Wednesday, October 31, 2018

October sure zoomed by! This coming weekend I’ll gather with our Step Group to discuss how we applied, and were mindful of Step 10 during the month – Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it. Not “if we were wrong,” but “when.”

As I’d mentioned, I attended a women’s conference earlier in the month. The speaker who addressed 10 & 11 really nailed the concept of the daily, spot check and yearly inventory with practical guidelines. I often say that my gut is my Step 10 – I know when I’ve said or done something that goes against my values. I always have, though did my best to outrun or ignore my guilt in the past. The Big Book talks about that - how we act out when drinking, then drink to cover up the shame over acting out – a vicious cycle. I cringed when I first heard someone say, “When I know better, I have to do better,” because there were still a few areas where self-will was in control. But, these days I do know better... 

So yes, my gut is my warning bell, and I benefit from a more formal inventory on a regular basis or as triggered by a situation or event. Not everyone does, but I find the act of putting pen to paper extremely helpful in getting to the root of my usually self-induced discomfort. Where have I been selfish, self-centered, fearful or resentful? What about impulsive, self-righteous, impatient? Am I acting on the same defect(s) or defenses that I don’t like in you? It always comes back to that – the spiritual axiom that if I’m upset with you, it is really about me.Sometimes all I need to recognize my part is a pause, a step back. Sometimes a phone call to my sponsor or a trusted other is in order, and sometimes it is in hearing someone else speak their truth in a meeting that brings the “a-ha” moment. My “a-ha” moments are frequently accompanied by a “darn it!” as in, “here I am again,” but that leap from defense to return to sanity is a shorter ride these days. When we say that “the road gets narrower” in long term recovery, it means that the old excuses and justifications don’t work anymore. I’m less able to B.S. myself, which results in fewer attempts to B.S. you. When I know better, I have to do better.

It’s Halloween, which used to be a MAJOR drinking occasion, weeknight or not. I have an old photo of myself in costume, probably 2 bars in to a 4 bar night in about 1983. Oy. My first sponsor used to say, “You did the best you could with what you knew at the time, Jeanine.” Let’s just say that I didn’t know much. Thank you Higher Power, for sanity and sobriety.

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I feel the need to veer, just for a moment, into the area of current events. I am sickened and heartbroken by this last week's news - the brutal assassination in Istanbul, pipe bombs, the massacre at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, and the killing of two African-American people at a grocery store, gunned down because of their race. Our program has no opinion on outside issues, but I do. I am a human, and I hurt with these reports of one heinous act after another. In the meeting I attended yesterday, we were reminded of self-care, and our primary purpose, which is to stay sober. Yes, and, I need the "courage to change the things I can." I can vote. I can double down on self care so that I'm able to show up where needed and not just curl up in a ball. I can talk with like-minded others, not in an ain't-it-awful way, but with an eye to solutions. As one person, I don't have much power, but I am clinging to the idea that there are more people in this country who have love in their hearts than hate.

How do you process disturbing news, whether in your personal life, or the national stage? How do the Steps help you identify the things you cannot change versus the things you can?

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

I attended a sweat lodge ceremony this weekend, closing a circle of women who've been meeting together for years now, and marking the one year anniversary of our friend and teacher's passing. There was weeping and hollering and singing and silence; there was teaching and reminding and expressions of joy. 

One of the teaching moments had to do with the concept of bardo. Technically, in Buddhism, bardo is the state between death and one's re-birth. It can also apply to ourselves feeling in-between, that idea of letting go of one way of being without having fully grasped the next. An article by Pema Khandro Rinpoche (7/15/17 - see link below), speaks to the capacity for growth that is inherent in uncertainty. It is when we "lose the illusion of control [that] we can discover the creative potential of our lives." The author writes of the heart wrenching that comes with the death of a loved one, and the sense that nothing is the same, because nothing is. But there are other places, too, that can feel empty, the exhale that feels like letting go, which, depending on the degree, can leave me feeling untethered. Not necessarily a bad thing, but a thing that takes some getting used to. 

It seemed fortuitous that "bardo" was addressed during the sweat. Though she was speaking about the death of our friend, I'd gone in to the day feeling like the ground is shifting beneath my feet: I've recently submitted a writing project for consideration of publication, which means what I do now is wait, an in-between if there ever was one. And, I'm now 20 months from retirement, which is too far out to actually do much other than continue to show up, and wait, while doing what is in front of me to do. While neither is monumental in the grand scheme of things, I grew up learning to see around corners - it is hard to both anticipate and relax. 

We have friends who are relocating across country soon, just because they want to, which both intrigues and frightens me. I'm a stay-put kind of gal, though I recognize that my spiritual task is to balance my seemingly innate desire for stability with my soul's urge to grow, along with the deep understanding that nothing ever really stays the same. How do I allow that open spaciousness, or more to the point, how do I infuse the day-to-day with creative energy rather than seeing “creativity” as something separate? How do I truly live with a beginner's mind, an open palm?

When I entered recovery, I was faced with the exciting and terrifying challenge of creating a sober life. At different points along the way, I’ve needed to envision myself as a writer, a single person, a wife, a sponsor, a student, a supervisor, a grieving daughter, a step-mother. All required thinking of myself in ways that I hadn’t before. All involved a period of in-between, of not-knowingness, of “what in the heck do I do now?”  Today, I can draw on my own experience, and the experience of countless others. The beauty of our program is that there is always someone around who has gone through what I’m experiencing. And as a tail-end baby boomer, there isn’t much I feel that is different and unique, much to my chagrin. We are more alike than we are different. Remembering that helps me to navigate what, for me, seems like uncharted waters. I am not alone. That could be the rallying cry of recovery: I AM NOT ALONE.

And so, today, I will relax into the in-between, trusting that I will know what I need to know, when I need to know it. Where do you feel the creative potential of change in your life, whether that is internal or external? What helps you remember to surrender, to let go?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

This has been a period of spiritual significance, from anniversaries of passings to celebrating new life, from walks on the beach to running in my neighborhood, from meetings and rich program connections out of town to a local women’s conference this weekend, all of which remind me of God’s grace. When I first got sober, I was deathly afraid of karma, of getting “what I deserved,” which would’ve been a public stoning, by my estimates. But, I did get what I deserve – a life that is “happy, joyous and free" (Big Book).  Not all days and in all ways, but overall, I am abundantly blessed with good health, strong relationships, and this way of life that allows me to both receive and give back what was so freely given to me.

At the conference this weekend, the woman who shared on Steps 2 & 3 had us close our eyes at one point to imagine all those people who’d prayed for us to get sober, and to thank them. As she pointed out, it wasn’t just family and loved ones. At the end of most of our meetings, we hold a “moment of silence for the still suffering alcoholic.” Were they saying that in meetings in 1984, and ’85 and ’86? Can I believe that it wasn’t just my mother and my cousins, my dear friends and my significant other that were wishing and hoping and praying that I would find health? Can I picture the positive energy emanating from those circles of people holding hands, and holding a vision of recovery in their minds? I can. I can, because I participate in that circle several times a week, literally 1,000’s of times over the years. In talking about prayer, and how we sometimes think we’re too busy, another speaker said, “Really? God saved your life and you don’t have 10 minutes to express your gratitude?” Word.

I’ve been paying attention to the natural world, to those subtle messages that are there if I keep my eyes open, not just to the physical realm, but to the spiritual as well. I live in a city, yet at home, and even in San Francisco, saw coyotes. Raccoon frequently cross my path on early morning runs. When I visited the cemetery over the weekend, four beautiful deer walked through our family site and on up the hill, and a week ago, I saw a doe and her fawn during my lunch time walk at work. Glorious. So, yes, animals in the city, going about the business of staying alive, and by pausing, I can step outside the concerns of my little mind to remember the bigger picture, and that "nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God's world by mistake" (Big Book, formerly p. 449).  I’ve learned that coyote is a trickster and transformer. Raccoons are a symbol of cleverness. Deer represent sensitivity, intuition and gentleness in Native American tradition; in Buddhism,  deer symbolize harmony, happiness, and peace.

I sometimes use the Runes to remind me of my true nature. I frequently pull the stone that suggests I strive to “live the ordinary life in a non-ordinary way” (The Book of Runes, R. Blum) .  My life is fairly ordinary – I go to work, make dinner, hit my meetings, etc, etc, and I can bring a spiritual, Higher Power focused lens to all that I do. Those little visits from Mother Nature remind me that there is way more to life than my “to do” list.

Years ago, a woman chaired a meeting on the topic, "What if God really is running the show?" Ha! What if? What if this Presence and Power that saved my life and has had me covered all these many years, continues to hold me in Her gentle arms? What if the part of me that twitches and wants to know what's next could simply take a deep breath and say, "Oh yeah. I'm not in charge." What a monumental relief, when I remember.

Speaking of God shots - a few weeks ago I had dinner before a meeting with a small group. After, at the meeting, one of the women came up and said, "I know you!" I replied, "Dude, we just had dinner together." She then told me that I'd been her counselor in 1995 when she was just 17. I totally remember her, and a funny thing she used to say. What a gift to connect in the rooms after such a long time. And then, this weekend, I spoke to a woman I've known vaguely, asking why she is Facebook friends with my cousins. "Because they're my cousins!" she said. So cool to connect the dots.

Miracles, small and big, are all around, if I but pay attention. Years ago, I heard Shakti Gawain, author of Creative Visualization, speak. She described this life as a beautiful bowl of fruit, but so often, we have our face stuck in the bowl, so don't recognize the wonder of it all. I remember that when I find myself focused on the three feet in front of my windshield, or barely notice when a squirrel runs by. As the Big Book says, God is either everything or God is nothing. Today, I choose everything.

Where do you see Higher Power, however you define that (Creative Intelligence, the still small voice, Universal Truth, Jesus, Allah, Yahweh, Nature, etc)?  In the natural world? In your daily meditation book? In faces of people you love? Where can you create sacred space to inhabit the pause? 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Very grateful to visit family in San Francisco this week, which included hitting our home-away-from-home group as well as another meeting across the bay that we like. Attending meetings while traveling is a given, and it's especially sweet to check in with people we've come to know.

In my regular meetings, I can be lulled into personalities before principles with comfort of the familiar. In away meetings I am more apt to focus on the message instead of the messenger, more open-minded and in the moment, rather than allowing myself to drift to the grocery list or the fill-in-the-blank that can plague me at home where I sometimes lose track of why my butt is in the chair. Same reason as 30+ years ago - in order to stay sober and to grow in my ability to practice the principles.

What I heard this week was that the act of sitting in a meeting is spiritual practice - seated in silence, listening respectfully, speaking my truth if so moved. I was reminded of both the pain and the beauty involved in surrendering to not knowing what's next. From a dear friend of my husband's, who has been walking through health issues, I heard, loud and clear, the message of "don't wait." Don't wait to take care of my body. Don't wait to appreciate the love in my life. Don't wait to let go of that which no longer serves me (& never really did).

Family meals, a walk on the beach, a visit to the Botanical Gardens, and our daily meetings sent me home full of love and the serenity of vacation. My chosen task is to carry that mindset into the workaday world. Laundry needs doing, bills need paying, but I can do so with intention rather than rushing through the motions. I try to make my first conscious thought of the day "thank you, God, for this amazing life." I sometimes forget the "amazing" as I hurry through the day's tasks. Today, I find a quiet joy in the relative simplicity of coming home - cats purring, the prospect of sleeping in our own bed, a beautiful autumn day; happy to travel and so happy to be home.

What does "home" mean to you? Who are you glad to see during your week, whether in meetings, work or where you live? Do they know how you feel? 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

My 4th grade best friend’s mother just died. In 4th grade, we had 3 little wooden figures we played with in class, and planned our trip to London to meet the Beatles. Growing up, we were in the same peer group – not close, but around, including at reunions and events as the years went by. Her mom was great – a regular in the neighborhood, who I’d see at the grocery store or out and about until just recently. I cannot claim to have known her well, not like some of my other classmates, but she was a fixture, a part of our history. I think of continuity and connection over time as I mourn her passing, and the passing of that generation of moms and dads who saw us through our youth – some lovingly, some not, but a part of who we are today. I feel for my old friend.

Another friend, who lost her mother as a young teen, once said, “Losing your mom was probably easier for you because she lived so long.” She apologized after I started to cry. For those of us close to our mom’s (acknowledging that not everyone is), losing her is hard at any age. The thing with my mom's long life is that she was always there. I did, childishly, think she would live forever. For me, much of the grieving was around change – change in my running routes, change in how my little family celebrates, change in how I spent my time, loss that left me feeling untethered in the world. Change sometimes comes with pluses, but change resulting from loss has been hard to adjust to. At first I cried daily (I probably shouldn’t have been allowed to drive for the 6 months preceding and 6 months after) then weekly, and slowly over time the tears come just every so often, prompted by a song, the realization that I can't just pick up the phone to call her, a sunny day...  What I was told when she was dying is that those who’ve lost their mothers understand, and our grief is solitary and specific.

Grief is another of my recurring themes. How can it not be? This is a season of loss, approaching the 1 year anniversary of 3 friends who died last autumn - Jayna, Grace, and Janet. The world is a little quieter without their laughter, a little emptier without their presence. The same goes for my friend's niece, a beautiful young woman gone too soon. And, October brings the anniversary of mom's passing - 6 years now.

 I will say that everything healthy I know about grief has been learned since entering recovery.  A feeling of dis-ease used to hit me in August. Once I heard someone share about the anniversary phenomenon, I understood that it was a visceral memory of losing my dad in August of 1980, a loss I didn't have words for at the time. I've learned from others, and from experience, that it is way, way better to grieve in the moment, because the feelings will definitely find a way out at some point or another if you don't. I used to think that grieving was time limited, finite, and sometimes chastise myself for "still" feeling sad, though not for long these days. I've learned that grieving is a sign of love, and that while the intensity may abate over time, the loss is always there.

So as this glorious fall season begins, with beauty and with sadness, with life and with death in the natural world and my own, I will light a candle as the days get shorter. I will reflect on warm memories. I will honor those who have gone on.

What do you do when feelings of grief and loss arise? How do you honor your loved one(s) and practice gentleness with yourself?