Wednesday, May 29, 2019

I met with my sponsor yesterday in the first of our Tradition study series, focused on applying the 12 Traditions to marriage/partnership. After a false-start with a couple of friends, this has traction, and is a way to both hone in on the area of relationship, my final frontier, and invigorate my program. The seduction of the “retrogressive groove,” the lull of “all is well” can be deadly. I don’t walk around (much) waiting for the other shoe to drop these days, and I am well aware that personal and spiritual growth don’t occur in a vacuum. I had a teacher in grade school who was always telling us, “You won’t get this by osmosis!”  Same for the principles of our program, though I do think, if I’m paying even the slightest bit of attention, some of it does rub off. I watch as you walk through challenges with integrity, I listen as you describe how you overcome dishonesty, I hear it when you talk about your desires for a better life, and it impacts how I see the world and my place in it. But, in order to make it mine, and not merely theory, I need to apply what I hear and read and observe to my life, my relationships, my situations.  As a fairly concrete thinker, that used to confuse me – what does it mean to work a program? So I asked a friend, who told me that, to her, it means thinking about what she reads, writing about how it applies to her, and then acting on the new information: pause, think, consider the consequences.

All around my house, in little nooks and crannies on bookshelves, stuck in or under various stacks of literature, sometimes in my purse, are slogans, quotes, or inspirations that I've jotted down or copied onto bits of paper. Sometimes I’ll come across one of these missives and wonder at my state of mind when I noted it, at what was either troubling me or exciting me at the time. Sometimes I take a deep breath of recognition – “Ah, thank you HP, for the reminder,” and sometimes I think, “Eh, not so much” and throw it away.  I appreciate this tangible evidence of past meetings and chance encounters, these tiny efforts to capture and integrate spiritual lessons.
 This is what I came across this week – from Kabir, a 15th century Indian mystic:

“Be strong then, and enter into your own body;
There you have a solid place for your feet.
Think about it carefully!
Don’t go off somewhere else!
Kabir says this: just throw away all thought of imaginary things,
And stand firm in that which you are.”

"Stand firm in that which you are." Not the imaginary of what I hope to be, or what I should be, or what I used to be, but “that in which you are,” right here, right now. What I was taught early on is that right here, right now, everything is ok. I have a place to sleep tonight, and have had enough to eat today. When I can keep my brain where my butt is, I know, I know that all is well.

Are your heart and mind in the same place as your feet today? What speaks to you in Kabir's poem?

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

I stopped meditating about a year ago.  During vacation with friends, with little alone time, my already tenuous practice stopped. I tried to re-up a few times over the ensuing months, but it just didn’t catch - until now. I’ve been drawn to the chair in the past couple of weeks, and am actually sitting each day – maybe only 10 minutes at a time, but it’s something.

I’ve never been consistent enough with meditation to experience noticeable benefits. I am a wee bit hyperactive and have a really hard time holding still, much less quieting the internal chatter. I’ve long felt inadequate when it comes to the “and meditation” aspect of Step 11 since I can’t pretzel myself into the lotus position, have never gone on a silent retreat, etc, etc, etc. And then I was reminded that when Bill W. wrote about meditation in the 1930’s and 40’s, he wasn’t talking about the eastern version that we picture “nowadays.” To Bill, meditation meant reading and reflecting on inspirational literature,  like the St. Francis prayer in the 12x12. That I can do. I’m a good reflector, just not a good sitter. And I’m also reminded that there are many ways to meditate – the walking meditation that Tich Nhat Hahn describes, drawing, playing music (or listening) - anything that moves my mind to the “zone.”  Running can be meditative. Gardening definitely can be meditative. It all depends on the energy and intention I bring to the task.

Sitting on my little chair last week, I cracked the deck door in order to hear the rain. At this point, I can’t still my mind at will, but I can set the stage – a comfortable spot, quiet or soothing sounds, sometimes a timer (sometimes not). My sponsor, whatever I bring to her, always reminds me of the practice.  Step 12 says that we “practice these principles in all our affairs.” It doesn’t say, “Pass the test with an 'A' each time” or “Gain complete mastery.” I (because of repetitive practice) do have mastery over some of my glaring defects – the lying, cheating and stealing variety. I’m much improved on others – impulsivity, mind-reading, and impatience, for example. Being in recovery over time brings the opportunity to see patterns, habitual behaviors and attitudes that can feel current and new, but that are usually tied to some past belief.  The arduous process of unraveling the tangled web of reactions has been the gift and the challenge of living in recovery, of living in the present moment rather than being blindly propelled by the past.
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We listened to an old speaker CD on a mini-road trip this weekend - Patrick W, the local fellow who coined the song "Oh Thank You God" (to the tune of "O Christmas Tree."). I was at the meeting that was recorded in 1989 and am certain I sang along with the crowd, and still sing his song when moved by gratitude. I feel fortunate to have grown up in recovery with the WWII era old-timers and their rock bottom stories. At the time, I remember thinking, "If this guy can do it, I can too," which is a huge part of how this thing works - inspiration, instruction, example, and laughter, the kind that leaves me shaking my head in wonder. As we say, "you can't make this stuff up."  A note of thanks to the trusted servants who are taking the time to convert the old cassette tapes to CD's. I appreciate hearing the voices and stories from my past.

Who were your inspirations when you entered the world of recovery? How do you practice Step 11, whether sitting, walking or otherwise?

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

I drive a curved overpass on my way to work each day, either in my vehicle or on the bike. There is a spot where I can see Mt Hood in the distance to the east, majestic in her glory, often with a sunrise backdrop. Until just recently, I hadn’t realized that a few feet on looms the flat top of Mt. St. Helens to the north. I’ve driven this path for nearly 10 years. Did someone cut down a tree? Did I simply not notice?

What else might I be blind to, as in defenses and defects? It can be tough to rout out old ideas, because they’re my ideas, and can feel true and right (though usually  more along the lines of righteous). Where might it be helpful to pause (that word again!) and ask, “Is this actually true?” or “Might there be a different way to view this?” whether an interaction with another person, a situation, or my own thoughts, which can sometimes feel like they have a life of their own. Someone recently shared with me that she tries not to believe her own brain, along the lines of “First thought wrong.” I might expand that to “First thought defensive” or “First thought protective” and go from there. A clue for me is the amount of energy behind my thinking – am I  absolutely certain or adamant? Maybe that means I could take a breath and a step back.

My sponsor and I have agreed to work through the Traditions as related to partnership. This has always been the final frontier for me. Keep your resentments – relationships are my number one offender. My number one offender, and my great teacher, where I have the opportunity to learn about detachment and non-attachment, letting go, boundaries, autonomy, and intimacy. My spouse and I are coming up on our 8th wedding anniversary, and 10 years together this year – crazy, and yes, apparently I blinked a few times because here we are in 2019. While I’ve not regretted it for a minute, I must admit that being married was initially an adjustment for me – the whole give and take of physical and emotional space when I’d been doing things a particular way for eons.  And while I no longer view myself as damaged goods, or a DIY project to be solved, I do seek continuing spiritual growth, which means practicing the principles consciously, truly committing to self-care, communicating even when it's uncomfortable or I'm in a hurry.

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I triggered myself this week – My eyes were dilated in an emergency eye appointment (that turned out to be nothing worrisome), which left me looking like a tweaker, minus the tongue-chewing euphoria. Seeing my huge pupils in the mirror took me back to the dark days of trying to avoid looking my mother or boyfriend in the eye, lest they recognize that I was in an altered state. I am so grateful not to live in secret anymore – the lies, the deceit, the excuses, the ugliness inside and out that went along with my alcoholism and addiction. I am grateful for health and recovery, though still coming to terms with the age-related "what-have-you's" that keep popping up. 

One day at a time, I relax into the aging process. One day at a time, I do my best to remain teachable. One day at a time, I practice gratitude for this glorious life in recovery.  

Where do you find yourself noticing something you hadn't seen before, whether on your morning walk or the pages of a favorite book? How have your loved ones changed, or is it your perception that has shifted? 

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

I recently over-reacted to something my spouse said -  the old “if I’m hysterical, it is historical” mode.  I can know that, intellectually. The challenge is to uninstall my buttons, so they don’t get pushed. Easier said than done, but apparently I’m not alone – in sharing the interaction with trusted others, what I heard was, “Ah, I do that too" -  the “we” of the program in action. I may think I’m the only one who (fill in the blank), but I am nowhere near as unique as I’d believe. And, I’m better able to move into “awareness, acceptance, & action” when I can forgive myself for being human.  As fate would have it, my early morning’s meeting topic this week was related to applying the 4th Tradition to relationships – Every group (person) should be autonomous, except in matters affecting another group (person) or AA/Alanon (the relationship) as a whole.

Autonomy - what a concept.  I am a helper and a manager by profession, the eldest of 2 children, and have truly believed that I could wrest satisfaction from this life if only I managed well. And I do manage well. However, I have a stronger desire to be a healthy spouse in a loving relationship, which means continuing to look at what residual baggage I bring to the present moment.  I am grateful that Alanon and has been a part of my program for as long as I have been sober, as it has been instrumental in helping me deal with the causes and conditions that contribute to my dis-ease. Somewhere along the line, I picked up the idea (& ran with it) that if I’m not in charge, no one is, and my ideas are usually right. Alas, my ideas might be right for me. My responsibility in any relationship is to focus on myself – my reactions, my words, my own hoola-hoop. Speaker Lila R. reminds me that you are safer when I’m practicing self-care. For me that doesn’t just mean getting enough sleep and eating right, but the deeper (& harder) aspect of letting you know my desires. We sometimes hear that as “stating my needs.” Well, my needs are air, water and shelter, but I have many preferences. If I can remember that they are just that, I’m better able to let go of the throttle.

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On the way to a great conference this past weekend, we listened to a speaker CD with the message: “Don't let the life AA gave you get in the way of your AA life.”  Several speakers at the conference, while addressing the newcomers, also talked to us old timers about keeping the program alive, not letting it get stale, and to beware of starting to believe our own BS simply because we have been sober for decades. That is the quest of this blog and other work I am doing on long term recovery -  I do not want to drift away. I know some who are no longer engaged in the program and are doing great, and others who’ve gone back to active addiction. I’m not willing to throw that set of dice, and besides, I like you people.  At the beginning of my recovery the disease knocked on the front door, saying “I know where my boyfriend is cooking meth – wouldn’t a shot feel good?” or “A drink would sure relieve this pressure.” These days it is much more subtle, showing up in the whisper that I wrote about last week (“you don’t really need a meeting today”).  It can also show up in self-righteousness, judgment, or just general crankiness – anything that separates me from you and from my Higher Power/Serenity.

In the “god-shot” department: I’d decided that part of my retirement process would be reaching out to my various supervisors from over the years to thank them for my long career. In a serendipitous moment at the conference, we happened to sit right next to my very first supervisors and teachers (W.T. was the Director and his wife A.T. was the Nurse Manager of the program where I trained and was then hired). After the closing prayer, I told them both (through tears) how much I appreciated their guidance in getting me off on the right foot all those years ago. This is not a regular conference for us, these people now live in Arizona, and if we’d sat on the other side of the 1,000 person room, I might’ve missed them. As we hear, be careful what you pray for (or set intention for) because you never know how that will show up.

How do you, or might you, apply the 12 Traditions to your personal relationships today? How do you accept your imperfections along with your awesomeness?

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

I subscribe to the “Honest Guys” Facebook page, out of the UK,  consisting of a daily nature photograph and a gentle nudge towards inner peace and kindness. Pleasantly, with all the chatter, ads and political posts, this message shows up front and center the first thing every morning. Recently, the photo was of an emerald evergreen forest, with a mossy floor, and sun rays filtered through the trees. It immediately transported me to a place we called “Fairyland,” out behind a cabin our families used at Cannon Beach when we were kids. The funky little place, with sloped floors and rickety wooden bunk beds, belonged to Charlie, an old school buddy of my dad and aunt’s. We may have only been there a handful of times, but in memory, it was paramount. Out back, walking along the fence line and beyond, Charlie showed us young ones the magical forest of Fairyland. It was stunning – huge, old growth pines, a thick, mossy covering on the ground, and often, rays of sun shining through to the forest floor. Charlie walked us out to a large tree who’s root system created a little seat, firmly instructing us to go no further else we incur the wrath of the goblins who lived beyond. Enchanted and terrified, we never stepped beyond the marker tree. 

Until, of course, we did. As we got older and bolder, we thought, “Why not?” taking those first steps towards reality. Reality wasn’t goblins or bad guys, but a clear-cut a few hundred yards beyond - heartbreaking in its ugliness. Even though we knew better, we’d hoped to find an evil castle or other signs of magical wonder. Already jaded at 11 or 12, we probably lit up a stolen cigarette and said, “We won’t tell our moms that we know the truth.”  

I remember both the magic and the let-down of the fantasy Fairyland, an archetypal movement from the innocence of childhood to the harsh reality of the world. Despite the harsh realities, I don’t want to get stuck in that place of “Ain’t it ugly?” When I find myself focused on the clear-cut of the political world, or my appointments and to-do lists,  I can consciously turn towards the peaceful forest, the place inside me that knows all is well, the place that remembers whatever really needs doing will get done. As one of my daily readers says, “What is urgent is rarely important, and what is important is rarely urgent.” 

I believe it was Marieanne Williamson who wrote (& I paraphrase) that there really is only one path – I’m either moving towards Higher Power/Spirit/Peace of Mind or away. Which direction am I facing today? And if I’m facing the internal chaos of anxiety or worry, how do I turn myself around? Ah – I can’t turn myself around, but I can surrender in the practice of Step 3 (made a decision) and then ask for guidance via Step 11 (knowledge of HP’s will for me and the power to carry that out). I sometimes read Step 11 as related to the big deals, the ones that need “power.” But maybe the “power” to carry out God’s will is as simple as shifting my focus, taking a deep breath, reading inspirational or centering literature. Slaying dragons, the internal goblins, can be in the small decisions as well as the big.

For me, that showed up last week as a noticing. I missed two of my regular meetings due to scheduling conflicts, and then a third on Thursday, because the sun was out. I noticed on Sunday (home group day) a slight hesitation, a whisper of “you’ve got so much to do,” and realized, on a gut level, how easy it would be to simply drift away from my 12 Step practice, which includes regular meeting attendance. So easy to give in to the “Life is good,” “I’ve got this,” “I’ve got a lot to do” trap. I’ve got a lot to do, and life is good because of recovery, and the grace that delivered me from the hell of my addiction. Not “I’ve got this,” but “Higher Power has this” – always has and always will.

I’m recently truly feeling “one day at a time,” especially after attending a moving memorial for Ronnie S., a really good guy who was killed in a motor vehicle accident – too young, too soon, totally unexpected. This moment is all we have. Am I going to face the beautiful forest, or the clear cut? Trust, or give in to my fears?  Slip away, or maintain my commitment to my spiritual practice? What is your choice today? How does the disease talk to you, and what do you do when you notice that?