Wednesday, February 23, 2022


At the doctor's office last week, I engaged in conversation with the assistant whose name badge indicated he worked in the Pain Clinic. The talk turned towards addiction treatment which turned in to him telling me he'd just celebrated 9 years clean and sober. I love sharing recovery moments in unexpected places with unexpected people, whether the kid sporting NA key tags at the grocery store or sharing a moment over someone's bumper sticker.

This week I'm thinking about motivation, or as we call it in 12 Step, willingness. Am I willing to go to any length for my recovery? Am I Honest, Open-Minded and Willing?  Do I suit up, show up and just sit, or am I motivated to take some sort of action?

Maybe the action is as simple as reading the literature or putting pen to paper. Maybe it's picking up the phone or writing that long over-due amends letter, which doesn't get any easier with time. Maybe willingness shows up when I impulsively raise my hand to take on a service commitment, or when I say "yes" to a new sponsee (Someone recently shared that if sponsoring isn't inconvenient, you aren't doing it right - not sure I agree with that, though being of service sometimes feels like a stretch).

Motivation comes and goes. Most (many?) days I'm motivated to skip the cookies or ice cream. Most days I'm willing to attend a meeting, because that's what I do. I generally walk and visit the gym as planned. But where does that come from? Is it intrinsic, or developed over time from do and repeat, do and repeat? Every time I hear a new person say, "I just didn't feel like going to a meeting," I think, "Nobody said I had a choice," telling me, over and over, that there are two times to go to a meeting - when you want to, and when you don't.  Admittedly, I can be a bit rigid, and sometimes I do take a breather, but especially when I first got sober, meetings weren't optional. Did I have the "want power" that old Leonard talked about? Then I'd get myself to my regular groups. (Seen on the wall at a meeting in Antigua, West Indies - "Don't plan your meeting around your day. Plan your day around your meeting.") This necessity is very different at 36 years than at 3, but I do try to keep the maintenance of my spiritual condition in mind every day. I don't meditate once and float off to nirvana or walk around the block one day and do a marathon the next. My serenity meter requires regular attention.

And... motivation waxes and wanes, even with the best of intentions. Sometimes I have an extra slice of pizza, or let the rain convince me to stay inside. But, the motivation, born of pain, to maintain the gift of sobriety (including that from tobacco) has never wavered, thus far at least. Fully conceding, then doing what small tasks it takes to remember that admission, keeps me on this side of the chasm, one day at a time.

While driving and switching the radio dial from 60's oldies to 80's to jazz to classical and back, a chorale rendition of "Oh Shenandoah" came on the air. As I sang along, lyrics etched in my mind from music class in grade school, I felt a twinge of melancholy sadness, thinking of the girl who loved to sing, whether it was show tunes and classics in school, on family road trips, or huddled around the piano with my cousins while mom played WWI and II era songs. Sadness, because I didn't have the confidence to pursue choir in high school, or much of anything really. Puberty did a number on my already shaky self-esteem, and I retreated, making choices that seemed safer at the time.

I've heard several long-time women speak recently about the slow process of letting themselves off the hook for poor decisions, for deciding that you mattered more than me. It has been a slow process, and I can still chastise my inner 12, 14 or 16 year old (or 20, 23, 25 year old) for doing whatever it was I did or didn't do. My first sponsor would tell me, "If you'd known better, you would've done better." Well, I often did know better, and I was cursed with the disease of "more," the trait of "make hay while the sun shines" and damn the consequences. 

I very rarely say "damn the consequences" these days. Not for a long time have I said "stay" when I should've said, "go" or booked a flight when I should've checked with my boss first. Maybe it's part of getting older, this smoothing of the impulse-meter. Maybe it's having been around the block quite a few times now, learning sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, that all my actions have consequences, positive or not so much. Am I only thinking of myself when I strike out to greet the day, or do I consider how I might impact another? 

This week mark's my 36th Alanon anniversary. I went to my first meeting about a month out of treatment, hoping to save my heroin-addicted lover from his fate, and stayed because I realized I had work to do around the relationship with my father. I keep coming back because I got married nearly 11 years ago, and I strive to keep my side of the street clean. Ours is not a perfect relationship (is anyone's?) but before tying the knot, we talked about the whole "'til death do you part," thing, neither of us wanting a second divorce. I am grateful for the tools, no matter how heavy they sometimes feel, that guide us in the tough conversations as well as the joyous celebrations. Thank you, Alanon. 

What motivates you, today, to do what is needed for your sanity and serenity? Do you hold yourself accountable, or are you better off with a helper? If you find yourself regretting the past, how do you intentionally return to gratitude for today?

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See my post from 2/4 for information on the Now What? workbook, now available for $12.95 as a PDF I send you via email, or $19.95 for a spiral bound copy I mail to you.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

What you think of me is none of my business

After reading him last week's post, my husband thought it important to note that "Jeopardy" is my favorite (and only) game show, lest someone mistakenly think I watch Wheel of Fortune or some other drivel (ha! my judgement). I've watched Jeopardy regularly since 7th grade, when I was literally laid up for three weeks, flat on my back with pneumonia. It was a mid-day show back then, and I played along with pencil and paper to record my "wins," contributing to an internal storehouse of trivia. I don't know a lot about anything, but I do know a little about a lot (though I will admit for the category 1985, I zero'd out, nil, nada. I got sober in January, 1986 and still couldn't tell you a thing that happened in '85).

So does it matter what people think about my TV viewing habits? It probably did, in the past. There was a time I wouldn't leave the house without being fully made up and would never go grocery shopping in sweats. I was petrified to speak in a meeting, paralyzed by the bondage of self - I want your attention, but please don't look at me.  

Growing up, and well into my 30's (and beyond??) I cared what you thought - about how I looked, how I acted, how I was in the world. Much of that was likely the normal adolescent developmental stage of the "imaginary audience" where we think everyone is paying attention to us. And, when we start drinking at 12, 13 or 14, we can get stuck there. So, yeah, I came into the rooms of recovery more concerned than I needed to be about what you thought of me, until I came to realize, many of you felt the same. I'll never forget the guy, who before my first AA dance, told me not to worry because I'd be in a room full of self-centered alcoholics who wouldn't be paying any attention to me. What a relief! 

When I felt hollow inside, the outside was all I had to offer, but somewhere along the line (thank you Steps, therapy, and meetings galore), I got to the place where my insides and outsides matched. I no longer had to look a certain way to mask my insecurities - not that they weren't still there, but as I learned and grew through the Steps, I understood it was my character that mattered more than whether or not I had on mascara.

On another note, do any of you who were raised on the 3rd edition, remark, when you notice the clock at 4:49, "Acceptance!"? I love how the principles and sayings and catch phrases have become a part of who I am, my operating instructions and guides. In early recovery I could use the word, "acceptance" in a sentence, but until I put the principle of surrender into action, it was just a word. I can still struggle with remembering to level the playing field by accepting what is going on - not liking or approving but acknowledging what is. Only then can I apply the Serenity Prayer to determine what is mine to change and when to simply move on.

And I continue to have my mind blown by how we live this thing called recovery. In a Step 6 meeting last night, my brain made a synaptic connection between "fully conceded to our innermost selves," and the directive "were entirely ready..."  Sometimes the absolutes in the first 164 pages can slip by me. "Entirely ready," yeah, yeah. "Admit powerlessness," okay, okay. Can't we just get on with it? Sure, I can go through the motions, but the act of standing on the edge of a cliff and saying, "Alright! I surrender!" takes a conscious effort, lest I slip back to the perceived comfort of hanging on tightly to old ideas of safety and security. Those old ideas are my ideas, and some are pretty entrenched by now, but I love and appreciate when I read a sentence or hear a phrase in a new way.  

How has, "What you think of me is none of my business," entered your psyche? Does that apply more at some times than others? When the bondage of self strikes, how do you breathe into acceptance of yourself in all your perfectly imperfect-ness? What might you be battling to accept today? How can you remember your powerlessness in order to bring you closer to serenity?

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See my post from 2/4 for information on the Now What? workbook, now available for $12.95 as a PDF I send you via email, or $19.95 for a spiral bound copy I mail to you.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Step Two

 In The Seekers Guide, Elizabeth Lesser writes "The secret in life is enjoying the passage of time... Experiment with letting go into the mystery... You don't really know where it's all going anyway, so why not relax and experience the ride!"

Why not, indeed. Rather than the internal effort to step on the brakes, I can be conscious of the eternal now. I tried doing that on my long walk over the weekend, paying attention to every footfall, each contraction of my already tight quadriceps. I am a planner, a list maker, a ticket-buyer. Planning for my spring garden as I walk is fine in and of itself, but not if it keeps me from noticing the blooming crocus and hellebore along my route. 

I get so lost in my mind, with this story or that, this consideration or that forecast, from the simplest of household tasks to grand schemes for the future. Again, nothing wrong with being organized, and... where are my feet? Are my butt and my brain in the same place? 

In thinking about Step Two, for February just beginning, I am reminded that I am neither the star of the show, or the director. I think back to my online communication several years ago with the daughter of the meth cook I was with when I hit bottom. Meeting that man was a huge turning point in my life - huge, and his daughter didn't remember me. With some detail-prompting, she did recall my house and my place in the triangle between me, him and another woman, but not in the neon lights her dad's presence was in my life. Something similar happened at our 50th grade school reunion when a woman looked at my name badge and said, "Hmm. I don't think I remember you." Seriously? There were only a hundred of us, and I certainly felt visible with my cutting up in class, the thwacked-on-my-head-with-a-book-by-the-math-teacher incident, getting suspended for putting glue on the toilet seats - and you don't remember me?! 

Again, I am only the star of my own show, and sometimes even there I've played second or third fiddle to romantic partners or other, bigger personalities. Humbling.

The gist of Step Two, for me, is getting out of my own way and acknowledging that I don't have all the answers - especially when it comes to the future. I know how not to drink one day at a time, but I have yet to discover a fully functioning crystal ball. I did figure out early on, pre-recovery, that what goes around comes around, but have learned since that this is rarely in direct correlation to my ideas of cause and effect. What if I was better able to relax into the mystery? What if I truly enjoyed the passing of time rather than complaining about how fast it goes?

What does it mean to be returned to sanity? First of all, I have to acknowledge the insanity of trying to control the uncontrollable, of forgetting my powerlessness over just about everything, including my first thought (but not my second). I have to remember that time passes, with or without my permission. When I meditate, am I sitting in stillness, or thinking about the grocery list? When watching my favorite game show on TV, am I paying attention, or scrolling on social media? In an online meeting, am I truly listening with my ears and my heart? 

Recovery is a process, a process that doesn't end with physical sobriety. I'll keep coming back.

When you notice that your name is in lights on the imaginary marquee of everyone else's life story as well as your own, can you see the humor and gently bring yourself back to right-size? How do you keep your butt and your brain in the same place? How do you stay in today?

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See my post from 2/4 for information on the Now What? workbook, now available for $14.95 as a PDF I send you via email, or $19.95 for a spiral bound copy I mail to you.

Friday, February 4, 2022

Breaking news about Now What workbook

 HEAR YE! HEAR YE! The workbook, I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What? is now available in PDF form via email. This is a great option if you prefer an online copy and/or live outside the U.S.

Now What? is a 78-page workbook (see Table of Contents below). Each section includes writing on the topic, a member's view, and processing questions with lined space for writing (Note that the PDF is not in writable format). It is suitable for individual use, for working with a sponsor/sponsee or in a small group.

Now Available in PDF format for $12.95 or hard copy mailed for $19.95. See PayPal/credit card info on the WEB VERSION of the blog page at:

A sample from the Introduction:

At the beginning, we are rightly focused on the act of sobriety: What are my physical needs as my body adapts to functioning without substances? How do I sleep through the night? How do I order pizza without saying, "and a pitcher of beer?" What about the family wedding coming up, or those initial holiday seasons? These are real concerns as we develop new, sober habits, and learn to live with integrity. Early recovery can be an exciting time, packed with adventures and markers on the journey of a new life - working the Steps for the first time, identifying a home group, connecting with a sponsor, beginning the amends process. We also learn to function sober in the workplace, and in relationships, navigate who we need to let go of, and what it means, exactly, to "stick with the winners." ...

But what about long-term recovery? What are the markers for ten, twenty, thirty years and beyond? We note the milestones, those five and ten-year anniversaries, but what else? How do we keep recovery alive and vibrant as we age, both in physical years and recovery time? 

What are the tasks of long-term recovery? What about the shifting roles in our groups? How do we deal with grief and loss as time progresses? In 12-Step recovery, we speak to the "alcoholic who still suffers." Sometimes that is the person in the room with the most time.

Table of Contents:

Taking Stock
Medication and Illness
Other Addictions
Grief & Loss
Aging as a Long Timer
Young People as Long Timers
Relationships & Intimacy
Our Work Life
Principles of the Steps, Revisited

Email me at with any questions.

(Note that this material is under copyright. Please do not make additional copies without express permission of the author)

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Pay attention

 For the last 15 years of my career, at two different agencies, I was blessed with an under-ten-minute commute, long telling myself I wouldn't take a job that involved freeways or crossing the river that bisects Portland into east and west. And here I am, driving 45 minutes each way, to the hinterlands of rolling farm country, halfway to the Oregon Coast every day of the week.  It's beautiful, and...

The mind wanders on a road trip, either to blissful serenity, a feedback loop of planning, or various paths on Memory Lane, especially when accompanied by my personal soundtrack on the stereo. It wasn't long into sobriety before I realized music is a mind-altering substance. There were certain songs I simply couldn't listen to for several years - songs that made me want to rip and run, or those that triggered sorrow. And, time does heal. Today, I can listen to Artie Shaw and fondly remember my dad or sing along to an old Motown song without wanting a do-over for my twenties. One day at a time, one song at a time.  

I keep reading the encouragement to "Follow your dreams!" or "Live your best life!" (always with an exclamation point!) I'm not even sure what that means as I wait for my big RETIREMENT DREAM to show up. Actually, being retired is the big dream for now. 

All I really need to do is pay attention. Dreams and whispered longings don't always announce themselves with neon lights, and sometimes I don't even have words for the nebulous urges lurking just below the surface. I'm thinking about the unexpected reconnection with my first husband and the man who followed him in the last years of their lives. I'm thinking about marrying a man with the daughter I didn't consciously know I wanted, running a half-marathon on the Great Wall of China, writing my novel, my dream of being a teacher showing up in my career as an addictions professional, and this temporary job appearing right when money was feeling tight. Always, always, always, it is about doing the next right thing. Sometimes that leads to sweetness, and sometimes not (as in a recent online class that was just so-so), but it always takes me to the next step, and then the next.

In a dream last night, I was talking to a young woman who was excited to be graduating from high school. I told her about my step-daughter - nine years old when we met, and now nearly ready to graduate from college. I told the girl in the dream to pay attention because time would move quickly, and before she knew it, people she loved would be gone, and experiences she thought would last forever would be over. Pay attention, which I cannot do in hindsight, as much as I'd like to tell younger-me to slow down just a bit. 

Yesterday at the grocery store, from fifty feet back, I recognized a friend of my cousin's I hadn't seen since high school. In my mind's eye, she was a slight girl, usually wearing Levis and a Sir-Jac, with hair parted in the middle, which is just about how she looked last night. I would've recognized her stance anywhere, and instead of walking down another aisle, I decided to say "hello." We shared a few words, her rasping over the oxygen tank in her cart. I was heartened to see her, sorry for her health, and grateful that I was able to put down the cigarettes so many years ago. People come into our lives, some staying, some disappearing, and some popping up from time-to-time to remind me of the girl I once was (in Levis and hair parted down the middle.)

This has been alternately a busy and a reflective week as I suit up and show up for the j-o-b, and as we acclimate our remaining cat to being a solo pet (which she seems to be enjoying). I'm putting one foot in front of the other, grateful for long term recovery as I listen to women with under 90 days ride the rollercoaster. Thank you for coming along on today's posting from the Road of Happy Destiny.

What are some dreams or goals that may have shown up in your life in unexpected ways? Did you recognize them at the time?  If you could tell your younger self to pay attention, what do you wish they hadn't missed?