Wednesday, March 27, 2019

FaceBook reminded me that it's been 7 years since I published Shadows and Veins, the novel loosely based on the last few years of my addiction. Every so often, I receive a royalty deposit of $1.78 or thereabouts, which always brings a chuckle. I will never get rich from my writings.  But, amount aside, those little royalties mean that someone, somewhere is reading my book (it's in the local library too). This is an absolute dream come true, a primary goal realized. As a kid, shivering underneath my grandmother's purple quilt at night, reading one adventure or another long after mom's call for "lights out!" I imagined that someday I, too, would write a book that would take the reader someplace that hadn't been before. It took many decades to have something to write about, and to develop the discipline to actually sit down and do it, but here we are, 7 years later.

Part of what the publishing reminder also means is that it was 7 years ago that my dear mother went on hospice care, which means in October, it will be 7 years since she passed. And oh, do I miss my mother. Less acutely than in those first few years, but I feel the empty space, nonetheless. I am a relater - long term connections are important to me and she was my longest and strongest. 

My mother is gone, though her memory is in nearly all that I do, and I am beyond blessed with several long and strong relationships. A couple of weekends ago, we had dinner and watched a ball game at one of my oldest and dearest's house. As she and I huddled in the kitchen, talking while the guys cheered the home team on TV, we marveled at how many Saturday evenings we'd spent in various kitchens, talking about this and that - sometimes with raucous laughter, sometimes in conspiratorial whispers - and here we are now, coming up on 64 and 65 years old. We met at 18, and now she's a grandmother several times over, and I'm getting ready to retire. Crazy.

And crazy that I went dancing on Friday night with women I've known since grade school. Granted, it was a "happy hour" event (6-7:45pm - perfect!), but there we were, grooving to old R&B. Where we used to talk about curfews and boys, our conversations these days are more about Medicare and politics, but again - crazy. 

Crazy in a good way. I definitely inherited my mom's attachment to stability, which means, like several of my friends, I live near the neighborhood I grew up in. I’ve shopped at the same grocery store for decades, and am coming up on 10 years at my employer. Several of my friends are movers, uprooting every so often to try out another part of the country and sometimes that appeals to me, but I know I'd eventually want to come home. 

“To thine own self be true” is my theme for this year, which means knowing what that self is. It took time in recovery to understand that I crave stability, that I am practical, that I do best with structure, and that yes, I feel better if I make the bed each morning. My self-awareness was pretty low when I first got sober. At 31 it was all about “him,” whichever him(s) was in the picture at the moment. Bringing focus inside my own hoola-hoop, learning to listen to my gut, paying attention to my own particular HALT’s – are all part of the journey. With long term recovery, it would be disingenuous  to claim that I don’t know who I am. What have I been doing all these years if not inventory, and sponsor talks and bouts of therapy; practicing the principles in all my affairs (with the emphasis on practice)

I am many things – a wife, a step-mom, a sister, a cousin, a friend. I am a supervisor, co-worker, a team member. I am a (slow) runner, a traveler, a reader, a lover of old Motown. And, I am a woman in long term addiction recovery – without that designation, none of the others would be possible. 

Who are you, today, as a person in long-term recovery? Has how you would describe yourself changed over the years? If you were to apply "To thine own self be true" today, what would that mean? 

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

I sometimes worry about being repetitive in these weekly posts - as I've said, there are no new ideas. But, isn't that what we do in recovery? Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repetition, especially at the beginning, is essential. Don't drink and go to meetings. Keep coming back. The simple slogans evolve to dinner before or after the meeting, coffee dates with sponsors or sponsees, step groups and speaker meetings. And then, taking it on the road to conferences, or to the great big world and meetings in different states and foreign lands.

I find comfort and a sense of safety in the sameness, exhaling as I settle in and listen to How it Works for the 1,000th time. There is an aspect of ritual in what we do - the readings, pausing for the 7th, our cadence as we speak from the heart.

For so long, the ritual and routine of working a program required effort and attention. Over time, the pattern of my sober life became simply, my life. What I initially described as "sober friends," became simply friends. Sober dancing is now just dancing. Sober fun, just plain old fun. Fun coupled with spirit - an awesome combination in whatever form that takes.

Outsiders may not think of ours as a particularly spiritual path (other than those who think we're a cultish religion), were they to hear the "F" bombs and the laughter as we describe horrendously painful events. But there is something supremely sacred and holy in the laying bare of our souls, in the way we surround the newcomer with love and practical suggestions, in the ache in our hearts when we hit our knees and say, "Please..."

We use the term, "working a program" to describe so much. The phrase used to baffle me - what do you mean work the steps? In general, it goes back to the basics of not drinking and going to meetings, applying the principles of honesty, open-mindedness and willingness to our troubles and our successes, changing our way of being in the world.

And today, on this vernal equinox, my way of being in the world is full of joy and hopeful anticipation. Yes, the rains will return (like, tomorrow), but I'm a glass half full kind of gal, and today the glass is overflowing.

Where are you in the spot-check inventory department? As the seasons change, is there anything you'd like to let go of, or bring into your life? What about those new year's intentions? 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

A raccoon crossed my path on an early morning run last week. I pay attention when I catch these creatures lumbering across a dark street, taking a deep breath as I attempt to come back to the present moment. Yes, I am running on the streets of my neighborhood, usually quiet at 5am, planning my day,  and here is this reminder of the bigger, natural world that I am a part of.

Raccoon is my spirit animal. Years ago, I participated in a vision quest meditation at Brietenbush Hot Springs, as sacred a place as I’ve ever been. As the guide's soothing voice moved us along an internal journey designed to allow our spirit animal to present itself, raccoon showed up. Not this, I thought, having hoped for a noble eagle, or perhaps, wolf. As a child, I'd wanted to grow up to be a black stallion, in that love affair with horses that young girls often pass through. Maybe I could have horse as my spirit animal - after all, that is my Chinese zodiac sign. Alas, it was the lowly raccoon who showed up and stayed.

When I got over my expectations, it made sense. Raccoon is urban, clever, adaptable, and as a spirit animal represents a problem solver, and one who is calm under pressure - not a bad animal to be associated with. And, I see her frequently, which means a fairly regular nudge to take a breath

Spirit animals, Tarot, reading Biblical interpretations, study of the Goddesses, prayer and meditation, to name a few, are, or have been, a component of my seeking conscious contact with god as I (don't) understand god. I've recently been exposed to the writing of James Finley, a Christian scholar who lived with Thomas Merton at the Abbey of Gethsemani as a young man. He states that "To know you don't know is the beginning of wisdom." He also writes about "holy discontent, a holy restlessness, a kind of homesickness" that prompts our seeking.

The Big Book speaks to this fundamental idea of god, "deep down in every" person, and describes how we've previously worshiped people, things, and ourselves (We Agnostics), as in, “money, property and prestige.” Yes, both before recovery and after. I've heard it said that whatever I think about the most is my higher power. Ugh. Food? Particular relationships? Work? Fear of financial insecurity?  Where do I mentally spend my precious minutes and hours?

“While our deepest instincts are ultimately to do what is best for ourselves, sometimes we need guidance to recognize when we’ve wandered away from our truest selves, and lessons to learn how to regain our bearings.” (Trauma Stewardship, by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky) A friend recently noted (and I’m misquoting) that what is capital “T” Truth shows up in many places – our 12 Step programs, and the many spiritual paths we take. At times it is a conscious effort, but sometimes it shows up in something I'm reading for work, or something I hear in a meeting from an unlikely source. Keeping my ears and mind open is my quest, one day at a time.

I tend to vacillate between “God the Almighty,"  god-the-raccoon-crossing-my-path, and many places in-between. Where or how do you experience a spiritual connection today, that portal to your inner wisdom? How often does the connection find you, even if you weren't looking at the moment?

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

"Happiness may well consist primarily of an attitude towards time”   Robert Grudin

It’s interesting that I can see something without really noticing, and then “wham!” Where did that come from? I’ve had that experience with our literature (see Step 8 in 12x12) or in listening to a speaker CD – When did they add that part?! I suppose it all goes back to “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

I had that reaction to the above quote from one of my daily meditation books that I've apparently seen every February 28 for the past several years. For some reason, this time, it hit me upside the head as I realized, truly realized, that I have a distorted relationship with time. I’ve often joked that time is my Higher Power, and even though everything that needs doing gets done, I have a deep sense of time urgency that nips at my heels and feeds the “never enough” demon. This is definitely an area where I benefit from consciously interrupting the inner “committee” to remind myself that I really do have all the time required to get through the weeks and days. Laundry gets done, when I was in school all my papers got written, bills get paid, etc etc etc. Exhale.

I find it helpful to either mentally or actually make note of all that is on my plate at any given moment – projects, chores, family concerns, meetings, due dates, work stuff, and so on. The simple act of making a list helps me say, “Oh. Of course you’re a little stressed.” I can then break down various items into manageable increments. What needs to get done today? (and I'm coming to understand that sometimes what needs doing is absolutely nothing, along the lines of reading a book, watching a movie, or simply sitting in a comfortable chair and watching the snow fall).

After reading the quote, I looked the guy up (thank you, wonder of Google) and found that he’s written a book, Time and the Art of Living, which arrived on Sunday. Thus far, I am enjoying his philosophical take on our relationship to time, which he describes as always having a beginning, middle and end: the workday, a class, a relationship, a TV show, a meal, life itself...  I am great at middles. Beginnings and endings? Not so much. That’s when I can find myself grasping, either to what hasn’t yet taken shape, or trying to hold on to that which is no longer viable. With middles, I am in my element, and, with this new perspective, will be better equipped to take a look at my discomfort (which can show up as either excitement or dread, depending on the situation).

Whether it is a new book, a piece of program literature I’m not familiar with (including those magical paragraphs that suddenly appear), or simply hearing something in a new way, I appreciate the sometimes tiny shifts that crack open my mind to a new idea. Remaining teachable seems to be the great quest of long term sobriety - how do I/how do you stay willing to learn?

**I want to note that we lost a member this past week to an icy car wreck. Ronnie S had  8 years sobriety, and was active in service at a couple of local speaker meetings. He was a calming presence and had a great smile. A few years ago, I was scheduled at a BIG monthly speaker meeting and was nearly sick with the jitters. I arrived early and Ronnie chatted with me, about nothing in particular, but it was enough to slow my heart rate and move me to a place of letting HP speak through me. I always felt a little safer when he was in the room.  Farewell, Ronnie. You will be missed ~