Wednesday, February 27, 2019

A number of years ago, I left a job that I’d enjoyed, but had played itself out. Coming to an agreement with my boss, I gave notice, not sure what I was going to do next. At the time, I was crushed at the suggestion that I was less than stellar in my role, but also knew in my heart that I was unwilling to give the time and energy that had become expected. In retrospect, as so many perceived “losses” turn out to be, this was an excellent decision that led to a total god-shot in the form of the work I’ve now been doing for 9 years (After withdrawing my name from a higher position, I wondered what it would be like to manage a particular program, not having experience in that modality – literally within days, the director called to tell me that the manager had resigned, and was I interested? I started 1 month after leaving the other position).

What happened between the time I gave notice at the old job and accepted the new position is that all sorts of people shared their concerns and advice with me. “Go back to school!” “Find a new job NOW!” “Don’t wait too long to look!” and the like. Initially, I felt buffeted by, and began to internalize, the fear I felt coming from these suggestions. Maybe I could do better in my current job. What if no one else ever wants me? What if I have to sell my house?  I came to realize that people were sharing their own anxiety, and that most of it had nothing to do with my situation. I had the recommended 3 months’ salary in the bank, I was employable, I trusted HP to lead me to the next right thing. With that recognition came a sigh of relief as I relaxed into trusting the process. 

I’ve recently realized that I’m having a similar experience in regards to my planned retirement. Everybody has an opinion. A co-worker in my age range asked me “Have you thought about where you’ll live?” describing his plan to move to the southwest. Someone else asked what kind of consulting I plan to do. Another person (actually, several other persons) asked “What on earth will you do with yourself?” Along with the questions are their  announcements of not having enough money, not ever wanting to quit work, etc. After having made a decision and a plan that I felt good about, I found myself wavering, anxiety rising. What if I’m making a mistake? What if, what if, what if?”  I had to consciously remind myself of all the positive affirmations I’ve also received – “You will love it!” and, “You can always go back to work if you want.” Once again, I am relaxing into trusting the process. Number 1, I’m not there yet. Number 2, retirement, like everything else in this life, will unfold in its own time.

 It’s interesting how quickly I take on other people’s emotions, almost automatically. We who’ve grown up with alcoholism are often “empaths” and absorb the energy we're exposed to. Thank god for Alanon and the gentle direction to bring the focus back to myself. Tomorrow, 2/28, is the 33rd anniversary of my first Alanon meeting. I think of the immature, extreme co-dependent, obsessive person I was at age 31, along with the man who prompted my attending that first meeting, who died now 30 years ago from an overdose. So much has changed, in me and in my world, and I give thanks every single day -  not just for my recovery from addiction, but for my recovery from the effects of someone else's addiction, which has been the tougher journey by far. 

I assume that having mixed feelings and scattered fears is part of the process of coming to the end of one’s career. It has been true of any major change – those decisions I made and those that were made for me. The challenge is not to go too far down either path – the “oh no!” or the “oh yeah!” One day at a time- still a challenge for this alcoholic.

How do you recognize when you're traveling in "What If Land" and how do you bring yourself back to the present moment? 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

In a recent meeting, the topic was fear as related to Step 3, making a decision to turn our will and life over to the care of god as we understand god.  Fear - the driver of so many alcoholic decisions, before and after recovery, the "chief activator of our character defects." Grasping, attempts to control, inertia, impulsivity, process addictions (gambling, sex, spending) - all could be traced back to fear, which is where the 4th Step comes in so handy. If I can shine the light of reason on what I'm afraid of, my chances of making a rational decision increase. Once again, the pause...

When I think of Step 3, I always refer to my initial surrender - a Step 3 moment before I knew what that was, on my knees, crying out, "F*** it, God! I can't do this anymore -you take over." In that moment, I wasn't thinking about what the decision meant, or what my part of the bargain was - just that I was broken and needed help.

Early on, someone in my home group told me to read the 3rd Step prayer, on my knees, every morning. He suggested reading it, as his sponsor had instructed him, to avoid the temptation to alter the intention of the prayer. I'm all about altering, so I didn't follow that instruction, and I don't always get on my creaky old knees these days, but I have said some form of the 3rd Step prayer every morning for decades. What I realized while listening to others share their experiences in the meeting on Friday is that Step 3 has two distinct components.

At its most basic, Step 3 is a daily practice, an intellectual exercise in self-discipline designed to remind me that I'm not in charge of the orbit of the earth, or those within my personal realm. Step 3, as I practice it most days, serves to get my mind right before I head out the door. I may slip the minute I get behind the wheel, but it is easier to come back to center when I've started the day with my morning ritual of turning my life over to HP.

But, or rather, and, Step 3 is also a profound emotional event - a gut wrenching surrender that culminates in Step 7 (3 = the decision, 7 = the "here I am, God"). As much as I've tried over the years, I cannot conjure up that moment of giving up, of letting go. I cannot change myself. I repeat, for my own benefit, I cannot change myself, no matter how hard I pray, in just the right way, no matter how many books I read or workshops I attend. What I can do is make myself ready to be changed. I can prepare my heart and mind for the grace of Spirit so that I'm aware enough to feel it when it happens.

I rather like that the Steps are both an intellectual discipline and an emotional yielding. As we are told in the literature, "the spiritual life is not a theory," wafting down from the ether. As a fiery speaker exhorted in the same Step 3 meeting, we can't just read about the Steps, or think about them - we must work the program in order to experience results. It is not just about staying sober, people. We could do that by sitting on our hands. Truly working this spiritual program means that sometimes I am uncomfortable with the awarenesses that tap my shoulder; it means that sometimes I am bored and sometimes energized. Working the program means that while I remember vividly what it was like, that is not where I live today.

I don't wrestle the same fears I came in with. But Step 3 is no less meaningful with my "luxury problems" as when I desperately cried out, "Please keep me clean & sober today!" How has your experience of Step 3 changed over the years?  How do you utilize spiritual discipline to prepare you for the spiritual experience?

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

"Be confused. It's where you begin to learn new things. Be broken, it's where you begin to heal. Be frustrated, it's where you start to make more authentic decisions. Be sad, because if we are brave enough we can hear our heart's wisdom through it. Be whatever you are right now."  (S.C. Lourie)

How often do I sit in the moment-ness of my emotions? Where am I open to both the earth-shattering surrender and the quiet nudge? When do I pause and ask "Now what?"

When my favorite aunt, my father's sister, died, I felt like I'd been kicked in the stomach. It wasn't unexpected - she'd been ill, though blessedly it was a fairly swift decline. I'd had the opportunity to tell her I loved her, knowing it would likely be the last time. And, as she said, at 86, "You didn't expect me to live forever, did you?" Well, yes, I'd kind of hoped...

When I got word that she'd passed, I went up to Forest Park, in need of both nature and a good sweat. I turned off Leif Erickson onto a steep trail I usually avoided, grateful for the pain in my legs and my lungs. About halfway up, I sat on a bench, staring at the wall of evergreens just ahead. I was barely aware of my own panting, or the forest's chatter. In some sort of trance, I had the sensation of being in the extreme here-and-now, the fourth dimension that we read about, but rarely experience. I'm not describing it well - spiritual experiences are tough to put into words - and the instant I became conscious that I was in an altered state, it dissipated, but the memory of it is clear. I was confused. I was broken. I was sad. And that's all that I was in those moments.

Being in that liminal space between dream and awake, the living and the dead, then and now,  reminds me of a visual once given to me by a therapist to illustrate transition from one state of being to another. She described being on the monkey bars as a kid, that moment when you've let go of one rung, but haven't quite reached the next. For just that second, you are suspended, in-between. We talk about it in AA as the hallway - when HP closes a door, She opens a window, but you need to get out of the hall. Not so quickly, I would say. Maybe where I grow is in that in-between space - in-between my mother's life and fully accepting that she is gone; in-between coupled and single, or conversely, single and married; in-between being loaded and sober, working and retired, young and old... I speak of these in-betweens as mental states - that place of transition where I haven't quite let go of the old way of being but haven't fully grasped who I'm supposed to be now. "Be frustrated - it's where you start to make more authentic decisions."

I sat with my Cabal on Monday, a tiny group that is growing old together. We often talk about what is happening to our bodies and our states of mind, trying not to wonder too hard about what comes next. I so appreciate this, and other small groups of those I've known over time. We saw each other come in to recovery, riding that roller-coaster to a good life. Not a perfect life, but a good life.

I'm not as maudlin as my post might suggest. I've actually been feeling energized and chock full of hopeful anticipation. But hearing the above quote today, took me to past places where I was unsure and unsettled, those places of accepting a new reality. I am grateful for inspiration, for those portals to memories of those times that shook my foundation. What do you think of when you read the opening statement, whether it is a past transition or current?

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

I recently thought of an ex’s old pal, Scott Mc, who died with 15 years on the program. Scott was an animal, a hardcore runner. Once, he crossed the finish line of a half marathon near me, leaned, retched, wiped his mouth and said, “Great run!” A few years later, in the ER trying to reassure his young daughter, he said, “Honey, if you have cancer, I’ll run the Portland Marathon backwards.” She did, and he did, weaving and bobbing for 26.2 miles. Scott dropped dead at the end of a 100 mile event, not because he wasn’t trained, but due to a congenital heart defect. Someone who was there said that he had a look of surprise on his face before he passed.

I think of Scott’s dedication and sheer force whenever I’m feeling whiny about a run. But I also think of his not knowing he had a heart defect, though I imagine, as an ultra-runner, one probably always has aches and pains. This leads me to (a bit of a stretch) thinking of those times when I didn’t “know,” or more accurately, couldn’t admit that something in my life was off-kilter. I’m thinking of dissatisfaction with a particular job that I tried to convince myself was my fault, when it was simply a terrible fit. I think of those relationships where I spent energy trying to convince the other person that I was right for them. I think about the times I look outside myself for who or what to blame, when what I really need to do is change my situation, which can be as simple as leaving a home group that doesn’t fit anymore.

Step Two = Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity... "Restore" means to re-establish, put back, return to a former condition. I used to half-joke that it would be hard to restore what wasn't there to begin with, thinking of  the insanities that led to my admission of powerlessness - believing I could run my body on Kit-Kats, milk, and methamphetamine; hoping, with fingers crossed, that my boyfriend would understand my intentions (which were never malicious) rather than react to my behavior; thinking that no one could see the mess I was in...

But the truth is that sanity and centeredness were always there - the "great reality deep within." I tried to hide from the truth, I did everything I could to outrun the truth, but my deep reality is that I knew all along what I needed. I was simply afraid that what I needed was beyond my abilities. Whether it was leaving a relationship or a job, or knowing that I was killing myself, I knew in that still, quiet place within what was real, and that what was real wasn’t how I was living my life. 

Thirty-three years ago, sanity meant summoning the courage to hold still and say "I'm scared. I don't know how to do this." At various points along the way, it has meant saying, "I've never been here before. Will you help me?" Today, I have various definitions - Being sane means practicing self-care. It means listening and bearing witness to each others' joys and sorrows. Sanity means showing up for my feelings and for each other; still and always it means finding that place of silence, that place of listening to my heart instead of the flutter of my emotion or the logic of intellect.  

If I’m truly practicing Step Two, I’m making time for those quiet moments of sitting, or journaling, or talking with a friend, in order to hear the still, small voice above the clamor of the day-to-day. How do I distract myself these days? Busyness has always been a socially acceptable avenue, and after my ex died in December, I found myself diving in to a pile of chocolate, after having not for close to a year. Practicing Step Two, or any of them, doesn’t mean that I don’t stumble along the way. And tackling the big problems with the Steps is automatic - it's in the application on a daily basis where I sometimes forget. The Steps do become internalized over time -  and the desire to stay conscious of my chosen spiritual path is why I "keep coming back." 

How do you try to distract, or distance yourself from reality these days (& what "reality" is it that you might not want to acknowledge)? What do you do to get back on track? What Step(s) do you take to be restored?