Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Self-compassion

 In meetings last week focused on Step 11, I heard the message of working this Step gently, with compassion for ourselves, as in the suggestion to "gently relax into the daily reprieve." Hearing that brought me nearly to tears. Compassion? Gentle? I sometimes come at the Steps with force, a bludgeon of "If I only do this right/hard enough everything will be ok" when actually, everything is ok. All I really need to do is show up. And as I've been reminded, the Steps are tools, not weapons.

A program friend often tells of correspondence between Carl Jung and Bill Wilson, where Jung described the alcoholic's craving for alcohol like a low-level search for God - maybe that's why they're called "spirits." All my life I was searching, if not for god, then for peace of mind (and note that for me, peace of mind might be found in mad excitement).

Pre-recovery, most of my searching was via self-help books and long, stoned discussions, with "moral and philosophical convictions galore." Well into sobriety I dabbled in various churches, never finding quite the right fit. Nothing at all against church, but for me, most of my searching of that nature had to do with, one more time, looking outside myself for a fix. If I pray the right way, sing the right songs, all will be well. What I know now is that my spiritual life changes and evolves as I do. The "god" I had at 30 days sober is different than my spiritual connections at 30-plus years. I don't need to understand the exact mechanisms in order to feel centered and connected.

I used to complain to a homegroup member, "I just want somebody to tell me everything will be ok," to which he replied, "But everything is ok, Jeanine." What I was probably asking was, "Tell me everything will stay the same," a dreamer's quest for stability. Everything, everything is temporary. Everything will change, die, go away. The reality of that is closer to home the older I get, but still I want certainty. Certainty that my friends will always be by my side, that the musicians I grew up listening to will live forever (RIP Christine McVie), that love will last (though that one is true, whether the person is alive or not).

I see Step 11 meditation as getting still, which is different than getting quiet, and releasing the internal chatter. I can sit on my cushion (which is actually the couch) quiet on the outside while my mind races to this or that task, memory or plan, surprised when the ending bell goes off. While not a practicing Christian, I love the saying, "Be still and know that I am God." Be still, and become aware of my inner wisdom, the knowing that was there all along. My addict-self still wants bright lights and bullhorns - DO THIS NOW! but my truth tends to be quiet, and certain - maybe not always specific, but there is a definite "yay" or "nay" energy to whatever it is I'm pondering (and if there isn't, then it isn't time to make a decision). And it isn't usually an actual voice unless voice can be defined as knowledge. The dictionary describes voice as sound, but also as "a particular opinion or attitude expressed." Perhaps my psyche expresses its particular opinion via my gut, the internal red light/green light. Today I can relax into the mystery, releasing my need to know.

As usually happens, I've moved from holiday grieving to holiday celebration, spending time with friends and family, enjoying the coziness of almost-winter. My friends and I will, one more time, mark Solstice online, exhaling into the return of the light. I'm one who doesn't mind the darkness, grateful for a warm home, a full pantry, and electricity, very aware that not everyone who seeks shelter finds it. I can nit-pick my grievances, or, with just a second's pause, remember that I could very well have died at the end of a syringe, or behind the wheel of a car, or even worse, lived for years on the margins, spending my days looking for the next fix or drink. I've been given the opportunity to live, however I define that on any given day. Sometimes that means curling up with a good book, or for a winter's nap, and sometimes it means spending time with loved ones, or being of service in one form or another. In any event, even after all these years, I never forget that recovery is a gift. 

How do you relax into the mystery of this sober life? What do you do if the holiday lonelys strike? How does your inner wisdom get your attention? In this potentially busy time of year, how do you practice self-care? If you find yourself weaponizing the Steps, how do you reset to a place of compassion?  How do you remind yourself that everything is OK, right here, right now? 

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This could be time to plan a holiday gift for a sponsor or sponsee, or to think about a year end/new year stock-taking. See the Feb 4 entry for a sample of the "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" workbook with 78 pages of topics, member's views, and processing questions. Available in PDF format for those of you outside the US (or who prefer that format) or hardcopy mailed to you. Email me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com with questions.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Read, write, think, do

 As November draws to a close, I contemplate what, exactly, is meant by the 11th Step suggestion to "improve our conscious contact" with the higher power of our own understanding (or, non-understanding, as a good friend puts it). Since contact with anything outside my addict brain of "more, more" was pretty much nil in the old days (though I sometimes prayed at night, thinking of it as a sort of insurance policy), the mere fact of even imagining a power greater than myself, or of my drug of choice, was a miracle. But I've often wondered what, exactly, I'm supposed to be doing. The writing steps are clear cut, but the others - becoming entirely willing, making a decision, etc - can seem nebulous.  Concrete thinker that I am, I asked a friend once, well into sobriety, how does one actually work the Steps? She replied that for her, it means to read the Step, do any writing suggested, and then think about how to put the principle (trust, honesty, etc) into action. Read, write, think, do - I can manage that, most days.

As I've written before, I did have the "I'm alive!" pink cloud, for quite a while after getting sober. I just read a piece about a cancer survivor who described the every-day miracle of waking up each day post diagnosis, and how that awe faded as the years have passed. I'd say "same" with recovery - what used to be outright glee at seeing the sun come up (rather than bemoaning a new day) has long settled into a sometimes-generic gratitude. Not to negate gratitude in all its forms, but at times, it seems that the sparkle has worn off.  Maybe it's the season, with the hype around feeling FANTASTIC and buying just the right gifts and cooking the perfect meal. Bah humbug to that. And, it can be good to remind myself that perhaps the sparkle is hiding under a tree in Forest Park or waiting to be found in a book I haven't yet read, or one I revisit. Perhaps the sparkle of yore is more of a warm glow these days. It's there, if I pay attention to what really matters.

We spent time with my dear friend's family on Thanksgiving. At 50 years and counting, she's long been a wise owl in my life, telling me when my first marriage ended that romance may come and go, but it's your friends who will be with you always. How true, despite various imaginings of "happily ever after" in the years since.  I haven't always been a good steward of my friendships, letting connections take a back seat when a new crush came my way. I never wanted to be that type of woman, but how could I be anything else with my erroneous belief that a relationship was the end-all, be-all? It took so long, including finally letting the Universe choose instead of my so-called broken picker, to be in a place of appreciating and honoring all my relationships, always. Another friend once pointed out that yes, our primary relationship is our primary relationship, but that doesn't mean we should neglect those who had our back all along. 

Relationships, whether friendships, family, sponsee/sponsor, or our partner, do seem to go through stages and cycles - sometimes inseparable. sometimes distant and sometimes a bit rocky. Sometimes circumstances result in a letting go - I'm thinking of women I used to train and run with, literally hours every week, and once that focus ended, the friendships faded. There are those too that were connected to a particular meeting where we've drifted apart over time. And there are those deep friendships where conversations take up where they left off, despite time or distance in between. And... "later is now" when it comes to friendships. There are absolutely no guarantees.  Make the amends. Schedule the coffee date. Call the elderly relative. Get on a plane.

I took myself to an in-person meeting at our local Alano Club this week. It didn't feel quite the same as the before-times, with masks required, paying for parking that used to be free, and a sparsely attended group, but it felt SO good to be in this place, and this neighborhood, where I spent literally decades attending meetings as well as coffee dates and meetings-after-the-meeting dinners. Scuffling my way down the street, kicking November's leaves as I walked, I felt light. I only recognized one person at the meeting but felt a surge of joy to be in my old stomping grounds, thinking of all the recovery conversations in that square mile, and perhaps those yet to come. As I've written before, we don't really know the full ramifications of the pandemic, but I know I've gotten comfortable with staying in. Nothing wrong with that - I'm something of a homebody at heart - but/and there is an energy of connection I've sorely missed. I love seeing dear friends on zoom, and, I hadn't realized how much I've missed the randomness of attendees at an in-person meeting. And thank you, dear reader, for coming along for the ride as I straddle this in-between space of safe/not safe, cautious/carefree.

What does it mean to you to practice Step 11? Where do you find the sparkle or glow of recovery these days? Is there a friend you're feeling the urge to connect with? If you are a meeting-goer, are you mostly in-person or online these days? Is that working for you? Is there a dilemma you are facing that could be helped by the "read, write, think, do" formula of a particular Step?

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This could be time to plan a holiday gift for a sponsor or sponsee, or to think about a year end/new year stock-taking. See the Feb 4 entry for a sample of the "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" workbook with 78 pages of topics, member's views, and processing questions. Available in PDF format for those of you outside the US (or who prefer that format) or hardcopy mailed to you. Email me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com with questions. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Gratitudes and sorrows and everything in-between

The 10 years that my mother has been gone means that my brother has been living in the ancestral manor that long. I've now been in my home for 19 years - a blink of an eye apparently. In thinking about the whoosh of the 10 years since mom died, I realize that a lot has happened - my Stepdad, first husband, ex-boyfriend and several other friends died; my stepdaughter finished high school and graduated from college; my husband fought cancer; I retired; I completed a few marathons and other races; and oh yeah, the world was shut down by a global pandemic.

We'd all have our various lists of events and experiences over any 10- or 20-year period. Taken incident by incident, a lot of living has occurred, but looked at as a whole, I say, "Wow - how did that happen?" Is it just human nature, or related to a lack of mindfulness?  As a kid, I remember summers that often dragged on, with me and my pal sitting on the neighbor's lawn waiting for something to happen. Someone once told me that "life" slows down after retirement, but I haven't yet had that experience. And life doesn't slow down or speed up, right? The sun rises and sets, earlier or later depending on the time of year, but a day is still a day. 

And I know on those long summer afternoons, time moved so slowly because I was bored, with Mom's "Just go play outside," a tough sell when I was between kid stuff and young adolescence - in other words, trouble waiting to happen. Bored + bright + genetic predisposition = alcoholic in the making. I know I crossed that invisible line within 20 minutes of my first beer. The specifics of the trajectory were up for grabs, but the disease took hold without questioning the eventual destination.

In a meeting this week about the spiritual experience, many shared their aversion to any kind of god-talk. I had both - the psychic rearrangement and skepticism about what it actually meant to turn my will and life over, which at the time, I equated with No More Fun. Something happened to me, or in me, during treatment where I found myself on my knees, crying my eyes out in surrender, and then a month or so later at home, when I again hit my knees, this time with joy, thinking, "Is this all I had to do? Stop drinking beer for breakfast and sticking a needle in my arm, and life feels this good?" I can question whether all that elation mixed with confusion was merely a side-effect of dormant synapses coming back to life, but something had shifted. I think of it like a pencil snapping in half - one day I needed to escape myself via substances, and the next day I was done. At this point I don't need to try to figure it out but suffice to say I've been grateful ever since that I didn't have to fight the urge to drink or get loaded.

Which doesn't mean that I'm cured. I am a firm believer in the daily reprieve, however the maintenance of our spiritual condition looks on any given day - in AA/Alanon or out, on a bicycle or the couch, in solitude, or with like-minded others.  

And so, I do what works for me today, while paying attention to when it begins to feel rote. I use a mediation app, which has been helpful, but when I found that I was more interested in the daily check mark (200 days!) than the actual meditation, I went on strike. I eventually added the app back into my morning practice, intentionally not paying attention to the "X days in a row" notation. With anything, whether reading certain passages out of the literature, or my morning routine, it is only meaningful if it is meaningful - as in, am I in the moment, or already on to the next thing? I can be in the process of reading something and totally blank out, mind on three other things. Attention is a discipline. 

In our neighborhood, there are houses with stale Halloween decorations flapping in the wind, a few turkey banners, and a smattering of holiday lights. That's kind of like I'm feeling - not quite done with one thing before moving on to the next. I've been very aware of ""Gratitude Month" and a Step 11 focus as I pause to appreciate all that has gone into me being here, in these circumstances, at this moment in time. But I will say, Dios de los Muertos notwithstanding, it is this time of year that the veil between the living and those gone on feels thinnest for me as I'm flooded with memories of laughter and love with each holiday ornament I remove from its box. I straddle the line between sorrow and gratitude, knowing as the season progresses, I'll move to a place of celebration. But right now, with tissue paper strewn on the living room floor, decorations being set in their appointed spots or somewhere new, I reflect on Christmas' past - Grandpa hiding under the tree nibbling on peanut brittle, a house full of cousins. Mom and Dad gave me a typewriter when I was in high school, knowing I wanted to be a writer. It took many years and detours for that dream to come true, and here I am today, writing, crying, cooking, hugging those dear to me. We'll go to my bestie's for dinner tomorrow, and on Saturday, my stepdaughter will be here with her fella for more turkey and our yearly tradition of decorating the tree together. I can mourn those gone, then put that down in order to celebrate all the love I have and share today.

Are your childhood memories of holiday times nourishing or best forgotten? How have you created new traditions in recovery? Who is in your Family of Choice, and do they know how much they mean to you? As we Americans mark Thanksgiving (despite the day's murky and sketchy origin story that is likely less than true), what will go on your Gratitude List? 

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This could be time to plan a holiday gift for a sponsor or sponsee, or to think about a year end/new year stock-taking. See the Feb 4 entry for a sample of the "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" workbook with 78 pages of topics, member's views, and processing questions. Available in PDF format for those of you outside the US (or who prefer that format) or hardcopy mailed to you. Email me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com with questions. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Noticing...

 My brother and I had a nice, long conversation the other day about his pending 65th birthday and the passage of time. We remarked how odd it feels to have now outlived our father by a decade, though he'll always feel older than us. I helped a friend from grade school celebrate her birthday too, as the small group of us marveled at years gone by. Aging is a gift denied many. 

A snippet from a Mary Oliver poem:

When it's over, I don't want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

I can read this as a challenge or chastisement, or perhaps a goal. Or maybe as a reminder to truly inhabit my days rather than merely checking boxes off the To-Do list. "Lunch date with friends - check" or "Lunch date with friends - ahhh, such wonderful conversation." 

And these days, conversations sway gently between present and past, now and then (and sometimes my friends recall episodes I have no recollection of!) So much of my recovery life has been about unearthing causes and conditions - the inventories and therapy sessions and long conversations, reading old journals or looking at photographs that provide clues to the "what it was like and what happened" portions of my story. A few times, Mom handed me an "ah-ha" on a silver platter of a remark, but usually, those investigations involved courage and patience, and compassion for all involved.

And sometimes, the "ah-ha" shows up on the radio. Listening to the oldies station last week, I heard a song, "Wives and Lovers," that made my blood curdle: "Comb your hair, fix your makeup, soon he will open the door. Don't think because there's a ring on your finger, you needn't try anymore.... Day after day there are girls at the office and men will always be men. Don't send him off with your hair still in curlers, you may not see him again."  Arghh! I'm all for keeping the spark alive, but really? Might these types of song lyrics (I can't live without you... I'm nothing without you... etc) have fed my already fragile ego, reinforcing that I was merely a body? Causes and conditions aren't just the family dynamics. I can look at the whole of it and know I am a product of my times and popular culture as well as my upbringing, schooling, privilege and how all those interacted with the nugget of personality I came into the world with. And at this stage of the game, I can take what I like and leave the rest.

In a meeting this week focused on the 3rd Step, I realized I can turn my will and life over (which for me, is more related to getting out of the way than a god pulling strings), but then I have to pay attention to what the Universe brings me each day, whether a passenger in the car who acts suspiciously like I do when my spouse is driving (how annoying!) or a sub-zero on the joy-meter in response to a request for my time. Maybe recovery is about paying attention - to my reactions, to the "how important is it?" question, to what I think and what I do. Not a magic wand, but an increased awareness of what is mine to do and what isn't, or my favorite quote from a program pal - There are two kinds of business: My business and none of my business. I also heard the reminder that Step 3 involves patience. I don't simply get to say, "I'm out!" and then expect whatever it is I was turning over to magically appear. Trust the process, time takes time, make plans but not the results - all the things we've heard over the years that serve as reminders that I am not in charge.

This is pretty funny, and one more indicator that I don't have an original idea in my brain:  After writing last week about realizing the old ideas I've carried about myself no longer fit, I came across an article in the December issue of Prevention magazine, titled "Who Do You Think You Are?" about how it's "common in midlife to have a self-concept based on outdated ideas of who you are." The piece goes on to describe what is essentially an inventory process of writing and talking to someone else, as well as both writing a letter to your younger self and imagining yourself in the future. (In early recovery I had a dream where I told my younger self to hold on, that life would get better and that I had important work to do.) I'm a sucker for a process or a plan, so I'll try it, once I stop laughing for thinking, once again, I'm the only one who feels the way I do. 

Do you ever catch yourself so busy that the days and weeks fly by? How might you slow that down a bit to notice and appreciate what's happening? What aspects of family and society influenced who you became, and do those influences still hold sway? What works and what doesn't anymore? How do you practice Step 3?

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This could be time to plan a holiday gift for a sponsor or sponsee, or to think about a year end/new year stock-taking. See the Feb 4 entry for a sample of the "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" workbook with 78 pages of topics, member's views, and processing questions. Available in PDF format for those of you outside the US (or who prefer that format) or hardcopy mailed to you. Email me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com with questions. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Recovery 201

 After last week's post, I heard from several people who had health issues despite their efforts at self-care. I know, I know that one can do all the "right" things and still end up with memory loss or a scary diagnosis, a debilitating fall or accident. We are members of the animal kingdom and thus, subject to laws of nature, which often seem random. Both my parents were long-term smokers, so no surprise that tobacco related illness is what took them, but I could just as easily cite friends with decades of sobriety who died from liver illness, despite years of healthy living. Sometimes our bodies bounce back and sometimes a tiny nugget of injury lies dormant until it shows its ugly face. And sometimes there simply is no easily categorized cause and effect.

Life and death are, to some extent, a roll of the dice, but to a person, everyone I've heard from told me how the principles of the program helped them walk through their dark days. "Prayer" won't make sickness go away but aligning myself with Truth can help me access the strength I need to show up, one day at a time. That was evident when my husband was diagnosed with cancer, and simultaneously my first husband got a terminal diagnosis, both needing my support. It was evident in my spouse reciting the Serenity Prayer over and over in the radiation chair each day. The strength to show up was evident (though sometimes falteringly) when my mother was dying, and I wasn't sure how I'd go on without her. It was evident every time I'd talk about my fears or sadness or grief in a meeting and someone would say, "I've gone through that too."

On another note, I had to chuckle when my on-call work group went through training, assessing how comfortable we'd be talking to strangers. "I'm in AA," I thought. "I talk to strangers all the time."  I'd thought AA was simply about putting down the bottle or the bag, but it's also Life Skills 101. Sitting still for an hour, talking to strangers, putting my hand out, taking a risk, saying, "Sure, I'll help," are all things I've learned from showing up, and from watching others walk the walk. Part of it surely has to do with growing older, and growing older sober, but the things that used to terrify me simply don't anymore. And isn't it funny that the things that should've scared me, like driving drunk with one hand over an eye, going home with a stranger, or swallowing something without actually knowing what it was, didn't. The things that scared me were the fears around speaking up, about being judged, or being found out as an imposter. Today I can say, "Whatever," but those were real fears that ruled my decisions for years.

And now, recovery moves on to Life Skills 201 and beyond as I navigate these years of change. I have a journal calendar that poses various questions. Last week's reflection was to identify what I'm holding on to that I need to let go of. I initially, automatically, wrote about the lurking whisper that I'm not OK, that I'm not enough, but mid-pen stroke, stopped to ask myself, "Is that even true anymore?" How much of that belief is simply a thought-habit, honed through years of recovery work? It was certainly true for a long, long time, but again, through getting older in life and sobriety, it simply isn't anymore. Who am I today and what old, or even new, ideas get in my way? Just like drinking as a solution was an entrenched old idea, the notion that I need fixing is one too. What if, when we peel that proverbial onion, we find a beautiful gem at the core? Not perfect, but not defective either. Years ago a friend told me something he'd heard that I laughed off at the time - Please help me see the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is. Indeed.

We had a windstorm here last week.  I enjoyed the day-before efforts to batten down the hatches, connecting to the natural world beyond Tik-Tok and online shopping and nose in the phone that I sometimes indulge in and see my fellow humans doing on the street, on the bus, or in stores. Always, but this time of year especially, I take time to breath in cold November air, appreciating the changing season.

From Rumi: (Coleman Barks translation) 

I have lived on the lip of insanity, wanting to know reasons, knocking on a door.                                     It opens.                                                                                                                                                    I've been knocking from the inside.


What old ideas about yourself might need re-evaluating? If the door Rumi describes were to open, what would you see, or feel?  If sometimes we're in recovery grad school and sometimes in remedial-ed, where are you today, and what lessons are making themselves known? In what ways does your spiritual fitness help you navigate life's ups and downs? How do you take time to notice what is going on in the natural world?




Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Conscious living...

 This past week I attended an online seminar on growing old, a series of lectures by scientists and doctors, nutritionists and public personas who talked about how aging means something different today than when my parents turned 50. We baby boomers are not going to go quietly into the night! Jamie Lee Curtis and Anne Lamott both talked about how addiction recovery changed their perspectives, with the realization that time is not endless, and that we've been given a second chance. To a person, each speaker addressed the ideas of healthy nutrition, sleep, movement (as in, get your heart rate up) and the benefits of staying active and engaged with life as important elements of one's "health span" (as opposed to lifespan).

I got to see a living, breathing example of that as part of my on-call work with the Elections Board. I'm with the Voter Access Team, groups of two that go to people's homes (when requested) to assist with voting. Our first stop on Friday was at a senior living facility, where our 95-year-old appointed person met us wearing a tiara, and in the course of our visit, shared a few amazing stories of her youth. At one point she remarked, "I don't know why people complain about things they have no control over!" speaking to the importance of changing what one can and releasing the rest (my first thought was, "Is she in AA??") as well as the beauty of having a lifetime of memories to reflect on. That fit with the t-shirt one of our next people was wearing that said, "Live a good story." Truth is truth, wherever and however it shows up.

So, aim for healthy habits, stay connected to community (or develop one), stay engaged and curious about life, and then carry on. No guarantees, and nothing new, but a recipe for aging consciously vs waking up one day to say, "Oh shit - how did that happen?!"

I felt so fortunate to be a part of AA and Alanon, listening to various speakers expound on the value of community and service. We have a built-in avenue for both, if we so choose. I think about AA elders I've known over the years who kept coming back until they couldn't, and then, folks took meetings to them. Moving to a new neighborhood or town, a change in circumstance, travel - program is there if I want it, whether phone calls, meetings, literature, or in the way I incorporate the principles into my way of being. 

That business of making small changes today to reap benefits in the future can be a challenge. A friend recently posted a video of a woman talking about her wonderful life - a loving spouse, comfortable home, a pleasantly full social and family calendar, good health - and all she could focus on was her chubby tummy. I could relate, having bought into the dominant cultural myth that my female body is not OK as is. Most of the time I'm content with my strength, endurance, and the ability to move and sometimes what masquerades as my still, small voice whispers, "Just five pounds." It goes back to that push/pull between surrender and effort, acceptance of what is while doing my part. Yes, I am the one at the grocery store, or putting on my walking shoes, and...  life is life is life until it isn't, and 5 pounds one way or another doesn't impact my value as a human being. One of my goals as I age is to move further into self-acceptance, whether that is deserved pride at completing a 10-mile walk or cutting myself some slack for that slice of pizza, satisfaction at utilizing the "pause" or simply moving on when I've been cranky.

I had another good example of making the effort on my morning walk yesterday, internally whining as I prepared to cut my route short. Up ahead I saw the fellow who walks (up steep hills and public stairs) toting his oxygen tank. Just suit up and show up and do the footwork, literally as well as figuratively. One step at a time.

Truth is truth, and motivation is motivation, whether from the joy of an elder in a tiara or admiration at seeing someone with an oxygen tank attacking a hill; from shared gratitude at a 1st year anniversary or hearing the heartbreak of relapse. Teachers are everywhere, if I'm paying attention. Sometimes the lessons and insights are internal, but often they come from connecting with those around me.

Do you utilize the Serentiy Prayer in day-to-day life? How do you envision your aging process, and do you have any specific goals related to growing older? How do you balance surrender and action, whether in working the Steps or daily decisions? Who are your teachers today?

A reminder that, if you wish, you can post a response to this post (or any other), and I believe you can do it anonymously. If not, I very much appreciate your social media comments and emails as part of the conversation of life-on-life's terms.

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Fall is a great time to start a small group discussion, or work with a sponsor or sponsee with the Now What? workbook. See the Feb 4 post for a sample or contact me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com for more info. Available for purchase on the WEB VERSION of this blog page, and at Portland Area Intergroup.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Rigorous honesty

 In a recent meeting on Step 5, members talked about the initial discomfort at disclosing their deepest and darkest secrets and deeds to another person. I was the type of drunk who'd tell anyone just about anything, but there certainly was a sense of gravitas associated with writing down said secrets and sharing them, all at once, with another person, stone-cold sober.

When I was deep in my disease, I hung around with others who partied, maybe not quite as much as I did, but inebriation was our pastime. Nearly all of us were lying, cheating or stealing on some level, which included a fair amount of gossip about who was doing what and to whom. In those days, any admission of guilt, or owning up to my behavior, was done strictly to save my ass, avoid consequences, get out of trouble - sometimes worked, sometimes didn't. I liked to think I was a reasonably moral person, but rarely (never?) did I stop to take stock of how my actions impacted those I said I loved. Any disclosures or discussions of how I/we acted out were done within the cesspool of dishonesty and sneakiness, a negative feedback loop. Just like Bill W wrote, I was dishonest, etc. while drinking, then drank more to try to cover the bad feelings about acting out - a vicious cycle.

And then recovery, with the safety valve of the Steps to actually address both my actions and the underlying motivations and drivers, looking to heal the ingrained beliefs so that I didn't have to keep making the same mistakes over and over. Some of those lessons were harder to learn than others, but at least I now had language to explore the whys and wherefores. I remember, after yet one more unrequited love where I was still working through my father stuff, saying to a friend, "How many more times do I have to learn this lesson?" He calmly replied, "I guess until you get it." I was annoyed at the time, but he was right. Lessons will keep coming on the spiral of life, in different forms perhaps, but the same core issue, until I get to that place of deep, inner surrender, that place of once more saying, "I can't do this anymore." Not, "I can't do this anymore," while peeking through my fingers to see if the prize I wanted was there, but I. Cannot. Do. This. Any-Freaking-More. 

Early in recovery I came across a wallet in the parking lot of the grocery store, the same store where part of my hitting bottom was the pharmacist refusing to sell me syringes (that felt all-of-a-sudden, but my guess is he'd been watching me slowly deteriorate). Anyhow, I took the wallet to the Customer Service desk with several nearby folks expressing amazement that I'd turned it in. What I said was, "I want to be able to sleep at night." I'd always wanted to be able to sleep at night. My first sponsor would say, "If you knew better, you would've done better" but the thing is, most of the time I did know better. But knowing better and doing better felt nearly impossible while under the influence, and without the structure and guidance of Program. Sure, I had "moral and philosophical convictions galore" but just like the literature says, I "could not live up to them even though we would have liked to" (Big Book p. 62). Sobriety isn't about will-power, but there is a certain amount of self-discipline involved in getting to meetings or making good decisions about where to go and with whom, discipline that was non-existent when I was hungover, or thinking about how to get the next hit of speed. 

The other day I passed a man on the street who was very obviously in the throes of an opioid high, bent at the waist with his silly sagged pants below his butt, fumbling to light a cigarette, very vulnerable whether he knew it or not. Instead of disgust, I felt very sad - for him and all of the people who are on the other side of the divide. From that side, the chasm between clean and not clean seems impossible to traverse, which is the big why of why we can't do this thing alone. Sure, some do. Some people decide to quit whatever it is that is causing them trouble, but that didn't work for me. I needed to see and hear from those who'd made that leap. Those who'd made the leap and were still funny, were still enjoying life and having a good time, those who were able to sleep at night because they had nothing to hide anymore.

Would the old you even recognize who you are today? In what ways have the various promises noted in the Big Book come true in your life?

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Fall is a great time to start a small group discussion, or with a sponsor or sponsee on the workbook Now What?  See the Feb 4 post for a sample or contact me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com for more info. Available for purchase on the WEB VERSION of this blog page, and at Portland Area Intergroup.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Step 10, etc

 I realized, after the fact, that I posted a day early last week. We were on vacation, I had a free chunk of time while drinking my birthday reward beverage at Starbucks and posted away!  Several years ago, the in-laws told me that in retirement, they sometimes lose track of what day it is. I've long been date challenged, but I do get it. I generally remind myself of what day it is as soon as I wake up, with different days of the week categorized for different tasks or activities (walking, gym, laundry, etc).

Sometimes I do lose track of which day of the week it is, but that is a far cry from losing track of weeks or even months. Lost weekends? Definitely. Friday night starting with drinks, morphing into a gram of cocaine, leading to a trip to the dealer for an eight-ball, and then suddenly the birds are chirping and it's Monday. Even after I'd stopped formally working, Monday morning had a heft that screamed, "Get out of bed!" I'll never forget the ugly feeling, the pitiful, incomprehensible demoralization of waking up at 6:00 in the winter, not sure if it was AM or PM. I am still and always grateful for the peace of mind that comes with sobriety, the not having to worry about what I did, or said, or where am I anyway?

And, here we are at home. I love to travel, and I surely love coming back to sleep on my own pillow. We did get to a sweet little in-person meeting while away - the two folks setting up the group, and three visitors (us plus a guy from Wisconsin). Interesting times, these. My Alanon home group is now both in-person and online, with maybe a dozen in each format. I've gotten very comfortable with my online groups, less inclined to get in the car, drive across town, park and drive back home. And... I do appreciate actually holding hands and reciting the Serenity Prayer in unison vs the cacophony that comes across in zoom.

That being said, I'm part of a small group that meets online every-other week, with attendees from California, Nevada, Washington, Minnesota, Montana, and here in Oregon - friends, all, including some who've just met in this setting. We are people who may never have crossed paths in our drinking years, bound together by common histories and a shared path of gratitude and celebration of all things real.

October, 10th month, reminds me to focus on Step 10 - the on-going personal inventory and when I am wrong, promptly admitting it. I'm painfully aware when I do or say something egregious, but sometimes it is less obvious when I've more gently stepped on the toes of my fellows. My old ideas are my ideas, and I need to remind myself that just because I think I know what is right for you, you, or you (including society and the planet) doesn't mean I am actually right. Such a drag, these three fingers pointing back at me when I'm pointing one at you! Humility? Definitely. I'd say that's one of the primary tasks of long-term recovery. The plug is in the jug, and my task these days is to strengthen the pause muscle in order to keep the plug in my mouth when I'm triggered to give my input or "suggestion" seemingly on autopilot. One day at a time, one choice at a time. 

I'm reading Drop the Rock - the Ripple Effect (by Fred H) about using Step 10 as a gateway to Steps 6 & 7. In the suggestions for spot check inventories are reminders to simply observe - my own actions, before opening my mouth, as well as my discomfort, as in pay attention. Being uncomfortable in the moment can be a learning opportunity - what am I feeling, and why? Always, the pause to investigate, or simply take a breath, before taking action. I'd guess that most of my discomfort these days has to do with old ideas (not feeling like enough, while conversely believing I'm right). Having been on this recovery path for decades now, the old "I'm such an alcoholic!" no longer holds much water. Sure, I was programmed at an early age and those old tapes are my default when stressed, however, I have years now of reprogramming to draw on when I can slow down just a bit. I've long been tempted to tattoo PAUSE on my wrist where I can see it every minute of every day.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the 10-year anniversary of my mother's passing was this month. I am an anticipator, and in the weeks leading up to the date, was thrown back to the sadness of her death, and the utter grief of the ensuing months. However, aided by my positive experience donating family memorabilia to the Museum of the Oregon Territory, I'd moved to a place of gratitude for who Mom was, and our close relationship, so the actual day came and went without my noticing until after the fact. I can work myself into a tizzy, but when I'm able to simply (not easily!) let the emotions flow, I'm less likely to get stuck. And boy howdy did I get stuck in the past, grieving a 7-year relationship for close to a decade, my father's death for at least 5 years if not more, and so on. Loss is painful,  and experiencing loss with the tools of recovery may not be less painful, but definitely of shorter duration, and less likely to sneak up masquerading as something else. In general, I need to be mindful of what I think I'm supposed to feel, whether that is around an anniversary (positive or not so much) or days like Thanksgiving and Christmas when the "shoulds" roar their expectant heads. I feel what I feel - good, not good, neutral or something in between and it's all ok. (as one of my Alanon readers reminds me, "being human is not a character defect.")

We're anticipating rain here in the Pacific NW - finally. As with all things - weather, politics (ugh), family dynamics, and yes, upcoming holidays, the beat goes on. Where are you today with a Step 10 practice? Do you take a formal daily inventory (nowadays even available in an app) or more a gut check? What "shoulds" can you observe and release as the season moves forward? I've heard that Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas are the Bermuda Triangle for those with eating issues, but I'd say the same for any of us with complicated histories. Be kind to yourselves...

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See the Feb 4 post for a sample of the 78-page workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" available as hard copy (mailed) or PDF (emailed - for those outside the U.S or those who prefer the computer, though do note it is not a writeable PDF.). Portland Area Intergroup also has a supply available at 825 NE 20th Ave, suite 200.  Go to the WEB VERSION of this page, if you don't see the purchase link in the upper right corner. Contact me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com with any questions. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Fun, defined and redefined

 We're out of town this week, a pleasant break to visit family, back to our usual routines after the 2+ years of isolation.  As a friend recently remarked, it will be a long time before we fully understand the impact that covid and social shut down had (or is having) on the world. Our home-away-from-home group is still online, we've become quite comfortable with staying in, masks in our pockets wherever we go...   And in many respects, I'm back out in the world, seeing movies (in nearly empty theaters), getting on airplanes, the occasional dinner with friends, and a few in-person meetings - at least until the next surge.

A regular subscriber recently brought up the topic of relaxation in recovery, often working with sponsees on the need to take time each day, or each week for some "me or we" time. Good advice. I know that when first sober, I felt like I needed to make up for lost time, and I heard that alot from men I worked with in treatment - the perceived "need" to work 50-60 hours a week in order to provide for themselves and the family they'd neglected. But the idea of lost time is an illusion, isn't it? Time is never really lost. It can certainly fly by, and can sometimes be squandered, but the movement of one day to the next simply is.

A program friend, Jill Kelly, wrote a great book a few years ago: Sober Play - Using Creativity for a More JOYFUL Recovery (3Cats Publishing, 2013) with ways to incorporate the principles of the Steps into life, not merely the stop-drinking part. She writes about art, from coloring to collage to painting, writing, dance, gardening, and other ways to get out of the stern mindset we alcoholics can sometimes find ourselves in.  

As someone who had way too much "fun" before sobriety, it took a while to relax and discover what it was I truly enjoyed. Early recovery was definitely discovery - my first hikes, walking as a way to further the detox, and those ever-entertaining AA dances helped fill the time. New friends and I took trips together, played volleyball, and of course, coffee dates. My problem, back then anyway, wasn't that I didn't know how to play, but that I find a sense of balance without burning the candle at both ends with work, school, meetings and fun (which felt like my right after those last ugly years). 

Recovery included redefining "fun." Fun used to mean, well into sobriety, fireworks and noise - dancing for three hours straight, in heels, at a bar with program pals or at AA functions (& believe me, we threw some epic dance parties)

I was younger then (!) so better able to handle working eight hours, hitting a meeting, and maybe a movie afterwards. I figured out early on that if I wanted to go to a party or a potluck, I was better off planning an event rather than waiting for the knock on the door. Friends have often commented on my energy, to which I reply, "naps" - still my go-to for a recharge. These days I'm excited to make a plan, but just as happy when it cancels. Where in the past I could and would schedule two or three things in a day, I'm now at my limit with one!  Quality, not quantity is the philosophy of long term recovery. 

In his book Beyond Belief - Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life, Joe C. writes, in the October 4 entry, "...we have an illness that commands a process of healing from the symptoms, followed by a lifetime of managing the condition." For me, a big part of that management has to do with balance, which can look different on different days. As I was once reminded, to achieve balance, a scale will teeter up and down before hitting the sweet spot. Much like my life - periods of relative calm followed by a frenzy of activity then back to calm. Too much calm can feel sedating, but to each their own. Everything I read related to recovery reminds me that we are best served when listening to our own inner compass. When new, I tried to copy this person or that. With time and experience, I have a pretty good handle on what works for me (my serenity level and/or joy meter will let me know when I'm off the beam).

What does it mean to you to have fun these days? How has that definition changed over time? If you find yourself over working (or over volunteering, over helping, etc) how might you inject some relaxation or social time into your week?


Fall is a great time to start a small group discussion, or work with a sponsor or sponsee with the Now What? workbook. See the Feb 4 post for a sample or contact me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com for more info. Available for purchase on the WEB VERSION of this blog page, and at Portland Area Intergroup.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Attitudes...

 When I was a little kid, you couldn't buy meat at the grocers on Sundays because butchers didn't work on Sunday. Last week, I couldn't buy from the butcher case because they were short staffed so weren't open. Personally, that was a luxury problem - it's not like we don't have food in the pantry - but made me think about all the instant conveniences of this modern life, and how inconvenienced I can feel if I can't do what I want, when I want. And don't let the power go out, showing me just how much I rely on electricity.

I try not to compare, but someone in a meeting did once say that X% of people in the world aren't sure where their next meal is coming from. My problems are my problems, but miniscule in the grand scheme of things. Gratitude is a practice, gratitude is an action, and gratitude can be a reality check of the "How Important Is It?" variety, especially when thinking of all those who lost so much in the recent hurricane.

I heard a great speaker last week who described the common questions around knowing if you're in self-will or going with the flow, whether you think of that in terms of "god's will" or simply letting go of the steering wheel. Their suggestion was to ask: 1. Is it simple? 2. Is it practical? 3. Is it possible? I'm usually able to recognize (eventually) when I'm pushing against a brick wall. "Going with the flow" feels like it sounds - easy, nearly effortless. I often think of the line in Elizabeth Gilbert's book, Eat, Pray, Love where she is crying on the floor in the middle of the night, trying to force a decision that isn't yet clear. When she was still enough, she heard, or maybe felt, the message, "Go back to bed."  Ah yes. Do the next right thing, whether that is washing the dishes, eating a sandwich, returning that phone call - basically anything that can jolt my mind off the "problem" long enough that a solution has room to appear. 

I tend to want skywriting, or a billboard, when so often my solutions are related to putting one foot in front of the other. I think of my recent concerns about "what's next?" as I tried to predict the coming months or even years. By suiting up and showing up every day, my autumn is spoken for, between seasonal elections work, a trip to visit family, my walking group commitment and so on. I don't need to know what's around the corner. I keep coming back to: What am I doing today? How am I tending my heart, my spiritual connections, my trust-muscle today?

I made that trip to the Museum of the Oregon Territory with a box of family mementos, prepared to take half back home, but the curator loved all of it - the old button hook for lacing shoes, a 1933 copy of the Oregonian, loads of photos and family letters, and my mom's lists of household expenditures, which I always found hilarious, but apparently are a slice of American life worth keeping. I am grateful for the women in my maternal lineage who kept things, who valued memories, who lugged small boxes of cards and letters and photos as they moved from one home to another. My grandfather was Secretary of State in the 1930's, dying of tuberculosis while in office, so the family moved from a very nice home to a series of situations during the Depression after he passed, with Grandma taking in boarders, selling homemade candy and cleaning a movie theater to make ends meet - all the while, moving her baby grand piano and family memories along. She had her priorities! 

The Museum episode reminded me of how much attitude colors my experience - attitude and perceptions. I was sad when I got there, preparing to let go of a big chunk of what I've been carting around for years, only to leave with laughter, the curator's enthusiasm coloring my experience, an illustration of how my attitude and outlook - a smile, a kind word - can impact those I interact with. Not in a Pollyanna way, but a pleasant greeting doesn't cost a dime. In the past few days I've noticed two drivers nearly frothing at the mouth with road rage - a good reminder that my moods show. Again, "How Important is It?" which I'll remember the next time I'm behind the wheel or catch myself in judgement.

How do you catch yourself in the mood of "I want what I want when I want it"?  Are you able to step back long enough to be grateful for what you do have? What are your priorities? If you had to leave your house on short notice, what it is important for you to take along? For me, it would be journals and photos - what about you?


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See the Feb 4 post for a sample of the 78-page workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" available as hard copy (mailed) or PDF (emailed - for those outside the U.S or those who prefer the computer, though do note it is not a writeable PDF.). Portland Area Intergroup also has a supply available at 825 NE 20th Ave, suite 200, and T-Mar tapes will have a small stack at the upcoming Girlstock conference.   Go to the WEB VERSION of this page, if you don't see the purchase link in the upper right corner. Contact me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com with any questions. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Name it, claim it, tame it

 As I previously mentioned, Queen Elizabeth's passing triggered a deep well of grief over my own mother, gone now ten years. Ten years. I'm finding it hard to comprehend that a decade has passed, and that is true for many things - I met my husband 13 years ago, moved into my house 19 years ago... so much time passing in a blink. I will honor my mother by visiting her gravesite at the anniversary of her death. I'm also making a trip to the Museum of the Oregon Trail with some letters from the 1800's and other family artifacts to donate in her name. While I've sometimes complained about all the things she kept, I'm grateful for the connection to family history. Not having children myself, many of her photos and letters have gone to cousins, but I do want some to be saved for posterity rather than getting tossed in a future recycle bin by someone unaware of their meaning. 

I wasn't exactly sure what was going on with an unusual (for me) flat mood, but program has taught me to get quiet, to ask my heart, "What's up?" so that when I found myself face down on the massage table, the tears came. Oh. Hello Mother. I miss you. What I'd prefer to do is name my dis-ease as a way of distancing from the discomfort - give it a label, put it in a box and move on. Alas, I too often forget that my emotions simply want to be acknowledged. Ah, here's that grief again. Oh, insecurity, is that you? Hmm, hello impatience - just hold your horses. "Name it, claim it, tame it," doesn't mean "don't feel." That's old conditioning, the "don't talk, don't trust, don't feel" of alcoholism. These days, I can eventually name it, claim it, and not necessarily tame it, but accept my humanness and move on.

I think of Mom's annoyance when her doctor, a wonderful woman, first assigned her to hospice care. "They don't know!" she fumed, upset that the medical establishment presumed to "know" that her life would be over in six months. It ended up being eight, and as the end did near, Mom had shifted to hoping she'd see her dear father on the other side, dead since she was eight. Initially concerned that she was not going to go quietly into the night, I watched her move to a place of acceptance, maybe because she didn't feel good, maybe because the reality of her diagnosis simply took a while to sink in.

Acceptance is a process, though I used to think it was an event - that someday I'd wake up, cured, able to move through life accepting right and left. Loss? Oh well. Someone's slight or unkind words? Not mine to understand. My history - family and otherwise? Merely a blip. And it took some time to understand that acceptance doesn't equal approval, with the old arguments about "Acceptance is the answer," or simply the declaration of "Page 449!" as we 3rd edition folks call it. Does absolutely nothing happen by mistake? I doubt it. And... not mine to argue. Like Paul O said, I can't be at peace until I accept what is. Only then can I make those decisions to accept what I can't change (people, places, things) or change what I can (my attitude, my location, my perceptions and perhaps those I spend time with). 

Take the aging process, for example, whether you're 35 or 70. There are fine lines between fighting the process, surrendering to it, and actively participating in efforts to slow the roll. I'm not talking face-lifts here, though to each their own, but more about the self-care involved in staying active while I can, monitoring my sodium (hello blood pressure), keeping appointments with the dermatologist, etc. A co-worker used to tease me about living forever as he munched a bag of chips while I ate salad. That isn't the goal, but what is the goal is to not speed up the inevitable decline with crappy habits, one day at a time. My current dilemma is how to be mindful without obsessing about food - at the end of my life will I be pleased that I had the fortitude to forego ice cream that one Saturday night, or be grateful for a fun evening with friends enjoying a treat? Moderation, I suppose, though I still have a tough time with that concept.  

For those interested, I was just turned on to a new smartphone app: Everything AA. I don't know who runs it (out of the UK I believe) but it has the Big Book, 12x12, a day counter, pamphlets, etc etc.  I don't rely on my phone a lot, but it is nice to have a ready reference. And another new-to-me site: Chronic Pain Anonymous (chronicpainanonymous.org) with online meetings and other resources.

Glorious autumn here, while you in the southern hemisphere are welcoming spring. Another trip around the sun, doing my darnedest to stay in the moment (easier to do with lovely crisp mornings and sunny afternoons, though I am very happy to finally see rain today). And, sending hopes for safety to all in Hurricane Ian's path.

How does "name it, claim it, tame it" play out in your emotional life? What does "acceptance" mean to you, and where is that concept hardest to implement? How do you take care of your physical health while not turning that into self-condemnation? In what areas of your life have you considering additional support, whether that's another 12-Step fellowship, therapy, or maybe a hiking group or book club?

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Fall is a great time to start a small group discussion, or work with a sponsor or sponsee with the Now What? workbook. See the Feb 4 post for a sample or contact me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com for more info. (Order off the web version of this page, or, available at Portland Area Intergroup. Also carried at the TMar table at September conferences)


Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Trust - you, me the process

 In a meeting this week, several people shared about the various ways they'd tried to quit drinking in the past, like in More About Alcoholism - switching from wine to brandy, never having it in the house, etc. I couldn't relate. The question "How often have you tried to quit?" was the only one I didn't have an answer for when I got to treatment. Why on earth would I have tried to quit when I saw no viable alternative? My dad once said, after he was sober several years, that he'd give anything to be able to have a few drinks. I knew I was incapable of living like that.

I did quit drinking once, for 5 whole days in an effort to drop a few pounds. I felt so virtuous, riding my bike for 30 minutes each day, very much not drinking my usual evening vodka-7's. So virtuous and proud of myself that at the end of those 5 days, I celebrated with a large bottle of light wine (an affront to wine everywhere). And that one bottle gave me enough of a buzz that I went back to the store and bought another. So much for my "diet." Another time, years later, my meth cook lover and I decided to stop using speed/the needle for a weekend, driving to his family's beach cabin for the break. We did eat mushrooms (I never did like psychedelics, and this was no exception) and drank, a LOT. So much for taking a break.

I hear people say that they drank to stop their brain, to stop thinking or feeling. Not me, at least not consciously. I drank to have fun, even if it was just me and the television. Drinking was what I did, a diversion, entertainment, the social lubricant, what I thought was the creative spark. I drank because it was Mon, Tues, Wed or Thurs, with more intent on the weekends. I drank because I could, because it was always five o'clock somewhere, because that's simply what I did, without a whole lot of thought. 

And today I don't. I am one of the extremely fortunate ones whose compulsion was lifted early on. How or why, I have no idea. Someone once spoke of the "window of opportunity" we pass through, not sure if it was a plate glass storefront or a tiny peep hole, but they weren't taking any chances that if they went back though that window, they'd be able to find their way to this side again. I feel the same, reinforced by a friend I ran into at the library years ago, a friend deep in relapse, who said, "It's so hard to get back." People do, and I so admire their courage and strength, and... I need to stay, one day at a time.

A big piece of that has to do with trust - trusting the process (which confused me at first), trusting you people, trusting my own inner wisdom. Years ago, working with teens in treatment, I participated in a Challenge Course which involved a "trust fall," which meant standing on a platform attached to a tree, six feet off the ground, falling backwards into the arms of a group of fourteen and fifteen year olds. Talk about doubt and the self-talk that said, "Are you kidding?!" But those kids caught me, and in turn, I caught them. And each time someone says, "Can I share something with you?" or opens their heart in a meeting, I think of that metaphorical leap into the unknown, the radical trust we are encouraged to employ. Radical in that this is not my usual way of being, I can take care of it myself thank you very much, and trust in knowing, or at least suspecting, that it will all work out in the end if I simply stay out of my own way.

I say "simply" but we know it isn't simple to let go of the reins, to face my dilemmas with open palms, but hanging on isn't easy either - in fact, that's probably harder. It's those last few steps before letting go where I struggle the most, believing that if I think hard enough, or pray in just the right way, or google it one more time that the magic answer(s) will appear. It's exhausting, keeping the world spinning on my own, keeping an eye on you and you and you over there. Just. Stop. 

And so I end this week grateful for the shift in seasons, for a group of trusted others I can be real with (even if that includes a few strangers at a meeting). I am grateful for my health, always, and for the long journey towards being able to pause - not perfectly, and not every time, but taking the breath before opening my mouth or hitting send is coming easier these days. I am grateful for all that has brought me to this moment, even the hard stuff. As our treatment counselor used to ask, "Have you had enough to eat today? Do you know where you'll be sleeping?"  Well then, you are fortunate indeed.

How did you attempt to "control and enjoy" your substance use before making it to the long-time-sober club? What shifted that enabled you to stay? How do you make yourself open and available to the daily reprieve? If you find yourself with clenched fists, hanging on tight to something you are probably powerless over, how do you move to a place of trust?


* *  *

See the Feb 4 post for a sample of the 78-page workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" available as hard copy (mailed) or PDF (emailed - for those outside the U.S or those who prefer the computer, though do note it is not a writeable PDF.). Portland Area Intergroup also has a supply available at 825 NE 20th Ave, suite 200.  Go to the WEB VERSION of this page, if you don't see the purchase link in the upper right corner. Contact me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com with any questions. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Continuity

After last week's post on grief, here we are with another loss in Queen Elizabeth's death.  I don't have much of an opinion on the monarchy, though like many Americans, have enjoyed the fairy-tale like aspects of what we see on television, so I was surprised by my tears when I heard the news - not the Queen! Like my long-lived mother, the Queen was always there, a constant, and now just one more exit of the WWII generation I grew up with. As the week progressed, I've seen several articles about how her death has triggered mother-loss for many of us. I'm glad to know I'm not alone in that, much like with our program when I initially thought I was the only person to feel the pitiful, incomprehensible demoralization of my alcoholic behaviors. Being human, a worker among workers, still sometimes surprises me.

Continuity and history matter to me, along with a sense of predictability in this techno-world I don't quite understand. Continuity in our meetings means hearing the readings and announcements, seeing familiar faces and welcoming new people. It's a bit different in these covid times, especially now that some groups gather in person and some online, but I still appreciate the regularity. Consistency and history matter to me, joining with those who remember when we'd all go to lunch across the street, or when a member decided against treatment for her cancer and left us soon after, those who recall when the Thursday night group almost shut down due to the college's new rule against smoking in the building ("No one can tell us what to do - it's against the Traditions!") and the time that person jumped up on the table as they shared. 

Continuity and community come in various forms, of course. Like this week when we three adjoining neighbors were all out front doing various tasks as our regular mailman came by, chatting with each of us about the weather, our mail, or just shooting the breeze. I like the old-fashioned human connection vs the delivery driver who tosses a package on the porch and drives off without hearing my "thank you!" - probably because they have a quota to fill. (Another of my pet peeves is when a runner, walker or cyclist passes within a foot of me and looks straight ahead to my "Good morning," even the ones not wearing earbuds. Come on, people - just say hello).

Speaking of continuity, I seem to have come full circle in the work department with my seasonal elections gig, getting an email request to come in for a few hours this week to enter address changes, as it appears I have an aptitude for the task. I had to laugh - my first job out of high school was typing benefits checks at an insurance company for $314 per month. Here I am, 50 years later, riding the bus to work, typing addresses, and at very part-time, probably earning not much more than $314 per month. So very funny, and I'm so glad to not be in charge, to simply say "yes" or "no" to requests to come in, suit up and show up and do what is asked. When I phoned my brother with report of my aptitude, he chuckled, but added "There's nothing wrong with being competent." I can be grateful for 10th grade typing class and a mother (as well as the Queen) who was an example of taking care of business. And, grateful that at this stage of life, I can take a small (but important) job that doesn't have anyone's life at stake.

I've been known to pick up the random feather or two (usually crow) on my morning walks. Lately I've simply noticed, imagining each as a little arrow reminding me of the spiritual path. Just that fraction of a second pause from my usual mental chatter is enough of a reset to move away from rumination or planning and towards presence in the moment. Feelings do come and then go, if I let them. Even if things in the world feel a bit shaky, I can tap into my own consistency, the continuity of my own daily habits and routines.

Are there public figures whose deaths have triggered your own emotions? Are you more of a continuity person, or is it novelty you prefer? Besides our program, where else do you experience a sense of community? Rather than focusing on your "defects" this week, what positive attributes can you list, and celebrate? 

* * *

Fall is a great time to start a small group discussion, or work with a sponsor or sponsee in the Now What? workbook. See the Feb 4 post for a sample or contact me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com for more info. (Order off the web version of this page, or, available at Portland Area Intergroup. Also carried at the T-Mar table at September conferences)



Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Grief

 I attended a powerful meeting on the topic of grief this past week, my lesson being that the rooms of recovery gave me the language with which to mourn, to grieve soberly. I knew about drunken sorrows, my own and the family trauma over my grandmother's death that was often expressed around the kitchen table after a few rounds of high balls. You taught me that sadness unexpressed will eventually find its way out, usually via inappropriate expression that may not even look like what it actually is. You taught me to cry until I didn't need to cry anymore, share until I was all shared out, and to listen for those who'd already been down this road. You taught me about anniversary distress, and about anticipatory grief (and no, that doesn't make the actual loss any easier to bear). 

And you taught me that grief is a true and valid emotion for all sorts of losses, whether moving out of a home, a pet's death, changes in friendships and in our own capabilities. An elder in the meeting spoke of how they used to literally walk up to thirty miles a day and the journey to acceptance around aging and how that isn't realistic anymore. I could so very much related, having just reminisced with my out-of-town friend about the joy in completing a twenty-mile trail run. I sometimes wistfully look at the marathon medals and photos of seventy-five plus mile bike rides on the wall above my desk, grateful for the memories and just a little sad that those days are very likely behind me. Sure, there are seniors out there on the roadways, but I'm not willing to train at that level anymore - so, some of it is ability and some is choice, but nevertheless, those days of high endurance have passed. 

The meeting topic came on the heels of learning the terrible details about a classmate's drowning death in 1968, from a friend who was there. I haven't been able to shake the image of the shock and terror that must've occurred that long ago summer day. I've been struck with the grief, and also the reminder that we never know what tragedies and losses other people are carrying around - even if "dealt with" (whatever that means), our losses are part of who we are today. And I know I'm not alone in the experience of a present loss acting as a link in the chain to all the others, which is probably why, when thinking about this young girl's death, I found myself in tears about the ugly ending of a relationship, which led to sadness and missing my dad. My emotions are often a tangled web.

But, or rather, and , as was pointed out in the meeting, I can't experience joy without knowing sorrow - or as several old songs point out, you've got to take the bitter with the sweet. And what I found with the grief around my mom's death, sadness and joy are often intertwined, with memories of the love and laughter leading to a place of deep emptiness that eventually fills with sweet gratitude.

I just learned that a meeting acquaintance has crossed over after a diagnosis of ALS. This supposedly rare disease has now taken three women I know, each with decades of sobriety. I don't know if there is a correlation, but it sure seems odd to me. What I know today is that there are no guarantees. No guarantee that you head out for a day on the river and will come home; that you go to the grocery store and come home, or to work or any number of things we (I) do on a given day assuming I will wake up in the morning, travel safely, avoid the seemingly random violence and accidents, illnesses and natural disasters that sweep out of nowhere. I don't live from a place of fear, and I do my best to be aware - I check out the exits when I go to an event, I'm careful walking down stairs, I get my checkups and boosters and all the rest. And then, I do my best to let go - of expectations, of fears, of that crystal ball I sometimes write about. 

Pre-recovery I feared death, mostly because I knew in my heart I hadn't truly lived. I'd gone through the motions, and had a lot of experiences, but had never stretched myself to my capabilities. I don't feel that way anymore. I'm not ready quite yet, but fortunately, don't have a sense of the un-done (unless it's dealing with closets full of stuff).

I had "one of those mornings" yesterday, heading out to hit the post office and then the grocery store, only to realize that the post office opens at 830am, not 8:00. No problem - on to the market, only to realize as I parked that I'd forgotten my list and coupons (you laugh, but I saved $48), so back round to the post office (open by now) and home to get said list and coupons, only to get stuck on a narrow street behind a large garbage truck. By that point, I had to see the humor in my little plans and designs, and just puttered along until I could safely pass the truck. Package mailed, groceries purchased, back home a bit later than anticipated, but as our treatment counselor used to say when we were whining about one thing or another, "Oh well."

I often think about timing and chance encounters - Bill and Bob (who very well could've said "No" to the request to talk with a stranger), the 5 day overlap in treatment with my best friend (what if I'd come a few days late?), attending an AA potluck and striking up a conversation with the fellow I'm now married to, and this week, deciding to hit the bathroom before leaving Costco, which let me run in to a good friend for an extended parking lot conversation. I am not in charge. I am not in charge. I am not in charge - of connections, of garbage trucks, of when a wave of sadness may overtake me, of the joy at seeing a beautiful sunrise. Where is my attention today?

Do you have a safe space where you can express your grief when it arises? Are you able to give yourself permission to feel your feelings rather than do battle with the "should's?" How does your experience with grief inform your views of "one day at a time?" Can you use "How important is it?" to see the humor in daily pitfalls?

* * *

Fall is a great time to start a small group discussion, or work with a sponsor or sponsee with the Now What? workbook. See the Feb 4 post for a sample or contact me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com for more info. (Order off the web version of this page, or, available at Portland Area Intergroup. Also carried at the TMar table at September conferences)


Wednesday, August 31, 2022

What's next?

 "Don't die with your music still in you."  Wayne Dyer

I can take the above quote as an affirmation, a challenge or chastisement, hopeful or resigned. Am I sharing my best self with the world, or keeping myself small out of fear?  Have my hopes and dreams fizzled, or am I merely in transition from one way of being to another? What exactly is the "music" inside me, and how has the tune changed over the years?

I will say I've fully embraced retired life. I have a few friends who say they'll never retire as they can't imagine what they'd do with themselves. I don't have that problem, at least not today. A couple of years before retirement, I felt the same - I liked the structure of work, the sense of purpose and accomplishment (and the bi-monthly paycheck). Then, a couple of years before I pulled the plug, I couldn't imagine working another week, let alone years, as I struggled to keep my mojo alive. But, once I'd picked a date to quit, I fell back in love with my job, aware of all the "last times" as I walked through them - last snowstorm to arrange coverage, last talent show, last staff meeting, etc. Farewell!  And then, the pandemic hit, which changed everything about my job. I stuck with my original plan, recognizing that I wasn't leaving the job I loved, but was leaving, nonetheless.

Whenever I've completed a big project, my work-life being one, but also after publishing Shadows and Veins, or when I graduated college (both times) or even recently with my high school reunion, I've wondered, "What's next?" I like having something(s) to look forward to - a trip, a project, a good book. This is a recurring theme. I am an anticipator, an if-I-can-see-around-the-next-corner-all-will-be-well person. Of course, I do know that isn't possible, and as someone once pointed out, how boring it would be to always know what's ahead. And yet, I ponder and wonder and try to figure it out before finally hitting the surrender switch. 

That being said, I am conscious of increasing my ability to simply sit still (hard for an alcoholic of my kind), waiting for whatever is "next" to present itself. I don't need to look or search or try to figure out what the universe has in store. First of all, I don't have a crystal ball, and second, I don't need to force the issue. What is in front of me today, this week? And by sitting still, I don't actually mean holding still! For me it is more a state of mind, a peacefulness that is present when I stop the internal search, the need to define, to know.

This past week, I've been "tour guide" with an out-of-state friend. It's always fun to view home with the eyes of a visitor. Yes, parts of our city are ugly with graffiti and homeless encampments, and parts of it are still/again lovely and lively. We went to the coast, and a hike in the Columbia River Gorge, plus some outdoor music, a concert and lots of good restaurants that I never frequent on my own. So "what's next?" today means eating salad, getting to sleep on time, catching up on laundry as well as meetings. I've generally heeded the old saying that going a week without a meeting makes one weak, but sometimes the joys of a sober life intercede. I've also heard, "Don't let the life AA gave you get in the way of your AA life." Point taken, and I never get very far away. You are my people. I miss you and the wisdom I routinely hear if I'm out in the woods for too long (ha ha - in 36+ years I've rarely gone more than a week without a meeting, save the one time I was out of the country with a non-program friend). I am a meeting goer - initially out of desperation and these days from gratitude.

And I write that mainly to remind myself. I'm a meeting go-er and noticed the very faint whisper, (not to be confused with the wise still, small voice) saying, "You've done just fine without meetings. You could probably skip this week too." Sure, I probably wouldn't get drunk tomorrow were I to forego my home groups, but I would've missed a great lead last night, and would miss catching up with friends. I'd never presume to think I know all there is to know about recovery or spiritual growth just because I've been sober a long time. I'd never tell myself to stop reading books because I've already read 1,000, any more than I would've declared myself exempt from continuing education in my field. As I've written, thinking I know all I need to know is a big, waving red flag. As we read, "alcohol is a subtle foe."

Just for today I can relax into what is instead of what might be. I can pay attention when another long timer shares his experience on Step 10. I can go for an early morning walk, and can decide whether or not to keep watering the garden or let end-of-summer take over. Just for today I can appreciate the many gifts of recovery that have come my way. Sometimes those gifts sting - I don't necessarily agree that my worst day sober is better than my best day drinking, and I wouldn't trade this way of life for anything. I can let the days unfold as they may while still keeping an eye on myself, whether I call that Step 10 or simply awareness.

What does "Don't die with your music still in you," bring to mind? Can you hear the song, even if faintly? How might you turn up the volume on your heart's true desires? What are ways the "subtle foe" sneaks up on you, and what do you do when you notice it?


* *  *

See the Feb 4 post for a sample of the 78-page workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" available as hard copy (mailed) or PDF (emailed - for those outside the U.S or those who prefer the computer, though do note it is not a writeable PDF.). Portland Area Intergroup also has a supply available at 825 NE 20th Ave, suite 200.  Go to the WEB VERSION of this page, if you don't see the purchase link in the upper right corner. Contact me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com with any questions. 


Sunday, August 28, 2022

Now What? workbook

 

I’ve Been Sober a Long Time – Now What?

Not sure about trying the workbook? Read on...

What those who’ve used the workbook are saying

 

     At 29+ years sober, it's easy to get complacent or just plain bored with recovery. Jeanine B's book, Sober a Long Time--Now What? brought relevance and immediacy back to daily maintenance. I especially liked the section on principles which reminded me both why it is we get sober and what we need to do to stay that way.  I worked the exercises with a sister in recovery who is quite a bit younger and has half the recovery time; the exercises and stories were just as useful to her.

Bonnie R, Portland, OR 

     A friend who lives out of state and I did the workbook together, via phone, over a couple of months. At the time, I had 19 years, and he had over 30. Talking about our answers to the various questions increased our intimacy and friendship, and improved my self-awareness and reflection.           

Kyle N, Portland, OR

     Hi my name is Sharon and I am an addict alcoholic. I will have 34 years of sobriety in December if I stay in the rooms and keep doing what I do which means always being open to new approaches in sobriety and defining how it works and grows my life.

     The questions asked in this workbook bring a new approach for those of us in the 21st century and who have been sober for some time. It has enriched my ability as a sponsor because the questions require me to look deeper in a way that other workbooks as of yet have not.

     I encourage all those who can, take the suggestion to get the workbook, sit down with some friends and go through it. It will do nothing more than enrich your life. It's kind of like living sober - how do you live today in sobriety after years of program? It's a new and different approach to keeping it real. 

Sharon D, San Francisco, CA

My name is Jolie D and my sobriety date is 3/3/97. I had the amazing experience utilizing Jeanine’s Long Time Sober Now What in a year-long workbook study. Our group of sober folks ranging from 10 years to 38 years sober met monthly. Each month we read aloud a chapter, the questions, and share our experience with the topic. Many of us wrote and reflected on the questions in between group meetings. Our group members formed intimacy as we spoke from the heart about these topics we aren’t always comfortable sharing about in our open AA meetings. One group member said we should use this workbook as annual housecleaning every year and our group enthusiastically agreed. 

Jolie D, Portland, OR

Go to the WEB VERSION of the blog page, upper right corner, to order the workbook - $19.95 for hardcopy mailed to you, $12.95 PDF email, for those out of the U.S. or otherwise preferring computer version (note that this isn't a writeable PDF).

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Using the tools, telling our stories

  An out-of-town acquaintance got me to an in person meeting I've never been to before where I only recognized one other person. I like that in a group as I can get complacent with the same faces and stories. Hearing the message from fresh perspectives, even though it is much the same as in other places, helps me keep my program fresh, which is the ultimate goal at this stage of recovery. The ultimate goal along with staying clean and sober, obviously (*my favorite sentence in the Big Book, p .45)

 The message I heard, from people newer than myself, was related to the importance of self-care as well as sticking close to program in times of change, whether positive or not so positive. Such good reminders and also a welcome measuring stick as to how far I have come from those early days of questioning every single move. So much of recovery has been about healing from the inside out, whichever convoluted avenues that seemed to take. I was certainly adept at running away from or caffeinating or ignoring character aspects that got in my way or making it your fault. What a gift to have walked through those minefields, hand-in-hand, bringing up the rear or leading the way with my fellow travelers on the journey.

We had some work done here at home on the carpet, which involved moving furniture and stuff off shelves. The guy used what seemed to be magic sliders - just get them under the corners and even the heaviest cabinets move easily. Argh! All the years I spent tugging and pulling and pushing with my entire body to rearrange my bedroom as a kid, or living rooms, etc etc etc - who knew there was a tool! You can see where this is going (obviously). The right tools for the job, whether painting the house, moving furniture, or doing inventory makes all the difference. I sometimes think my recovery toolbox is full, but then I hear someone talk about writing a letter to their fear, or mention a book I haven't read, and I add to my kit. The God Box is one such tool (or call it a Surrender Box if the God word doesn't work for you). I still write little notes for the box, then do my best to stop thinking about whatever it is that has me tied in knots. I now date my scraps of paper - an additional piece of the process is to go back every few years and read the notes, looking at how much has been resolved, with little "work" on my part. Another tool I use sporadically is a Gratitude Journal, writing things I'm grateful for in the moment as well as setting intention for positivity going forward. 

The things I do to enhance, or more accurately, rein in my emotional state are different now than at the beginning when all I could muster was "Don't drink and go to meetings." I'd tell myself if I really, really wanted to drink, I'd wait until tomorrow, and tomorrow never got here because it is always today! Once, when I was super stressed about something I can't even remember, a fellow gave me the mantra, "I can choose peace instead of this."  I still use that when obsession strikes. I recently heard, "Move a muscle, change your mood," another good reminder that taking a walk nearly always clears my mind.

I'm ghostwriting a friend's AA story for submission to the 5th Edition of the Big Book. It's quite a back-and-forth process, and no guarantees, but has given me a deeper relationship with someone I would've called an acquaintance as I listen to the nuances of how recovery has worked in his life. I think our stories are why AA/Alanon works. When I'm locked in my own version of hell, thinking I'm the only one, I'll never get better. When I experience the catharsis of telling you what it was like, what happened and what it's like now, I gain a sense of belonging - especially when I hear you do the same. Community happens when we show up for each other, which so often simply means listening. A friend, Craig, who died many years ago now from cancer, talked about the sacred campfire, the circle we sat in once a week to reflect and witness our individual paths on the hero's journey. Sharing my pain helps relieve the sting. Sharing my joy intensifies it. Sharing the mundane reminds me that I am one among many. 

This week, the Cabal, our threesome that has been meeting and talking and sitting in meditation for a decade now, met in a park, safely distanced, enjoying side-shoulder "hugs." I appreciated the sounds of summer as we sat in silence - the squeals of small children, men striking ball with mallet, the crunch of runners flying by on the gravel path. When we shared, it tended towards the journey from striving to be-ing, identifying the internalized belief that if I try hard enough, I'll lose five pounds, gain serenity, overcome my defects, work a better program, ad infinitum. What if it's true that right here, right now, everything is OK? Not perfect, and maybe some things need changing, but ok in the moment. What might happen were I to simply allow or pay attention? What could occur if I was more mindful in my choices, not because I "should" but because it feels right?  Maybe not much differently than what happens now, but the energy would be different - open palm vs clenched fist. Self-acceptance instead of the internal, eternal critic. 

I may have shared this from poet John O'Donohue before, but it is worth repeating as summer begins to give way to fall - I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.  How might you flow like a river today? What are the tools you use, old or new, that help you access your inner wisdom? Are there places or situations where you can release the try and the should, moving into peace?

* * *

Fall is a great time to start a small group discussion with the Now What? workbook. See the Feb 4 post for a sample, or contact me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com for more info. (Order off the web version of this page, or, available at Portland Area Intergroup)



Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Perspectives

 Facebook "memories" reminded me this week of the date my father died, way back in 1980, based on a photo tribute I did two years ago. I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I was well into sobriety before looking up the actual day. Unlike the Temptations song, it was not a day I'll always remember, drinking heavily in my grief. I definitely remember the month - for a long chunk of time, unnamed melancholy would sneak up in August, until I heard someone talk about loss anniversaries. Oh, that's what this is. Hi Dad.

I've outlived my father by 11 years now, and have been alive longer without him than I knew him. I know my dad loved me, and wanted only the best in my life, but it took a lot of tough excavating via therapy and Alanon to get to the essence of our relationship. I grew up believing all was well, then went through a stage of only seeing what was missing via both his alcoholism and mine. I am forever grateful for the healing that has taken place in my relationship to my history - as one of my Alanon readers says, "I've learned to look at the past without staring," though I would give just about anything to have a sober, adult conversation with my father.

Being August, this month I look at how Step 8 is working in my life. The 12x12 tells me that our goal is to "develop the best possible relations with every human being we know." I take that to include both myself, and those human beings who are alive only in memory. I don't exactly know what I believe happens after we're gone - that varies with recent losses, when my loved ones seem to be hovering nearby. I have several friends who consider their deceased friends and family as part of their higher power, or inner wisdom. I can feel that today, having moved from resentment or regret to a place of acknowledging and hopefully incorporating life lessons I've learned from those who have died. And I know that the relationships I have with those who've passed are multi-layered, consisting of our actual interactions and experiences, my interpretations of the same (which can change) as well as the imaginary relationship I have in my head (conversations that might've happened, but didn't; what I wish would or wouldn't have happened, etc)

For the record, none of the lessons learned have to do with acquiring material things - even my wealthy boyfriend believed that money was merely a tool, not a goal. What I have learned is to be a good steward of my resources, and that it is love that matters in the end. That sounds like a cheesy greeting card, but I'm discovering that the deepest truths are often the simplest. Love might look a little different to you and me, but I think the commonality of respect and kindness and releasing expectations of self and others fits the definition. 

I've started drinking coffee, two half-cups per day (and a cup of tea), and I'm sorry to say if I don't have at least one of those cups of dressed up coffee by a certain time of morning, the back-of-the-neck headache begins to throb. Pitiful, actually, when I think of all the booze and stimulants, adulterants and various chemicals I ingested on a regular basis back in the day. But I never was a very good alcoholic. I had a smoker's cough by age 20 and puked when I drank too much (i.e. all the time). Cocaine made my nose bleed, and my shy veins didn't like getting stuck. Imagine if I'd actually listened to my body sooner, my poor body that was saying, "Uh, excuse me? This isn't working." I've been reading snippets lately about the wisdom inherent in our bodies, and the western viewpoint battle between intellect and our often-messy physical selves. I recently saw a meme that said, "Follow you heart, but take your brain along." To which I would add/modify to "Go ahead and think, but stop long enough to listen to your gut." Balance. 

My friend, the Tarot Card Lady (tarotcardlady on Instagram for daily card reading), recently advised that rather than looking for the lesson in the day or week, reflect on the last 6 months for evidence of progress, growth or places asking for attention. I can get wrapped up in the minutiae of daily life, but really, it is the overall flavor of my days and weeks that point to a satisfied release or discomfort. Are more days than not spent in activity of my choosing? Do I feel rushed most days, or just a few? Am I seeing friends in-person vs endless texts? Again, Balance. Balance and perspective,  one day at a time. 

What lessons, positive or not so much, have you learned from those who've passed on?  Looking back at the last 6-12 months, what are your successes? 

* * *

Fall is a great time to start a small group discussion with the Now What? workbook. See the Feb 4 post for a sample, or contact me at shadowsandveins@gmail.com for more info. (Order off the web version of this page, or, available at Portland Area Intergroup)