Wednesday, May 30, 2018

I'm posting this from a much needed week of R&R with my travel buddies in Hawaii. My plan was to hit a meeting among our other activities, thinking of a lovely gathering on the beach. What a spiritual boost to sit in a recovery circle while listening to the ocean... Instead, I ended up in a little room at the Schofield army base, with two soldiers in their 20's, one with 117 days sober, waiting to hear if he was going to get discharged for relapsing, and the other, a stern faced young officer at his first meeting ever. This kid said his drinking was out of control, his marriage was on the rocks, and someone he knew had gotten help through AA. He had that wonderful combination of misery and hope that can be our doorway in, if we are willing to pay attention, and do the hard work of letting go of old ideas. So what did I have in common with a couple of young guys who were born a decade after I got sober? On the surface, not much, but all 3 of us understood the misery of putting the drink in front of everything we held dear.

I love out-of-town meetings, whether that is at the Oregon coast, or half way across the globe. Going to away meetings helps me put principles before personalities, and is a positive reminder of our world-wide fellowship. Some of my favorite meetings over the years: Beijing, China, where the chairperson was someone we recognized from home; Shanghai, where I was asked to lead; the small English speaking group in Prague, where the members practically begged us to tell our stories because they were tired of listening to each other; the solid group in St. John, Antigua, where I heard, "Instead of planning your meeting around your day, try planning your day around your meeting."

A number of years ago now, a therapist, who was very helpful during a challenging time in my life, asked if I might think about expanding my life beyond my association with 12 Step recovery. Trying not to sound defensive, I wondered how much more expanded my life could get! I ran a half marathon on the Great Wall of China (with program friends); I went to the top of the Eiffel Tower (with program friends); I'd attended college graduations (program friends and my own); I went to art gallery openings of my (program) friends' work and read books published by my (program) friends, and you get the idea. My view is that my association with 12 Step recovery opens up the world. I don't "just" go to meetings, and my life is greatly enriched by the associations I've made in meetings. One of the most amazing nights of my life started out in an AA meeting in Istanbul, Turkey. My friend and I went for dinner with a couple of woman from Ireland and California, and through a series of events, ended up hanging out with a group of Kurdish men who were sending their pal off to his compulsory military stint. As we listened to everyone in the pub sing folk songs, my friend and I had to pinch ourselves. You don't get here from there, they used to tell us. And we wouldn't have gotten to that little club in a back alley in Istanbul if we hadn't been at a record store in Taksim Square with these two women who spoke Turkish and essentially handed us off to a very nice stranger.

So as I relax on the beach, I express gratitude - for my recovery foremost and always, for the means to explore the world, for fantastic friends who like to travel, or go for walks, or sign up for 10k's, or go to a meeting. When I stood on the steps of the treatment program in Seaside, my hand on the door knob, and pushed myself across the threshold into the smokey room, I had absolutely no idea where I'd end up. As one of the counselors used to tell us, "There's a great big world out there, and you can do anything you want to in it, as long as you don't drink or use." OK, maybe not anything, but today, all of my needs and most of my wants are satisfied beyond my wildest dreams. And the funny thing is, my wildest dreams aren't all that wild anymore. A comfortable home, a solid relationship, good friends, a positive relationship with family, work I enjoy - simple really, but miles away from where I was all those years ago.  Thank you God. Thank you God. Thank you God.

Gratitude lists are always appropriate, whether on vacation or during a work week. What are you grateful for today?

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A friend recently joked that I should write a blog on boundaries following their experience setting limits with a family member. "Boundaries" covers a lot of ground, internally and externally. My insides often know when mine are being pushed before my intellect does.

Initially, boundaries meant setting limits - who, and what behavior did I need to distance myself from in order to protect my fledgling sobriety? For me, it was the meth-cook boyfriend, my semi-significant other. I'll never forget the day that I dropped off his things on my way to a noon meeting. Big Kelly was in the car with me, and when the boyfriend started to give me crap on the front porch of his latest crash pad, Kelly simply got out of the car - all 6 feet 5 inches of him, and nearly that broad at the shoulders and said, "Do you need a hand, Jeanine?"

I did need a hand, or more accurately, another sane voice. Living with two friends from treatment was invaluable in those early months when I was still trying to save the boyfriend who wanted nothing to do with recovery. I learned the skill of "book-ending" - checking in with someone before I saw him (or went to the party, or whatever the situation was) and committing to check in after. Accountability.

In new sobriety, my mother's drinking bothered me. Actually, everyone's drinking bothered me, but mom especially. My boundary setting with her was more internal - I didn't call after 5pm, when I could hear the drink on her voice, and timed my attendance at family functions. Her drinking bothered me more than it bothered anyone else, so I made my peace with it, realizing that it was my issue. One day, many years later, she announced that she hadn't had a drink in a couple of years, though of course, by then, I'd stopped noticing.

In more recent years, I've had to set boundaries around self-care, mainly with myself. I used to say "yes!" to nearly everything - there's a great big world out there, and I want to experience ALL of it! And, as I've written before, nothing is special if everything is.

I have self-imposed limits around work - I don't donate time to my employer, as much as I like my job. I've learned to set limits around my sleep schedule - I really, really need every minute of my 8 hours, and I now take responsibility, rather than blame, when I choose to let the clock inch past bedtime. And I've learned, over time, to say, "Let me get back to you," instead of the automatic "Sure!"

On a "check-in" note: Last week I mentioned that I'm rarely held hostage by my emotions anymore. Well, apparently, that doesn't apply to grief. I'd felt a little off for a few days, an unidentified heaviness, and then found myself weeping out of proportion to the event while watching the Royal Wedding on Saturday, and then again on Sunday. Hello Mom. I bought flowers and went up to the cemetery for a good cry and a visit with Mom and Aunty Jeanne, and Grandpa George, and Grandma Millie, who I didn't know. Coming home, I read, about the surprise"of being plunged back into the freshness of new grief" after thinking oneself "healed," and that the process of moving forward "won't happen smoothly... in some sort of gradual uphill climb out of the valley of despair." It is helpful to know that I'm not alone with this, any more than I'm alone with my alcoholism. (from Healing After Loss, Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief by Martha Whitmore Hickman)

Whether it is setting limits with myself or with others, or acknowledging and allowing the sadness of loss to flow through me, this journey is simply one day at a time, one situation at a time. What I breeze through this week might have me flustered next time. I used to think that meant that I was doing something wrong, but now I realize I'm just human. What is on your  mind and heart today? Is there a boundary that needs to be explored, or a wall that needs to be torn down?

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

I'm thinking about the spiritual path, and all the twists and turns that has taken over the years. I've described myself, half in jest, as a monotheistic pagan; probably more of a pantheist, if I understand that correctly (the belief that God/gods is identical with the whole natural world - sort of like what AA says - God "is either everything, or God is nothing. What is your choice to be?") In any event, it is hard for me not to think about Higher Power on these glorious spring days, with technicolor gardens and hundreds of shades of green here in the Pacific Northwest.

Years ago, I gathered with a group twice a month to explore our spirituality as newly sober women. Some weeks we chanted, sometimes we meditated, prayed to Mother Mary, or called on the goddesses. At one point, I said, "We're praying to all these different entities - which one is right?" In unison, my friends cried out, "They all are!" They all are.

What I've come to understand, for myself and myself only, is that there are many faces of god. When I first started exploring the notion of a personal relationship, I wanted answers - God in a box. And then I heard someone say, "If I could understand the Higher Power, I wouldn't need it." Yes. My God is way bigger than my little mind. I sometimes feel an expansive glimpse of transcendence, but most days I plod along on trust, and the memory of all the positive things that have happened since I made the decision to turn my will and life over.

Like many of us, when I first made the move from crystal meth as a Power Greater than myself to a more spiritual concept, I was excited. One day, I came home from my daily noon meeting and hit my knees in tears. "Is this all I had to do, God? Stop sticking a needle in my arm and pray a couple of times a day, and life is this good?" I couldn't quite believe the leap from the despair of my final years of addiction to the simple gifts of early recovery - feeling good physically, looking people in the eye when I talked with them, a sense of hope.

And then, one day at a time, sobriety became more of a habit than a daily adventure - the highs weren't quite as high. I'd entered the workforce, started going to school, and the daily grind was simply the daily grind. The pink cloud of newness had been replaced with "now what?" I asked a member of my home group about this shift. Was it normal? Would I be OK? This wise elder told me her experience. She said that for her, at first, her relationship with Higher Power was like falling in love, with all the joys and jitters of infatuation. Over time, that relationship settled in to a comfortable knowing, like happens with a long term partner. The high twinkles cannot be sustained, but the solid comfort goes on for years, with attention and nurturing, which for me, means the prayer and meditation suggested in Step 11.

And so, that's where I am today, in the solid comfort of trust. Life on life's terms has thrown a few curve balls recently, but I'm better able to ride the wave and access my serene center more easily. That doesn't mean that I don't freak out over this situation or that. An accumulation of stressors brought me to tears in my Tuesday morning meeting. Part of me felt scared, and small, worried about not doing it right (whatever that "it" might be), and I recognized myself in the leader's share about trying to control outcomes. When I find myself wanting to control what's next, especially what's next for someone else, I can nearly always trace it back to fear of the unknown. And, with a capital "A," the gift of long term recovery is that I was able to trace that emotion to the core belief almost automatically. No inventory required, no seven phone calls to four different people, no drama. There are so many benefits to long term recovery, and one of the greatest is that I'm rarely held hostage by my own feelings anymore.

So, life goes on. I gathered with a small group of women, all with over 20 years recovery, last evening, sharing about honesty, starting with gut-level honesty with ourselves. If I'm tuned in to the still, small voice within, I have at least a fighting chance of being able to tell you how I feel. Not always immediately, but I get there.

How has the inventory process, and working the Steps over time, brought you to a place of emotional honesty? How do you nurture your relationship with Higher Power, however you do or don't define that?

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

April was the month of inventory - 4th month, 4th Step, searching and fearless. In the group I participate in, we use a format for the yearly inventory that focuses on our own behavior and attitudes. Ideally, if I'm practicing the principles in all my affairs, I stay current with interpersonal upsets.Which is not to say that annoyances and lurking resentments don't creep up. "And," if I am doing my reasonable best, I deal with my humanness as it grabs my attention, which most of the time includes acknowledging that pesky spiritual axiom that if I'm upset, I need to look within myself for the source of my discomfort. I heard someone once say that if I have a resentment, it's because I haven't yet accepted my powerlessness over the situation, person, place or thing. I hate that part. It's easier to point the finger (the government! my co-worker! my spouse! my whoever!), but that momentary flash of righteous indignation and self-satisfied glee doesn't last. Owning my part, which sometimes takes input from a trusted other to figure out, and being willing to do something different, either in the moment, or next time, is the foundation of continued growth.

So then, May is the time for Step 5, admitting to "God, myself and another human being," the exact nature of my errors and mistaken beliefs. What I've realized is that Step 5 is also about boundaries. In the old days, I would've told anyone anything, and did. In Step 5, I'm told to share with "another human being," as in one other person. This includes learning what to share in a general way at group level, and what is better for the sponsor or trusted other. My first sponsor once cautioned me against doing my therapy within the relationship I was struggling with - i.e., for me, don't take all my anguish about my insecurity in romantic partnerships to the person I'm currently in partnership with. That has "fix me!" written all over it, and was what I was looking for, whether implicit or explicit. I'm not suggesting that we should be dishonest, but one of my hard lessons was that my partner was not the sole provider of support, and was not there to process every.single.emotion I had. Another friend once wisely said, "I have lots of feelings during the day - I just don't need to attach a sentence to every one." Amen, and something I'm still learning.

We had a very lively discussion, in Step Group, about the "nature of our wrongs," and the false beliefs and fears that can get in the way of "happy, joyous and free." Most of my defects, or rather, defenses, have to do with worry and anxiety about what might come to be. I can trace that back to the emotional uncertainty of growing up with active alcoholism, but I'm no better at foreseeing the future now than I was at age 10. One of our members quoted Bob D, of Las Vegas, who once said, "Stop trying to clear up the wreckage of your future!" Oh my God. That felt like an epiphany. At 32 years sober, that phrase hit me as if I'd never heard the term "one day at a time." The  real question isn't whether or not I'll be OK next week, or in 2 years or in 10. The REAL question is "Are you OK right now?" And to that, the answer is nearly always, "Yes." As we were often asked in treatment, when flailing about with one imagined crisis or another - "Do you have someplace to sleep tonight? Have you had enough to eat today? Well, then, you're OK." I didn't want to hear that at the time, but that is absolutely correct. There are emergencies. There are valid fears, certainly, but most of my "what if?!?" is based on fantasy. Another truism heard in a meeting: Higher Power is in the right-here-right-now. If I'm off balance, it's because I'm reaching out into the future, where I'm all alone with my brain.

Most days, I'm steeped in gratitude for what is and am aware of the blessings of a safe home, a strong marriage, a good job. But, I do get out in the ozone, especially when I lose my spiritual balance. For example, living next door to a rental can feel stressful and trigger my safety and security fears. Will this group of tenants be nice? Will they hold loud parties on the front porch, like the last crew? Will they take all the parking spots? Not earth shattering, but events that do impact our quality of life. This weekend, there was some confusion about who was moving out and who was staying. I reacted to my perception of events and took some action, which precipitated a scolding reaction back my way. My initial response was to blame one of several parties, but instead, I phoned my sponsor to vent. She chuckled, bless her heart, and helped me to see both the humor in the situation, and my part. Grrr.  I did some writing, slowed down enough to breathe, and kept my mouth shut. My on-going battle with impulsivity might end up on my next inventory, but yelling and creating chaos will not.

And that, for me, is the essence of on-going Step work. Sometimes I do clean up the wreckage of my future by not creating it in the first place. It is an on-going process.

Where are you with your inventory, either daily or a yearly housecleaning? What keeps cropping up for you? Can you accept and forgive yourself, and move on? Who will you share your findings with?

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

I read a great opinion piece in the Sunday NYT a couple of weeks ago, called "Baby Boomers Reach the End of Their To-Do List" by P. Hampl (link below). It's about priorities shifting as we age, what she describes as the distinctly American "battle between striving and serenity."  I think we recovering folks know all about striving for serenity - NOW!

I am increasingly aware of being in transition from a mind-set of striving to simply being, and it's slightly uncomfortable. Who will I be without my job description? What will I do with my days if I have nowhere I'm supposed to be? Will I get lazy, or depressed? What will the end of my to-do list look like (although I have a feeling I'll still make lists).

I've been in a good place lately, though I ask myself if I am resting on my laurels, or merely reaping the rewards of many years of internal healing work. We are taught to be ever vigilant for selfish, self-centered motives, for complacency or resentments. How will that fit with a more relaxed way of being in the world?  I'm coming to believe that the vigilance needn't be a tight-fisted beating, but perhaps the gentle awareness that comes with the self-knowledge gained in the course of our inventories.

Years ago, a therapist gave me the image of a kid on the monkey bars - there is a moment when I've let go of one bar, but haven't quite grasped onto the next. That moment is the space of transition, the letting go of the old without a real hold on the new. It goes back, again and again for me, to being comfortable with not knowing, to greeting the future, one day at a time, with hopeful expectation rather than insisting on (the illusion of) certainty. My same-age friends and I are talking about retirement. What will it be like to live without a required schedule? Typing that, I think "awesome!" but I also know that I am task-oriented, so it will definitely require an adjusted perspective.

The shift is already occurring. I did not apply for the vacant job one-up from my current position. In the space on my performance eval that asks where I see myself in five years, I now write, "retired." I'm starting to prepare my number two guy for a likely move up. I'm making a list of things I might like to do, when time is not such an issue...

As a tail-end baby boomer, everything I'm feeling and experiencing has already been felt and written about, and probably made into a movie. The good news about that is that there are books to read, and podcasts to listen to about getting older. The bad news is that I truly am not unique, although my feelings are my feelings and are new to me. It's kind of like being in early sobriety, when the old timer would pat you on the head and say, "You're right where you're supposed to be," which was both annoying and comforting. Oh. I'm not alone. There is a path to follow. And the truth is, I have never been here before. I'll keep listening to, and watching those who have gone before, while knowing that, deep within, I am on my own grand adventure.

Has your internal or external "to do" list shifted as you've gained time in recovery, and on the planet?