Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The 50 year 8th grade reunion this past weekend was a grand success, with laughter and tender moments the prevailing mood. I was struck, as I participated and listened in on various conversations, by the fickle nature of memory. There was collective memory, of the way our 3rd grade teacher ran her tongue around her mouth before talking, for example. and selective memory, impacted by our specific wounds or triumphs.

Events may or may not be recalled objectively, but emotional memory is always subjective. I think of our saying, "more will be revealed," as applied to the inventory process. My first inventory was focused on what I'd done wrong. The next few were what "you" did wrong to me. Over time, with each revisit, my perspective shifted and changed so that, bit by bit, I've been able to see more of the whole picture (though, still, the whole picture from my viewpoint).

In thinking about those childhood years, when school was fun and my acting out fairly innocent and prompted mainly by boredom, I recall my introversion coupled with kinetic energy.  I remember sneaking candy, passing notes, and talking about that week's episode of The Monkees, or Laugh-In, knowing that most of my peers had watched too. Kind of like what happens in the rooms - we're different in so many ways, but have shared experience that allows our connections and conversations.

The day after the 8th grade gathering was my high school's yearly "all-alumni" reunion. Again, a chance to connect with people I see only once a year, or once every 40 years for some. But high school had a different tenor all together. For one thing, alcoholism had sunk its claws into my psyche. And, with full-on adolescence came the hideous four horsemen of terror, bewilderment, frustration and despair. Parts of high school were fun, and this is when I started confusing attention with validation, attraction with approval. It would be a long time before I understood that those attributes needed to come from within.

It was telling being part of a conversation about a particular person - they were involved in debate, football, this and that. I was involved in the park scene - smoking cigarettes, getting high, cutting class. Hindsight is 20/20 of course, and without some sort of intervention, I doubt I was capable of doing much differently. And, the friendships and associations I made during that time, and in those illicit places, continue to feed my soul. Different experiences, different perspectives, and here we are today.

How has your perspective on the past changed over the years? What has "more will be revealed" uncovered for you?

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

In early recovery, I had so much internal chatter (what we lovingly call "race brain") that I could barely listen to the radio. A therapist recommended relaxation tapes to help me sleep, which was great, except when the machine clicked off, I'd startle awake and stay that way. I called it "tuning fork energy," the result of too much amphetamine, a newly developed coffee habit, and the ricochet of neurons coming back to life. One of the counselors in treatment once said, "You don't need speed, Jeanine. You are speed."

Aided by miles of walking, then running, TONS of meetings and inventories, and listening as so many people told my story, the spinning top that was my mind wound itself down and I learned to sleep through the night, pay attention to the conversation I was actually in (vs. the one in my head), eat food that fed me instead of my cravings, and how to say, "Let me think about it," instead of "Yes!"

So, next Saturday I'll be gathering with nearly 40 people I've known since I was 9 years old as we celebrate our 50th 8th grade reunion. I've been doing a lot of the footwork, with help from a small cadre of enthusiastic friends. The healthy end of the control spectrum can be helpful at times! In any event, it has been great fun - connecting with people I haven't seen in decades, tracking down folks with the help of classmate's older siblings, cutting out tiny pictures from our yearbook to paste on name badges...

And, as the event draws near, I feel that familiar tuning fork energy in my chest. It's the same nervous energy that hit me at term paper time during college, or when I had a big meeting at work. I sometimes feel it when I'm asked to share at a speaker meeting, or chair at a group I'm not familiar with. Sometimes it hits me when I'm packing for an exciting adventure, or getting on a plane. It's not an unpleasant feeling, but one that can take me over the edge from excitement to cranky if I lose awareness and perspective.

Simmering in my nervous energy, I realized, during my weekly Alanon meeting, that I've been feeling responsible for everyone at the reunion to have great time (not just good, but GREAT). Like the Director, I've arranged the lights and scenery. I can now remind myself that what happens next is not mine to manage.

How many times, and in what situations, have I taken responsibility for others' feelings? As a little girl, I felt responsible for my Dad's happiness, or lack thereof. When he was down and depressed, I thought it was my fault - understandable from the viewpoint of a five year old, but inappropriate to my adult relationships. The ongoing beauty of having incorporated the Steps into my psyche is that I'm better, and more quickly, able to recognize my "codependent crazies" (Melody Beattie's term). I know that I need to watch my caffeine intake this week, be mindful of my blood sugar, and get enough sleep.The HALT's are as applicable to me with 30+ years as they were with 30 days. Hungry, (resulting in) Angry, Lonely (isolating) and Tired are not my friends, and never were.

As I listen to music from 1968, and giggle with dear classmates and confidants over our grade school shenanigans, I am grateful for the recovery that allows me to be an active participant in this milestone event (loaded Jeanine would've been nowhere to be found). And, I'm grateful that the tools of the program are useful for so much more than sobriety.

What do you do with positive or not-so-positive stress? How do you return to center?

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

During July, my focus is on Step 7 - "Humbly asked (Higher Power) to remove our shortcomings." Overhearing my spouse's conversation with a program friend, the discussion about Step 6 & 7 rotated around the "entirely willing" aspect of 6, and the removal of defects that we ask for in 7. At first glance, these Steps can look like a one and done, and how does that possibly happen?

In actuality, Step 7 does not stand alone, but is the culmination of the process we started with Step 1, admitting powerlessness. In Step 2 we come to believe that we can be restored to sanity in regards to our lack of power. In Step 3, we make a decision to turn to a Power Greater than ourselves, which provides enough emotional safety to dive into the inventory process, gaining a clear picture of who we are and what needs correcting if we are to live this recovery life. In Step 7, we do the actual turning over, of "all of me," the whole kit & caboodle.  The saving grace of Step 7, which is tucked away in the 12x12 chapter on Step 12, is that we ask that our shortcomings be removed, "such as (HP) could or would under the conditions of the day we asked" (p. 108). Not now and forever, but today. Today, when I am triggered, when I am tempted to react in the way I've always reacted, grant me the grace to pause, to choose a different response, to be conscious of what I'm saying and why. For me, Step 7 is the embodiment of the pause. I have a choice - to keep on roaring my way through the lives of others, or to say, "Wait a minute. I wanted this defect of character removed. What is my part in that process?" The longer I'm sober, the less I'm able to blame you for my reactions to life.

There's been a lot going on in this past week, in the world, in my world, and in the worlds of those I care about. Can I match calamity with serenity, as our literature suggests? Can I stay centered even when I'm upset? That is another of the many gifts of long term recovery - not that we become immune to life's ups and downs, but that the bounce-back comes more quickly, and that I'm usually able to maintain a sense of perspective. What I used to take very personally, I'm better able to see as simply life on life's terms.

As a small example of my upheavals this week, I will acknowledge that I am someone who doesn't let go easily, of people or possessions. I've recently been back in regular contact with the man I was with when I hit bottom, and this week, I mailed off a package of his belongings that I'd hung on to for all these years. Initially, in the throes of my dis-ease, I thought that if I had his things, he'd have to come back. Fantasy thinking, and corresponding with my level of emotional immaturity. Over time, we lost touch, but the little box stayed in the back of whichever closet I occupied. I don't throw things away lightly, and knew that someday, some way, I'd have the chance to amend my old, grasping behavior.

As I prepared the package for return to its rightful owner, I cried. I cried for the confused person I was, and for the depths of my addiction. I cried for the pain I caused during our breakup, ashamed that I wasn't able to act with integrity.  And then I was hit with a wave of gratitude for the role my deep grieving played in bringing me to the place of desperation where I was willing to do anything to stop hurting. I don't buy the notion that "everything happens for a reason." What I do believe is that I can learn from whatever happens, to me or through me, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.

I am so grateful for this journey. I am grateful that those kids were rescued from the cave in Thailand. I'm grateful that a friend came through a surgery, and that another's medical scare wasn't what he was afraid of. I'm grateful that the high drama at work is resulting in renewed vigor. I'm grateful that my television has an off button. I am grateful for the Steps and all that I continue to learn by applying their lessons to my life.

How does Step 7 manifest in your life today? How do you maintain your sense of serenity in the midst of life on life's terms?

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

We attended an AA/Alanon conference this past weekend. I know that conferences are something of a niche, a thing that some of us enjoy and some don’t. I am one of the enjoy-ers. I appreciate the brief respite from my day-to-day, listening to various speakers, hearing new perspectives on the Steps – a re-charge for my program. Waiting for the Sunday morning speaker, I listened to the cheeerful clatter of the room full of our people, happy, joyous and free. They chatted in groups of twos and threes, some talking baseball, or comparing conferences; some in deep communion about the miracle of this recovery life. Once left for dead, or worse - a life of misery for ourselves and those who love us - we walk as free women and men. 

It was interesting to note the missing during the sobriety countdown. Those of us with over 20 years were well in attendance, as were those with under 10. But the middle, “teen” years (11-19) were scant. I’ve noticed this at other gatherings as well – at a local monthly speaker meeting recently, there was no one claiming a coin between 10-15. Where do we go? My guess is that life gets good and we drift away, and we either wander back or not. Obviously, not everyone who stops going to meetings falls back into the disease, but many do. Part of what keeps me in meetings is the member who raises their hand to say, “I had 10, 15, 25 years... stopped taking care of my sickness... drank again... having a hard time getting back.” That scares me.

But it isn’t just fear that keeps me vigilant with my recovery. I am saturated in this spiritual path. I love us – our stories, our examples of the unbelievable, our bearing witness to the miracle of sobriety. One of the weekend speakers, Earl H (amazing story – listen to his CD if you’re able), talked about the journey to finding a Higher Power. He relayed a story of a guy asking a priest, “How do I achieve conscious contact with God?” The reply? “Dance, sing, walk in the woods.” He also said that if you doubt the existence of a Higher Power, look at plants – can you do that? I look at my blooming Passion Flower vine and say, “Nope – this flower is an outright miracle, looking like something from outer space. Thank you, Creator.”

Today is Independence Day, which coincides with my half-year sobriety anniversary. On this day, I like to take a few moments to reflect on my freedoms – freedom from the chains of my particular addiction (terror, bewilderment, frustration and despair) and freedom to... freedom to fully participate in my own life and the lives of others, sometimes joyful and sometimes painful, but all of it, a gift.

What freedoms do you celebrate today, big or small?