Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Someone I know, someone who struggles with a secondary addiction that has become primary, suggested that I write about desire, and the fact that “desire is not enough.” As we say, “You gotta wanna,” but want without action is simply wishful thinking.

This topic made me think of my process while writing my novel (“Shadows and Veins”).It is not on the scale with addiction, but does give me a window into desire. From the time I was a little girl, transported to different times and different places by the books I would devour long past mom’s call for “lights out,” I wanted to write my own book that would do the same for someone else. The dream stayed there, in the back of my mind, through relationships and travel, addiction and recovery. I had the desire. But for too long, I waited for inspiration, and the ever elusive “someday” when I’d have time to write. Over time, and with good teachers, I came to understand that writing is a discipline, and as I wrote in fits and starts, I prayed that Higher Power would either remove my dream or give me what I needed to complete the project. It took several years of writing in snatches of time, but I found that the more I wrote, the more I wanted to write, and in 2012, I achieved my lifelong dream by self-publishing my book. (shameless plug - available on Amazon or at the Multnomah County Library) Desire + Willingness = Completion.

According to the Big Book, “willingness is the key” to recovery, but how do we become willing if we’re not? How do we become willing to go to a meeting, pick up the phone, put down the cigarette, stay out of the casino, walk away from the piece of cake (fill in your own personal blank ______).  I believe that there is a component of self-discipline and accountability to this whole thing. Yes, there is an aspect of grace to recovery, but it isn’t magic. I needed to get the booze out of the fridge, stop sleeping with my dealer-boyfriend, get my butt to a meeting... even when I didn’t want to. The prime factor of “act as if” is “act.” Desire + Willingness = Action.

Following the 12 Steps is a practice, just like any other spiritual discipline. The Cambridge dictionary defines an aspect of discipline as: training that makes people more able to control themselves. I think of self-discipline as a muscle, one that gets stronger with consistent use. And I will say that when I want something (that cake, for example) it can be really tough to walk away. But, it is possible - over the weekend I was at a conference banquet with a table full of gorgeous desserts - chocolate and lemon and sugar galore, and didn't pick up. What I know about me is that if I eat sugar, I want more sugar (one is too many and a thousand is never enough), so by staying abstinent from treats, I’ve been moved to that blessed place of neutrality. How did I get there, with drugs, alcohol and sugar? I couldn’t tell you precisely - that's the mystery of recovery. I was graced with the gift of desperation with the booze and drugs that made me willing to do whatever it took to stay clean; abstinence from sugar quells that particular demon, one day at a time. I wonder if that isn’t a piece of it - staying away from the object of our addiction (meth, liquor, candy bars, the slot machine, etc) while at the same time, working the 12 steps on a daily basis.

What I've found is that practicing the principles grants a spiritual distance between me and what used to (& sometimes still) taunts me. When I was new to this way of life, walking through the liquor aisles at the grocery store was tough. Sitting across from someone drinking a fragrant glass of red wine was challenging. (I'm still uncomfortable around people who are mild drinkers. Drunks keep my eyes open to what I don't want - it's the sippers who get my imagination going). Over time, this way of life became my way of life and I focused less on what I was missing and more on what I'd gained - freedom, self-respect, a connection to Creator. Over time, the triggers lost their pull. And it did take time.

So, yes, I agree with  my friend that desire alone isn't enough to effect change. And unfortunately, desire + willingness isn't contagious, though there is power in the "we."  There is also power in turning it over, letting go, surrender - all those words we use to describe getting out of our own way. I would love to hear your experience on this topic, and how you've addressed any areas where the desire is there, but the willingness is lacking.

A postscript - A dear friend died yesterday. Yes, another one. I feel so blessed with positive connections, though that can mean being more available to the experience of loss. I am beyond grateful that two of us were able to make the trip back east earlier in the year, when the diagnosis was still new and not debilitating. I will say it again and again - do not take your loved ones for granted, because we truly don't know how much time we have to say "I love you," or "you matter to me." 

I love you Grace. Thank you for the laughter that sometimes made us cry, for running miles and miles up hills and down, for turning me on to great music and great ideas, for hikes and biking and lots of good meals. Thank you for your demonstrations of compassion and your commitment to social justice. Thank you for being you. I will miss you, friend.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A friend died last night - Jayna G, with 31 years in recovery -  mentor, role model, and guide. People die. I know that. At age 13 or 63, 47, 8, or 96, people die.The piece of Jayna's passing that has had me and others stunned, is the speed from a questionable MRI-to-hospice-to-death in mere weeks. I, and many others, both in her family and her community, are bereft at the loss of our teacher and friend, mother, grandmother, wife.

What keeps coming to mind these past days as I grapple with accepting the unexpected, are questions about the unpredictability of life and of death. What if I was told that I had 2 weeks to live? How much on my "to-do" list would get done, or would get erased an unimportant? Who would I want to speak with, and how many of those are on my "I need to get around to calling..." list?

What am I hanging on to? Old resentments? Are there strained relationships that would benefit from my attention, either directly or through the inventory process? And what of my material possessions? What if, like those in Santa Rosa, I was told I had 15 minutes to evacuate before my neighborhood was incinerated? Besides the one cat that would actually get in the crate, what would we take? Passports? Old family photos? My box of past journals? Trinkets from my mom?

The baseline question is, what matters? What really matters? I was privileged to participate in a women's conference this weekend that focused intently on the 12 steps. What I heard, over and over, in different form and in different words, is that recovery matters. Our spiritual connection matters. Being of service matters. Bringing our best selves to our relationships matters. Expressing love matters.

Today I ask myself if I am holding on to insecurities that have become habit. Am I hampered by any residual limiting beliefs? If I had 2 weeks to live, would gratitude outweigh regrets? I don't want to live each day in fear of the "what if's," but I do want to go forward with a clear vision of what is truly important, aware that each day is precious. What I want is to nurture my relationships with friends and family. What I want it to remember Jayna's example of inner tranquility and activism as she worked for peace and for our Mother Earth.

This afternoon I envision Jayna flying high, like an eagle, or a great horned owl, free of the constraints of her dis-eased body. I am privileged to have know her, to have laughed and cried with her. Walk with the angels, dear Jayna, and feel all the love and the prayers coming your way.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Between getting married, menopause, and losing my mother, I've struggled to drop those pesky 10 pounds that just keep hanging on. I've used the old Weight Watchers trick of logging everything I eat, with the thought that the tally would act as a governor of sorts. Lo and behold, when I became willing to be entirely honest with myself, I realized I'd been giving myself 3-4 "cheat" days each week. You know, "cheat" days, when it's ok to have that peanut butter sandwich, or another piece of pizza, or just a mere slice of cheese. Can we say, "half measures?" Eating clean 3 days per week does not result in weight loss. Bummer.

Where else do I use shortcuts, or cut corners? Housekeeping, for sure. I've subscribed to the "good enough" model for some time now. How about with my monthly step group? Ummm, I must admit that I do the bulk of my concentration in the few days before we meet. I start the month full of determination and reflection, then often need to remind myself that, oh! we're meeting on Sunday!

Someone recently said, referring to Step 7 (Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings) that the Higher Power can't take away my defects/defenses/unhelpful coping skills if I am still using them. Bam! I'd never thought of it that way, but of course. If I'm out there living with one foot in tomorrow and asking HP to take away my tendency to future trip, how does that work exactly? Am I asking that this defect be removed next week, since that's where my mind often resides? And what about my schedule - that thing I've been writing about in my journal and inventories for decades? It doesn't work to ask that my habit of over-booking be removed while I'm jotting down another appointment.

Sometimes shortcuts are ok. I don't iron pillowcases, like my mother did, and I sometimes fast-forward through movies. But, when it comes to my health or my spiritual program, shortcuts can be the beginning of a slippery slope. I'm not afraid that I'll drink today if I rush through my morning prayers or avoid a particular phone call, but I can get all sorts of crazy and off-balance when I ask the Universe for help and guidance, and keep doing the same old thing, again and again.

Years ago, a woman who was a brief regular at our home group owned a horse, and every Friday she would talk about the hassles she had with the place where she boarded the animal, and her conflicts with the other boarders. Every Friday. A dear friend looked at me after one of those meetings and said simply, "Everyone has their horse." Indeed. Everyone has their horse, be it finances or relationships, food or work, or sugar, or the to-do list - the particular "ism" that can dog our recovery for years. If I'm truly uncomfortable (and not just because I think I "should" be) I need to ask myself why I'm hanging on to this behavior. What purpose is it serving? Am I half-measuring ? Am I willing to surrender, and if so, what action doe that require on my part?  (in other words, I can't say "I give up" and order a bacon-cheeseburger with the next breath).

Change is hard. Sometimes I think it is harder as I move along in recovery because my habits are well tended, and the bad ones aren't as dramatic as in the early days when it was obvious what I needed to stop doing. What I've recently learned about change is that thinking of what I don't want to do simply gives energy to that negative. What I can do, no shortcuts allowed, is think about how I want to be in the world, and invite in the positive. I strive for a life balanced between work and pleasure, solitude and companionship. I can write that into my date book as a reminder, or repeat it as a mantra as I start my day. I can do my part in making myself ready for change. And, note to self, I can eat clean, if not 7 days a week, at least 5 or 6. (I'm only cheating myself when I give myself permission to ignore what I know will make me feel better, related to food or otherwise.)

Progress, not perfection, applies as much today as it did when I first got sober. I can be mindful of walking the line between relaxing into the process and holding myself accountable. Are there areas where you want to surrender?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

It is blog day, and yet another national tragedy has taken place. I don't want to write about yet another national tragedy where too many lost their lives. I am not putting my head in the sand (talk to me offline if you want to know how I feel and what I think) but today I want to write about friendship.

I had dinner the other evening with two lovely women from my home group. It was fun - eating guacamole, talking politics and program, our past lives and what we're up to today. I hope to do it again. I am consciously expanding my repertoire.

As a kid, friends were based on proximity - with those who lived on the block or around the corner. My cousins fit that too - they lived down the hill, an exhilarating bike ride away, or a good long walk, and our folks were often together on weekends - built in besties! In high school, grade school allegiances shifted and I gravitated towards the drinkers and stoners, the park-rats. The year after graduation, I got married, and inherited several friends-of-convenience - the wives of my husband's pals. At the time, I secretly planned my perfect life, which included a garden for tomatoes, going to college, and choosing my own friends. (I got that, exactly, after getting sober, and one of those friendships-initially-of-convenience-that-grew-into-sisterhood survived, thrived and continues.)

And then - SOBRIETY! Wow. Who were all these people? As the book says, normally we would not mix, but man, they were interesting. Back then, we ran in packs - in our late twenties and early thirties, we road-tripped to meetings and conferences, traveled together at home and abroad (always hitting meetings along the way). We went dancing - the AA disco dances that were so fun in the 80's, as well as out to the clubs - safety in numbers! We jogged and hiked and rode bikes together, and once took a volleyball game into a prison. We sat with each other and cried over break-ups, and were cheerleaders for that new job. Life and these friendships were amazing and joyful and included everything I'd looked to the bottle to fulfill.

And, time marches on. Over time, we paired up or moved away, and adult priorities took the place of dancing every weekend. We got real jobs or went back to school, and catching a 10 pm movie on a weeknight was no longer realistic. Email often took the place of phone calls, and then texting took the place of both. And here we are, in late middle-age, with aging or dying parents, grand-kids, or kids in college, stressful jobs or getting ready to retire. In early recovery, everything was about said recovery, and we either overlooked or didn't even talk much about political or values differences. Some of those differences have surfaced as we've grown from exploring into becoming who we truly are, and what was similar 20 years ago may not feel the same today.

I have several dear friends who I can go months without talking to, only to take up where we left off. But, generally speaking, friendships require attention. A couple of years ago I was feeling particularly lonely. Recently married, my schedule had shifted as I adjusted, with pleasure, to the life I share with my spouse. My regular meetings changed, as did time spent with friends. And then my mother entered hospice - another shift of time and priority. Coming through that, slowly and painfully, I realized that I'd developed a bad habit of going a week or more without talking, really talking, to anyone other than my husband, people I supervise, or people I sponsor. The well was running dry. I made a commitment to actually speak (in person or on the phone) with at least one friend per week - no texting, and email didn't count. I felt better - imagine that.

I am grateful for the friends that I travel with, the friends that I eat with, the friends that I laugh and cry with. I am grateful for shared histories, and new discoveries of commonalities. I am grateful for love that transcends differences of opinion or of politics. I know that I am in good company for this journey into the next phase of our development.

So, there was another horrible national tragedy this week. I can grieve with my husband, and talk with certain friends. I can get in touch with my step-daughter and her mother, just to send love. I can remember to let people know when I appreciate them. I can tend to my friendships, old and new.

Who do you want to reach out to this week?