Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Loss and change

Yesterday we marked Winter Solstice here in the north, the annual change of seasons. I sometimes need to remind myself that it is in my animal nature to slow down and draw within this time of year, just like expansion and energy are signals of spring and summer. As I've recently read, in our modern world of electricity and temperature-controlled environments, we can lose our connection to the natural world. That's one of the reasons I like to run and walk outdoors, feeling the season change as much as seeing it. 

This week also marked the third anniversary of my ex's passing - the man who put me through treatment and helped me get on my feet during that all-important first year of sobriety. He was kinder to me than I deserved at the time (and am I ever grateful now that I didn't get what I "deserved."). I am forever struck by the irony that while I was running a half-marathon in 2018, he was dying from the effects of alcoholism. The other ex from those days, the meth cook who suggested that going to treatment might not be a bad idea, also died from his disease, of an overdose, in the fall of 1988, which just goes to show that one doesn't need to be clean and sober to encourage another addict. Ebby T. is a case in point - he led Bill Wilson to sobriety but struggled himself. 

Sometimes I think of what we say at the end of meetings, holding a moment of silence for the alcoholic who still suffers. Were they saying that back in 1985? Did the collective energy of the fellowship help draw my psyche into the rooms? AA wasn't as visible in those days. I'd heard of it, of course. My dad had gotten sober, but wasn't a joiner, so all I knew was that AA was like the buddy-system, where you called somebody if you wanted a drink. Decades later, when clearing out my mom's house after she died, I found an old meeting schedule, and a Twenty-Four Hours a Day reader, with a note from someone named Laveeda. She wrote, "With a day at a time, we can live happy and useful lives, people our kids can be proud of." I don't recognize her name, or the names of others written in the back of the book and in the margins of the schedule. The Portland Area meeting booklet was from 1978, which tells me Dad tried to sober up with AA after he relapsed upon learning his cancer was terminal. I am so sad that the fellowship wasn't something he could connect with (he'd had his larynx removed, so had a hard time communicating at that point, and was very much an introvert). I'm beyond sad that I was in the depths of my own addiction at the time and couldn't be a support. All he asked is that I take care of my mother. I wish I'd been able to do more. 

What does this stream of consciousness have to do with Solstice, you ask? Not much, other than a vague tie-in to seasons and cycles and learning from the past. When my dad was dying, we retreated to our corners, not having words to handle the grief (this was before hospice). What I learned, through the very painful process that took years to unravel, was to show up for my aunt and my mother, and to talk with family members as we prepared for those losses. I was also able to show up for my first husband, with doctor's visits and conversations around "what if?" I learned that when someone is dying, allow them to lead the conversations, despite my inclination to dig into emotions and fears. 

AA in Portland lost an icon this past week, a woman who reached hundreds with her story and her service. In April 1986, at the noon meeting I attended daily, she shared of getting word that her son had just been shot and killed, and instead of reaching for a drink, she reached for the phone. At just ninety days sober, her strength struck me like a lightning bolt. In my own introverted manner, I didn't actually talk to too many people in the meetings, but I paid attention. I paid attention to how others were walking through their own darkest days without picking up. I paid attention to how others celebrated, sober. I paid attention to how others got jobs and lost them, found love and lost it, learned to either be part of their family or detach from it - in other words, you all showed me how to live, one day at a time, without the aid of mind-altering substances. Today, that is simply the way I live, but it is helpful to remember that there was a time when I had to consciously make the decision for sobriety every single day.

Last night, a small group of women gathered on zoom to celebrate Solstice with our now 17-year ritual of reviewing the old year and welcoming the new. I was in tears by the end of the sharing with these women, ranging in age from 60 to 75, that I'm growing old with. I am so very grateful for the safe spaces where we can share freely, vulnerably, and triumphantly. While we're all extremely tired of the virus, the ability to stay connected online has been a lifesaver.

How do you walk through grief differently today than in the past, recognizing that there are many layers to loss? What is it you can do to honor changed circumstances, whether of your choosing or not? As we move towards Christmas weekend and on to the new year, what lessons have you learned in 2021? What do you look forward to in 2022, internally or externally? Are there rituals or traditions that you've carried forward through these past two years of disruptions? If that hasn't been feasible, how can you conjure positive energy to help provide seasonal comfort and connection as we move forward? 

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For your new year's 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.

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