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?