Wednesday, September 29, 2021


 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 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 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 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


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