Wednesday, October 28, 2020

 As you read this, I am in snowy New Mexico, having made the decision to double-mask and get on a plane. I am operating from a place of what I think is sensible caution - neither paranoid nor cavalier about the dangers of the virus. 

I'm paying attention to the beauty around me this week, rather than the noise in my head. Whether that beauty is in the glory of the Sangre de Cristo mountains here in Taos, Forest Park at home, or simply our neighborhood; the laughter of my good friend over my favorite southwestern meal (frito pie from a food truck) or the joy on my healthy husband's face as he completed a virtual 5k, there is so much to appreciate in this life. Much to mourn and a whole lot to flip my outraged switch, and I am alive today to feel all of it. We had a counselor in treatment, those many years ago, who'd listen to us individually whine about this circumstance or that, always coming back with, "Do you know where you're sleeping tonight? Have you had enough to eat today?" Then thank your lucky stars, because it could be a whole lot worse.

Which is not to say that I get my good feelings from others' misfortunes. However, when I'm in a place of me, me, me I'm never satisfied. When I remember that I'm just one human among billions, each with our own wants and needs, it helps me keep perspective. I've traveled a fair amount in my life thus far, from Five Star to No Star hotels, and I think that most people want basically the same things - a safe place to lie our heads at night, a means to provide for our families, and sense of belonging. It looks different from varying vantage points, but if I keep in mind that the jerk who cuts me off in traffic, or the pedestrian who steps out into the street without looking, is simply making their way through life the best they can, I'm better able to detach from how I think things should be. I definitely need to keep that in mind when I read the newspapers or interact with those who have different beliefs. 

Like we learn in Alanon, I only have control over what is inside my hula-hoop. Sometimes I wish my hula-hoop were bigger, but it's not. Did I get enough rest last night? Am I hungry, or maybe holding on to some anger I need to address? Am I lonely? Those early recovery lessons are as pertinent today as they were thirty years ago. One day at a time. How Important Is It? And one of my favorites, "If it's a good idea today, it will be a good idea next week" (see: Pause). 

On another note, I made the official (to me) decision that I am now a walker rather than someone trying to hang on to running. I needed to tell myself I was a jogger, then a s-l-o-w jogger, as a way to ease myself out of a particular identity. I can celebrate my 30 years as a runner, my 10 marathons and countless half marathons, and know that there are many more miles ahead of me - just at a slower pace. Sort of like redefining my identity in early sobriety - who was I if not a party-girl drinker and drugger? I got to decide. Who am I as a retired person? I get to decide and see what fits at this stage of my life.

Today, as we fast approach November, or as we call it in 12 Step recovery, "Gratitude Month," I am grateful for so much: for long term friendships over time and space, for my health and relative fitness (as I wheeze my way through a snow hike at elevation!), for the absolute beauty of the natural world. 

What are you grateful for today? Is there something in the natural world you can anchor to when your mind gets caught in itself? Have there been times you've felt the pull to reimagine who you are? What helps you navigate the unknown?

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

 In 2011 I joined a group of women who met monthly with a spiritual teacher for the purpose of exploring goddess wisdom and learning to live with ourselves and the world in a positive and balanced way. I was hesitant. I knew that a few of the women were in recovery, but that wasn't the theme, and, truthfully, I wasn't someone who celebrated circles of women. But I wanted to be. Knowing that my internalized misogyny grew out of discomfort with myself, I sought to heal, to open myself to the wisdom that I knew I could glean from my sisters. As I hemmed and hawed around the invitation, citing concerns for time I "needed" to spend with my new spouse and his daughter, our teacher gently asked, "Do you think they'd be OK with you taking one afternoon a month for yourself?" Well, of course they would (and may not even have noticed I was gone!).

So, I spent the next year chanting, meditating, dancing and learning about various facets of spirituality with a focus on the feminine, sometimes with an internal eye-roll, but mostly with a desire to relax into a greater sense of my connection to Spirit, and to recognize that in other women, I had more in common that there were differences. Following the official year, members of the various "classes" met quarterly, coming together to share how we were practicing the principles of compassion and respect for the planet and all beings in our daily lives. While not as engaged as many, I showed up, enjoying the cosmic exhale as we sat. And then, our teacher, my age, took ill, and was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer that took her in eight short weeks. It was a shock to all who knew her. 

That was three years ago this weekend, and to mark the occasion, a dozen of us gathered on Zoom to listen to one of our teacher's recorded meditations. It was good to be reminded of the importance of a daily practice, however we define that, as well as the striving to keep an open heart, despite my (or the world's) circumstances. Exhaling.

Three years since Jayna's death marks a season of loss in my personal calendar with anniversaries of passings punctuated by the glorious colors of autumn. As I learn to breathe into my memories, I move towards a calmer acceptance of the impermanence of this life, though I sure wish some of my loved ones had stuck around a bit longer. As ones who borrow from many different spiritual traditions, my spouse and I have started our yearly ofrenda, the little space amid Halloween decor reserved for photos of family and friends who've gone on. I appreciate this small ritual of remembering.

Sitting in my regular online meetings this week, I had to chuckle at our new "normal," seeing fellow travelers in their living rooms, or their beds, eating oatmeal or maybe a burrito, with cats and the occasional small child wandering across the screen. I marvel at our adaptability, and the swiftness with which the 12 Step powers-that-be stepped in to make sure we had options. I hear people who aren't in recovery talk about the disconnect of not seeing anyone, and while I sometimes bristle at sitting in front of the computer, I'm so very grateful for the option (especially now that our outdoor park meetings are coming to an end).

Moving into the darker, colder days, I've been thinking about how I'll fill my time. Here in the Pacific NW, we say that if you don't run/walk/hike in the rain, you don't do it at all, so I will still be outdoors, but definitely not as much. Having journaled on that topic earlier in the day, I opened an email offering me a part-time gig in my field, working from home for about 12 hours a week. I haven't made a decision as I gather more information, but was reminded of the time I was between jobs, wondering out loud what might be next. Several people pointed me in a particular direction, and when I finally listened (and got the job I'd have for the next 5 years) I remembered the story we tell in AA about the fellow who is shipwrecked and asking HP to save him. He turns away several offers, saying that he's waiting for God. After he dies, he asks St. Peter, "Why didn't God help me?" to which Peter replied, "He sent you a helicopter and a rowboat - what more did you want?"  I'm not equating my friend's email with the Voice of God (see: Alan Rickman in the movie Dogma) but I am paying attention to a possible answer to my "what now?" question.  Sometimes what I seek is right in front of me while I'm busy looking for flares and skywriting, nowhere near as complicated as I may want to make it. I loved my career. I just didn't like doing it for 40 hours a week. Might this be a temporary answer to my question?  As in all things, more will be revealed.

How do you know when you are in self-will or when you are trusting the process? Are there practices that take you to a place of calm attention? Do your self-care practices shift with the seasons? (For me, it is more candles and cozy naps; a good book and hot tea vs iced.) What brings you peace?

Just in time for holiday planning, or your year-end inventory

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, at  to view the link to PayPal or Credit Card option.   Email me at if you’d like more information. (my apologies, but with the link, you can only order 1 workbook at a time).

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

 As I sat in several stellar meetings of friends and strangers in our current Hollywood Squares format, I was struck by the poignancy, pathos and outright hilarity of how we come together to talk about our lives and our recovery. Craig, poet and big teddy bear of a guy who was a member of our long ago Friday night meeting, used to describe our group as the "sacred campfire" where we'd come together to share tales of the dragons we had slain, or those we were facing that week. 

That witnessing of each other's journeys, from a couple breaking generational patterns by purchasing their own home, to a young mom carving out an hour of the day for herself; from the traveler en-route to faraway places, to the parent of teens attempting to home school - we are people who normally would not mix for the most part, simply because our paths wouldn't necessarily cross. But here we are, in the rooms (virtual or actual), brought together by our shared desire for healing and growth. 

As I made initial notes for this blog on Friday, I'd already been to seven meetings, though not because I was in distress, which is often the impetus for increasing attendance. Five were women's meetings, with a strong focus on identity and self-worth, all the ways we/I've given away my power over the years, as well as extreme gratitude for the different way we/I live today. I had a nebulous self-image as a kid and a teen, with only a limited sense of direction. I early on learned to look outside for a thrill and/or my identity. My first drug of choice was sugar, along with other adrenaline producers of stealing and sneaking around. With puberty, I "graduated" to boys - if "he" liked me, it meant I was OK. This is pure hindsight of course. At the time, I was only aware of the next shiny object, be that person, place or thing, my sense of self determined by my relationships. I was Mrs. So-and-So, or "His" girlfriend, rarely just Jeanine. 

And then I got to treatment and no one was interested in the wealthy boyfriend, or the meth cook in the basement. They asked questions like, "What do you like to do?" and I was stymied. I'd used to like to read and watch movies, but both of those were far by the wayside as my attention span declined. Nearly all of my "likes" revolved around drinking - dinners out, long drives with stops at little pubs along the way. I liked to travel, though through the veil of hangovers, had mostly blurry memories. 

What did I like to do? What might I like to do? I can remember my first sober hike, the first time I ran five miles at a time, the first time I heard live music without a drink in my hand. Recovery = discovery and it was exciting to sample life and see what fit. Life feels similar now that I'm in early retirement. I still like to read, hike and travel, but what else might strike my fancy? A friend who reads Tarot cards keeps reminding me that I don't need to figure things out, or look too hard, as "it" will find me. And maybe the "it" for this month won't be the "it" come springtime. I'm excited to see how the months unfold, while very aware that I'm moving closer to the end. It is an odd juxtaposition - dueling emotions, though simply opposite ends of the surrender spectrum.

Time marches on, and will whether I'm here or not. I attended an online 91st birthday party for my husband's step dad the other night - when he was born, his mother had to ride a ferry from Oakland to San Francisco because there were no bridges at the time. My aunt remembered when the line of trees along a major thoroughfare in Portland were saplings. The three inch pine seedling I received after completing my first marathon in 1995 is now twenty feet tall. I was once a small child and now I'm 66. Who actually knows what's next? 

I'm on a bit of a tangent this week as I mark my birthday, and the eighth anniversary of my mother's passing. My baby brother will be 63 in a few weeks. My step daughter is 20. Reminders, all, of the one-day-at-a-time notion of appreciating the moment because they fly by so quickly.

Are you attending meetings, virtual or otherwise? Is this different than in pre-pandemic times? My first sponsor always spoke about staying teachable. How are you teachable today? What new activities or ideas might you be interested in trying on? Here in the U.S. we are approaching an election, with high emotions on all sides. How are you staying level and centered, with political divisions as well as the on-going covid way of life?  Thank you for reading, and please do feel free to post any comments. 

Just in time for holiday planning, or your year-end inventory

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, at  to view the link to PayPal or Credit Card option.   Email me at if you’d like more information. (my apologies, but with the link, you can only order 1 workbook at a time).

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

 As much as I'm enjoying retired life (as in very much), I've lately felt a little blown about by my social schedule. With chagrin, I realize that if I'm still complaining about being busy, it wasn't just the j-o-b but more like little-old-me. The matter of my calendar has long been a balancing act - I like a full(ish) schedule and I revel in plans that get cancelled. I'm not big on astrology, but Libra is the balance sign, though I've been reminded that equilibrium is more about flow than stasis. 

In a meeting this past week, I was reminded that I don't have to make decisions alone, whether about filling in my day-planner, or bigger life choices. Yes, there are often other people involved, but the not-alone I'm referring to is related to my inner wisdom, my spiritual guidance - that quiet place where I'm better able to discern my true heart's desires. I heard someone say recently (again, I don't have many brand new ideas) that if she is acting from a place of adrenaline, it is likely self-will. I get it. And, boy, do I get excited. Do I want to do x,y or z?  Yes! All three! The problem is that by the time "z" rolls around, I can feel a little burnt. 

I discovered this truth (though promptly forgot) when I turned 50. It was a stellar year - friends and I ran the Paris marathon, I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up, did a multi-day bike ride, hiked around northern England with my brother, and had a big dance party. By the time my actual birthday rolled around, I was exhausted and realized that if everything is special, nothing is. If I plan two or three hikes in a week, I can numb to the beauty of my surroundings, my mind already racing on to the next date. Despite what I may think, I do not need to make up for lost time or cram all of my retirement hopes and plans into this one weird covid summer.

All that being said, I am an energetic lass who loves having things to look forward to. I am in no way clearing my calendar, but rather, looking to be more mindful of my choices. And, I need to look at where discomfort today may stem from long ago decisions. As I type this, I clearly recall the feeling, as a kid, of not wanting to miss anything. Our home was deathly quiet during my dad's drinking and depression years, and I lived for raucous weekends at my cousin's, or our little bike "gang" that flew up and down neighborhood streets at dusk. Of course, alcoholic-in-training that I was, my activities also included shoplifting candy bars, climbing on neighbors' roofs, smoking cigarettes from the upstairs window, and cursing like a sailor. In other words, a lot of fun. And, I'm probably not going to miss anything by leaving open spaces in my planner. An empty page does not need to mean "available."

I do realize that these are luxury problems. The point, always for me, is the pause, the slowing down, the paying attention to my spiritual resources. For some, that means big "G" God or Goddess. For others, universal truth or love. I've given up on trying to name whatever wisdom it is that guides me, usually via a quiet morning or afternoon cup of tea, or maybe something I'm reading, as I gradually learn to wait before saying "yes."  Alanon teaches that, "I'll get back to you" is a valid response, even if (especially if?) I impulsively want to agree to an invitation. I've also learned that waiting is an action, which can be a tough concept to grasp. A couple of other sayings come to mind: "If you don't know what to do, don't do anything," and "If it's a good idea today, it'll be a good idea tomorrow." 

As the weather shifts here in the Pacific NW, I imagine that some of these decisions will be made for me by the forecasts. I've been very fortunate to participate in a couple of small outdoor AA meetings over the past few months, and those will end with the rain and the time change. It has been such a gift to gather with others. Nearly every week, someone attends who hadn't been to an in-person meeting since March, and their exhale as they take their seat is an audible reminder of the importance of connection in person, at least some of the time.

October is the month my group focuses on Step 10 - continuing to make amends when we are wrong (not if, but when). I much prefer practicing the principles so that I don't need to promptly admit my wrongs, but part of living amends to myself is in embracing my humanness. Sometimes I snap when I should've kept quiet. Sometimes I over-book. Sometimes I get frustrated and annoyed at my fellow travelers. And sometimes I fairly skip along the road of happy destiny.

Where are you on the path today? What characteristic continues to get your attention? How do you move in to acceptance of all of it - the good and the bad referred to in the 7th Step prayer? As the season shifts, how will you stay open to what may be rather than holding on to what was?

A reminder: Since so many are off Facebook these days, you can sign up to get this weekly post via email by going to the little box on the right side of the page. 

Just in time for holiday planning, or your year-end inventory

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 at of this page to view the link to PayPal or Credit Card option.   Email me at if you’d like more information. (my apologies, but with the link, you can only order 1 workbook at a time).