Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Many years ago, nearly 40, to be exact, I converted to Islam, on paper anyway. I went through the ceremony massively hung over (not an auspicious beginning, and it was all downhill from there). Like much of what I was doing, it seemed like a good idea at the time. I was in a relationship with a semi-secular Muslim man, and without consciously knowing it, was looking for some sort of outside structure to help me feel ok on the inside. It didn't work.

Today, I am not a practicing anything (other than a 12 stepper) but I do note that it is the month of Ramadan in the Islamic world. Ramadan, like Lent for Christians, is the ritual of giving something up for a time period in order to move beyond the mundane. But it's not just about the giving up. As in all ritual, the true meaning lies deeper than the superficial act. In her book about marriage to a Muslim man, The Accidental Jihad, Krista Bremer notes that "Ramadan was meant to break our rigid habits of over indulgence, the ones that slipped into our lives as charming guests and then refused to leave...[not just] the big addictions...but the little ones that took us gently by the hand and led us stealthily away from the truth." In looking at her habits, she writes, "I began to notice how much of my thinking revolved around what I would consume next," be that food or media or old ideas.

Having just completed the 12 Step ritual of a Step Four and Five, I'm thinking of Six and Seven, which can be a brief review,  moving on to Eight and Nine, as instructed in the Big Book, or an occasion for deeper awareness of what it is that comes between me and my spiritual center, me and true serenity. Do I say, "Yeah, I want to be rid of this or that characteristic," then keep doing the same old things, or do I look beyond the apparent defect for the underlying belief or rationalization?

For example, am I so enamored of my own thoughts that I don't notice the brilliant azalea blooms on my morning run? Do I tell myself "just one more" when I know that sugar can be a compulsion? I once heard that whatever I think about most becomes a higher power - romance and finance are big ones for people like us. Or it could be my plans and designs, rationalizing just a few more minutes on social media, my calendar - anything that keeps my brain busy and distracted from the stillness that is my inner guide.

During this time of slow-down, I've been better able to observe my thinking, watching where my mind runs off on its own. I believe it was Marieanne Williamson who wrote, "I'm powerless over my first thought, but not my second." How often do I follow myself down the rabbit hole of obsession, self-righteousness or fear, all of which serve to take me further and further from inner peace? I don't practice a religious renunciation, but I can practice the detachment from my automatic thoughts that the program encourages.

I'm coming to the end of my personal slow down, going back in to work on Friday. It will be very different, providing services at a 6 foot distance, but I will be back at my desk for the final month of my career. I am both relieved and a little nervous, compounded by reflecting on this 50 day break when maybe I should've accomplished more, or at the very least, experienced an epiphany or two. I am not alone in thinking I should be doing/feeling/discovering MORE during this pause. Truthfully, this is new territory for all of us, and is slightly disorienting. I missed a regularly scheduled sponsee call yesterday because I forgot it was Tuesday.

I've had flashes of apprehension at the level of busy I'll be going back to, but remind myself that I'm talking about just 29 work days. I can do anything for 29 days. Ha! There was a monumental a gal in Portland AA when I first came in -  Phyllis S - a big lady with lots of red hair. She was a fire and brimstone speaker, and at some point in her talk, as she described the ODAT concept, her voice would rise a few decibels and she'd shout out, "I can do anything for 24 hours! I can hold my finger up a tiger's ass for 24 hours, so I can surely go without a drink, one day at a time!"  She, and others like her, got my attention, and let me know that maybe, I, too, could do this thing called recovery - no matter what.

In the many years since, I've had my own versions of the tiger, times when I held on for dear life. Change is rarely easy, even if I choose it myself. So, I breathe into transition - from all-day pj's to work garb, from enjoying this time with my spouse to putting on a mask and going into the world, from work-at-home mode back to the trenches. And when the time comes, I will do it in reverse, letting go of my work identity in order to discover what's next.

How are you doing as the slow-down continues? Has your state passed its peak? How are you staying sane and serene, whether that is via the Steps or jigsaw puzzles or neighborhood walks?  Stay safe...

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 or Credit Card option.   Email me at if you’d like more information

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

I put on earrings yesterday, for the first time since Covid, and picked up my ex's daughter, who'd flown in to pick up her dad's ashes. During the course of the morning, we laughed, we cried, we listened to an Earth, Wind & Fire CD (his fave), looked at some old photos, and decided that I am her "pre-step mom." We hugged, while wearing masks, and agreed to keep in touch. When she asked if we could have coffee this morning before she goes home, I met her at the nearly empty airport, to make sure she'd get through security with the big metal urn.

I'd been feeling a loose ends with the mourning process, given these strange times, so when she contacted me on Sunday to ask if I'd, please, go with her to get her dad's remains, I started to cry - for my own sense of closure, and with the bittersweet knowledge that I'd be able to tell her more about who her dad was before his mental illness took over. On the way to pick her up, I did a mini- inventory, reminding myself that the day was about her and her losses - both of the person and the idea of father that was now no more.

She is a frank woman, and when I thanked her for inviting me, she blurted out that it hadn't really been her intention, but then the words came out and she thought, "Yes, that is what I want." Funny how our intuition can speak what we didn't know we meant. I've sometimes joked that I said what I needed to hear at a meeting, but it's true. At times, something will come out of my mouth that catches me by surprise - my inner wisdom speaking what my conscious mind doesn't yet know.

I continue to hear such raw truth in our online meetings as we individually and collectively grapple with our struggles, whether those are internal demons or external demands. Others sharing their truth helps me check in with myself and my motives in any given situation.  I'm particularly noticing my characteristic of time urgency. I have nowhere to be and not much to do, so any time pressure is strictly my own. A former boyfriend dubbed me "the human clock," not necessarily as a compliment. He was from the Middle East, where the sense of time is more relaxed, more seasonal, more nomadic. When he told someone that he'd see them "after tomorrow," he meant, "sometime in the future," not specifically the day after tomorrow that my Western brain inferred.

In any event, my mom raised me to believe that being on time was being late. I've raised myself to believe that if I can get three things done today, then I can probably squeeze in five. Part of that is related to my natural energy level (& naps), but part of it is related to an internal worry that there is never enough - time, attention, love. Do I really think that, on a rational, adult level? No. But somewhere deep inside is a little kid grasping to hold on.

And then, pandemic, with the resulting screeching halt to the To Do list. I saw a funny post: "Why did I even bother buying a 2020 day planner?" Because I can't predict the future, that's why, but I can plan for it! I remember towards the end of my addiction, looking at the blank calendar on the wall  - no appointments, no dates, nothing to look forward to, other than trying to hide in my basement. The month of April reminds me of that, with various items crossed out, some entered hopefully towards the end of the month, but mainly, empty days. I've taken to noting my online meetings, walks with my spouse - anything to show that I was here.

So what do I want to do with my renewed insight? How can I use the Steps to examine the characteristics that are, apparently, mine alone, not driven by outer forces? I could stay busy, cleaning under the kitchen sink and rearranging closets (which is not a bad idea) and I can experiment with truly "going with the flow." Do I feel like reading, or washing windows? Taking a nap, or maybe taking a walk. How about just sitting?

A friend mentioned in a meeting that when he was drinking, the current situation was never ok. Oh how I could relate. Even when I was seemingly on top of the world, there was something to complain about. I was hung over, or my boyfriend was away too long, or this person said this when she should've said that, or the steak was over (or under) cooked, blah blah blah. Truly, in this very moment, all is well. I have complaints, sure, but the reality is, like my treatment counselor used to say, I've had enough to eat today and I know where I'm sleeping tonight. And, I'm clean & sober, which is a gift I never forget.

Continuing to ride the emotional the roller coaster here - of grief,  of unexpected connection, of character defects on parade, of sweetness with my spouse, along with the lethargy and impatience around working from home. One day at a time, one foot in front of the other, I open my arms to see what the universe would have me experience today.

Where are you today, as we continue on the stay-home journey? Are you in self-discovery mode, or self-condemnation? Acceptance, or arguing with the things you cannot change? How will you accept the whole of it today - what is going on in the world as well as what is going on within you? Be safe, friends, near and far.

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 or Credit Card option.   Email me at if you’d like more information

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

My friend died yesterday - anticipated, but not so quickly, though I'm not sure what I mean by that. He'd been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer that had metastasized to his brain several months ago. Radiation was supposed to help. Chemo was supposed to help, and when it was his time, it was his time. I am so sad that in this season of Covid, he was alone at the hospital, and I am grateful that we'd reconnected over the years.

So here is the back story: I met him when I was 15, just weeks after he'd graduated from high school, and his dear mother had passed. Together for 3 years, we got married a few weeks before my 19th birthday, much to the chagrin of my mother and his father, who rightly counseled that we were too young. We may not have known what we were doing (I could barely boil water), but we gave it our best-at-the-time effort. I acted like I thought grown-ups were supposed to act. I worked all day, and came home to a few drinks - in my case, a bottle of cheap wine. On weekends, where my parents would've rolled up the rug and jitterbugged to Dixieland Jazz, we danced with our friends to disco on our shag green carpet, drinking and carrying on, sometimes until the sun came up.

Whatever else he may have been, he was not an alcoholic. One of my first lessons of recovery was to stop one relationship before starting another, and I hadn't learned that yet, so left my young husband for a friend of ours, someone who drank just like I did. We'd been a tight knit group of high school friends, cousins and others, and the break up was hard and complicated. But we survived. I carried on with my new boyfriend until my addiction eventually got in the way, and my now-ex remarried and had a daughter. Life went on.

But life took some turns. I've only been able to piece together what happened next, but my ex had a psychotic break a couple of years later. His new wife and daughter left, for their safety, and he ended up on the streets, living mostly in the park near my high school.

There was serendipity in our relationship going forward. A year or so after I got out of treatment, he happened to pass by my house with his shopping cart, and with Step 9 zeal, I invited him in for soup. He lived in my garage that winter, coming in for showers, raising the eyebrows of my recovery roommates. We lost touch, but 15 or 20 years later, I discovered he'd been recently living in an apartment nearby, taking smoke breaks on the lawn with a good friend of mine. And then, I learned he was back living in the family home with his sister. Not being sure of his state of mind, I phoned her to ask if it was ok to stop by. Of course, she said.  Less than a week later, I was at the grocery store. I will tell you that I shop with a list, and never back track - I know where stuff is and proceed accordingly. Well, this particular day I had to circle back for something, and there, out of the blue was my ex. We laughed hello as if we'd seen each other yesterday, embraced and embarked on what I'd call the third installment of our relationship - friends. Over the last few years, he joined family and school reunions, music in the parks, many Chinese food dinners (old school Cantonese), and this year had Thanksgiving and Super Bowl Sunday with me and my dear, welcoming husband. Friendship also meant doctor's visits and trips to the pharmacy, tough conversations and tougher decisions. I've gotten to know his daughter, who lives out of state, and tried my best to be a calming presence towards the end of his life.

I give you his story, our story, because I need to tell it in this time of Covid, which means no gathering, no memorial, no coming together in tears and laughter. I also give you the story as a living, breathing example of recovery, of active amends, of relationships healed over time. When I met my husband, I half jokingly told him, "If I didn't have ex's, I wouldn't have friends." Not entirely true, but in my frame of reference, once the hard feelings from a break-up have passed, family is still family.

When I first got into recovery, I was rightly focused on my physical healing - no more puking, hangovers, or abscesses from the needle. As the days turned in to months and years, the healing deepened to include childhood wounds, and the emotional wounds I'd inflicted on others as I personified the tornado described in the Big Book. The ultimate gift of working a program is the healing that took place in my relationships with people who've since passed - my mother, an important ex (the man I left my marriage for), and now my first husband. I grieve today, but like with my mom, not because there was anything left unsaid.

When the tidal wave of mourning hits, I find myself thinking of other losses. I also find myself asking if there are any other people or situations calling for an amends. I don't think so, but then again, a 50 year old misdeed surfaced last year that required attention. I get into trouble in my recovery when I think I have all the answers, that the onion is completely peeled. I also get into trouble when I try to tell myself that a loss should be lessened because I was expecting it. On the contrary. Feelings are feelings, and I'm learning, one day at a time, to be gentle with myself and others. I've been comforted by good conversations with his family, and my good friends (one of whom drove over for a virtual driveway hug) as well as learning about his final, peaceful hours.

Where have you experienced great healing in your relationships? My first sponsor, guiding me in my 4th step inventory, suggested that I write about anyone I'd cross the street to avoid. Do you have any of those left after your years of recovery?

* I was reminded that, during this time of worldwide slow-down, some feel like they are on a not-so-unpleasant timeout while others are struggling greatly. Depending where you are on that continuum, how can you reach out, to either offer support, or seek it?

Thank you for reading and your ongoing support of these weekly posts. Take good care.

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 or Credit Card option.   Email me at if you’d like more information

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Breathing deeply on this Wednesday morning, thinking of the words of the Serenity prayer: Accept the things I cannot change. Acceptance is the answer, according to the old page 449 - acceptance of what is. I don't have to like it, or believe that "there are no mistakes in God's world" (what does that even mean??) but as long as I struggle with the moment, with what is, I will experience the restlessness, irritability and discontent that is poison to my soul.

I'm hearing such wisdom in the online meetings I'm attending, along with anxiety, gratitude, fear, and fortitude. Deep awareness of my powerlessness over just about everything other than my attitude and actions is freeing at times, annoying at others, and heartbreaking still more often. In my Tuesday morning group, people spoke of taking their anger, or their anxiety or impatience for a walk. At least we can get outdoors, and for me, it is harder to stay in the dark hallways of my mind when I'm out and moving. I often have to force myself to notice the flowers or the sky, but with each step, my inner dialogue quiets.

The feeling of powerlessness is uncomfortable, and I learned long ago that a primary task of recovery is learning to get comfortable with discomfort. I can't make this all go away, but I can do my part by staying in. I can make a phone call, send a card (lots of cards to help keep the Post Office open!), or read (something positive, not the endless news cycle). I can cook dinner, pull some weeds, show up (really show up, not just in the chair) for my work-at-home days.

Being in the "I don't know" place is hard. Years ago, I shared about that in a meeting, and a guy responded by saying he prefers the adventure of not knowing. As he put it, what would be the point of beginning if you already knew exactly how it would end? (with "it" being the new job or new relationship, a move, or perhaps a creative undertaking). I get that, sort of, and am much more comfortable if I at least have a sense of what's next. I realize, as I write, that this wish is simply an illusion, a desire for safety, which no one can predict.  How many times have I stood on the cliff of not knowing in utter panic, only to reflect a few months or years later, that the change was the best that could've happened?

A member in Iowa shared in our Sunday meeting that this is the time to be deliberate about my recovery. I can think I've got it down, I can skim over the daily reader reminders to watch my H.A.L.T.S. and, while getting booze would be an undertaking during stay at home time (and is the farthest thing from my mind) it is my emotional sobriety that I want to protect, deliberately and mindfully. As I cycle through the stages of grief around our abrupt change in circumstances (denial, bargaining, anger, depression, acceptance) I can, as always, acknowledge and accept my feelings, knowing that there is no "right" way to be. We've never been here before -

~ Just as I sat down to finish this post, I got word that my friend, the person with lung cancer, is being admitted to hospital and is likely near the end of his journey. We knew this was coming, but it always seems sooner than anticipated, and is complicated by Covid-19. My hope is that he goes gently, and that I'm able to say good-bye. I am so very sad. I am also grateful that with all the water under this particular bridge, there are no words left unsaid, no amends that need to be made. And, death is hard for those of us left to wonder if our loved one was at peace, if this or that road taken way back when might've changed the place it all ends up. Again, not knowing...

Even in this time of distancing, especially in this time of distancing, remember to let your loved ones know they are just that. I've talked more on the phone in the last 2 weeks than in that last year, and that is a good thing. Take good care of yourselves, friends, near and far.

How are you practicing self care in this strange time? If you are housed with people, how do you practice detachment? If solo, how do you maintain connections? Are you able to take a walk today, or make a call?

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 or Credit Card option.   Email me at if you’d like more information

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Is anyone else thinking about their age? I know that not all long-timers are literal old-timers, but many of us are, and I have to keep reminding myself that I am in the vulnerable category. Maybe less-so than some others, as I lace up my running shoes, but I am 65, no matter what my inner clock tells me. I carry around an internal 12 year old hooligan, a 20-something drunk, a 48 year old marathoner, and, I've been on the planet for 65 years.

Probably when I was about 50, I rode the max train downtown to June's annual Starlight Run. I stood near a group in their early 20's, laughing and joking, like we do in groups of our peers. At one point, someone said, "I don't ever want to get old - I'll kill myself first." Suddenly, all eyes were on me as one of the boys said, "Shhhh! and looked my way." I simply smiled, but as I exited a few stops later, turned and said, "Getting old isn't that bad - you'll be surprised at how much fun you'll have."

I had to laugh with those kids, thinking of all the times I thought that this age, or that age, or another, would mean the end of life as I knew it. Now I know that, yes, it has, and can add, "thank goodness." Who I was at 37 or 53 or 16 is a part of who I am today, but is not exclusively who I am today. And I am grateful for all that has gone in to that conglomeration of experience and history - my parents and other elders, my teachers in recovery over the years, life events, both positive and not so much, and, learning over time that the saying, "this too shall pass" applies to every.single.thing.

I need to admit to a crying bout over the weekend. I am SO disappointed that the International Convention has been canceled. I understand - bringing 50,000 sober alcoholics and families to Detroit when no one knows the trajectory of the pandemic is not a good idea, and I was so looking forward to the celebration. I chose my retirement date based on the conference, intending to mark my personal independence, and was very excited to visit Hitsville USA, the Motown headquarters, among other things. And in the grand scheme of things, this is a luxury problem. As a friend pointed out, everyone is losing something during the virus. I am beyond fortunate enough to be able to absorb the loss. And, it is important to acknowledge and feel the sadness before automatically moving into "I'm fine" mode.

I saw an interesting interview with David Kessler, who worked with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, regarding his new book, "Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief." In the interview, he described our collective mourning around the loss of the world as we know it. He pointed out that life has changed, and that, going forward, we will mark time from before the virus and after. I think of all the losses, some great and some small - the loss of life is the big one, for ourselves and loved ones, but also the loss of work, of routine, of high school or college graduation ceremonies, vacations, the freedom to come and go... There is the loss of a sense of safety, of invincibility, of trust in the status quo. It is important to mourn.

And, for me,  it is equally as important to then face what needs to be faced. My burden is minuscule as compared to others. Besides my material comforts, I am sober. I have a program of principles and tools that guide my life, not just during rainbows and sunshine, but during the dark times too. I started Sunday in a mopey mood, and after sitting in on my virtual home group, experienced that attitude adjustment that is available if I'm paying attention and getting out of my own head. A 2 year anniversary, someone with 5 days, another person at their first meeting, other's sharing what gets them through - all served to bring me back to the here and now, where everything is ok. I've had enough to eat today and I know where I'll be sleeping tonight. Life, in this exact moment, is good, or should I say, "good enough."

All of the online meetings I'm attending focus, at least partially, on the disruption of the virus. That is a good thing and shows me that this is not a "new normal," but a (hopefully) temporary abnormal. In the meantime, I can go on my porch at 7pm every night to "clap for the caregivers." I can attend my regular meetings, and tomorrow, dial in to our home-away-from-home group in San Francisco (where we won't be going in May). I can pick up the phone, read some literature each day, and suit up & show up (remotely) where needed.

One day at a time, we're now into our 3rd week of the "stay home, stay safe" in Portland. How are you adjusting to the expectations in your city? Are you on the roller-coaster of emotions, or have you found stasis? How are the slogans and tools of recovery helping you maintain?  Best wishes to all, with hopes that we can ride this wave and come out of it sooner, rather than later.

I have been getting out to the Post Office, so the Now What workbook is very much available:

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 or Credit Card option.   Email me at if you’d like more information