Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Sober Long Time 6/30/21 - Spiritual Continuum

 As we sweltered through an uncharacteristic 112 - 114 degree heat wave here in the Pacific Northwest, I told myself I deserved a second ice cream bar. That means I now deserve the resulting upset tummy! When speaking about the delights of ice cream, a new friend shared that she and her spouse buy the most decadent brand they know, and every few evenings, eat one spoonful each. Oh my god. My first thought was, "You people are so not alcoholics!"  That would never work in my world, where moderation is still something of a foreign concept. It's actually best if we just don't keep sweets in the house (one is too many, a thousand is never enough), but it was pushing 80 by 7am (and no, I didn't eat the ice cream for breakfast!). It is tough to stay vigilant when the weather is upside down and I felt myself moving through the stages of terror, bewilderment, frustration and despair.

As one of my personal AA icons shared recently, spiritual fitness is a continuum, and I move up and down the line from centered to wacky, sometimes on any given day. I don't spend much time in the self-deception that could end with alcohol and drug use, but I'm rarely at the far reaches of "walking-on-air" serenity either. I tend to dance along the upper mid-point of "centered-as-long-as-I've-slept-well." Centered as long as I've slept well and am not worried sick over the state of the planet, or concerned for those working (or living) outdoors this week. Staying aware and informed, while detached, is always a tough spot for me - the old, "if you're not angry, you're not paying attention" decree. The good news is that the tools of recovery don't only work on maintaining abstinence. In fact, if I'm reading the Big Book correctly, the purpose of the program is to enable us to "find a power" by which we can live, a power that frames my set of personal morals and ethics. For me, that power is within, in the place of the still, small voice. It is also in you.

In an article in this week's Sunday New York Times about grieving pandemic losses,  Emily Esfahani Smith describes the healing aspects of storytelling, of speaking our truths. We know that in AA and Alanon. We know that telling our stories, the "what it was like, what happened, or what it's like now" builds community and helps foster a sense of belonging. When I was going through a rough patch a number of years ago, I whimpered that people were probably tired of hearing my woes. Someone replied, "Keep telling the story until you don't need to," which I did and she was right. The telling, which often includes revising as I come to new insights, is part of the healing process, 1) because it helps me frame my predicament in a larger context and 2) because the process goes against everything I believed before I got sober, as in "Don't air your laundry in public," "Do not ask for help," "Figure it out, kid."  Sometimes I say what I need to hear in a meeting, and sometimes I hear it from you.

Today I heard it from a foursome of ten-year olds at a lemonade stand. Initially, I drove past, thinking (in a curmudgeon voice), "I don't need any sugary lemonade!" but circled the block as I realized, (in a kind and loving voice) "It's not about the lemonade." The aforementioned beverage was going for one dollar per cup. I gave them a buck each and their genuine surprise and thank you's made my entire day. While it's been a very long time, I do remember the entrepreneurial excitement of setting up a lemonade stand, or staging a circus in the backyard (one nickel each!) or my one very feeble attempt at selling greeting cards door-to-door. I vow to stop each time I see a kid at a folding table set up on a sidewalk, whether I'm thirsty or not.

The fever broke Monday night, when the temperature dropped 50 degrees in a matter of hours.  I have a feeling that my peace of mind will continue to be tested by happenings beyond my individual control. As always, all I have power over is my attitude, and sometimes that seems out of reach. Out of reach on my own, but as close as an online meeting, a phone call or a text. Or, as close as a group of earnest ten-year old's on a corner with a homemade sign. 

Thinking of the daily spot check, where are you on the spiritual continuum today? Do you notice when you're off kilter? What works to get you back towards serenity?

** July 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 to peruse past entries, and to order the workbook via a link at the top right of the page. Thanks for your support!

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

 An old friend died this past week. An old drinking buddy, more accurately. We partied HARD during our early 20's, dancing in the living room, gossiping or singing along to the Motown oldies, with much laughter. At the time I considered her a confidante, a co-conspirator. When I left my first husband, she stayed in his camp - understandable, since our friendship sprang from the connection of our two spouses. But she was funny, and beautiful and full of life, and leaves many memories. 

At the time, I didn't really question the choosing of sides until a dear friend, and the only one who migrated from those days, said to me, "Romance will come and go, but your true friends will be with you forever." Some friendships are for a season, or a reason (as the corny poem says), but it has been true that my real, true, Velveteen Rabbit friendships have lasted a lifetime. So I nod "farewell" to the woman I once knew, so very grateful that my path ended up in the rooms of recovery. 

Thinking about those days, those decisions made about people (as in, give me a couple of drinks and I'll tell you anything), the errors in judgement and outright mistakes, I've realized the importance of not holding my 22year old self accountable to my current standards. As my first sponsor used to say, "If you knew better, you'd have done better." Obviously, I cannot change the past, whether 30 minutes or 30 years ago. What I have done is learn from all that came before, and now see where my "experience can benefit others."  As my step-daughter realizes the importance of committing to herself before a serious relationship, when my pre-step-daughter talks with me about self-care, or a fellow member is grieving the loss of a parent, I can share my experience - not as a "do what I did, or didn't do," but as relating. I never asked when I was younger. It can still be hard. Hard, but so reassuring to learn that others have had similar experiences (and lived to tell the tales).

A few people in recent meetings have shared their struggles and/or acceptance of serious health issues, as in nearing the end of life. In another group, someone shared about a person they knew who chose five people to accompany them on that final walk. What an amazing concept - an active decision rather than waiting to see who shows up. I was so honored to be that person for my mother, with my own supports holding me, and a few years later, was at the bedside of a friend with several others, helping the physician make the call for comfort-measures only. I've never attended a birth, but I can tell you that attending death is a sacred experience. Who would I choose as support on the ending path?

The first thing we do in this life is inhale, while the last thing we do is exhale (paraphrased from Ravi Shankar). And, for most of us, there are many breaths in-between - gasps of pleasure and pain, yawns of boredom, huffing and puffing with exertion, sighs of relief, the inhale of anticipation... Am I truly present for each breath? Am I paying attention to the beautiful simplicity of each moment? I struggle with that, as I imagine do the great sages - that's why it's called a practice - but death and illness prompt those existential questions about what matters (do I matter??) and if I'm spending this precious time consciously or watching it pass in a blur of "to-do's." 

I can say with a fair amount of certainty that I wasn't really present for much of my life. I have a treasure chest of memories, snippets of events and conversations, but have so often thought, "I wish I'd paid more attention." I completely trip on this whole passage of time thing. 17years in my house? Really? 25 years that you've lived in Portland? Are you sure? She's how old? No...

A good friend, when he hears of someone dying, says, "I hope they feel like they've had a good life." Until I got into recovery, dying scared me, mainly because I knew I hadn't had a good life, that I was squandering my time. I'm not necessarily ready to go just yet, but I could answer in the affirmative at this point. Yes, it has been a fulfilling journey, one I hope to continue with awareness and attention. 

How do you define friendship? Who might you choose to be with you at the end, or who would you step up for if called? Are there experiences, accomplishments or lessons you hope to include before your last exhale? How can you practice presence, in the here and now?

* Subscribers - By now that you've received the test email from the new server. In the coming weeks, I'll send a test blog as we move from one provider to another in July. There is no action needed on your part. (it was noted that the font needs to be bigger!)

As always, if you'd like to join the conversation, go the the WEB VERSION of this page at to post your comments for the greater group to see, or shoot me an email at 

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

 One of my Alanon daily readers this week spoke to Step One, and the erroneous belief that it only applies when active alcoholism is in the picture. Ah, were that true. Were that true, I could go merrily along running the show, large and in charge, arranging the lights and sets to meet my wishes. 

Step One applies to most areas of my life, and I can substitute any other person, place or thing for the word "alcohol."  I admit I am powerless over (fill in the blank) and my life becomes unmanageable when I operate as if I can control the uncontrollable. I do this with Step Three as well - Relieve me of the bondage of  _________, not thinking some entity will magically pluck the problem away, but as a reminder that the world and people in it do not require my supervision, input or direction.

Someone once said that when she is resentful, it's usually because she's forgotten her powerlessness. Argh! I'm not walking around with any big resentments at present, but always, always, when I am disturbed, I benefit from an internal scan to determine what's really going on. Am I hungry? Do I need a nap? Am I upset that someone isn't behaving how I think they should? Step One. Step Three. Step Ten. Back away from the frustration. Take a walk. Call a friend, Work in the garden. 

I do know that the more powerless I feel, the more I obsess and try to control - and it's not always about the same thing. For example, I was devastated when my mother was dying - I probably shouldn't even have been allowed to drive a car. In my fear and sadness, I tried to grab hold of any little thing I thought I could control. With gentle input from my spouse, I realized I was acting out my sorrow and was able to loosen my grip just a little. She still died. I still grieved. And, I did a little less damage along the way.

What I do know is that Step One by itself is frightening. OK, I admit I'm not in control, but now what? The "now what" is Steps Two and Three, acknowledging that utilizing my spiritual resources can restore me to balance, to sanity, to a more peaceful state of mind. Big upsets or small - for me, all benefit from a review of the first three Steps. 

This week I am extra appreciative of those who are further along this Road of Happy Destiny, as well as those coming up behind. I have a handful of friends seven to ten years older, who assure me I'm right where I'm supposed to be, and I'm in contact with a few women who are just starting their recovery journey where I get to say, "Ah, you're right on schedule."  I come from a small family, and don't have day-to-day contact with my elders or youngers, so the "family of choice" aspect of recovery allows me to be both student and teacher, in real time. I am grateful for the opportunities to go deep, to truly answer the question, "How are you?" and to explore this glorious, sometimes confusing and always interesting life.

As I mark the one year anniversary of retirement, along with the Summer Solstice (here in the northern hemisphere), I sit with contentment for this "one day at a time" approach to life. There have been seasons in sobriety that I've had to take it one hour at a time, but as the clock ticks on, I'm better able to stay in the here and now. 

If gratitude is, indeed, the spiritual elevator, how can you utilize the practice to stay in the present moment? Where can Step One (Two and Three) help you return to balance this week?

* Please join the conversation. Any thoughts you'd like to share with me or the blog community? In order to leave a comment (which you can do anonymously), you'll need to go to the web version of this page:                

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

 I am training to walk a marathon (26.2 miles) in September. I've run 10 (usually a combo of run/walk) but this will be my first official walk at that distance, delayed one year due to the pandemic.

I'm following an actual training plan for a change. In the past, I adhered to the recommended distance for the weekly long run, but did my own thing other days. This time, I plan to follow a recommended template of rest days, intervals and tempo walks, just to see what happens. Just to see if someone else might have a better idea than what I throw together.

Kind of like recovery... I can grit my teeth and gut it out, or, can follow the simple program of action as laid out in the book Alcoholics Anonymous (I also like the guidance offered in The Alternate 12 Steps, by Martha Cleveland and Arlys G ). As a self-centered alcoholic, with time under my belt, I often operate on the "I've got this" plan, the "It's easier if I just do it myself" program. 

I suppose some of that is spiritual arrogance, having been sober for a long time, but some is being a semi-lazy introvert. Picking up the phone is still hard. I don't even talk with friends on the phone much. And, the program of action tells me to humble myself, to reach out to others (and answer the phone when they reach out to me), to let go of the idea that I'm supposed to have the answers.

Being June, my thoughts turn to Step 6, becoming willing to have my defects removed, or as stated in the Alternative 12 Steps, be entirely ready to acknowledge our abiding strength and release our personal shortcomings. The "being entirely ready" can be a mental roadblock - entirely??? I was entirely ready to stop hurting myself and others via drugs and alcohol, but have often done a seesaw with shortcomings. 

For me, 6 & 7 have to do with staying conscious of my thoughts and actions. In the middle years of sobriety, I used to bemoan that it would be easier to go back to being unconscious - that whole "know better, do better" was kicking my ass. "But I don't wanna do better!" my inner-addict would cry out, knowing full well that delayed gratification was a marker of recovery. "If it's a good idea today, it will be still be a good idea next week," was the mantra I needed to internalize to combat my impulsivity. Did it work? Sometimes, when I was willing to do it, not just say it. 

These days, Steps 6 & 7 are more a generalized way of being rather than going to battle with specific characteristics. Maintaining the structures that have proven to work for me in starting and ending the day, regular meetings, contact with sponsor and sponsees - these small actions keep me in a receptive frame of mind, observant of my own thinking and of whatever cosmic messages may come my way. Not perfect, by a long shot, but most days, on the beam.

We spent a few days at the Oregon coast this week, which included a small (6 attendees) in-person meeting at the Little Yellow House in Seaside. It felt good to be there, in the room where I attended my first out-of-treatment meeting. The Program Director let me and my roommate attend before we were discharged from treatment, being deemed a safe risk (to come back). She wanted us to experience a "real" meeting before heading back to our dysfunctional relationships. It took. I, for one, went to a meeting the day I got back to town, and kept going daily after that. Within a couple of months, my treatment roommate became my actual roomie, joining another treatment pal in our faux halfway house. Those really were the days - of discovery, of laughter, of moving forward, one day at a time, and sitting in the Yellow House brings it all back.

At the beach, sidewalks were packed - some in masks and some not. This transition back to normalcy feels anything but. One week we're on semi-lockdown and the next is "all clear."  While the extroverts I know welcome the return, those of us on the introvert scale, or with health issues, are taking a bit of an inhale. How do we, how do I, re-enter the world mindfully? What parts of the shut-down slower pace can I carry forward? How do I stay in today rather than projecting into the future?

Does any residual "I'll do it myself" thinking get in the way of your serenity today? Is there an area that might benefit from discussion with a trusted other? How do you know that you're "entirely willing" to practice Step 6 and release any remaining shortcomings (which, for me, simply means they'll clamor for attention)? Are there areas where "if I know better I have to do better" apply to your life today? 

How will you give yourself permission to decide how to re-enter the social world, rather than being carried along by the crowds?

THANK YOU to those who've reached out to let me know you're out there, reading. One day at a time, we'll continue to move forward, together.  (As a reminder, if you'd like to post a response to any of these posts, you can do so via the WEB VERSION of the blog).

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

I found myself experiencing what the Big Book calls "a new freedom and a new happiness," as I made peace with my internal "should's," most specifically around how I am to spend my time now that my post-retirement gap-year is coming to an end. Maybe, just maybe, it is ok to live in the world gently. Maybe it is ok to listen to my heart instead of my brain, at least some of the time. Maybe what I'm doing is simply enough. 

Why is that such a tough concept? Why did I feel tears come to my eyes with the thought that I'm ok just as I am, that there really isn't anything I have to do? I remember my treatment roommate saying to me, "You don't have to do anything you don't want to do," and what a revelation that was. Of course, from the outside, it looked like I'd been doing exactly what I wanted, when I wanted to do it, but that was just surface stuff - the cosmic noise of my addictions. What I truly, truly wanted was a simple, reasonably predictable life, a life of college classes and good friends, a tomato garden and trips to the beach. What I had was mayhem, a result of and a response to the company I was keeping and the liquids I was drinking and injecting. I am so very grateful that insanity doesn't rule my life anymore.

What sometimes does rule my life are the internal rules - not the good ones as laid out in the 12 Steps, but the inner critic who still, after all this time, can perch on my shoulder wagging the "more" finger (as in, "You should be doing more.") That energy has intensified as we move out of covid shut downs, the self-imposed pressure to latch on to something outside of myself. But the thing is, I've gotten quite comfortable with this quieter life, and today, finally, that feels ok.  

What I do or don't do with my time isn't really the point. What does matter is paying attention to that list of should's. Are they really mine, or something I inherited from family, absorbed from the greater culture, or merely habit? Long term recovery has given me the ability to observe my thinking, paying attention to any dissonance between  heart and brain. My main question these days has to do with what I might regret not doing were I to learn I'd die tomorrow, and as important, is there something I can do today to move that closer to reality? I don't need to force the issue, but simply pay attention.

Working in treatment, I facilitated a fun art group called "Land of Addiction and Land of Recovery," telling the guys that if they couldn't imagine the Land of Recovery, it would be harder to achieve. Not surprisingly, it was easier for most to draw syringes, prison bars, and bottles. The Land of Recovery usually included a sunny sky, a stick-figure family, and 12 Step symbols. I'm  not sure what I would've drawn in my early months, with a limited view of what life could be, but I can say that all of my unspoken wishes came true, once sobriety became a way of life.

Someone recently posted, "Remember when you wanted what you currently have?" Yes, I do. From experience, I can trust that what is mine to do, or not do, will come to me. I don't need to hunt down my future with a machete. I don't need to try to invent passion where I'm not feeling it. Just for today, I can relax into what is. 

Where do the "should's" pop up in your life? Do you remember when you wanted what you now have? How can you get back to gratitude if you forget that? How can the Steps help you focus on the here and now?

QUESTION - It appears that there is a fairly extensive list of people who receive this weekly post via email. Since no one responds to the posts themselves, I'm left wondering if people are actually reading? A small handful of you sometimes send me emails, but I'm trying to determine if this is still the best avenue for my ponderings. If you are so moved, drop me a "yay" or "nay" at (or feel free to join the conversation on the blog page itself) to help as I contemplate next steps.  Thank you. (PS, I believe in order to comment on the blog page, you'll need to go to the WEB VERSION of