Wednesday, April 24, 2019

My sponsor recently suggested that when I’m feeling snarky about work – driving in on a snowy day, staff conflict, the whole 40 hour a week thing – I remind myself that, soon, these will simply be memories of my work life. I’m remembering that for the good experiences too – I won’t likely hear as many “Fantistic's!” for cleaning the house!

This goes back to the idea that all of life is merely experience, and will be over before I know it. I think of those I love who’ve passed, timely or too soon, and what I wouldn’t give to spend even a little more time with each of them – one more conversation, a few more questions to ask, laughing together. If I can stay in the here and now, vs the here and next week, I’m more likely to be paying attention to the person or situation I’m actually with instead of being off in the ozone of the future, which can mean fewer regrets over what might've been left unsaid.

All of life is merely experience. I assign value or emotion depending on my perspective, which is impacted by time. My 1st husband and I split up in 1978 in what I will simply describe as not my most shining moment(s). Decades later, we've now connected as good friends, as family, as two people who essentially grew up together. After our monthly dinner date last night, on a whim, I stopped at my brother's. The expression on the two of their faces, after having not seen each other for literally 40 years, was priceless - incredibly sweet and funny and bursting with their younger selves. It is so nice to see that we've all crested the wave of past hurts and poor intentions. 

In showing my ex around the house, pointing out the changes my brother made after mom passed, I couldn't help but mention, "Here is where the back door used to be, but you usually left by climbing out the upstairs window!"  We enjoyed a good laugh over the memory, as only old people can do when remembering the antics of their youth. 

I've often thought that one of the hardest parts of breaking up is losing family. It's not simply the partner, but their parents or siblings or cousins. Soon after my long-term ex (in sobriety) and I split, his father died in a tragic accident. I was crushed not to be included in the trip home, though why would I be when he'd decided to move on? Each past relationship left a wound of the "forever" dream, but also the hole remaining from birthday and Christmas celebrations, traveling to visit, watching the kids grow up. It is important to me, during times of transition, to acknowledge the totality of a loss and all the various components that will need re-calibration. 

Of course, I am a sticker, a connector. When I first met my dear spouse I said, "Just so you know, if I didn't have ex's I wouldn't have friends," only partly in jest. The way I figure, once family, always family. 

What does this have to do with recovery? Maybe not much. Or maybe everything. Walking the 12 Step path has provided the avenues for repairing relationships. As I sometimes say in my shares, I can't un-cheat, or un-steal, but I can live in such a way that I never hurt anyone in the way that I hurt those I loved in the past.  That means that I'm, at the very least, on cordial terms with those I've loved, and in several instances, we are good and important friends.  I say "thank you, HP" for every lesson learned and amend lived. 

Who do you count among your closest and dearest? Do they know that?

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

I’m just back from a long weekend in New York City – hustle, bustle and nearly constant noise. My friends and I travel there with some regularity. When I first arrive, I’m energized by the frenetic activity. By trip’s end, I’m grateful to return to my relatively quiet corner of NE Portland. I find NYC to be a place of contrast – for example, coming and going from our midtown hotel usually included stepping around or over a couple of street drunks, either carousing or passed out on the sidewalk. A few steps later, we’d dodge skipping 7 year olds.  And I truly love the melting pot that is so evident on the streets of the city –different languages and cultures, food and ways of dress. This is my America – a celebration of humanity in our glorious variations and sameness

I feel so very fortunate to have again enjoyed my two travel buddies, who share my passion for adventure. We’ve taken at least 15 trips together and have it down to a science: one of us is planning & research, one has the credit card, and one handles technology. Who knew, when we initially met in meetings all those years ago, that we’d be traveling the world together - celebrating milestone birthdays, running marathons, seeing the sights. So grateful. And, as I’ve written before, grateful for all of my long-term friendships, both in and out of the rooms. These connections with people who knew me as a kid, or when I was drinking, or from early sobriety, are even more precious as time goes on. They don’t need the back story because they are the back story.

I hit a couple of meetings while away – another of my favorite things to do. The accents were different, the ending had a different cadence (keep coming back , etc) and the formats weren’t what I’m used to, but the message was the same -  one day at a time, we work on whatever blocks us from the sunlight of the spirit, which is nearly always our own thinking and attitudes.

The meeting topic in my morning group yesterday was “gratitude." Fortunately, I inherited my mother's optimism, though can get into a negative loop when thinking about the environment, the “what if’s” or fear of financial insecurity, to name a few. Over time, and believe me, it was over a long time, I’ve been able to mentally change the channel when I catch myself in a downward spiral. What also helps is to do a mental HALT check – disregarding the internal nag when I’m tired, or hungry. It’s amazing what a nap or a snack can do for my attitude. I also use the catch-all prayer of “Thank you, God.” (Years ago, a local fellow shared that he promised God a song, which ended up “Oh thank you God” sung to the tune of “O Christmas Tree.” I still sing it!) Another Gratitude List note – I learned that if I have trouble falling asleep, I can run through the alphabet with something I'm grateful for (AA/Alanon, Bouquets of spring flowers,  Cozy evenings, Drama-free days, etc)

Sometimes, gratitude can be a diversion, a Pollyannish head in the sand – some things aren’t ok. I need to be aware of what I'm feeling  before rushing to a gratitude fix as a cover up. I eventually get there, but sometimes the path starts with frustration or sadness or fear. For me, genuine gratitude is realistic. Sure, I can always pull out "air to breathe and food to eat," which are true, but my gratitude lists have more meaning when I honestly consider my many blessings, starting with good health and sobriety. 

What are you grateful for today, in this moment? If you're not there, what feelings might need acknowledging? If you like to travel, what are your favorite places, and why? 

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Spring cleaning! April is the time to declutter and air out, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Always with the inventory is the question, “What no longer serves me?” whether we’re talking about an old idea or an old pair of jeans.

Initially terrified of the 4th Step, listening to tales of woe, I now welcome the process as an opportunity to dig down on whatever manifestation of my “ism” is causing distress in the moment. Not 10 years ago, or when I was a kid, but today. The Steps aren’t a magic wand, but, for me, the act of putting pen to paper heals in a way that simply thinking about a problem never does. The sharing with a trusted other post-inventory, sometimes adding in ritual or ceremony, allows me to breathe into my higher self (which includes forgiving my humanness). Some of those pesky defenses/defects keep popping up, but the edges are so much softer now. I’m better able to (finally) say, “Oh, there you are again (fear, self-centeredness, grief, etc). What do you need?” Often, merely naming the emotion, giving it just a moment’s attention, is all that it takes to release the hold. Breathing in, breathing out...

In the physical realm, I’ve been on a paper-reduction project at work, recycling pounds of paper no one has touched in this century. Why do we hang on to so much? Because you might need it someday – the refrain of many raised by Depression era parents. True, maybe someday, but these days I'm applying the closet rule – if you haven’t worn it (or used it) in a year (ok, two) let it go. My new refrain is “someday is now” and if there isn’t an immediate need, farewell! I’m not a total Marie Kondo devotee (The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up)  but I definitely utilize some of her methods – do my possessions bring joy? Are they useful? Are they validly sentimental? I have a long way to go, but “progress not perfection” is very much in action.

I’m posting a day early before leaving on a long weekend adventure with my two best traveling buddies. Vacation, even a mini, can feel like a clean start. There is the going away, completely out of my usual element and routine, and the sweetness of homecoming, usually with a fresh outlook on my work, my relationships and my home. What no longer serves me? What do I want to celebrate and honor? What would today’s inventory show?

Thank you for reading, near and far. Where are you, in this 4th month, with the inventory process? Is it time for an annual housecleaning, metaphorically or actually? What is telling you that it needs releasing?

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Lately I’m feeling like a human doing instead of a human being. Work has been busy, and off work time seems to be sucked dry by the various maintenance tasks that keep the week running smoothly – the cats need to be fed, dishes need washing, laundry needs folding, the occasional vacuum, bills, etc - Arghh!! And as much as I don’t want to acknowledge it, part of my frustration seems to be related to a shift in my overall energy level. I’ve always been a “the more you do, the more you can do!” kind of person, but that is shifting to “I’ve had enough, thank you.” 

I'm also bearing the the collective weight of working in behavioral health care - I've witnessed, and listened to, a lot of pain over my 30+ years in the field. Fortunately (or I couldn't have done it for so long), I am a generally optimistic person, and at work, would characterize myself as a bringer of hope and humor.  And, there are only so many stories of abuse and neglect and outright depravity one can listen to without becoming just a wee bit jaded.

In her book, Trauma Stewardship, L. van Dernoot Lipsky: writes, “In traditional Chinese medicine, there is a belief that dis-ease in one’s being comes in part from stagnant energy... An important part of well-being in this tradition is keeping the energy moving and not allowing it to stagnate around any one feeling or issue.” My energy has definitely been stagnating around my work, which is why is it SO important for me to laugh with friends & loved ones, to hike in the  woods, and get on an airplane every once in awhile. 

Monday was the 1st of the month, which reminded me of the tiny thrill I used to experience when those two days coincided. As a kid, starting at 9 or 10, I was always coming up with a plan, whether that was losing weight (yes, at 10 years old) or being more helpful around the house. "Monday the 1st" felt like an auspicious beginning, though my plan, charts included, rarely made it through even the first week. But, I’d sit at my little desk, with a ruler and notebook paper and the best of intentions, convinced that with the right formula I would not only do better, I would be better. It makes me sad to think of the little girl who was convinced that she wasn’t ok as-is.

I continued with these types of plans after leaving home, but alas, I am an alcoholic, which impacted my moral compass. My best laid plans for emotional or physical discipline held little weight once I was into the second bottle of wine. Thank GOD for the Good, Orderly Direction provided in the 12 Steps, what I’d been looking for all my life. And for so long, I worked the program, continuing to strive for not just doing, but being better. Speaker Lila R. says that at the core, most alcoholics suffer from the “not enough” syndrome – I know I have. But as I heard in a meeting this week, relief comes with the realization that, in long term recovery,  I am no longer working a program, with its inherent hammer, but am allowing the principles of the program to express through me. 

It has taken a long time, but I no longer operate with the gaping wound of “not ok.”  It flares, especially when my self-care is off, but I’m better able to see that while temporary circumstances might not be ok, I’m just fine, defenses (defects) and all.  I’m just fine because I surrender on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis to the knowledge that I’m not running the show. I’m not running your show, or the guy in the car that just passed me’s show; I’m not running the weather show, or the passage of time show. And particularly, I’m not running my show. I suit up and show up, and try to stay out of my own way.

Where are the places that your energy gets stuck? How can the Steps and principles of the program guide you to a place of letting go?