Wednesday, May 31, 2017

I've struggled with a topic for this week’s post. Usually, an idea simmers for a few days before I sit down to write, but this week, I've dreaded the keyboard, though I'd feel dishonest not to address my feelings. Tradition 10 says that Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues (this applies to all 12 step programs). Yes, thank goodness. And, I am a human being with opinions and feelings and reactions to the events of the world.

I keep coming back to the question of how to maintain sanity and serenity in a world that feels un-moored. There are vastly opposing views on why the world, the nation, feels off-kilter - I’m not here to argue that, other than to say that I continue to be deeply disturbed by the actions of zealots who take innocent lives.

I haven’t really let myself cry for the 2 men murdered and 1 injured on the train while standing up to the person who was harassing 2 teenage girls last week. I didn’t go to the vigil and I haven’t gone to see the memorial. It feels too raw, while at the same time unbelievable. A good friend reminded me that racism is nothing new in this country, and certainly not in Portland. Agreed, and this level of violence literally so close to home, in the area I grew up in, on the train that friends take to and from work, has shaken me. Those from other parts of the world  might say, “welcome to what we have to deal with every day” and I wouldn’t disagree. And, events of recent weeks, here and abroad, have me struggling to focus on gratitude and on my immediate circle of influence.

I do not want to live in a place of either heightened alert or denial. How do I use my recovery program to stay focused on where I can have an impact? And the bigger question that I've heard others ask too - how would I respond in a situation where someone was being attacked based on their perceived religion or ethnicity, or their gender identity?

Recovery has meant that over time I’ve learned to live with integrity. I don’t make promises that I don’t intend to keep. I’ve done work on defining my values, and I do my best to adhere to them. I try to be kind to others, or at the very least, not rude. I am finding that feeling content in my personal life and deeply troubled with the world at large is an uncomfortable place to be. I'm feeling a little flat at work, less than energetic at home, disgusted and saddened by the level of hate and anger that sometimes feels so loud.

I won't claim that 12 Step meetings are the epitome of harmony, or of open-mindedness, but what I've seen is that we take seriously the reminder that "We are people who normally would not mix." How can we, how can I, foster that level of acceptance in the world outside the relative safety of our meetings?

I think it goes back to "let it begin with me." I can't change The World, but I can impact my world. I can say,"good morning" to those I see on my morning run. I can tip the barista. I can stop for people crossing the street. I can focus on healing for the world when I sit in my meditation chair. I can be sure that the last words I say to my spouse are "I love you," when we each head off to work in the morning. There is more that I can and will do that borders on political, so I'll leave that out. I do commit to practicing Step 11 each day, asking for the knowledge of Higher Power's will for me and the power to carry that out.

How do you practice the words of the Serenity Prayer? Where do you go, literally or figuratively, when you feel disheartened? 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


I do not claim to be Buddhist, though I've read and appreciated a fair amount of spiritual literature over the years based on Buddhist concepts. The principle that always causes me a pang of discomfort is the hard truth of impermanence and the idea that human suffering comes from our attachment to those things that are fleeting - people, places, things.

My bicycle was stolen last week. My hot, red, sleek road bike that sliced through the air like a kite. I was firmly attached to that bike and was furious when it was taken. I realized over the ensuing 24 hours is that it wasn't the bike itself I was attached to (though it was a really nice bike!), but all that it represented: my one and only century (100 miler), grueling Cycle Oregon weekends with daily rides of 60-80 miles, tough slogs up Rocky Butte, gorgeous rides along Marine Drive or out to Sauvie's Island...This bike represented me as a fit, strong and adventurous woman. With the wind in my hair, I felt free and I felt strong, even though these days I mostly just rode the three miles to work. I was attached to the bike and to my self-image as a cyclist, however dated that might be. And so, I took a deep breath, expressed my feelings to anyone who would listen and prayed to let go (while making a police report).

Part of what brought me back to reality was a conversation I had the next day with a man who sat in my office sobbing because his wife had been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. I'm upset over a few pieces of metal and 2 tires; this man's beloved might die. Am I "wrong" for being attached to what my bike represented? No. I'm human, with a sometimes overactive ego and a tendency to personalize inanimate objects. Is this person in error for being attached to his idea of a life with his wife? I don't think so - we humans are designed to connect. While I can logically understand that my attachments cause me pain, I also know that impermanence is all well and good until it's your wife, your job, your sense of self that is threatened.

I can use the principle of non-attachment as a guide, a reminder. Emotional pain is real, and all things change. Nothing stays the same. Nothing, be it a bicycle, a relationship or my image in the mirror.

I'm reading the new Jack Kornfield book, "No Time Like the Present - Finding Freedom, Love and Joy Right Where You Are." I put that to the test when the bike was taken. Really God, right where I am at this very moment find joy and love when I am angry and upset? Yes, really. Kornfield suggests that when we feel "stuck in a tiny part of the big picture, contracted, or caught up," we "take a breath and visualize [ourselves]stepping back" (p.12).  Another way to say,"pause when agitated or doubtful." Bill Wilson, Jack Kornfield - same thing.

Old ideas of possession, of circumstances staying the same because I want them to, of those I love being here forever, are hard to change, because they're my old ideas. And that's precisely why my spiritual quest didn't stop with putting down the drink. I continue to be confronted with choices of how to put the principles of the program into action. The Big Book says that we will come to a point where we view our troubles as an opportunity to capitalize on God's omnipotence. I'm not quite there, not automatically anyway. Progress not perfection. Detach with love. Slow down and recognize what truly matters, and accept that change is part of this amazing and confounding life.

Where does attachment trip you up? How do you practice letting go, even in the midst of an upset?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Loss as a part of life...

My step-pop died last Thursday, 5/11/17. I called him "step-pop" as he and mom never married, though they were together for 32 years (she said that my father would turn over in his grave if she lost her WWII era widow's benefits by marrying again). Jer was such a good guy - a true character in the best sense of the word. And today I get to sit with my grief. I get to show up for Jer's son and daughter. I get to be present to my memories and feel gratitude for all that he was in my life, and in my mom's.

When I was in treatment, the counselors insisted that any loss I'd experienced while under the influence would need to be worked through again in sobriety. I thought, "what do they know?" thinking of the buckets of tears I'd shed for my father, who'd died five years earlier. But there is a difference between grief experienced while drunk, loaded, or hung over, and that which is experienced in the cold light of day. About two years into my recovery, another person's experience of loss triggered that deep well of missing my dad and I wept for him, for all that was left unsaid, for my too young/unskilled/fearful way of barely showing up when he was sick. I've cried for my dad - that deep longing for my father - many times over the years. I've written letters that I've burned, or sent into the ocean, expressing all that I never could say while he was alive. Those counselors were right after all.

And I've learned more about grief in the years since: That it works out better in the long run if I allow the feelings and express my pain as it comes up vs running away or shutting down the emotion (maybe you know the feeling - the tears begin to rise, almost from my chest, and if I take a deep breath at just the right moment, they get stuffed back down). Believe me, I've tried the caffeine cure, the new relationship distraction, uber-housecleaning - all of which are effective in the short run to squash those pesky feelings, but don't allow the natural process of ebb and flow. I'm reminded of the quote from Alanon literature - "Being human is not a character defect," and grieving is definitely part of the human experience.

What I've also learned about grief is that one loss attaches to another and to another. Jer's death brings up the loss of my mother. Her death triggered a re-grieving of my father, and so on. I used to think that meant that I was holding on unnecessarily, but what I believe now is that I love deeply, and that my love is interconnected so that one loss helps me remember the love I felt for others who have gone.

I've also learned that anniversaries are potentially tender spots - anniversaries of birthdays, of the person's passing, holidays (hello, Mother's Day). I didn't know that until I heard someone talking about it in a meeting many years ago. I can truly say that everything I've learned about healthy grieving has been since I got sober, and I offer a sincere "thank you" to all who've shared their stories over the years.

Today I am sad for the loss of my step-pop. Sad, but not in crisis. That comes from you in the rooms who show me how to walk through pain. It also comes from walking through my own pain over the years. Each experience - loss, joy, sorrow, gratitude - prepares me for the next step. Thank you, Jer, for all that you were and all that you are in my heart and the hearts of those who miss you.

While it's never comfortable, how has your experience of grief and loss changed over the years?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Being prepared...

When I first got sober, there was a fellow who used to say, "Always be on guard against the unguarded moment." Not to say that I had to be on high alert at all times (as an adult child of an alcoholic, I certainly know about hyper-vigilance), but it was a good reminder that what I do need to be vigilant about is remembering that I am allergic to alcohol, or anything else that affects me from the neck up. I hear people say that they forgot. Yes, at one time they did "fully concede to" their "innermost selves" that they were alcoholic, but, they forgot over time. Over time and hanging out with normal drinkers, over time and thinking "this time it won't get me," over time and forgetting that "just one" is rarely just one.

So, being prepared has been a helpful tool of recovery: planning my meetings for the week, talking with someone if I'm prescribed something for pain (very rarely, thank God), calling a friend if I'm headed into an emotional sinkhole, looking up meetings when I travel...

But sometimes, life throws out a curve-ball. I just spent a long weekend visiting a friend on the east coast who's recently been diagnosed with ALS, out of the blue, no warning, boom. (see her new blog at: ) How do you prepare for something like that, or any of the myriad medical diagnoses that can come our way? You don't. What you do is cope, deal with it, put one foot in front of the other, however that may look on any given day.

There was a medical emergency on the flight home - an older man needed the assistance of the doctor and two nurses who were on board. We made an unscheduled stop mid-way to get him to a hospital. You don't prepare for that.You get on the plane with your spouse, excited to be headed home or to visit the kids, planning for dinner when you land. And then, boom, you're throwing up and passing out and a stranger is standing over you with an oxygen mask.

My mom was a planner - back in the 1970's my folks prepaid their funeral arrangements: $80 for dad's cremation and $300 for mom's cremation + service (the introvert and extroverts of the family). We didn't know then that dad's would be used too soon, in 1980. When mom died, in 2012, her advance planning meant that everything was taken care of, save a few hundred dollars for incidentals. What a blessing, both financially, and that we didn't have to make a bunch of decisions in the midst of mourning. My brother and I followed her lead in the following year, making wills and prepaying for our own arrangements. Hopefully, it won't be needed for decades yet, but we never know.

That seems to be my awareness lately - I can plan and prepare (for my work day, for vacation, for tomorrow's dinner), but we truly don't know what's going to happen next. Like many of us, I can get lulled by familiarity - going to work, hitting my regular meetings, running my usual routes. What I want to do is increase my attention to not just the big things, but the little daily occurrences that I would miss dearly were they to end - our two cats jumping on the bed when the alarm sounds, laughing with my spouse as we come together at the end of the day, getting a hug from the particular clerk at Fred Meyer's. But, nothing stays the same. Nothing. Relaxing into the moment is a lot more realistic than trying to force my will onto next week, which is impossible anyway. And when life on life's terms happens, I can breathe into right here, right now. What do I need in this moment? How can I be of service? Who can I talk with about my feelings and fears?

This is all over the map, as are my emotions this week. I ache for my friend in Maine. I'm nervous, yet relieved, about another friend's surgery on Friday. I'm praying that the man from the plane is OK. My friend and I had a conversation about being brave, or courageous, or all the other well-meaning things that people say to those who are ill. As she said, it's not about being brave, it's about doing the next thing, taking the next step, making the follow-up appointment. Or writing the next blog post.

My first post was a year ago - 5/13/16. I've found this process to be soothing, this journaling out loud. I appreciate all your comments, posted and otherwise, and am grateful for the conversations that help me further explore living in recovery over time.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

If nothing changes, nothing changes...

This past weekend, I had 2 items on the agenda. One was a memorial service for a woman who was in my Master's program. We graduated in 2000, and for a time, kept in regular contact with a small group. She was also a member of the church that I don't attend very often. As the fates would have it, I went recently, and in our greeting, she let me know that she'd retired, and had never been happier in her life. A month later I learned that she'd had a brain hemorrhage and her family had decided to stop the life support. She was a ray of sunshine.

The second event was an opportunity to hear my step-daughter perform in a chorale competition at a venue 45 minutes away. She sings for us all of the time, but we'd never heard her in an official capacity. I was assured that my grad school friend, who was a total kid-person, would encourage me to go the performance, which I did. Another ray of sunshine.

The point here is that I chose one thing. My general M.O. would've been to go to both, and probably squeeze in a noon meeting for starters. Hit a nooner, change clothes, go to the church for at least the first part of the service, then zoom across the county to the choral competition, not wanting to miss a thing.

That "not wanting to miss a thing" has plagued me since I was a tyke. I remember my dad yelling out, "Slow down, Jeanine!" as I'd dash from the bathroom to the ball game on the street, still pulling up my pants as I hit the door. Slow down, Jeanine. For the longest time I figured that the rest of you just needed to hurry up a little! And, my journals, since 1986, are filled with exhaustion and anxiety and concern that there was too much to do. Too many good things, I might add, but too much. I finally acknowledged that I make my own schedule. No one comes along and writes in my date book while I'm not looking.

Change requires change. I can't righteously complain about "too much to do" as I willingly cram more into my schedule. Recently, several planned events were cancelled, and then I was hit broadside by a head cold that had me flattened for over a week. Hmmm. What do they say about being careful what you pray for? Maybe the Universe is doing for me what I've been unwilling to do for myself.

These troubles, if indeed they are troubles, are definitely of my own making and have to do with finding that sweet spot of balance. Not enough on the agenda and I'm stupefied. Too much, and I'm agitated. I believe it has something to do with "one day at a time." I can enjoy what's on my schedule today. It's when I start looking at the coming two weeks that I freak out. It keeps coming back to staying in the moment. And I'll keep writing about it until I don't need to write about it anymore. I'm tired of complaining about the same tired defects of character. Courage to change the things I can, and acceptance of those parts of myself that are apparently here for the duration. Exhaling...

Thank you, dear reader, for listening. What areas do you continue to struggle with in long term recovery? How do you move towards acceptance of all of yourself?