Wednesday, May 26, 2021

 I re-entered the world more fully last week, with several social engagements. Truthfully, I've been out and about all along, but with the shift in CDC mask-guidance, this felt more real, face-to-face, with hugs. On Thursday, a cousin and I had lunch with my mother's oldest living relative, going strong at 93, followed by dinner with a friend later that evening, making plans for our trip to New York in the fall. On Saturday, my spouse and I watched a basketball game at our good friends' house. I almost cried with the resumption of simple pleasures we've missed for over a year.

On Sunday, I was invited to join a memorial for my husband's ex-wife's father, honored to be included in this family that was before me. I'd never met my step-daughter's grandpa, but I do know loss and the feeling of being untethered once both parents are gone, as well as the realization that any layers between me and old age are swiftly disappearing. I'd been a little nervous as we drove down, figuring I wouldn't know anyone there, only to be greeted by a program acquaintance. That's what I get for thinking ahead.

On the way home, I got to be a fly on the wall and listen to a phone conversation between my husband and his good friend as they reminisced about their 20's, tripping around San Francisco, creating music and art and exploring their world. His experiences were at least 40 times higher in the official creative department than mine, but there truly is something to be said for the joy and wonder of those years of late adolescence /early adulthood, years of new freedoms and new responsibilities. Yes, they were mostly alcohol (etc) fueled, but I, too, remember heady conversations about life and death, politics and god, as we questioned, and began to more sharply define our ideals.

Of course, for many of us, those ideals took a left turn as the disease of addiction became the prime directive, but for a while, the possibilities truly did seem endless. Early recovery felt that way too. I was only 31 when I got sober, aware that growing up would've been easier at the age-appropriate junctures, but, there again were long conversations about life and the death we'd narrowly escaped, about spirituality and integrity and doing the right thing. Those conversations are rarer these days, when we're a bit jaded, and more likely to talk about Medicare and creaky knees, but, every once in a while, I'm swept away in deep discussion about loss and forgiveness, time passing and lessons learned.

I found myself crying in my Tuesday group, feeling safe with this small group of women I know primarily from online meetings. Already tender after the Sunday memorial, remembering my mother's service, I shared a particularly painful amends story from early recovery. I'd hoped that being sober and saying how sorry I was would excuse hurtful things I'd done, mere months earlier, but that's not how amends work. It's about showing, not saying. Over time, I was able to prove that I was a changed person by changing my behavior, but those early months and years were a painful lesson in letting go - of my expectations of myself and my hopes for how others would react to my intentions. These days, my intentions and actions line up. Life is so much simpler that way.

How do the principles of the program show up in your daily life? Do you follow through on commitments? Are you a good friend or family member? Are you true to your own ideals today, and if not, where is compromise appropriate and where might you take a look at reclaiming your power?

REQUEST for those who've done the NOW WHAT? workbook: One of the final questions asks what topic(s) you might add to the workbook discussion. If you would, drop me a line at and let me know what came up for you. Thank you!

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

 I chatted briefly with a couple on my walking route as we passed a gorgeous house listed at 1.5 million dollars, not unusual in that area these days. I noted that my parents paid $11,000 in 1962 for our ancestral manor, a few blocks away. Of course, my dad was probably making less than ten grand a year at the time, and a loaf of bread cost a quarter. Different times.

As I walked the block I grew up on a few minutes later, I could name every family in every house, circa 1966 - a couple of school mates, a few old folks, some little kids, and Mrs. Blake, next door to my friend, Janet. For a time, Mrs. Blake's greaser grandson lived in her basement. He was a throwback, even in the mid- 60's, sporting a D.A., with a pack of smokes rolled into the sleeve of his white t-shirt, creating a sonic boom each time he gunned his souped up, finned vehicle in the driveway.

I didn't know it until later, but creepy Ronald, probably in his early 20's, was exposing himself to my friend, 14 at the oldest, from his basement room on hot summer nights, as she hung out of her upstairs window to talk. Very creepy. Come to think of it, other than immediate family, my first exposures, as it were, to male anatomy was from perverts - in the park, behind a chain link fence, in their living room window or a parked car, or walking by on the street near Lloyd Center. Yes, a sickness, and a rude awakening for the 9, 12 and 15 year old girl that I was. I'm very fortunate that's all it was, but yes, Me Too.

But back to the neighborhood. In those days, we hung out with the kids on our block with very little overlap, riding bikes, playing army (as in, who "died" the best from the sniper's shot, rolling and clutching our pretend wounds), holding a circus in the backyard, selling lemonade or playing baseball with water meter covers as 1st and 3rd base. In those days, it mortified me to be sent to bed while my friend (and her older brother's cute buddies) played H-O-R-S-E at their basketball hoop (nowadays I rather enjoy hitting the pillow when the summer sky is just starting to darken). I run into a few of those former neighbors these days, though no ongoing connection. What we have in common is our street, our upbringing, our own historical sense of place - the Thom's plum trees, the huge oak that toppled in the Columbus Day storm, Mrs. Clark's hilled yard, the five block walk to school (and, creepy Ronald). 

The street where we live now has started to feel like a neighborhood, with a couple of elders (including us), two rentals with decent (i.e. quiet) folks, and a smattering of young families. I walk with the neighbor across the street, and share gardening talk with one of the young guys next door. Even the fellow who sparred with my spouse about parking spots is friendly, as are the parents and grandma of the cute little boys further down the block. Would I seek any of them out were we, or they, to move? Probably not. Kind of like workplace friendships for me - specific to time and place. We aren't people who would normally mix, save our present circumstance.

I'm thinking of all of those mini-relationships - the early morning clerk at the grocery store who validates my coupons (expired or not), the duplex dwellers a few blocks away, preparing for their bike commute as I stroll by at first light, the front desk person at my gym, our mail carrier. Kind of like our meeting acquaintances, lightly bound by time and place, yet enriching my life and experience. These have been a lifeline during the pandemic - connection, six feet apart and masked. I was unmasked at the gym this morning, for the first time in over a year. It felt good, but a little odd. Coming out of lock-down times will likely feel as strange as going in to it did.

I bought myself a collapsible clothes-line dryer and have thoroughly enjoyed the few loads I've now hung out in the spring sun. Hanging laundry epitomizes what I appreciate about being retired - the time to shake out, drape, check and re-check, inhale the fresh smell, fold and put away. Yes, I often have plans and still keep a To-Do list, but many days are filled with small chores, reading in the middle of the day, spontaneously biking to meet a friend. I'm loving it, and, would not have just a year or two earlier. I loved working too - the structure, the sense of purpose, the varied yet manageable days, my co-workers... Over the past few years, I fell out of and then back in love with my job, and when it was time to go, I could not have worked a day longer. What this says to me, me who wants to know what's coming next, is to trust in divine timing. Not as in "god" but in the natural flow of life unfolding, despite my efforts to manage or control. When I look back over the years thus far, even the crunchy parts were a necessary part of the whole (and might've been less crunchy if I could've relaxed into the change).

I had an unexpected flashback driving into downtown for my weekend walking group. Taking the freeway curve onto the Morrison Bridge, I had a visceral memory of heading towards the restaurant where my ex-con, soon-to-be lover, methamphetamine dealer worked as a dishwasher, picking up a gram or whatever amount he had, from a side door in the fence. Speaking of change - what a journey this has been, from the woman who'd do just about anything for the next high, consequences be damned, to living with integrity. It is good to sometimes be reminded.

Thinking of coming out of the pandemic-time, have there been changes to friendships and connections? Which have you let go of, and which do you look forward to reigniting?  I hear many say that they've appreciated the quiet of this past year, while missing loved ones. What have you appreciated, and what has been especially tough? How will you re-enter public spaces - gently or diving in? What can you do to more thoroughly trust the process

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

 I've had a handful of dreams about work over this last year. Always, I'm trying to manage or direct, only to remember that I'm not in charge anymore. In the dreams, I usually laugh at myself for forgetting, grateful that someone else is responsible.

I had a similar experience with using and drinking dreams, knowing I was in the wrong place. I had vivid using dreams from the start (more then than now) but even with mere months of sobriety, my sleeping self knew that I shouldn't be doing what I was doing, with the understanding I'd need to change my clean date. In one, a friend said, after snorting a line of cocaine, "Oh, we all do it every once in a while." Thank goodness that wasn't true! I used to have cigarette dreams too, disappointed to find a lit smoke in my hand, upset that I'd have to try to quit again. 

The sleeping mind is a funny thing. I took a class once on dreams, and learned that if I want to remember the night's story, I should lay completely still as I awaken, and review the dream in my mind several times. Movement seems to send it into the ether, but I can often hang on to snippets, writing them down as soon as possible. Much of what I dream about is simply "Jeanine TV," but sometimes I'm visited by what Jung termed the Collective Unconscious, a message bigger than the usual fare. And, while I'm not particularly other-worldly, I do dream of my departed loved ones - my cousin on his birthday, laughing with my mom, my ex-boyfriend visiting on the day he died. I don't pretend, or need, to understand.

I had a conversation with a friend in New Mexico regarding health and self-care. In her fifties, she figured that if she lives until age 80, she has X number of months remaining. Talk about a perspective shift! Of course, we can't predict, but if I last as long as my mother (86) or beyond (my goal is a healthy 100) then I have anywhere from 234 to 260 months left. Whether two months or two hundred, there will be an end to this particular story. 

Annie Dillard said, "How we spend our days, is, of course, how we spend our lives." I can get caught up in the trip of "what would I do if this were my last day, or week?" but I'm realizing that this whole meaning-of-life thing isn't about the stuff of my days - the laundry, the coffee date, the grand adventure. It's whether I inhabit my days in a spirit of acceptance and gratitude, with curiosity, or a clenched fist and furrowed brow. Do I make healthy choices, for today and the tomorrows, or indulge myself like a child with the mental equivalent of candy and ice cream? I'm not denying the occasional check out (or dish of ice cream), but for me, it's important that I check out consciously rather than just moving through my days in a fog of "maybe later I'll..."

As Bonnie Raitt says, in "Nick of Time," "Life gets mighty precious when there's less of it to waste." I don't stress about this stuff on a regular basis, but the questions of "have to" and "want to" come up more frequently. To that end, I broke up with my home group this week, or separated at least. I seem to be good for about a decade, then it's time to move on. Now that I don't need to cram meetings into weekends, I have more freedom to explore different options, seeing where I feel energized and engaged. And if I consistently wish I were elsewhere, related to meetings or otherwise, it is a good indicator of a need for change.

Where do your sleeping dreams take you? What about daydreams? What would you be doing if time and money were of no concern? When you look at your weeks with the gauge of have-to's and want-to's, how does it balance out overall?

**ATTENTION EMAIL Subscribers:  The service that forwards weekly posts to your email address is going away in July. I am working on transferring to a different provider, and hope to do so with no disruption to your service. Thank you for subscribing, and I'll let you know if there is anything to do on your end once I figure it all out (mid to late June). 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

After spending a couple of weeks in a snit over the Step 4 process, annoyed with the searching and fearless part (I've been sober 35 years - when will it be enough?!) I found myself forgetting I'm not the Boss of the Universe, allowing my discomforts and self-righteousness to bleed on to someone else with the resulting stepping on the toes of my fellow(s). Apparently I do need the inventory process, whether that is 4 or 10. Apparently, the daily reprieve applies to my defenses and defaults, not just the drink.

So from a place of questioning my meeting attendance and wondering just how diligent one must be in long term sobriety, I found myself metaphorically grasping for the tools of recovery. Ah, it would be so much easier to point the finger, but it is true that when I do that, three fingers are pointing back at me. With chagrin, I realized my nighttime reader (on detachment) was speaking directly to me, as was the chair in my Tuesday morning group. From thinking I could take a pass on this year's housecleaning, I  picked up the phone to reason things out with a trusted other. In other words, I found myself in that place of humility, that place of connecting the dots between my HALTs and my behaviors, that place of remembering, one more time, that my efforts at controlling others comes out of my own unease rather than any real danger to someone else.

Now, my cousins will tell you that I've been bossy since at least second grade (somebody had to be in charge!), as will a friend or two, and I was a good manager in my career. The catch is when it's unconscious and I temporarily forget that I am only responsible for myself. I was reminded in a meeting that, having grown up with alcoholism, I'm sometimes better at sensing how you're feeling than recognizing my own moods. And... as much as I think I can read a room, it's really much better to ask, and to turn the emotional spotlight back on myself. 

The HALTS remain a guiding principle in my life, but these days I also need to be mindful of Bored, Complacent, Busy or Melancholy. When I spend too much time thinking about you, or about the state of the world, it is usually a distraction from the real culprit - i.e. my own dang self. When I engage in morbid, or glossed over, reflection, or find my calendar too full, I benefit from sitting still to ask, "What's really going on?" Above all, I need to stay conscious of the slippery slope of telling myself I don't need certain aspects of the program.

And so, I will continue to suit up, doing my reasonable best to practice the principles in all my affairs. Some days I glide along, while others I may trip and fall, but the safety net of recovery is always there to catch me if I remember to reach for it. 

What tools do you reach for when you fall off track? How do you keep the focus on yourself when it feels easier to look elsewhere? In what ways can you cut yourself some slack if you make a mistake?