Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Our stories


Happy 36th "soberversary" to me. I can't help but wonder what this new year will bring to us all.

I was honored to share my story on Monday in an online meeting out of Vancouver, BC with the added sweetness of my two very good friends from treatment (and still today) on the screen. Who would've thought, on those long-ago January days, that we'd still be so important in each other's lives? I've heard our early recovery pals described as "litter mates." There is definitely something solid about those people who saw us at the beginning, or before - a knowing, and an appreciation of essentially growing up together.

I have two more speaking gigs this week, what my spouse calls a "victory lap", which has me thinking about my "story." What exactly is that? It took a few years for me to coalesce the parts into a whole, especially when some AA meetings in those days told us to go someplace else if we had a problem with drugs. I get it, the primary purpose stuff, and my alcoholism took me to some dark alleys. It was a while before I could release the trauma of those days to be able to talk about what it was like in a general way.

So, is my story about the young marriage to someone from a different background, then a relationship with a man from a different country, and the drug dealer who came next? Is it about my sobered-up alcoholic dad, or all the fun mischief we had as kids? Is it about the cheap wine, vodka, and sickly-sweet Grand Marnier? Or maybe it's the piles of cocaine cut with baby laxative I stuck up my nose, or the methamphetamine that bubbled in vials in my basement.

Maybe my story is the interior one of embarrassment and self-consciousness, that feeling of not belonging. It is probably telling that my earliest memory is when I was three years old, when my mother was giving birth to my brother and the person who was tasked with watching me had to drop me at someone else's house for a few hours. I must've been scared as I crawled behind the couch and threw up. What I remember is the hardwood floor and the feelings of shame. Fear and shame - a painful combination that colored my worldview just below the surface, well into recovery.

When they told us in treatment to keep going to meetings until we heard our story, maybe, instead of the particulars, I was meant to listen for the sense of ease and comfort that a drink or a drug brought to our wounded, frightened selves, the selves that acted out with bravado or inward with anxiety. Maybe the outer details didn't really matter. After all, when a great big biker talked about grieving, or a little old lady shared about hiding in the closet to drink, it wasn't the specifics I could relate to, but the emotions.

Perhaps when I tell my story I could just as easily read off a list of feelings than tell the facts and figures of the thing. I could probably simply say grief, sad, scared and overwhelmed and heads would nod in recognition. That being said, it was the fire and brimstone speakers that hooked me when I was new, those folks who's "what it was like" made me say, "If they could do it, maybe I can too."  If recovery is about the "we" then I'd say it all matters - our actual history as well as the emotional landscape we travel together. My backstory doesn't change, but my relationship to it evolves, circles back around, and shifts over time, as do the facts I focus on in the telling. 

I took our dear, old cat to the vet yesterday. The doctor pronounced him to be on hospice - comfort measures only. I'm waiting on this guy hand and foot, experimenting with what he might eat, encouraged with each bite he takes, each purr, each swipe at the scratching post. And... I'm detaching a bit more each day, paying attention to his quality of life rather than my own wish that he live forever.

Thinking about our cat and the brevity of life, I challenged myself yesterday to simply sit in my meeting. Just sit, and look at the screen - not open mail, or write in my calendar, or otherwise putter around at my desk, but just.sit.still. I am a note taker, and as I took my seat, jotted down, "Be here NOW." Funny enough, the topic was the slogans - Easy Does It, Live and Let Live, Hands Off Pays Off - all the bumper sticker bromides that, when I let them, serve as a portal to a deeper experience of the moment, a small time-out. Amazing (ha ha) how my experience of the meeting changed by my actually being there. Rather than ruminating over the decision that soon needs to be made about letting go of Mr. Whiskers, I focused on "Keep it Simple" and "Trust the Process," knowing that I'll know when I know, one day at a time.

While walking later, I paid attention to my surroundings with intention - red berries on brown branches, winter blooming verbena and budding daphne, so much Oregon green in the dead of winter. I kept my hat off when it started to rain, feeling the drops on my face. There is something about facing death, whether a human loved one or a pet, that brings life into sharper focus. Watching this once sleek and sassy cat age into a bony, snotty mess (he has asthma and kidney disease) has the reality of life and death at the forefront, no matter how I want to pretend otherwise. I do know that anticipatory grief is hard and tender, complicated and so very simple. All I really need to do is sit still, with presence - be here NOW because soon, these moments of togetherness will be just memory.

Happy New Year to you. When you think of your recovery story, do you focus on the facts of your history, your emotions, or both?  How do you utilize the Steps to help sort it all out? Are you able to acknowledge the miracle of recovery on a daily basis? 

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