Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Participating in meetings over the last few weeks, I’ve been struck with our various responses to this holiday season - some gleeful, some sad, some mourning past and present losses, some grateful, or for me, a combination of all of the above. Makes sense - we move through this life with varied experiences, before and after sobriety. I’m fortunate - holidays were always pleasant growing up. Even in Dad's drinking years, Christmas morning saw the folks up and ready to supervise and enjoy the exchange of gifts, even if sometimes we got pencils and notebook paper tied with a bow (I still feel a surge of pleasure at fresh paper and sharpened pencils).  But as I grew up, and especially after leaving home, Christmas often felt a little empty, like there should be more - not necessarily more gifts, but more something -togetherness, maybe? Fun? A Hallmark moment? And then, as time has marched on, a mix of gratitude and melancholy for holidays past, and my people who have passed. Christmas was my mother’s holiday - a big family party, decorations, good food. I miss her, especially at this time of year. I can acknowledge that longing for what it is, appreciate the love I’ve shared with family over the years, and say a prayer for those, and to those, who are no longer here. Prayer and meditation are my saving grace, always, but during this dark time of the calendar for sure.

In a meeting last weekend, someone said that we don’t get “spiritual retirement.” I can’t say to myself, “Gee, I’ve prayed nearly every day for the past 31.9 years, so I can probably stop now.” The Big Book, and practical experience, tells me that we have a “daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.”  Kind of like eating right, or my workout regimen. I can’t half-ass my recovery and expect consistent results. If I pray, only when I "need" it, or skip my other maintenance activities, be that step work, sponsorship, meditation, or meetings, I’m leaving myself open to the “strange mental twist” that convinces me I don’t really need to take care of myself. That strange mental twist can convince me that two or three cookies would be ok, cheating on sleep is fine just this week, I can run tomorrow or the next day instead, I don’t really need to pick up the phone, maybe I'll just have one, but it's prescribed...

Sometimes, when talking to newcomers, I find myself worrying that we present recovery as drudgery, hard work, requiring daily effort. It is work. It is work to break old habits of sloth and giving in to impulses that we know will bring sorrow. It is work to show up, to speak up, to try something new. The dictionary defines work as: activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result. I've found that recovery “work” produces, if not joy every single day, a sense of satisfaction, a feeling of belonging,  a sense of purpose that I was never, ever able to find in the bottle or the bag. 

And so often, the "work" feels like an honor, whether it is through the look of gratitude in the newcomer's eyes when I reach out my hand, or when my spouse volunteers to stay up all night to keep the doors open for a marathon meeting on Christmas Eve. We keep what we have by giving it away - through a phone call, a smile, a ride to a meeting.  Those of us with long term recovery are the very fortunate ones, and we keep what we have by giving it away, in whatever form that may take on any given day.

So wherever the holidays find you this year, best wishes. Best wishes, and thank you for sharing the journey. A shout out to my readers in Dubai, Mexico, Seattle, Newport, Long Beach, and those in between. While I often only hear from you peripherally, or via word-of-mouth, I appreciate knowing you are out there and that we can share these few moments of reflection each week.   Happy new year to all...

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Solstice reflections

I'll be participating in a women's meeting on Solstice this week, the general theme being a reflection on the year past and the identification of anything (trait, habit, old idea) that we want to leave in the old year, along what we may want to manifest in the new.

I've reviewed my journal, noting the high points and the low - wrestling this defect or that, loss and laughter and love, and wonder at both nature's beauty and her wrath. Overall, on a personal level, it's been a good year as I've fully stepped in to being alive and in recovery longer than I was alive under the influence of alcoholism (the family illness and my own).

In years gone by, thoughts of what to let go of would've come unbidden - sometimes I felt like a walking, talking defect of character. I still have "stuff," for sure. For example, I want to increase my mindfulness of my relationship to time - my self-imposed sense of time-urgency that can cause me to feel overwhelmed. I also have a writing project that I want to complete in the new year, and I'm moving closer to retirement. But, or rather, "and" I have moved - I have been moved to a place of quiet contentment, towards myself and my circumstances. The full title of my blog is "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" Well, what if "now what?" isn't the question after all. What if "now what?" is simply "now?"

Watching a 17 year old girl and a 19 year old boy get ready for a day out over the weekend made me think of how my priorities have shifted. Leaving home used to require full make-up and the right ensemble. These days, my main concern is whether or not my shoes are comfortable. (I recall a rare flash of foresight in my 20's, wondering when I'd make the shift from cute shoes to sensible - it wasn't soon enough.)

As I write this, I'm glancing at Celebration of Life programs for two of my three friends who died this fall, propped up on my bedroom altar. Last Solstice, no one would've predicted that this year would be the last for them. Seeing their photos during my morning prayer and meditation time reminds me that life is short. Perhaps that is what I want to manifest in the new year - a heightened awareness of the precious nature of life and relationships.

We are in the darkest week, here in the northern hemisphere. How will you welcome back the light? How will you be the light for others?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

I attended a memorial service last week - a lovely tribute to someone I've known for a long time. After, across a platter of cold cuts, I complimented the woman who sang, telling her that she'd moved me to tears. Beautiful music, sung from the heart, does that to me, especially in a place of reflection on a life cut short. I must've said something else to her regarding Spirit, because in a later conversation, she paused, and asked, "You've mentioned God a couple of times now - are you a believer?" To myself, I said, "Oh crap - here comes the pitch," but to her, I explained that my path to spirituality had come through my involvement with 12 Step programs. She replied something to the effect of, "That's a nice start."  My AA/Alanon hackles stood up as I politely backed out of the conversation.

I doubt that she meant anything other than sincerely wanting to share the joy and peace she has gained from her path, though what I initially heard was, "12 Steps don't really count." How many times have we heard, "Oh, you still go to those meetings?" or "I don't go anymore because I'm back in church," with the implication that our 12 Step programs are religion-lite, or something to be graduated from and done with. I suppose it is a matter of perspective.

A speaker I listen to frequently says that AA isn't a program for getting sober, explaining that if you aren't already at least dry, the Steps will mean little. The literature tells us that the purpose of the book "is to enable you to find a Power Greater than yourself that will solve your problem." (Big Book, p. 45) Taken at face value, that could mean that finding a Higher Power will solve your drink problem, period. Taken over the course of time, I read it as meaning that the whole point of 12 step programs is to develop a living, breathing, developing, conscious relationship with a God of my understanding. Yes, that relationship that felt so new at the beginning did grant me the strength and spiritual space to maintain my new-found abstinence, one day at a time. But, as time has gone on, conscious contact has developed into the prime directive of all my affairs, not simply my alcoholism.

Because of a schedule shift, I attended a meeting over the weekend that I've only been to a few times, a meeting that begins with 15 minutes of silent meditation. I tried to talk myself out of it, thinking of the laundry, the cooking, the blah-blah-blah that needed doing. But, I wasn't going to make my Sunday home group, and I always remember the wise words of a friend - if I only go to one meeting a week, and miss that, I've gone 2 weeks without a meeting. AA works for me, on so many levels. I don't want to be one of the ones who simply drifts away because life is good, so I went. I went, and heard just what I needed to hear about the spiritual path, the many roads to God (or not god), our incredible good fortune to be alive and sober on a cold winter morning.

At first glance, I may not seem to be a particularly spiritual person, as I drop the "f-bomb" perhaps several times in the course of a conversation, but that's what I've always appreciated about AA - for many of us, God is right here in the trenches with us. I don't raise my hand to Jesus, or pray towards Mecca, or keep Kosher. I don't follow the particular tenets of any one sect, growing up in a non-practicing house of an Episcopalian who was angry at God and a Christian Scientist who smoked and drank. In my home, thanks to my dear Mother, God was a Loving and forgiving presence. Yes, there were rules, but less about vices than about doing unto others as you would have done unto you. I'm grateful that I didn't have "God as Punisher" to wade through once I got sober. It was confusing at first, this "God as I understand God," but over time, that non-understanding has grown into a comfortable and comforting relationship.

I thought about our 12 Step programs as I completed a half marathon this weekend. At the front of the pack were the gazelles, those runners built for grace and speed, with people larger and slower as the minutes clicked by. And then, in the rear, me and my cohort - walking some, jogging some, greeting all of the volunteers and thanking the cops who were there to block off the streets. Kind of like AA, where we've got our well-heeled members and those who are on the streets or just a few rungs up, those who run marathons, those in wheelchairs, and those in-between - a veritable cross section. And each of us has our own definition of the Higher Power that keeps us coming back. Sure, there are parameters, and the program was started by a couple of Protestant men, but Bill W knew that we are a rebellious bunch, and intentionally did his best to remove dogma from the program's suggestions.

I thrive on conversation and exploration of the spiritual lessons we are presented with. I am comfortable in the glory where I find it, though obviously, bristling at any attempt, intended or otherwise, to imply that it isn't enough. The God of my understanding is huge, and all inclusive, and wears many faces or none at all. I am grateful for the freedom of expression I am allowed through our program.  (& a note to my atheist friends - I do know, by your example, that one can be devout and appreciate the sacred without believing in a god of any kind)

Has your relationship with a Higher Power of your understanding changed over time? How do you respond if someone challenges your practice?

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

I'm in a step group that has been meeting for 10 years. I've participated for the last 5, sometimes joyfully, sometimes through clenched teeth, but showing up. Showing up and reflecting on how the Step for that month has manifested in my life. This practice, and it is practice, keeps me in the literature and helps me focus on the spiritual principles of our program as I go about my daily routines (& the not so routines).

One of our members said, in our Sunday gathering, that during December, she asks, "How has my life changed over this year? How have I changed?" Tears of gratitude hit me as I thought of the ways I am different today. 

A few years ago I threatened to have "PAUSE" tattooed on my forearm, and now that ability, while not automatic all of the time, is a part of who I am. For decades I tortured myself with a running "what if?!" disaster scenario that played in my head like a bad movie (the fantasy disaster shifting only slightly depending on my outer circumstances). I have developed the discipline to change the channel when I feel my mind drifting to the comfort of the painfully familiar. Both these shifts are huge for me, and seem to have simply happened.

In actuality, the "simply happened" of the pause, and "changing the channel" have taken years of recovery work - inventories, therapy, prayers, exposing my defects to the cold light of day. I've learned to meditate, and have been doing so for over a year now. My morning 3rd Step prayers involve turning over specifics, which I've found very helpful. I've asked Higher Power for a new experience, and I am having one. In all things, thinking of Steps 6 & 7, all I can really do is prepare myself to be changed, and then the miracle of healing takes place, though rarely on my time schedule.

Awakenings to a new way of being sometimes hit with a "BLAM!" I can tell you exactly where I was, and the circumstances involved, when the knowledge that my father's depression and alcoholism had nothing to do with me traveled from my head (intellect) to my heart (knowing). I can describe who said what and when, the moment I realized that recovery was a way of life, not a temporary fix. But even what feels like a sudden "ah ha" has usually involved sometimes years of preparation, though I may not have always been aware of the forces at work below the surface.

So, yes, the ending of one year invites reflection - where did I start out, and where am I now? What do I feel good about, and what can I learn from in order to do differently next time? How have I applied the Steps - the "practiced the principles in all my affairs" aspect of Step 12? I will say, as I near my 32nd anniversary, that I am right where I need to be, or as a friend says, "I want what I have." And that, my friends, is the greatest gift of all.

Blessings to you during this season, whatever it is that you celebrate (or don't). May your year end reflections bring more smiles than tears.  Until next time...

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A few weeks ago, the friend I was sitting next to asked "What happens to the soul when we die?" I chuckled at the million dollar question, posed just moments before the start of our home group. How much time to you have? How much faith do you have? How much do you want to believe that we go somewhere else when this life is done?

A daily reader, "Healing After Loss" by Martha Whitmore Hickman, that I wish I'd found sooner in the process of mourning my mother, brings up "the possibility that death is {merely] eternal sleep..." and asks, "is that so bad?" Hard to say. I know that sometimes I feel my mother's presence, and sometimes I feel as if she is in me, like I am seeing the world through her eyes. Do I carry a part of her spirit? Is her soul somewhere other than in my memory and my longing?

Another old friend - high school classmate, and my former sister-in-law, died last week. Where is her soul? Is the essence of her watching to see what will become of the house she grew up in? Are her sons feeling any comfort in their loss? What about the part of her that was the teenage girl I rode around in her brother's Mustang with, the part of her that had that great old car we called "the nose." the part of her that mourned her own mother?  What about the part of her that went to get her hair done, just days before she passed. Did death surprise her as much as it surprised the rest of us?

Death comes in many forms. I'm thinking of another friend who seems to be undergoing a death of sorts, a death of a way of being. What will be on the other side of that journey, if indeed there is another side? How do we keep putting one foot in front of the other when it seems like all roads are blocked?

Years ago, a friend called to tell me that he'd inadvertently ingested liquor at a social event. "And I didn't die, Jeanine.The book says that 'to drink is to die' and I didn't die." My premise at the time, and still, is that there are many ways to die. I'd be lucky to die if I returned to drinking and using drugs - that would be the easy way out. It is fear of the spiritual death that helps me stay on this path. What happens to the soul when we die, but more importantly, what happens to the soul when we live and are attempting to hide from ourselves? What happens to the soul when our behavior conflicts with our values? How do we find peace internally when we've been focused on the bells and whistles of external validation? Spiritual literature would suggest that a part of us has to die in order to be reborn - whether you think of that in religious terms, or as a secular metaphor. The part of me that thought I needed a substance to survive had to die before I could step into a new life. How does that surrender, that flat-out hitting bottom, happen?

I don't know, and I truly wish that I did. I wish that I could have someone's "ah ha" moment for them. I wish that I could take a person's grief and hold it gently enough that they would know they will be OK, eventually. I wish I knew where our spirits go when we die, or if they go anywhere at all.

To end on a lighter note, what I very much appreciate are the various places where our spirits  interact. I spent time over the weekend with three women I've known since grade school, and we visited a fourth, marveling at the passage of time, transported to various basement parties, clandestine cigarettes, delinquent boyfriends -  our beginning explorations of the world. What happens to the soul while we live, should be the question. How do I nurture that part of me that remembers, with absolute clarity, long ago conversations, rain on the roof, the details of a kitchen I haven't seen in forty years? Another friend made mention of my trip down "memory lane." It isn't memory lane - it's my life, and I treasure these connections over time.

What I'm learning is that there really are no guarantees. Life, and death, are unpredictable, as much as I sometimes wish otherwise. I am reminded of a quote, author unknown to me: When death comes for me, let it find me alive. Indeed.

What have my musings on this dark November evening brought up for you? What do you do with those memories that comfort and the ones that are sad? How do you care for your soul?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

I sat in circle with 5 other women last night, each, in our own way, expressing gratitude for the subtle and not-so-subtle gifts of longer term recovery. The gains in the physical plane are obvious - no more hangovers, restored health, dishes no longer hurled through plate glass windows, driving with both eyes open...   But it is the internal, and less outwardly obvious, attainments that are the true gifts: That feeling of being ok in the world, and as was mentioned last night, my increased capacity to be present, to express compassion for myself and others, to ride the wave of upset and come back to center. As another friend once said, “I may not always be centered, but when I’m not, I don’t stay there long, and I know what to do to get back.” What I do to get back isn’t that much different than I would’ve done earlier in the recovery journey - read from the literature, go to a meeting, talk with a trusted other, journal, pray, meditate - but these days, the decision to pick up the tool kit comes naturally vs the flurry of “what do I do now?!” that plagued me in new sobriety.

When and how did this happen, this feeling of “being comfortable in my own skin?” I can tell you that it took a long time for me, a long time to settle into myself, to truly trust my inner wisdom, to still the tuning fork energy of distraction and doubt. And it’s not like I just woke up on a Tuesday and there it was. The feeling of stability has come gradually, sometimes in fits and starts. Rather than an event, it truly has been a process.  In the later part of the first year of sobriety, I noticed one day that I hadn’t thought about getting loaded for a week or so. What had been a constant companion simply wasn’t there. That’s how it’s been with serenity. Where I’ve had moments and periods during the years when all felt right with the world, there was still an underlying fear that I wasn’t really ok, that I really didn’t know what I was doing, that someone was going to find me out as an impostor. And then one day I realized that, oh, that lurking self-doubt is gone, replaced with a sense of, not just well-being, but the sense of well-being no matter what. That doesn’t mean I am confident in all situations, but not too much throws me these days. It doesn't mean that I’m not impacted by what goes on around me. I am greatly saddened that my two friends who died in Oct are no longer in this world. I am hugely missing my mom and my step-pop as we enter the holidays. I continue to be disturbed by the events of the world, both natural and man-made. And I know, I know, that all is as it is. I don’t have to like it, or approve, but “it is what it is,” and I have the choice of how to engage and how to take care of myself in the process.

There’s been a lot going on lately, both in “the” world and in “my” world.  So, change in plans. This year, Thanksgiving feels like a day to stay in after all. This year feels like a day to cook a little bird with my spouse, put our feet up and snuggle with the cats, thanking Higher Power for our many blessings. I will start the day with a gratitude list, and some time outdoors. I plan to end it with my daily prayer of "thank you."  Thank you for another day, thank you for another day clean and sober. Thank you for love and for laughter; for work I enjoy; for health; for good, good friends, and for family near and far.

What will be on your gratitude list? How will you balance the "have to's" and the "want to's" this holiday season?  

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

As the days get shorter, I think of  my final Thanksgiving before going in to treatment. Running in the glow of too-early Christmas lights, intentionally scuffling through piles of brilliant crimson and gold leaves, I picture my mother sitting across from me at the lonely Thanksgiving table in November of 1985. I'd woken up to the bright light of a snow storm. My brother decided to stay at home, but I could walk to mom's.

Mom knew I'd spent a few days in the Care Unit earlier in the month, checking myself out after I'd been detoxed, but we'd never talked about the details of what got me there. My Dad had been in and out of detox before he'd stopped drinking. Maybe she thought it was the booze. But then my brother told her the story, as much as he knew at that point, so as my step-dad went into the kitchen, she looked at me across the table and said, "I didn't raise you this way. I just don't understand." What I wanted to do was climb on to her lap and cry. I wanted to say "I don't understand either." But because I was afraid of what it would mean to admit that my life was out of control, I was flip and tried to be cavalier, comparing my sticking a needle in my arm to cocktails with dinner. I'll never forget her look of sadness and fear, and knew, even as I was speaking, that what I said made no sense.

A year later I sat at that same table, sober 10+ months, with old Leonard in tow - Leonard, with half a dozen teeth to his name, thick glasses, and fingers stained up to the knuckles with the tar of countless cigarettes, sober nearly as long as I'd been alive. A lot had changed in the year that had passed - most notably, the company I kept. The next year I cooked a bird for my new friends who didn't have other plans. The year after that, the first of many "day after Thanksgiving" parties, because now I was working the holiday. I look at photos from those times - some of the people are friends still. Some are drinking. A few have died. I am grateful for the fellowship that surrounded me, and day after day, showed me that life, a good, fun and productive life, was possible, and here I was living it, one day at a time.

This time of year, as the days get shorter, I think of childhood Thanksgivings - sitting at the kid's table, and the time that grandpa stood up 2x4's in his basement to stabilize the floor for all 10 of us who were coming for dinner. I remember, as we got older, sneaking off for a cigarette, and later, sipping the dinner wine, in a hurry to get up to the park where my friends had already escaped.

This time of year I think of those who are no longer here, and our first holiday season without my step-pop. Mom has been gone five Thanksgivings now, time enough to settle in to new routines, though not long enough to not miss her laughter. The holiday is quieter these days. I'm no longer driven to go to this house and that, a taste here and a bite there. These days, I'm content to have a quiet day of reflection on all that has come to pass.

Next Thursday I'll likely meet my brother for what is becoming our yearly walk. In the afternoon, my husband and I will go to our 2nd family's for deep fried turkey and all the trimmings. For all my want of a quiet day, there is something special about saying grace with a group of dear friends, noting our graying hair, and the young ones getting tall.

Contrary to popular opinion, I love November, with its underlying current of sadness and melancholy; cold, wet days, and darkness drawing me to home and hearth. November is Gratitude Month, and rightly so as we are asked to pause and think of our blessings. It is also a time of reflection on the year passing - what do I feel good about for 2017? What might I have done differently? What old ideas do I want to release?  What do I want to invite into my life in the coming year? 

How is November for you? When you take stock at the end of the day or the end of the year, what is on your list? 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

I’ve been thinking about the still, small voice that I've mentioned in previous posts. Call it our conscience, intuition, or what our literature describes as our will rightly aligned...

When I first entered recovery I was very concrete, and a little confused - a voice? Still and small? Coming out from under the influence of my drug of choice, hearing a voice wasn’t a good thing. I remember my meth cook boyfriend sitting me down one day when I was new to that world, saying, “I don’t know where you’re going with this thing, but if you stay with it, there will come a time when you may see things or hear things that aren’t really there.” As if I had a choice of where I was going with it. Once I had a taste of that stuff, there was nowhere to go but the bottom, and thank God I lived to hit it. But, he was trying to warn me, and went on to talk about the self-care I should consider, were I a rational person in charge of my addiction (i.e. sleep when I could, eat, know that if someone wanted my attention it would be obvious - that kind of thing).

I took the fore-warning about hallucinations and filed it away in the “this doesn't apply to me” box, along  with fears of losing my relationship, the belief that the crusty old pharmacist would always sell me syringes because I’d never look like the gnarled addicts I saw in line ahead of me at the store, and the firmly entrenched belief that life was too big for me to face alone or sober.

When I did start hearing voices, those subtle whispers and murmurs that made me think someone was in the next room or the basement, the memory of that warning-conversation surfaced, but was overcome by what I thought was the reality of someone on the roof or peering in through the peephole. I tried to reason with myself, all the while nailing blankets over the windows. All of them.

And then, recovery, and the instruction that my intuition was meant to guide me, not lead me astray. I discovered the big difference between self-will and Higher Power’s will, and the benefits of sitting still long enough to know what it was that I really thought and felt about a situation. Listening for the still small voice isn’t rocket science, but it does involve calming my heart and mind, no easy task - though that does come more naturally with years of practice. What I’ve found is that the still small voice isn’t even necessarily a voice. For me, it is more a knowing, a quiet sense of a direction or a decision. In retrospect, I always possessed that quiet direction, but often did my best to outrun it, or silence the inner wisdom because it usually meant taking a step outside of my  small and neatly confined comfort zone.

In Step 11 we are instructed to seek our Higher Power’s will for us, through prayer and meditation - actively listening for guidance. What I’m realizing is that prayer and meditation isn’t about the how - it doesn’t matter if you pray with your forehead on the ground, or with the sign of the cross; meditate in the lotus position, or like me, sitting in the comfortable little chair where I used to shoot dope. Prayer and meditation is about discipline, about the practice of remembering, even if just for those few moments, to clear my busy mind in order to align my will with Creator’s.

Last week I had a specific plan of how I was going to save the day for someone I care about. By stepping away from the issue at hand, we both came to the conclusion that another course was called for.  Pause. Waiting is an action. Think, think, think. All good suggestions for someone who has a history of leaping before I looked.

Back in the day when the Big Book was written, meditation wasn’t referring to the eastern practice we think of, but meant reading spiritual literature and reflecting on what it meant to us. I start and end my day with daily readers, taking a few moments in an effort to quiet the internal chatter. The still, small voice is never a shout. It's never a "NOW!" or a "hurry up." My inner knowing is just that - wisdom, born of experience and of participation in the vast recovery network. I'm grateful today, for the Steps working in my life, for recovery, for this chance to connect on a cold November afternoon.

How do you practice Step 11? How do you quiet your mind in order to notice your intuition and inner guidance? 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

As a good friend and I were recently talking, I felt comfortable enough with our relationship to offer up my view of a particular personal matter, not attached to outcomes - merely an observation from my vantage point. In reflecting on that conversation, I am struck (again and always) with gratitude for those friendships that are real, that are deep, that can handle the good and the not-so-good.

I work in a setting where people are nearly constantly giving each other feedback in an effort to increase individual awareness. Nobody likes it, at least initially. No one actually prefers being called out on behaviors, especially if they don't themselves recognize the problem. We call it accountability.

How many times in my pre-recovery days, was I blind to my faults? It was so much easier to point the finger elsewhere, or to say to myself, "It doesn't matter," "Someday soon I will ______" or  just plain, "Screw it!"  I was raised with a strong work ethic, and a sense of right and wrong, but that accountability to myself and others frittered itself away in the face of my alcoholism and addiction. Plans galore. Follow through, zilch.

And then I went to treatment where we learned about personal responsibility, and about the vital importance of self-honesty. So called "cash register honesty" matters, but what really mattered was being truthful with myself - not just a little bit, not including the tiny fibs I'd tell myself about my intentions, but gut-level, between me and god honesty (and in this instance, I'm defining "god" as the still, small voice, my conscience, that part of me that knows but doesn't want to know when I'm off my personal track). In treatment I got honest about a piece of drug paraphernalia I was tempted to hang on to, realizing that keeping it was permission to use it. When I got home, To Thine Own Self Be True showed up one day when I went into the basement to clear out the remnants of the meth lab that had been gurgling under the stairs just months earlier. As I carted out a box of broken glassware, I noticed a pyrex dish that was edged with a thin sheen of methamphetamine, definitely enough to get me high after a month's abstinence. I automatically did a mental scan of the house, wondering if the friend who'd cleaned up before my homecoming had missed a syringe in one of my hiding places. My first coherent thought was, "No one will know." But within seconds, a wave of peace washed over me with the thought, as clear as if someone had spoken it to me, "But you would know Jeanine. You would know." And for perhaps the first time in my life, that mattered. Self-honesty became one of those recovery muscles that got stronger with use, though it took a while before I could practice the principles in all my affairs all of the time (& darn it, I'm still not perfect!)

Accountability and honesty matter in my close relationships as well. We often hear that a sponsor is "someone who will call me on my B.S." and that's true, but I also need that in my friendships. It's rarely easy to hear, or to tell, someone what we see that may not be roses and rainbows. And it matters. If I don't have at least one friend who will be real with me, about their own stuff as well as mine, what's the point?

How do we, how do I, make it safe for that level of sharing? Gently, for sure. Instead of expecting people to read my mind, I can ask for input on a specific conundrum. If I'm the one with an observation to share, I can ask if the person is open to feedback, and can then remember the Alanon suggestion that telling something once is input, twice is nagging.

Honesty in friendships can be a delicate matter. I'm thinking of another Alanon slogan - How Important Is It? Sometimes "it" is a matter of life and death and I'm cheating us both by not speaking up. Sometimes "it" is just me being judgmental or picky. Usually, it's somewhere in between. I think what I'm writing about here is Step 10 and my willingness to listen to my inner knowing, whether around my own isms or a conversation that needs to happen.

Sometimes this human-business feels complicated. But I find that the more I'm able to show up, be present, and listen, the more connected I feel to my people, and to the greater good.

Where do you feel at ease being yourself? Are you in relationships that either do, or do not, hold themselves open to honest sharing?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Someone I know, someone who struggles with a secondary addiction that has become primary, suggested that I write about desire, and the fact that “desire is not enough.” As we say, “You gotta wanna,” but want without action is simply wishful thinking.

This topic made me think of my process while writing my novel (“Shadows and Veins”).It is not on the scale with addiction, but does give me a window into desire. From the time I was a little girl, transported to different times and different places by the books I would devour long past mom’s call for “lights out,” I wanted to write my own book that would do the same for someone else. The dream stayed there, in the back of my mind, through relationships and travel, addiction and recovery. I had the desire. But for too long, I waited for inspiration, and the ever elusive “someday” when I’d have time to write. Over time, and with good teachers, I came to understand that writing is a discipline, and as I wrote in fits and starts, I prayed that Higher Power would either remove my dream or give me what I needed to complete the project. It took several years of writing in snatches of time, but I found that the more I wrote, the more I wanted to write, and in 2012, I achieved my lifelong dream by self-publishing my book. (shameless plug - available on Amazon or at the Multnomah County Library) Desire + Willingness = Completion.

According to the Big Book, “willingness is the key” to recovery, but how do we become willing if we’re not? How do we become willing to go to a meeting, pick up the phone, put down the cigarette, stay out of the casino, walk away from the piece of cake (fill in your own personal blank ______).  I believe that there is a component of self-discipline and accountability to this whole thing. Yes, there is an aspect of grace to recovery, but it isn’t magic. I needed to get the booze out of the fridge, stop sleeping with my dealer-boyfriend, get my butt to a meeting... even when I didn’t want to. The prime factor of “act as if” is “act.” Desire + Willingness = Action.

Following the 12 Steps is a practice, just like any other spiritual discipline. The Cambridge dictionary defines an aspect of discipline as: training that makes people more able to control themselves. I think of self-discipline as a muscle, one that gets stronger with consistent use. And I will say that when I want something (that cake, for example) it can be really tough to walk away. But, it is possible - over the weekend I was at a conference banquet with a table full of gorgeous desserts - chocolate and lemon and sugar galore, and didn't pick up. What I know about me is that if I eat sugar, I want more sugar (one is too many and a thousand is never enough), so by staying abstinent from treats, I’ve been moved to that blessed place of neutrality. How did I get there, with drugs, alcohol and sugar? I couldn’t tell you precisely - that's the mystery of recovery. I was graced with the gift of desperation with the booze and drugs that made me willing to do whatever it took to stay clean; abstinence from sugar quells that particular demon, one day at a time. I wonder if that isn’t a piece of it - staying away from the object of our addiction (meth, liquor, candy bars, the slot machine, etc) while at the same time, working the 12 steps on a daily basis.

What I've found is that practicing the principles grants a spiritual distance between me and what used to (& sometimes still) taunts me. When I was new to this way of life, walking through the liquor aisles at the grocery store was tough. Sitting across from someone drinking a fragrant glass of red wine was challenging. (I'm still uncomfortable around people who are mild drinkers. Drunks keep my eyes open to what I don't want - it's the sippers who get my imagination going). Over time, this way of life became my way of life and I focused less on what I was missing and more on what I'd gained - freedom, self-respect, a connection to Creator. Over time, the triggers lost their pull. And it did take time.

So, yes, I agree with  my friend that desire alone isn't enough to effect change. And unfortunately, desire + willingness isn't contagious, though there is power in the "we."  There is also power in turning it over, letting go, surrender - all those words we use to describe getting out of our own way. I would love to hear your experience on this topic, and how you've addressed any areas where the desire is there, but the willingness is lacking.

A postscript - A dear friend died yesterday. Yes, another one. I feel so blessed with positive connections, though that can mean being more available to the experience of loss. I am beyond grateful that two of us were able to make the trip back east earlier in the year, when the diagnosis was still new and not debilitating. I will say it again and again - do not take your loved ones for granted, because we truly don't know how much time we have to say "I love you," or "you matter to me." 

I love you Grace. Thank you for the laughter that sometimes made us cry, for running miles and miles up hills and down, for turning me on to great music and great ideas, for hikes and biking and lots of good meals. Thank you for your demonstrations of compassion and your commitment to social justice. Thank you for being you. I will miss you, friend.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A friend died last night - Jayna G, with 31 years in recovery -  mentor, role model, and guide. People die. I know that. At age 13 or 63, 47, 8, or 96, people die.The piece of Jayna's passing that has had me and others stunned, is the speed from a questionable MRI-to-hospice-to-death in mere weeks. I, and many others, both in her family and her community, are bereft at the loss of our teacher and friend, mother, grandmother, wife.

What keeps coming to mind these past days as I grapple with accepting the unexpected, are questions about the unpredictability of life and of death. What if I was told that I had 2 weeks to live? How much on my "to-do" list would get done, or would get erased an unimportant? Who would I want to speak with, and how many of those are on my "I need to get around to calling..." list?

What am I hanging on to? Old resentments? Are there strained relationships that would benefit from my attention, either directly or through the inventory process? And what of my material possessions? What if, like those in Santa Rosa, I was told I had 15 minutes to evacuate before my neighborhood was incinerated? Besides the one cat that would actually get in the crate, what would we take? Passports? Old family photos? My box of past journals? Trinkets from my mom?

The baseline question is, what matters? What really matters? I was privileged to participate in a women's conference this weekend that focused intently on the 12 steps. What I heard, over and over, in different form and in different words, is that recovery matters. Our spiritual connection matters. Being of service matters. Bringing our best selves to our relationships matters. Expressing love matters.

Today I ask myself if I am holding on to insecurities that have become habit. Am I hampered by any residual limiting beliefs? If I had 2 weeks to live, would gratitude outweigh regrets? I don't want to live each day in fear of the "what if's," but I do want to go forward with a clear vision of what is truly important, aware that each day is precious. What I want is to nurture my relationships with friends and family. What I want it to remember Jayna's example of inner tranquility and activism as she worked for peace and for our Mother Earth.

This afternoon I envision Jayna flying high, like an eagle, or a great horned owl, free of the constraints of her dis-eased body. I am privileged to have know her, to have laughed and cried with her. Walk with the angels, dear Jayna, and feel all the love and the prayers coming your way.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Between getting married, menopause, and losing my mother, I've struggled to drop those pesky 10 pounds that just keep hanging on. I've used the old Weight Watchers trick of logging everything I eat, with the thought that the tally would act as a governor of sorts. Lo and behold, when I became willing to be entirely honest with myself, I realized I'd been giving myself 3-4 "cheat" days each week. You know, "cheat" days, when it's ok to have that peanut butter sandwich, or another piece of pizza, or just a mere slice of cheese. Can we say, "half measures?" Eating clean 3 days per week does not result in weight loss. Bummer.

Where else do I use shortcuts, or cut corners? Housekeeping, for sure. I've subscribed to the "good enough" model for some time now. How about with my monthly step group? Ummm, I must admit that I do the bulk of my concentration in the few days before we meet. I start the month full of determination and reflection, then often need to remind myself that, oh! we're meeting on Sunday!

Someone recently said, referring to Step 7 (Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings) that the Higher Power can't take away my defects/defenses/unhelpful coping skills if I am still using them. Bam! I'd never thought of it that way, but of course. If I'm out there living with one foot in tomorrow and asking HP to take away my tendency to future trip, how does that work exactly? Am I asking that this defect be removed next week, since that's where my mind often resides? And what about my schedule - that thing I've been writing about in my journal and inventories for decades? It doesn't work to ask that my habit of over-booking be removed while I'm jotting down another appointment.

Sometimes shortcuts are ok. I don't iron pillowcases, like my mother did, and I sometimes fast-forward through movies. But, when it comes to my health or my spiritual program, shortcuts can be the beginning of a slippery slope. I'm not afraid that I'll drink today if I rush through my morning prayers or avoid a particular phone call, but I can get all sorts of crazy and off-balance when I ask the Universe for help and guidance, and keep doing the same old thing, again and again.

Years ago, a woman who was a brief regular at our home group owned a horse, and every Friday she would talk about the hassles she had with the place where she boarded the animal, and her conflicts with the other boarders. Every Friday. A dear friend looked at me after one of those meetings and said simply, "Everyone has their horse." Indeed. Everyone has their horse, be it finances or relationships, food or work, or sugar, or the to-do list - the particular "ism" that can dog our recovery for years. If I'm truly uncomfortable (and not just because I think I "should" be) I need to ask myself why I'm hanging on to this behavior. What purpose is it serving? Am I half-measuring ? Am I willing to surrender, and if so, what action doe that require on my part?  (in other words, I can't say "I give up" and order a bacon-cheeseburger with the next breath).

Change is hard. Sometimes I think it is harder as I move along in recovery because my habits are well tended, and the bad ones aren't as dramatic as in the early days when it was obvious what I needed to stop doing. What I've recently learned about change is that thinking of what I don't want to do simply gives energy to that negative. What I can do, no shortcuts allowed, is think about how I want to be in the world, and invite in the positive. I strive for a life balanced between work and pleasure, solitude and companionship. I can write that into my date book as a reminder, or repeat it as a mantra as I start my day. I can do my part in making myself ready for change. And, note to self, I can eat clean, if not 7 days a week, at least 5 or 6. (I'm only cheating myself when I give myself permission to ignore what I know will make me feel better, related to food or otherwise.)

Progress, not perfection, applies as much today as it did when I first got sober. I can be mindful of walking the line between relaxing into the process and holding myself accountable. Are there areas where you want to surrender?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

It is blog day, and yet another national tragedy has taken place. I don't want to write about yet another national tragedy where too many lost their lives. I am not putting my head in the sand (talk to me offline if you want to know how I feel and what I think) but today I want to write about friendship.

I had dinner the other evening with two lovely women from my home group. It was fun - eating guacamole, talking politics and program, our past lives and what we're up to today. I hope to do it again. I am consciously expanding my repertoire.

As a kid, friends were based on proximity - with those who lived on the block or around the corner. My cousins fit that too - they lived down the hill, an exhilarating bike ride away, or a good long walk, and our folks were often together on weekends - built in besties! In high school, grade school allegiances shifted and I gravitated towards the drinkers and stoners, the park-rats. The year after graduation, I got married, and inherited several friends-of-convenience - the wives of my husband's pals. At the time, I secretly planned my perfect life, which included a garden for tomatoes, going to college, and choosing my own friends. (I got that, exactly, after getting sober, and one of those friendships-initially-of-convenience-that-grew-into-sisterhood survived, thrived and continues.)

And then - SOBRIETY! Wow. Who were all these people? As the book says, normally we would not mix, but man, they were interesting. Back then, we ran in packs - in our late twenties and early thirties, we road-tripped to meetings and conferences, traveled together at home and abroad (always hitting meetings along the way). We went dancing - the AA disco dances that were so fun in the 80's, as well as out to the clubs - safety in numbers! We jogged and hiked and rode bikes together, and once took a volleyball game into a prison. We sat with each other and cried over break-ups, and were cheerleaders for that new job. Life and these friendships were amazing and joyful and included everything I'd looked to the bottle to fulfill.

And, time marches on. Over time, we paired up or moved away, and adult priorities took the place of dancing every weekend. We got real jobs or went back to school, and catching a 10 pm movie on a weeknight was no longer realistic. Email often took the place of phone calls, and then texting took the place of both. And here we are, in late middle-age, with aging or dying parents, grand-kids, or kids in college, stressful jobs or getting ready to retire. In early recovery, everything was about said recovery, and we either overlooked or didn't even talk much about political or values differences. Some of those differences have surfaced as we've grown from exploring into becoming who we truly are, and what was similar 20 years ago may not feel the same today.

I have several dear friends who I can go months without talking to, only to take up where we left off. But, generally speaking, friendships require attention. A couple of years ago I was feeling particularly lonely. Recently married, my schedule had shifted as I adjusted, with pleasure, to the life I share with my spouse. My regular meetings changed, as did time spent with friends. And then my mother entered hospice - another shift of time and priority. Coming through that, slowly and painfully, I realized that I'd developed a bad habit of going a week or more without talking, really talking, to anyone other than my husband, people I supervise, or people I sponsor. The well was running dry. I made a commitment to actually speak (in person or on the phone) with at least one friend per week - no texting, and email didn't count. I felt better - imagine that.

I am grateful for the friends that I travel with, the friends that I eat with, the friends that I laugh and cry with. I am grateful for shared histories, and new discoveries of commonalities. I am grateful for love that transcends differences of opinion or of politics. I know that I am in good company for this journey into the next phase of our development.

So, there was another horrible national tragedy this week. I can grieve with my husband, and talk with certain friends. I can get in touch with my step-daughter and her mother, just to send love. I can remember to let people know when I appreciate them. I can tend to my friendships, old and new.

Who do you want to reach out to this week?

Thursday, September 28, 2017

My sponsor, who is retired, says that time seems to move more slowly when her agenda is not crammed full. Maybe. I look forward to those days when I can finish a project to my satisfaction in one sitting, when I can put something off because tomorrow is another open day. Tinged with that looking forward is the gut-deep understanding that this also means I'm moving closer to the end of it all. I'd like to make it to 100, healthy and alert. Seems a reasonable goal. I've run 10 marathons and done a 100 mile bike ride, so why not? Yes, I know - not mine to say.

In the meantime I will continue to be amazed at the passage of time. Where did September go? Never mind September, where did the past decades go? I've been married over 6 years now. It's been nearly 5 since my mother passed. I'm nearing 30 years in my career. My little brother will be 60 next month. 60! I remember holding him on my lap when he came home from the hospital. I was only 3, but I certainly recall being annoyed because he cried in the night. 60.

Several friends and I are organizing a 50th 8th-grade reunion - half a century. I was a late comer to our grade school - moved into the neighborhood before 3rd grade - but it is so fun contacting people from those years, thinking, "I've known you since I was 9!"  Crazy. And brings me joy that 3 of us on the "committee" are in recovery, with at least another couple from our class also in the rooms. As tail-end baby-boomers, we were fortunate to sober up...

A sponsee and I talked a while back about our years in program and how we have meeting-nostalgia, remembering when we all went to this particular place for lunch week after week, or the kick-ass dances we used to organize, or those who were old-timers when we started coming around.

I realize that I am bordering on being an old woman, and nostalgia seems to come with the territory. I jog (not quite ready to call myself a walker, though for all intents and purposes, that's what I do) in and around the old neighborhoods, memories seeping up from sidewalks and whispering  from the trees in the park where we practically lived on weekends during high school. I often pass the house where my cousins lived, the house where I hit bottom, where I grew up, the streets I walked to and from school...  Driving in the city sometimes comes with a disconnect, when one more Rite-Aid is where that funky old jazz club used to be, but making my way through the neighborhoods on foot, whether that's NW down by the Alano Club, or NE up near the grade school, feels familiar.

I'm grateful that the program feels familiar to me now. Those early years when everything was new were exciting times, yet terrifying. What next? Uh oh - now what? There are benefits to being an old-timer, mainly that I've walked through so much that not a lot throws me anymore. Not that I enjoy calamity, but I've lost jobs and relationships and people I love. I've moved, grieved beloved pets, watched the next generation of family members grow up and start their own families. I've worked steps and been in therapy and had sponsors, and sponsored many. And as important, I've watched and walked along with others going through their own pains and joys.

Such a gift, this sober life. I've said that before, and likely will again. I used to roll my eyes at those who counseled me to keep an "attitude of gratitude," but it's true - even when I'm tired and cranky, or feeling like too much life is happening at once, pausing to think about what might have been and about my many blessings, can always jolt me at least momentarily from whatever funk I may be in.

Life moves forward. I'm grateful for all that has gone into getting me to where I am today. And I'll continue to appreciate those memory-triggers that connect me to who I am and where I come from.

What are the memories that reach out to you from the past?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

I have never been so glad to see the season shift from summer to fall. I am not a hot weather fan to begin with, and this summer has felt oppressive with high day temps, little cooling at night, 52 days without rain, and the pall of smoke and ash from nearby forest fires that caused Portland air-quality to dip below that of Beijing. I've been to Beijing, and trust me, after five days, nearly everyone in our group was coughing - kind of like here in recent weeks.

And now the rains come and the seasons turn, oh joyous Autumnal Equinox! Yes, I know - that means that soon we'll be going to work and coming home in the dark, and it will be wet and cold. Yay! Blankets and sweaters and hot cups of tea - I am ready.

What of the seasons of sobriety? I used to hate it when some old fart would smile and say, "You're right where you're supposed to be," metaphorically patting me on the head. But it's true. There are markers and signposts and seasons in recovery if I'm open enough to heed them.

New sobriety, those first three - nine months, were about the detox and about establishing new habits of going to meetings and picking up the phone. Early recovery, up to about five years, was about emotional sobriety and getting established, or re-established, in the world. The middle years, extending into the teens and early twenties for me, was about causes and conditions - going ever deeper with the inventory (& some outside help) to examine my past (events, decisions and the accident of my birth - as in: this particular family, this particular time, this particular place) in order to unravel the patterns that either kept me stuck or moved me forward.

What about now? What about long term recovery? What about where long term recovery and aging coincide? That's what I'm attempting to ascertain in these pages. Some people with long term sobriety stop going to meetings, some continue, some go more often once they've retired, some less. What seems to be happening for me is that I am much more comfortable in my own skin. Addiction is progressive, but so is recovery. I'm more comfortable in my own skin, and those tasks of later adulthood, such as letting go of a career and launching kids into the world, as well as the monumental spiritual challenge of learning to gracefully walk through grief and loss, are where my program comes into play. It's life on life's terms - always has been. And I can get into trouble when I start thinking that I'm supposed to go it alone, stop asking for help, figure it out.

There have always been people walking the path in front of me. I may need to look with a bit more diligence for the taillights these days, and more often than not, I find that my mentors and guides are walking beside me rather than ahead. We truly do together what we cannot do alone.

What season are you in, of your life or your recovery? Who are your guides for the path ahead?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

My home group is awesome. Over the years, I've felt that way about a variety of meetings - our Friday evening "family" of various configurations that was the precursor to so many hilarious meeting-after-the-meeting dinners, holiday parties and other gatherings; the huge Saturday nooner where 15 strong, solid women sat against one wall week after week; the break-away from that big group that began in the tiny bride's dressing room at a local church. Last night I ran into someone from my very first home group, a young woman who came in at 16 and used Led Zepplin as her Higher Power. She is now nearly 50, with 33 years sober. I was moved to tears as we talked about those who've passed on in the years since we all sat around that long table upstairs at Irvington - Boxcar Leonard, Jack, Kim, Wayne, ... those who welcomed me when I still felt like a shivering denizen of King Alcohol's mad realm; those who helped me feel at home in this strange new world of sobriety.

My home group today meets on Sundays at 11am - church time, and that's often what it feels like. Our name is, "We Had to Have God's Help," from a section of Chapter 5 in the Big Book, and shares frequently circle back to the miracle of recovery and the sometimes harsh reminders that we don't do this thing alone.

To me, a home group encompasses all aspects of community. "We are people who normally would not mix" but do, based on our mutual tragedy and our mutual goal. My favorite home groups over the years are the ones that walk through life on life's terms with its members - births and deaths, marriages and break-ups, jobs and school and what do I do about the holidays? In the home group we notice who is missing, and welcome those who've wandered. Sometimes, in a big group, there are pockets of friends. In a smaller group, we're all friends, at least during the hour that we come together.

Sometimes people will describe this or that meeting as being "clique-y," like there is an inner circle. What I notice is that each meeting has a culture, and yes, the people who know each other, know each other. I try to be mindful of greeting those new to our group. And I know that I'm not going to feel at home in a particular meeting until I start showing up with some regularity.

Speaking of regularity, I met with one of my in-home groups this week - a foursome that has been gathering for, what - six or seven years now? We've worked through the steps under various disciplines, from Alanon, to Buddhist, to applying the steps to the aging process. It is so very comfortable to sit with these people, first in meditation, then in sharing. It is where I trust, and am trusted. It is where I am myself, and no longer need to describe my issue-of-the-day in detail because it is remarkably similar to my issue-of-last-year and my friends know who I am.

That knowing-who-I-am is the part of a home group that is invaluable - both you knowing who I am, and me learning who I am. Sometimes I say what I need to hear in a meeting, though I don't know that until the words comes out of  my mouth.

Home groups change. People move on, and people move in to take their place. I change. My schedule changes, my needs change, connections change. I used to worry about that, thinking I was doing something wrong for wanting to move on, but I think it simply means I'm alive and I'm human. We alcoholics are known to dislike change, but often change merely indicates growth in one area or another.

My home group is awesome. I hope you feel the same way about yours. If not, why? What might need to change to make it so?

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

When I last wrote, it was about a sense of place, those environments that feel our soul. Today, I am feeling a soul-sickness over fires raging in the Columbia River Gorge, changing the landscape that means so much to so many. It struck me that this will be one of those things, one of those defining and memorable moments that we will talk about in the years to come: the Tillamook Burn of 1933, charred remains of the forest still visible when I was a kid 30 years later, the Columbus Day Storm of 1962, “the Flood of ’96,” and now the Gorge fires of 2017.  

What about the defining and memorable moments in our own lives? So often it can feel like I head in to work on Monday morning, blink a few times, and it’s Friday. Much of my daily life is routine, and I’m ok with that. But there are defining moments, those events that stay with us and feel like turning points for better or worse, those stopping points where I say, "Self, pay attention. Notice what you are doing and how you are feeling, because this is important." I think of my father’s death, the amazement I felt climbing inside the pyramids at Giza, all that was involved in getting to treatment...   And then later, graduating with my Master’s Degree, walking on the Great Wall of China, our wedding day, my mother’s passing...  Were I to write out a timeline, there would be much more - jobs, relationships, adventures, heartbreak, marathons, loss. If we are fortunate, the adventures outweigh the valleys, but there are no guarantees.

The fire in the Gorge is not just about trees and displaced animals; it is about lived experience and memory associated with this particular place. So many of us are talking about how much this hurts. These are our forests, our trails, our home. We talk about our personal losses and triumphs with our peers and our therapists,but they are our experiences. Collective experiences invite a coming together to talk about the pain of loss, to wonder how we can help, to remind ourselves to take nothing for granted.

These last few weeks, with hurricanes and raging fires, I am reminded of the power of nature, and I pray that we can protect Mother Earth from ourselves; I am reminded of those other events that have shaped my history (my parent’s relation to the Great Depression, for example); and I think about my own life path that is so hugely important to me at any given moment, but in reality, is just a small piece of the puzzle. I think about the joy and sadness that visits each life, individually and as a group. Powerlessness is sometimes a relief, but sometimes it outright sucks. When life on life's terms seems unfair, it can be harder to practice the Serenity Prayer, but practice I must. Practice, and pray for rain. Practice and reach out to others who are hurting, with gratitude for our recovery programs that move me from isolation to community in both the best and the worst of times.

Where do you go for solace when you are hurting over events in the world? If you were to write a timeline of your life, what would be the high and low points? How have you shared about those with trusted others?

Thursday, August 24, 2017

I'm revisiting the idea of a sense of place, having just returned from 2 weeks in foreign parts. I had the pleasure of reading a novel set in the village where we stayed in the Outer Hebrides (Scotland) while there - Heartland by John Mackay. The author opens with "This was his land. He had sprung from it and would return surely to it. Its pure air refreshed him, the big skies inspired him and the pounding seas were the rhythm of his heart. It was his touchstone. Here he nourished his soul."

I wonder - does everyone feel this way about home? I recall a discussion in grad school where others described various exotic settings that felt like their spirit's home - high mountains, low desert floors, open meadows - that place of the cosmic exhale, usually someplace they'd visited and felt connection. At the time, I was slightly embarrassed to share that my place of deep breaths is the rain soaked Pacific Northwest, and more particularly, my corner of NE Portland. There are other places that make my heart sing - London & the Lake District in the UK,  New York City, the northern Oregon coast, the Olympic Peninsula... overall, my spiritual home is damp and green. My internal culture is informed by reading while winter rains batter the windows, the delight at spring's first daffodil, summers where I inevitably say, "It didn't used to get so hot!"

I also thought of the culture of our 12 Step programs as I traveled. Each meeting, whether home or abroad, is comforting in its sameness while having a particular set of norms. The meeting I attended in Edinburgh was hardcore.The chair person spoke of "living rough" (on the streets) prior to recovery, and another man's voice cracked with emotion as he shared the day's reading. In each share, gratitude for being alive and sober was the primary sentiment. The English speaking meeting in Reykjavik was a traveler's group, a marvelous conglomeration of Americans, Brits, a fellow from the Middle East, a German and a few Icelanders, several of whom talked about the stress of traveling with drinking friends, their challenges with shifting peer groups, and again, gratitude for being alive and sober. As I sat in that meeting on Sunday evening, I knew that my home group was gathering on Sunday morning back home. I felt connected, and, grateful for our 100's of choices here in Portland, each group with its individual culture as well, whether cerebral, by-the-book, or anything in-between.

I love to travel. It is my thing. And, one of the best parts of going away is coming home. Home to mossy sidewalks (dried up at the end of August), our little garden gushing ripe tomatoes, my dear spouse and our two cats (only one of which is speaking to me at the moment). As I've noted before, stepping out of my routine periodically, whether via a transatlantic flight, a run in the woods, or maybe reading a new author, is a good way to hit the reset button and remind myself both of the glories of this great big world, and the simple beauty of home.

Is your sense of place, your touchstone, related to where you grew up, or someplace else? How would you describe the culture of your favorite meetings?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

"How it Works" in the Big Book, references "our personal adventures, before and after." My adventures "before" were related to what could I get away with. Any actual adventures were clouded by hangovers and arguments.The adventure back then had to do with intent that was overcome by either inertia or intoxication. I love the scene in the movie "Boogie Nights" where the two girls are sitting on a bed, coked out of their minds, talking about all the things they are going to do - take a class, learn to macrame, get a life. And of course, the next day, with the hideous four horsemen galloping through their brains, all they end up doing is more coke.

Every minute of "after" has been an adventure of sorts, especially at the beginning - daily life was an adventure, both exciting and terrifying, as all grand adventures should be. Making new friends, going to school, getting a job, dancing, for heaven's sake...falling in and out of love, learning to show up and sit still and listen - the discovery of what I was capable of.

Today, life continues to be an exciting experience - both internal and external. A counselor in treatment used to say to us, "You can do anything you want to do, as long as you don't drink or use!" At first I balked at that idea - I couldn't become President, after all - not with my history. Then again, I wouldn't want to become President, of anything. What I want to do is travel and write and run in beautiful places. I want to be a good wife, a good step mom, a good sister, a good friend. I want to grow, and continue to explore the depths of my soul and my commitments.

I'm getting ready to embark on a grand adventure with two of my best buds. I may be out of consistent internet range, so will write again when I get home. In the meantime, I'll be out there in the world, gathering experience, living life.

What are your adventures today? Maybe the adventure of a new love or a new job? Maybe another round through the Steps? What is it that you look forward to?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

It's August. It's hot. And I am just about tapped out...

In the year+ that I've been writing this blog, I've become increasingly aware of my process. When something is on my mind - triggered by an event, a memory or something I've read - my writing flows and the entry nearly writes itself. When I sit down with a "maybe this" or "maybe that," the piece is chunky and clunky and doesn't feel quite right, which is where I am this week.

On this oppressively hot August day, my mind is in the doldrums of deep summer. I'm hitting my meetings. I have a new sponsee. I'm getting ready for vacation. And I don't have much to say. So I will sit in the luxury of air-conditioning and worry about the garden, and about the planet, with prayers that we're not too late to move from greed to conservation. I will make cobbler with fruit from the U-pick farm. I will appreciate in awe my fore-mothers who spent Augusts sweating over canning pots, and be grateful for the many conveniences of my time. I will express gratitude that, while I may be sweltering, I am not hung over.

And, when the spirit moves me, I will write again...

Sometimes recovery is front and center, and sometimes is it like an old friend who doesn't need much attending to. Where are you today? How do you maintain your recovery focus during the fallow periods?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

In "Naming," a chapter in David Whyte's book, Consolations,  he writes that "Naming love too early is a beautiful but harrowing human difficulty, Most of our heartbreak comes from attempting to name who or what we love and the way we love, too early in the vulnerable journey of discovery."

I've often said, only half-joking, that I'm the person who says at the beginning of a relationship, "Tell me you'll love me forever or leave now because, if not, I've got things to do." Sitting with uncertainty has never been my forte. Not knowing makes me nervous. As a kid growing up in an alcoholic environment, I learned to anticipate, to look around corners, to take the mood of a room in seconds. Waiting to see what developed wasn't a skill I learned, or wanted to. I was in a hurry - always. This tendency to anticipate mated with my natural energy and "Enjoy the good times before it all goes away" became my creed. Damn the consequences - I'm having fun now! Scooting out of the house to rejoin the street-ball game, climbing out of the upstairs window to meet friends at the park, moving along, moving along. My dad used to tell me to slow down. I always figured that the rest of you just needed to speed it up a bit. Come on, come on - we don't want to miss anything.

And then I met the man who was to become my husband. We started dating in November, and it wasn't until February that he told me he loved me. Four months was a reasonable amount of time to consider the possibilities of our budding relationship, though I was itchy for definition. I had prayed for a new experience, and I was getting one, so asked for a new set of tools to go with it. Sitting still when I wanted to run. Cultivating curiosity when I wanted absolutes. Deciding to let God be in charge while trying not to say, "Really? Are you sure?"

My relationship history contains stories of connections, obsessions, and liaisons with introverts. Funny, attractive introverts, usually with a history of depression. I can spot one in a room of 500 people. And then this extrovert showed up. Cute, but no bells and whistles - he didn't match my template, my road map of who and how I was supposed to couple. And so, despite my natural inclination, I sat still.This was foreign territory - what else could I do? I paid attention, to him and to my internal chatter; I said my prayers - many, many prayers. And here we are, nearly 8 years later, 6 of those married. I had no idea love could be so sweet.

My husband just had a sobriety milestone - 15 years. I know that some people are adamant about not dating another recovering person, but for me, it is imperative that my spouse and I speak the same language. My history doesn't scare him, because he's been there too. I'm so grateful that when I heard a woman share in a meeting about letting God choose her partner next time, I listened, despite my initial resistance. Nothing changes if nothing changes, and though it took a couple of decades, I was finally willing to jump off that cliff of trust, finally OK with not knowing what was coming next. My emotional world is safe today, and has been for a long time, though it took that long time for me to truly understand that I was being taken care of, and always had been. I'm still in a hurry much of the time, but today it is with awareness and a sense of choice, not compulsion.

We hear that romance and finance are where many of us struggle. What is the state of your emotions today? Where does love show up in your life, and how does it look different than what you expected?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Last night I sat in a park, listening to a couple of Blues masters, with two women that I've known since 3rd grade, my best friend since age 18, and her Auntie, a gal with more pizzazz at 88 than someone half her age.  My former sister-in-law was there with another group, as was a fellow I've known since we both came in to recovery 30+ years ago. Other attendees at the event were a combination of folks from the neighborhood, both gentrified and the original community. It was a beautiful evening. Watching a fellow in a wheelchair on the dance floor do with his arms and shoulders what he couldn't do with his legs, a beautiful young lesbian couple swing dancing, a woman keeping time with her own personal tambourine, and various old hippies and others grooving to the beat, reminded me how much I love Portland in the summer, and how grateful I am that several of my friends and I have stayed in or near the NE neighborhood where we grew up.

I told my story at a Speaker Meeting earlier this week, and as I was thinking about my remarks and the inevitable slide towards hitting bottom, it struck me that this is what I've always wanted, this life that is rich in its simplicity. Back when I had the notion that a little more research was in order, and shared that in a meeting, a woman in the back of the room, who I've only seen once since, said that when she got to AA, all she wanted was to stop drinking and stop hurting, but that she'd gotten so much more. She described her simple, beautiful life, saying that she enjoyed her work, had strong friendships and amended relationships with family, and that she went home to a good man at night. For the first time, I felt that ache of recognition - that "I want what she has" feeling of connection and similarity that we are sometimes fortunate to find in recovery. I didn't want her life, her friends, but I wanted those things for myself, and I realize now that is what I've always wanted.

I could add to the list: I wanted to see the world (check), I wanted to write a book (check), I wanted to go to college (check), but at the heart of things, what I really wanted was stability - a cozy home, a garden for growing tomatoes and flowers to put in a vase, good friends, good books, good music, and that good man to go home to at night.

I am blessed, dear people, and so thankful for the evolving nature of my gratitude. Oh sure, I can get snarky when I'm tired, or when one more person wanders into the intersection without so much as a glance up, but all it takes is a sweet summer evening with good friends and good music to remind me of just how beautifully simple this life of mine is.

We each have our own list of what makes us happy. What is on yours?

Friday, July 14, 2017

I've just returned from the paint store with 6 gallons of eggshell finish interior paint and all the accouterments (rollers, drop clothes, etc) - an actual paint store as opposed to a home improvement outfit. I am feeling quite competent.

Competence was not something I experienced before recovery. I was afraid - painfully shy and quiet (One of my cousins asked his sister, after I'd been sober a few years, "When did Jeanine get a personality?" When I stopped drinking, sir). In my jobs I was very competent, tending towards promotions, but in my personal life, I was inept - or so I thought myself.

My father was very competent - a handy man if there ever was one. He wasn't a particularly talented woodworker, but he had the basics down and built several shelves and cabinets, and even a bench with a lid. He knew his way around a hammer, and a saw, and a few other tools that I knew by name if not purpose. I didn't pay much attention to the workings of a household when I was growing up, more intent on sneaking around corners, on trying not to get caught at whatever I was up to. I got married the first time not knowing how to do much other than boil water. I learned how to run the vacuum and balance a checkbook and put together mom's meatloaf. It was a learn-as-you-go process, and I did not stretch myself beyond the minimum required.

There was an element of learned-helplessness to my m.o., whether that was cultural (as in "women should be..." or the drivel I absorbed from "ladie's" magazines  and pop music about my place in the world), or picked up from my mom  - that idea of feeling small and unsure. A friend once expressed his frustration, saying, "I know all these strong women who run marathons and run companies, and when I ask what they want for dinner, they whimper, 'Oh I don't know - what do you want?" Learning to want what I want, and say so, has been an element of growing up, of gaining confidence, of taking my place in the world.

For the first few months of my recovery, my ex - the one who'd left the country and married another woman - was very kind, and helped me financially. Then came the day when I needed to take out my own loan for my home. When my realtor met me at the Title Company I wanted to cry. Being fully self supporting through my own contribution hadn't been on my list of things to do, so I was surprised at how good it felt - how adult, how competent.

Going to school, buying a car, fixing the bathroom sink, painting the living room - all seemingly small things in the grand scheme of life, but each time I act my age and take responsibility for my surroundings as well as my happiness, my self-efficacy increases.

I don't remember getting many "life lessons" from my dad, but one of the things he did tell me was, "Don't be afraid to put enough paint on the brush." As I dive into my painting project, I'll remember his example and will take a moment to reflect on how far I've come from the fearful girl who readily handed off responsibility for my happiness and avoided anything that seemed like it might be hard, to a person who "intuitively knows how to handle situations that used to baffle me," even something as simple as what color to paint the living room.

How have you changed in the years you've been sober? Where do you have confidence where you used to think yourself small?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Music is a mind-altering substance. When I first got into recovery, there were certain songs I couldn't listen to - too many associations, too many triggers to rip and run, or doorways to grief. And all these years later, particular music can catch me off guard.

Like the other day, driving home on a beautiful summer evening, a Fleetwood Mac song came up on my mix-tape and I was in tears. I wasn't even a Fleetwood Mac fan - R&B was my jam. But there was that one summer when my lover played the Rumors album all through the long nights that we didn't sleep, a good seven years after release, but new to me. New to me, and hitting home with its "if you don't love me now, you will never love me again" refrain.

I've heard that particular song hundreds of times and usually sing along at the top of my lungs. But sometimes, when the wind is in the trees, and the sunlight is of a particular quality, I'm transported to that summer that was the bittersweet beginning of the end of my addiction. I sometimes think of it as the summer of lost love. But no, it was the summer of love squandered, of love stomped on and disregarded while I chased the shiny object of my infatuation and the deadly elixir that he cooked up in my basement while I sat in my lovely house, looking out at my lovely garden, listening to Fleetwood Mac while pretending that the man I loved wouldn't notice that I was shacked up with a meth cook.

Other songs take me to other places - that's what music does, this soundtrack of our lives. Stoned Soul Picnic is the old Bonneville Hot Springs with the pool that smelled like rotten eggs and the frigid river where my cousins and I would sneak a smoke before our moms woke up, and where we learned that Pam R drowned in the Columbia River, forever fifteen, forever gone.

80's pop takes me to early recovery. Fresh out of the disco era, my new friends and I considered dancing to be one of the Steps of recovery. Just like my folks did when I was a kid, we'd crank up the stereo and dance in the living room, or at the ratty PASS Club, or the URS, or that church hall in Vancouver. It was gloriously good fun.

My dad was a Dixieland and Big Band aficionado. He'd show me the goosebumps on his arms when he heard a particular passage on Pete Fountain's or Benny Goodman's clarinet. Oddly enough, it was the opening guitar chords of  a song I'd barely noticed when it came out, that had me on an August day weeping for my dad, feeling his presence in the car a good ten years after he died. I would love to feel him again like I did that day, almost like he was sitting in the backseat, but I don't. Music is a mind altering substance, but just like other substances, inconsistent in the when and the how it alters me.

I love that way that music can transport me to another time and place. What songs make you laugh, or cry? How do you merge old memories with new associations? What would be on the mix-tape of your recovery?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

I was invited this week to talk with a group of young social work students from Belfast, Ireland about 12 Step recovery, so called "mutual aid" groups (as distinguished from "self-help" - if we could've helped ourselves, believe me, we would have!).

Near the end of my presentation, a young woman asked why AA has remained the same over the years - why there have been no changes based on current scientific research into addiction. I left feeling like I hadn't done my job very well if she thought that AA was treatment for alcoholism, although I do think that is often how it comes across. Going to AA helps me stay sober, but it is both more and less that "treatment." 12 Step recovery is about filling the empty space that is left when we stop ingesting substances. It is about learning healthy coping skills, like changing our behavior and making amends when we cause harm or hurt feelings. It is about gaining self-awareness and identifying patterns (of thoughts or behaviors) that keep us from moving forward. It offers a path to healing. It is about God, however one defines that concept.

The Big Book tells us that its purpose is to help us find a Power greater than ourselves that will solve our problem, our problem being the drink. That's not scientific, but it is real - ask anyone who goes from falling down drunk to a life of recovery. I clearly remember a woman named Ann looking around the meeting room when I was newly sober saying, "I hate to break it to you, but this is about God" and how that made me nervous, not because I had a particular beef with the idea of a god, but because I had no idea what a personal relationship with a higher power could be. In my mind, god meant restrictions - the list of "thou shalt nots..."  - and my behavior during my addictions was full of the "no, you shouldn't but yes you just did."

My idea of god/God/Creator, and my relationship with same, has most definitely changed over the years, from the Santa Claus God of early sobriety to focused exploration of different faith paths, to what today feels like a comfortable friendship. As I was told early on, if I could explain God, I wouldn't need it, so somewhere along the line I was able to give up the quest to define what is indefinable.

Today I hear God in the stories of hope in my meetings. I see God in the sunrise, or my step daughter's enthusiasm for life. I feel God when I sit quietly during my morning meditation time, or when I hold my spouse's hand as we connect at day's end. And without recovery, I'd miss each and every opportunity to be aware of the presence of a power greater than myself working in my life and the lives of others.

I didn't have a great answer for the young woman who wondered why AA didn't change with the times. The pat answer is that "if it works, don't fix it." The bigger answer is that my relationship with 12 Step recovery on a personal level is ever evolving and changing, and will continue to do so as long as I remain open and teachable.

How is your relationship with a god of your understanding different than it was when you first got sober? How do you stay open to the evolving nature of faith?