Wednesday, June 26, 2019

A couple of weeks ago I crossed paths with a running acquaintance. We've seen each other on various courses over the years, and share a hairdresser. She's now 75 and still doing the deal, though shifted to walking 6 months ago. She asked if I were walking full time now. I joked about my slow jog (slog) but it both stung and motivated me. In my mind, I'm still a runner, though she isn't the first person to ask if I'm enjoying my walk. I've blown the others off, but I value this woman's view as she's seen me over the 25 years I've been out there. What I realized is that if I'm going to call myself a runner, I need to run. I saw her again this week, and she may not have noted it, but I was 7 minutes faster on an 8 miler than 2 weeks ago, so obviously I was walking last time, no matter what I tell myself. To run faster, you need to run faster.

This made me think of the creative process as well as the recovery process. If I call myself a writer, I need to write. My novel, Shadows & Veins, took years to complete as I initially waited for inspiration to strike. And then I learned that you just need to sit down and do it, sometimes poorly sometimes soaring, but do it. So, if I'm a writer, I need to write. If I call myself a friend, I need to pick up the phone every once in a while. If I say I am in recovery, I need to do recovery things. This looks different for everyone, and for me, means that I strive to leave a clean life on all levels - emotional, physical and spiritual. 

Sometimes that is complex and sometimes very simple. I'm thinking of the trite little sayings that, over time, have gotten stuck in my head like the jingle from an old TV commercial. Keep it Simple. Easy Does It. Think.  Also, the acronyms - STOP = Spirit, Take Over Please. ISM = I sponsor Myself (as in, not a good idea). FEAR, which has many incarnations - F*** Everything And Run; Face Everything And Recovery, and what I heard this week: Future Events Already Ruined. Oh my god - how often do I pollute an upcoming experience with the "what if's?" (which are nearly always negative). 

Living clean means making the conscious effort to eat well, get enough sleep, get up from my desk every hour to move around. It means spending time each day in prayer and meditation, keeping commitments to my sponsees, showing up. It also means all the different ways I've internalized our recovery program, from those silly slogans to the gut-check. One day at a time, it means an "attitude of gratitude."

An old memory was triggered today when someone spoke of his significant other overdosing, and his fears as he prodded her awake. It made me think of a time that my lover overdosed and I found him beginning to turn blue. I'd like to say that I immediately jumped into action, but must admit that I hesitated. If I called an ambulance, I might go to jail for the drug-making equipment in my basement. He surely would. Luckily, he came to, and lived for a few more years before the disease claimed him. I am beyond grateful today that the trauma and drama of active addiction is merely a memory. And Richard E, I sincerely hope that you are resting in peace.

What are your various labels? Are you doing what you are called to do in your heart? If not, where can you carve out time for yourself and your inclinations? What does it mean to you to live clean?

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

And the beat goes on...  I made a conscious effort this week to mix it up a little - got to a couple of meetings I don't usually attend, and went to a church service with a friend in lieu of my home group. None of these were earth shattering, but it was good to shake up the routine just a bit. Funny thing about routine - I thrive with structure, and after a while, structure can be mind-numbing. I find myself  asking, "What day is it?" when the alarm goes off. Is this a running day, or a gym day, morning Alanon day, or an early-to-work day? Is it drag-ass Tuesday, or whoosh! Friday already? And the beat goes on.

Actually, one of the meetings I hit was my home group for at least a decade. I used to live for that group and lunch after as we supported members through having babies, an end of life journey, coming out in public for the first time, marriages and divorces, relapses and recovery. It was a home group in the best sense of the word. And then, one day it seemed, the meeting shifted. It got huge, and the demographics no longer felt like my peers, so, a friend and I started another meeting, which has been growing strong for a long time now. For years, that group fed me, and hopefully, I gave back, but then it, too, felt like more of an obligation than a joy and I shifted, yet again. Such is the nature of recovery - mine anyway. Noticing discomfort, taking a look at my contribution to my dis-ease, and making a decision to stay or go. That in itself is such a process - do I need to write inventory, or simply take a nap? 

In any event, it felt really good, warm and comfortable to walk into that former home group, in a new setting, with so many familiar faces. I was greeted with a hug by one of the members, who was a kid in treatment when I worked with youth decades ago, telling me he'd thought of me this past week while at Multnomah Falls. (Don't tell anyone, but I let one of the teens parallel park the extended van on an outing, after three pitiful attempts on my part.)

After the meeting I had a reassuring talk with a former sponsor and old friend. A few years my senior in the program, she shared that she'd also been feeling a little flat about AA recently. As we agreed, our desire to pull back from meetings isn't about getting out and doing other exciting things, it's about the desire to be home, just puttering around. Goals shift and change over the lifespan, and being "out amongst 'em," as my dad used to say, just doesn't hold the appeal it once did. Home, good books, boxes of photos to sort, cooking a tasty meal, watching a movie... that is the draw today.

And the draw today also has to do with on-going spiritual growth, which I can’t get sitting at home with a movie, or my Big Book – they used to call that “pipe-lining,” when it’s just me and HP. I need people, living examples of recovery in action. Just this week, in my early morning group, an old resentment was triggered. As I internally fumed with justification for my anger, I got smacked upside the head with an understanding of my part in the situation. That’s not what I was expecting when I woke up that morning. I would’ve been content to carry that resentment for a long time, but here I am, letting go. I likely wouldn’t have come to that surrender at home cooking dinner - I needed to hear what other people shared about their experience with troubling relationships in order to see a bigger picture. OK, God, I get it – “We” not “me.”

 Happy Summer Solstice, dear readers - wishing everyone a peaceful and enjoyable season. Where are you with any lingering resentments? Are there places in your life, or your program, that would benefit from a gentle shake-up?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

I've just started reading Sallie Tisdale's book, Advice for Future Corpses, about coming to terms with  mortality - our own and our loved ones'. Wow. I'm only a few pages in, but already the sticky-note markers are flying. My only caveat is that I'll no longer read it right before bed - much too thought provoking.

I do think about my mortality, more so as the clock ticks. There came a point when I fully understood that the time ahead of me is less than the time behind me, so what do I want to do with that? Tisdale recommends getting familiar with, and comfortable with the fact of death. Flowers die. Beloved pets die. Strangers die. Loved ones die. We will die. I will die. 

Early in recovery, I toyed with the notion that I would probably drink again were I to receive a terminal diagnosis. Why not, right? I've since seen it go both ways - someone who drank, and and several who didn't and at this moment, I prefer the latter. As an African proverb (I don't know the exact source) says, "When death comes for me, let it find me alive."

A few years ago, the Cabal, a small group I've been meeting with for a decade now, tackled the Steps as related to the aging process. 1. I am utterly powerless over aging. No creams, vitamins, exercise, surgery or positive thoughts will stop the calendar from turning. 2. A Power greater than myself can restore me to sanity, with sanity meaning acceptance. 3. I surrender and attempt to trust the process. I can inventory my fears, share those, and then offer myself to my Creator, the good and the not so good, the wrinkles and arthritic hands, and can move to more fully accept that I am right where I'm supposed to be (4,5,6,7). I'm not as strong as I used to be. I don't run as fast as I once could. But I am WAY more comfortable in my own skin. The trade off is worth it. For about a year, I was part of a group of women with over 20 years sobriety. We called ourselves "Too Old to Give a F***" because, really, who cares? I'm being flip, but the truth is, I don't care about the same things I used to care about - my concerns are more inner than outer directed these days, less about what you think about me and more about the state of my soul.

My goal is to live to a healthy 100. Why not? I've completed 10 marathons, and a 100 mile bike ride - 100 years old seems like a good, round goal. But whether I have 30 years or 30 days remaining, what do I want to do with my precious time? I'm not suggesting productivity necessarily, though there are items on my to-do list. I'm thinking more about what I'd like to experience, what I'd like to learn more about, what fears I'd like to release, who I'd like to spend time with, and who needs to know that I love them.

Tisdale suggests identifying what I am specifically afraid of in regards to dying. My mother had a peaceful death, at home, as she wanted. Her experience informs my fears - I don't have biological children. Who will sit with me at the end? Will I be alone? I have fears about things undone. (Tisdale quotes her Buddhist teacher as saying, "I'm not afraid to die. I'm just not ready.")  I'm not ready, materially, emotionally, or spiritually, and I am fully aware that I don't get to decide. That's one thing that amused and annoyed my mom. She was a planner (as am I) and as her time grew near, said with just a hint of sarcasm, that this wasn't something that could be decided. We did plan - the paperwork was all in place. But you can't plan for the feelings. I couldn't plan for the experience of grace, of the beauty and the agony of watching my mother die. She seemed to make peace with it, over time, though that was a process. I can only imagine.

And so, I will continue my journey through the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, over and over and over again. I will do my best to remain present, and teachable, in this and all areas. I will appreciate the joys that are mine today, and there are many.

In thinking and writing about death, I'm not feeling morbid, or particularly sad. I am being realistic, and curious, and grateful for growing older with a clear and sober mind. This life is amazing - the boring days and the peak experiences, and everything in between, one day at a time.

Do you think about mortality? What are your fears, if any? Where does your mind go when you meditate or daydream, when you think about the future?

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

We were fortunate to visit our home-away-from-home group over the weekend - Bernal New Day in San Francisco, a short walk from the in-laws. It's always a good feeling to be welcomed by familiar faces, and to hear a fresh take on how we practice the principles in our daily lives. We hit another good meeting in Berkeley, and again, good to visit a new group, and visit with my spouse's former sponsor.  

Even at home it's necessary for me to mix it up every so often lest I slip into "personalities before principles." The home group and my regular meetings provide many things – comfort at being known, stability,  consistency, and the sameness can be a soporific. I'm not mentally and spiritually challenged if I (think) I know what so-and-so will say each week. So, hitting a different meeting, or bringing a beginner's mind to my usuals, keeps the miracle alive. That being said, I know that I am lucky to have literally 100's of groups to choose from in any given week. I still remember the English speaking meeting in Prague that my friend, Cheri, and I attended years ago. "Please, tell us your story!" the group of 4 or 5 pleaded, having heard each other many times over. 

I was taught that there are two times to go to a meeting – when you want to and when you don’t. I have a long-entrenched meeting habit that has served my recovery well. When I look back over the years, I’ve had a handful of dry patches, or “spiritual deserts,"  and then “bam!” one day I’m in one of those meetings where the room seems to levitate and I remember, “Oh yeah – that’s why I’m here.” For today (or this week), I can suit up and show up. I can see if there is a different meeting to work into my schedule. I can listen to truly hear rather than letting my mind drift. I can reach out to a newcomer, or otherwise be of service. I can get back to the Step group I've had to miss for two months...  I know I've written about this meeting ennui before, and will likely again. One of the challenges of long term recovery is staying engaged. Some ebb and flow is to be expected, and it is important to keep my eyes open.

Speaking of miracles, my husband and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary this week, which means we've been together nearly 10 years. The miracle is that I was finally able to get out of my own way and let Higher Power choose. The miracle is that with two distinctly different ways of being in the world, we have built a sweet life together with the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions as our base. Grateful every day...

As we turn the calendar to June, I am now 13 months from my planned retirement. I expect the time to alternately drag, and fly by. Much like early recovery, I'm turning to people farther along the path for guidance, experience, strength and hope. As with all major (& minor) life events, I rest assured knowing that there are others who have walked this road ahead of me. I can feel myself beginning to detach from my long and positive career, and, today I am employed and have work to do before letting go. One day at a time...

What do you do when you find yourself bored in meetings? How do you re-light the fire for recovery? How do you stay in the moment when you have something you're looking forward to (or dreading)?