Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The ah-ha moments...

 In a meeting I attended last week, a member shared a recent "ah-ha" moment. I don't  remember the particulars, but her story prompted my own questioning. When did I last experience an "ah-ha" moment? How long since I felt the blinding revelation of insight that seemed so frequent in earlier sobriety? Does "Expect a Miracle" only apply to the newer folks?

Of course, at the beginning of my recovery journey, waking as the sun came up from the correct side of the day was a miracle. The pure joy of simple pleasures, so long clouded by intoxication or hangover, made it seem as if the skies were opening up - it really was rainbows and unicorns. "So this is what happy, joyous and free feels like!" A coffee date, a hike in the woods, the message in my various daily readers - all felt like discovering a whole new world (which it was).

As I strung together days and months and then years, the "ah-ha's" had less to do with the physical pleasures of sobriety (no puking!) and more to do with unraveling causes and conditions related to states of mind and changed behaviors: when I finally got it that my dad's alcoholism and depression had nothing to do with me; driving past my heroin addicted boyfriend rather than stopping to give him a ride; realizing that the negative voice in my head wasn't even my voice... Inventories galore, lots of tears, outside help, feeling like a pincushion in a meeting when every share spoke directly to me - all served as preparation for the changes implicit in Steps 6 and 7.  For a time, I only partially joked I'd like to go back to being unconscious, but that wouldn't've worked. Once that horse (of willingness) was out of the barn, there was no going back. There may have been moments when I pretended I didn't know any better, but as my least favorite adage goes, "When I know better, I have to do better." Each and every "ah-ha" landed me in a place of finally knowing what I needed to know, deeply and emotionally, not just intellectually.

It seems that these days, the "ah-ha's" are quieter, more likely to be a realization that I don't feel the same fears, am not crippled by the same insecurities, am not bound by the same tired stories. I'm still, and hopefully always, gifted with feelings of awe - usually at Mother Nature's display, or a stirring piece of music (whether symphonic or pop). As much as I celebrated and enjoyed the early years, I am grateful to be off the rollercoaster of "Oh my God!" moments. I've done the work and the gifts have followed, including, most days, peace of mind, and the deep understanding that all is well (even if it doesn't always feel like it).

On another note, I heard a bit of brilliance last week when a member shared that months of online meetings made her realize she has an internal mute button she can employ at any time. These days, "You're muted" and "Can you hear me?" have become part of our meeting lexicon. I like the notion of the internal "mute" to help with my on-going striving for the pause. And that's why I keep coming back - not as many incredible, knock-me-from-the-chair "ah-ha" moments, but plenty of "I hadn't thought of that's." During the opening Serenity Prayer, I silently remind myself to be open to hearing what I need to hear, ever mindful of my mind's tendency to wander, as I strive to remain teachable.

When was the last time you had an "ah-ha!" moment? Did it come with fireworks, or a quieter knowing? How might you utilize your internal "mute button" to help you think before speaking or acting? How do you stay focused on the message and not the messenger (or your grocery list) in meetings?

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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Trusting the process

I'm back from October travels, one side of the country to the other, with no further trips on the docket (thus far). I love to travel and I love coming home, especially to these crisp and colorful fall days.

I was reminded of the disease of alcoholism throughout my trip, from the defeated looking fellow at the airport bar nursing a Bloody Mary at 9am, to the man in the NY subway station on that slow bend from the waist that indicates a heroin nod. I traveled in my "before" life, and remember head-splitting, stomach churning hangovers coloring or cancelling sightseeing plans. So very grateful to not be the woman walking along the waterfront path Saturday afternoon, looking like she hadn't been home from her Friday night, or here at home, the young woman perched on the curb waiting for the pot shop near my gym to open. 

Every day is one to practice the principles, but I had a definite lesson in trusting the process while leaving New York. My friend had gone on, to a different airport and an earlier flight, so I killed some time with a final walkabout. When I decided to head to my airport, via subway and AirTrain, I was a bit distressed to learn that the subway line wasn't going to my stop, this day only, so was directed to the the free shuttle for the final miles. The "free shuttle" was simply a city bus, very slowly navigating block-by-block through a rough neighborhood, minutes clicking by with every red light. Forty minutes in to the ride, anxiety rising, I weaved my way up the aisle to ask the driver for instructions. She had no idea, as this wasn't her regular route. Taking a deep breath, I remembered that morning's guided meditation that spoke to both the joys and potential challenges in the day ahead. Indeed. Just as I was doing my best to turn it over, while devising a Plan B (Call a cab? Catch a later flight??) the man seated next to me, through his mask, told me what I needed to do. At the shuttle's final stop, he waited so I could follow him to the correct subway platform (which I never would've figured out on my own), then directing me when to get off and where to catch the airport train. Exhaling. In less than twenty minutes I went from a gritty, slightly scary subway station to the high-tech airport terminal and was at my gate, just as boarding began. Thank you, Subway Angel, for the good orderly directions. 

It reminded me of the old AA story about the guy who is stranded in the ocean, turning away all offers of help because "I'm waiting for God to save me." When he gets to the Pearly Gates, he asks why God didn't heed his pleas, to which the angel replied, "Well, we sent you a boat and a helicopter and an air balloon!" (or whatever your version includes). I'm the one who puts the trust-muscle into play, and  I need to pay attention. I could've ignored the man with the different accent that I had trouble hearing through his mask. I could've gone into fear-of-the-big-city mode and thought he was trying to steer me wrong. Instead, I trusted his apparent knowledge, since it seemed better than the alternatives (which were none). Lack of knowledge has never stopped me from having an opinion, but these days I do try to be open to another idea or way of doing the task at hand.

Which reminds me (again and again) of the spiritual axion - if I'm troubled, it has to do with me. Not to say that some things aren't troubling - missing my flight would've been a pain; job or relationship problems can feel overwhelming, and what is it in my attitude that needs adjusting?  Alanon speaker, Mary Pearl, in a recent online conference, shared that her first sponsor told her to put a note on her bathroom mirror saying "You're looking at the problem." Pretty harsh, but rings true. Maybe me being the problem means I'm avoiding a difficult decision, or am expecting others to behave the way I want them to. Maybe me being the problem means that I stay too busy to hear the still, small voice, or that I insist on engaging in behaviors I know are unhealthy. The "problem" often means I've forgotten my powerlessness and am trying to control the uncontrollable. "If only they'd _____!" "If only she'd  ______!" "Why won't they quit smoking/drinking/gambling/etc?" Or, my classic, "Don't they know that my way is best??"

Lila R reminds me that if I'm not the problem, there is no solution - just another way of saying (and I need all versions, depending on the day) I'd do best to get out of my own way, and out of the way of others. (Have you heard the Alanon 4 G's? Get off their back, Get out of the way, Get on with your own life, Get to a meeting)

I love the energy of New York City, the cacophony of languages and peoples - not a melting pot, but a rich stew of varied ingredients. Like our meetings, "we are normally people who would not mix." Admittedly, in 12 Step recovery we do share a common experience and language, an "AA Speak" of sorts, but even within the bubble of slogans and phrases we use to describe life on life's terms, we each have our unique perspectives. I appreciate our similarities and our differences, doing my best to learn as I go along the path. And I know that there are many paths. Years ago, my teacher and mentor told me that it was his belief that all people, however unskilled it may appear, simply want to be ok. People want to feel secure, to care for and about their families, feel comfortable in the world. Some of us treat our addictions with 12 Steps. Some find their way through spirituality, or adhering to their cultural beliefs, and yes, some people do simply quit. Not mine to say, though I know what works for me. I think I'll keep doing it, one day at a time.

When has a helper shown up unexpectedly to offer guidance, or just the answer you needed? What barriers do you sometimes erect so that you don't recognize the message or messenger? Is there a decision sitting in your internal "pending" file? What would help move you to a place of resolution?

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Tuesday, October 12, 2021

What it's like now

 I'm hitting the road for another brief trip, so this post is coming to you early. 

I was in and out of a couple of online conferences this weekend, listening to several speakers sharing their experience, strength and hope. I'm not great with sitting still through online meetings, but the joy of zoom is that I can be doing other things while listening. (I'm not good with podcasts or audiobooks either - already too many voices in my head!).

When listening to speakers, whether in a regular meeting, or from the online podium, I relate to the "what it was like and what happened" portion, but am especially attentive to "what it's like now." What is it like now, years into recovery? What are the challenges of long term sobriety and how do you walk through them? For me, those challenges include staying engaged, remaining teachable, and the ever evolving life-on-life's-terms. I have way more tools to deal with life at 35 years then I did at 3 months, when about all I could muster was "don't drink and go to meetings." And I have a greater repertoire of solutions at this point than I did at 5, 10 or 15 years. The "simple kit of spiritual tools" that was "laid at [my]feet"  (Big Book, p.25) now includes what I've learned through working the Steps many times, and what I've gained from teachers I've been privileged to meet along the way, whether in person or in print. My toolkit has also been enriched by life experience - each time I've walked through a difficult (or joyous) occasion, my self-confidence increases: If I can do that (fill in the blank) without picking up a drink, I can do anything.

My belly-button birthday was this week - another trip around the sun. It's not a big one - neither a "5" or an "0", but as a recovering person, every birthday is a gift. I very likely could've died behind the wheel of a car, with a hand over one eye and all the windows down, or at the end of a syringe. I could've gone home with the wrong stranger, or stepped a little too close to the curb. Instead, I sit here, reasonably healthy in mind and body, reasonably serene, and reasonably happy, joyous and free most days. If I'm momentarily tempted by the "is that all?" siren song, I can consciously remember all the crap that was daily life back in the day. I am very fortunate, indeed.

And so, leaving on a jet plane, which, for me, is a great perspective shifter. Yes, vacations are fun. Vacations in other cities, natural landscapes or foreign countries are fun, and the greatest enjoyment for me is the experience of "other," which reminds me of just how similar we all are. Until we meet again...

When you are in a meeting, or conference, what is it that holds your attention? What do you learn from the "what it's like now" portion of a share? If you find yourself comparing, as in "I don't measure up," how do you shift to gratitude for what your life looks like in this very moment?

**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, October 6, 2021


 We were very fortunate this past week to visit my husband's family in San Francisco after missing several regular trips due to the covid shut down. Watching little nieces and nephew cavort through a playground, overdue hugs and catching up in person - these relationships truly are gifts of recovery.

Another gift of recovery was an in-person coffee date with several friends from the meeting we've attended over the years when visiting. Thanks to zoom, we've seen these folks once or twice a week all during the pandemic, smiling and waving from our Hollywood Squares, with the occasional note in "chat." While very grateful for ongoing online connections, I'm beyond thankful for actual hugs with actual people in an actual coffee shop (outdoors, vaccinated), sharing stories of survival and gratitude. I can feel the "we" in a room full of strangers, but that doubles and triples in a room with friends.

Two meetings I attended last week were on the topic of "home," as in: the home group; what we missed in our growing up households; what we get from our 12 Step programs. I was fortunate to feel love in my family home. I may not have received the level of attention and guidance I could've used (though appreciate the freedom that resulted), but the love was there, along with homemade chocolate chip cookies warm from the oven after school.  And when I walked into my first AA meeting after treatment, I immediately felt, "These are my people."

That was a big deal. Feeling comfortable with strangers was a big deal, and made it easier to "keep coming back" Pre-recovery, I was the person who skulked around the edges of a room. I always made sure the friend I was meeting got to the bar before me so I wouldn't have to walk in alone, feigning nonchalance while checking my watch. I know now I had a bad case of self-centered fear, but at the time, the bondage of self was nearly paralyzing - I want your attention, but please don't look at me! 

If I'd been asked to describe "my people" I would not have mentioned the old guy in the frayed pants who kept saying, "Will power will not keep you sober, but want power will." I wouldn't have included the guy who'd lost his leg in a motorcycle accident, the authentic hippie woman (vs today's youngsters in tie-dye), or the 18 year old kid (who just celebrated 37 years sobriety). I wouldn't have included the young mom, or the teenage girl who told us that Led Zeppelin was her higher power. But when these people spoke, week after week in a chilly church classroom on Sunday evenings, I understood. When they shared what was in their heart or on their mind, I knew exactly what they were talking about and marveled that they put in to words what I'd thought were my own insecurities and secret dreams.

I have walked in to a few meetings over the years where I felt not cool enough, or maybe too old (like in a tiny meeting at the Schofield Barracks in Hawaii with a couple of 20 year old soldiers). But 99% of the time, I breathe a sigh of relief when I take a seat among my fellows, knowing that with just a few words of greeting, we'll establish that indescribable recovery bond.

Coming back to Portland, with the glow of family (actual and  recovery) like a warm blanket on this chilly October night, I look forward to the quiet joys of home before my next adventure. Home today means our near and far online and in-person meetings. Home means my bestie's for raucous Christmas celebrations (maybe this year??) and my brother in the house we grew up in. Home means listening to music in the park with women I've known since third grade, and the kid up the block who gives me a nod when I pass, though we've never spoken. Home is cats on the couch with me and the hubs, and how he and I catch each other's eye across a room. Home is that internal feeling of peace and ease as described in our literature. Home is in the here and now, when I can let myself be present.

What does the word "home" conjure for you, whether people, places or things? How can you feel more at home on the inside when external circumstances are challenging? What parts of the program serve to bring you back to center? 

**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.