Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Contentment

 I attend an online speaker-discussion meeting out of San Fransico most weeks. It is a good group, and one where we've developed friendships over the years of walking over the hill to the meeting place when we're there.  They may eventually return to in-person  but for now, we get to be in the Hollywood Squares. I'm part of a couple of other smaller groups that are cross-country in make-up, able to visit with friends old and new in various time zones. While no one would ever say the pandemic is good, there have been some unanticipated benefits, online meetings being one.

This last week's speaker shared from As Bill Sees It, p. 306, Is Happiness the Goal? Bill thinks not, saying, "I don't think happiness or unhappiness is the point. How do we meet the problems we face? ... In my view, we of this world are pupils in a great school of life." It was Bill's birthday (Nov 26) this past week. Mind-boggling that one simple life (not uncomplicated, but simple), one life of a hopeless alcoholic, could access the formula of one drunk reaching out to another that has saved us so many years of pain and misery.

I don't know that I consciously sought happiness in my own before-times. I sought excitement, sensation - sensation that helped me feel alive, whether the warm glow from booze, the tuning fork energy of cocaine, the buzz of methamphetamine, or the twitterpation of an attraction. Initially, drinking helped me to have feelings, gave me an avenue to escape what felt like the doldrums of a quiet, depressed household. But nearly always, with whatever substance, I overshot the sweet spot. The very few times that I said to myself, "I'll never do that again," I wasn't referring to drinking itself, but to the excess. Maintaining the perfect high was the goal, which could've been the search for mellow or blotto, depending on the occasion.

In these years of recovery, happiness has been a by-product of right-living. When I'm doing my best to live with integrity, there is little remorse and way more contentment. And, my definition of contentment and happiness has shifted over time. Contented used to have more of a zing! connected to doing/seeing/count me in! These days it is quieter - I realized, on Thanksgiving, that the reason I was in a hurry to get going to our two family stops was in order to come back home. I completely enjoyed love and laughter with my brother, and my "sister-from-another-mother," and was very happy to get home to pj's and a turkey sandwich, enjoying a movie with my spouse. Simple pleasures are good.

And now it is Christmas, Hannukah, Solstice, Kwanza - all the various celebrations of light and community and survival (as the northern hemisphere ancients might've noted, we're making it through another darkening of the skies). The pandemic has definitely shifted the focus from outward to interior, though this year I do feel a slight relaxing with vaccines and boosters (fingers crossed the new variant will be mild). I'll do one more year of a particular online celebration, but will open a window and turn on the air purifier for a small in-person gathering as well. Similar to early recovery, when every daybreak was a miracle, coming out of lockdown makes even the simplest interactions seem beautiful and chock full of emotion.

Our internet is kaput this week,  with a technician expected tomorrow.  I get very flustered and frustrated with technology issues I barely understand.  But, once I was reminded this is a luxury problem, I relaxed into being a wee bit disconnected (other than typing on my phone's tiny keyboard,  and no Netflix!). Please excuse any typos these old eyes may have missed on this little screen. 

What is on your heart this week? How do you define happiness or contentment? If we truly are "pupils in the great school of life," what lessons do you want to learn,  and which have you mastered? How will you pace yourself in what is often a busy time of year?

Just in time for a year-end inventory,  consider my 78 page workbook,  "I've Been Sober a Long Time- Now What?" with chapters including aging, grief, and sponsorship. Go to the WEB VERSION of this page to access PayPal & credit card link. Happy trails!  http://soberlongtime.com 

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Grief and Gratitude

 A Facebook memory of a tribute I made to the man I was with when I hit bottom in 1985 popped up today. As I'd stated in the post, we'd shared some love and some laughter, but it was a dark time. He introduced me to Neitzsche and Lao Tsu, along with methamphetamine and heroin. Actually, it was his suggestion I take a break that helped me decide to go to treatment. But he never understood his powerlessness, and died of an overdose in November, 1988 when he was about 43.

As I sit at my desk, I see a photo taken at Christmas, 1974, propped up near the window. The three young men pictured in their 20's are all dead now, two from the effects of alcoholism and one from tobacco-related illness. While these three were in their 50's and 60's when they died, theirs, too, are lives cut short, lives not fully lived. I can sometimes lose sight of the miracle of recovery, the gift of a second chance, the cosmic throw of the dice that left me on this side of the divide. This photograph is a reminder. 

I've been in several meetings lately that touched on grieving - seasonal remembrance of those not here to share a holiday meal and wispy memories of times past, some good, some not so good. This time of year has been dubbed the Bermuda Triangle for alcoholics, with festive drinking occasions and potential family land mines to shake our equilibrium. I'd add to that combo the memories - the empty place at the table, the longing for just one more conversation, one more hug, one more chance to tell our people that they matter.

I can breathe into that longing and stay there, or use it to propel me into gratitude for what is, today. Thinking of those I miss, I can be extra sure to say, "I love you," to those I care for, even if it isn't something we normally say to each other. I can sink into satisfaction that I've been gifted with a life that too many have missed. I don't have to make up for their lost time, but I can be mindful that any dilemmas I may have today are nothing compared to the scrounging and puking and lying and self-condemnation of active addiction. None of my luxury problems amount to anything compared to lives lost, and those still ruled by the disease. 

Grief may be a solitary journey, but as in nearly every experience, I'm not alone. Whatever I am feeling or walking through, someone else is just a few steps ahead as I do my best to accept impermanence, and not merely with a "Whew! Glad it wasn't me this time." I do confess to my interest in the age of people in the obituaries I read each week - older than me? (reasonable) younger than me? (sad) my age? (a little scary). In one of the recent meetings where members talked about loss, someone said that the question shouldn't be "How did they die?" but rather, "How did they live?" That's the important qualifier, the driver of "one day at a time" - how am I present today? (and not in the FOMO/ Fear of Missing Out desire that every moment be exciting, but with recognition that this moment, here and now, is precious) It is in acceptance of my humanness, my noticing the sun on my face or a hug from a friend that peace is found.

While I am a grateful alcoholic, I'm not grateful for alcoholism and the devastation, both quiet and noisy, it brought to my loved ones (and myself) and countless others. I am grateful for sobriety, even with life's ups and downs. With abstinence, I have a fighting chance. So, today, let's take a moment of silence for the alcoholic who still suffers, both in and out of the rooms.

This can be an emotionally complex time of year for we alcoholics. How do you honor all that brought you to this moment, while not getting lost in "morbid reflection?" Whether or not you mark the Thanksgiving holiday tomorrow, will you take time to note gratitude this week? What is on your list?

  

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Self acceptance

 I've long heard people talk about starting and ending their day reading from pages 86 - 88 of the Big Book, the "Upon awakening" and "When we retire at night" bits. Good stuff. Really good stuff, but I've never made that a part of my practice. I have my AM and PM routines, though neither includes a formalized 10th Step, or the above Step 11. But, after hearing yet another member share how their program was enhanced by making this a part of their day, I decided to start, always interested in enhancement. I want to up my game, stay engaged, be entirely willing. 

However...  When I repetitively read something, there comes a point when my eyes glaze and my mind wanders as I lose focus on the now memorized words. Noticing this phenomenon of inattention with 86 & 87, I realized that, for me at least, it isn't so much about adherence to the actual pages, but to their intent. It is a good idea to review my day, whether right before sleep or earlier. It is an excellent idea to reflect on the day ahead when I wake up, and an even better idea to remind myself to get out of my own way and see where I might be helpful or supportive of others. So, here I am, again and still, not reading from the Big Book morning and night, but being more mindful of the intentional pause, the setting of intention, the review that will keep me conscious of the principles of recovery.

In a recent online meeting geared towards women with long term sobriety, someone shared that she'd retired from her profession, and had retired from self-improvement. Oy vey. I've been on the self-improvement train since I was nine or ten years old, from dieting to generalized "Be a better person." The program is geared towards halting hurtful behaviors and attitudes, rightly so - I was a mess of self-indulgence when I got sober. And, doesn't there come a point when enough is enough? I'm not at all suggesting to stop the inventory or working of Steps - just that with 35 years sober and 67 years on the planet, I have traits and quirks and preferences that no amount of Step work can budge (or it would've done so long ago). I desire to continue to grow, spiritually and emotionally, but have come to understand that it doesn't mean taking a machete to my psyche on a regular basis. I'm human. I screw up on occasion with a hurtful word or an impulsive decision. I may have deficiencies, but I am not a defect. I'm so glad to know that today.

I heard something brilliant a few weeks ago, from someone after their relapse. They described how relapse starts by un-working the Steps backwards, as in first you stop carrying the message (12), then you stop prayer and meditation (11). You then stop your personal inventory (10) and making amends (8 & 9). By that time, you likely aren't recognizing any defects/defenses (6 & 7) and aren't talking with a sponsor (5), and definitely not doing any pen-to-paper. Soon you're attempting to run the show (2 & 3) and in all likelihood, have convinced yourself you are not powerless over anything. Maybe you pick up, maybe you don't, but this trajectory sure sounds like the template of relapse stories I've heard. As I've said many times before, we don't just wake up on a Tuesday and decide to drink.

I've argued that once I "fully concede to [my] innermost self" that I'm alcoholic, I can't un-concede, but a friend has pointed out that we forget. We forget the devastation of hitting bottom, the ways we hurt ourselves and our loved ones, and how hard it was to finally make the decision to stop. I can romanticize both the drink and the excitement of early recovery. I once heard someone say they drank because they wanted to start over. I'm under no delusion that I could  recreate the heady days of early sobriety. For one thing, I'm not 31 years old anymore, running with a pack of other newbies in my age range (for me, that was from 21 to 51!). Even were I to drink again, sobriety would never again be "new." New perspective, perhaps, from a new vantage point, but today I'll do my best to follow the suggestion: "Keep Coming Back, but Stay, It's Easier."

Are you a by-the-book person, or a modifier? How do you know when  your modifications veer towards self-will or self deception? And where are you with self-acceptance? Can you be comfortable, most days, with who you are, rather than who you think you should be? 

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Just in time for the holidays, or your year-end inventory, consider my workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" covering such topics as Aging, Sponsorship, Relationships, and Grief & Loss with a narrative, a member's view, and processing questions, with space for writing. Perfect for sharing with a sponsor, trusted other, or in a small group.

If you're not seeing the links in the upper right corner of this post, you can go to the WEB VERSION  to sign up for weekly email deliveries, or to purchase the workbook.   See below to connect (2 options - look for in small print Web Version at the bottom of the page and click): 

(you can shoot me an email at shadowsandveins@gmail.com with questions about the workbook or how to purchase)

 Sober Long Time - Now What? (longtermrecovery.blogspot.com)

http://soberlongtime.com/     

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Gratitude (still and always)

 One of my maternal cousins is a regular attendee of the Portland Symphony, and until Covid shut everything down, I tagged along every other month or so, not because I'm particularly knowledgeable or a huge fan, but for the event-ness of going downtown for dinner and enjoyable music, outside my usual realm. The symphony re-opened in October, and this weekend, I went for the first time in nineteen months. It was fun to put on earrings and something other than sweatpants, showing my vaccine card and sitting with other masked patrons - not quite "normal" but a reasonable facsimile.

Appreciating the grandeur of the venue, a re-purposed movie theater built in 1927, I was struck by just how much I've taken for granted: freedom of movement and the freedom to gather, the ability to make a plan and leave the house without needing to think about space and distance and sticking a mask in my pocket. Our power went out for four hours a few weeks ago - again, a stark reminder of how much I assume: that the lights will go on with a flip of a switch, that I can make a cup of tea whenever I wish, that our home will always be warm and cozy.  

If I'm being honest, I sometimes take my recovery for granted, like it's a given. That's not all bad - sobriety has been my habit, my way of life, for a long time now, so it is the norm - I appreciate that I don't have to think about not drinking like at the beginning. And, I know that my recovery, which I equate with physical sobriety and spiritual growth, requires at least some attention to avoid the dreaded "retrogressive groove." As I've written before, I know that addiction recovery is not one-size-fits-all. I have friends who simply stopped doing what was causing them difficulty, and others who participated in AA for years and no longer do. Meetings work for me, with the regular reminders of what it was like, as well as bearing witness to, and learning from, the life-on-life's-terms of my peers. And, if I'm practicing the Steps, I can't very well carry the message if not in the company of newer folks, at least some of the time. I can both enjoy the relative calm of long term sobriety, and do what I need to do to keep it, knowing that what's needed shifts and changes over time.

I hope I don't take my spouse or good friends for granted, knowing that relationships require nurturing in order to continue and thrive. I am fortunate to have several friends who are of the "take up where we left off" variety, which could be weekly, monthly or a few times a year. I've read, and heard from others, that the pandemic has resulted in a culling, a winnowing of relations, from a nebulous group of acquaintances defined by circumstance (work, meetings, hobbies) that likely included regular contact in the before-times, to those people I'd drive across the miles to see.  One friend recently heard the actual words, "I've decided not to continue our friendship." That would sting, though I can appreciate the level of honesty and courage involved in speaking that truth. These days, I spend time with my walking group and with women I've known since our school days or soon after. Actually, I spend most of my time alone, or with my spouse, though need to be mindful of balance. Retirement is a transition, learning how to be in the world sans schedule. Retirement in a global pandemic is a learning opportunity as well, impeding engagement with the greater community. The pandemic slow down has been a cosmic lesson in waiting, never my first choice. Whether job decision, relationships, or dinner, I was long an "act now, question later" type person. I'm actually enjoying learning to ponder before I leap.

When I find myself in awareness of all I take for granted, I turn to the trusty gratitude list - all the more timely, this being November. From hot running water to good friendships, I have much to be thankful for. I'm told that gratitude is a spiritual elevator, a tool as well as an attitude. I can't "make" myself feel grateful, but simply the exercise of listing all the things I might be grateful for, were I so inclined, leads me to a better frame of mind.  

What, or who, do you sometimes take for granted? How might your attitude change if you were mindful that those things you assume are a given are actually a gift? How do you define being in recovery? What are the regular practices that keep you from forgetting how far you've come? Retired, or working, are there areas of your life that are on hold, that require a "wait?" How do you stay in acceptance, rather than attempting for force the issue or foresee the future?

*** 

Just in time for the holidays, or your year-end inventory, consider my workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" covering such topics as Aging, Sponsorship, Relationships, and Grief & Loss with a narrative, a member's view, and processing questions, with space for writing. Perfect for sharing with a sponsor, trusted other, or in a small group.

If you're not seeing the links in the upper right corner of this post, you can go to the WEB VERSION of this page to sign up for weekly email deliveries, or to purchase the workbook.   See below to connect (2 options):

 Sober Long Time - Now What? (longtermrecovery.blogspot.com)

http://soberlongtime.com/     


Wednesday, November 3, 2021

The "good old days"

 In a somewhat amusing development, I've volunteered to spearhead my 50th high school reunion. It isn't actually a development, since I took it upon myself, but amusing in that I was not an active participant in (official) high school life. My sole extracurricular activity was a daily trek to a particular corner of the cafeteria to buy a joint for 50 cents, spending the rest of my lunch money on a Coke and bag of chips to split with my cousin. 

I grew up in the city I live in, and have friends I've known since grade school, but this reunion business has me thinking about the "good old days" that weren't particularly. I had zero self-esteem, but did have a best friend who I'd meet in the girl's bathroom for a cigarette before class, and was on the periphery of a larger group, the ones that met across the street for their morning smoke and hung out in a nearby park where we'd share whatever cheap bottle of wine we'd stolen, spinning on the merry-go-round in order to feel high faster. More/faster/longer was the goal. Eventually, I met the guy I later married, brother of a classmate, already out of school and not in favor of my getting high every day. But there I was, in the park most days.

When I try to think of memorable times in high school, what comes to mind is the time an older, big guy named Luther told me I blew a charge like a dude, which I took as an extreme compliment. (for the record, a "charge" is when you put the lit end of a joint in your mouth and blow smoke into another person's nose/mouth). Other memories include walking through Center Hall, certain that everyone knew I was stoned, and where I was standing (stoned) when someone told us Jimi Hendrix had died. I remember smoking a joint with my cousin and her boyfriend before a dance, with them then pretending  they couldn't see me, and another dance where my beautiful friend told me she had a crush on the same boy I did (so long to my chances).

I do remember memorizing bits from A Midsummer Night's Dream for an English class ("Ay me! For aught that I could ever read, could ever hear by tale or history, the course of true love never did run smooth," a great truth to my 16 year old ears). I remember a cool woman instructor who drove a vintage Thunderbird and started my feeble awakening to women's rights, and the very hip teacher (i.e. somewhat intimidating) who encouraged us to sit on the floor of his classroom (this being the early 70's). I remember smoking a cigarette at the donut shop, as an older girl surreptitiously indicated to a friend, that, no, I wasn't being invited to join a particular social club. Later, I said, "I didn't want to anyway," but of course I did. I at least wanted to be wanted. And I remember the sidewalk weaving - or was it me - on the last day of senior year, after chugging Jim Beam I'd stolen from mom's bottle. 

So, yeah, high school memories are mostly of being stoned or drinking to near oblivion on weekends, while still managing to earn my way to the Honor Roll. Why do I want to take the helm on the reunion?? Mostly because I have a vision of how it could be - an inclusive event in the park we grew up in, with a wide range of attendees from our 500+ classmates.  At 50 years, I'm more interested in seeing the guys I got high with than wearing uncomfortable shoes for an overpriced fancy dress banquet. I'd like to see the woman I briefly shared a boyfriend with, 15 year old cad that he was. I look forward to giving a program nod to the folks I now see in the rooms of recovery, and reminiscing about those who've passed on. Do I have control issues? Ha ha - a bit, and, I'm motivated by nostalgia for connections from the way-back time machine. As awkward as high school was, some of those days of discovery (during a social revolution, with a great soundtrack) were fun.

I thank AA for teaching me how to show up, how to make a plan and follow through, and how to work with a group (still not my favorite thing - somebody just make a decision!). I've hosted potlucks and helped facilitate conferences. I've gained my voice, and know what it is I want to say most days. AA/Alanon grew me up, teaching me social skills I simply didn't have as a teen. (I've shared this before, but I often chuckle at an older cousin, who asked, when I was 3 years sober, "When did Jeanine get a personality." Ouch, but true).

I attended my 10th reunion while still drinking (heavily). At the next one, I wondered what to say when people asked, "What have you been up to?"  "Uh, well, I nearly killed myself with drugs and booze, but I'm sober now!" For a while, getting sober was the greatest accomplishment of my life, just about the only one. Actually, it still is the most important event, but over time I've been able to build a life around that truth, with university, a career, good friends and a sweet marriage. But that list of achievements isn't really what I'm interested in from old classmates. Sure, folks will talk about their kids or how many grandkids they have, what they're doing in retirement, whether their folks are still alive, but I'm more interested in how they've navigated these last 50 years. Where did they hit a road block, and how did they come back? Is there a spark of the 14, 15 or 16 year old in their eyes? Do they even know I had a crush on them, or looked up to them, or learned something from their actions? In other words, who are you, really? Not the two-paragraph bio, but in your heart? Did you find true love? Are there dreams you still hope to achieve? What happened to our plan to change the world?

I remember when my mom attended her 50th reunion, and how old she seemed. 50 years??? I couldn't even imagine.  At 17 I couldn't have pictured this moment. Coming in to sobriety at 31, I wouldn't have been able to forsee all that has fit into the years. Who knows what's next? I used to want to know, to have a guarantee, but these days I'm better able to greet the day with curiosity. What is it I need to learn today? What is it I should pay attention to today? 

How have whatever goals you had for yourself in high school been achieved, or revised? What might you say to your 16 year old self to let them know it would all work itself out? What skills and tools have you picked up in the rooms that help you navigate the world today?

*  *  *

Just in time for the holidays, or your year-end inventory, consider my workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" covering such topics as Aging, Sponsorship, Relationships, and Grief & Loss with a narrative, a member's view, and processing questions, with space for writing. Perfect for sharing with a sponsor, trusted other, or in a small group.

If you're not seeing the links in the upper right corner of this post, you can go to the WEB VERSION of this page to sign up for weekly email deliveries, or to purchase the workbook.   See below to connect (2 options):

 Sober Long Time - Now What? (longtermrecovery.blogspot.com)

http://soberlongtime.com/     


Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The ah-ha moments...

 In a meeting I attended last week, a member shared a recent "ah-ha" moment. I don't  remember the particulars, but her story prompted my own questioning. When did I last experience an "ah-ha" moment? How long since I felt the blinding revelation of insight that seemed so frequent in earlier sobriety? Does "Expect a Miracle" only apply to the newer folks?

Of course, at the beginning of my recovery journey, waking as the sun came up from the correct side of the day was a miracle. The pure joy of simple pleasures, so long clouded by intoxication or hangover, made it seem as if the skies were opening up - it really was rainbows and unicorns. "So this is what happy, joyous and free feels like!" A coffee date, a hike in the woods, the message in my various daily readers - all felt like discovering a whole new world (which it was).

As I strung together days and months and then years, the "ah-ha's" had less to do with the physical pleasures of sobriety (no puking!) and more to do with unraveling causes and conditions related to states of mind and changed behaviors: when I finally got it that my dad's alcoholism and depression had nothing to do with me; driving past my heroin addicted boyfriend rather than stopping to give him a ride; realizing that the negative voice in my head wasn't even my voice... Inventories galore, lots of tears, outside help, feeling like a pincushion in a meeting when every share spoke directly to me - all served as preparation for the changes implicit in Steps 6 and 7.  For a time, I only partially joked I'd like to go back to being unconscious, but that wouldn't've worked. Once that horse (of willingness) was out of the barn, there was no going back. There may have been moments when I pretended I didn't know any better, but as my least favorite adage goes, "When I know better, I have to do better." Each and every "ah-ha" landed me in a place of finally knowing what I needed to know, deeply and emotionally, not just intellectually.

It seems that these days, the "ah-ha's" are quieter, more likely to be a realization that I don't feel the same fears, am not crippled by the same insecurities, am not bound by the same tired stories. I'm still, and hopefully always, gifted with feelings of awe - usually at Mother Nature's display, or a stirring piece of music (whether symphonic or pop). As much as I celebrated and enjoyed the early years, I am grateful to be off the rollercoaster of "Oh my God!" moments. I've done the work and the gifts have followed, including, most days, peace of mind, and the deep understanding that all is well (even if it doesn't always feel like it).

On another note, I heard a bit of brilliance last week when a member shared that months of online meetings made her realize she has an internal mute button she can employ at any time. These days, "You're muted" and "Can you hear me?" have become part of our meeting lexicon. I like the notion of the internal "mute" to help with my on-going striving for the pause. And that's why I keep coming back - not as many incredible, knock-me-from-the-chair "ah-ha" moments, but plenty of "I hadn't thought of that's." During the opening Serenity Prayer, I silently remind myself to be open to hearing what I need to hear, ever mindful of my mind's tendency to wander, as I strive to remain teachable.

When was the last time you had an "ah-ha!" moment? Did it come with fireworks, or a quieter knowing? How might you utilize your internal "mute button" to help you think before speaking or acting? How do you stay focused on the message and not the messenger (or your grocery list) in meetings?

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If you're not seeing the links in the upper right corner of this post, you can go to the WEB VERSION of this page to sign up for weekly email deliveries, and to purchase the workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" - Just in time for the holidays!   See below to connect (2 options):

 Sober Long Time - Now What? (longtermrecovery.blogspot.com)

http://soberlongtime.com/     (without the www)





Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Trusting the process

I'm back from October travels, one side of the country to the other, with no further trips on the docket (thus far). I love to travel and I love coming home, especially to these crisp and colorful fall days.

I was reminded of the disease of alcoholism throughout my trip, from the defeated looking fellow at the airport bar nursing a Bloody Mary at 9am, to the man in the NY subway station on that slow bend from the waist that indicates a heroin nod. I traveled in my "before" life, and remember head-splitting, stomach churning hangovers coloring or cancelling sightseeing plans. So very grateful to not be the woman walking along the waterfront path Saturday afternoon, looking like she hadn't been home from her Friday night, or here at home, the young woman perched on the curb waiting for the pot shop near my gym to open. 

Every day is one to practice the principles, but I had a definite lesson in trusting the process while leaving New York. My friend had gone on, to a different airport and an earlier flight, so I killed some time with a final walkabout. When I decided to head to my airport, via subway and AirTrain, I was a bit distressed to learn that the subway line wasn't going to my stop, this day only, so was directed to the the free shuttle for the final miles. The "free shuttle" was simply a city bus, very slowly navigating block-by-block through a rough neighborhood, minutes clicking by with every red light. Forty minutes in to the ride, anxiety rising, I weaved my way up the aisle to ask the driver for instructions. She had no idea, as this wasn't her regular route. Taking a deep breath, I remembered that morning's guided meditation that spoke to both the joys and potential challenges in the day ahead. Indeed. Just as I was doing my best to turn it over, while devising a Plan B (Call a cab? Catch a later flight??) the man seated next to me, through his mask, told me what I needed to do. At the shuttle's final stop, he waited so I could follow him to the correct subway platform (which I never would've figured out on my own), then directing me when to get off and where to catch the airport train. Exhaling. In less than twenty minutes I went from a gritty, slightly scary subway station to the high-tech airport terminal and was at my gate, just as boarding began. Thank you, Subway Angel, for the good orderly directions. 

It reminded me of the old AA story about the guy who is stranded in the ocean, turning away all offers of help because "I'm waiting for God to save me." When he gets to the Pearly Gates, he asks why God didn't heed his pleas, to which the angel replied, "Well, we sent you a boat and a helicopter and an air balloon!" (or whatever your version includes). I'm the one who puts the trust-muscle into play, and  I need to pay attention. I could've ignored the man with the different accent that I had trouble hearing through his mask. I could've gone into fear-of-the-big-city mode and thought he was trying to steer me wrong. Instead, I trusted his apparent knowledge, since it seemed better than the alternatives (which were none). Lack of knowledge has never stopped me from having an opinion, but these days I do try to be open to another idea or way of doing the task at hand.

Which reminds me (again and again) of the spiritual axion - if I'm troubled, it has to do with me. Not to say that some things aren't troubling - missing my flight would've been a pain; job or relationship problems can feel overwhelming, and what is it in my attitude that needs adjusting?  Alanon speaker, Mary Pearl, in a recent online conference, shared that her first sponsor told her to put a note on her bathroom mirror saying "You're looking at the problem." Pretty harsh, but rings true. Maybe me being the problem means I'm avoiding a difficult decision, or am expecting others to behave the way I want them to. Maybe me being the problem means that I stay too busy to hear the still, small voice, or that I insist on engaging in behaviors I know are unhealthy. The "problem" often means I've forgotten my powerlessness and am trying to control the uncontrollable. "If only they'd _____!" "If only she'd  ______!" "Why won't they quit smoking/drinking/gambling/etc?" Or, my classic, "Don't they know that my way is best??"

Lila R reminds me that if I'm not the problem, there is no solution - just another way of saying (and I need all versions, depending on the day) I'd do best to get out of my own way, and out of the way of others. (Have you heard the Alanon 4 G's? Get off their back, Get out of the way, Get on with your own life, Get to a meeting)

I love the energy of New York City, the cacophony of languages and peoples - not a melting pot, but a rich stew of varied ingredients. Like our meetings, "we are normally people who would not mix." Admittedly, in 12 Step recovery we do share a common experience and language, an "AA Speak" of sorts, but even within the bubble of slogans and phrases we use to describe life on life's terms, we each have our unique perspectives. I appreciate our similarities and our differences, doing my best to learn as I go along the path. And I know that there are many paths. Years ago, my teacher and mentor told me that it was his belief that all people, however unskilled it may appear, simply want to be ok. People want to feel secure, to care for and about their families, feel comfortable in the world. Some of us treat our addictions with 12 Steps. Some find their way through spirituality, or adhering to their cultural beliefs, and yes, some people do simply quit. Not mine to say, though I know what works for me. I think I'll keep doing it, one day at a time.

When has a helper shown up unexpectedly to offer guidance, or just the answer you needed? What barriers do you sometimes erect so that you don't recognize the message or messenger? Is there a decision sitting in your internal "pending" file? What would help move you to a place of resolution?


I'm afraid I've been noting the wrong address to access the web version of this page in order to sign up for weekly email delivery, or to purchase the workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time, Now What?" See below to connect (2 options):

 Sober Long Time - Now What? (longtermrecovery.blogspot.com)

http://soberlongtime.com/     (without the www)

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

What it's like now

 I'm hitting the road for another brief trip, so this post is coming to you early. 

I was in and out of a couple of online conferences this weekend, listening to several speakers sharing their experience, strength and hope. I'm not great with sitting still through online meetings, but the joy of zoom is that I can be doing other things while listening. (I'm not good with podcasts or audiobooks either - already too many voices in my head!).

When listening to speakers, whether in a regular meeting, or from the online podium, I relate to the "what it was like and what happened" portion, but am especially attentive to "what it's like now." What is it like now, years into recovery? What are the challenges of long term sobriety and how do you walk through them? For me, those challenges include staying engaged, remaining teachable, and the ever evolving life-on-life's-terms. I have way more tools to deal with life at 35 years then I did at 3 months, when about all I could muster was "don't drink and go to meetings." And I have a greater repertoire of solutions at this point than I did at 5, 10 or 15 years. The "simple kit of spiritual tools" that was "laid at [my]feet"  (Big Book, p.25) now includes what I've learned through working the Steps many times, and what I've gained from teachers I've been privileged to meet along the way, whether in person or in print. My toolkit has also been enriched by life experience - each time I've walked through a difficult (or joyous) occasion, my self-confidence increases: If I can do that (fill in the blank) without picking up a drink, I can do anything.

My belly-button birthday was this week - another trip around the sun. It's not a big one - neither a "5" or an "0", but as a recovering person, every birthday is a gift. I very likely could've died behind the wheel of a car, with a hand over one eye and all the windows down, or at the end of a syringe. I could've gone home with the wrong stranger, or stepped a little too close to the curb. Instead, I sit here, reasonably healthy in mind and body, reasonably serene, and reasonably happy, joyous and free most days. If I'm momentarily tempted by the "is that all?" siren song, I can consciously remember all the crap that was daily life back in the day. I am very fortunate, indeed.

And so, leaving on a jet plane, which, for me, is a great perspective shifter. Yes, vacations are fun. Vacations in other cities, natural landscapes or foreign countries are fun, and the greatest enjoyment for me is the experience of "other," which reminds me of just how similar we all are. Until we meet again...

When you are in a meeting, or conference, what is it that holds your attention? What do you learn from the "what it's like now" portion of a share? If you find yourself comparing, as in "I don't measure up," how do you shift to gratitude for what your life looks like in this very moment?

**Reminder that if you'd like this sent to your email every week, or if you're interested in the workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" you will need to go to the WEB VERSION of www.soberlongtime.com for the links.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Home

 We were very fortunate this past week to visit my husband's family in San Francisco after missing several regular trips due to the covid shut down. Watching little nieces and nephew cavort through a playground, overdue hugs and catching up in person - these relationships truly are gifts of recovery.

Another gift of recovery was an in-person coffee date with several friends from the meeting we've attended over the years when visiting. Thanks to zoom, we've seen these folks once or twice a week all during the pandemic, smiling and waving from our Hollywood Squares, with the occasional note in "chat." While very grateful for ongoing online connections, I'm beyond thankful for actual hugs with actual people in an actual coffee shop (outdoors, vaccinated), sharing stories of survival and gratitude. I can feel the "we" in a room full of strangers, but that doubles and triples in a room with friends.

Two meetings I attended last week were on the topic of "home," as in: the home group; what we missed in our growing up households; what we get from our 12 Step programs. I was fortunate to feel love in my family home. I may not have received the level of attention and guidance I could've used (though appreciate the freedom that resulted), but the love was there, along with homemade chocolate chip cookies warm from the oven after school.  And when I walked into my first AA meeting after treatment, I immediately felt, "These are my people."

That was a big deal. Feeling comfortable with strangers was a big deal, and made it easier to "keep coming back" Pre-recovery, I was the person who skulked around the edges of a room. I always made sure the friend I was meeting got to the bar before me so I wouldn't have to walk in alone, feigning nonchalance while checking my watch. I know now I had a bad case of self-centered fear, but at the time, the bondage of self was nearly paralyzing - I want your attention, but please don't look at me! 

If I'd been asked to describe "my people" I would not have mentioned the old guy in the frayed pants who kept saying, "Will power will not keep you sober, but want power will." I wouldn't have included the guy who'd lost his leg in a motorcycle accident, the authentic hippie woman (vs today's youngsters in tie-dye), or the 18 year old kid (who just celebrated 37 years sobriety). I wouldn't have included the young mom, or the teenage girl who told us that Led Zeppelin was her higher power. But when these people spoke, week after week in a chilly church classroom on Sunday evenings, I understood. When they shared what was in their heart or on their mind, I knew exactly what they were talking about and marveled that they put in to words what I'd thought were my own insecurities and secret dreams.

I have walked in to a few meetings over the years where I felt not cool enough, or maybe too old (like in a tiny meeting at the Schofield Barracks in Hawaii with a couple of 20 year old soldiers). But 99% of the time, I breathe a sigh of relief when I take a seat among my fellows, knowing that with just a few words of greeting, we'll establish that indescribable recovery bond.

Coming back to Portland, with the glow of family (actual and  recovery) like a warm blanket on this chilly October night, I look forward to the quiet joys of home before my next adventure. Home today means our near and far online and in-person meetings. Home means my bestie's for raucous Christmas celebrations (maybe this year??) and my brother in the house we grew up in. Home means listening to music in the park with women I've known since third grade, and the kid up the block who gives me a nod when I pass, though we've never spoken. Home is cats on the couch with me and the hubs, and how he and I catch each other's eye across a room. Home is that internal feeling of peace and ease as described in our literature. Home is in the here and now, when I can let myself be present.

What does the word "home" conjure for you, whether people, places or things? How can you feel more at home on the inside when external circumstances are challenging? What parts of the program serve to bring you back to center? 

**Reminder that if you'd like this sent to your email every week, or if you're interested in the workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" you will need to go to the WEB VERSION of www.soberlongtime.com for the links.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Self-honesty

 In a powerful meeting I attended last week, a person who'd had long term sobriety described their slow, almost imperceptible (except in hindsight) slide towards a full blown relapse, as well as how hard it was to swallow their pride and come back as a newcomer. They noted that it took a couple of years to move from boredom and resentment to "F**k it," which I've long understood, at least on an intellectual level. It's not as if I simply wake up on a random Tuesday and decide to get drunk. Relapse is a process. Recovery is a process. And with luck and diligence, I'll stay on this side of that divide - one day at a time. 

I know that the crux of recovery is self honesty. I can lie to you about all sorts of stuff, from how I'm feeling to what I think of the outfit you're wearing. It's when I start lying to myself that I'm nearing the edge of the cliff. Would I always know if I'm lying to myself? I think so, though from past experience, I've tried to outrun the truth, or call it something other than what it is. Years ago, during a painful breakup, my nearly-ex threw a phone (old school, landline) at a wall during an argument. My immediate, co-dependent thought was to make excuses for the behavior - he didn't mean it, he's really angry, "no one would understand" if I told them. Fortunately, those internal statements set off the red-light warning bell and I did talk about it, not as gossip, "Guess what he did now!" but in a manner to help me understand my own reactions and why it was important to let the relationship go, no matter how sad or scary that seemed at the time. Self-honesty, for me, means that when my head and my gut are saying different things, I try to listen to the still, small voice, even when it's suggesting I move outside my comfort zone. I truly believe that my heart knows my truth, and if that truth is still muddy, it isn't time to act - holding still as a component of self-care, until I'm clear as to what I'm doing and why. 

As we know, self-deception isn't always as dramatic as excusing a fist through a wall, or "Hey self! Let's order a glass of milk with a shot of whiskey!" For me, it is way, way more subtle. Self-deception tells me I'm fixed, as in permanently (with just a short trip to "Maybe I'm not alcoholic after all"); that the "daily reprieve" applies to people with far less sobriety than me (don't we get a monthly or yearly reprieve after "X" number of years??); that there are lots of other things I could be doing instead of going to a meeting or making a call. Lila R refers to the bottle as the drink, of course, but also as a metaphor for the various mental and emotional states that in and of themselves are danger zones, those slippery slopes we often hear about in retrospect. 

I've never been one to take a formal 10th Step inventory at day's end, trusting that my gut, or my conscience, will let me know when I'm off the beam with myself or another person. Lila R, in her Tulsa, Oklahoma workshop on the 12 Steps, describes 10 as the "walk around Step," the Step/ principle/ practice I carry in my virtual pocket as I go throughout the day. Where have I been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, etc? Where have I made myself small when I'd be better served by speaking up?  Where did I speak too hastily when we'd all be better off if I kept quiet? 

It all goes back to that darned spiritual axiom, that if I'm upset, it is something to do with me, whether in the home, the home group, or in the great big world. I don't run around with fear that I'll drink today, and I do my best to step back from any upsets to better understand causes and conditions, with the overall goal of maintaining at least some semblance of serenity. I also pay close attention to those that have come back to tell their story, listening for what I can learn from their experience. I also fall back on the slogans, helpful in their simplicity: Easy Does It, First Things First, How Important Is It?

Some things are important.  How do you tell the difference between a run-of-the-mill snit and an issue that might benefit from pen-to-paper? How do you recognize when you're veering towards self-deception? Are there red-flags or triggers that let you know you're nearing the precipice? Do you have at least one person in your life you trust to "call you on your BS," or share their concerns? Have you affirmed that relationship recently?


**Reminder that if you'd like this sent to your email every week, or if you're interested in the workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" you will need to go to the WEB VERSION of www.soberlongtime.com for the links.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Doing hard things...

 On Sunday I completed my 11th overall, and first walking marathon, very slowly but surely. I was trained up to 22 miles, but that last 4.2 kicked my behind! And, one step at a time I carried on. It was pretty funny - I was literally the last person to finish, but because it was a small event, I also placed second in my age group (never mind that there were only two in said age group!).

There was a point, at about mile 20, when I questioned my ability to finish - I was struggling as my two friends pulled ahead. My feet hurt, my calves were tight, I was thirsty and I had to pee (TMI??). The "just stop" devil on one shoulder was getting louder, when the angel on my other said, "Oh good grief. You trained for this. Just keep going." And so I did, reminding myself that I've done hard things before and survived.

I've done hard things and survived. I've done hard physical things, and even harder emotional things, after thinking for years that I didn't have it in me. Walking through the doors of a treatment program and sending my car home with my sort-of-boyfriend was hard. Staying in treatment was even harder. A few years later, deciding not to stop and pick up that boyfriend when I passed him on the street was hard. Becoming financially self-supporting was hard. Going to college (and going and going) was hard. Running my first marathon and riding my bike in a century event (100 miles) was really hard.  Learning how to be a true friend was hard. Falling in and out of love was hard, as was opening myself up to the commitment of marriage. Walking through my mom's end of life was excruciatingly hard. Writing my novel was hard. Dealing with staff conflicts at work was hard. I could go on, and likely, so could you. Moving, break-ups, sharing at a speaker meeting, conversations with roommates about dirty dishes in the sink, getting out of bed to go to the gym, surgeries, financial insecurity - "we could increase the list ad infinitum."

What I've realized over the years is that I am far more capable than I initially gave myself credit for. All those corny sayings that the old timers threw down - Keep Coming Back, Suit Up and Show Up, Don't Drink Between Meetings (but come back even if you do) - laid the groundwork for being a person who could show up, who could come back, who could make coffee, clean ashtrays, welcome the newer newcomer. I learned by example that I could go another day, that I didn't need to pick up, even when my heart was breaking, that I could sit still for an hour (an hour and half in those days!) - all the big and little "life on life's terms" that seemed so daunting at first.

I suppose it was a matter of growing up. Adults, adults who live in integrity, do what they say they will do, and if it turns out they can't, they call ahead and say so. One day at a time, I either keep my commitments, or explain why I can't/won't/changed my mind.

Years ago, a therapist, who I really liked, questioned my commitment to AA, as in, "Maybe there is more to life." I had to laugh - how much more could there be? I have friends who are authors and poets, nurses and engineers, bus drivers and realtors. I've run a half marathon on the Great Wall of China, earned a couple of degrees and retired from a career I loved. I know that some people stop the whole meeting thing, and over the years that has waxed and waned for me, but overall, I think of the 12 Step programs as my base, my springboard. As I've said before, no one ever says, "Why do you still go to church?"  AA and Alanon work for me - my church. I learn from those ahead and those bringing up the rear. I am reminded of the universal truths and solid principles that guide our way of life. I laugh and learn and love with a pretty amazing group of people.

A hard thing on my plate right now is one of our 16 year old cats, just diagnosed with kidney disease. At this point, we're doing a diet change, and the vet will see him in 6 months. My hope is that the sweet guy doesn't suffer, and that we are strong enough to let him go at his right time, not ours. One day at a time, I can do hard things.

What are some of the hard things you are facing today? How does your own experience over the years of sobriety remind you of what you are capable of. Who are the trusted others you can go to for counsel or a listening ear when needed?

Happy, happy Autumnal Equinox to those of us in the northern hemisphere, and Vernal Equinox to those in the south. 

Reminder that if you'd like this sent to your email every week, or if you're interested in the workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" you will need to go to the WEB VERSION of www.soberlongtime.com for the links.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Suiting up, one day at a time

 At the end of a blue, grief-memory filled day last week, I zoomed into a good friend's 28th sobriety anniversary meeting (I twelve-stepped her all those years ago) and was reminded of the positive anniversaries and memories from this time of year: meeting my dear husband, several friends' sober dates, hired at the job I retired from, marathons, near and far - many more good memories than sad. After a good night's sleep, I was greeted by an iridescent sunrise, remembering that I have a choice in where to steer my attention. Yes, sad memories are worthy of notice, and I can temper those with the positives that accompany them (for isn't it because I loved that the absences hurt?).

I've started to attend a new-to-me meeting, a women's 10+ years gathering online. While I appreciate meetings with a range of sobriety (the above mentioned 28 year celebration also had an attendee with one day), I need to be with other people who have long term sobriety at least some of the time - my peers. The plug-in-the-jug has been habit for years now, which doesn't mean I'm immune, but does mean I have an established sober life (i.e. I don't have to think about every decision). It is important to carry the message, but sometimes I need the message carried to me. As we often say at a meeting's close, "Let's have a moment of silence for the alcoholic who still suffers," and sometimes that's the person in the room with the most time. Putting aside any notion that I "should" be more recovered after all this time, I can open my mouth to say that I'm hurting, or annoyed, or whatever may be going on, grateful for the safe spaces that continue to hold whatever I bring that particular day.

Sunday I'll walk my first marathon. No doubt it will hurt less than the 10 I've run, but my feet will probably ache! Why do I do this? I feel fortunate to have found my "thing." I used to think running was stupid, which was my response to nearly everything I didn't think I could do. Then I started to jog, prompted by a PE class as part of my undergrad work. At the time I was living with a marathoner - now that was stupid. 26.2 miles? Why would anyone want to do that? And then I did, crying with gratitude as I crossed the finish line. I did it! I set a goal and put in the miles and proved to myself that I am more of an athlete than I ever imagined. I used to think that if I wasn't fast/skilled/perfect, why bother, because there's nothing worse than being embarrassed. Yes there is - it's not trying something I'd like to do simply because I might not do it right the first time.

So I completed that first marathon. My goal had been to beat Oprah, which I didn't. (It was Oprah, middle aged and chubby, who was my inspiration, not the gazelle I lived with). But the gauntlet was thrown (in my mind). My thought, moments after the finish, was "I could do better next time." I've never beat Oprah (came within a few minutes once), but I kept running and striving and hitting the streets. I probably will just do the one walking 26.2. The training takes a really long time. But, I've learned to never say never. For today, I will suit up and show up.

I've learned a lot from the marathon, about setting a goal, making a plan, sticking with it even on rainy days I'd rather stay in bed. Marathoning (like other distances and other sports) takes a certain measure of discipline, kind of like recovery. Yes there is some indefinable grace involved in sobering up (why me and not that other guy?) but there is also a good dose of discipline, "the proper use of the will" required - to pick up the phone, go to a meeting, to make a different choice. 

But back to the marathon. I took a seven year break between numbers eight and nine, deciding to give it another go for my 60th birthday, then one more to make an even ten. Covid got in the way of number eleven last year, and in that time frame, I've become a walker. That was a challenging decision. Being a runner was part of my identity, but over time, running also meant injury and pain. And so, over a six month period, I came to embrace the walk. And as a (slightly) older friend reminds me, there will come a time when I take my last walk, my last airplane trip, my last bike ride, read my last book. 

Do we humans always know that? Does the understanding that life as we know it will end lurk dormant in our subconscious until we turn forty or fifty, or sixty? Aging is an interesting experience. Jack Kornfield, in his book No Time Like the Present, says that the sensation of surprise at seeing an old person in the mirror is to be expected, because our bodies age, but we are eternal (our essence, our spirit). I don't know about that, but I'm increasingly aware of the range of life and death questions as I approach another birthday, now closer to 70 than to anything else. (How crazy is that, for an alcoholic addict who probably should've died with a needle in her arm, or behind the wheel of a car?)

How will I use the program to process feelings around aging and mortality? The same way I use the tools for any other emotional dilemma - inventory, share with a trusted other(s), let it go, with the understanding that while I can influence my health positively or negatively, I really am not in control. We often hear, "Listen to your body." I will do my best to pay attention - to the HALTS and also to what calls to me, as well as what simply doesn't make sense anymore. Some pursuits I choose to stop and some to modify - it really is one day at a time, one choice at a time.

As time and circumstances change, have you needed to modify or stop something you used to enjoy? How did you adjust to the new reality, whether that was aching knees or a new job schedule? Looking forward, are there other things (material, emotional or spiritual) that you are feeling drawn to let go of? What about those things you'd like to try at this stage of life/recovery? What might be holding you back? Do you have at least one place (meeting, trusted other, good friend) where you can talk about how you're feeling, the ups and the downs?


* * * Heading towards autumn could be a good time for a mid-year check up. See the 11/17/20 blog entry for an excerpt from I'VE BEEN SOBER A LONG TIME - NOW WHAT?, a 78 page workbook on the joys and challenges of long term 12 Step recovery. Go to the WEB VERSION of this page at www.soberlongtime.com to peruse past entries, and to order the workbook via a link at the top right of the page. Thanks for your support!



Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Memories...

 On Labor Day, I joined friends at Art in the Pearl, a covid-modified gathering of artists and artisans. Sometimes I purchase, but mostly just wander, enjoying our end-of-summer ritual. There are already leaves on the ground here, which makes it feel like autumn, but those are residual damage from the heat dome (115 degrees) in June. It's been a strange year (again, or still?).

In 1976, three friends and I rode the bus downtown to Artquake - precursor to the current offering, with art, music and beer, lots of beer. We were 21, and this was the first time we girls had gone out on our own. All but one of our husbands spent the day fretting about what we were doing and whether we "should" be out at all (the one dissenter reminding them we were grown women and they should relax their grip). As silly as it sounds now, it was a big deal. I'd met my husband when I was just 15, well into my fearful and insecure phase, overly concerned with what others might think of defective-me. I was great at work, getting promotions and kudos, but in my personal life, felt small and like I didn't fit, like I didn't know quite what I was supposed to do. Those few hours at Artquake were the beginning of my growing up, realizing that there was a world outside our immature marriage. 

Younger Jeanine sometimes feels like a stranger, like those experiences happened in a dream, or to someone else. I reflect on choices, both those overtly made and those made by not choosing, and I wonder at what motivated me. It feels like I was a different person because I was a different person, with years into recovery before consistently feeling comfortable, like the "me" I was supposed to be. The foundations were there, with internal values (that I routinely violated) and basic traits, but the ability, even the desire, to live a congruent life, didn't take hold until well into my thirties. I never thought I'd be grateful to be in my 60's, but I surely am.

It is September, month of Step 9 focus, the making of amends, i.e. changing behaviors. In reviewing the 12x12,  Step 9 seems to be a "one and done," the direct amends made in relation to my actions while under the influence - those I recognized immediately, and those that have revealed themselves over time. I'd like to think that process is complete, but experience has shown me that sometimes the smallest shift in perspective can move me from victim to perpetrator - I strive to be open to where the process leads.  

I do think that, over time, Step 9 dovetails into Step 10 where we do our best to right our wrongs in the present. A few jobs back I worked for an agency that was described as being in the process of changing tires on a moving vehicle. That's a bit how early recovery felt - trying to catch up, repair and grow all at once. These days are gentler, with rarely an error that prompts the fireworks of earlier choices. "We are not saints," but as being stone-cold sober has morphed into a life of recovery, the path is not only narrower, but, for the most part, smoother. (And I'll remind myself of that the next time the s**t hits the fan!)

I will say that I'm feeling a bit off-kilter today. It is the anniversary of a favorite cousin's passing, as well as the day the first husband and I got married. A friend's mother just passed, which triggers thoughts of my own mom's death, coming up on nine years next month. I love this time of year, and, it is the time of loss on my personal calendar. The good news is that I more easily recognize the tendrils of grief and am better able to breathe in to the memories, knowing that my emotions flow through when I don't try to outrun them, or avoid the feelings all together. So much boils down to one day at a time, whether missing those no longer here, contemplating an overdue amends, or making peace with the woman I once was.

* * *

An apology regarding last week's post: When writing, I usually jot notes during the week, then edit down as Wednesday nears. The processing questions I pose at the end of the entry are meant to be related to topics I covered that week. Last week, I removed a long paragraph about items on the bookshelf in our guest room (where I slept during my covid week). So, if you were wondering what the question about your belongings had to do with the blog, they didn't. At least not the in essay that you saw.

My lesson, of course, is to slow down just a bit, and be very sure before hitting send - whether that is this weekly post, an emotionally charged email or text, or the urge to comment on social media. I can't say that every time I'm in a hurry I make a mistake, but nearly every mistake I've ever made, whether in relationships, jobs or related to a household mishap, was when I was in a hurry. Ah well, lessons learned. And re-learned. And learned again.

That being said, here are this week's points to ponder: In what ways have you become more of the person you were intended to be before alcoholism and other traumas took over? On days when you might feel uncomfortable in your own skin, how do you re-center? Where are you with the amends process? Are there people or situations that feel unsettled? If so, how might you apply what you know today to these old events? And what about grief and loss? What do you do when those inevitable feelings of sadness or longing arise? 


You are invited to add your comments on this, or any other post. Some of you do send emails or texts - much appreciated, and you are very welcome to join the conversation on this public page (which you can do anonymously), if you so choose. Going to the web version of www.soberlongtime.com lets you leave comments,  access the email sign-up, or purchase my workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" 

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Restless, Irritable and Discontent

I woke up feeling restless, irritable and discontent, in a bit of a rut - which triggered the urge to get on a motorcycle and ride far away. Never mind that I've never driven a motorcycle - it's more about the desire to simply go.

I then attended my Alanon home group. With the topic of "Choices," I came to realize that, for me, choice has to do with holding still long enough to know what it is I truly do want. Do I truly want to ride a motorcycle into the sunset? Not really. What I crave is the sense of freedom the ride embodies, the sense of endless possibility. As I sat with my emotions a bit longer, I realized that part of what I'm experiencing is the covid burnout so many of us are feeling after 18 months of caution, of shut down, of reopening, of possible shut downs looming. I'm also less than three weeks away from the marathon I've been training for all summer. While I've thoroughly enjoyed the process, including my two stellar compatriots, I'm at the point of being just about done. Marathon training, especially at my pace (running or walking) takes a lot of time. A lot of time. I'm naturally a bit edgy to put all that training to use, finish the 26.2 miles, and reclaim my weekends.

The good news about recovery is that I can take a step back from my discomfort to understand that it is likely related to the training, and to covid, and to having been sick for a week, and the change of season, and all the mayhem in the world. My current state of mind is temporary. I don't need to drink a bunch of caffeine, or buy an airline ticket, or take an unplanned road trip. While I'd rather not sit with discomfort, and in the past might've done something stupid just to be doing something, really, it's about waiting, about staying the course, about holding still and remembering that right here, right now, all is well. It feels like I'm in a holding pattern because I'm in a holding pattern, which doesn't mean I don't go on to live my life today.

It comes back to the understanding that my battle is nearly always with myself. What am I feeling, right now? What might that emotion be attached to? Is the "reason" valid or in my imagination, or simply impatience for something outside myself to change? If someone showed up at my door on a Harley and told me to grab my backpack, would I? Probably not. I'm making jam this afternoon, and have a massage scheduled tomorrow, and we're cleaning the gutters this weekend. The ride is a metaphor, one of my standard escape fantasies. In reality, I pretty much love my life, though sometimes, for brief moments, I forget that.

As I set out on my morning walk, with a bit of an attitude, I was able to recognize my dis-ease as pretty normal, given the circumstances. With each step, I detached a bit more from the maelstrom in my brain to appreciate the beauty around me. (Funny how sometimes I can walk, or drive, for miles not noticing my surroundings). A kid walking towards me had that set jaw, eyes-straight-ahead look that teenage boys so often have. I cheerfully said, "Good morning," and he flashed a beautiful smile, giving me a little wave. A few blocks later, I intercepted a fellow I recognized from a meeting, and we shared a brief program conversation about acceptance. By the time I got home, the rut I'd perceived earlier had smoothed into simply "Tuesday."

There was a fire in July at the apartment complex where my young husband and I lived when we were first married. An article in today's paper notes that the complex was built in 1972 (finished in 1973), and I have pictures of the green shag carpet and avocado countertops to prove it. We were such kids (19 and 21). Our "furniture" was plastic - modular chairs and stools made into a coffee table - very 1970's, a cut or two below what Ikea would offer today. I remember forging a fishing license in order to buy wine at the local convenience store, and the dance parties we'd throw that started at noon on a sunny day and went into the wee hours before piling into someone's car to head out for breakfast. That's back when drinking was (mostly) still fun, thinking of the "fun--fun with problems--problems" trajectory. The newspaper article also noted another fire in September, 1975, where a young woman died. I remember the eerie sound of water dripping and wood beams creaking as we tried to sleep later that night. Some memories don't go away.

But memories, and their hold on me, do shift and change over time. This weekend was my first husband's birthday, and to mark the occasion, my spouse, my brother and I ordered his favorite combo from the old school Chinese place he liked - egg foo yung in his honor. As this now second birthday since he passed came and went, I've moved from grieving for what wasn't in his life to appreciation for what was, and that we reconnected after years of absence. The kindest thing he said to me before he died was that he had no hard feelings. He was certainly entitled to hard feelings, but here, once again, is tangible proof of the power of the Steps.

I'm glad that my Covid illness was mild.  I'm beyond grateful that no one in my immediate circle tested positive for the virus (very strange, the trajectory of this thing). And I'm grateful for my health, first and foremost. I'm also grateful for the flow of my days, with particular online meetings, a couple of established walking dates, and sponsor/sponsee time. I'm especially appreciating a small, online, cross-country meeting that friends and I hold every two weeks. I feel energized each time we meet, and am reminded of the saying, "If you don't think your home group is the best in the world, either find a new group, or work to make your meeting better." That isn't always a simple task - meetings ebb and flow over time as members come and go, which has been especially true in this online time. But whether it's a small group out of San Francisco, another gathering of folks from across the US, and our biweekly gig, I've found my particular groove - those places I feel safe and supported, sharing the laughter, the joys and challenges of on-going recovery.

What do you do when you recognize that you're irritable or discontented? How do you move out of your head and into your heart, from annoyance to gratitude? If I came to your home, which of your belongings would tell a story about who you are, or who you were? Which would be most important to grab if you had to vacate in a hurry? And, if you are a meeting go-er, which of your groups do you especially look forward to each week? Do the others members know how much they mean to you?


* * * Heading towards autumn could be a good time for a mid-year check up. See the 11/17/20 blog entry for an excerpt from I'VE BEEN SOBER A LONG TIME - NOW WHAT?, a 78 page workbook on the joys and challenges of long term 12 Step recovery. Go to the WEB VERSION of this page at www.soberlongtime.com to peruse past entries, and to order the workbook via a link at the top right of the page. Thanks for your support!


Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Life on life's terms

 After mentioning my runny nose last week, I did not expect to be telling you I tested positive for Covid 19. I was shocked, pissed off, annoyed, concerned for those I might've exposed, and grateful that, being vaccinated, I only experienced mild symptoms - much like a head cold with a fever one day only. Could I have prevented this? Hard to say. I've been unmasked around other vaccinated people, mainly outdoors; I've worn my mask all along in stores, offices, etc., and as a friend pointed out, "This is the world we're in."

Of course, there has been a fair amount of self-flagellation. Have I been as diligent with handwashing in July-August 2021 as I was in March-April 2020? No. Have I wiped down surfaces at home, or washed clothes as soon as I came in from being around other humans? Not so much. Did I underestimate my symptoms in thinking I was reacting to wildfire smoke? Maybe. I did contact my medical provider with the presumed allergy, and then again when I realized I had a fever. I've gotten ahold of everyone I've been in contact with for the past several weeks. My spouse, and several friends have already tested negative. I can hang on to the guilt, or can drop that rock and concentrate on getting back to 100% (while washing my hands and disinfecting surfaces). 

I will say I've struggled with powerlessness through this period of uncertainty. Actually, what I've struggled with is accepting my powerlessness. Truth is, I don't have any control over microbes flying through the air, or whether some people still choose not to get vaccinated. As another friend (who's parked car was just totaled) pointed out, "Shit happens and we get through it." Indeed. So when I tell sponsees and others to Trust the Process, do I really mean it? Can I trust, while checking my email for test results every eight minutes? It is said that fear and faith can't co-exist, but I'm telling you, I did a whole lot of vacillating between, "Oh no, I'm gonna die," and "Eh - I'll be fine!" 

What does it mean, when the rubber hits the road, to accept "life on life's terms?" Is it life on life's terms that long term local member Chris J succumbed to her battle with ALS? Is it the unfathomable support and care that her wife, daughter, and good friends gave to her, night and day? Is life on life's terms helping a fellow member move, or wearing a mask indoors so as not to infect my spouse, even though it's sort of uncomfortable? Is it showing up for the newcomer, on zoom or at the spacious mall? Or going for a walk up a steep hill with a friend who wants the company? Maybe it is picking up the phone, or sending that long neglected email. Maybe it is as simple as practicing acceptance (simple, not easy).

Maybe "life on life's terms," means the gloriously cool mornings we've had here recently, or the sweet hugs we shared with my husband's folks last week. I tend to equate "life on life's terms" with the hard stuff, but maybe it is the beauty of life and our connections as well.

At the beginning, "life on life's terms" meant getting through each day without a drink, a pill or a needle in the arm. It meant learning to sit still when my toxic brain called out for some sort of fix. As time goes on, life on life's terms comes to mean walking through loved one's illnesses and deaths, job changes, natural disasters, pandemics (etc etc etc). I think, in these days of long term recovery, it simply means suiting up and showing up, as best as I can, making sure that I pause to notice what is right along with what I perceive as wrong. 

I got to go back into prison today for a farewell party - the person who replaced me last year has accepted another position. It felt good to walk the familiar halls and see old acquaintances, and it felt good when the gate clanged behind me on the way out. Many years ago I was told that the only thing constant is change. I didn't want to hear it then, and often hesitate when I'm reminded today. But if nothing changed, I'd still be in my locked bathroom with a belt tied around my arm. I'd still be looking for love in all the wrong places, or believing the negative messages my brain still sometimes sends out. Change is good. Change is bad. Change simply is.... and the beat goes on.

Where are you challenged to trust the process? What is a current "life on life's terms" that is troubling you? How about a "life on life's terms" that you are grateful for? Is there a change in your circumstances that has you either excited or concerned (or both)? 

Don't take your health for granted, people. Life is precious. Be kind, to yourself and to others.


Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Step Eight - the ongoing process of amending behaviors.

A friend, who read last week's post, expressed surprise at how easily I admitted, not only stealing (in 5th grade) but still possessing said item, suggesting that this week's entry could be titled, "When the 9th Step Does Not Apply." 

I had a literal "laugh out loud" moment reading the text, because that had never occurred to me. Well, it never occurred to me in the last 20 years or so. Possession is 9/10's of the law? Statute of Limitations? I do recall writing an amends letter to the school library many years ago, enclosing cash, for the two books I'd taken. I did the same to the church a group of us young hooligans broke in to, stealing small items from the office (a letter opener was my loot). I'm beginning to think I should've kept a list of those early amends - memory tends to fail by this point. I know I did all the big ones right away (mom, boyfriend) and the next tier within the first five years. Some took longer - a lot longer in one particular case, where it was thirty years before I took responsibility for my actions nearly 50 years prior. "More will be revealed" has very definitely applied to my amends process, being of the "Ain't it grand? The wind stopped blowing" mindset. Yes, it was absolutely grand that the tornado of alcoholic behavior had ceased, and sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, I came to understand how that tornado impacted others. 

In thinking about Step 8 during the month of August, I've been focused on the 12x12 (p. 77) where we are instructed to "repair the damage we have done," then, having "cleaned away the debris of the past, we consider how...we may develop the best possible relations with" everyone we know. Bill goes on to say that this is a task we get better at, "but never really finish."  I needed to read that this year. Sometimes I think of Step 8 (and 9) in a box - I did my 4th Step, made the list, and move on. But this little section reminds me that I'm likely to continue stepping on the toes of others, as well as myself. I'm probably always going to have flare-ups of impulsively blurting out what's on my mind, damn the consequences, saying "yes" when I mean "no," or simply not thinking before acting.  And... the Steps are a design for living, here and now, not merely a template for cleaning up the past. 

A fellow member recently pointed out that my expectations can become a higher power of sorts, when I start to think that my happiness is contingent on some person, place or thing. Obviously, this doesn't always apply - those desperate souls in Afghanistan aren't likely to be able to implement the "attitude of gratitude" we so blithely speak of while in the  midst of a real crisis. However, in my very privileged circumstances, I know that if I'm unhappy now, a different outfit, a new job or relationship, etc etc etc will not relieve me of the bondage of self - the small-s self that suffers the illusion of control.

I'm trying to control a stuffy nose this week. I think, and the "e-doctor" (such a thing, these days!) agrees, that it is most likely an allergic reaction to wildfire smoke in the skies over the weekend, and a very dusty house project (I either need to wear a mask when I clean, or perhaps do it a bit more often!). I am willing it to go away, as I harbor secret fears of the virus. I will do what the doctor suggested (imagine that) and get back in touch if the symptoms don't resolve themselves. But what a world we're in, when every sneeze conjures fears of death.  

Where are you with Step 8 this month (or, what other Step is your focus)? How are you going with the flow, as various communities re-address the Covid virus? How do you take a step back from the apparent craziness of the world to find your place of serenity?

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Ambition, or lack thereof

 I inherited my maternal grandmother's desk when she died in 1970, a slim model with a fold down writing surface and cubby holes for mail and other implements. I keep family keepsakes on the desk - two lidded containers that sat on Grandma's dressing table, a New Testament bible with a metal front that Mom's then-boyfriend gave her after WWII (soldiers were supposed to keep the little Bible in their breast pocket, with god's word, and the metal to protect their heart from bullets). Also on the desk top is a lovely figurine modeled after a Maxwell Parrish beauty, and various other trinkets from the 1940's or before.

On the lower shelf is the book "On to Oregon" that I stole from my grade school library, probably in 5th or 6th grade. "On to Oregon" tells the true story of the Sager children, who's parents died on the Oregon Trail. Rather than allow the family to be separated, teenaged John brought his siblings, including a baby, on to the Whitman Mission in eastern Oregon. I was enthralled with the story as a kid, reading it four or five times before simply taking the book home to keep. The adventure! The daring! The courage! I wanted to grow up to be a pioneer, and wrote to Walt Disney, suggesting he make a movie of the story (he declined, but I still have his letter in one box or another).

I was also enamored with Pippi Longstocking, the adventurous young girl who, too, was an orphan. I literally had a recurring dream of going to sea, and used to imagine being sent to boarding school. Home wasn't all that bad - we had ice cream every night as my brother and I argued over who got to sit in the beanbag chair to watch sitcoms - but I craved the adventure and independence I read about each night before bed.

Funny then that my goal in high school was to become a secretary. My aunt was an executive assistant, and she was glamourous, and I always like the tidiness of a neatly organized desk, but not much adventure there. As I grew more fully into alcoholism, my fear of the unknown exploded, and I most often took the easier, softer way, the way that allowed me to stay within my limited zone of comfort.

My brother and I talked the other day about our familial lack of ambitious encouragement, after watching dedicated, talented and supported young athletes in the Olympics. Both my parents had a year or two of college, Dad's on the GI Bill. But while we were mildly encouraged to go to university (emphasis on "mildly"), there were no strong directives to "get out there" and succeed. Mom used to say she just wanted me to be happy, whatever that meant. I'm grateful that, in recovery, and with years on the planet, I now know what it is that brings me contentment. Some days that might be planning a trip, while others it is picking a ripe tomato from the garden.

I'd written in an earlier post about helping an AA acquaintance pack up to move to assisted living. She made the move, and then died, just one week later. We were "people who normally would not mix," and to borrow another's description, she could be a teacher of patience and tolerance, with a reputation for talking too long during her shares. Like many of us old-timers, she wasn't as funny as she thought she was. But I find myself mourning the loss. For all of my preconceived notions, based on 15 minute interactions in meetings over the years, it turns out she was a very interesting person. I thoroughly enjoyed our three long conversations as I wrapped and boxed trinkets and family mementos while she shared stories of her travels, early LGBTQ advocacy work, and her 39 years in AA. When she told me about a talk she'd had with her hospice worker, I replied that those must be tough conversations. She said, "No, not really. Higher Power is in charge of all this, and I've had a good and interesting life." In a couple of  later phone calls, she shared what was going on with the move and her health, but never in a complaining way. Pragmatic to the end, she was a stellar example of acceptance in action. I am grateful for the brief time I spent getting to know her, reminded once again that my impressions are simply opinions that may or may not be based on fact. So, happy trails to you Fern .You were a fixture in the local recovery community, and your absence will be noticed.

In thinking about Fern, I'm reminded of others who've gone before - all those old timers who were in the musty church halls and basements when I came in, and who I crossed paths with along the way since: Leonard C, aka Boxcar Leonard, Norm B, Gladys, Peggy, Kathleen C, Railroad Bob, Ronnie, Kathy W - so many who carried the message of hope and recovery. It's all I could hope for too, being remembered as an example of practicing the principles. Not perfect, but a traveler along the road of happy destiny, sometimes skipping along, sometimes on my hands and knees, but always grateful for the second (third and fourth) chance.

How has your life been shaped by your childhood dreams and goals, or by the old timers in your own recovery story? How do you define "success" today? How about what it means to be happy, or contented? In thinking about your interactions with others, where have your stereotypes or preconceived impressions been busted? How can you greet future connections with an open mind and heart?

Thank you for your patience, email subscribers, as we've made the transition. It seems that you're probably getting two emails each week, but my understanding is that the original send will stop at some point.  "Better too many than not enough," says one alcoholic to another! 

  


Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Experience, strength and hope, ODAT

 I've been thinking about the healing journey, the "road of happy destiny" that began when I entered treatment, and then AA/Alanon, so many years ago. The whole recovery/discovery thing was confusing at first, when it felt like I needed to think HARD about every decision, holding it up to the measuring stick of self-will and old behaviors vs healthy choices (which felt odd at the time). 

And then, over time, the new way of thinking became simply my way of thinking. One day I realized I hadn't thought about getting high for a few weeks, where that hyper-awareness ("I'm not using today") been a daily companion for so long. Then another day, years later, I realized I hadn't worried about my job, about feeling like an imposter, for several months.  As time went on, I noticed that I hadn't imagined a worst-case-scenario for my relationship (whichever it happened to be) in quite some time, and that the old "what if?!?" fantasy didn't have the same hold. I can't will myself to change, or I would've done so a long time ago. All I can really do is practice the Steps to the best of my ability on any given day. I can worry, or I can trust, and some days/months/years, it's easier to worry. But if I'm truly willing to pay attention to my thinking and catch the old ideas before they turn into behaviors, my attitude, hence my life, changes.

A speaker I heard recently described it in a way that made sense to me. If I'm conscious of Step 10, acknowledging behaviors/attitudes/thought patterns that don't serve me, I'm back at Steps 6 and 7 where I focus on "building on my strengths while releasing my personal shortcomings" (from The Alternative 12 Steps). This takes me back to Step 2, believing that I can be restored to balance (sanity) by utilizing my spiritual resources. Always, it's about taking responsibility for my thoughts and actions while getting out of the way. As I've heard, I'm not responsible for my first thought, but I am responsible for my second. Where will I steer my emotional energy? And if I am able to stop obsessive thinking, ruminating, trying to figure it out, my "problems" have a way of losing steam. 

A handful of my friends are struggling with work. Very real, individual issues, and, these are crazy times for all of us. I tell myself I've done just fine, thank you, with the pandemic, and then am nearly in tears picking up a book off the shelf at the newly opened library, just like in the before-times. I can only imagine that if I'm feeling the subtle tremor of stress and overwhelm, the rest of the world is too, with nearly every industry dealing with staff shortages, which puts a strain on those who do show up each day. 

As far as my friends go, all I can really do is share my experience, strength and hope. I can tell them that when I'm stressed, I go back to basics: Am I getting enough sleep? Have I had enough (healthy food) to eat?  Am I talking with a trusted other? Am I journaling/writing/working a Step? I can share what works for me, but it isn't helpful to then come back with, "Did you take a walk today?" or "Have you called HR?" etc. When I feel myself taking on others' energy, I can practice the very skills I'm suggesting for them. Thank you Alanon!

And here we are in August. August, 2021 to be exact. August, 2021, Land of Limbo, of in-between, of we're-in-a-healthier-place, but not quite, so keep your mask handy. Talk about a cosmic lesson in "Go with the flow," suiting up and showing up for whatever this day may bring.

What concerns that may have been companions earlier in recovery don't trouble you today? How does detachment play out in your life? Are you able to offer support and encouragement to friends or loved ones and then let go of what you think should happen next? And what about the Steps? With long term sobriety, the principles of the Steps become an almost automatic response to life on life's terms. Where has this been evident for you lately?


*  New readers:  There is now a link on this page that allows you to sign up for a weekly delivery of this blog to your email. 

** Heading towards autumn could be a good time for a mid-year check up. See the 11/17/20 blog entry for an excerpt from I'VE BEEN SOBER A LONG TIME - NOW WHAT?, a 78 page workbook on the joys and challenges of long term 12 Step recovery. Go to the WEB VERSION of this page at www.soberlongtime.com to peruse past entries, and to order the workbook via a link at the top right of the page. Thanks for your support!

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Our stories, past and present

I took my mother's wedding dress to a resale shop this week, in my continued effort at decluttering. Worn once, in 1947, it sat in her beautifully carved hope chest, in her living room, and then mine, for decades. I'm feeling a bit wistful now that it's gone, thinking of the promise and excitement of that day for her and my dad. The guy they'd hired to take photographs didn't show up, so all they had was memories. And isn't that all we really have? The dress itself is merely a collection of satin panels with a bit of lace at the neckline - inert, just a thing, a symbol. I'm surrounded by things as I type - some functional, some sentimental, some just taking up space. I desire the willingness to increase my level of discernment on what matters and what doesn't.

Mom's dress made me think of the "couples meeting" my husband and I held as we prepared for our wedding. In place of separate bachelor or bachelorette parties, with revelry not fitting our age, we gathered with married and partnered friends to hear experience, strength and hope about the journey we were about to undertake. One fellow said that, at his wedding, someone remarked, "This is the happiest day of your life," to which he replied, "I hope not!" Maybe "a" happiest day, but ideally the beginning of a lifetime of happy, sad, dull, educational, annoying and beautiful days ahead. One day at a time, "happy, joyous and free." 

A good friend and I drove to the coast yesterday, telling and re-telling our individual versions of growing up and getting sober. We hit the Little Yellow House in Seaside before heading further south for lunch and a beach walk. There were seven of us at the meeting, reasonably distanced, with doors opened to the sea breeze. It wasn't a particularly monumental meeting, but felt good to be connected in our familiar way. Hearing new folks talk about the daily decisions that have become automatic over time, an old timer expressing gratitude for the gifts of sobriety, the ease and comfort of settling into my seat - I appreciate meetings for the spiritual connection and for the reminders of the simple joys of recovery, not to mention merely sitting still, in the company of like-minded others. (I must admit that, in online meetings, I have a tendency towards distraction, whether to the dreaded phone, or papers on my desk. In person, I'm less likely to fidget!)

I love early morning. As I walked today, sun barely up, I thought about my relationship to sunrise over the years, from sitting in the near-dark as a kid, waiting for the berry-picking bus, or a few years later, sneaking back into my room at dawn after sneaking out at midnight. Then there were hangover mornings, going to bed with one foot on the floor to stop the spins, just as the sky began to lighten. I hated that time of day in the coming years, when I needed to sleep, but the stimulants coursing through my system kept me chewing on my tongue. And then recovery, and the glories of seeing sunrise from the proper side of night. Whether driving in the dark up Haleakala on Maui to watch the sun come up, or merely heading east on my morning run here at home, sunrise has taken on spiritual symbolism where before I cursed the start of a new day. 

How has your relationship to sunrise, or perhaps sunset, changed in recovery? What tangible symbols connect you to your spiritual resources? Have you shared your history with anyone lately? Is your "story" different in the telling today than it was when you first came in?


Thank you for your patience as I've clumsily navigated the new email server. I've tried to increase the font size, without screwing up the rest of it!   


Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Sober Long Time 7/21/21 Wherever I go, there I am

Note to email subscribers: You may be getting an onslaught of older posts. Not exactly sure why, but at least we know the new server is working! That being said, you might get two sends on today's offering, one from the former server and one from the new. Your patience is still, and always, appreciated.

* * *

This morning, I had a good/enlightening/affirming conversation with the woman I'm in a co-sponsor relationship with. We chuckled with the gift of recognition as we shared, almost verbatim, what had been pushing our buttons. Another piece of evidence that trapped inside my head, my "issues" can seem humungous, but once spoken aloud, I see that I am dreadfully like other people. (James Russell Lowell: "Whatever you may be sure of, be sure of this, that you are dreadfully like other people."

I am dreadfully and blessedly like other people, and my isms are my isms are my isms. I've mentioned the Cabal in past posts - three of us who've been meeting regularly for nearly a decade. After going around our little circle last week, we joked that by this point, we could each simply say, "My stuff," as the others nodded sagely. Every so often, a new variation of "relieve me of the bondage of self" pops up, but essentially, wherever I go, there I am.

The "wherever I go" this week has included the animal kingdom, crossing paths with a coyote on my morning walk today, and watching hummingbirds and dragonflies in the garden. The other day, I sadly saw a young raccoon in someone's front yard, curled up like sleeping, though not. And yesterday I laughed at a squirrel scampering by with not one, not two, but three walnuts on a stem in her mouth. (I've read that squirrels don't actually remember where they bury food, but just keep digging until they find something.) I live in a city of over 600,000 people, so am always delighted, and just a little sad, when I see our mammal cousins making their way in the urban setting. Mother Nature is doing her best to survive and thrive, despite us. And, stopping to notice the critters helps me to take a breath and relax into the moment.

Speaking of determination, after having two Trees of Heaven removed from the backyard last summer, we're now in the season of Tree of Hell. Literally every day I come upon new sprouts throughout the yard, persistent and invasive species that it is. It makes me think of alcoholism, how when we stop the drinking and drugging, we/I need to be attentive to where else the disease may rear its ugly head. Even with attention to the daily reprieve, various cravings for "more" can show up, quietly or otherwise. I've seen people turn to spending or food, gambling or relationships - all in a misguided effort to quiet the demon that says we're not ok without a fix of some sort. It helps me to think about that as time goes on. The demons aren't as overt these days, but I can sense the stealth of the too-busy schedule, or the back-and-forth with healthy eating as places where my dis-ease lurks. Is it binge TV watching? Perhaps compulsively ingesting online news? Whatever starts to feel like a "must have" bears my attention, the working of a Step or two, and a conversation with a trusted other. 

That being said, I'm wary of pathologizing my characteristics. It's the out of balance part that can turn something from an asset to a defect, pleasure to pain. But even balance isn't static - picture the teeter-totter, back and forth, balanced for a moment, then a gentle sway to one side or another.

I mentioned my tendency towards "busy" to a program friend today, and she used the example of a buffet. I may love everything on the table, but if I partake of all four types of pizza and some lasagna and maybe mashed potatoes and three different salads, I'm bound to feel a bit ill. I can think of that when I'm impulsively tempted to say, "Sure!" It goes back to my realization that if everything is special, then nothing is - I can only, emotionally and physically, handle so much activity, pleasant or obligated, without open spaces and down times to re-center.

Have you shared anything recently that let you know you are more like your fellows than you are different? What about any lurking or stealth isms? And, have you noticed anything in the animal or plant world that has helped your serenity this week?


** July and August could be a good time for a mid-year check up. See the 11/17/20 blog entry for an excerpt from I'VE BEEN SOBER A LONG TIME - NOW WHAT?, a 78 page workbook on the joys and challenges of long term recovery. Go to the WEB VERSION of this page at www.soberlongtime.com to peruse past entries, and to order the workbook via a link at the top right of the page. Thanks for your support!