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