Thursday, December 26, 2019

Greetings. A few of you have asked for more information on the Now What workbook... 

The workbook is 8 1/2 x 11 format, with 78 pages of topics, each including a member's view, with processing questions and room for writing on each topic .

Chapter titles are: Taking Stock, Meetings, Sponsorship, Medication and Illness, Other Addictions, Grief & Loss, Aging as a Long Timer, Young People as Long Timers, Relationships and Intimacy, Our Work Life, The Principles of the Steps, Revisited, with a few final Now What? questions.

Let me know if you have any additional questions by writing me at

Happy trails!

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

To quote John Lennon, "And so this is Christmas..."  

This past week I attended two medical appointments with two people I love. One was very hopeful – not perfect, but a prognosis for a positive outcome. The other was nearly opposite, and involved sitting with a dear friend who was basically given their death sentence. I am both honored and heartbroken to have been in that room, and I know that there are darker days to come.

Talking afterwards, as my friend attempted to make sense of what he’d just heard, he engaged in some of the “what if?” questions, as in “What if this had turned out differently?” “Maybe I should have….  I wonder if…” All components of a painful life review, when it seems that the end will come sooner than anticipated. How will I be there for him, knowing that there are some tough decisions to be made? How will I answer those questions when my own end draws near, understanding that I may not get a forewarning?

Overall, 2019 has been a good year for me - several grand adventures and the excitement of planning for ending my career. And, as the calendar draws to a close, matters of life and death are at the forefront. It seems that part of growing in life, and in recovery, has to do with being able to hold opposing views – happy and sad, strong and vulnerable, gentle and firm. Black/white thinking has no place in my reality today, though wouldn’t that be easier? Good vs evil, positive vs negative? It is rarely that simple.

In thinking of the two people mentioned above, and also in listening to friends speak of people they are supporting during hard times, I was hit with gratitude for the community of our fellowships. In just a couple of days, my people have rallied, offering whatever is needed. On the other hand, my terminal friend doesn’t have a vast network to draw from, which is part of my sadness. I can be there. And I can know when to cry "uncle!" when I can't.  Having walked this road with my dear mother, I have a good sense of the questions that need asking, the gentle holding of another's heart as they walk the path only they can walk, the importance of seeking my own support.

In my home group on Sunday, the chairperson spoke of pain as love, pain as teacher, pain as the propellant towards healing. I realized that what I’ve been calling “pain” these last few weeks really isn’t that. Pain, in its purest sense, is only a millimeter away from pleasure – the gasp that signals both. What I label as pain, however, seems to be some sort of hybrid: sadness + regret, overwhelm + time constraints, fear + anger, for example.  Emotional pain is a sign of love, as in the exquisite grief when a loved one passes, but can also be an indicator that I’m confusing love with dependence, caring with neediness or control. What has always helped is putting pen to paper to unravel the depths of the emotion. And then the hugely challenging spiritual exercise of letting go, turning it over, accepting that what is, is.

A friend shared a quote (source unknown) – “What I truly want is on the other side of fear.” I would say, too, that peace of mind is on the other side of pain, if I’m willing to do the work to stay in the moment. 

Baba Ram Dass died this past week. I will share his quote and smile, hoping that this is his experience:
"Death is not an error. It is not a failure. It is the taking off a tight shoe."

How is it that pain as been your teacher? How do you both comfort yourself, and do the hard work of discovery and healing?

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Greetings of the season! I am very excited to announce that my newly printed "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What? a Workbook for the Joys & Challenges of Long Term 12 Step Recovery" is available for purchase through this site: See Paypal button at right... 

If you need to reach me, I can be found at

Best wishes to all of us for a safe & sober holiday.       

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Greetings all. My workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" is now available. I'm doing a test run with the Paypal system to make sure I see the purchaser's address and payment info before I go live - stay tuned to this space for the "Go!" message.  Thank you! I'm very excited to share this work with you.       Jeanine B

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

I’m thinking of anonymity in meetings, which can be tough for those of us who’ve been in recovery in the same town for a long time.  I so appreciate my home group – that sense of being known, of knowing others, of claiming my particular seat and knowing that others will be in their appointed places by the door, or over by the coffee pot. And sometimes, I want to be where nobody knows my name. Sometimes I want to be an anonymous (sober) drunk in the back of the room. Sometimes I want to share in a general way and not have my meeting friends try to put together the puzzle pieces.

And, I’ve essentially grown up in meetings. From someone who mostly shared intimacies when under the influence to a person who has learned to use meetings to take the power out of a given situation or emotion, I’ve grown accustomed to processing. For many years, I’d mainly share once I was firmly in the solution. These days, I often can’t help myself from sharing in a specific way. It depends on the matter at hand, and the level of safety I feel in a given group, but often, simply the act of sitting in the circle starts me crying as I feel the warm embrace of the"We," and hold still for perhaps the first time that day.

When life feels like it's coming at me from all sides, my inner sick Alanonic wants to skimp on self-care and go straight to frantic. I caffeinate, and move from awareness to action without the pause vital for the acceptance piece of the equation. My healthier self knows that I can't be there for anyone if I'm not there for myself. This week, what that meant was attending my morning meeting despite my "helper" self needing to get to work to atone for leaving early. It meant staying in rather than going to my usual nighttime group, recognizing the need for down time. It has meant being open to outside help, and asking my trusted others for support. And on Thursday, it will mean sitting in sacred circle for our annual candlelight women's Solstice meeting.

Our literature tells me that self-reliance will fail me every time. When I find myself moving in what I call "tuning fork" energy, I can take a deep breath of recognition that I'm in "I've got this" mode. The deep breath itself doesn't necessarily fix what's ailing me, but it does serve to bring my attention to my dis-ease. I've made a fear list, including self-centered fears, putting pen to paper as is suggested in the Big Book. Again, it isn't magic, but part of the process of slowing down.

Someone posted  this quote on Facebook - "On particularly rough days, I like to remind myself that my track record for getting through bad days so far is 100% and that's pretty good." Years ago, someone pointed out that everything he's been afraid of has already happened. I haven't fallen out of a burning airplane, but otherwise, that is true for me as well. Life feels hectic in the moment, not in the least aided and abetted by the holiday rush, which I don't participate in but can't help but feeling in the busy stores and increased traffic. One day at a time, I learn good news and not so good news. One day at a time, I show up for my family and friends (& they for me), as well as the people I work with. One day at a time, signs of the season remind me that there is a beginning, a middle and an end to all things. 

Today is the one year death anniversary of the person who facilitated me getting sober so long ago, despite all the crappy things I'd done to him. This darkest week of the calendar year also marks the very darkest time of my life, leading up to treatment and my recovery anniversary on January 3rd. I know that I am a sum of all that has gone on in my life - those current events that shake my soul as well as the sad and happy memories of times gone by. Remembering the totality of who I am, sitting here today at my desk, helps maintain some sense of perspective. I know I'm talking in circles, and more will be revealed to both you and me. Suffice to say, as my sponsor reminds me, today, all is well.

What is on your heart and mind during this dark lead in to the winter Solstice? Is this time of year filled with good cheer, melancholy, or a little of both? How will you participate in the "we" this week? 

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

I few years ago, I was at the HOWL conference in Hood River, perusing the literature table with a friend. As I thumbed through the various daily readers and other texts, many of which I own or recognize, I said, “I’m in long term recovery – where is my literature?” We laughed, and I joked, “Maybe I should write it.” Later that evening, as my husband and I enjoyed pizza on the waterfront, it hit me: Maybe I should write it! Maybe should write a book on long term recovery.

Out of that initial idea came this blog as I wrapped my mind around what and how I would write for those of us who've been sober a long time. I started these weekly posts on 5/14/16 and am honored to have readers locally, as well as in Madison, Seattle, and the Oregon coast, along with Dubai, Prague and Mexico. After a share on the AA Agnostica website (, I believe there are some Canadians out there as well. Thank you, all, for your participation in the conversation, whether that is in person, via email, or the occasional comment on the page (Please! Share your thoughts with other readers!).

In the meantime, the idea struck of a workbook with topics and processing questions, including input from others on the path. Because I am a somewhat haphazard writer, it has taken awhile to gel, but I’m very happy to announce that the workbook is at the printers and will (hopefully) be ready to market before the new year. Stay tuned.

Over the years, I’ve come to recognize that when an idea seems to come from nowhere, it is usually meant to be, especially if it feels too big for what I think I can handle. The intuitive thought doesn’t usually show up in neon lights, but the still, small voice is insistent and doesn’t brush off easily, though it can take time to realize the message. Often, those gentle nudges come to the surface when I’m journaling, or out for a quiet, early morning run. The world often feels far too noisy, which clutters my already busy brain. Intentionally seeking quiet helps me silence the internal chatter, as does remembering to take a deep breath.

And I’ve had to do a lot of breathing lately as life-on-life’s-terms has hit in anticipated and unexpected ways, most notably with health concerns for my loved ones. With some challenging medical news on Monday, I now realize that I immediately went into “fix it” mode until I sat in my Alanon circle Tuesday morning and began to cry. I was reminded, in yet another helpful after-the-meeting parking lot conversations, that it is ok to be concerned, that it is ok to feel. Exhale. While it is my default/old tape to move from information directly to action, I was reminded that acceptance and turning it over are vital if I want any peace of mind.

Later that afternoon I went to the grocery store, and ran into an old high school friend, and then a grade school pal, and a co-worker.  As I walked to my car, I stepped over a syringe cap, reminding me of what life used to be like, and as I turned my face to feel the rain, I felt myself sink back into my body. Yes. All is well todayLife goes on. Groceries are bought, beds are made, cats are fed, doctors phone. I can honor and experience my emotions, and by doing so, allow them to move through. It’s only when I try to stay in super efficient-mode that my feelings come out sideways and I find myself taking my car keys into the bathroom, or missing a familiar turn because I’m so wrapped up in non-productive thought. 

One day at a time, one day at a time, one day at a time. As much as it annoys me, I am SO not in charge. But, also, I am so not alone. My loved ones and I have such support and caring. When I give it even a moment's thought, I know we'll be alright, one day at a time.

What dreams are trying to get your attention?  When have you listened to your heart and taken a leap of faith that was the right thing at the right time?  If struggling with acceptance, what can you do today to move from your head to your heart?

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

I did some traveling down Memory Lane this weekend at a friend's 60th birthday celebration. She's long since moved out of town, but what a delight to see her, and the other two members of our early recovery crew. Meetings and potlucks and conferences galore! We were in each other's weddings, and attended the memorial for one of our's husband, gone far too soon. For several years, after I'd acquired a video recording camera back in the pre-cell phone & tablet dark ages, we recorded "Dreams & Goals," a sometimes rambling, giggle-filled commentary on what we thought life would be like in the coming years. Staying sober topped the list, along with getting married (though most of us were single), maybe having kids and/or a career, writing a book - basically we had no idea, which didn't stop us from being shy and silly in front of the camera. A couple of years ago, my husband inadvertently donated this old VCR tape to Goodwill. When I started to cry, said husband (a definite keeper) made his way to the distribution center and miraculously retrieved it. I need to watch it again and see what of those early intentions came to be.

Time. Time passing; time creeping or speeding by, depending on whether I'm looking forward to something or not, or simply not paying much attention. I heard several good messages in my weekend meetings regarding surrender, which somehow feels related to the idea of time passing, which it will – whether I’m ready or not. It feels like just yesterday that my friends and I were enjoying slumber parties and trips to the coast, but it’s been more like 30 years – 30 years full of life-on-life’s terms, jobs and illnesses, break ups and make ups, some of us going to meetings, some not, and the ability to pick up the conversation as if we’d seen each other last week. Time passes. People and situations change, as do I, thank goodness. I still carry around the character defaults that plagued me when I first got into recovery, but with time and Step work, their hold is less a death grip than a gentle reminder that I am human. And, I hold dear to my heart the friendships that guided me through those early years of exploration: Who am I? What is it I like to do? What are my values?

On another note, I had a good “parking lot conversation” with a fellow Alanon member yesterday morning. She’s new(ish) to recovery and has just had the light bulb moment of awareness that her parent’s illness was not her fault. Talk about a journey! It took decades for the true understanding of that fact to move from my head to my heart. I could tell you that I knew it, but until I felt it in my gut, with a sense of true compassion for the little girl who thought her daddy would be ok if she were “enough” as well as for my alcoholic father, who carried his own internal demons, I was trapped. The awareness didn’t just happen – I’d done therapy and multiple inventories around my childhood. But what I know is that I can only prepare myself for the change we ask for in Step 7 – the actual shift isn’t something I can conjure up just because I want it. For me, it was a dramatic moment, but sometimes the hoped for change comes subtly and I realize one day that, “Oh, I don’t do that anymore.” Or “Hmmm – did I actually just pause?”

Surrendering to the moment – at work, at home, in my head – is part of that preparation for the magic of the Steps to take hold. Surrendering to the busyness of the holiday season, surrendering to changes in friendships over time, surrendering the circumstances of others’ lives, surrendering my own recovery trajectory. I do the “work” (showing up, self-care, practicing the principles), period. Just because I meditate extra hard, or am a good sponsor, or blah, blah, blah, doesn’t mean that I’m rewarded with joy and positivity. Life happens. Surrender means that I give up the illusion of control, and through that, gain the strength and good humor to walk through whatever shows up on any given day. Sometimes the One Day at a Time concept seems too simple to wrap my complicated mind around. Other days, I say, yes - just for today.

This time of year I have several rituals to mark the season: I go through my new wall calendar and write in birthdays and important dates, we decorate a tree with our daughter, and at Solstice, I share with a group of women what I want to release from the old year and bring in to the new. What, if any, seasonal rituals do you participate in, either solo or as a group?

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

I've been talking to, or stopping by to see my friend every day since the "c" word (cancer) was spoken aloud. We still don't have a prognosis or treatment options, but that ugly word is floating in space - once uttered, a word like that can take on a life of its own. I see my role as a tether to the here & now, not there & then - a tough place to be when my own feelings are on high alert. Hence meetings, meditation, talks with good friends. And paying attention to where my own historical grief is triggered. Potential loss triggers acute memory of other losses, and I find myself in this dark and poignant time of year, thinking of those who’ve left this plane during the autumn and winter months: my dear mother, cousin Doug, my friend's sister Janet, teacher & friend Jayna, my ex Hassan, dear Walt... I know that we each have our list.

I stopped by his house last Wed. We touched on the medical stuff, but mostly talked about the upcoming Thanksgiving meal, keeping it positive, keeping it light. As I headed towards my regular meeting and turned on to the busy four-lane boulevard, bumper-to-bumper at 6pm, it felt like I'd entered a gentle flow with multiple drivers letting cars in from the side streets, making room for each other. I felt the spirit of the holidays deep in my heart, the kindness of strangers as we made our way in the dark. With my emotions in a fragile place, I found myself tearing up as “Rocky Mountain High”, of all things, came on the radio, with that swelling of feeling that is sadness and joy wrapped into one. A few miles later, a group a pre-teen boys danced at a bus stop, not to the song I was listening to, but in perfect time with that rock & roll 4/4 beat. Again the tears as I reflected on the beauty and brevity of this frail human life. One day we're dancing at a bus stop, or in the school gym, or at a noisy club. Blink a few times, and we're at the end of a stethoscope, hearing what no one wants to hear.
As Mary Oliver so beautifully writes, "What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" I ask myself that question, often with a "what have I done?" spin.  I think about life and death and all that comes between. I think about my powerlessness over so very much. I think about the continuum, especially now that I'm officially an elder. I will say that it's easier to accept  life and death as part of the spectrum when it is death and illness in general we’re talking about - way harder when it is yourself or a loved one. Harder still when it comes in multiples, like it is for several of my friends. All we can really do is love each other. All we can really do is let the car into our lane, smile at the boys at the bus stop, and share a Thanksgiving meal.

And today, all is well. Pies are baking, house is clean(ish). Tomorrow, our small family will gather, plus one. We will look at old photo albums, stick olives on the ends of our fingers like when we were kids, and likely eat a bit too much. I’ll put up the Christmas lights over the weekend, go on a hike , attend a breakfast potluck, go to a 60th birthday celebration, and attend a memorial for a grade school classmate who just passed. As we officially enter December, I will be mindful of giving myself the gift of quiet amongst the holiday hustle & bustle, noting the restful nature of darkness as we move towards Solstice, always and forever, one day at a time.

Today, I am grateful for my recovery community, which includes you, dear reader, wherever you are. May the spirit of gratitude and giving thanks carry you along, this day and always. What is on your gratitude list today?

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Those who read my blog on the web page will notice “Now What Workbook pending” along with PayPal options in the upper corner. I am hoping to have the workbook ready before the new year, which might be a good time for self-reflection. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

I've sat in literally 1,000's of meetings over the years - sometimes propping my eyes open to stay awake and other times, rocketed into the fourth dimension. I hear such simple brilliance, often from the least expected source, and often write down what moves me so I don't forget the minute I walk out the door. In cleaning my desk this weekend, I came across a note reminding me that I can't worry myself to a safe place. On another piece of paper, I'd jotted down, "I might be able to outrun something chasing me from the outside, but I'll never outrun what's chasing me on the inside." Whew. How true is that? And thank you to the anonymous persons in some meeting(s) over the last few years who uttered those words. 

I've been engaging in "pre-traumatic stress disorder" over the past week (another borrowed term), trying to anticipate how I will emotionally handle a good friend’s illness. The doctor hasn't given a prognosis, but that hasn't stopped me from putting one foot in the past and one in the future, trying to see what cannot be seen. I wasn’t in the line when crystal balls were passed out, but my mind sure over-amps with the “what if’s” and imaginary scenarios.

Life is messy, and the more I'm able to remember that, the better for my peace of mind. As a kid, I wanted people and situations set in concrete. Predictable meant safety, or so I thought. I still prefer structure - for example, my lunches for the work week are made. But, and that is a huge BUT, or rather, AND, very little in this life turns out perfectly, whether that is the pretend vision of a Hallmark holiday, or the trajectory of someone's illness.

Though, what is my definition of “perfect?” As I think about it, I have experienced pretty darned close to perfect many, many times. I made a great pot of soup this weekend - a perfectly seasoned mix. I think back to a bike ride with friends in NYC one November, ending in the brilliant fall colors of Central Park. That was a perfect day. Our wedding day was too warm, and I wish I could go back and experience it again in slow motion, but that was a perfect occasion full of laughter and love. I could probably list 300 more days, events, or interactions that were absolutely perfect, in the moment and in retrospect.  

So what is the difference between what I see as perfect and what I view as not? My attitude? My concern for another’s perceived pain (emotional or physical)? Maybe it’s the whole classification thing, the belief that some things are “good” and some are “bad” when in reality, life just “is.” For every “perfect” day, there are as many that were just so-so, and probably as many that were painful or sad or just plain hard. A line from an old blues song comes to mind – “You’ve got to take the bitter with the sweet.” As much as I may prefer “happy, joyous and free,” life is life. 

The 12x12, in Step 10, says that “it is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed...there is something wrong with us.” (p. 90). I agree, in principle. I know that “acceptance is the key” and the something “wrong” with me is that I am a feeler, an empath, I care. I can philosophically understand I will have no peace until I settle in to what is, but I reserve the right not to like it.

So many of my friends are experiencing loss right now – of good friends, family members, old classmates, loss related to their own aging process...  This is part of the deal, and a challenge. For me, a big part of the challenge is being mindful to not cross the line between compassion and care-taking, of trying to control (fear) and relaxing in to the process. One day at a time, I am grateful for our program, and for strong relationships where I can deal with my emotions so that I can show up for others with integrity and grace. Again and always, self-care is key.

On a positive note, today is the 10th anniversary of the first date with my dear husband. I could never have predicted how sweet this is when we had that first conversation at a potluck. The crystal ball failed me there too! (thank goodness) Again one day at a time, I am grateful that I didn’t run away, that I held still long enough to see what would unfold.

Are there times that you’ve tried to predict what would happen in the future, or worried yourself into a snit? How do the Steps and the fellowship bring you back to today?

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

I don't want to write today. I've made a couple of starts, avoiding what I'm really thinking about, which never seems to work. Like we hear in the rooms of recovery, what I don't look at directly will eventually come out sideways, though I don't always realize that at the time. Let me just start out by saying that life can be hard.

Someone I've been close to since I was 15 is facing some tough medical diagnoses. My efforts at writing this afternoon have been interrupted by schedulers for various tests and appointments, each with a list of instructions. Damn it. And damned cigarettes. I'm doing my best to stay in the moment - there is no diagnosis today, and even if there is one on Friday, it will still be Friday and the sun will come up and go down as the heaven's see fit.

Someone else I've known a long time (since 5th grade) is on her end of life journey, choosing to make her transition at home, with friends and family as support. I will sit with her this weekend, not because we've been particularly close over the years, but because that is what friends do. That is what friends do, and as I learned via my mother's experience, kindness matters. Kindness and attention and showing up, even if it is uncomfortable.

We got to visit our home-away-from-home group in San Francisco this week, with another good meeting in Sausilito for good measure. I jokingly referred to myself and my enthusiastic husband as "meeting tourists," not as in "just visiting" but as in loving to connect wherever we go. I can hear the same message in my home meetings, but there is something refreshing about the perspectives I get in new-to-me groups.

In our early morning meeting on Monday, a member shared about walking through the illnesses of several old friends, and his realization that it isn't about him. Several people in the Tuesday nooner talked about the same thing - the pain of losing people, and the lessons of showing up with integrity. It shouldn't, because it happens so often, but I am still amazed that I hear just what I need to hear, when I need to hear it. I may go in to a meeting with arms folded and eyes internally focused on my pain, but I invariably hear someone speaking to exactly what I'm going through. I know that to be true today, and can trust it will be true tomorrow.

One day at a time (the absolute hardest of our program suggestions), I am able to suit up and show up, in good times and in bad. As someone at my regular Wednesday meeting says in the closing, "God grants me the serenity..." - not a request, but an affirmation. Good Orderly Direction, Great Outdoors, Grace Over Drama - my peace of mind comes from within, no matter what is going on around me.

I will admit that the first of those medical calls this morning felt like a kick in the stomach, but by the end of the day, I've moved back to center. I am grateful to be back in our cozy home after a lovely vacation. I am grateful for attentive and kind medical professionals, and insurance. I am grateful that all I really need to concern myself with is this moment. As a counselor in treatment used to say all those years ago, "What time is it? Do you have a place to sleep tonight? Have you had enough to eat today? Well then, stop your bellyaching!" She was definitely a hard-ass, but her point was well-taken, and one I remind myself of, over and over again.

This human existence is marked by high points and low, but I've come to understand it is the small moments that define a life. While our "high point" hike in Marin on Monday was amazing, it was singing "Mairzy Doats and Dozy Doats" in the kitchen over a late supper with my 90 and 80+ year old in-laws that defined our trip, along with goodnight kisses from the tiny nieces and nephew the night before. Today's phone calls were jarring, laced with the foreboding of a low point, but laughing with my friend about this sudden interest in his lungs lightened the mood. If I pay attention to the moments, to the connections, all is well.  I know where I'm sleeping tonight. I've had enough to eat. And tomorrow is another day.

What is on your mind and heart today? Are you called to show up for someone? Or perhaps you are opening to someone showing up for you? How do you remember to let go with love rather than clutch on to fear?

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Halloween was last week. As I waited for the doorbell to ring, with a mix of hopeful anticipation and dread (cute kids v. strangers at the door) I flashed to when I was four or five, crying because the kids in costume at the door frightened me. It is murky – snippets of my own memory combined with family lore, but I do have a sense of cowering behind an armchair as the doorbell rang.

I think I was fearful from the gate, a nervous kid, with anxiety dreams that I still remember. A professional might attribute it to my mom going back to work so soon after I was born, or maybe because I ate way too much sugar. We didn’t have TV (though the babysitter did), and lived in a fairly idyllic small town. Who knows? Maybe it isn’t about blame or reasons or figuring it out. I used to think that if I could point to a particular episode or event, I would be rocketed into a fourth dimension of healing and understanding of why I kept tripping on the same emotional roadblocks, the same fears dressed up in new clothes. It wasn’t that easy. What I came to realize, over time, is that recovery and healing is many layered, with events and episodes and DNA all tangled into one. Nature or nurture? Yes. 

Over the years, those peaks and valleys of my various apprehensions have smoothed out. Nearly every fear that had me grasping on to the illusion of control has happened, and what I’ve learned, time and again, is that I am stronger than I’d thought. I recently read the quote from Brene Brown, "You can choose courage or you can choose comfort, but you can't choose both." I agree, to a point. I don't always choose courage. And fear may be familiar, but it is certainly not comfortable.  Usually, it is a matter of one foot in front of the other, fearfully or otherwise, drawing on my own experience, strength and hope and that of others who've walked the path before me. Fear of the unknown gets me every time, but if I'm able to move forward without the urge to foresee or attempt to control the outcome, that is courage.

My current bout with anxiety has to do with attempting to see in to the future. I go in and out of nervousness about retirement and all the changes that will bring. Please don’t say, “Oh, you’ll be fine” – that never works. Whether it was a speaker meeting, a work presentation, or a marathon, having someone say, “You’ll be fine,” doesn’t allay my internal tuning-fork energy. I know I’ll be OK on some level, and I still twitch.

I came to realize, in talking with and listening to others, that I’ve been trying to think my way out of emotional turmoil. As I heard in a meeting, you can’t fix a broken chair with a broken chair. As much as I may wish it so, I simply cannot know what I’ll be doing and how I’ll be feeling in July of 2020, or November of that year, or February, 2021. I am right where I’m supposed to be, with some trepidation and some excitement about the next phase of my development. And, I do not need to figure it out. It was extremely helpful to hear someone in a meeting share the question he asks himself when he’s in an emotional wringer. What he said was, “How am I inviting Higher Power into this situation?” What I heard was, “How am I utilizing my spiritual resources?” Not “How hard am I thinking?” but how am I surrendering to the moment? Rather than letting my anxiety run wild, how am I acknowledging my fears then letting them go, whether that is putting pen to paper, talking with someone, meditation, a walk outdoors, or simply taking a conscious deep breath (or all of the above).

Along with reminders for self-care, anxiety (aka future-tripping) is my recurring theme, along with time-urgency. What are your recurring themes? Has that changed over the years? I’d love to hear how you bring yourself back to the moment.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

In treatment, we were instructed to complete a “Significant Event” form and turn it in to our counselor each evening, making note of whatever it was that got our attention that day. Sometimes it was a walk on the beach, or the phone call that didn’t come, or the hard conversation with my mom on Family Day. Other times it would've been something I’d read (page 449?! Mind blowing!) or an interaction with a peer. While not specifically linked to Step 10, I now recognize this as my first experience in the daily inventory. What mattered today? What did I do well? What behavior or words need amending?

An acquaintance has recently started posting a weekly list of "10 awesome things she has witnessed or experienced." I like her idea, and it has raised my antennae on noticing positive goings-on in the world rather than the negative loop I can experience with the affairs of politics or the wounded planet. Paying attention to all the good that is happening changes my frequency – if I’m focused on the bad stuff I can feel myself constrict. While not suggesting a Pollyanna attitude, I feel a deep relaxing when I take note what is hopeful, whether that is grassroots organizing, people finding their voice, or someone planting trees where there were none. I can bring it closer to home with my own behaviors: acknowledging a friend’s process, thanking someone for their meeting share, writing a gratitude list (which always includes recovery, a warm place to sleep, & hot running water), or pausing to respond in kindness rather than reacting. It comes back to the question of "how do I want to be in the world today?" Do I want to be part of the solution or part of the problem?

Step 10 asks us to promptly admit our wrongs. As my recovery has progressed, I view that directive as not just making amends to others, but as paying attention to my own peace of mind, as in my recent realization that I want to spend more time outdoors. Making amends to myself means that I got up on the trails last weekend, and have a date to share Forest Park with a newly relocated neighbor on Saturday. It means turning off the TV and snuggling in with a good book before bed. It means not putting off until “later” what I feel the nudge to do today, even if that means trading a task for sitting in silence.

Step 10 also means holding myself accountable. I have a writing project that is in the final stages before printing, and what do I do? Why, clean my closet, of course! I am a fairly dedicated person – I run regularly and go to the gym, I make a healthy lunch each day, I write this blog every week. But for some reason, when it comes to my larger writing undertakings, I have a tendency to dance all around the project, still holding on to the old idea that I need to wait for inspiration, for the perfect conflux of time and motivation and a good cup of tea. Rubbish! 90% (99??) of writing, or likely any creative endeavor, is simply doing it, suiting up and showing up and trusting that the juices will flow at some point. What I’ve found is that if I make it a habit, sometimes through gritted teeth, in a very short time I find myself wanting to get to my desk – the project takes on a life of its own that says, “Me, now please!”  And so, by publicly stating my intention, I will draw myself to the finishing touches, looking forward to saying, not, “I am working on...” but “I have just completed....”  Stay tuned.

I have entered that phase of my work life where I'm marking the lasts, as in last September, last October, etc. If all unfolds according to plan, this is my final Halloween at my workplace. Each year, staff and I perform the "Monster Mash," reworked to the "Monster Meth." Today's presentation was epic, a fabulous example of fun in recovery. I told a friend, who remarked "Remember when we were newly sober and it was the 'first this and that?'" I do remember, which makes so many of these "lasts" all the sweeter. It really could've gone either way back then, and I hope to never forget that.

What got your attention today? Can you think of 10 awesome things you've seen or experienced this week? (& thanks to Jillene for that idea.)  How do you apply Step 10 to your relationship with yourself?   

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

I’ve been feeling disconnected from October. Autumn in general, and October particularly, is my favorite time of year – crisp days, brilliant colors, the return of soothing rain. I was gone for two weeks, overlapping September and October, and threw myself into a full schedule upon my return, which has left me with the sensation that my heart hasn’t caught up with the reality of October now drawing to a close. I came back from my trip to darker mornings, the leaves having turned, and the rains definitely back, only to feel like, “Wait – I’m not ready for this yet.”

Part of it likely has to do with the fact that I haven’t been outdoors much recently. I run (jog) in the dark several mornings, but that is more maintenance than an outing. Always, one of my intentions for the new year has to do with hiking and being outdoors, and this year, that seems to have quietly slipped further down my list of priorities. I am sad about that. I am sad that I am no longer a distance runner. I may train to walk the Portland Marathon next year, but my days of going out for a 20 mile run are likely over, and I miss that -  not out of losing fitness and vitality, per se, but because I love it. I love the adventure of setting out on the roads or trails for 2 – 4 hours, with the accompanying sense of accomplishment, and the so-good tired of being physically spent, muddy from the trails in winter, salty with sweat in the summer, drenched in rain all seasons.  Marathon running has been part of my identity since 1995, and it is hard to let that go. My non-runner husband keeps telling me that the 10k is a respectable distance. Kinda, but not really. (My travel friend and I vowed that the 10k is as low as we’ll go, with a 5k falling in the “why bother?” category – with apologies to the 5k walkers & runners out there.)

Aging, in recovery and in life, brings so many gifts – less concern for what others think, a wealth of experience to draw on, friendships over time, and an increased appreciation for hearth and home vs hitting all the latest hot spots, for example. But there is also a great deal of loss: our elders and contemporaries, night vision and all the physical indignities (including hearing our much younger physicians say, “As we age....” in relation to one complaint or another), along with the stark reality that the time ahead of us is less than the time behind. Straddling the fence of acknowledging loss and celebrating the gains can throw off my equilibrium from time to time. Acknowledging it helps, as does sharing with others on the path.

In a recent article about "the change" that we women go through, (sorry, fellas) I read that "..menopause is not an end. It's a beginning. A searing initiation. A crucible in which a more essential version of ourselves is forged. We go through the fire and come out refined - focus on the things we care about most" (R. Marantz Henig).  I look forward to fully unleashing my spiritual warrior. Whatever our gender, I do think that the energy of discernment is available, the wisdom that comes with age, if we are open to it and consciously detach from the daily drama. (Limiting TV helps me in that department, as does taking a step back at work to ask, “How important is it?”)

Last week, I went for a walk on my lunch break, having not for some time (Am I really that busy? No.) Over the weekend, I was conscious of moving from my brain to my senses on my morning run and as I spent some time in the yard, pausing to breathe into the dampness. I’ve increased my awareness that in the future, I’d be better served easing into homecoming rather than diving into the deep end of the pooland would do well to heed the advice I recently texted my step-daughter: “pace yourself.”  I’m reminded that I demonstrate my values by how I spend my time and my energy. If I say I value spending time outdoors, then I need to get outside. If I value balance (hello Libra), I need to be diligent with my schedule and leave those open spaces that I crave. Every week won’t be perfectly balanced between social time and solitude, appointments and home chores. I won’t get to the woods every week. What I can do is strive for overall attention to “want to” vs “have to” so that when I look back at the month, the time won’t have shot by in a blur.

What parts of your identity, what favorite things, have shifted as you age in life and recovery? What new passions and pastimes have you discovered? How do your actions demonstrate your values?

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Catching my breath here, from a richly emotion-filled week. The roller-coaster isn’t limited to new sobriety! However, these days, I know that I’m not going to fly off into space with life's ups and downs and am better able to simply enjoy the ride.

Early in the week, our “Too Old to Give a F**k” group had a reunion meeting, having disbanded at the beginning of the year. I felt a welcome exhale as I sat with these women, all with over 20 years of recovery. No B.S. with this group, simply “What is going on today, and how am I applying the principles of the program?” We will meet again.

Saturday morning, I participated in a spiritual circle with women I hadn’t seen since our beloved teacher died two years ago. Taking my seat, I started to cry with gratitude. I’ve done some exploring in those two years, but haven’t found a spiritual home that feels right and checks all my boxes (spiritual vs religious, inclusive, open to many paths, for example). We meditated and shared, and spoke to a pertinent question before deciding that we will meet again. 

And then I jetted off to a local AA women’s conference. What a gift, especially that I got to spend time with my treatment roommate from all those years ago. It feels natural and right to sit in meetings with her – she was quite literally there the day I came through the doors, and we’ve shared living arrangements, meetings, meals and many heartfelt conversations since. We were privileged to hear Lila R. as the keynote speaker, having just celebrated her 50th sobriety anniversary. My Step Group follows her format, from a workshop she gave in Tulsa, OK many years ago. Five of our seven members were there – we should’ve corralled her and shared a group hug! In any event, it was good to spend time immersed in program and hear the experience, strength and hope from all of the speakers who shared how the Steps work in their lives today. 

In between all this sisterhood, I marked my 65th birthday – weird and amazing – and noted the 7th anniversary of my dear mother’s passing. Time does march on, and both these dates prompted reflection on where I’ve been and where I am today. It was providential that I was enveloped in strong women space as I paid attention to my feelings, shared them, and moved on.

In all three settings, it was noted that, as time goes on in life and in recovery, whatever happens, and I do mean whatever, I now have my own experience, strength and hope to draw from. As Lila said, I now know, deeply know, that I will survive whatever life has to give. That is such a difference from earlier years when I allowed the winds of change to knock me to my knees. That might still happen on occasion, but I’m much quicker to recognize what will bring me back to center. What was also mentioned, more than once, is the importance of self-care, including Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, a topic I frequently mention because I need the reminder. 

So what I am thinking about, as I decompress from gratitude-overload, is “Trust the Process.” I used to say, only half in jest, “Screw the process!” because I had no idea what it meant to trust that life was working itself out without my efforts to control. When I was 30, I could absolutely not have imagined having fun without a drink in my hand. When I was, say, 37, I could not have imagined how good life is at 65. When my mother died, I would not have believed I would make peace with her absence. When I had a first date with a handsome guy from SF, I had no idea that 10 years later we’d have built a loving home together. Trust. Suit up and show up. Take it easy. Who knew that the trite little sayings would become a mantra?

Right here, right now, I am typing, with a purring cat nearby and a cup of tea on my desk. Later I will join a group of my cousins for dinner. Tomorrow morning I plan to go for a jog before work, and will hit a 4pm meeting. Period. I do have plans further out, because that is who I am. And, I grow in understanding each day that all I really have is this moment.

Where do you experience the love of the program, and if you haven't felt that lately, what needs to change? Which of the HALTs is your personal demon, and how do you pay attention to your internal signals? Which of our slogans do you refer to when you feel unsettled?

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Back from my travels... We hit a good meeting (25 regulars, 5 visitors) in Budapest where I was reminded of the gifts of recovery, by the speaker and all who shared. In Vienna, we hit a meeting of a different sort, following the format of Big Book Awakenings, a companion to the Big Book (that I'd never heard of). There were just 5 of us sharing on Step One, powerlessness. This meeting was for any 12 Step member - locals were 2 Alanons and 1 dual member. I was struck by the sincerity of the people who lived there (an Austrian, a Californian and a Brit) as they grappled with powerlessness in all its forms - yes, over drugs & alcohol, but as spiritually destructive, over the emotional twists and quirks that impact our daily well-being as the days of recovery add up.

It was mentioned during the meeting that change is initiated by pain - if something feels good, I'll repeat it (again and again). My impetus to change, to surrender, comes when fear or emotional upheaval finally takes me to that place of crying out "I can't do this any more!" There are degrees, from the wailing, on my knees surrender to the head-against-the-wall recognition that my behavior or attitude keeps bringing me to the same place of discomfort. I recently heard a member share that they then need to surrender the surrender. Just because I've turned something over doesn't mean that it will end up the way I think it should (whether that is my negative or positive projection). Such a discipline, this one-day-at-a-time, turn it over process. Stop ruminating? Live in the place of truly knowing that right here, right now, everything is okay? Progress, not perfection.

And now I am home. Being a creature of habit, it is good for me to totally shake up my routine every once in awhile, which happens when traveling. And, it feels so good to be back to my routines (not to mention, my sweet spouse and our 2 cats). 

It took me a long time in this life to acknowledge and own that I function best with structure, which includes food and sleep at regular intervals. How many arguments could've been avoided in my past life if I'd only had a sandwich?! And, how many more wouldn't happen if I just keep my mouth shut, as in Why Am I Talking (WAIT)?  It struck me, while in the back seat of our rental car, speeding through the Austrian countryside, that I didn't feel compelled to add my two cents to the front seat discussion of driving routes. What would it be like to practice that same detachment when my spouse and I are in the car together? (Ah, vehicles - the place where many a happy couple bump heads!) Never mind that I know next to nothing about the Austrian road system - a lack of knowledge rarely stops me from having an opinion. But, whether I am familiar with the streets (I did grow up here, in case you were wondering) or not, I do not need to offer an opinion or a suggestion unless I am specifically asked. Definitely one of my "Alanon-ic" issues, as an adult child of an alcoholic (who thought I needed to have answers) and the eldest of two children (who wielded what little authority I had over my unsuspecting little brother). 

So, it was a very good trip in that I learned some things about Hungary and Austria (which whetted my appetite for more) and I learned something about myself. The trick will be to follow up, whether reading more about the Austro-Hungarian empire or stopping to "THINK" (is it Thoughtful, Helpful, Intelligent, Necessary, Kind) when I feel the urge to suggest. I once heard someone quote Anne Lamott - "Helping is just the sunny side of control." Indeed...   It is helpful to remember that I'm not alone in my mental machinations.

Are there people, places or things in your life that would benefit from applying "WAIT" or "THINK?" I'd be curious as to how you implement the "pause" that can be so challenging for me.  Thank you for reading, and for those of you who chime in with comments.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Speaking of planning (see many previous posts), we've signed up for the AA International Convention coming to Detroit in July, 2020. I've been to every one since I got sober: Seattle ('90), San Diego ('95), Minneapolis ('00), Toronto ("05), San Antonio ('10) and Atlanta ('15) which was my husband's first. The crowds can be overwhelming at times - 50-60,000 sober alcoholics and family members in one place - but the absolute thrill of hearing the Serenity Prayer recited by those 50,000 people in the stadium meetings makes the long lines for coffee (& everything else) worth it. Seeing smiling faces from around the world (including the parade of nations on the 1st night), truly illustrates this world-wide fellowship I feel so privileged to be a part of.

I love conferences – the retreat aspect of being away for a weekend rejuvenates my program, and hearing different speakers’ take on the Steps and daily application of the principles offers the opportunity for new insight into my own thought processes.

My first conference was the 1986 North Coast Roundup in Seaside, OR. Several of our treatment counselors were involved, and thus put me to work taking tickets. At 90 days sober, I was probably still seeing double, but greeting people as they came in was just what I needed to feel "a part of." Having a role, a job to do, created a buffer between my shyness and the rollicking world of AA members. I could “act as if” I was comfortable, and by the end of the weekend, I was. I was told that "service work will keep you sober," and that has definitely been my experience.

Initially, I loved speaker meetings because it meant for sure that I wouldn’t be called on to share - it was several years before I could do much more than say my name in a meeting without crying. I still enjoy the “AA on Saturday night” aspect, though I don’t get quite as much out of talks that sound like stand-up comedy as I used to. When the student is ready, the teacher appears, and when I was new, especially, I reveled in identification with the hard-core tales of descent and eventual redemption. These days, I'm more attuned with hearing how long-timers navigate the "road of happy destiny" over hill and dale.

I'd like to share a meeting pet-peeve. I've recently been in a couple of meetings with out of town visitors. The way I was "raised" in the program (yes, this is my inner "bleeding deacon" speaking), visitors are welcomed, and called on to share. My control issues flare when person after person acknowledges the visitor, yet the chair never calls on them. As I'm writing, I can see that a solution could be to attend a business meeting and add "call on out-of-towners" to the format. Ha! Do I want to be part of the problem (complaining) or part of the solution? I will say that the number of things I take offense to in meetings has lessened over the years. (I used to erupt in heavy sighs if someone talked longer than my attention span, for example). I can always leave, recite the Serenity Prayer in my head, find a new meeting, or remind myself that none of us is without at least one annoying habit.

I'm headed out on one of my grand adventures, so won't likely have a post next week. I plan to hit a couple of meetings while away, and will be back in touch with you upon my return.

What are your meeting pet peeves (if any)? How does your "bleeding deacon" show up when things don't go the way you think they should in a meeting, and what might you do about that?

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

When I was newly sober, there was a crusty old guy (probably the age I am now!) who frequently said, “This is not a dress rehearsal!” I took a gut-punch on that one, guilty of the “someday soon...” mentality that told myself, “Life will get better when...” the boyfriend comes back, or when he goes away; when I lose 10 pounds; when this or that event is over; someday, somehow, out there in the future some miracle of change will magically happen. It never (truly never) occurred to me that life might get better if I stopped drinking and drugging – they were my solution, not the problem. A few months after treatment, I hit my knees when I got home from a noon meeting, in tears, asking “Is this all I had to do? Quit getting high every day, ask for help, and I feel this good?” Definitely pink cloud territory, but I went with it. Life did get better, and quickly, for me. Part of it was that I simply felt good physically – waking up clear headed (vs coming to) felt like a miracle in and of itself. Not puking. Remembering what I’d done the day before... all the tiny successes of daily life kept me coming back.

And, I must admit that I still live with a fair amount of “Life will get better/calmer when...” I finally quit my job; this or that event is over; my spouse gets home from work, or leaves for the day; when I go on vacation or when I get back, etc.  In  many ways I have “recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body,” and I still carry this brain around.  This brain that likes to plan, and jump ahead, and figure things out.

I absolutely LOVE the fresh pages of a new year’s journal or calendar. One of my Thanksgiving rituals is to go through next year’s wall calendar to add in birthdays and important dates, and I salivate over all the choices for a daily planner – What color? What features? I’ve been keeping a diary since the 6th grade, and a few years ago, read from my embarrassing 1986 journal of the first year of sobriety at an “Awkward” event, and only because it was over 30 years ago! Taking a cue from a sponsee, I did go through the decades recently and culled out many years, keeping those that felt monumental (hitting bottom, getting sober, breakups, new jobs, turning 50, for example). I suppose at some point, I’ll let go of a few more, but for now, my daily readers and journal are a big part of my spiritual practice – a way to slow down, hit "pause" and access my inner wisdom.

These days, I like making plans and doubly like when they are cancelled, but my point is that I am future oriented. Fine. Makes me a good employee and party organizer, and not-fine when it means I’m about to topple over because my emotional center of gravity is two weeks out and I’m not paying attention to the right-here-right-now of one day at a time.

This was all brought into stark relief as I cried through the memorial service for the young man I wrote about last week. From the outside, it looked like he had everything going for him – a loving family, great friends, a good heart. And, now he is gone. We just never know – what is truly on another’s mind, what awaits around the next corner, what the state of the world might be as those fresh calendar pages turn in to the new year.

Speaking of the new year and turn of the seasons, I attended an autumn women’s circle last night with a friend. I recognized some of the mostly younger women from the rooms, but many were strangers, though how sweet to come together in community, in varying degrees of internal and external transition, seeking a centering and connecting space. I think of those times I was lost and trying to find my place – in various faiths prior to recovery and just after, then again when a long term relationship ended and I found myself in a running group, a book club, a spiritual study group, and several Step groups. I realized that what people were seeking was community, and felt fortunate (then and now) to have found my tribe in the 12 Step programs. There are other places I feel at home, but AA/Alanon is where I’ve learned how to be a member among members and enjoy the feeling of being known. The company of women hasn't always been my thing, having totally bought in to the cultural b.s. that other women are my competition - an uncomfortable way to live for too many years, because, of course, there is/was always someone cuter, smarter, sexier, etc. I am grateful to have finally settled in to myself, and for the strong women I call "friend" today.

Who do you call "friend" today? Do they know that? And what about One Day at a Time? How do you bring yourself back to the present when your mind takes a field trip?