Wednesday, August 29, 2018

I’m thinking about the fluid nature of my recovery program. There are moments (days, weeks, months) when I'm neck deep in meetings , conferences, active sponsoring, and step groups, desperate for the solace and  sense of belonging I receive in my community.  Other times are more attuned to journaling, meditation, candles and my home groups - a quieter flow. Initially, I was conscious of any tendency to slack, hearing the old-timer’s voices in my mind – “Meeting makers make it!” “I come to meetings to see what happens to people who stop coming to meetings!” And so on. That instruction was good and right when I was younger in sobriety – I needed the structure. That structure is also beneficial during any kind of life change, be it positive or negative. My default is to isolate, so being with my people is a comfort I don’t always recognize until I’m sitting in it. But, over time, I've come to understand that sometimes, self-care is staying home from a meeting. Sometimes, self-care means curling up with my journal and a recording of the ocean, if I can't actually be at the sea. Sometimes self-care = silence.

I recently heard the  SAMHSA (Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration) definition of recovery: 1) Recovery is individualized and self-directed 2) Recovery doesn't follow a linear progression, nor is it time-limited 3) There are various access points to recovery and can progress through various pathways, which often change over time 4) Recovery likely flourishes within a community.

I love it when the scholars verify what I know to be true from my own experience.  Recovery is very individual. 12 Step programs have 100's of thousands of members, and while we have our guide, we each "work the program" in our own way. Some sponsors are very structured in their approach, some not so much. Some of us work the Steps continuously, others yearly, or just once at the beginning, and so on. And, recovery doesn't follow a linear progression. Amen to that. How many times have I confronted an issue I thought I'd dealt with, only to come at it from a different angle on the spiral a few years later? Two steps forward, a couple to the side, a hop or a skip, and here we are, on that road of happy destiny.  And various pathways that can change over time... I have a friend who drifted away from meetings and went back to drinking, and another who is sober for decades after leaving AA. I know people who move from 12 Step to church, and back again; others who simply stopped using whatever it was that was out of control. Many paths...

And community - During a rather frenzied time in my life, I participated in a book group, a running group, a church discussion group and my 12 step meetings. I realized, sitting in those "other" communities, that most people simply want to belong somewhere, to something, and how fortunate I am to have a community of my peers, people who have been where I've been. There are a few other places where I feel I belong, but my 12 Step communities have been the most consistent.  So, paying attention to my heart, listening for the still, small voice, I will notice when and where my spirit gets fed, and where I can be of service as well.

I keep coming back to these thoughts of how my application of recovery has shifted over the years.  Here I am, nearly 64 years old, coming up on 33 years sober, 7+ years married,  and a couple of years from retirement. Life is good. Life is good, and, feels different than it did 4 years ago, or 14, or even 2.  I guess that's the idea - same can equal stagnant, so feeling a shift might indicate that I'm right where I'm supposed to be, even if I don't always know where that is. 

Where do you feel an internal push or pull, as the seasons prepare to change? Are you moving away from, or towards your true nature?

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

My work requires re-certification every 2 years. I am in that process, which is, essentially, writing a check and submitting documentation of continuing education hours. I realized that this may be the last time I write that check, assuming I follow my retirement plan. I might re-up for 1 more stint, "just in case," but I don't need to know that now. The bigger reflection point is looking back on a 30 year career with gratitude.

30 years ago, I was called to do the work I do, yet was terrified and so very doubtful of my abilities. Part of my work involves speaking to an audience, a sometimes disinterested and distracted audience. (thank goodness for the practice that I get in meetings). I was absolutely certain, at 33 years old and newly sober, that I would be unable to fulfill that component of the work, so probably shouldn't even begin the needed education. But, I did, and my work has been a series of taking one small step beyond my comfort zone, and then another, and then another.

It's an odd place to be, this getting older - and I'm very aware that it is a gift not all get to enjoy. A friend who is a few years ahead on the calendar is thinking about the "lasts," as in last day on the job, last run, last time hiking, last trip on an airplane...   So  much of recovery has been about "firsts" (holiday season, date, birthday, job). Shifting the view includes thinking about mortality. There will be firsts with this next phase of my development (first Social Security check, first day without an alarm clock), but, yes, with an eye to the lasts.

I've been journaling specifically about this winding down of my career, and realized that I'd been only thinking of the ending, rather than also the new beginning. I've not thought of myself as someone who gets my identity from my work - I enjoy it, but I enjoy my not-work time too. But, work provides structure - I have someplace to go, a purpose. In what ways will I define purpose and meaning outside that structure? I trust that more will be revealed, in its own time.

What are you looking forward to at this stage of your recovery, of your life? How can you both prepare and let go?


You might notice that I've added a link to Oregon Recovers on my blog page. I was honored recently to hear the founders and supporters, including Oregon's Governor, speak about the need to increase recovery resources so that all who seek recovery from substance use disorders can find it. Oregon currently ranks 50th in the nation in access to treatment - not good, when even a few days delay can change the entire conversation. Oregon Recovers is an advocacy group for those of us who are usually anonymous. Their mission statement is below. Check them out at to learn more.

"Oregon Recovers is an inclusive statewide coalition comprised of people in recovery–and their friends and family—uniting to transform Oregon healthcare to ensure world-class prevention, treatment, and recovery support services for Oregonians suffering from the disease of addiction."

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A friend and I hiked in the Olympic National Forest this weekend. I say, "a friend," by which I mean one of my closest and dearest. We were in Quileute to search for the One Square Inch of Silence plaque in the Hoh Rain Forest, and, more importantly, to celebrate his 33rd sober anniversary. We met when I came in to treatment in January, 1986, where he'd gone with 4 months sobriety under his belt. He left a week after I arrived, one of those chance encounters that has ended up being one of the sustaining relationships in my recovery, and in my life.

Somewhat in jest, as we made our way back to the Seattle Ferry early Sunday morning, he asked, "How did we stay friends all these years?" I think a lot of it has to do with being "litter mates." We share a "coming-to" story, were taught similar lessons in treatment, and we've both stayed on the path of 12 Step recovery. We lived together for a time, cementing our new friendship, along with another treatment alumni, Ruth. He was 21, just a kid, though a kid who'd seen more than his share of alcoholic drama. I was 31, coming out of the meth fog, and Ruth was 60, my mom's age, who's drinking increased when one of her sons was killed in a car accident at Christmas time. Together, we traveled up and down the I-5 corridor, hitting meetings, going to dances and potlucks, and starting each day with our meditation books and the coffee I'd learned to drink in treatment.

We know each other's families, so that when my best friend talks about his grandmother, I remember sitting at her kitchen table in Montana, eating the bacon and eggs she'd fried up. He remembers my mother's laugh. He knows my ex's and I know his. We've cried together over heartbreak, laughed and mourned together, and everything in between.

I'm blessed to have several dear friends who fit this category of shared history, where we can talk every so often and it feels like just yesterday. And, this has been a summer of reunion, from the official 8th grade event, to music in the parks or hikes with friends I don't see so often anymore. Staying connected seems to take more of an effort these days. Life gets complicated, or so we tell ourselves. Where we were once a roaming band of singles, most are now familied-up with grand kids and nieces and nephews, spouses, step kids, in-laws, and aging parents vying for attention. Our meeting habits have changed - no longer do we insist on a meeting a day, with fellowship before and after. We are reaping the benefits of long term recovery, one day at a time. And, with a bit of  "been there, done that" that comes with aging, there is no longer the need to attend every opening, see every movie, hear every band. I joke that I love making plans, and I love when they get cancelled. Home is definitely where my heart is, along with my books, our cats, and various projects. A cozy night with my dear husband wins out, nearly every time.

We never did find the One Square Inch of Silence, though not for want of trying as we splashed up and down the undulating Hoh River Trail in the pouring rain. It was truly a weekend of "the journey, not the destination." Much like true friendship, which is a journey of intent, commitment, and picking up the phone.

Who do you connect with regularly? Who do you want to reach out to? Where is the journey taking you this week?

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

After a two month absence, I was back in my Step Group this weekend as we reviewed our efforts at working Step 7 during July. Always a meaningful discussion, and so helpful to hear how others apply our principles to daily life. It’s one thing to read about the Steps, and quite another to do the deal in the cold light of day (or the dark and gloomy night).

I was particularly struck by the reminder that when I act out of a place of anxiety and fear, others’ anxiety rises, and we’re off to the races. Like meets like, which certainly applies to the emotional energy I bring to a situation. It always comes back to me, and the vital importance of staying centered. Self-care isn't just bubble baths and candles. Self-care means prayer and meditation, saying what I mean (without saying it mean), along with doing my best to take my own emotional temperature before pointing the finger of blame. And yes, it is a lifelong process. If I were to rewrite Step 7, I'd say something like, "HP, please increase my awareness of my defenses and challenges, and grant me strength to do something different in the moment." It is that increased awareness that is both the gift and the curse of seeking maturity and internal peace.

On to Step 8. At face value, we make a list, but deeper, this Step is about amending behavior going forward. When first working the Steps, I made a list of people I had harmed: Who did I hurt, and how, intended or otherwise? Who did I lie to, cheat on, steal from (whether that was material goods or time and affection). Over time, my Step 8 grew to include those relationships I shortchanged by not being genuine, by not speaking up, by saying “yes” when I meant “no.”

At this point in recovery, and with most of my sponsees, the 8th Step list is small, as in maybe one or two people, and generally includes oneself. When I do my yearly housecleaning inventory, not a lot new comes up because I’ve done my best to stay current with Step 10. So Step 8, as a practical matter in long-term recovery, means being kind, keeping my mouth shut when there is no real reason to speak my mind (1. Did they ask? 2. Am I the HP? If the answer to either is "no," then stop talking).  

I don’t expect to like everyone I meet. I can respect someone’s recovery without wanting to hang out. However, if I find there are relationships, past or current, that cause me an internal cringe, what do I need to do to get and keep my side of the street clean? Don’t gossip, for one. No one else needs to hear about it if I’m not crazy about someone. Don’t gossip, and cut the other person some slack. We’re all just out here being human, which, according to one of my Alanon readers, is not a character defect.

I can also practice cutting myself some slack. So I’m not perfect, even with all this sobriety? Thank goodness – wouldn’t that be unbearable? But, or rather, and, I can be mindful of my particular “isms” and do my best to think before I speak, pause before I act, pray before making a decision. It only takes a couple of seconds to check in with myself and use the THINK – is what I’m about to say Thoughtful, Helpful, Intelligent, Necessary and Kind? 

I keep coming back to the importance of the pause because it is where I struggle. I can run for four hours at a stretch, I can show up to work on time every single day, but pause for three seconds? What an order!  But, from what I hear in my meetings, I am not the only one. What a relief. I gain such comfort from sitting in a circle of like-minded others as we trudge the road, laughing at our foibles, crying together, celebrating our accomplishments - such a gift. 

What is your particular "ism?" What trips you up in your efforts to practice the principles in all your affairs? How do you apply the Steps in your daily life?

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

A friend recently talked about their struggles with feelings – more specifically, with allowing vulnerability. I joked that I’m the opposite – I’ll emote all over you, if you're not careful! I’m a feeler, an empath – which can be positive in my chosen profession, and can sometimes lead me down the garden path of melancholy or impulsive joy (This feels good! I want to feel even better!) In early recovery, I was advised to learn balance between intellect and emotion, head and heart. Too much of one or the other, and I’m off kilter. Living in my feelings, I’m more likely to be reactive, way up or way down as I ride the waves of emotionality. If I reside in my brain, I either feel detached or over-engage in the machinations of thinking, thinking, thinking with 3AM ruminations on what I can do for the situation du jour. Avoiding the see-saw is why I do my best to incorporate the Steps in my daily life - start the day with 1,2,3, end with 10,11, and do my best to practice the principles throughout.

How do I walk that tightrope, or the road that narrows, with pure feeling on one side, and intellect on the other? In most of my day-to-day, this doesn’t even come up. I go to work, do laundry, grocery shop, peruse Facebook... on something like auto-pilot.  It’s when I’m triggered that I can veer into the dark valley of feelings, or towards figure-it-out-ville.

A wise friend once told me that “an adult gathers information.” That can apply to buying a car or a washing machine, evaluating a job or a move. I can also apply that to my emotional and mental state. The gathering of information can involve putting pen-to-paper, purposefully sharing in a meeting, or with a sponsor or trusted other, in an effort to gain clarity. The act of speaking my confusion takes the power out of whatever has me tied in knots. So, gathering information can mean mining my internal well, looking underneath whatever distractions or defenses might be up. It can also mean talking to the person (or institution) that might be involved in my dilemma – do I truly know everything I need to know, or am I making assumptions?

If I’m struggling with balancing my thoughts and feelings, slowing down is never a bad idea. And part of the deal is accepting who I am - a feeler, much like my mother; a feeler who sometimes over-thinks. I am less impulsive than I used to be - age and experience lend themselves to slowing down. If what seems like a good idea today is sincerely a good idea, it will still be so tomorrow, or next week.  I know, too, that the person who talks about being uncomfortable with vulnerability is demonstrating vulnerability in the telling. Every time I take one tiny step past the outer boundary of my comfort zone, I move closer to healthy integration of who I was, who I am, and who I hope to be (one day at a time). 

Today, I am wrestling with a family member's uncertain medical issue. It's the in-between of not knowing that sends both my mind and my heart racing. I've called in the prayer-warriors, and have utilized my "God Box," and, more will be revealed. In the meantime, I will meditate, try not to think about it, and practice the Serenity Prayer. I can be there for my family as needed, which entails practicing my own self care.  

Are you more of a thinker, or a feeler? If your natural inclination sometimes feels out of balance, how can you strengthen the opposite trait? How might self-acceptance and a gentle touch ease your way?