Wednesday, November 27, 2019

I've been talking to, or stopping by to see my friend every day since the "c" word (cancer) was spoken aloud. We still don't have a prognosis or treatment options, but that ugly word is floating in space - once uttered, a word like that can take on a life of its own. I see my role as a tether to the here & now, not there & then - a tough place to be when my own feelings are on high alert. Hence meetings, meditation, talks with good friends. And paying attention to where my own historical grief is triggered. Potential loss triggers acute memory of other losses, and I find myself in this dark and poignant time of year, thinking of those who’ve left this plane during the autumn and winter months: my dear mother, cousin Doug, my friend's sister Janet, teacher & friend Jayna, my ex Hassan, dear Walt... I know that we each have our list.

I stopped by his house last Wed. We touched on the medical stuff, but mostly talked about the upcoming Thanksgiving meal, keeping it positive, keeping it light. As I headed towards my regular meeting and turned on to the busy four-lane boulevard, bumper-to-bumper at 6pm, it felt like I'd entered a gentle flow with multiple drivers letting cars in from the side streets, making room for each other. I felt the spirit of the holidays deep in my heart, the kindness of strangers as we made our way in the dark. With my emotions in a fragile place, I found myself tearing up as “Rocky Mountain High”, of all things, came on the radio, with that swelling of feeling that is sadness and joy wrapped into one. A few miles later, a group a pre-teen boys danced at a bus stop, not to the song I was listening to, but in perfect time with that rock & roll 4/4 beat. Again the tears as I reflected on the beauty and brevity of this frail human life. One day we're dancing at a bus stop, or in the school gym, or at a noisy club. Blink a few times, and we're at the end of a stethoscope, hearing what no one wants to hear.
As Mary Oliver so beautifully writes, "What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" I ask myself that question, often with a "what have I done?" spin.  I think about life and death and all that comes between. I think about my powerlessness over so very much. I think about the continuum, especially now that I'm officially an elder. I will say that it's easier to accept  life and death as part of the spectrum when it is death and illness in general we’re talking about - way harder when it is yourself or a loved one. Harder still when it comes in multiples, like it is for several of my friends. All we can really do is love each other. All we can really do is let the car into our lane, smile at the boys at the bus stop, and share a Thanksgiving meal.

And today, all is well. Pies are baking, house is clean(ish). Tomorrow, our small family will gather, plus one. We will look at old photo albums, stick olives on the ends of our fingers like when we were kids, and likely eat a bit too much. I’ll put up the Christmas lights over the weekend, go on a hike , attend a breakfast potluck, go to a 60th birthday celebration, and attend a memorial for a grade school classmate who just passed. As we officially enter December, I will be mindful of giving myself the gift of quiet amongst the holiday hustle & bustle, noting the restful nature of darkness as we move towards Solstice, always and forever, one day at a time.

Today, I am grateful for my recovery community, which includes you, dear reader, wherever you are. May the spirit of gratitude and giving thanks carry you along, this day and always. What is on your gratitude list today?

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Those who read my blog on the web page will notice “Now What Workbook pending” along with PayPal options in the upper corner. I am hoping to have the workbook ready before the new year, which might be a good time for self-reflection. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

I've sat in literally 1,000's of meetings over the years - sometimes propping my eyes open to stay awake and other times, rocketed into the fourth dimension. I hear such simple brilliance, often from the least expected source, and often write down what moves me so I don't forget the minute I walk out the door. In cleaning my desk this weekend, I came across a note reminding me that I can't worry myself to a safe place. On another piece of paper, I'd jotted down, "I might be able to outrun something chasing me from the outside, but I'll never outrun what's chasing me on the inside." Whew. How true is that? And thank you to the anonymous persons in some meeting(s) over the last few years who uttered those words. 

I've been engaging in "pre-traumatic stress disorder" over the past week (another borrowed term), trying to anticipate how I will emotionally handle a good friend’s illness. The doctor hasn't given a prognosis, but that hasn't stopped me from putting one foot in the past and one in the future, trying to see what cannot be seen. I wasn’t in the line when crystal balls were passed out, but my mind sure over-amps with the “what if’s” and imaginary scenarios.

Life is messy, and the more I'm able to remember that, the better for my peace of mind. As a kid, I wanted people and situations set in concrete. Predictable meant safety, or so I thought. I still prefer structure - for example, my lunches for the work week are made. But, and that is a huge BUT, or rather, AND, very little in this life turns out perfectly, whether that is the pretend vision of a Hallmark holiday, or the trajectory of someone's illness.

Though, what is my definition of “perfect?” As I think about it, I have experienced pretty darned close to perfect many, many times. I made a great pot of soup this weekend - a perfectly seasoned mix. I think back to a bike ride with friends in NYC one November, ending in the brilliant fall colors of Central Park. That was a perfect day. Our wedding day was too warm, and I wish I could go back and experience it again in slow motion, but that was a perfect occasion full of laughter and love. I could probably list 300 more days, events, or interactions that were absolutely perfect, in the moment and in retrospect.  

So what is the difference between what I see as perfect and what I view as not? My attitude? My concern for another’s perceived pain (emotional or physical)? Maybe it’s the whole classification thing, the belief that some things are “good” and some are “bad” when in reality, life just “is.” For every “perfect” day, there are as many that were just so-so, and probably as many that were painful or sad or just plain hard. A line from an old blues song comes to mind – “You’ve got to take the bitter with the sweet.” As much as I may prefer “happy, joyous and free,” life is life. 

The 12x12, in Step 10, says that “it is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed...there is something wrong with us.” (p. 90). I agree, in principle. I know that “acceptance is the key” and the something “wrong” with me is that I am a feeler, an empath, I care. I can philosophically understand I will have no peace until I settle in to what is, but I reserve the right not to like it.

So many of my friends are experiencing loss right now – of good friends, family members, old classmates, loss related to their own aging process...  This is part of the deal, and a challenge. For me, a big part of the challenge is being mindful to not cross the line between compassion and care-taking, of trying to control (fear) and relaxing in to the process. One day at a time, I am grateful for our program, and for strong relationships where I can deal with my emotions so that I can show up for others with integrity and grace. Again and always, self-care is key.

On a positive note, today is the 10th anniversary of the first date with my dear husband. I could never have predicted how sweet this is when we had that first conversation at a potluck. The crystal ball failed me there too! (thank goodness) Again one day at a time, I am grateful that I didn’t run away, that I held still long enough to see what would unfold.

Are there times that you’ve tried to predict what would happen in the future, or worried yourself into a snit? How do the Steps and the fellowship bring you back to today?

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

I don't want to write today. I've made a couple of starts, avoiding what I'm really thinking about, which never seems to work. Like we hear in the rooms of recovery, what I don't look at directly will eventually come out sideways, though I don't always realize that at the time. Let me just start out by saying that life can be hard.

Someone I've been close to since I was 15 is facing some tough medical diagnoses. My efforts at writing this afternoon have been interrupted by schedulers for various tests and appointments, each with a list of instructions. Damn it. And damned cigarettes. I'm doing my best to stay in the moment - there is no diagnosis today, and even if there is one on Friday, it will still be Friday and the sun will come up and go down as the heaven's see fit.

Someone else I've known a long time (since 5th grade) is on her end of life journey, choosing to make her transition at home, with friends and family as support. I will sit with her this weekend, not because we've been particularly close over the years, but because that is what friends do. That is what friends do, and as I learned via my mother's experience, kindness matters. Kindness and attention and showing up, even if it is uncomfortable.

We got to visit our home-away-from-home group in San Francisco this week, with another good meeting in Sausilito for good measure. I jokingly referred to myself and my enthusiastic husband as "meeting tourists," not as in "just visiting" but as in loving to connect wherever we go. I can hear the same message in my home meetings, but there is something refreshing about the perspectives I get in new-to-me groups.

In our early morning meeting on Monday, a member shared about walking through the illnesses of several old friends, and his realization that it isn't about him. Several people in the Tuesday nooner talked about the same thing - the pain of losing people, and the lessons of showing up with integrity. It shouldn't, because it happens so often, but I am still amazed that I hear just what I need to hear, when I need to hear it. I may go in to a meeting with arms folded and eyes internally focused on my pain, but I invariably hear someone speaking to exactly what I'm going through. I know that to be true today, and can trust it will be true tomorrow.

One day at a time (the absolute hardest of our program suggestions), I am able to suit up and show up, in good times and in bad. As someone at my regular Wednesday meeting says in the closing, "God grants me the serenity..." - not a request, but an affirmation. Good Orderly Direction, Great Outdoors, Grace Over Drama - my peace of mind comes from within, no matter what is going on around me.

I will admit that the first of those medical calls this morning felt like a kick in the stomach, but by the end of the day, I've moved back to center. I am grateful to be back in our cozy home after a lovely vacation. I am grateful for attentive and kind medical professionals, and insurance. I am grateful that all I really need to concern myself with is this moment. As a counselor in treatment used to say all those years ago, "What time is it? Do you have a place to sleep tonight? Have you had enough to eat today? Well then, stop your bellyaching!" She was definitely a hard-ass, but her point was well-taken, and one I remind myself of, over and over again.

This human existence is marked by high points and low, but I've come to understand it is the small moments that define a life. While our "high point" hike in Marin on Monday was amazing, it was singing "Mairzy Doats and Dozy Doats" in the kitchen over a late supper with my 90 and 80+ year old in-laws that defined our trip, along with goodnight kisses from the tiny nieces and nephew the night before. Today's phone calls were jarring, laced with the foreboding of a low point, but laughing with my friend about this sudden interest in his lungs lightened the mood. If I pay attention to the moments, to the connections, all is well.  I know where I'm sleeping tonight. I've had enough to eat. And tomorrow is another day.

What is on your mind and heart today? Are you called to show up for someone? Or perhaps you are opening to someone showing up for you? How do you remember to let go with love rather than clutch on to fear?

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Halloween was last week. As I waited for the doorbell to ring, with a mix of hopeful anticipation and dread (cute kids v. strangers at the door) I flashed to when I was four or five, crying because the kids in costume at the door frightened me. It is murky – snippets of my own memory combined with family lore, but I do have a sense of cowering behind an armchair as the doorbell rang.

I think I was fearful from the gate, a nervous kid, with anxiety dreams that I still remember. A professional might attribute it to my mom going back to work so soon after I was born, or maybe because I ate way too much sugar. We didn’t have TV (though the babysitter did), and lived in a fairly idyllic small town. Who knows? Maybe it isn’t about blame or reasons or figuring it out. I used to think that if I could point to a particular episode or event, I would be rocketed into a fourth dimension of healing and understanding of why I kept tripping on the same emotional roadblocks, the same fears dressed up in new clothes. It wasn’t that easy. What I came to realize, over time, is that recovery and healing is many layered, with events and episodes and DNA all tangled into one. Nature or nurture? Yes. 

Over the years, those peaks and valleys of my various apprehensions have smoothed out. Nearly every fear that had me grasping on to the illusion of control has happened, and what I’ve learned, time and again, is that I am stronger than I’d thought. I recently read the quote from Brene Brown, "You can choose courage or you can choose comfort, but you can't choose both." I agree, to a point. I don't always choose courage. And fear may be familiar, but it is certainly not comfortable.  Usually, it is a matter of one foot in front of the other, fearfully or otherwise, drawing on my own experience, strength and hope and that of others who've walked the path before me. Fear of the unknown gets me every time, but if I'm able to move forward without the urge to foresee or attempt to control the outcome, that is courage.

My current bout with anxiety has to do with attempting to see in to the future. I go in and out of nervousness about retirement and all the changes that will bring. Please don’t say, “Oh, you’ll be fine” – that never works. Whether it was a speaker meeting, a work presentation, or a marathon, having someone say, “You’ll be fine,” doesn’t allay my internal tuning-fork energy. I know I’ll be OK on some level, and I still twitch.

I came to realize, in talking with and listening to others, that I’ve been trying to think my way out of emotional turmoil. As I heard in a meeting, you can’t fix a broken chair with a broken chair. As much as I may wish it so, I simply cannot know what I’ll be doing and how I’ll be feeling in July of 2020, or November of that year, or February, 2021. I am right where I’m supposed to be, with some trepidation and some excitement about the next phase of my development. And, I do not need to figure it out. It was extremely helpful to hear someone in a meeting share the question he asks himself when he’s in an emotional wringer. What he said was, “How am I inviting Higher Power into this situation?” What I heard was, “How am I utilizing my spiritual resources?” Not “How hard am I thinking?” but how am I surrendering to the moment? Rather than letting my anxiety run wild, how am I acknowledging my fears then letting them go, whether that is putting pen to paper, talking with someone, meditation, a walk outdoors, or simply taking a conscious deep breath (or all of the above).

Along with reminders for self-care, anxiety (aka future-tripping) is my recurring theme, along with time-urgency. What are your recurring themes? Has that changed over the years? I’d love to hear how you bring yourself back to the moment.