Wednesday, January 30, 2019

As January swiftly turns to February, I shift my focus from Step One (powerlessness) to Step Two (being restored). I did a written exercise that I learned from a friend, who heard about it at a conference. I'm convinced that there are very few new ideas in our recovery program, but I am always grateful for the cross-pollination that happens when we attend out-of-town meetings, conferences, or just different groups here at home, then bring what we've heard into our regular meetings. And I love hearing from the travelers who make it to my home groups - different accents, different emphasis, new perspectives. Thank you!

The exercise has to do with the God Box, that handy, tangible tool for letting go (mine is a lovely little hinged box, decorated by a sponsee). Ideally, I write the object of my obsession on a tiny piece of paper, put it in the box and shut the lid. Presto. OK, so I don't always stop thinking of the issue du jour, but the act of writing and physically letting go is a helpful reminder that I am not in charge. By writing down a situation for the God Box, I am admitting my powerlessness, and seeking the restoration of sanity promised in Step Two. Please, HP, help me release my worries to your care.

The idea, then, is to go back through the God Box periodically and jot down outcomes. What happened with my brother's health? My ex's health? My worries over a particular speaking commitment? And on and on. Making note of both positive and painful outcomes, I was reminded that Creator provides strength to walk through all of it, with relative grace and dignity. Not without tears, or sadness, or butterflies, but walking through nonetheless.

I used to have a sealed "God Can." For years I stuffed worries and concerns, insecurities and fears into the little slot. For a long time, I thought it would be cheating to open the can, but last summer decided it was time. Prying open the lid, I found crumpled or neatly folded notes about jobs, relationships, my mom's illness, getting married, health, finances, running goals - nothing too big or too small. That's the beauty of a God Box - it contains what worries me, without concern for what anyone else might think. Just like the box I went through this week, nearly all those things I'd crammed into the can had resolved, in one way or another. And that's the point, right? It all works out, one way or another.

There were a few unfinished items in my current God Box. I jotted down the current date, and recommitted to trust, closing the lid once again on my mental gyrations. What do you do to remind yourself to "let go and let god?" What would you put in the God Box today?

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

I just learned of a documentary titled “The 13th Step,” about sex offenders and other criminals being sentenced to AA by the courts, then preying on vulnerable members. I agree that it is a problem for the courts to sentence non-alcoholics to 12 Step groups – AA isn’t, and shouldn’t be, everything to everyone. The friend who watched the film tells me that it goes on to describe AA in mostly negative terms, and that I probably shouldn’t watch it unless I feel like getting mad.

I may or may not watch it, based on my friend’s review (& those of several members online). There is enough in the world today that angers me without looking for trouble. I will say that it bothers me when people who have either been unsuccessful in 12 Step recovery, or had a negative experience, knock the whole thing. If it doesn’t work for you, find what does, which could be another type of support group (Smart Recovery, Rational Recovery for example), church, or nothing at all. But please leave the rest of us out of it. It does work for many. That doesn’t make us weak, or sheep, or not caring about the vulnerable member. And for the record, “AA” is not an entity that controls the hundreds of thousands of groups around the world. It is up to the individual group to monitor its own. Here in Portland, there is a workshop coming up on “safety in the rooms,” including predatory behavior and racist, sexist, homophobic and other hurtful language. We need to grow and evolve, whether that is through a group inventory, a workshop, or, rarely, a Restraining Order, so that the still suffering alcoholic/addict has a safe place to go. It is also up to the more seasoned group members to confront the lurkers and 13th steppers and let them know that their behavior is not ok.

So much for the soapbox. After a grieving December (ah, that it were so easy to impose a time limit), and the joy of my “victory lap” this month, I’m feeling spent...drained, though not in a negative way. There is an aspect of coming through intensity, whether positive or not so much, that feels like a deep breath, a re-centering.

Thus, on with the year!Two friends/sponsees and I met last evening to begin a study of the Traditions as applied to relationships. I’ve done many Step studies over the years, but this is my first intensive look at the Traditions. As we read from the 12x12, I thought, “This is good stuff!” I’m sure I’ve read that section of the book at least once over the years, but, unlike the Steps, the Traditions are just “there.” Yes, yes – they are the “why it works” vs the “how it works” of the Steps, but I’ve never spent much time with them. This could be interesting! And, it is always good deepen my program and stay engaged with the literature.

Tradition One says that “our common welfare should come first.” How do I apply that in my marriage, my friendships, with family,or at work? Can I consciously put my self-centeredness aside for the greater good? What do you think?  

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

On Friday, I chaired a meeting of primarily younger people - I've been sober longer than many of them have been alive (the secretary was literally born the day I went to treatment). What a reality check - don't drink, don't die, and you, too, can put together some time. I heard that when I was a newcomer, but had no idea how quickly, in retrospect, the time would pass. Speaking of, I was reminded this week that time is not a tool. Don't drink and don't die gives time, but it is not a guarantee. I learned of 3 people with 20-30 years who had to change their date over the holidays due to a relapse. Alcoholism, not alcohol-wasm....

Part of my daily reprieve comes from self-awareness, the "thou shall not bullshit thyself" commandment. My sponsor gave me a little stone with "To Thine Own Self Be True" etched on the face. That is my affirmation and intention for the coming year. Am I listening to my heart, and not just my head? Am I taking time for self-care, which can mean anything from solo time or time with friends to Step study and bike rides, and, always, getting enough sleep...

My good friend, the Tarot Card Lady, posted a mini-inventory that really struck me this week: "Make a list of all the things, big and small, that bring you happiness." She then suggests thinking about how that list has changed over the last 5 or so years, taking note of who you are now as an emotional person. She then offered the challenge to do one thing today that makes you happy.  

I especially gravitated to the "who you are now?questionIs there anything on my happiness list based who I used to be (single vs married, marathoner vs not, etc)? Have my wants and needs evolved as I have, or do I fall back on the same familiar list out of habit? Have I let go of things that no longer bring me joy? Conversely, what is on the list that I haven't done for a while, but want to, and why is that? (& more importantly, if it still matters, make a plan!)

Recovery is an ever-evolving adventure. Where will the journey take you today?

Resource: "Like" the page for "Tarot Card Lady” on Facebook  get a daily Tarot card reading in your News Feed

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Stark, cold, gray and bleak - January in all her glory. I appreciate the sense of beginning in January, cold, wet and dark before the return of spring, along with the reminder of Step One - I admit I am powerless over the weather and my life becomes unmanageable when I pretend otherwise.

There is a sense of relief with my yearly re-focus on Step One. Powerless, over so much - alcoholism, the effects of someone else's drinking, people, places, things. Step One can feel both freeing and terrifying, annoying, and a relief, depending on my perspective and the situation. From the grasping illusion of control, admitting powerlessness makes me mad - what do you mean, I can't fix this? When I've hit my head against the wall of that illusion long enough, Step One offers blessed solace - oh yeah, I'm really not in charge. Someone once suggested that when I have a resentment, it's because I've forgotten that I'm powerless. To that, I say, "yes," and, that some habits are harder to let go of than others.

In one of my meetings this week, a member shared something she'd read - there are really only three prayers: "Help," "Thank you," and "Wow." I've heard different version of that, as in: God does answer prayers - sometimes with a "yes", sometimes with "no," sometimes "not now", and sometimes, "here is something better." I love the notion of the "Wow." I so often limit myself with what I think I need, when Higher Power has a much grander plan.

At the beginning, when I was advised to "Trust the Process," I'd retort, "Screw the process!" because I had absolutely no idea what was meant by a)  trust and b) "process."  I was a fairly concrete thinker (still can be), so the idea of trusting something I couldn’t see or grab on to was foreign. I could believe in the concept of a Higher Power (hello crystal meth and cheap vodka), and was willing to explore an actual relationship with a loving and caring Power, but trusting that all was working out exactly the way it was supposed to, took time. Time, and inventory; time and hearing others speak of their experiences; time and my own unfolding examples of what happens when I get out of the way.

In one of the meetings I chaired for my anniversary last week, the topic was "What keeps you coming back?" Several members shared that they keep coming back because they are excited to see what happens next. Woo whooo! As my focus shifts from the external of "strive!" to the internal search for conscious contact, am I excited to see what's next? Getting older physically is a weird place of hopeful anticipation, coupled with the realization that I'm closer to the ending of the story than the beginning. I do have things on the horizon to be excited about, and I will do my best to be open to possibility, more specifically, possibilities that aren’t yet in my view. Suit up and show up, and see what happens next! Wow! 

What feelings come up when you imagine the "Wow!" of answered prayer?

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Yesterday, New Year's Day, I went for an early, 5am jog. A few blocks from our house, I came upon a man getting out of a cab, wavering to his front door. I got to my 7am meeting, a strong group of hearty souls out early on a frosty morning, then a quick shop at the nearly deserted grocery store. I love my early mornings, especially when I'm reminded of the joy of waking up without a hangover. I used to marvel at the newspaper's tips for avoiding the morning after - nowhere did it say, "Don't drink."

As I prepare for this dawning of 2019, with fresh journal, unmarked calendars, and a scheduled Tarot reading, I don't have the drive towards self-improvement that usually fuels my new year's thoughts. From the time I was a kid, and well into recovery, it has been "Do Better! Be Better! Lose 10 Pounds!" as if some magic formula would quiet the restlessness inside. What if what I am is enough?

The Alanon literature speaks to this self-acceptance, the idea that I can't change a particular trait until I first accept it with loving compassion. When I come at myself with fists clenched for battle, I can't win. It is only with the open palm that healing occurs. Also, Higher Power can't remove defects of character that I still actively engage in (i.e. it's not old behavior if I'm still doing it). But if I'm overly focused on what NOT to do, there is little room for change. Holding a positive intention seems to be more effective than the long list of "thou shalt not's."

Which is not to say that I don't have stuff that needs attention. For example, I have an internal sense of time urgency that my spouse doesn't share. On Sunday morning, when we were both headed to different places, I felt my anxiety rising because of fear that he would be late. I was able to recognize it (name it, claim it, tame it) and move on. The recovery tool of speaking what is in my mind to take away the power doesn't only apply to thoughts of using.

We were at the beach for the Year-End Roundup this past weekend, enjoying speakers and good times with friends. The North Coast is full of memories, from childhood forward, including recollections of my ex and his house in Tolovana: all night cocaine binges and 6am Monday mornings racing to get me to work in Portland, as well as the gift of using the house for sober slumber parties after treatment. I drove down there, from Seaside, through sideways rain, writing a letter of amends and gratitude that I later burned in my backyard. Even though all the words had been said over the years, writing it out felt good and necessary, and helped me clear my internal slate as I approach another sobriety anniversary.

In the meeting yesterday morning, a member shared that "Recovery is in the returning." Returning to meetings, to the breath, to the moment. Returning to memories as a window into today (where I've been and where I am now). Returning to the understanding that of myself, I am nothing. I need the "we" of the program, the "we" of my relationship with Spirit. Staying actively engaged with the 12 Steps allows me to walk through the hard times, and the easy times, which, for me, are often more dangerous than the valleys. I know what to do with grief, with fear, but it is joy and the routines of daily life that sometimes have me forgetting the Source of my serenity.

I'm grateful to have had a few days off as the calendar turns, with little on the agenda. I greet the new year with hopeful anticipation, and only a short list of "To-do's."  How about your? What goals or intentions have you set for 2019?