Wednesday, March 28, 2018

My step-daughter celebrated her 18th birthday with us this past weekend. 18, with her life unfolding - a summer road trip ahead, with college in the fall. I've known her since she was 9, one of those gifts of recovery that I didn't even know I wanted.

One aspect of watching her grow up has been reflecting on my own life, and the various places where my experience diverges so greatly. It has been interesting to watch her and think, "Oh... so this is what well-adjusted looks like." Needless to say, she's not drinking nearly to pass-out stage before she goes up to the park to meet her friends, nor is she jumping off of the roof at night to do the same, and we're not cleaning hidden cigarette butts from her room. My only activity in high school was "park," and walking up and down Fremont to my cousin's house. It's been a joy to watch her excel and enjoy so  much - soccer, tennis, theater, singing; a sweet and well rounded young lady.

And on this occasion of her 18th'd birthday, I think back to my own celebrations. I don't remember 18, but what I imagine is that drinking was involved, because drinking was involved in just about everything - birthdays, holidays, weekends, weekdays, sunshine, rain, and everything in between. 21 was anticlimactic, given that I'd been drinking since 15, but it was monumental to apply for my OLCC card and legally buy booze.

My favorite childhood birthday was my 11th, and my twin cousins' 10th, when our moms took us downtown (back when that was a big deal) to the Hilton for lunch and then to the Paramount to watch "The Sound of Music." A near perfect day, as birthdays should be.

Should be, but aren't always. As my alcoholism and addiction progressed, I had a couple of birthdays I'd just as soon forget. My boyfriend and I spent my 29th birthday in an empty restaurant in Italy - he joked that he'd secured the entire place just for me, but all I could think about was missing my family and the usual cousin's celebration. Within a month of coming home from that trip, I was introduced to methamphetamine, and the guy I would become obsessed with - so obsessed with both that I threw away the relationship that I would've said meant the world to me.

During the process of throwing that relationship away, my 30th birthday came up, with a big, fancy hotel party that was supposed to be a surprise, but wasn't. My boyfriend had essentially locked me in the house for the preceding week, in an effort to insure that I'd be clean off meth for the party. What misery. Withdrawal was hard enough when I wanted to clean up. It was hideous when someone else was making me abstain, and to have to enter the ballroom and act surprised while I was ready to die called for an Oscar-worthy performance, and one I didn't pull off very well. At the end of the party, at which I was a total ingrate and spoiled brat, my boyfriend threw up his hands and said, "Go ahead. Go." I remember running to the pay phones to try to find my meth cook lover, and the absolute relief I felt when we connected. I don't remember if I went home that night. I do remember the ugly feelings of shame, rightly earned. It wasn't long after that my boyfriend asked me to move out.

And then I got sober, a few months past my 31st birthday, which, by then, was just another reminder of how dark my life had become. 32, however, was magical. My roommates and treatment buddies, Jay and Ruth, took me to the Pittock Mansion (I'd never been, though spent nearly my whole life in Portland), followed by lunch in a fancy restaurant. That evening, I was supposed to go to some music event with the meth cook, who by then was my boyfriend, who I was intent on saving from his addiction. Annoyingly, about 30 minutes after he picked me up, he realized he'd left the tickets in my kitchen, so back to the house we went. SURPRISE! And I was, though I then recalled how funny it felt when I'd walked into the kitchen and Jay and Ruth stopped talking, not knowing that they'd been rummaging in my purse for my address book. Many of my new, sober friends were there, along with my folks and best friend from my "previous life." It was a beautiful day.

Then, seemingly all of a sudden, I turned 50, coming out of the fog following the ending of a 10 year relationship. I honored the monumental date - half a century! - but also the knowledge that I was going to be ok, no matter what. I was intent on reclaiming my life, and so, celebrated all year: hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up, running the Paris Marathon, a three-day bicycle event, and that fall, trekking through northern England with my brother. There was a dance party on the actual day, and exhausted from the fabulous year, I realized that if everything is a peak experience, then nothing really is. That year was the beginning of my newfound appreciation of pacing, a lesson I'm still learning.

Over the years, it is my sobriety anniversary that has become the date to celebrate, though I still get excited by my birthdays of "5's" and "0's". But, these days, I'm more excited for my step-daughter, filled with gratitude for our relationship, and for the opportunities to celebrate and to reflect that being part of her life provides.

How do you celebrate, either recovery or "belly button" birthdays? Are there any that stand out in particular, either positive or not so much?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Finding our way around each other in the kitchen was one of the biggest hurdles my husband and I faced when newly married. He moved in with me, and I was accustomed to doing things a certain way - the right way.

It seems to me that part of acclimating to a new relationship is vying for territory - both emotional and physical: time alone and time together, who sleeps on which side of the bed, how to practice self care while attending to each other - it can take time to figure out what's mine, what's yours, and what is ours to work on together.

So back to the kitchen. For the 7 years I'd lived in my home alone, I heated the teapot on the large front burner on the stove. It was easy, and more importantly, was how I'd always done it ("always" being a relative term). My dear, new spouse was often in the kitchen when I was making tea, and the scalding pot was sometimes in the way. He'd ask me to move the teapot, which I thought ridiculous. The teapot goes on the front burner. You should be the one to move.

One morning, when we were having the same "discussion" as to the proper placement of the teapot, it struck me like a bolt of lightening - there is a second big burner on the back of the stove, Jeanine. Move the teapot. Peace prevailed. I have to laugh, now, at how entrenched I was in my way being the right way, and how simple the solution - just move the f***ing teapot.

I am a cat person. Nothing against dogs - my parents' first child was a Cocker Spaniel named Cindy - but other than an ill-fated puppy who dug up the neighbor's prize roses and ended up at "the farm," I've had cats, one incarnation after another: Spooky I - IV, Whiskers I, II and III, with a Tina, a Pepper and a Tiger thrown in. Said cats have always slept on the bed with me. It's cozy, and comforting, and with the current configuration, maddening, as the two of them stage Kitty Olympics at 3 AM more nights than not.

How many mornings did we grouse about the cats waking us up in the middle of the night as they chased each other across the bed and back again? Darned cats! And then, a few weeks ago, like with the teapot, I thought "enough!" and started shutting the bedroom door while we sleep. For the first few nights, the little darlings did scratch at the door, tiny paws reaching under in an effort to get in. But then they stopped, and now we sleep through the night. A miracle? No, a decision.

Good grief. Where else might I be holding on to ideas, behaviors, or habits that with a wee bit of self-examination might be better released to the Universe? It's the old "do I want to be right or do I want to be happy?" question. Where am I convinced that I am Right (with a capital "R")? How It Works in the Big Book tells us that we need to let go of old ideas. The problem with that is that they are my old ideas, which can make them hard to see as dysfunctional.

Inventory, whether Step 4 or 10, outside help, sponsorship, and the importance of having people in my life who'll "call me on my BS" are vital components of my ongoing commitment to spiritual growth. I recently talked with a dear friend about something that was troubling me. Within minutes, because of our long and trusting relationship, he gave me feedback that was affirming and spot on. I don't need to tell him the entire story, because he's lived some of it with me. Which isn't to say that I don't get important input from people who don't know me - sometimes a detached view is just what I need. The point here is to ask.

So, as I revel in sleeping the night through (with only myself, caffeine, and my waning hormones to blame if I don't) I consider where else I might be holding on to old ideas. A clue for me are the ones I feel most passionate about, the areas where I feel justified and righteous. Thank you, Higher Power, for the gift of time, which is not a tool, but does allow enough distance to say to myself, "Really?"

Where do you find yourself holding on to old ideas or habits? Is there somewhere that an inventory, or a talk with a sponsor or trusted other might help?

Happy Vernal Equinox to those of us in the northern hemisphere. Loving spring's blooms, I await warmer days... 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

I recently heard someone describe the changing of seasons as a relapse trigger. As I note vast numbers of Canadian geese in the sky, in huge V's and lines of 12's, heading north after wintering here in the Pacific Northwest, I say "yes." There is something in the shift of daylight, the incremental change in temperature, visible changes in the garden, both in spring and in fall, that evoke a sense of melancholy, a deep memory of what was, along with longing for what might be.

Sometimes I wonder at the sheer volume of memory rattling around in my psyche. I've been alive a good long while now, and I pay attention. Memory has been a good recovery trait - I do remember, with vivid clarity, much of the last few years and months of my drinking & using days. The obsession, the despair, the fear, and simply the daily drudge of hangovers and chasing the high, have always been reminders of where I don't want to return. I have scars on my arms from shooting up. Noticing them gives me pause to give thanks - for being alive, and for the amazing journey of a recovery life.

Sometimes, though, the power of memory takes twists and turns. I've had occasion, recently, to interact with my history, and have realized on an even deeper level, how grateful I am for all that was and all that is. That being said, I do sometimes play the "what if?" game. What if the relationship I went to treatment with the goal of saving had been saved? What if I'd gone to college after high school, instead of getting married? What if, in recovery, I'd been able to sit still instead of chasing this path, or that? What if I'd pursued a clinical degree instead of what I did earn (side note - on paper, I don't actually qualify for the last 3 jobs I've held).  Obviously, this line of thinking isn't particularly productive, but I must admit that there are times I engage in either morbid reflection, euphoric recall, or simply writing the whole thing over to suit present-day me. Maybe this is Step 3 stuff - I make the decision every morning to turn my will and my life over, but what do I actually do when I find myself lost in "Jeanine TV?"

The Steps and program of recovery aren't just for thinking about, but for doing. What does that mean, on a daily basis, when the substances that brought me here are far in the rear view mirror? I think it means remembering (here it is again - memory) where I did come from, thinking about the principles of honesty, open-mindedness and willingness, seeking to be of service rather than to be served, and yes, every once in a while, thinking of what might have been.

I often use the image of taking a breath, or exhaling, to describe my emotional state. I'm not a good breather - I tend to hold my breath without knowing it, waiting, for what? The other shoe to drop? Something unexpected to careen around the corner? I say that I trust, but do I? Trusting, today, means knowing that I am right where I am supposed to be, and that it is good. Trusting means the deep knowledge that whatever I've experienced, positive or not so much, has brought me to the here and now of long term recovery. 

Where do you spend time, either in memories or in making plans? How do you apply the Steps to your thinking, now that drinking is a thing of the past?

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Moving into March, my focus turns to Step Three – turning my will and my life over to the care of a Power Greater than myself. I take this step every morning as I start the day with a cup of tea, a daily reader or two, and my journal, but in March, as part of the Step Group I participate in, I focus more intently on how this practice of "turning it over" works in my life.

In contemplating Step Three, I go back to One and Two, and more precisely, that space between powerlessness and hope. Step One says, “I’m screwed. I’m beat. I can’t do this anymore.” And then the sliver of emotional space, the deep inhale of “now what?” followed by the exhaling relief of hope. There is another way. I can be restored to sanity.

I think I hovered there too, in that pause between hope and whatever was next. I had no idea, but thought I was supposed to know. I thought I was supposed to be able to figure it out, be strong, just quit, damn it. And then, the blessed relief of surrender. Step Three – Higher Power, I can’t do this anymore – you take over.

And I come to that place of surrender again and again, as I find myself caught up in the daily to-do’s, sometimes forgetting that all I really need to do is show up with an open mind and an open heart. Of course, there are things to do, people to see, laundry to fold, and underlying it all is the deep understanding that my true purpose is spiritual purpose.

Over the last month or so, I’ve had occasion to confront old losses that maybe weren’t losses after all. I’ve had the opportunity to take a step back from a story I’ve long told myself in order to see a piece of my history in a new light. Surrender takes many forms – the dramatic, on my knees in tears surrender of my addiction, and the often more subtle letting go of various old ideas. Always, always, that moment of surrender is pure relief. I  may not know what’s next, but in that moment of hands-in-the-air, I-give-up is the blessed, soothing emptiness of submission to Higher Power's will, not mine.

In my Tuesday morning meeting, we set placards with various slogans in the middle of the room. I look forward to seeing what my “message of the day” is, much like I viewed the daily readers as a horoscope in early recovery – what is coming my way today?  This week, I sat in front of Keep It Simple. How often I forget that basic reminder and skew toward complication, if only in my mind.  Surrender is simple. Letting go is simple. The complication comes when I get stuck in pre-Step One, momentarily forgetting that I am, indeed, powerless – over drugs and alcohol, and so much more. I've heard resentment described as the feeling that occurs when I forget my powerlessness, over people, places and things. Yes, and how often I forget. 

In the past couple of weeks, I've heard and talked with several people confronting the disease of addiction in others - a young family member who has reached the point of asking for help, another family who's member has been sneaking drinks after completing treatment, another who hears slurred words on the phone when sobriety was expected. Watching someone's struggles, knowing that each person must come to that moment of acknowledging a problem and asking for help themselves, is painful when we're talking about a life threatening illness. This is surrender through gritted teeth. What I'll sometimes pray for is that I be shown how I can be helpful, which isn't always what I think it should be.

When all is well, my daily surrender is an exercise in remembering, an aligning of my intention for the day with the spiritual principles of our program. When life isn't unfolding as I'd have wished, surrender is my effort to move out of the way. How do you practice the surrender of Step Three, this month and always?