Wednesday, November 28, 2018

I’m reading a book, translated from Norwegian, titled Silence in the Age of Noise, by Erling Kagge. The author, who has trekked across Antarctica and to the North Pole, speaks to the importance of finding the quiet place within, even (especially?) when the noise of the world fills our ears. The book is a series of small essays. In one, he writes about being in gatherings of those in their 60’s, 70's and 80's, and how the main regret voiced is that they hadn’t realized sooner that this is life. Not someday, not later, but now. That reminded me of what an old guy used to say in meetings when I first came in to recovery, his words cutting to my core: “This is not a dress rehearsal.” No rewind, no undoing what’s been done, no time out while we get our shit together.

As much as I sometimes feel like the years have gone by in a snap, I am beyond blessed to have lived, to be truly living my life. I have had peak experiences that still give me goose bumps. My challenge, be it intellectual or emotional, is to incorporate those peak experiences into the day-to-day. “Life” isn’t just the high notes, the adventure souvenirs and dance parties.  Life is also, and maybe more so, noticing the falling leaves that chase me on my morning run, the way the rain sounds on the roof, cooking a tasty, healthy dinner, waking up next to the person who loves me back. Life is the newcomer who shows up next week, the sponsee who takes the risk of trust, those who do the service that keep our meetings running.  Every day is full of little miracles, if I but pay attention. I very well could’ve died behind the wheel, or at the end of a syringe, so waking up each day is a miracle, and one I vividly acknowledge, even though it has been a long time since I came-to with a hangover.
As the fog lifted, and I surrounded myself with like-minded others, I developed the capacity to dream, envisioning what could be, then taking the steps to get there – signing up for that first class, running an extra mile, picking up the phone. I think of recovery as both pushing myself beyond my comfort zone, and as a journey of discovering my rhythms and the daily rituals that ground me. I am grateful beyond measure for the vision of Bill, Bob and the first 100, who wrote a book that is as relevant to me with 30+ years sobriety as it was at 30 days. They saw the joyful possibilities of lives reclaimed, even though they were only three years in when the book was published.

One of the challenges of long term recovery is to remain teachable – in and out of program. I learned a new word this week: Petrichor = a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather. Who knew?  I also read an interesting article in the NYT Magazine (see link) that describes humans as the only species that can time travel, able to remember the past as well as imagine the future, and how important it is to allow our minds to wander. That seems to dovetail with the idea of inner quiet. Not every moment needs a screen or a keyboard, a radio or TV. Not every moment needs a book or some other distraction. Sometimes, what I really need is to simply sit still and breathe.

December approaches. How will you find moments of quiet reflection amongst your real or perceived obligations? How will you let yourself off the hook if the holiday season isn’t something you look forward to, but simply endure? If you do enjoy this time of year, how will you pace yourself?

A friend very unexpectedly died early today. She was a cousin to my oldest and dearest friend, a woman I've known for something like 45 years - funny, energetic, always full of life. I am in shock, as is the family, and I send my deepest love and condolences.  Tell your people that you love them, not later, but today. Godspeed T.A. Gone too soon.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

This is the time of year that reflections on those final months of active addiction seep into my awareness. In late October or early November of 1985, I was railroaded into the Care Unit (or so it felt), signing myself out after 4 nights (I have my mother's day planner from that year. The notation reads: "jeanine signed out of Care Unit against medical advice! She'll call later".  I'll never forget the look on her face across the Thanksgiving table when she said, "I just don't understand." I didn't understand either, though did my best to justify my behavior.

Somewhere between that look, and a phone call from my sort-of-ex a week later, I had my moment of truth. For me, it was catching my reflection in a mirror as I searched for a vein that wasn't there. In a rare moment of insight, I saw my future if I continued on the same path and it was a blank wall. So when the phone rang in the middle of the night with my ex on the line from parts unknown and he said, through the crackle of an international call, "Jeanine, you need help," a little, tiny voice that was me said, "ok." I don't remember consciously deciding to admit I needed help. Thank you, God, for that the part of me that wanted to live.

I am older now. I used to think of who I was at 31 and cry at the damage I'd done to myself and those I loved. Today I simply shake my head at the chaos I created and contributed to. With gratitude, I think of the people on both sides of the divide (addiction/recovery) who contributed to my sitting here today, healthy, and very sober nearly 33 years later.

Today, on this eve of Thanksgiving, I light a candle and sit in gratitude - for my health and recovery, for a strong marriage and good friendships, for family connections over the miles and the years, for work I enjoy, for community, for peace of mind most days. I remember those no longer here, and today choose to focus on the love rather than the loss.

As I drove away from my home group last weekend, I noticed another member walking down the street, a member who'd left the meeting 45 minutes earlier. I have no idea what other obligations they had, but it struck me that it has been a long time since I walked out of a meeting because I was uncomfortable in my own skin. I didn't really know what that meant - "uncomfortable in my own skin" - until I experienced the internal comfort of serenity. Not boredom, as I initially thought of it, but true serenity. It's been quite a ride to get here, and I'm grateful for every minute of it.

Our Christmas lights went up on a recent dry day, though I won't turn them on until December. I won't listen to the holiday music station until then either. I plan to savor this quiet week before the hustle & bustle begins in full force to really feel my gratitude for this amazing, yet simple life.

What or who is on your gratitude list today? We're having a quiet Thanksgiving at home - what about you? May you enjoy the blessings of the day, whatever you do in solitude or community, or somewhere in between. My prayers, today, go out to those suffering the results of the California wildfires, and to all those who grieve so many recent and untimely losses.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

I realized, as I sat in the second meeting in a week with the topic of “fear,” that a big piece of my “ism” is the “what if?” syndrome – what if this, that, or the other thing goes wrong, and not just wrong, but terribly wrong? I understand on an intellectual level that this kind of thinking is a product of anxiety, of trying to predict the future that may have made sense as a young child, but doesn’t serve me now. I’ve gotten a lot better with changing the channel, with saying to myself, “we don’t do that anymore,” but can still get quite a story going in my mind.

Another aspect of my “ism” is the “it will get better when...”  Things will calm down after vacation, the holidays, that project, the summer months, etc, etc, etc. This, again, is a form of anxiety and anticipation, an attempt to live in the future. Maybe, when I’m doing my 3rd Step in the morning, I can ask to be given the discipline to stay in today. Someone once said that their new year’s resolution was to only have conversations with people who were actually in the room. I can resolve to only think about what is going on today, here and now. Wish me luck.

I am a planner and an organizer, and lately I don’t feel so organized. It is frustrating to try to fit my desired life into after-work hours, when all I often want to do is eat dinner and watch Jeopardy. Everything that needs doing does get done, but I can feel the internal urge for more – more time, more space, more energy for the want to’s vs the have to’s.

I am a planner and an organizer. I like having things to look forward to (ahh – the other end of the “what if?” spectrum). I like having things (trips, parties, coffee dates) to look forward to, and it just hit me that planning takes some of the mystery out of the future. I know what I’m doing on April 10, 2019. I know what I’m doing next Tuesday. Hmmm. The question for me, in long term recovery, is how to accept and appreciate my innate characteristics while being mindful of where they veer into “instincts gone awry” land.

In the first meeting on fear I attended last week in Taos, NM, a member shared that fear is a necessary emotion, and can keep us safe. It is having a right-relationship to fear that is the challenge – which of my fears are real and within my control, and which are fantasy or totally out of my power to influence?  I have some fears around financial security in retirement. I have some impact in this department, and can continue/ increase my efforts at saving. I have some fears for my brother’s health, with a surgery pending, and have absolutely no control over his innards. What I can control is my response. I can flail about, or turn it over to Higher Power and show up as needed.  What is my choice to be?

I just ordered a fancy new 2019 planner that has a section for dreams and goals. My drive and motivation, as related to my career, has definitely ebbed over time, but I do feel that internal push – for what, I haven’t quite yet identified. Other than looking forward to not going to work every day, what are my dreams and goals? I've earned my degrees, self-published my novel, run 10 marathons - what's next, as I enter these later years?  The urge for space to allow those dreams and goals to surface feels more urgent as the time to stop working draws near, and, one day at a time, I am where I am.  

Part of craving space is seasonal, a drawing inward after an active summer. I continue to adore November,  especially now as the temperatures and leaves drop. There is a poignancy to bare branches against the sky, evoking both exquisite sorrow and intense gratitude. This time of year I can hold both, gently and with reverence.

Some people’s "what if" shows up as “what if I had done/said something differently, while others are future directed, and I suppose, some aren't troubled by this at all. What type of "what if" are you, and if not that, is there another twist of thinking that takes you off center? How does Step 11 (November) bring you back to a place of calm?

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

I was privileged to attend Shabbat for Solidarity (for those lives lost in Pittsburgh) with a friend on Saturday. Having never been to Jewish services, I found myself exhaling into the ritual, the observances that felt both ancient and current; the expression of gratitude to God for this life, for our whole being, for our history and our future, neither of which are in our control.

As a kid, I sometimes went to Mass with my Catholic cousins, and again, resonated with the ritual - the holy water and sign of the cross, the incense and the priest's vestments. Where did my craving for ritual come from? In our house, the evening cocktail was ritual. There were half-hearted efforts to get me to various Sunday Schools, but none stuck, especially as Dad's drinking got worse.

I craved ritual and structure when, as a 10 year old, I'd cut out homilies and folk wisdoms from magazines, taping them to the wall beside my little desk. Ritual and structure are what I craved when I attended a local evangelical church with friends in 9th grade, though I instinctively knew I didn't have what it took to give up worldly pleasures. Smoke pot, or go to church - it was an easy choice. Ritual and structure are what I craved when I converted to Islam, desperately wanting a framework to help make sense of my chaotic life. But again, hedonism won out, in this case in the form of cocaine. Always searching, never finding...

And then, eureka, the 12 Steps with structure and ritual galore. Years ago I was at our local Alano Club at the holidays. All three meeting rooms were packed, so I perched at the top of the stairs, and while I couldn't make out the words in any of the groups, I was comforted by the cadence and tone of people speaking from the heart.Wherever, and in whatever language, there is a sameness in the way we gather and what we read, and how we share, the ritual and structure I'd been looking for in all the wrong places.

I have several friends who have returned to the faith traditions of their childhood. I don't have much to fall back on in that department. My mom did instill the belief in a loving and caring Power, but there was no practice, no tradition as she'd removed herself from the formal observance of her mother's religion. I've dabbled in organized religion and unorganized spirituality in the years since, but most consistent has been the 30+ years of practicing the spiritual way of life as outlined in the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, which allow me to go as deep or as superficial as I so desire on any given day. Sometimes it is just about staying sober and sane. Other days, it is about digging deep into that conscious contact with a Power Greater than myself, and both ends of the spectrum are OK.

November feels like a quiet month, with crimson leaves that seem lit from within and rain on the roof as I sleep. I've made a commitment to return to daily meditation, which is a habit too easy to slip out of. Sitting comes more naturally with the shorter, darker days, and if I say it here, I'm more likely to hold myself accountable, more likely to establish and reinforce my own ritual of going within.

This is an early post as I'll be hither and yon - see you next week on my regular Wednesday.