Tuesday, March 28, 2017

One day at a time.  Sometimes two or three...

I continue to bump up against the "one day at a time" concept. I say "concept" because even though all any of us really have is today, this moment, I am of the inclination and disposition to mentally live about an arm's length away - making plans, wondering what's next, writing in my calendar. Reminder to self: butt in chair, feet on the floor. Where am I right now, this very second?

We've all heard the recovery adage that if we have one foot in the past and one in the future, we are pissing on today, with the implication that focusing on anything but today is a wasteful error of time and energy. I recently heard an interesting take on this idea. What this person shared was that it is also true that there are events and reactions from the past that I have learned from and can draw strength from in this moment. Conversely, it is also true that there are aspects of the future that draw me forward and keep me motivated and engaged. It goes back to perception - am I looking at the past with regret, or with appreciation? Do I see the future fearfully, or with hopeful anticipation?

We were given a copy of the little Twenty-Four Hours a Day book in treatment, which we read each morning as a group. The forward contained this little gem that my friend and I often read together while the peers gathered:

Look to this day, for it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the realities and verities of existence,
The bliss of growth, the splendor of action, the glory of power --

For yesterday is but a dream, and tomorrow is only a vision,
But today, well lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and
Every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look well, therefore to this day.                                    (Sanskrit Proverb)

And so, if I find myself attempting to live in either the past or the future, I will examine my perspective as well as my motives. Am I daydreaming about days gone by to either beat myself up for choices made, or to distract from what is going on right now?  Perhaps I am enjoying a reminiscence about a particular event or person. Only I can answer whether or not I'm engaging in morbid reflection, escapism, or simply remembering.  Am I future-tripping based on not having enough information? Am I trying to predict the unpredictable? Or, am I making plans and turning the results over to the Higher Power?

I stand tall today because of all that I've walked through, and because of the influence of those who've been part of my journey. Even the most painful moments have contributed to my spiritual growth. I find motivation for the future when I plan for special events, time with friends or family, or simply laying out my clothes for the next morning's run. I can live in this moment while fully attached to where I've been and where I'm headed.

So, one day at a time, and sometimes two or three. What motivates you along the path? What strengths do you draw on from your past experiences?  What excites you about the future?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Cunning, baffling and powerful...

A young man I'd been working with as a mentor since January took his own life last week. He suffered (& it truly is suffering) from anxiety, but seemed determined to make a go of his chosen education and career path. I find myself wondering if we pushed him too hard, if he was too fragile for the environment, if I could've done something differently, all the while understanding that this was his choice, however much I might wish otherwise.

I sometimes, even if briefly, forget that addiction and alcoholism, and all the attached "ism's" are a fatal malady - a chronic, progressive, relapsing condition. I thrive in my spiritually driven group discussions, my spirit soars when a sponsee demonstrates her fire for recovery, I love our conferences and potlucks and speaker meetings. And, too many of us die lonely and sad, deaths tragic because it so often seems that there might've been another way.

The Big Book suggests that we shouldn't engage in "morbid reflection." Sometimes, though, I think it is a good to remember that we don't all make it; that every day alive and sober truly is a gift. Let me not waste it on trivial worries. I disagree with the old-timer who used to say, "There are no big deals." There are big deals, but most of what occupies my mind are luxury problems. I know where I'm sleeping tonight. I've had enough to eat today. I live in relative safety and security. My loved ones are safe. I am in recovery.

Thank you, Higher Power, for another day clean & sober. And God's Blessings to C. and his family...

Thursday, March 16, 2017


Years ago I heard Shakti Gawain, author of Creative Visualization, describe life as a beautiful bowl of fruit. She said that we too often have our face stuck so far into the bowl that we don't see the glory. I get it. I have a brief workday commute down a lovely tree-lined street, then past an open field where I sometimes see deer on their morning trek. But I often catch myself seeing no further than the windshield, so caught up in day-to-day ruminations that I forget to look up at the beauty that surrounds me.

My dear spouse and I were in San Francisco visiting his family this past week and had a few unstructured days. No laundry, no vacuuming, no cooking for the week ahead - none of my usual to-do's.While I love my work, what I often crave is space. Sitting on a deck overlooking the city, I had that, even if temporarily.

It is important for me to have these times away, whether that is a literal trip away, or a walk in the woods here at home. As a person who functions best with structure, I need to be mindful of not letting that solidify into a rut. Sometimes it feels like I go through the gate at work on Monday morning, blink a few times, and poof! it's Friday. Where does the time go, not when I'm having fun, but when I'm not paying attention?

The program tells us that we can start our day over anytime. I would extend that to reminding myself that I can change my perspective anytime. I met a woman once who drank after 12 years and she said it was because she wanted the feeling of starting over. I don't need to take a drink to start over or energize my spiritual program. Sometimes all it takes is to really hear the words of my morning prayers, rather than recite by rote, or consciously pay attention to the person I'm interacting with.Where I place my attention is a choice. I can stay trapped between my ears or I can open my eyes and my mind to the world around me.

Taking a break helps me to catch my cosmic breath and view the world from a different perspective. Attending some great meetings (shout out to Bernal New Day!), time with family or wandering around a different city serve to clear my mind and heart just a bit. As I re-enter my usual routine, I pause to think of how I can re-set at any time, in any place.

How do you pay attention? What do you do when you need the re-set button?

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Daphne and other musings...

In thinking about Step 3, which is where we make the decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of a power greater than ourselves, I've been pondering the concept of surrender vs effort, and the apparent paradox that I must "try" in order to let go. Maybe try isn't the correct word. Maybe it is more about showing up and making myself ready to be changed, and letting go of expectations around particular results. How does one open one's mind, exactly? Raised on cartoons, I picture a can opener, flipping the lid of my top three inches. In cartoon land that space would be pretty full -  full of memories and opinions, recipes for success and for stroganoff, to-do lists and that thing that was on the tip of my tongue, song lyrics and tv commercials, and tucked into a corner, that space marked "GOD."

The clandestine chemist that I was involved with prior to entering recovery, often talked to me about Lao tzu and the philosophy of not-doing. According to Lao tzu, "Practice not doing and everything will fall into place." At the time, I thought this was an excuse for not picking up the kitchen, for not getting a job, for not showing up in the way I thought a boyfriend should show up. As a do-er, I am only slightly more open to the concept these days, though will admit that sitting still continues to be one of my weak spots. I have been consistently sitting, in the meditative sense, for 10-15 minutes most days of the week since the turn of the year, but to claim that my mind is any kind of quiet would be dishonest.

But, I try. I make the effort by sitting still in my little chair, the same little chair that I used to sit in to shoot dope. I've found that the setting doesn't matter as much as the intent. Over time, I've been able to recreate positive associations where before was only pain. That goes for places, for some people, and the seasons, any one of which brings it own set of melancholic remembrances. The anniversary of this loss in the winter, of that sadness in summer, and the generalized ache that comes for me at the beginning of autumn and spring.

I've caught the faintest whiff of daphne blossoms during my morning runs these last few days. Daphne, oh sweet and citrus delight. I've always said that if heaven has a smell, it will be daphne. So, why does something so beautiful sometimes make me want to cry? Smell is one of the strongest memory inducers, and the painfully lovely smell of daphne evokes a very dark time in my past when spring's glory felt like a slap in the face.

This was before recovery, when I couldn't see further than the lonely hours that stretched in front of me (AA's have no monopoly on one day at a time - ask any addict where their focus lies). I was unemployable, the man whom I'd made my Higher Power had married someone else, and for a very brief moment, I couldn't see the point of going on. The daphne bush outside my back door taunted me with its promise of sunny days ahead. Not for me, I thought. Not for me.

And then, through the miracle of surrender, the healing process began. And it continues. Surrender to the Higher Power isn't "one and done," but a decision that I must make daily; sometimes several times a day. When I was a girl, my dear grandmother, a practicing Christian Scientist, gave me a little plaque that I keep in my bathroom today: "Father, Mother God, lovingly Thee I seek; in the way Thou hast, be it slow or fast, up to Thee." (Mary Baker Eddy)  My decision, my spiritual connection, isn't accomplished on my time. All I can really do is show up.

At the beginning, that was almost easier. I hit my knees every morning and night, with a gut-wrenchingly sincere "please" and "thank you." As time has gone on, I need to remember that I didn't get to where I am today on my own power. I've done the suiting up and showing up, but it is Grace that has done the healing. Let me never forget that.

At my monthly Step group last Sunday, I sat at the dining table with a woman I've known since grade school, and another since high school. Back then, we were acquaintances, on the edges of each other's group of friends. Even so, as we sat there with pens in hand, jotting down what resonated from others' shares, I was struck by a sweet sense of nostalgia for the girls we'd once been and gratitude for who we are today. Surrendering to the healing process that continues, day after day, year after year, has allowed me these delightful associations over time, these weavings in and out of each other's lives. I show up, with palms open, saying, "OK, now what?" Sometimes there is a painful lesson to learn, but often it is the simple joy of connection.

I've written about surrender before, and likely will again. Balancing surrender with the effort of trying, is a constant consideration as I start my day. How do you show up? How do you remain mindful of your Source?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Another anniversary...

I am extremely grateful to the counselors at the treatment program I attended, for many reasons. Today I am grateful that they pushed recovery from the family illness nearly as much as from our own.They knew the type of homes most of us had grown up in, and the relationships we were likely returning to. 

On 2/28/86, I attended my first Alanon meeting, hoping for ideas on how to get my heroin addicted boyfriend clean & sober, even though I knew in my heart that this wasn’t how recovery worked. What they said, instead of telling me what to do, is that I didn’t cause the addiction, couldn’t control it and couldn’t cure it.Through the example of fellow members I learned, painfully, to detach from the addict's behavior, and to not contribute to the sickness. I did take him to a few meetings and an AA dance, and drove him to a methadone program for his daily dose. I took a Big Book to him at the jail, and introduced him to several of my new sober friends, actively promoting recovery when all he really wanted from me was a few dollars and to be left alone. Understandably, we drifted apart, as I got deeper into recovery and it became obvious that we were speaking different languages. In 1988 he died of an overdose, alone in a low budget motel.

I could’ve stopped going to Alanon after he died, if Alanon were just about active addiction. But, lo and behold, I’d begun to understand that I'd been impacted by the alcoholism I'd grown up with. This one was tricky. While there was a lot of alcoholism on both sides of my family, I was lucky – my people were mainly good-natured drunks, and my dad sobered up when I was in the 8th grade. After a lot of step work, therapy and patient sponsorship, I now characterize my childhood as one of benign neglect – I know that my parents loved me, we got all the basics, including strong values – and they were preoccupied with my father’s alcoholism and depression. My recovery from the family illness has been more about what was missing than what happened, which means, for me, that it has taken a long time to unravel the subtleties of that impact. Why did I keep chasing after depressed introverts? How could I stop trying to be invisible? When would I learn how to speak up for myself in close relationships? Recovery from the effects of someone else’s drinking, which is all about relationships with others and myself, isn’t cut and dried. With drugs and alcohol, you are either using or not. Relationships are complicated. I’ve drifted in and out of healthy relating, over time listing to the healthy side, but with semi-regular flare ups of my particular “isms” – controlling, fears of the future, trying to figure out what’s going to happen next. Learning to identify my "internal spiritual maladies" is an ongoing lesson.

And so, 31 years ago I began the journey of healing. I don’t have active alcoholism in my life today, at least partly because of the healthy decisions I’ve learned to make through my association with 12 step recovery. Where once I could only identify myself in relation to who I was sleeping with, today I know who I am. That part of me that sometimes feels like a scared little kid doesn’t come out much anymore, and when it does, is more easily comforted. Life is good, even when it isn’t, one day at a time.

So thank you through the years to Marsha M. Thank you Barb B and Barbara M. Thank you for helping me decide not to see my addict boyfriend that long ago day he came to visit, nodding out on heroin in the day room. Thank you for suggesting that he needed to move out if I truly intended to try this recovery thing. And thank you, thank you for suggesting Alanon. Not everyone chooses that route to address childhood hurts and adult communication, but it has definitely worked for me, and continues to do so as I navigate long term recovery.