Wednesday, August 28, 2019

I was happy to chat with a handful of folks I'd known from earlier recovery years at a big AA party over the weekend. Life goes on – we pair off, get jobs, schedules change, we do, or don't continue with meetings, and people who were perhaps strong members of our weekly regimen for years are no longer part of our circle.

At a 33rd sobriety anniversary meeting the next day, the chairperson spoke about the significance of the fellowship when he first came in. Yes. We often hear that "the program is in the book," coupled with "the fellowship won't keep you sober." To that, I say B.S. Yes, the program is in the book and the Steps, but if I hadn't had fellowship when I first came in, I wouldn't have stayed long enough to find that out. I drank and used other drugs as part of my social life - parties, clubs, dinners, picnics, the end of the work day, MondayTuesdayWednesday... Yes, it got ugly and lonely the longer I went on, but always was the belief that I needed the social lubricant of a substance to be in the world. I was desperate to know that I could still have fun while clean and sober, and the fellowship gave me that. We traveled in packs in those early years, dancing at ratty AA clubs, going to movies en masse, dinner parties and backyard barbecues, slumber parties and trips to the coast, hiking and running marathons. If it had just been me, my sponsor and the Big Book, I'd never have known that the whole wide world was out there waiting for me to show up sober. I'd traveled prior to recovery, but  much of that was through the fog of a hangover (I recently realized that I have absolutely no memory of a trip to Reno my boyfriend and I took with my best friend and her husband, even with the details she’s provided). What a joy to explore a city with an eye to more than finding an open bar, and to remember what I did where, and with whom.  

As was echoed by several at the anniversary meeting, I sometimes miss those early days when everything was new and exciting, and our group of pals explored the nuances of recovery together. But, sort of like with a romantic relationship, the initial exhilaration has given way to comfortable contentment. I do not miss the roller-coaster.

One of the folks I ran in to at the party, an older gentleman, talked with me about retirement and what he described as the chance to “get to know someone you may not know very well yet.” That would be me. I do know myself in relation to the structure of the working world. How might that shift and change when I’m no longer responsible for supervision, and time sheets and regulatory compliance? How might that change when I don’t need to run (or walk!) at 5am in order to get to work on time, or when I have an open day to do more than maintenance at home? I am excited to find out.

Excited, and a little nervous. But I think about all the other life transitions that initially might’ve seemed daunting – changes in jobs, relationships, in school/out of school, moving, etc, etc, etc. When a 9 year relationship ended unexpectedly a decade ago, I found myself in “who am I?” mode, feeling the need to reclaim “me” after being a “we.” What did like to do? Who did I want to be when I was able to stop defining myself as just having gotten out of a long term relationship? I think of a job of 5 years, where the boss and I mutually decided that I’d done all I could do there, and I left without a real plan, or even back to the old days when I changed from being a good-time alcoholic & cocaine user to seedy methamphetamine use and production (see Shadows and Veins). What I know today is that nearly every change I thought was a negative turned out to be the best thing that could’ve happened (including the crystal meth chapter, since that brought me to my bottom very quickly). 

I don’t believe in a higher power pulling strings somewhere up in the cosmos, but I do believe that life works out exactly as it is supposed to. As as they used to say, "If things were supposed to be any other way, they'd be different." My ongoing lesson is to relax into what is rather than fighting the currents, and simply stay out of my own way. I seek to meet each day with curiosity rather than expectation, an invitation rather than fear. 

Over time, my fellowship has gotten smaller. There is still a crew out there, for the holiday party and anniversary meeting, but most of my close friends are, like me, living satisfactory lives that are a bit more home and family centered, which seems to be a natural evolution - a good thing. I am forever grateful for all the caffeine-fueled late night talks and "morning meetings" at various kitchen tables. I am grateful for how we held each other's hands through job interviews and first dates, break-ups and college classes, and, of course all the "meetings, meetings, meetings" we grew through together. I am grateful for the deep knowing that is just a phone call or coffee date away.

How has the fellowship shaped your recovery over the years? What, if anything, is different today? What, from your past, seemed like a negative that turned out to be a positive?

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

One of the things I painfully learned, beginning in early recovery, is the importance of being fully self-supporting. When I got to the rooms, my sort-of-ex had been supporting me for a number of years, and helped me out as I gained a foothold in AA. Initially unemployable, (I wasn’t speaking in complete sentences and was still seeing and hearing things that weren’t there) I really didn’t want to be self-supporting. But I cried tears of joy when, a few years later, I signed papers on the mortgage that was now solely my responsibility. Recently reviewing my finances as part of my retirement planning, I was grateful for my Depression era parents, who spent wisely, for two specific ex’s, who imparted healthy and sane views of money, and my second ever boss, who sat me down when I was a young and clueless new wife and showed me her method of managing monthly bills. Despite these good teachers, and my relative financial stability today, I can still succumb to “fear of financial insecurity,” which is essentially a lack of trust. I’m fortunate to have always had a roof over my head and enough to eat, which I recognize is a privilege. Staying clear with what is a need and what is a want helps me maintain a level of serenity in the moment. Money is one of those areas that requires self-discipline, appropriate action, and letting go of expectations for results. Sometimes I experience anxiety, when what’s going out seems to exceed what’s coming in, but instead of panic, I can use those feelings to look at where I might need to rein it in and put away a bit more for a rainy day, which can be anything from an unexpected car expense, to a raise in property taxes, or the chance to travel.

Part of being relieved of the fear of financial insecurity has to do with that other promise that “we will intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle us.” For me, that applies to how I spend  (“Can I afford this?” instead of “I want it now!”) as well as how I interact in the world, whether that is in the professional or personal realm. The “What do I do now?” syndrome wasn’t only related to new non-drinking behaviors (as in, “How do I order pizza without saying, ‘and a pitcher’?”). I often felt confused, which usually meant scared. I remember sitting in my car outside the local community college a few months after treatment, scared to go inside because I didn’t know where to go or what to ask. A year or so later, a class I was in required going to the medical school library for research. I sat in my kitchen, anxious about not knowing where to go, or what to ask – fear, fear, fear, of being embarrassed, of getting lost, of someone recognizing that I didn’t really belong. In both those cases, and many since, I gave myself a talking to, as in “Self, if you don’t do this particular task at this particular moment, you probably never will, so just do it.” I intuitively knew that if I let fear win, it always would. Do I always "intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle me" these days?  Usually. And, I say that because I’ve learned that it is ok to make mistakes, that it is ok to say, “I’m not sure. Let me get back to you,” that it is ok to ask questions, and most of all, that it is ok not to know. Life is not a contest.

I completed my amends process this past week, with written Steps 1-9, and mailing off an anonymous donation. I also wrote a letter to my younger self, taking responsibility for my actions as well as forgiving myself for making decisions based on the fear of not being accepted. I shared the letter with my sponsor, and then burned it in the backyard, and dropped a rock into the ashes to symbolize the letting go. I have taken the action. I have turned it over. I am done.

Today I "know a new freedom and a new happiness." There used to be an old-timer at my daily meeting who’d say, “There are no big deals.” I don’t agree with that, but over time, I’ve come to understand that most of what I labeled "emotional disasters" were simply examples of me attempting to live in the future, or the past. Today, when an actual big deal arises, I know what to do based on my experience and on watching you navigate the world as a recovering person. 

All of the Promises have proven true for me – maybe not every one on every day, but they illustrate my way of life in long term recovery. I clean up my missteps (old and current) and do my best to live with integrity. I used to think that meant riding in on my trusty steed, brandishing the Steps like a shield as I faced down each day’s demons. Sometimes it’s that dramatic, but usually,  living with integrity simply means showing up to work on time, eating healthy, being kind to loved ones and strangers, or curling up in bed with a good book when that's what my soul craves.

Years ago, a friend suggested that I wear the program “as a loose garment.” I think that phrase is in our literature; I believe it comes from the Christian Bible. It’s a good reminder to relax my grip. Today, the Steps and the principles are a gentle guide. When I’m confused about something – what to say, where to go, what to do – I can pause, access my inner wisdom, talk with a trusted other, and know in my heart that it’s all working out, one day at a time.

How do the 9th Step Promises manifest in your life today?

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The topic in my morning meeting this week was the 9th Step, with a helpful reading from Alanon literature. Timely, and it hit me, as I listened to the importance of seeking guidance before making amends, that I’d had two people tell me the same thing in relation to the situation I mentioned last week, but felt it necessary to seek yet another opinion, after trying on my own to figure it out. I’m realizing that “figuring it out” with a brain that is stuck in the “I’m guilty and always will be” mode isn’t productive. As I've heard, the solution to the problem isn’t in the problem, so ruminating on the “coulda, woulda, shoulda” is a dead end road.  Someone who’s views I value responded to last week's post, sharing her experience of learning to trust her teachers. I think that part of that is learning to trust myself as well, and the work I've done to amend my behaviors. My current sponsor (door #3, who had same answer as doors 1 & 2) did suggest a concrete task that will (hopefully) allow me to drop this rock I’ve been carrying for so long. Stay tuned.

I was very fortunate to be invited to see the Rolling Stones in concert this past weekend, which involved a late evening and early (way early) flight – crazy trip that was totally worth every minute of lost sleep. If Mick and Keith can still rock it in their 70’s, I can too, in my 60’s! I’m not one for stadium concerts, but this was much fun, with people on the streets during the day in their Stones gear, and nearly everyone in the huge arena singing along to every number. I’ve always been one who craves experience over things, and this experience both drew on old memories and created a new one. I appreciated the camaraderie of the day – each one of us likely had a unique association with the music, but we collectively shared the moment as we danced in our seats.  It made me think of the program, and the joy of community. Our recovery community has to do with the shared experience of hitting bottom, however that may look individually, and finding our way out. Over the years I've found community in many different places, and am grateful for the ability to connect, whether for an evening or a lifetime.

And I must admit to a fairly sheltered life these days – I’m just not around active drinking much, and people at this show were getting hammered. I witnessed the dangerous spectacle of an inebriated woman falling into the row below (& the group effort it took to untangle and get her back to her right spot). I could feel the initial rise of self-righteousness – “Nothing worse than a sloppy drunk!” -  but that was quickly followed by compassion. I don’t know anyone who starts a fun evening by saying, “I think I’ll embarrass, and potentially hurt myself or someone else tonight! Cheers!” But, having broken the “stop” button, we go on until we fall over, puke, or someone cuts us off. I can only imagine what sorry state I’d be in today had I not found sobriety.  I'm grateful that the drinking life is not appealing; not in the least.

Responding to my Stones t-shirt in the airport at home, a woman told me she'd been to 21 of their shows and wondered if I was going to hit Seattle next. No, one and done for me, though her question made me think of what some call a bucket list. Years ago, before I got sober, a therapist gave me a printed form to fill in: "Everything I've Always Wanted to Do," telling me that there is psychic power in setting intention and writing it down. Over the years, what is on that list has changed, with some things removed (I never did buy a beach house) and some accomplished (I have walked on the Great Wall of China). There are still a few places I'd like to visit, and some things I'd like to do and to learn. For me, it is good to revisit and reevaluate my hopes and dreams every once in a while - what still fits who I am today? And, sometimes, something comes up, like the Stones concert, that I wouldn't have had on my list, but has contributed to my treasure trove of life experiences nonetheless.

Is there a grand adventure that you'd like to take, something you've always wanted to do or learn, or an item on your "someday" list?  What steps can you take to make that a reality? 

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

We just spent a couple of nights at the coast, in the little town I've been visiting since I was a kid. It's gotten pretty pricey, so these days we tend to go a bit north or south, but this particular spot holds decades of memories, from childhood capers with cousins, to weekend long cocaine & booze binges, to recovery meetings around a bonfire on the beach. This is also the place where we put my dad's ashes in 1980, and my mom's thirty-two years later - one of those places where my whole being exhales with the final curve of the highway and first sight of the sea, one of those places that feels like home.

Being the eighth month, I've been working on Step 8 regarding making amends. Most years, my 8th Step list includes myself (Where have I not been true to my heart? Where have I expected perfection rather than progress?), my spouse (Where could I have been more loving?) with the occasional employment, friendship or family snaggle to work through. This year, however, I'm confronting an old situation that is asking for attention.

Literally 50 years ago, I was involved with a guy who was not good for me on several different levels, but my 15 year old self tried to hold his attention by doing something that went against my values. I've talked with two sponsors about the situation over the years, and both advised that the matter was not mine to amend, other than to myself for the ways I desperately sought affection. Sometimes I've agreed with that, but it keeps coming up. I've gone years without thinking about the incident, only to have it bubble to the surface when I'm focusing on the amends process. I find myself feeling like a fraud, thinking that maybe I didn't give those early sponsors enough information, or maybe it's merely my over developed sense of guilt. I can make myself crazy trying to figure out my part, the wheels in my head turning over and over what might have been or what I should've done, then and in the ensuing years.

I realize that anything that tries to get my attention repeatedly requires action, so made the decision that this is the year I want to take responsibility where responsibility is due. Making the decision did not ease my discomfort, and, in fact, heightened it as I played out various outcome scenarios. Desperate to quiet my rattled brain, I took to the internet there on the deck of our beach front unit, in a desperate effort to DO SOMETHING NOW. I say, "thank you" to the power of the ocean that distracted me just long enough to remember the core principle of Step 9, which is, "Thou shalt not run off half-cocked without talking to your sponsor, lest you end up owing amends for your amends." 

I've had that conversation, and now have a Good Orderly Direction on how to proceed. Despite my years of recovery, I don't always know the right thing to do, especially with decades of emotional wrangling to untangle. Talking with a trusted other, who has no attachment to the story, I'm reminded that asking for help can be both the hardest, and the most rewarding aspect of our program. Nowhere in the Steps does it say, "I did it my way!"

Today, I seek the freedom that comes from practicing the principles in all my affairs, not just those that are convenient. If something from long ago bothers me, I need to talk about it, write about it, and meditate on it in order to get to the core of my dis-ease. My sponsor helped me outline a plan of appropriate action, and suggested that I then look to forgive myself. My first sponsor used to say, "If you'd known better, you would've done better." Well, I did know better, so the forgiveness part won't be easy. One day at a time, one right action at a time, I can move in that direction.

Are there any lingering episodes from your history that need attention? How has forgiveness of yourself and others shifted and changed over the years?