Wednesday, September 26, 2018

My Dad wasn't much in the advice department, but one thing he did tell me was "Always buy a Chevy, because anyone, anywhere can fix it." This was back in the day when one could simply pop the hood and tinker around a bit to get a car running smoothly. Contrast to this past week when I had my windshield replaced (flying rock), which included a separate trip to the dealer to have the lane-departure alert cameras reset, and oh, by the way, there is an electrical something-or-other recall, blah, blah, blah. Technology is positive in many ways, but simplification is not one of them.

This brought our "Keep It Simple" slogan to  mind, always a good reminder for this complicated brain. One of my 20+ groups (we call ourselves, "Too Old to Give a F***") met last Tuesday, and most of us acknowledged an internal urge for open spaces and simplifying as the seasons change from summer to fall - taking a deep breath, reflecting on a lovely summer, and becoming aware of the need for a step back to enjoy the simple pleasures of raking leaves, harvesting the last tomatoes, appreciating cool mornings.

I've noticed "calendar creep" these last few weeks - filling in the empty spots I've learned to protect. As tempting as it is to say "Sure!" I know that I function better in the world when self-care is my priority. This doesn't mean a month without plans, but it does point towards balance: friend time/solitude, active/passive pursuits. I've come to understand that balance is an ideal - not homeostasis, but a flow from one end of the continuum to the other. It's when I allow myself to operate on auto-pilot that I need to put up the internal "Stop!" sign and reevaluate.

Time, and how I spend it is another of my recurring themes, but isn't that what long term recovery is about? Dozens of inventories later, I understand most of what trips me up, and recognize my defects/defenses/patterns before they take complete control. What joy! I recently read an article in Time magazine that older people (& kids) are happiest. I get it. While not every day, in every way, I'm definitely centered and serene more days than not. And I'm pretty optimistic to begin with, so if there is more of that on the horizon, I'm in!

Something that has brought unexpected joy recently is my newly re-upped library card. I hadn't been to a library in years, as in decades. I like(d) to buy books, to own them - see my old friends on the shelf. But, part of preparing for retirement is my plan to de-clutter, and to save money - hence the library card. I've been twice, and have another book on hold. What freedom! I don't need to commit to a particular title - I can check it out, and if I don't like it, back in the slot it goes! And it feels like a tangible step towards my two(ish) year goal. Paying down the mortgage is one thing. Carrying home a book or two is real and solid and now.

So as I dive into a new stack of reading material and watch for the leaves to turn, I will be mindful of the daily inventory - am I centered today? If not, how will I refocus towards my priorities? One of my favorite Alanon readings reminds me that what is urgent is rarely important, and what is important is rarely urgent. Exactly.

Keep It Simple is a great slogan. Which one(s) do you rely on to steer yourself back on track? Are there any shifts in your external or internal world as the seasons change?

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

On Saturday, I attended a friend’s 90th birthday party. 90 years! The changes she’s seen since 1928! This woman, auntie and grandmother in my “sister-from-another-mother’s” family, is inspiring – enthusiastic and engaged, full of stories from way back when and what’s going on today. One thing I especially appreciate are her reminders of our connections to our people who’ve passed, pointing out that they are still with us, if we simply pay attention. At the party, she wore a hat that belonged to her mother – generations connected through time, and respect.

The next day, we drove down to celebrate our daughter’s move in to her college dorm with brunch and a trip to Home Depot. A rite of passage! I’ve know this young woman since she was 9 years old, and sitting at the restaurant, it felt like she’d gown up in a flash, sharing her excitement and fears, her concerns and hopes for this grand adventure. And she listened as her Dad and I talked about our experiences at her age -  generations connected through love and hopeful anticipation.

Sandwiched in-between, a friend and I attended an 80’s nostalgia concert: Among other songs, Boy George sang one of the anthems to a painful break-up that was part of my hitting bottom, and the B-52’s pounded out a number that was a dance-party staple in early recovery. Much of the crowd was gray-haired, like myself, with a surprising number of younger folks in full 80’s regalia (or what they imagined it to be) - generations connected through the shared experience of music.

We are privileged with connections over time in our program. While I do participate in several small groups of women with over 20 years sobriety, I especially appreciate meetings with those both old and new. Listening to someone with 30 days or less reminds me of the despair and confusion of the early months. Those in the middle are often eloquent in their descriptions of the return to emotional sobriety. And we old-timers remind all of them, and ourselves, that it is alcoholism, not alcoholwasm -  generations, connected through the wisdom of awareness.

I so appreciate this stage of my life. Sure, parts of me are saggy that used to be firm, but that is minor compared to the peace of mind I experience most days, and the joys of connecting with  generations both before and after mine. I can learn from everyone along the spectrum, as long as I am mindful of keeping an open mind and a listening heart. 

Where do you connect with your elders, or those just beginning their journey, whether in meetings or in your family (however you define that)?  Recognizing that we can be both learners and teachers, where do you fit on the continuum today? What have you gained over the passage of time that has surprised you?

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

We drove over the mountain this weekend, to visit the town where my family lived until I was eight years old. My spouse had never been there, and I looked forward to sharing my history with him - the smell of juniper, and volcanic rock crunching underfoot, hot dry days and chilly nights. What I wasn't prepared for was the onslaught of emotion, the grieving for my parents and my fairly idyllic-in-retrospect early childhood.

Coming up on the sixth anniversary of my Mom's death, and just after the 38th year since Dad died, I'd noticed that I wasn't thinking of  Mom quite as often, and it sadly felt like she was slipping away. I wouldn't wish grief on anyone, but there is a comfort, a closeness in mourning - the exquisite pain of loss. Her knick-knacks on my shelves don't seem as drenched in melancholy, her wristwatch I sometimes wear is just a watch.

And then we got to Central Oregon, and that first inhale of juniper brought tears to my eyes. We hit a Friday night meeting and I mentioned that, while I'd never had a drink in Bend, my Dad sure did. When I told the group how he'd prop me up on a bar stool at the old M&J Tavern, with a pile of peanuts to play with, several members, in unison, cried out, "It's still there!"  So, the next day found me bawling on the sidewalk outside the little dive, neon sign from time immemorial still marking the spot. Daddy? Oh my God, I miss you. I miss our huge green lawn (that looks tiny today), I  miss you carrying me on your shoulders and teaching me to ride a bike. I  miss catching June-bugs on hot summer nights, and our little family crossing the street to watch Friday Night Boxing on TV with Irene and Carl. I cried for the time I ran, screaming "Mama!", from the babysitter's house, chasing the car because she'd forgotten to kiss my goodbye. I cried for summers at the local pool, and climbing the tall pine in the lot behind our house, for Mom propping me up with my new baby brother.

I must've been born shy, overly concerned with other people from the gate. In first grade, Mom packed me into a snowsuit in order to stay warm as I trudged the four blocks to school. I cried, not wanting to look like a baby, and peeled off the suit a block away from the building, traipsing through the snow in my little dress and saddle shoes. I was shy, and sometimes scared -  of my Aunty from California, who showed up one day with turquoise eye shadow and cat's eye glasses, of trick or treaters, of the dark. But I was happy. I loved school, and learning to read, I loved Mama Wise's old dog, even though he bit my face. I loved watching the Mickey Mouse Club while eating supper on a TV tray.

I've been back to my old town at least half a dozen times since I got sober and I've never had this emotional of a reaction. Of course, I haven't been there since Mom passed. It's ironic that whenever I seem to think I'm "over" grieving , she makes herself known to me - a little reminder, crying at a certain song or time of day, or the way the hot wind blows on the high desert. And, there was something sweet about sharing all the stories and places with my supportive husband, who gave me the space to mourn.

I am not in charge - of my grief, of my recovery, of my loved ones' health, or mine, of the stars in the sky. But what I do know today is that I can experience grief and gratitude at the same time. I know that the work I've done, and continue to do, in sobriety, allows me to feel my feelings as they occur, not years later seemingly out of the blue. I am grateful for the spiritual distance that the Steps have created between me and my history, a distance that changed blame to appreciation.

How does grief show up in your life today, whether for a particular person, or a time in your past? How do you use the Steps to move through whatever you are feeling today?

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

A co-worker, someone I supervise and consider a work friend, confronted me on a behavior last week related to my impatience – that internal tick-tock that wants me to believe there is never enough time. I wish I could say this was her stuff, but, alas, it is mine. So much mine that I heard similar feedback regarding my control issues at home. Damn it.

My Dad used to shout, “Slow down!” as I ran from the bathroom back out to the street ball game, still pulling up my pants. Slow down. But I didn't want to miss anything, and I'd better hurry, and if I wasn't careful, I'd run out of time. Hurry. Hurry.  I know I’ve written about this before, but confessing my faults is not enough to change the behavior (obviously). I'm seriously considering having “pause” tattooed on my right wrist as a firm reminder. As a less invasive option, my co-worker suggested a sticky note on my calendar, reminding me to “take a breath.”

Fortuitously, I had a sponsor meeting on Friday. She asked, several times, “what was your part?” I had a hard time seeing it. I’ve been doing this work long enough that the layers of the onion are down to those that feel like my skin. I'd been working on Step 8 (August) and in re-reading the chapter in the 12x12, discovered lines I’d never seen before – it’s not merely a list, but an on-going process of amending behavior so that my relationships are clean.

Step 8 led me to an inventory – I did some reverse engineering, first listing the manifestation of this particular characteristic, then looking for the core beliefs under the acting out. I can see that, as a kid, it felt like no one was in charge, so somebody (me!) had to be. I know that I internalized my Mom's belief that if you are on time, you're late.  From a distance, I can see that if I’m right, that makes you wrong. I can see that  underlying fears are the “chief activator of my character defects.” I also listed the positive aspects of the sometimes offending characteristics (I do get things done, which can be an asset), as well as what the healed nature of my core beliefs could be – for example, there truly is enough time, I am safe and don’t need to be in charge of anyone but myself.  So, Step 8 pointed to inventory (4 or 10), which took me to sharing with my sponsor (5), which  sent me back to 3, 7 and 11 – turning it over, asking for continued awareness and the strength to change, seeking knowledge of HP’s will for me and the power to carry that out.

Old behaviors can feel automatic. Case in point – I attended my former home group on Saturday. At the beginning of the meeting, we are advised that the church asks that there be no food or beverages in the room. Heck, I wrote the format. But, there I was, 20 minutes in, opening a power bar without a second thought. I was hungry, I would eat. Even the snap of heads turning towards the crinkling wrapper didn’t bring to mind what I’d heard just minutes earlier. Good grief.

I understand that there are aspects of my character that are simply that – aspects of my character. However, long term recovery doesn’t give me a pass for actions that hurt other’s feelings, or go against the rules, just because I’m hungry, or want to move on to the next thing. My impatience is MY impatience. It always comes back to that. As I was running yesterday, I had the thought that when I do my Step 3 in the morning, I can turn over my character defects as part of “my will and my life.” It felt like a brilliant idea, until I realized, “Oh yeah – that’s called Step 7!”  Humility, remaining teachable, trying to keep an open mind when I want to defend – all challenges for this long-timer who sometimes thinks she has it under control (Argh! There’s that word again!).

Today, and just for today, I will strive to listen more than I talk, to sit still when I want to leave, to be as respectful as I want others to be to me. My sponsor lovingly reminded me that I will make the same mistakes again, that I am, after all, human. And, by doing my level best to practice the principles today (not next week or next month), I am less likely to create situations that require an apology.

What characteristics continue to trip you up? How do you practice pausing in the moment? (that isn’t a rhetorical question – I’d love to see your answers).