Wednesday, February 26, 2020

In meetings, we often talk about where we are broken. Learning to know my truth, and gain the courage to say it out loud in a supportive environment, has been imperative in the healing process.  I was the type of alcoholic who’d tell you anything about everything with a few drinks under my belt, and even in recovery, sometimes went “to the hardware store for bread” (from Courage to Change) in sharing my heart with those who couldn’t hear it. But, learning to say, “I’m scared,” or “I hurt,” or “I’ve never done this before” to a sponsor or at group level, has proven over and over the capital "T" Truth that speaking up takes the power out of whatever is swirling around my mind. In the early years that was probably telling a friend about a crush, or sharing with my sponsor fears around upcoming conversations, or telling my home group that I’d had a drinking dream. These days, it is often around places where I feel overwhelmed, or less than capable, or grieving. And the Truth still fits - sharing brings the “we” into the places where the “me” is floundering.

I sometimes hear people who are on the fence about recovery say, “All they do is complain or talk about drinking in meetings!” Not true, usually…  I do think it is important to share my successes as well as the rough spots. I needed (& still need) to hear, “I made it!” or “I got the job!” or “I feel great today!” which all let me know that “stupid, boring and glum” was not a requirement of sobriety. I was in a meeting in D.C. years ago when a guy said, “My sponsor told me if I’m not having a least a little fun, I’m doing something wrong!” 

I am having at least a little fun, and  will acknowledge that I’m not getting to my usual meetings based on the life-on-life’s-terms we’re dealing with at home. While I’ve had a few moments where I could almost hear the whisper, “Don’t bother going at all,” I feel it is important to maintain the habit. If I don’t go at all, it becomes too easy to not go at all, which isn’t where I want to end up when this current health crisis is over.  And so, I suit up and show up where and when I can, and share what is going on. Sometimes I hesitate about sharing again, but I was once told that we talk about what we need to talk about, until we don't need to talk about it anymore. Sometimes the details are best shared with a trusted other, but I still feel the relief in talking at group level, either specifics or in a general way. 

People keep asking, “How are you?” in relation to my spouse’s and my friend’s illnesses. I’m ok and not ok. I’m sad and grateful, overwhelmed and content – changing from day-to-day. This has been a tough week on my guys, which translates to a tough week for me. I was told to “take care of myself,” which can feel like one more thing on the To-Do list, and it was suggested that I let go of some of my tasks. But I can't let go of my emotions. I’m a feeler, an empath, and I can’t simply turn that on and off. Poor fellow sitting next to me in our Tuesday morning meeting made the mistake of asking how I’m doing - cue the waterworks. I’m mostly ok most days, with moments of intense sadness. Powerlessness sucks. Side effects of chemotherapy suck. Those I care about being in physical pain sucks.

In some respects, I feel like I’m in a holding pattern – my husband’s treatment is winding down (though it will be a while before he’s on the mend), my friend’s chemo is every 3 weeks (though if the side effects don’t abate, might be less frequent) and I’m now about 100 days from retirement. I’m going through the motions in some respects, staying mindful of Step One, grateful for Step Two, and making the daily decision in Step Three. What I can also do, right here, right now, is pay attention. I can pay attention to daffodils and daphne in the yard. I can notice when my shoulders are hunched and I'm holding my breath. I can look out beyond the windshield of my brain to soak in the beautiful blue skies as spring approaches. I can re-set with the slogans - most prominently this week, "This, too, shall pass."

How are you today? Are you noticing the beauty around you, or the turmoil in your mind? How can you use the Steps and Tools of the program to re-set? What do you see, or what do you know, when you pause and pay attention?

NOTE: “I’ve Been Sober a Long Time – Now What? A workbook for the Joys & Challenges of Long Term Recovery” is a 78 page workbook, 8 ½ x11 format, with topics (such as grief, aging, sponsorship) that include a member’s view and processing questions. Available at Portland Area Intergroup at 825 N.E. 20th or online through this blog page. If you would like to purchase online, you will need to go to the WEB VERSION of this page to view the link to PayPal.   Email me at if you’d like more information

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

I didn’t mean to imply in last week’s post that I am sober all on my own – I have had much help along the way. But speaker Lila R. talks about the “proper use of the will” as described in our literature. My will gets me to a meeting, or leaves me on the couch; my will picks up the phone or doesn’t. And again, not implying that “I” did anything spectacular. But I do think it has to do with “fully conceding to our innermost selves that we are alcoholic.” I was hanging out with a guy from treatment in those crucial early months, and realized that he smelled strongly of pot when I picked him up. Smelled of pot and wasn’t going to meetings. When I confronted him on it, he said, “But I’m not like you, Jeanine. It's easy for you.” Well, no, it wasn’t. Walking in to a room full of strangers and raising my hand, introducing myself as “Jeanine, alcoholic-addict” was excruciating. But not as excruciating as the prospect of locking myself in my bathroom with a belt around my arm, or drinking beer for breakfast. I’d hit bottom. Rock solid, hope-to-never-go-back-there bottom and was willing to do whatever it took to stay on this side of the line. For me, the contrast between what it was like, and what it was like now was so great as to keep me on the path, one day at a time, especially since I took to heart, “Stick with the winners.” I surrounded myself with like-minded people and we forged the trail together, following the footsteps of those who'd gone before.

As I write, I’m wearing a necklace and bracelet of my mom’s. She was the queen of costume jewelry, and as a long-time Avon lady, she had tons. After she died, I gave some to family members and friends, some I donated to a women’s residential program, some went to Goodwill, and some went into a drawer. Nothing particularly classy, but they were Mom’s and act as a channel to her love and her sunny disposition. She liked sparkles and Christmas and getting “gussied up.” Along with all that jewelry, mountains of old photographs, and some dishes, I inherited from Mom a love of parties and holidays, a set of values that include compassion, practicality and an optimistic outlook on life. 

Something else I got from Mom, something that has required the inner work of our program, is related to external validation. Once, I introduced her to a date. The next day, she asked, “Does he like you?” Not, “Do you like him?” or “Are you compatible,” but “Does he like you?” - a recovery nugget on a silver platter!  

This recovery/discovery around my sense of self has been a process, with some leaps and bounds, some gentle nudges and some slogs through the mud.  Just recently I realized, after hearing one more “Oh baby” song on the oldies station, that I’d put control of my self-esteem in the hands (or eyes) of 15 year old boys (then 16, 17, or 20 year olds).  Yes, if I’d known better I would’ve done better, but what was I thinking? It goes back to that nebulous sense of self - I'm not sure who I am, so maybe you'll tell me.  And no offense, fellas, but the 15, 16, or 20 year old boys I was interested in weren’t all that interested in my mind. Like seeks like, and I was drawn to vulnerable pleasure-seekers like myself. As I got older, that refined to encompass depressed, introverted alcoholics. Imagine my surprise when I truly decided to stay out of the way, and my extroverted future husband showed up. Really? 

I'v been reading an article in a recent NYT magazine about an author's early move to NY, living hand-to-mouth in pursuit of her dream. Sometimes that seems exciting. Sometimes I chastise myself for my rootedness. I was inculcated with desire for stability (again a thank you to Mom), but I do sometimes wonder about the alternative. Then again, not too much.  I've thought about running away from everything I know, but who would feed the cats? And even in my dreams of wanderlust, I always come home. 

I'm also reading "The Remains of the Day," where the prospect of traveling outside his small corner of England is an emotional ordeal for the butler, though very understated of course. Throwing caution to the wind, or staying in the exact same spot?  I'm somewhere in the middle. 

And what is home? Mom's jewelry in a drawer and grandma's desk, with 1920's photos of family on the wall. Home is my husband on his computer, finding recorded gems, our cats scratching on the bedroom door if we've passed the time for their AM meal. Home is mossy sidewalks and falling asleep to the sound of rain on the roof.  Home is baking cookies for our daughter’s visits.  Home is the northern Oregon coast; the stark beauty of Taos (with my friend and her pups), and London (though I'm not there often enough); home is Wilshire Park, for reunions and early morning runs. Home is people - Christmas breakfast at my brother's (i.e. the ancestral manor, i.e. the house I grew up in) and Christmas day with my sister-from-another-mother's big clan. Home is Bernal Heights in SF with my spouse's dear family. Home is our travel threesome, wherever we've landed, coffee brewing and water boiling for tea. Home is a memory. Home is today. Home is the exhale I feel when taking my seat in a meeting.

I'm all over the map today, as my spouse enters the final weeks of cancer treatment, thinking a lot about this life we've built together and all that goes into it. What defines “home” for you? Is it a place(s) or a feeling, or both? Is is a particular person or memory, or maybe someplace you haven't yet been?

NOTE: “I’ve Been Sober a Long Time – Now What? A workbook for the Joys & Challenges of Long Term Recovery” is a 78 page workbook, 8 ½ x11 format, with topics (such as grief, aging, sponsorship) that include a member’s view and processing questions. Available at Portland Area Intergroup at 825 N.E. 20th or online through this blog page. If you would like to purchase online, you will need to go to the WEB VERSION of this page to view the link to PayPal.   Email me at if you’d like more information

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

“It’s not true that life is one damn thing after another – it is one damn thing over and over.”  Edna St. Vincent Millay

I read the above in one of my daily readers this past week, and I have to say, that’s what I've felt like as the endless rains of a Portland winter just kept coming. That’s what I felt when a client asked to talk with me in the day room about something he doesn’t like – it struck me, as I smiled and nodded, that I’ve had that exact same conversation, in the exact same spot with 147 guys over the years. The same damn thing, over and over. Ha!

Day-to-day life can be routine. Thank goodness. I like a certain amount of order. But sometimes I catch myself as I put on water for my morning tea, feed the cats, run or not depending on the day of the week, check email, etc. that I could be doing this in my sleep. It sometimes feels like I am doing it in my sleep. Clearly, it is nearing my time to go. My quest is to stay engaged for these last few months of work, understanding that my life will have boring moments once I retire too! But, at least initially, they’ll be new boring moments:  moments of “what should I do next?” vs “I need to squeeze all this in before/after work” moments, or I've already done this 384,000 times. 

I operate best in the daily grind when I have something to look forward to – a trip, an occasion, a friend date. That’s why I’ve decided to move my retirement 11 days sooner, why I’m planning a summer dance party to celebrate, why I’m signing up for a marathon training group, why I’m excited for our trip to the International in Detroit…  Routine and structure are good, and “one damn thing over and over” can make me want to stick a fork in my eye. Obviously, I’ve got the winter blahs, even though we’ve had a pretty mild season here in the NW. That being said, the sun did come out this week – what a difference to my mood!

On another note, in the Feb 2 post on the AA Agnostica site, Bethany D writes about the importance of community and relationship to recovery, as opposed to sobriety being bestowed from on high. Yes, very much so. To me “god” = life force, the positive flow of energy that, when I avail myself of it rather than fighting upstream, allows me to live in a way that is healthy for myself and others. If I could understand it, I wouldn’t be able to relax into the mystery. Is “it” outside myself? I don’t think so. Is this life force in the trees and sunsets? Yes. Is it in the laughter and tears in our meetings? Definitely. I don’t get too caught up in the arguments of god/no god. I am in long term recovery and have maintained one day at a time based on what I do and don’t do. I don’t hang out in bars or with dope fiends. I strive to live with integrity. I try to remember that I am not running the show. I do my best (scratching & kicking sometimes) to surrender to what is rather than what I want.

My good friend, the Tarot Card Lady, reminds us today that "The journey is everything. It is the only thing." Frustrations, joys, dirty dishes, laughter, blooming crocus, memories, traffic - ALL OF IT is a gift when I choose to view life as a lesson rather than an ordeal.

 Happy mid-week friends.  Whether you are on a bumpy section of the "road of happy destiny," or are coasting along, I wish you perspective and detachment. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

I was reminded, yet again this past week that, despite my best efforts to “manage well,” I don’t always know what’s next. I want to. I plan. I imagine scenarios, either best or worst case, but the Universe, gently or not so gently, lets me know I’m not in charge.  For example, when we had people over for the holidays in December, I had absolutely no idea that my spouse would get a cancer diagnosis the very next day leading to a month of appointments and treatments. January did not play out the way I’d anticipated. On another front, the scenario for my friend who has a more serious cancer diagnosis, has changed dramatically with the addition of an extra support person, and hopeful news in the chemo department.  

I think of all the times that I thought a job or a relationship would last “forever” or that a “bestie” would always be that. I think of times I was certain I couldn’t do whatever was in front of me, or that X,Y,Z would never arrive. Silly me. This ties into last week’s post about faulty beliefs. Add to the list of what isn’t true: Can see into the future. Nope. I get it – early humans survived via our ability to anticipate. It’s when I act like my anticipator is a crystal ball that my instincts go awry.

In the documentary "Finding Joe" about the philosopher Joseph Campbell, I was reminded of the archetypal hero’s journey that involves a call to adventure,  a departure from the ordinary,  an initiation of some sort, usually involving an obstacle, and eventually, the return home, with a new or stronger sense of self. No crystal ball involved - just suiting up and showing up and doing the next right thing. The battle is always with our inner demons, though that can show up as a lost job, a diagnosis, a break up, etc. It's not the situation, but my response to it that is the hero's journey. I can look back at several times when everything I believed about who I am was upended, most dramatically when addiction took me to the depths, but several times more subtly since then.  Every single time I’ve been faced with the impossible, I’ve survived and thrived. As we're told, the only way through is to lean in to the fear/grief/sadness/etc. Running does not help. Running does not fix whatever emotion it is I’d like to avoid.  And, I've been shown this past week that all I really need to do is keep putting one foot in front of the other, get enough sleep and eat (mostly) right, and things work out.

One of my cousins, who has recently come out on the positive side of his own cancer journey, suggested that my husband and I “try to do something fun every day.” We’re simple people, so our something fun might just be sharing an evening on the couch, or like this weekend, inviting my (our) friend over to share Super Bowl snacks and radiation stories.  I don’t find it beneficial to try to figure out the life lesson I’m in the middle of, but I am being mindful of appreciating the beauty and humor in life, whether that is almost-spring flowers, or the shared morbid laughter when I went with my friend to pre-pay his end-of-life expenses (something to consider – I did mine after my mom died) and he said, “I don’t give a f*** because I’ll be dead!” when asked about his final wishes. Sometimes you have to laugh at the absurdity of it all. We live and then we die - sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, sometimes after a full & rich life, and sometimes from a life that leaves us wondering about our choices or the hand that was dealt  (though that "coulda, shoulda, woulda" is a dead end road I try not to travel, other than to do my best to bring a smile to those I interact with each day).

Reflecting back on your own hero's journey(s), how were your changed? What strengths do you have that you weren't aware of before you began?  And if you were to try to do something fun each day, what might that be today?