Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Speaking of planning (see many previous posts), we've signed up for the AA International Convention coming to Detroit in July, 2020. I've been to every one since I got sober: Seattle ('90), San Diego ('95), Minneapolis ('00), Toronto ("05), San Antonio ('10) and Atlanta ('15) which was my husband's first. The crowds can be overwhelming at times - 50-60,000 sober alcoholics and family members in one place - but the absolute thrill of hearing the Serenity Prayer recited by those 50,000 people in the stadium meetings makes the long lines for coffee (& everything else) worth it. Seeing smiling faces from around the world (including the parade of nations on the 1st night), truly illustrates this world-wide fellowship I feel so privileged to be a part of.

I love conferences – the retreat aspect of being away for a weekend rejuvenates my program, and hearing different speakers’ take on the Steps and daily application of the principles offers the opportunity for new insight into my own thought processes.

My first conference was the 1986 North Coast Roundup in Seaside, OR. Several of our treatment counselors were involved, and thus put me to work taking tickets. At 90 days sober, I was probably still seeing double, but greeting people as they came in was just what I needed to feel "a part of." Having a role, a job to do, created a buffer between my shyness and the rollicking world of AA members. I could “act as if” I was comfortable, and by the end of the weekend, I was. I was told that "service work will keep you sober," and that has definitely been my experience.

Initially, I loved speaker meetings because it meant for sure that I wouldn’t be called on to share - it was several years before I could do much more than say my name in a meeting without crying. I still enjoy the “AA on Saturday night” aspect, though I don’t get quite as much out of talks that sound like stand-up comedy as I used to. When the student is ready, the teacher appears, and when I was new, especially, I reveled in identification with the hard-core tales of descent and eventual redemption. These days, I'm more attuned with hearing how long-timers navigate the "road of happy destiny" over hill and dale.

I'd like to share a meeting pet-peeve. I've recently been in a couple of meetings with out of town visitors. The way I was "raised" in the program (yes, this is my inner "bleeding deacon" speaking), visitors are welcomed, and called on to share. My control issues flare when person after person acknowledges the visitor, yet the chair never calls on them. As I'm writing, I can see that a solution could be to attend a business meeting and add "call on out-of-towners" to the format. Ha! Do I want to be part of the problem (complaining) or part of the solution? I will say that the number of things I take offense to in meetings has lessened over the years. (I used to erupt in heavy sighs if someone talked longer than my attention span, for example). I can always leave, recite the Serenity Prayer in my head, find a new meeting, or remind myself that none of us is without at least one annoying habit.

I'm headed out on one of my grand adventures, so won't likely have a post next week. I plan to hit a couple of meetings while away, and will be back in touch with you upon my return.

What are your meeting pet peeves (if any)? How does your "bleeding deacon" show up when things don't go the way you think they should in a meeting, and what might you do about that?

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

When I was newly sober, there was a crusty old guy (probably the age I am now!) who frequently said, “This is not a dress rehearsal!” I took a gut-punch on that one, guilty of the “someday soon...” mentality that told myself, “Life will get better when...” the boyfriend comes back, or when he goes away; when I lose 10 pounds; when this or that event is over; someday, somehow, out there in the future some miracle of change will magically happen. It never (truly never) occurred to me that life might get better if I stopped drinking and drugging – they were my solution, not the problem. A few months after treatment, I hit my knees when I got home from a noon meeting, in tears, asking “Is this all I had to do? Quit getting high every day, ask for help, and I feel this good?” Definitely pink cloud territory, but I went with it. Life did get better, and quickly, for me. Part of it was that I simply felt good physically – waking up clear headed (vs coming to) felt like a miracle in and of itself. Not puking. Remembering what I’d done the day before... all the tiny successes of daily life kept me coming back.

And, I must admit that I still live with a fair amount of “Life will get better/calmer when...” I finally quit my job; this or that event is over; my spouse gets home from work, or leaves for the day; when I go on vacation or when I get back, etc.  In  many ways I have “recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body,” and I still carry this brain around.  This brain that likes to plan, and jump ahead, and figure things out.

I absolutely LOVE the fresh pages of a new year’s journal or calendar. One of my Thanksgiving rituals is to go through next year’s wall calendar to add in birthdays and important dates, and I salivate over all the choices for a daily planner – What color? What features? I’ve been keeping a diary since the 6th grade, and a few years ago, read from my embarrassing 1986 journal of the first year of sobriety at an “Awkward” event, and only because it was over 30 years ago! Taking a cue from a sponsee, I did go through the decades recently and culled out many years, keeping those that felt monumental (hitting bottom, getting sober, breakups, new jobs, turning 50, for example). I suppose at some point, I’ll let go of a few more, but for now, my daily readers and journal are a big part of my spiritual practice – a way to slow down, hit "pause" and access my inner wisdom.

These days, I like making plans and doubly like when they are cancelled, but my point is that I am future oriented. Fine. Makes me a good employee and party organizer, and not-fine when it means I’m about to topple over because my emotional center of gravity is two weeks out and I’m not paying attention to the right-here-right-now of one day at a time.

This was all brought into stark relief as I cried through the memorial service for the young man I wrote about last week. From the outside, it looked like he had everything going for him – a loving family, great friends, a good heart. And, now he is gone. We just never know – what is truly on another’s mind, what awaits around the next corner, what the state of the world might be as those fresh calendar pages turn in to the new year.

Speaking of the new year and turn of the seasons, I attended an autumn women’s circle last night with a friend. I recognized some of the mostly younger women from the rooms, but many were strangers, though how sweet to come together in community, in varying degrees of internal and external transition, seeking a centering and connecting space. I think of those times I was lost and trying to find my place – in various faiths prior to recovery and just after, then again when a long term relationship ended and I found myself in a running group, a book club, a spiritual study group, and several Step groups. I realized that what people were seeking was community, and felt fortunate (then and now) to have found my tribe in the 12 Step programs. There are other places I feel at home, but AA/Alanon is where I’ve learned how to be a member among members and enjoy the feeling of being known. The company of women hasn't always been my thing, having totally bought in to the cultural b.s. that other women are my competition - an uncomfortable way to live for too many years, because, of course, there is/was always someone cuter, smarter, sexier, etc. I am grateful to have finally settled in to myself, and for the strong women I call "friend" today.

Who do you call "friend" today? Do they know that? And what about One Day at a Time? How do you bring yourself back to the present when your mind takes a field trip?

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

I'm thinking this week about loss and love and the solid truth of "one day at time."  I learned about the tragic suicide of an 18 year old young man, the son of a couple who were close friends earlier in recovery. I cannot begin to image the level of grief his parents and twin sister must be experiencing. I learned at a weekend meeting that a sober young women who'd been in a house fire, died from her injuries. In the same meeting, an out-of-town visitor shared sorrow for her 22 year old sponsee who'd just died of an overdose. 

Over the weekend, also, I attended the 26th anniversary meeting of a woman I 12-stepped when she was just 20 years old – a bona fide miracle of recovery. In my home group, someone took a 34 year chip and another claimed her 14 year coin, and a young woman who's been in and out for 11 years, spoke up, saying it was the first time she'd ever shared in a meeting, but wants to do something different this time.
"Dialectical thinking" is defined as the ability to view issues from multiple perspectives and to arrive at the most reasonable reconciliation of seemingly contradictory information, as in "life is precious and beautiful," and "life is incredibly sad." On a good day, I can hold both fragile truths. On a not-so-good day, I wonder at the seemingly unfair dispensation of emotional devastation.

Like many of us, I struggled with the concept of a Higher Power and good vs evil when I first got sober – what does that mean, exactly? Not Santa Claus – that much I figured out, and then someone said, “If I could understand it, I wouldn’t need it,” which lessened my compulsion to know. Around the same time, I read a good book with a cheesy title: When Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Harold Kushner. His premise is that there are certain forces of nature – plants sprout, bloom and then die; creatures are born and creatures die. It is part of the natural order of things, though as a human, I get attached and thus, grieve. Does knowing that we are part of the natural world make loss any easier? Not necessarily. My level of sorrow is proportional to the level of my love for a particular person, place or thing, and my judgment as to what constitutes the “natural order of things.” 18 and 22 year old’s dying does not seem to be in the natural order of things.

"Acceptance is the answer," according to the old p. 449 (now 417), not because I believe there are no mistakes, but because what is, is, and there are simply things I cannot change. What I can do is take care of myself and my varied emotions so that I can be there for others – grieving parents, sponsors and friends who mourn. The “we” of the program tells us we are here for each other, through good times and bad, through happy and sad. Today, I strive to be supportive, a part of the solution, not part of the problem.

How do you take care of yourself so that you can be there for others in their time of need? If you are the person in need at the moment, how comfortable are you with asking for help?

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The monthly step group I've been participating in for several years takes its format from the recording of a Step workshop by speaker Lila R. Part of her suggestion, which is geared towards those who've been sober for a while, is that we discover a "new idea" to guide the remaining months of the year, through the inventory process and observing our thoughts. An example - if my "old idea" is that I am deficit in some way, which she describes as very common alcoholic thinking, the new idea would be based on the concept that "I am ok just as I am." As someone who often feels a sense of time urgency, a past "new idea" for me has been, "I have enough time to accomplish all that I need and want to do." Other group members have shared new ideas related to the desire to move away from judgement or impulsivity. New ideas are always stated in the positive. If I say, "I will stop _______" my subconscious focus is on the thing I want to stop. If I say, "I will be more loving" (for example), the focus is on the loving.

This year, triggered by a small token that my sponsor gave me, and based on awareness of my tendency to defer, and to impulsively move forward without thinking things through, my new idea is "To Thine Own Self Be True." I keep the little stone where I store my car keys, so I see it several times a day as a reminder of not allowing myself to get buffeted about by what's going on in the world, or by what I think someone else may want or need, or by being in a hurry. I'm reminded to pause (that word again!) and take a moment to decide rather than react out of what I think you want, or simply a desire to keep moving. (I've long felt, however erroneously, that any decision is better than no decision. Hovering is not my strength.) 

It struck me in our Step meeting this weekend, that "To Thine Own Self Be True," isn't just about my wants and needs, but about my true nature. My maternal grandmother was a devout Christian Scientist, a faith that gets a bad rap for not believing in medicine. A positive of her beliefs, though, was that my true nature is perfection. As I kid, stealing and smoking by 9 or 10, I knew the idea of being perfect didn't apply to me. I might've wanted it to, mostly to please her, but the siren call of adrenaline and sneaking around was way stronger than her idea of what I could be. As I grew up, living from my true nature was buried, deeper and deeper, under various substances, and relationship choices, though I still wanted to be better. I used to recite the Lord's Prayer, just like Grandma taught me, before I slept, as a kind of insurance. After a while, though, I understood at a gut level that the way I was living my life was no way, no how, in line with any kind of life a higher power would have for me, so I stopped, one of the subtle signposts on the way to hitting bottom. I couldn't even pretend to pray anymore.

I've long since cleaned up my act, and don't necessarily believe in a deity on a cloud somewhere calling the shots, but I do trust that my true nature is whole and healthy and strong, and that staying connected to my spiritual resources (the natural world, quiet time, journaling, community) allows me to meet the day-to-day from a place of serenity. This comes and goes. I am more centered as I age, both in life and in program, though I still stumble. When I do get off balance, I can seek inner stillness and ask myself: How would I approach  life if I truly believed, and lived, from a place of "enough" vs lack (whether that perceived lack is material or regarding my sense of self)? How would I behave in any given situation were I to come from a place of knowing my full value and true nature instead of that old notion of smallness that can still grab me by the ankles?

I am grateful, today, to be back on track with my program. It seems counter-intuitive, but if I'm not liking meetings, the solution is to go to more meetings. Bingo! The spark is re-ignited.  What do you believe about your true nature? How do you get in touch with the part of yourself that knows all is well?