Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Grief and Gratitude

 A Facebook memory of a tribute I made to the man I was with when I hit bottom in 1985 popped up today. As I'd stated in the post, we'd shared some love and some laughter, but it was a dark time. He introduced me to Neitzsche and Lao Tsu, along with methamphetamine and heroin. Actually, it was his suggestion I take a break that helped me decide to go to treatment. But he never understood his powerlessness, and died of an overdose in November, 1988 when he was about 43.

As I sit at my desk, I see a photo taken at Christmas, 1974, propped up near the window. The three young men pictured in their 20's are all dead now, two from the effects of alcoholism and one from tobacco-related illness. While these three were in their 50's and 60's when they died, theirs, too, are lives cut short, lives not fully lived. I can sometimes lose sight of the miracle of recovery, the gift of a second chance, the cosmic throw of the dice that left me on this side of the divide. This photograph is a reminder. 

I've been in several meetings lately that touched on grieving - seasonal remembrance of those not here to share a holiday meal and wispy memories of times past, some good, some not so good. This time of year has been dubbed the Bermuda Triangle for alcoholics, with festive drinking occasions and potential family land mines to shake our equilibrium. I'd add to that combo the memories - the empty place at the table, the longing for just one more conversation, one more hug, one more chance to tell our people that they matter.

I can breathe into that longing and stay there, or use it to propel me into gratitude for what is, today. Thinking of those I miss, I can be extra sure to say, "I love you," to those I care for, even if it isn't something we normally say to each other. I can sink into satisfaction that I've been gifted with a life that too many have missed. I don't have to make up for their lost time, but I can be mindful that any dilemmas I may have today are nothing compared to the scrounging and puking and lying and self-condemnation of active addiction. None of my luxury problems amount to anything compared to lives lost, and those still ruled by the disease. 

Grief may be a solitary journey, but as in nearly every experience, I'm not alone. Whatever I am feeling or walking through, someone else is just a few steps ahead as I do my best to accept impermanence, and not merely with a "Whew! Glad it wasn't me this time." I do confess to my interest in the age of people in the obituaries I read each week - older than me? (reasonable) younger than me? (sad) my age? (a little scary). In one of the recent meetings where members talked about loss, someone said that the question shouldn't be "How did they die?" but rather, "How did they live?" That's the important qualifier, the driver of "one day at a time" - how am I present today? (and not in the FOMO/ Fear of Missing Out desire that every moment be exciting, but with recognition that this moment, here and now, is precious) It is in acceptance of my humanness, my noticing the sun on my face or a hug from a friend that peace is found.

While I am a grateful alcoholic, I'm not grateful for alcoholism and the devastation, both quiet and noisy, it brought to my loved ones (and myself) and countless others. I am grateful for sobriety, even with life's ups and downs. With abstinence, I have a fighting chance. So, today, let's take a moment of silence for the alcoholic who still suffers, both in and out of the rooms.

This can be an emotionally complex time of year for we alcoholics. How do you honor all that brought you to this moment, while not getting lost in "morbid reflection?" Whether or not you mark the Thanksgiving holiday tomorrow, will you take time to note gratitude this week? What is on your list?


Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Self acceptance

 I've long heard people talk about starting and ending their day reading from pages 86 - 88 of the Big Book, the "Upon awakening" and "When we retire at night" bits. Good stuff. Really good stuff, but I've never made that a part of my practice. I have my AM and PM routines, though neither includes a formalized 10th Step, or the above Step 11. But, after hearing yet another member share how their program was enhanced by making this a part of their day, I decided to start, always interested in enhancement. I want to up my game, stay engaged, be entirely willing. 

However...  When I repetitively read something, there comes a point when my eyes glaze and my mind wanders as I lose focus on the now memorized words. Noticing this phenomenon of inattention with 86 & 87, I realized that, for me at least, it isn't so much about adherence to the actual pages, but to their intent. It is a good idea to review my day, whether right before sleep or earlier. It is an excellent idea to reflect on the day ahead when I wake up, and an even better idea to remind myself to get out of my own way and see where I might be helpful or supportive of others. So, here I am, again and still, not reading from the Big Book morning and night, but being more mindful of the intentional pause, the setting of intention, the review that will keep me conscious of the principles of recovery.

In a recent online meeting geared towards women with long term sobriety, someone shared that she'd retired from her profession, and had retired from self-improvement. Oy vey. I've been on the self-improvement train since I was nine or ten years old, from dieting to generalized "Be a better person." The program is geared towards halting hurtful behaviors and attitudes, rightly so - I was a mess of self-indulgence when I got sober. And, doesn't there come a point when enough is enough? I'm not at all suggesting to stop the inventory or working of Steps - just that with 35 years sober and 67 years on the planet, I have traits and quirks and preferences that no amount of Step work can budge (or it would've done so long ago). I desire to continue to grow, spiritually and emotionally, but have come to understand that it doesn't mean taking a machete to my psyche on a regular basis. I'm human. I screw up on occasion with a hurtful word or an impulsive decision. I may have deficiencies, but I am not a defect. I'm so glad to know that today.

I heard something brilliant a few weeks ago, from someone after their relapse. They described how relapse starts by un-working the Steps backwards, as in first you stop carrying the message (12), then you stop prayer and meditation (11). You then stop your personal inventory (10) and making amends (8 & 9). By that time, you likely aren't recognizing any defects/defenses (6 & 7) and aren't talking with a sponsor (5), and definitely not doing any pen-to-paper. Soon you're attempting to run the show (2 & 3) and in all likelihood, have convinced yourself you are not powerless over anything. Maybe you pick up, maybe you don't, but this trajectory sure sounds like the template of relapse stories I've heard. As I've said many times before, we don't just wake up on a Tuesday and decide to drink.

I've argued that once I "fully concede to [my] innermost self" that I'm alcoholic, I can't un-concede, but a friend has pointed out that we forget. We forget the devastation of hitting bottom, the ways we hurt ourselves and our loved ones, and how hard it was to finally make the decision to stop. I can romanticize both the drink and the excitement of early recovery. I once heard someone say they drank because they wanted to start over. I'm under no delusion that I could  recreate the heady days of early sobriety. For one thing, I'm not 31 years old anymore, running with a pack of other newbies in my age range (for me, that was from 21 to 51!). Even were I to drink again, sobriety would never again be "new." New perspective, perhaps, from a new vantage point, but today I'll do my best to follow the suggestion: "Keep Coming Back, but Stay, It's Easier."

Are you a by-the-book person, or a modifier? How do you know when  your modifications veer towards self-will or self deception? And where are you with self-acceptance? Can you be comfortable, most days, with who you are, rather than who you think you should be? 

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Just in time for the holidays, or your year-end inventory, consider my workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" covering such topics as Aging, Sponsorship, Relationships, and Grief & Loss with a narrative, a member's view, and processing questions, with space for writing. Perfect for sharing with a sponsor, trusted other, or in a small group.

If you're not seeing the links in the upper right corner of this post, you can go to the WEB VERSION  to sign up for weekly email deliveries, or to purchase the workbook.   See below to connect (2 options - look for in small print Web Version at the bottom of the page and click): 

(you can shoot me an email at with questions about the workbook or how to purchase)

 Sober Long Time - Now What? (     

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Gratitude (still and always)

 One of my maternal cousins is a regular attendee of the Portland Symphony, and until Covid shut everything down, I tagged along every other month or so, not because I'm particularly knowledgeable or a huge fan, but for the event-ness of going downtown for dinner and enjoyable music, outside my usual realm. The symphony re-opened in October, and this weekend, I went for the first time in nineteen months. It was fun to put on earrings and something other than sweatpants, showing my vaccine card and sitting with other masked patrons - not quite "normal" but a reasonable facsimile.

Appreciating the grandeur of the venue, a re-purposed movie theater built in 1927, I was struck by just how much I've taken for granted: freedom of movement and the freedom to gather, the ability to make a plan and leave the house without needing to think about space and distance and sticking a mask in my pocket. Our power went out for four hours a few weeks ago - again, a stark reminder of how much I assume: that the lights will go on with a flip of a switch, that I can make a cup of tea whenever I wish, that our home will always be warm and cozy.  

If I'm being honest, I sometimes take my recovery for granted, like it's a given. That's not all bad - sobriety has been my habit, my way of life, for a long time now, so it is the norm - I appreciate that I don't have to think about not drinking like at the beginning. And, I know that my recovery, which I equate with physical sobriety and spiritual growth, requires at least some attention to avoid the dreaded "retrogressive groove." As I've written before, I know that addiction recovery is not one-size-fits-all. I have friends who simply stopped doing what was causing them difficulty, and others who participated in AA for years and no longer do. Meetings work for me, with the regular reminders of what it was like, as well as bearing witness to, and learning from, the life-on-life's-terms of my peers. And, if I'm practicing the Steps, I can't very well carry the message if not in the company of newer folks, at least some of the time. I can both enjoy the relative calm of long term sobriety, and do what I need to do to keep it, knowing that what's needed shifts and changes over time.

I hope I don't take my spouse or good friends for granted, knowing that relationships require nurturing in order to continue and thrive. I am fortunate to have several friends who are of the "take up where we left off" variety, which could be weekly, monthly or a few times a year. I've read, and heard from others, that the pandemic has resulted in a culling, a winnowing of relations, from a nebulous group of acquaintances defined by circumstance (work, meetings, hobbies) that likely included regular contact in the before-times, to those people I'd drive across the miles to see.  One friend recently heard the actual words, "I've decided not to continue our friendship." That would sting, though I can appreciate the level of honesty and courage involved in speaking that truth. These days, I spend time with my walking group and with women I've known since our school days or soon after. Actually, I spend most of my time alone, or with my spouse, though need to be mindful of balance. Retirement is a transition, learning how to be in the world sans schedule. Retirement in a global pandemic is a learning opportunity as well, impeding engagement with the greater community. The pandemic slow down has been a cosmic lesson in waiting, never my first choice. Whether job decision, relationships, or dinner, I was long an "act now, question later" type person. I'm actually enjoying learning to ponder before I leap.

When I find myself in awareness of all I take for granted, I turn to the trusty gratitude list - all the more timely, this being November. From hot running water to good friendships, I have much to be thankful for. I'm told that gratitude is a spiritual elevator, a tool as well as an attitude. I can't "make" myself feel grateful, but simply the exercise of listing all the things I might be grateful for, were I so inclined, leads me to a better frame of mind.  

What, or who, do you sometimes take for granted? How might your attitude change if you were mindful that those things you assume are a given are actually a gift? How do you define being in recovery? What are the regular practices that keep you from forgetting how far you've come? Retired, or working, are there areas of your life that are on hold, that require a "wait?" How do you stay in acceptance, rather than attempting for force the issue or foresee the future?


Just in time for the holidays, or your year-end inventory, consider my workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" covering such topics as Aging, Sponsorship, Relationships, and Grief & Loss with a narrative, a member's view, and processing questions, with space for writing. Perfect for sharing with a sponsor, trusted other, or in a small group.

If you're not seeing the links in the upper right corner of this post, you can go to the WEB VERSION of this page to sign up for weekly email deliveries, or to purchase the workbook.   See below to connect (2 options):

 Sober Long Time - Now What? (     

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

The "good old days"

 In a somewhat amusing development, I've volunteered to spearhead my 50th high school reunion. It isn't actually a development, since I took it upon myself, but amusing in that I was not an active participant in (official) high school life. My sole extracurricular activity was a daily trek to a particular corner of the cafeteria to buy a joint for 50 cents, spending the rest of my lunch money on a Coke and bag of chips to split with my cousin. 

I grew up in the city I live in, and have friends I've known since grade school, but this reunion business has me thinking about the "good old days" that weren't particularly. I had zero self-esteem, but did have a best friend who I'd meet in the girl's bathroom for a cigarette before class, and was on the periphery of a larger group, the ones that met across the street for their morning smoke and hung out in a nearby park where we'd share whatever cheap bottle of wine we'd stolen, spinning on the merry-go-round in order to feel high faster. More/faster/longer was the goal. Eventually, I met the guy I later married, brother of a classmate, already out of school and not in favor of my getting high every day. But there I was, in the park most days.

When I try to think of memorable times in high school, what comes to mind is the time an older, big guy named Luther told me I blew a charge like a dude, which I took as an extreme compliment. (for the record, a "charge" is when you put the lit end of a joint in your mouth and blow smoke into another person's nose/mouth). Other memories include walking through Center Hall, certain that everyone knew I was stoned, and where I was standing (stoned) when someone told us Jimi Hendrix had died. I remember smoking a joint with my cousin and her boyfriend before a dance, with them then pretending  they couldn't see me, and another dance where my beautiful friend told me she had a crush on the same boy I did (so long to my chances).

I do remember memorizing bits from A Midsummer Night's Dream for an English class ("Ay me! For aught that I could ever read, could ever hear by tale or history, the course of true love never did run smooth," a great truth to my 16 year old ears). I remember a cool woman instructor who drove a vintage Thunderbird and started my feeble awakening to women's rights, and the very hip teacher (i.e. somewhat intimidating) who encouraged us to sit on the floor of his classroom (this being the early 70's). I remember smoking a cigarette at the donut shop, as an older girl surreptitiously indicated to a friend, that, no, I wasn't being invited to join a particular social club. Later, I said, "I didn't want to anyway," but of course I did. I at least wanted to be wanted. And I remember the sidewalk weaving - or was it me - on the last day of senior year, after chugging Jim Beam I'd stolen from mom's bottle. 

So, yeah, high school memories are mostly of being stoned or drinking to near oblivion on weekends, while still managing to earn my way to the Honor Roll. Why do I want to take the helm on the reunion?? Mostly because I have a vision of how it could be - an inclusive event in the park we grew up in, with a wide range of attendees from our 500+ classmates.  At 50 years, I'm more interested in seeing the guys I got high with than wearing uncomfortable shoes for an overpriced fancy dress banquet. I'd like to see the woman I briefly shared a boyfriend with, 15 year old cad that he was. I look forward to giving a program nod to the folks I now see in the rooms of recovery, and reminiscing about those who've passed on. Do I have control issues? Ha ha - a bit, and, I'm motivated by nostalgia for connections from the way-back time machine. As awkward as high school was, some of those days of discovery (during a social revolution, with a great soundtrack) were fun.

I thank AA for teaching me how to show up, how to make a plan and follow through, and how to work with a group (still not my favorite thing - somebody just make a decision!). I've hosted potlucks and helped facilitate conferences. I've gained my voice, and know what it is I want to say most days. AA/Alanon grew me up, teaching me social skills I simply didn't have as a teen. (I've shared this before, but I often chuckle at an older cousin, who asked, when I was 3 years sober, "When did Jeanine get a personality." Ouch, but true).

I attended my 10th reunion while still drinking (heavily). At the next one, I wondered what to say when people asked, "What have you been up to?"  "Uh, well, I nearly killed myself with drugs and booze, but I'm sober now!" For a while, getting sober was the greatest accomplishment of my life, just about the only one. Actually, it still is the most important event, but over time I've been able to build a life around that truth, with university, a career, good friends and a sweet marriage. But that list of achievements isn't really what I'm interested in from old classmates. Sure, folks will talk about their kids or how many grandkids they have, what they're doing in retirement, whether their folks are still alive, but I'm more interested in how they've navigated these last 50 years. Where did they hit a road block, and how did they come back? Is there a spark of the 14, 15 or 16 year old in their eyes? Do they even know I had a crush on them, or looked up to them, or learned something from their actions? In other words, who are you, really? Not the two-paragraph bio, but in your heart? Did you find true love? Are there dreams you still hope to achieve? What happened to our plan to change the world?

I remember when my mom attended her 50th reunion, and how old she seemed. 50 years??? I couldn't even imagine.  At 17 I couldn't have pictured this moment. Coming in to sobriety at 31, I wouldn't have been able to forsee all that has fit into the years. Who knows what's next? I used to want to know, to have a guarantee, but these days I'm better able to greet the day with curiosity. What is it I need to learn today? What is it I should pay attention to today? 

How have whatever goals you had for yourself in high school been achieved, or revised? What might you say to your 16 year old self to let them know it would all work itself out? What skills and tools have you picked up in the rooms that help you navigate the world today?

*  *  *

Just in time for the holidays, or your year-end inventory, consider my workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" covering such topics as Aging, Sponsorship, Relationships, and Grief & Loss with a narrative, a member's view, and processing questions, with space for writing. Perfect for sharing with a sponsor, trusted other, or in a small group.

If you're not seeing the links in the upper right corner of this post, you can go to the WEB VERSION of this page to sign up for weekly email deliveries, or to purchase the workbook.   See below to connect (2 options):

 Sober Long Time - Now What? (