Wednesday, January 25, 2017

When to speak up, when to shut up?

Like many of us, I have opinions related to the current state of affairs. Many other people have opinions too, and we don't always agree. What to do? Often, my first reaction is righteous indignation, but that never solved a thing, whether it's a political difference or how to set up the chairs for a meeting. When do I speak up, and when do I simply keep my mouth shut?

I allowed my buttons to get pushed earlier this week regarding a political topic. I say "allowed" because I chose to visit a social media site. I chose to follow a link that I suspected would be upsetting. I chose to read said link. I did exercise some restraint by not reacting immediately, but I did state my views a day later, in what I considered polite terms, and from my heart. But what were my motives?

Marieanne Williamson once wrote that she gets herself in trouble when she allows herself to go unconscious with her motives. Ah yes. I can justify all sorts of things if I'm not honest with myself at the deepest levels. What is it I am trying to accomplish? Am I making a decision, comment or action based on self? When do I need to seek counsel before taking that action?

A recovery acronym that I need to employ more often advises me to THINK before speaking - ask myself if what I am about to say is Thoughtful, Helpful, Intelligent, Necessary, and Kind - and not just one of the above, but all five! I plan to change the "Intelligent" to "Intent." What is my intent in sharing my view? Is it in an effort to change another person? Not the best motive, and not generally effective. Is it because I want be true to myself and remaining silent would imply approval? Better, but even then I can be reacting rather than responding. What I try to remember in my personal interactions is to ask myself, "Did they ask for my opinion?" and unless the answer is a resounding "Yes!" I'm better off keeping quiet. So, a) did they ask for my views? and b) does my answer meet THINK?  The seconds spent contemplating my side of the street could be just enough of a pause that I might not answer at all. A friend once shared that he has a lot of different feelings during the day, but he doesn't have to attach a sentence to every one. I can use that reminder for my opinions too.

There are a lot of opinions floating around in this world. As I got my teeth cleaned today, the hygienist shared her vehement views of whether or not the City of Portland should put salt on the roads when it snows. I had a countering view, but my "pause" came in the form of her two hands in my mouth. By the time I came up for air, I realized that I really didn't need to say anything. I'm not always graced with such an obvious block to sharing my views, but it probably wouldn't hurt to bring back that memory when I find myself just dying to speak.

One would hope that with long-term recovery comes a certain amount of wisdom. One would hope. I did find myself using the Serenity Prayer in recent days with renewed vigor. I am also attempting to be more discerning of that fine line between staying informed and following every rabbit trail and news feed. As always, self care involves self awareness.When do I need to detach from social media, or turn off the TV? How do I remain an informed citizen without falling into fear or anger? Exchanging serenity for agitation is not in my best interest, unless I can use that agitation for good purpose.

I wonder what Bill and Dr. Bob would think of technology that allows for recovery conversations across the globe, and immediate access to every imaginable bit of information. I can only guess they'd be as fascinated as we seem to be, and would recognize this instant access as both a blessing and a curse. And, back in the 1930's, they suggested that "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). Sound counsel then, and now.

This probably isn't the last you'll hear from me about practicing the principles in all my affairs. The key here is my affairs. What is mine to do, and what isn't. When do I speak, and when do I not?

 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.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


I am a runner. An aging, slowing runner, but a runner nonetheless.What I lack in speed and skill, I more than make up for in enthusiasm and consistency. For me, it's about suiting up and showing up, which has resulted in 10 completed marathons, and a 20 mile trail run done in honor of my 62nd birthday in Oct.  However... between three head colds and winter weather, I barely ran during December, and here we are with more snow and a deep freeze in January. I've set my gear out several nights for an early morning run, only to venture as far as the porch and say, "Not today." The melt is coming and I assume I'll get back to my regular regimen, but I can certainly understand how easy it would be to just drift away from my fitness practice. After all, I'm older now, and it's cold out, and I don't want to fall. Give me a few minutes and I'll come up with more excuses. I mean reasons. I mean excuses.

I was in a meeting last week where 4 people shared about not getting to meetings for up to a month, and how they'd started to feel a little wonky. My initial judgment jumped in with an internal, "Nobody ever asked me if I felt like going to a meeting - you just go," but, alas, my recent running experience has upped my compassion and understanding of how one can just drift away - too busy, too cold, too dark, the kids are sick, I'm sick, work is piling up... oh, I don't really need a meeting anyway.

Consistency is an important component of my recovery tool kit, as necessary with 31 years in as it was at three months.  It might be even more important to me now that life is stable and I don't feel the "need" like I did in the early days. I've been fairly regular during my years in the fellowship, but the few times I did slack off a bit, whether related to traveling, work, or "life," I felt a little weird going back, like I didn't quite fit, or that I really didn't want to hear one more person talking about emotions. However, our literature reminds me that I am not cured of alcoholism, but have a "daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of (my) spiritual condition." Part of maintaining my spiritual fitness is the fellowship, the reminders I hear of what happens when we give up our program, as well as my responsibility to show up and be an example of long term sobriety. I was told long ago that if I only plan on 1 meeting a week, and miss that, I've been 2 weeks without a meeting, which is not a healthy place for me. Planning for 2-4 a week gives me some wiggle room when life on life's terms does happen. It is a different prescription for everyone, but 3 meetings a week seems to be my baseline. 1 will do, 2 is OK, but 3 is when I feel most connected. I need that reminder that my life is good today not because I am in charge, but because of the grace of god. Meetings, as rambunctious and full of profanity as they can sometimes be, are like my church; where I go to give witness, and to witness in others the miracle of recovery.

Consistency matters, whether that is in regard to running, eating healthy, meditation, meetings, or all of the above. I can't run twice a month and expect to run a marathon. I can't meditate a few times and expect to reach nirvana.  I can't hit 1 meeting a month, expecting serenity.

Like many of us in the Portland area, I'm a little stir crazy with the weather, looking forward to my routine. I find solace and comfort in the structure of our program, and when I am able to bring at least some structure to my daily life. Someone once shared with me that initially she thought of structure as binding, but then realized that it is freeing. When I am consistent in my structure (running, meetings, "fill in the blank") I have the freedom to explore new ventures, to fully experience what the day has to offer.

Today, I am thanking God for the rain and above-freezing temps that have just arrived. What are you grateful for today? Are there areas where you need more consistency or structure in your life?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Name it, claim it, tame it...

This week I had an experience where a past hurt, in the form of shame, reached across the years to remind me that no matter how much time I have in recovery, I still have emotional work to do.

In a brief exchange, someone responded to me with unexpected sarcasm. Usually, I would brush it off, but these particular words, in this particular tone of voice, cut me and I started to cry. After their apology, I got off of the phone, but the tears didn't stop and I remembered that "when I'm hysterical, it's historical." I know that when my reaction to a situation is out of proportion to the event, there is a deeper root.

So, I intentionally sat with the intensity of the pain. As I was able to quiet my mind, I could sense that my tears were very young and from a place of feeling small and defective, like a nuisance. I don't remember my parents ever speaking to me with sarcasm or hurtful words, but I do recall the sensation of being in the way. What I know from years of recovery work (inventory, outside help, education) is that often, as little children, we make decisions about the world and our place in it that are based on our perception, not necessarily the reality that an adult might see. We, or rather, I, carry this worldview into adulthood, and without exposure, I run the risk of continuing to react to stressful situations like the wounded 5 year old I once was.

Getting to those inner layers of truth isn't easy. For a time, into early recovery, I'd misplaced the journals and diaries I'd kept since 5th grade. When I finally found them, buried in a closet, I opened the volumes from 7th & 8th grades, hoping for a miracle revelation. I was looking for the one entry that would explain why I started drinking, why I had such low self-esteem, why I was starting on the journey of alcoholism. No such luck. There was an entry that said, "Dad got home from the hospital today. He had a nervous breakdown," followed the next day with "I wore my new yellow jumper to school. Greg H said hello to me in the hall." Introspection was not a trait of 13 year old me.

Sometimes the Universe does hand me lessons on a silver platter. When I'd been sober quite some time, I stopped at Mom's to introduce her to a new date. When I saw her a few days later, she asked, "Does he like you?"  Not, "Do you like him?" or "Are you compatible?" but "Does he like you?" Thank you, dear Mother, for that illustration of one of my basic flaws - being more concerned with whether "he" likes "me" than vice versa.  Another time, when once more I heard a berating voice in my mind chastising me for some minor mistake, I had the realization that it wasn't even my voice, but my Dad's. And not a voice he used with me, but one he used, out loud, to himself. Oh. I can stop that now. I truly don't need to carry my father's self criticism any further.

But, it is rarely so obvious. It is much easier to blame and point the finger - He shouldn't talk to me like that! She needs to be nicer to me! (Beware the "shoulds" in any form!). The more painful, but ultimately more rewarding process is to slow it down and wait for the story to unravel. When have I felt like this before? Does this remind me of anything from my past? What do I need to do to take care of myself?

What I did this week was allow the tears. I wrote about it, and in the healing magic of putting pen to paper was able to see where my hurt in the present was attached to the past. I then shared about it - with 2 trusted friends, and then in a general way, at one of my regular groups. And I talked to the other person involved, calmly, and from my point of view (when you said this, I felt that), finishing with "Thank you for triggering me, because it helped me to heal."

I am certainly not claiming that my feelings will never be hurt again, but by taking the time to dig deeper than the zing of emotion this time, I hope to be able to put spiritual distance between the feelings and my response next time. And in that spiritual space I can remember that the winds of other people's moods do not need to impact mine. I can remember that what made sense at 5 or 6 years old doesn't anymore. I can remember that speaking my truth can take the power out of my pain or confusion or shame. No matter what 5 year old me thought, I am not defective. I am not a nuisance. I am no longer small.

How do you practice self care when your emotions are triggered? Where do you need healing?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017


This week I celebrate another sobriety anniversary - my 31st, to be exact. This is a big deal in that I was 31 years old when I entered recovery, impacted first by the family disease and then my own. And now the scales have balanced. Thank you to all the Powers that Be, those of my understanding and otherwise.

What does it mean to celebrate in recovery? Certainly not what it used to. In Drinking & Drugging Land, celebration meant toasts - to the birthday girl, the happy couple, the promotion, the winning team - with something of a higher quality and quantity than everyday drinking. One celebrates Tuesday, or even Friday, with one's usual drink, whereas a birthday called for the good stuff, however that is defined: pizza at mom's with fancy beer; dinner out, with a second or third bottle of wine, a surprise party with an open bar...  In those near-the-end years, we once celebrated a friend's marriage with four of us locked in the bathroom, after the minister did her part, to inject speed in unison. It turned awkward fairly quickly as the groom and I both suffered from shy veins, but the intent was there. Celebrate!

Learning to celebrate sober is one of the tasks of early recovery. Some of the questions I hear are: What will I do if I ever get married? What if  my daughter gets married? How about at a wake? The idea of not imbibing is scary when we first get sober. In essence, we're asking, "Who am I without a drink in my hand? How will I mark a special occasion without a toast?" "How can I be comfortable/social without a drink?" And, as important, "What will people think of me if I don't join the festivities?"

And let's not forget dancing as celebration. How in the world can I dance without having at least a few drinks? And music? How will music sound if I'm not stoned/drunk/under the influence? Will it ever be the same? "Will I ever be the same?"

Thankfully, no. The same person would get drunk again. Recovery offers the opportunity to redefine oneself and one's habits, which is both terrifying and exciting. I saw B.B. King perform in my first few months of sobriety. I was incredibly nervous about being in a drinking establishment, with a drinking friend, and concerned that I'd be bored. Au contraire. The music was fantastic, and being sober, I was able to notice and appreciate every nuance, every note, and remember every detail the next day. When I attended my first AA dance, again in those initial months, I was anxiety stricken. I'd never been a very good dancer, and always needed the magic of booze to work up the nerve to get on the floor. I shared the same with an older member, only to be told, "Jeanine, you're in a room full of self-centered alcoholics. No one's going to be paying the least bit of attention to you." He was right. And if you've ever been to a sober dance, you know that they are some of the most rollicking events ever. Celebrate.

Over time, celebrating sober has meant many things, from playing AA Charades in the backyard (imagine acting out the "shivering denizen of King Alcohol's mad realm"), to a midnight meeting following a party on New Year's Eve. It often does include dancing, whether in a kitchen with the table removed, a friend's beautiful hardwood living room, or a hall we've rented for the occasion. Food is nearly always involved too, and in true 12 Step style, potluck, which can mean either a feast, or a whole lot of potato chips.

What I find as times goes on is that celebrating has become quieter, and more focused on the spiritual. A walk on the beach or in the woods, lighting candles, writing inventory or intentions - taking a moment from the everyday to mark an experience as special. I don't require fireworks to let me know when something is a big deal these days. I know. What I consider a big deal has shifted too. Sobriety is a big deal. Good health is a big deal. Our wedding was a big deal. Sharing laughter or tears with a friend is a big deal, as are the birthdays and anniversaries, graduations and all the other successes of a sober life.

Recovery provides the awareness to celebrate the every day. Not like when I'd drink to Wednesday, just because it was a reason to drink, but because I appreciate the moments I've been given, this second chance to fully participate in my own life. Today, I celebrate 31 years of continuous sobriety, which is, in essence, a series of celebrating life itself, one day at a time.

How do you celebrate? What do you do to mark those events that are special?