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?