Wednesday, October 30, 2019

In treatment, we were instructed to complete a “Significant Event” form and turn it in to our counselor each evening, making note of whatever it was that got our attention that day. Sometimes it was a walk on the beach, or the phone call that didn’t come, or the hard conversation with my mom on Family Day. Other times it would've been something I’d read (page 449?! Mind blowing!) or an interaction with a peer. While not specifically linked to Step 10, I now recognize this as my first experience in the daily inventory. What mattered today? What did I do well? What behavior or words need amending?

An acquaintance has recently started posting a weekly list of "10 awesome things she has witnessed or experienced." I like her idea, and it has raised my antennae on noticing positive goings-on in the world rather than the negative loop I can experience with the affairs of politics or the wounded planet. Paying attention to all the good that is happening changes my frequency – if I’m focused on the bad stuff I can feel myself constrict. While not suggesting a Pollyanna attitude, I feel a deep relaxing when I take note what is hopeful, whether that is grassroots organizing, people finding their voice, or someone planting trees where there were none. I can bring it closer to home with my own behaviors: acknowledging a friend’s process, thanking someone for their meeting share, writing a gratitude list (which always includes recovery, a warm place to sleep, & hot running water), or pausing to respond in kindness rather than reacting. It comes back to the question of "how do I want to be in the world today?" Do I want to be part of the solution or part of the problem?

Step 10 asks us to promptly admit our wrongs. As my recovery has progressed, I view that directive as not just making amends to others, but as paying attention to my own peace of mind, as in my recent realization that I want to spend more time outdoors. Making amends to myself means that I got up on the trails last weekend, and have a date to share Forest Park with a newly relocated neighbor on Saturday. It means turning off the TV and snuggling in with a good book before bed. It means not putting off until “later” what I feel the nudge to do today, even if that means trading a task for sitting in silence.

Step 10 also means holding myself accountable. I have a writing project that is in the final stages before printing, and what do I do? Why, clean my closet, of course! I am a fairly dedicated person – I run regularly and go to the gym, I make a healthy lunch each day, I write this blog every week. But for some reason, when it comes to my larger writing undertakings, I have a tendency to dance all around the project, still holding on to the old idea that I need to wait for inspiration, for the perfect conflux of time and motivation and a good cup of tea. Rubbish! 90% (99??) of writing, or likely any creative endeavor, is simply doing it, suiting up and showing up and trusting that the juices will flow at some point. What I’ve found is that if I make it a habit, sometimes through gritted teeth, in a very short time I find myself wanting to get to my desk – the project takes on a life of its own that says, “Me, now please!”  And so, by publicly stating my intention, I will draw myself to the finishing touches, looking forward to saying, not, “I am working on...” but “I have just completed....”  Stay tuned.

I have entered that phase of my work life where I'm marking the lasts, as in last September, last October, etc. If all unfolds according to plan, this is my final Halloween at my workplace. Each year, staff and I perform the "Monster Mash," reworked to the "Monster Meth." Today's presentation was epic, a fabulous example of fun in recovery. I told a friend, who remarked "Remember when we were newly sober and it was the 'first this and that?'" I do remember, which makes so many of these "lasts" all the sweeter. It really could've gone either way back then, and I hope to never forget that.

What got your attention today? Can you think of 10 awesome things you've seen or experienced this week? (& thanks to Jillene for that idea.)  How do you apply Step 10 to your relationship with yourself?   

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

I’ve been feeling disconnected from October. Autumn in general, and October particularly, is my favorite time of year – crisp days, brilliant colors, the return of soothing rain. I was gone for two weeks, overlapping September and October, and threw myself into a full schedule upon my return, which has left me with the sensation that my heart hasn’t caught up with the reality of October now drawing to a close. I came back from my trip to darker mornings, the leaves having turned, and the rains definitely back, only to feel like, “Wait – I’m not ready for this yet.”

Part of it likely has to do with the fact that I haven’t been outdoors much recently. I run (jog) in the dark several mornings, but that is more maintenance than an outing. Always, one of my intentions for the new year has to do with hiking and being outdoors, and this year, that seems to have quietly slipped further down my list of priorities. I am sad about that. I am sad that I am no longer a distance runner. I may train to walk the Portland Marathon next year, but my days of going out for a 20 mile run are likely over, and I miss that -  not out of losing fitness and vitality, per se, but because I love it. I love the adventure of setting out on the roads or trails for 2 – 4 hours, with the accompanying sense of accomplishment, and the so-good tired of being physically spent, muddy from the trails in winter, salty with sweat in the summer, drenched in rain all seasons.  Marathon running has been part of my identity since 1995, and it is hard to let that go. My non-runner husband keeps telling me that the 10k is a respectable distance. Kinda, but not really. (My travel friend and I vowed that the 10k is as low as we’ll go, with a 5k falling in the “why bother?” category – with apologies to the 5k walkers & runners out there.)

Aging, in recovery and in life, brings so many gifts – less concern for what others think, a wealth of experience to draw on, friendships over time, and an increased appreciation for hearth and home vs hitting all the latest hot spots, for example. But there is also a great deal of loss: our elders and contemporaries, night vision and all the physical indignities (including hearing our much younger physicians say, “As we age....” in relation to one complaint or another), along with the stark reality that the time ahead of us is less than the time behind. Straddling the fence of acknowledging loss and celebrating the gains can throw off my equilibrium from time to time. Acknowledging it helps, as does sharing with others on the path.

In a recent article about "the change" that we women go through, (sorry, fellas) I read that "..menopause is not an end. It's a beginning. A searing initiation. A crucible in which a more essential version of ourselves is forged. We go through the fire and come out refined - focus on the things we care about most" (R. Marantz Henig).  I look forward to fully unleashing my spiritual warrior. Whatever our gender, I do think that the energy of discernment is available, the wisdom that comes with age, if we are open to it and consciously detach from the daily drama. (Limiting TV helps me in that department, as does taking a step back at work to ask, “How important is it?”)

Last week, I went for a walk on my lunch break, having not for some time (Am I really that busy? No.) Over the weekend, I was conscious of moving from my brain to my senses on my morning run and as I spent some time in the yard, pausing to breathe into the dampness. I’ve increased my awareness that in the future, I’d be better served easing into homecoming rather than diving into the deep end of the pooland would do well to heed the advice I recently texted my step-daughter: “pace yourself.”  I’m reminded that I demonstrate my values by how I spend my time and my energy. If I say I value spending time outdoors, then I need to get outside. If I value balance (hello Libra), I need to be diligent with my schedule and leave those open spaces that I crave. Every week won’t be perfectly balanced between social time and solitude, appointments and home chores. I won’t get to the woods every week. What I can do is strive for overall attention to “want to” vs “have to” so that when I look back at the month, the time won’t have shot by in a blur.

What parts of your identity, what favorite things, have shifted as you age in life and recovery? What new passions and pastimes have you discovered? How do your actions demonstrate your values?

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Catching my breath here, from a richly emotion-filled week. The roller-coaster isn’t limited to new sobriety! However, these days, I know that I’m not going to fly off into space with life's ups and downs and am better able to simply enjoy the ride.

Early in the week, our “Too Old to Give a F**k” group had a reunion meeting, having disbanded at the beginning of the year. I felt a welcome exhale as I sat with these women, all with over 20 years of recovery. No B.S. with this group, simply “What is going on today, and how am I applying the principles of the program?” We will meet again.

Saturday morning, I participated in a spiritual circle with women I hadn’t seen since our beloved teacher died two years ago. Taking my seat, I started to cry with gratitude. I’ve done some exploring in those two years, but haven’t found a spiritual home that feels right and checks all my boxes (spiritual vs religious, inclusive, open to many paths, for example). We meditated and shared, and spoke to a pertinent question before deciding that we will meet again. 

And then I jetted off to a local AA women’s conference. What a gift, especially that I got to spend time with my treatment roommate from all those years ago. It feels natural and right to sit in meetings with her – she was quite literally there the day I came through the doors, and we’ve shared living arrangements, meetings, meals and many heartfelt conversations since. We were privileged to hear Lila R. as the keynote speaker, having just celebrated her 50th sobriety anniversary. My Step Group follows her format, from a workshop she gave in Tulsa, OK many years ago. Five of our seven members were there – we should’ve corralled her and shared a group hug! In any event, it was good to spend time immersed in program and hear the experience, strength and hope from all of the speakers who shared how the Steps work in their lives today. 

In between all this sisterhood, I marked my 65th birthday – weird and amazing – and noted the 7th anniversary of my dear mother’s passing. Time does march on, and both these dates prompted reflection on where I’ve been and where I am today. It was providential that I was enveloped in strong women space as I paid attention to my feelings, shared them, and moved on.

In all three settings, it was noted that, as time goes on in life and in recovery, whatever happens, and I do mean whatever, I now have my own experience, strength and hope to draw from. As Lila said, I now know, deeply know, that I will survive whatever life has to give. That is such a difference from earlier years when I allowed the winds of change to knock me to my knees. That might still happen on occasion, but I’m much quicker to recognize what will bring me back to center. What was also mentioned, more than once, is the importance of self-care, including Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, a topic I frequently mention because I need the reminder. 

So what I am thinking about, as I decompress from gratitude-overload, is “Trust the Process.” I used to say, only half in jest, “Screw the process!” because I had no idea what it meant to trust that life was working itself out without my efforts to control. When I was 30, I could absolutely not have imagined having fun without a drink in my hand. When I was, say, 37, I could not have imagined how good life is at 65. When my mother died, I would not have believed I would make peace with her absence. When I had a first date with a handsome guy from SF, I had no idea that 10 years later we’d have built a loving home together. Trust. Suit up and show up. Take it easy. Who knew that the trite little sayings would become a mantra?

Right here, right now, I am typing, with a purring cat nearby and a cup of tea on my desk. Later I will join a group of my cousins for dinner. Tomorrow morning I plan to go for a jog before work, and will hit a 4pm meeting. Period. I do have plans further out, because that is who I am. And, I grow in understanding each day that all I really have is this moment.

Where do you experience the love of the program, and if you haven't felt that lately, what needs to change? Which of the HALTs is your personal demon, and how do you pay attention to your internal signals? Which of our slogans do you refer to when you feel unsettled?

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Back from my travels... We hit a good meeting (25 regulars, 5 visitors) in Budapest where I was reminded of the gifts of recovery, by the speaker and all who shared. In Vienna, we hit a meeting of a different sort, following the format of Big Book Awakenings, a companion to the Big Book (that I'd never heard of). There were just 5 of us sharing on Step One, powerlessness. This meeting was for any 12 Step member - locals were 2 Alanons and 1 dual member. I was struck by the sincerity of the people who lived there (an Austrian, a Californian and a Brit) as they grappled with powerlessness in all its forms - yes, over drugs & alcohol, but as spiritually destructive, over the emotional twists and quirks that impact our daily well-being as the days of recovery add up.

It was mentioned during the meeting that change is initiated by pain - if something feels good, I'll repeat it (again and again). My impetus to change, to surrender, comes when fear or emotional upheaval finally takes me to that place of crying out "I can't do this any more!" There are degrees, from the wailing, on my knees surrender to the head-against-the-wall recognition that my behavior or attitude keeps bringing me to the same place of discomfort. I recently heard a member share that they then need to surrender the surrender. Just because I've turned something over doesn't mean that it will end up the way I think it should (whether that is my negative or positive projection). Such a discipline, this one-day-at-a-time, turn it over process. Stop ruminating? Live in the place of truly knowing that right here, right now, everything is okay? Progress, not perfection.

And now I am home. Being a creature of habit, it is good for me to totally shake up my routine every once in awhile, which happens when traveling. And, it feels so good to be back to my routines (not to mention, my sweet spouse and our 2 cats). 

It took me a long time in this life to acknowledge and own that I function best with structure, which includes food and sleep at regular intervals. How many arguments could've been avoided in my past life if I'd only had a sandwich?! And, how many more wouldn't happen if I just keep my mouth shut, as in Why Am I Talking (WAIT)?  It struck me, while in the back seat of our rental car, speeding through the Austrian countryside, that I didn't feel compelled to add my two cents to the front seat discussion of driving routes. What would it be like to practice that same detachment when my spouse and I are in the car together? (Ah, vehicles - the place where many a happy couple bump heads!) Never mind that I know next to nothing about the Austrian road system - a lack of knowledge rarely stops me from having an opinion. But, whether I am familiar with the streets (I did grow up here, in case you were wondering) or not, I do not need to offer an opinion or a suggestion unless I am specifically asked. Definitely one of my "Alanon-ic" issues, as an adult child of an alcoholic (who thought I needed to have answers) and the eldest of two children (who wielded what little authority I had over my unsuspecting little brother). 

So, it was a very good trip in that I learned some things about Hungary and Austria (which whetted my appetite for more) and I learned something about myself. The trick will be to follow up, whether reading more about the Austro-Hungarian empire or stopping to "THINK" (is it Thoughtful, Helpful, Intelligent, Necessary, Kind) when I feel the urge to suggest. I once heard someone quote Anne Lamott - "Helping is just the sunny side of control." Indeed...   It is helpful to remember that I'm not alone in my mental machinations.

Are there people, places or things in your life that would benefit from applying "WAIT" or "THINK?" I'd be curious as to how you implement the "pause" that can be so challenging for me.  Thank you for reading, and for those of you who chime in with comments.