Wednesday, July 31, 2019

In another of my “field trip” meetings last week, the chairperson talked about his initial fear that he might be one of those people described in “How it Works” as unable to be honest with himself. His remarks got me thinking about my own journey towards external and internal honesty.

When I came into the program, truth was selective. I told one portion of the truth to my mother, another segment to my sort-of-ex, while I told myself yet another version. I would’ve claimed cash register honesty, but that wasn’t true given that I’d been using my boyfriend’s money (before he became the sort-of ex) to fund my lover’s meth lab. I wasn’t stealing from stores, but only because I didn’t have to, and truthfully, the thrill of shoplifting was one of my earliest adrenaline highs as a kid. I’ve kept a journal/diary since 5th grade, but even in my private writings, wasn’t always honest about my behavior, until, finally, I couldn’t hide from myself. The day after my scrawl literally fell off the page, I wrote about my addiction. I noted that I’d been on a self-destruct path since age 14, and couldn’t imagine what I’d done to deserve the level of punishment I’d been inflicting on myself since then. I did not make the, what now seems obvious, connection that at 14 I started drinking and my behavior deteriorated exponentially as the years went on. I had such a hard time admitting that I was an addict because I knew that meant I’d need to stop and I could not imagine what was on the other side. The process of fully conceding to my innermost self started with that journal entry, however winding the road to treatment a year or two later.

My honesty level vastly improved the minute I got sober because I stopped doing things I needed to lie about. In treatment, I came across a bit of paraphernalia in my belongings. I hesitated for a moment, thinking I could pass it on to one of my druggie friends, but realized that if I hung on to it, I was hanging on to the possibility that I might use it again myself. When I got home, I was no longer shooting dope, so didn’t need to lie to my mother or my sort-of ex or my best friends about what I was doing. I was honest with my new friends about the meth cook lover as I wrestled with how to either help him get clean or let him go. Getting to the place where the truth converged and I told the same story to everyone, because it wasn’t a story, was more liberating than I would’ve imagined.

Emotional honesty was another thing. I wasn’t consciously trying to be dishonest with my feelings, but I didn’t exactly know what they were. I remember cringing in meetings when the topic was “Emotional Honesty” because I literally had no idea what they were talking about. The idea of truly knowing what I was feeling, and trusting enough to share that with another person, was a halting journey. Scared. I knew scared – of you, of the unknown, of the “what next?” question. I knew when I was excited/agitated – from too much caffeine, that cute guy across the room, the thrill of waking up clear-headed. And I knew sad – mourning the ending of the relationship with the man who’d put me through treatment, grieving my father’s death without the buffer of chemicals, thinking of the “what if’s” that I’d squandered along the way.  I knew the feelings, but couldn’t always connect them to what was really going on. I blamed you, or him, or the great big world. I distracted, with caffeine or activity, or impulsive decisions. Eventually, and I do mean eventually, the spinning top that was my psyche slowed to a stop. It wasn’t until I could hold still that I could listen for the quiet voice, the internal knowing that had been buried for so long. It was then that I was able to unravel the emotional ties to my past and to my childhood, to make the connections between history and present reactions, to be able to answer the question, “How am I feeling?” honestly and openly. I wasn’t trying to be dishonest with myself – I just didn’t know what I didn’t know.

How does emotional dishonesty manifest in my life today, now that, theoretically, I do know what I know? I think of times that I expect my spouse to read my mind, or when I fib on my food plan. I think of the times I believe the whispering lure of isolation, or busyness, or when I think I should push on instead of resting. Emotional honesty today means accepting that I am a human being, not perfect, not striving Every.Single.Day, just a person on the path – sometimes strolling, sometimes skipping, sometimes on my hands and knees. In the past, I wanted to already be there, wherever that was. Today, I am more appreciative of the journey itself.

How have your views, or your practice, of honesty with self and others evolved over time? Do you have at least one person who you can be real with about your feelings, your fears, your hopes and your dreams?

** On 8/4, will publish a piece of my writing on being sober a long time. I’m grateful for the support, and say, “Welcome!” to any of those readers who find their way here. Please, join the conversation...

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

On Saturday, we held a “Cousin’s Reunion” at Wilshire Park in NE Portland, which I refer to as our ancestral homeland, given that four of us practically lived there on weekends during high school. That ground is steeped in memories – some good, some not so good, some foggy through the haze of cannabis, mescaline and cheap wine. If those trees could talk...  I often jog through the park on my morning run these days, remembering twirling on the merry-go-round after chugging from a stolen bottle of Spanada or Bali Hai in order to get drunk faster, sitting in a large circle passing a joint, and the shouts to “run!” when a police car climbed the curb (though they usually just told us to go home).

A sense of place figures strongly in who I am today. Years ago, when a friend and I visited Istanbul, I wondered at how it might shape a person to grow up in the midst of such antiquity. Here in the NW, the oldest things are trees, but I, too, am shaped by my surroundings – the soothing sound of rain on the roof, mossy sidewalks, spring flowering who’s intensity brings to mind a mild hallucinogen. My city has changed, with increased density, traffic, and long-time residents displaced to create trendy shopping districts, and it is home.

Like all of us, my sense of home and my sense of self have also been formed by people, more specifically, my people. We’ve grown into various and divergent ends of political spectrums and social theories, but we share solid parenting, childhood capers and a dry sense of humor. We don’t see each other much anymore, with our matriarchs gone, living in different places, and the general busyness of later adulthood, so our relationships can feel tenuous, yet timeless with the deep knowing of shared histories. Life moves on, and, I appreciate this opportunity to reconnect in person with the sweetness of the “how are you’s?” that we really do want to know. I am reminded that we are there for each other should the need arise. 

Kind of like in our meetings. I’ve seen our recovery community come together to help people move (sometimes suddenly), prepare for a new baby, walk through a divorce, attend funerals as support. We are “people who normally would not mix,” and we show up for each other.

I chose not to attend my high school’s all-year’s gathering the day after our family reunion, needing to show up for myself. I needed a dose of solitary self-care after 24 hours of intense interaction time. I can only do so much “conversating” before hitting the reset button. In the not-so-distant past, I was addicted to more, to not missing anything, so would push myself beyond healthy limits. No longer. Recognizing my need for down time has been one of the benefits of the self-examination we get to do in our inventory process. I’m cranky – what’s going on? No, it’s not your responsibility. Perhaps I am hungry, angry, lonely or tired? Or maybe it’s that I’ve been over-eating, or need some alone time. The HALTS evolve just as I do. I can feel just as uncomfortable in my skin from eating unhealthy food as being hungry, from being “over-peopled” to feeling lonely. And “tired” takes many forms – physical, emotional and spiritual.

What are the manifestations of your HALTs these days? Any changes or additions to the basics?

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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

I crawled out of my cozy comfort zone and went to a couple of new-to-me meetings last week. I've returned to a meditation meeting that includes instruction and 15 minutes of silence before general sharing. Refreshing, and positive reinforcement for my fledgling meditation practice.

I may or may not go back to the 2nd meeting – it is huge, and so not my demographic, but, or rather and, I heard exactly what I needed hear, despite my initial judgments that the members were too young and too hip for me to learn anything. I’ve been using the Set-Aside Prayer (Let me set aside everything I think I know about the 12 Steps and my program so that I can have a new experience) so attempted to keep an open mind. What I heard was, in order to benefit from the program, I need to actually work the program, not just sit in the rooms. Bam! Someone shared about running on fumes, having moved to a city with few meetings, which caused me to inhale deeply with recognition. Bam! I am fortunate enough to live in an area with literally 100’s of choices per week, but have been operating as if I can only attend a specific two. 

In a moment of clarity, I realized that I’ve been simply dialing it in. I've been half-assing my monthly Step group, picking at what's wrong instead of what's right with my home group, skipping my mid-week meeting - in essence, running on fumes, otherwise known as "resting on my laurels."  Busted.     
Do I think I’ll drink today? No. But, recovery is about so much more than not drinking. I crave emotional and spiritual growth, which isn’t going to just drop out of the sky while I'm watching TV. It’s up to me to, yes, do the work of on-going self-examination. To that end, I picked up a new (to me) book, The Alternative 12 Steps,  by Martha Cleveland and Arlys G, not because I have a particular problem with the g-o-d word, but because I seek a new perspective and appreciate the descriptions of "spiritual resources," which are unique to each individual. The Steps aren't punishment, though that's what I once thought, but a tool to recognize and build on my strengths. (see the link to AA Agnostica for additional secular resources)

Complacency, as I’ve written before, is a sneaky devil, convincing me that I'm too tired, have too much to do, etc. to go to a meeting or work a step, blah blah blah. Complacency also uses my fears to further draw back. If my default is to isolate, those fears have nowhere to go, which increases my feelings of separateness. Through the magic of speaking out loud, I've identified the maladaptive whispers, replacing them with, "That meeting sounds interesting," "Tuesday works for me this week."  Shake it up.

And so, I'm back on the beam. The whole gist of recovery is to become familiar with my patterns, and develop relationships with those people who can point out my blind spots. For me, getting off track starts with boredom, or agitation, the "is this all there is?" mind set. It takes me a while to realize that I'm out of whack, and more time to move from blaming outer circumstances to looking at where I'm off center.  And then, the choice: how long am I willing to stay uncomfortable? When and how will I take action contrary to my spiritual lethargy?  In the past few weeks, I've visited a couple of houses of worship, two different meetings, am reading two new recovery books, and have listened to great music in the parks with old friends - all part of the recovery deal.

How do you recognize when you're veering off track? Is there someone in your life who you can ask, if you're not sure? What helps you get back to serenity? And how, exactly, do we remain teachable?

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

I’ve been wandering in the spiritual desert lately. OK, not exactly wandering – more like setting up a tent with my old friends, Restless, Irritable and Discontent. I’ve fallen out of love with meetings, which makes me sad. In thinking about Steps 6 & 7 for June & July, I find myself wondering if I am entirely willing to allow for change, or am I too ready to accept that this is now the way it is? I’m reminded that if I’m unhappy, it has to do with me. The program is the program – what am I doing or not doing that has me out in the weeds?
I realize that even (especially?) in long term recovery, I’m as sick as my secrets, so made myself talk about my various discomforts this week, and in talking, identified the creeping tendrils of fear, specifically, fears around this lack of zest for meetings – AA/Alanon have been my life for decades. What does it mean if that changes? It was pointed out that I am in transition, both with my recovery program and in life. At 33 years, I don’t need meetings in the way that I did in the past. Several close friends have chosen to stop, which has me questioning both their choice to quit and mine to keep going. What does recovery mean as a long-timer? Where do I give back, and as important, where do I get nourished? I realized that, while I benefit (& hopefully am helpful) in meetings with a mix of new and older recovery, what I really need at this point is to be with my peers – less “plug in the jug” and more “this is where I’m afraid/excited/engaged/overwhelmed/etc.”

Some of my, until now, unnamed fears are related to my pending retirement – still a ways out, but the ground is moving beneath my feet. Today I attended a yearly conference, likely my last. I’m coming up on multiple “finals” as the year progresses – a relief and a bit scary. I have my plan, my finances are in order, and I don’t actually know what is next, which is always a scary spot. A good friend validated my concerns, reminding me that there are several big passages in life, and retirement is one of them. And in listening to friends who are a few steps ahead, it is a process, this leaving of one’s work-identity and structure. Some are loving it, some not so much. I imagine I’ll experience a bit of both. As much as I don't like being "right where I'm supposed to be," there is some comfort in knowing I'm not alone in my angst. And as a tail-end baby boomer, I don't suppose there is anything I'll experience that hasn't already been felt by a million or so of my cohort. 

Speaking of cohort, a group of grade school gals met for dinner a couple of weeks ago. Several I've been friends with all along, while am getting to know a couple more via the wonders of social media and these occasional get-togethers. One asked, as the meal winded down, "What brings you joy?"  Some hesitated, while a few had quick responses. What does bring me joy? I put much of my life in the "contentment" column, as in "pleasant" and "enjoyable" but what brings outright joy, which I think of as the high twinkles? People named spending time in nature, grand-kids, music, travel, and good health. I added, "gatherings like this," getting a good dose of satisfaction from these long term connections. That is also a shift – after not seeing many of these people in 40-50 years, some of us regularly get together these days to listen to music, chat on Facebook, or share a meal. Another transition, this stepping both forward and backward in time.

So, awareness, action, acceptance. I was taught that talking about something takes the power out of whatever I’m ruminating on, and it did seem to help. Talking, formally (meeting) and informally (with friends), having a good cry on my husband’s shoulder, and putting pen to paper has helped to clear the fog a bit, as has looking up meetings I might attend outside my usuals. There is a fine line between surrender and action – where am I on that continuum?  

A friend recently said “turn your problems into projects.” How might that apply in the realm of the spirit? In the spot check inventory, where are you today with willingness and being entirely ready for Higher Power to move in your life?

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

I had my performance eval at work last week, with  my supervisor noting how my goals have shifted from last year's grumbling “try to stay motivated” to some specifics I want to get done in this final year at work. I’m back in love with my job, appreciating why I do what I do, while making mental note of all that I won’t be doing in the future (staff conflict – no thank you). This slight shift in perspective, as in, “this is the last July I’ll be working,” “this may be the last person I hire,” helps me take a step back and appreciate rather than criticize.

Shifts in perception – that’s what  Alanon gives me. Initially the shift had to do with my boyfriend’s drug use, learning that I didn’t cause it, can’t control it, and can’t cure it. Later, the shift was related to the family disease – looking at the places where I erroneously blamed my dad for decisions I was making today; coming to fully understand that my dear parents did the best they could and that dad’s alcoholism and depression were not my fault – that 10 inch drop from the head to the heart. These days, the shift in perception has to do with the illusion of control, as in “I am not the boss of you.” The shift is also related to an increased ability to see my insanities, not always immediately, but I’m usually able to recognize my ism’s as just that, and not truth.

A friend has just flown home from the UK, which made me think of my first visit to the vast Heathrow airport in 1978, only my second airplane flight ever. I'm now grateful that I didn't wake the stranger next to me in the middle of the night to show him Greenland through the window, realizing when the sun came up that it was the wing of the plane. Perspective.  I remembered being told about a classmate who’d passed through Heathrow with her family, on their way to the old country several years earlier. She’d  never traveled, and was freaked out by the melting pot of International Arrivals – Sikhs in turbans, Muslim women in the chador, Africans in their colorful garb. At the time, before travel was on my horizon, I was perplexed by her reaction, since I couldn't wait to see the world and its inhabitants. Different perspectives, different expectations. 

Steps 4-9 used to scare me, as if the inventory was a Ouija board, full of mystery.  Of course, the reality is that it was my story I was writing, my story as I saw it at the time, a perspective that has definitely shifted over the years. For a long time, my history sat on my shoulder, whispering that I would be found out as an impostor – who did I think I was, anyway? Time, and working the Steps helped put the past where it belonged.

Death has shifted my perspective: Mom, Doug, Jer, Janet, Jayna, Teracita, Walt, Hassan, Ronnie – all the recent reminders that this life doesn't last forever, and that we really don't know what's around the corner. Do I think about that every day? No. Usually I simply slog through the week, doing what's in front of me, but when I take a few moments to sit in the silence, I have a deep appreciation for life, and for the connections I’ve made over the years. I can focus on the loss, or I can focus on the love. Perspective.

I’m grateful that, for the most part, I inherited my mother’s optimism. I work in a prison. Minimum security, with skylights and beautiful gardens, but essentially a cage. Some days I focus on the absurdity of razor wire atop the chain link fence, keeping men confined for set periods of time, while other days I marvel at the lovely flowers (this week I saw both a hummingbird and a bunny) and barely notice the fence. Perspective, which, for me, is related to the state of my spiritual condition as well as how much sleep I’ve had, and if I’m too hungry (those pesky HALTS again). It can also be a matter of choice. Where do I focus my attention, and if that attention is in a ditch, or on the razor wire, can I shift my view?

Where does my perspective need to shift today? Time often feels like a higher power. A shift would mean relaxing into the now instead of the next week. A shift would mean truly internalizing “one day at a time” and “easy does it.” A shift would mean going with the flow while honoring my inner planner. What about you? Are there places where a shift in perspective would increase your serenity?