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

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Testing Sober Long Time email send

 Hello All. I am not a computer-savvy person, so have been on the phone daily with the new email subscriber server to walk me through the process of getting these weekly posts to your in-box. So, once again (perhaps), this is a test to see if it goes through.

I'm in awe of those who grew up with computers, and those who've gotten sober during the time of online meetings. And so, I will practice humility by continuing to ask questions of those with more knowledge and experience (hmmm - imagine that!)

Thanks for your patience. Trusting this works, you should get the regular weekly post in your email on Thursday, as usual, though it may look a bit different.

Yours in recovery,

Jeanine B

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Sober Long Time 7/14/21 - Procrastination and Decisions

 I think of myself as a writer, or at the least, someone who likes to write. Why, then, is actually sitting down to write such a challenge? I finished my novel, Shadows and Veins, in 2012. That coincided with my mom going on hospice, dying 8 months later, which sapped any creative energy. Since then, zilch, other than this weekly offering, which I started in 2016. I talk about writing. I think about writing. I don't write.

It's not "writer's block" so much as lack of discipline. What I know from previous experience, and from listening to other creatives, is that writing (or drawing or playing music, etc) is a practice, much like meditation or exercise. It's about suiting up and showing up, whether I want to or not. (I'm always surprised when I hear people new to recovery talk about skipping meetings because they didn't feel like going. I don't recall being asked whether I felt like it or not - you simply go.) And much like a meeting routine, or with my running/now walking, with enough "just do it," the perpetual motion machine takes over and it becomes simply what I do - rain or shine, good days or bad. And so, in the Stages of Change model, I'm thinking about writing, which is a step in the right direction. I'll keep you posted.

I've been helping someone pack up to move from an apartment to assisted living. This is now the third or fourth time I've been part of that process (family, program people) and I'm once again struck with physical evidence of life's stages as we move from Acquire-Strive-Achieve to Discard-Release-Let Go. It is the actual stuff, the material items of convenience, decoration, and inertia (I have that thing because I've always had that thing) I'm thinking about today. I'm not there yet, but what would I take to a one-room studio? Mom's carved hope chest? My grandmother's desk? A small shelf for books? What about the end table from the house I grew up in, or the dresser I've had since I was 9? What about the boxes of papers - tax returns and resumes, Mom's letters, birthday cards and journals? 

It is a process, this growing older, both in sobriety and in years on the planet. Being willing to go to any lengths for my recovery has many tendrils these days - it's not just about staying away from the drink. Am I willing to take a look at my belongings and let go of the excess? Am I willing to dig a little deeper with my Step work, knowing that superficiality gives superficial results? Am I willing to relax into what is rather than fighting upstream?

Relaxing into what is has been a process during this Covid time. Last spring, as the virus was ravaging the nation, a friend started a small, masked and distanced meeting  in a local park - a lifesaver in those first dark days that felt so foreign. Once the clocks and weather changed, we went online, then to her backyard as the rains ceased, sometimes with blankets and a fire, still distanced, still masked. The masks went away as we got vaccinated, and then this week, for the first time, we stood and held hands while reciting the Serenity Prayer. I cried tears of relief and joy, hearing our voices in the amplified circle, so different from Zoom and even different from our distanced chairs. We hugged, for the first time - simple, yet profound acts of connection. 

In another small act of connection, I spent time with a handful of cousins for the first time since Covid, and this weekend, a larger grouping of the same family will gather. Some of this clan were part of my daily life growing up, while others we only saw at Christmas. What we share is history, the common ancestor or two, even if just by marriage. Again, like with the small weekly AA meeting, it is the gathering, the looking into each other's eyes, and now, the hugs, that simple sweetness I'll now never take for granted. 

What is your heart saying to you this week? Have you been procrastinating on any projects or goals? What might it take to move from thought to action, whether that is a task, a Step, or a phone call to a friend? Where does "Trust the Process" fit for you today?

**Attention email subscribers - in the coming few days, I'll try sending this via the new server, so you'll get two emails this week. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Sober Long Time 7/7/21 - Revising Perspectives

 I teared up driving by a father and his eight-year old son holding hands as they crossed a busy street, the picture of trust and love. I miss my dad so much, especially during late summer, the anniversary of his passing. For too many years I focused on what was missing in our relationship, needing to do the gritty work of recovering from the effects of the family alcoholism. Today, I celebrate the gifts - his "dad-ness" in teaching me to ride a bike, taking me fishing along the Tumalo River, holding me on his shoulders so I could see the Rose Festival Parade. So what if it included propping me up on a bar stool at the M&J Tavern in Bend, with a pile of peanuts? I was hanging with my dad.

What I've realized, in one of those curled up in a ball moments, is how my focus on what was missing in our relationship kept me from honoring what I did get from him. I've long told myself that he wasn't emotionally available, and that's probably accurate to a certain extent, filtered through the lens of the late 1950's-early 1960's when dads simply weren't as involved in their kids' lives as now days (not to mention his introverted personality). Alcoholism got in the way, for sure, but soon after he quit drinking, I got started and wasn't interested in much of anything he or Mom had to say. And then he got sick, which triggered even more drinking on my part and a relapse on his, and we simply did not have the language or skills to talk about it (this was pre-hospice, when a young nurse was concerned that he'd become dependent on pain medication as he lay dying in the hospital). 

All through my recovery I've said, "I know my dad loved me, but..." What I realize today is that there really is no "but." My dad loved me, period. It may not have looked exactly how I thought it should, but I got most of what I needed from my parents - a strong sense of values (fairness, empathy, integrity), appreciation for a dry sense of humor, a love of music, good sense with money, an example of a stable relationship. I didn't learn how to cook - we were of the boxed mixes and instant dinners generation - but I do know how to make dad's messy chicken (his recipe: dredge chicken pieces in flour, put in a dish with lots of chopped celery and onion, and "salt and pepper the hell out of it."). It really is all about perspective.

It's funny how perspective shifts and changes over the years. Maybe the old guy at my early meetings was right - it is better to live at a "5" than veering wildly from "2" to "9" in sixty seconds. Early on, drama was familiar. Now, when the level of agitation arises, I'm much less likely to dive in and stir the waters. I've got a pretty strong, "Doesn't involve me. Don't care." button. Of course I care - about a lot of things going on the world and with those I love, but not in the old way of needing to have an opinion on every.single.thing.

I missed my June and July Step Group meetings, which led to less robust attention to the particular Steps. I'm putting myself on notice to pay attention to Step 7 this month, which, for me, equals increased awareness of my characteristics/defaults/defenses. At this stage of recovery, I can't validly claim that my "defects" run my life. I may not be great at the "pause," but I am better at taking a step back before getting too deep into behaviors or words that will require an amends. One day at a time.

What memories have undergone revision as you've aged in recovery? How have you learned to cut yourself and others some slack for earlier misdeeds? (Or if that isn't feasible or advisable, how have you learned to detach from the past and move to a more present-focused life?) How do those things you wish you'd said or done in earlier relationships inform how you interact in the world today?

** 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!