjoy my workplace, that I have a steady connection with "God as I understand God," that my family and friends are healthy. On this eve of Thanksgiving I can pause, bring in my scattered energies, and breathe as I look at the branches against the sky, the fallen leaves gathering at my door.

We had a counselor when I was in treatment who would sometimes say, "What day is it? What time is it?" Once answered,  she would further ask, "Do you have a place to sleep tonight? Have you had enough to eat today?" which was her way of saying that I have all that I need. I can feel blown about by outside circumstances, but in reality, I am blessed beyond measure. I weep for those who do not have the basic safety that I so often take for granted and I am keenly aware that my gratitudes are those of privilege. I ask, each day, to be shown how I can be of service to those in my circle and the wider world. Show me, God, how to navigate, one day at a time.

On this Thanksgiving, I appreciate you and the conversations that these writings prompt, either in your posted remarks, emails, or face-to-face. We have each other, on this "road of happy destiny" that sometimes feels a bit rocky. Gratitude as a practice reminds me of the "we" of our recovery program, and that the "we" extends to all beings.   Peace be with you, today and always.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


I can almost hear people groan as they read this simple word - acceptance.  For those of us raised in recovery on the 3rd edition of the Big Book, all one has to say is "449" and you get the same groan. Acceptance? No way. Not this time. Not for this thing. Not now. Not ever.

I was in our monthly gathering of women with 20+ years sobriety last night and the chairperson opened with the paragraph that many of us love to hate: "And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation - some fact of my life - unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in god's world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes."

Now this is just one man's opinion, but I can tell you that when it was read last night, I was moved to tears, and felt a deep exhale as I let go, for just a moment, of what troubles me. What is, is.  I can argue with whether or not there are "mistakes" in god's world, I can ruminate on "what if this???" or "what if that???" but until I can sit still - and I mean that internally as well as actually sitting - I will be incapable of determining my next course of action. Acceptance does not mean approval - far from it. But acceptance is a surrender to the facts. The sun is shining. The cats are hungry. We have a new president. I am scheduled to work tomorrow.  What is, is.

I was reminded, with the simple reading of one small paragraph from our recovery literature, that I don't need to try to think myself out of my feelings.  I was reminded that I am blessed with the miracle of recovery, the miracle of life after addiction, the miracle of a wide network of supportive others. I was reminded that while anger can be a catalyst to action, fear generally isn't.  I can do my best, today, to stay centered, to trust in a higher good, and honor my process of the 3 A's - Awareness, Acceptance, Action.  One day at a time, acceptance is the answer. One day at a time.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

God, grant me the Serenity...

A couple of things from the AA Big Book -

"We try not to indulge in cynicism over the state of the nations, nor do we carry the world's troubles on our shoulders." (p. 132)  Trying here, really trying...

And from We Agnostics: "...we had to fearlessly face the proposition that either God is everything or else He is nothing. God either is, or He isn't. What was our choice to be?"  I choose "everything." I choose hope, and love and kindness and decency, despite what may be going on around me.

God, grant me the Serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the Courage to change the things I can
and the Wisdom to know the difference.

That's all I've got today, people. Breathe deeply, and don't forget to exhale.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Connections over time...

Last night I sat in circle, a sacred campfire of recovery, with three people I've been meeting with monthly for eight, maybe nine years. Sharing over time, we've gotten to that wonderfully comfortable place of being able to say, "Here is my stuff, again," with little explanation or apology needed. We know each other, in a deep way, having participated in our individual and collective growth as we've applied the steps to our addictions and co-dependency, to the aging process, or as we've simply sat still long enough to take the deep breath that signals it is ok to relax and be known.

I  love that I sometimes sit in 12 step meetings with friends I've known since grade school. Being in recovery long term and living in the same city has given me a connection over time to particular meetings, to folks I see just now and then, and has allowed deep, lasting friendships with those from the early years as well as sponsors and others whose paths have intertwined with mine, whether they live here, or half-way around the world.

Some might think it provincial, but I deeply appreciate that I live on the edges of the neighborhood I grew up in. There is a quote, by I don't know who, that says if you sit at a particular cafe in Paris, everyone you've ever known will walk by. For me, it is Hollywood Fred Meyer where I routinely see people I went to grade school and high school with, or others from my past. I love my connection to this place - my particular corner of NE Portland - where I've developed friendships that have lasted nearly my lifetime. I love it that I see former school mates at my gym, or riding their bikes in the neighborhood. I love that I met one of my closest friends on her 18th birthday, forty-some years ago, and that her family has become like mine. I was lucky enough to grow up with my cousins, so double that connection over time and space. Few of these people need the back story, because they are the back story.

I treasure those conversations that start, "Remember the time we..." or "You'll never guess who I ran into!"  Equally precious are talks with those who've listened to my deepest fears as well as my highest joys. I honor the many ways we bear witness to each other.

I am loving life on these beautiful November days, feeling grateful for connections over time.