Wednesday, April 25, 2018

I went for a run in Forest Park this weekend - a glorious spring morning with pink and white trillium in full bloom. Mildly chastising myself for not getting up there sooner, or more often, I remembered that the last time I ran the Wildwood trail, a young woman who'd passed me a couple of times, asked me in the parking area if I'd had a nice walk. Walk? Excuse me? I'm running here. At least in my mind.

We often hear in the rooms of recovery to be mindful of not judging our insides by other people's outsides. What I've realized, reflecting on how I felt when the "real runner" called me a walker, is that I also need to be careful not to judge my insides by how other's may perceive my outsides.

Aging is kind of weird. OK, really weird. A few months ago I was in a shop and overheard the proprietor describing a customer as having dark hair and glasses. I thought she meant me, until I remembered that I have gray hair and glasses. Oh, right. My mom often said that she felt the same inside as she always had, but saw an old woman looking out at her from the mirror. Yes. My insides don't always match the appearance of my outsides.

A couple of years ago, a small in-home group I'm part of (we call ourselves "the Cabal") looked at aging via the 12 Steps. Step One, I am powerless over getting older, and my life becomes unmanageable when I try to pretend otherwise (i.e., there is no magic potion or lotion that will make me look/feel/be younger). Step Two, a Power greater than myself can restore me to sanity when I worry about the effects of aging. Step Three - I make a decision to turn it all over to HP and get out of my own way. Step Four - I inventory my fears about the process, and share them with another (Step Five). In Six and Seven, I humbly ask God to remove my fears, and any other defects that stand in the way of my usefulness. Step Eight and Nine - List, then make amends to anyone I may have harmed in the process of denying or fearing my aging (including myself). Step Ten, continue to keep an eye on fears/denial/anger/self-centeredness. Eleven, remember to ask for knowledge of HP's will for me versus my often very small ideas, and Twelve, carry the message (not the mess) while attempting to practice the principles of the program in all my affairs, including the getting older bit.

If we are lucky enough to not die, and diligent enough to not drink, we become literal old-timers in our recovery program. "What you think of me is none of my business" applies now more than ever. Recently I shared a small episode from my using days, to illustrate a point. Afterwards, which is fairly common, a couple of guys said, "You're kidding? You were a meth addict?" Thank God that I don't look like my story, in my little sweater twinset and gray hair. Again, my insides vs what you think of my outsides. Recovery is like that - you wouldn't know, as we stand in line with you at the grocery store, or pull out from the gas station, the histories we've survived. You have no idea. I can remember that the next time someone wants to pat me on the head for being a nice old gal. Ha! You have no idea.  And, I'll have you know, I'm running here.

How are you addressing any feelings that come up around getting older, including grief, loss, or fears? How might you apply the Steps?

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

I was at a couple of meetings recently where members talked about the slippery slope of relapse that starts long before one picks up a drink. One person spoke about an obsession with tiramisu cake and the temptation to eat all the way down to the layer made with liquor. Another person described the selfish act of picking up a drunk person at a bar for a hook-up, only thinking of themselves (I want what I want when I want it). I've got nothing against sex between consenting adults, or cake for that matter. What I was struck by in listening to these stories (and similar tales over the years) is the lengths our disease, as in dis-ease, will go to to distract us from the pain and accountability required to grow in our program, and as human beings.

I think it was Marieanne Williamson who wrote that there is really only one journey - we're either moving towards God, or away. It takes an emotional commitment to stay on the path. I think of all the times I used caffeine, or the rush of an attraction, or sugar, to distract me from the hard work of digging deep into causes and conditions. The book tells us that "liquor is but a symptom" of our deeper spiritual malady. And if we're not using liquor, that malady often pops up in the form of a credit card or strip club or casino, or, yes, tiramisu, telling us that just this once will be ok. No one will know. My spouse won't care/find out. I don't really need to talk with my sponsor about this urge inside that is telling me to run, whether that urge is to run towards the flame, or away from responsibility and the pain inherent in looking at our deep inventory.

And, oh, how I wish that the surrender required for inner peace could be forced, conjured up on demand. But just like with the booze and drugs, I have to get sick and tired of being sick and tired. If I don't hurt, or see how my actions hurt others, I can continue to justify nearly anything. Years and years ago, a short-term sponsor questioned my busyness, my activity level. I am happier when active, and there was a point in time when my schedule was way too full and I used home like a hotel, for changing clothes, grabbing a bite and heading off to the next thing. Until I came to my own realization that I was running away from myself, I thought my sponsor was off-base. You don't know what you know until you know it.

And I will keep saying it (and I'm aware that much of this post is revisiting the topic) - the work of recovery is hard and often painful. Past hurts, emotionally challenging childhoods, shame, guilt over our misdeeds, inter-generational trauma, grief and loss are the type of emotions that I drank over. Not intentionally, but as an unconscious choice to numb what was too painful to look at. Too painful to look at without the support of the Steps, and a sponsor, and outside help to lead me to an awareness of how the past impacted my present. Painful, definitely. Worth it? Without a doubt.

I can't tell you how many times I've sat on the backyard bench, sobbing, journaling, smudging, lighting candles, praying, "Please, HP, relieve me of the bondage of self," and whatever other obsession I was in bondage to at the moment - a love interest, my childhood, a decision about a job situation... And then, boom! The dam would break. Not necessarily while I was begging, but at some point there would come a crack in the armor of self-defending, that little sliver where the light of God could shine through and let me know that, despite my fears to the contrary, I really am ok and that everything would work itself out. And it does, time and time again.

As I've mentioned, some friends and I are planning our 50th eighth grade reunion, which has resulted in some fun connections as we locate long lost classmates. Well, last night I had a dream that I was at the reunion, drinking a beer. In the dream, one of my sober classmates said, "You're drinking?!" to which I replied, "Sure. I have a beer about once a year. It's not a big deal." I went on to justify by saying, "Well, I wouldn't drink a shot of vodka or anything," but in my mind, in the dream, I thought, "Geez, have I really been drinking all along? Can I still claim 32 years of sobriety if I have a beer now and then?" The mind is an interesting place. Alcoholism is an interesting illness. Here I am, with a great life, one day at a time, dreaming about having a beer. The good news is that for years now, when I do dream about getting high, I have a conscience and realize that I shouldn't be doing it.

I don't see drinking dreams as part of the slippery slope, but a reminder, along with hearing people talk about their own near-misses or how they are dipping their toe into the waters of addiction, that I am not cured. Remaining mindful, being willing to look below the surface, and doing my best to stay centered means that, today, I don't have many demons lurking in the wings. Time is not a tool, and doing a ton of recovery work over the years has contributed to a healthy, reasonably happy, life, one day at a time.

I'm thinking about gratitude on this sunny afternoon in the Pacific Northwest - gratitude for what I've learned from my history, gratitude that I'm not battling with secrets, and gratitude for what is today. What are you grateful for?

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Apologies for being a day late with my weekly check-in, but we've been on a short respite in San Francisco. My spouse's family are wonderful people, who've welcomed me into the mix with open arms. We have an AA family down there, too, in our home-away-from-home group, the regular 7:30AM meeting that we were fortunate to participate in each day. I don't avail myself of a daily meeting at home, so thoroughly appreciated the early morning centering, as well as checking in with members we've gotten to know over time.

On one our of days out of the city, we hit a noon meeting that we've liked in the past - a healthy mix of old timers, folks just out of rehab, and everyone in between. One of the old timers had a particularly rich share, weaving in aspects of the Steps and connections from the literature that were new to me, and part of the reason I keep coming back. Hearing a new take on how this thing works helps keep the program fresh for me after all these years.

Twenty minutes after the meeting, we ran into said old timer at the store, where we were picking up ingredients for a picnic lunch. We greeted him, and told him how much we appreciated his share - a pleasant connection. And then he was rude to another shopper, twice. My heart fell. Not because I expect perfection, but because is it disappointing to vividly observe someone talking the talk without walking the walk.

I am no saint, but years ago someone told me that I might be the only example of a Big Book that someone sees. And even if that person isn't aware that I am an example of addiction recovery, I know. Recovery is about changed behavior, and my Step 10 inventory hits me in the gut when I'm not practicing the principles, whether that is being short with my spouse, cranky at work, or rude to someone in the grocery store.

The thing is that I always knew the difference between right and wrong, but when I was active in my alcoholism, the wrong way was so much easier, and more fun. "Right" mean "good," and good meant delayed gratification, putting someone else's well being ahead of my own, stopping to really think before I acted. It was easier, in the moment, to say "screw it," and worry about the consequences later. And there were always consequences, usually framed with my assertion that I didn't mean to hurt you, really I didn't. I hoped and prayed that I would be judged by my intentions, which were never actually evil. Instead, of course, it was my actions that told you who I was - selfish and self-centered in the extreme.

That's what I saw at the grocery store - selfish, self-centered, and self-righteous - a reminder of who I don't want to be. And again, I am far from perfect. Good grief - I live in Portland, the Land of Entitled Pedestrians. Believe me when I say that I harbor unkind thoughts from time to time (!). But what I know today is that I learn and grow spiritually by watching others gracefully navigate the daily pitfalls, as well as seeing others stumble angrily along the way. Thank you, Higher Power, for lessons.

How are you an example of recovery in action today? How do you stay aware so that you can catch yourself when you trip up against yourself?

Thank you, dear reader, for coming along on the ride. I love to travel, and even more, I love coming home.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

I recently read an article in the New York Times, "Does Recovery Kill Great Writing?" (see link below) about the notion of the tortured artist and the fear that our creativity and talent will dry up once we dry out. As might be expected, the authors referenced in the article, for the most part, saw their creativity and productivity increase, not decrease, with sobriety.

That was certainly true with me. I was a quasi- poet in my teens and 20's, full of angst, anguish and Bali Hai. A few of those efforts are worthy of a re-read, but many are simply drunken ramblings. The same with my efforts at fiction or essays - I was great at beginnings and lousy at follow-through. Much of that was related to the generic lack of effort in active addiction, but a lot of it had to do with what I thought creativity consisted of - bursts of inspiration and perfection the first time through.

My mistaken ideas about the recovery process followed me into recovery. Since learning to read (& I remember the exact moment when I realized I could read to myself), I longed to write, but I kept waiting to be struck motivated. I had good intentions, and amassed a file box full of snippets and paragraphs and starts, and there they sat.

And then I came across a flyer for a four week writing class. With pounding heart, I signed up and showed up, trying to find my place in a room full of young, arty-types, with dark-rimmed glasses and serious notepads. But despite feeling different, I kept showing up, and for the first time ever, shared my writing aloud with a group of strangers. (I must say that being in 12 Step recovery was a great help - while not necessarily comfortably, talking in front of a group had become a familiar and not insurmountable fear).

What I mainly learned in that class is that inspiration doesn't float down like fairy dust on the perfect rainy day. Writing is a discipline as much as an art, (and I assume the same to be true for other mediums,) and involves a fair amount of crap on a page (see Annie Lamott's brilliant Bird by Bird for a description of "shitty first drafts.")

When I started sharing my desire to write with other recovering people, I got all sorts of advice and how-to's, the main thrust being that a real writer spends "X" amount of time at their desk/computer every single day. If that was true, I was screwed. I'm not an hours-at-at-time writer. To accept myself as a "real writer," I needed to gain awareness of my process, not some "should." I learned, through grad school, that I'm an intermittent writer. I write, I get up. I do the dishes, and come back to my desk, and then get up again. It works for me and my wee bit of hyperactivity. I'm not overly productive, but I'm also not fighting myself.

Exercising creativity, without labels, has been a nurturing aspect of my recovery, whether that is writing, making collage, decorating for the holidays, or throwing a dinner party (See Sober Play - Using Creativity for a More Joyful Recovery by Jill Kelly). 

It's about balance. At times, I write more than others, put in more hours at work, focus on my running or on Step work, but my overall goal is to be mindful of my need for spiritual, emotional, social, physical and creative equilibrium (and I might say that the spiritual is an umbrella for all the rest). To that end, I've learned to be protective of my Wednesday afternoons. I get off work early, heading home to the blog page, to putter in the kitchen, maybe watch a recorded show before my spouse gets home from work - the what isn't as important as having the unstructured hours. Creativity has a hard time squeezing in when every minute is scheduled.

Someday is now. When I was in a writer's accountability group as I worked on my novel, one of the participants asked that question - if not now, when? Indeed. I'm being very mindful of any sentence starting with "When I retire...."  Life is happening now. Creativity is available now. Letting go of self-judgment, I can relax into the process and know that if I want something bad enough (sobriety, to write that book, run a marathon), I'll do what is needed, eventually. It's like what old Leonard used to say - it's not will power, but want power, that will get me sober, and will  lead me to my dreams and goals.

How do you express your creative nature? If you've been putting off a desired project, what would it take to move a little closer to starting?


Jill Kelly's Sober Play -

(my novel)