Wednesday, March 30, 2022

To thine own self...

 Two good friends from away (Seattle area, Las Vegas) spent the weekend - the first time we've had overnight company in over two years. It was SO good to laugh and talk, and to share our every-other-week online meeting, this time with me on the computer and them on the couch downstairs. We took a couple of beautiful walks - one city and one in the woods - ate good food, watched a movie... nothing overtly spectacular, but it was spectacular, and just the positive re-set I hadn't known I was craving.

I can, and do, go along in life, mostly appreciating, if not outright enjoying my days, in a pattern of walk (solo or with friends), work (1 more month!), drive (did I say 1 more month?!) eat, prep for the next day, a TV show, my library book, snooze and repeat. Some variations, like the occasional meal with friends, but, for now, that's just about it. Not unpleasant in the least. And then I experience a nourishing few days like this past week (including a birthday visit from our daughter) and I exhale, thinking, "Oh. That's what was missing."

I am a creature of habit and structure. I really didn't know that about myself in the B.R. (Before Recovery) times. I didn't understand that part of my discomfort in the world had to do with the chaotic, overly spontaneous (flurry of activity or crashed out with hangover) lifestyle that went along with the booze and drugs. I'm glad I know that about myself, which can be annoying to friends who are more devil-may-care, but it works for me. I do at least try to loosen up at times (ha ha) but I'm not usually the person to call and say "Meet me in an hour?"  Ah well. 

My point is not about structure vs footloose, but about "To thine own self be true." And I had to learn what my own "thine self" was, with some trial and error. Today I know that I should always have access to a snack. I know that I don't have an entrepreneurial bone in my body (tell me what to do and I'll do it and collect the paycheck every two weeks!). As an end-of-the-line baby boomer, I also know I don't have too many original thoughts, since there are something like 75 million (American) people a few years ahead of me who've already experienced the growing pains of becoming an elder - and have very likely written about it. I know that, while I grew up with solid values (not that I lived by them), all I've truly learned about life and people and relationships, and my spiritual resources have been since getting sober. 

What I do experience are insights and ah-ha moments that are exclusive to me. I'll never forget leaving a speaker meeting, having been enthralled with the person's share, only to hear a couple of women saying, "Well that was boring." Were we even in the same room?? I also know that I don't know something until I do, whether that is around romance or whether I'm in the right job, or what direction I want my post-work life to go. I can learn from you, and your comments can light a spark in my heart, but just because you love something doesn't mean I will. I'm not a team-sport kind of gal. I don't like high places (like zip lines or gondola rides up mountain passes). I do not do well in committees.  And it's all ok.

Take these blogs, for instance. Sometimes an idea or theme percolates all week and I jot down phrases on scraps of paper until I can take the time to sit at my computer. Sometimes, like today, I have no idea what's going to come through the keyboard. Sometimes I force a topic only to have it feel like sawdust until I can let my fingers say what wants to come out. And sometimes I riff on something I've heard in a meeting or read in a book. And again, it's all ok.

So today, I am grateful for spring sunshine and rain. I'm grateful for good friends and my loving and welcoming spouse. I'm grateful for good health and creaky knees, sleeping a whole night through, and gas in the car. Doesn't have to be big to be appreciated...

What are traits you've learned about yourself since getting into recovery? Are you true to those wants and desires? If you find yourself compromising more than is comfortable, how will you hit your re-set button? Where does your creativity show up, whether in the kitchen, the easel, on the piano, or something else entirely?  Maybe it's a new way of looking at a Step?  How will you celebrate YOU today? 

* * *

The workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" is now available in PDF form (emailed to you) or hardcopy, sent via the postal service. See the blog entry for Feb 4 for a sample. If you don't see the PayPal link, go to the WEB VERSION of this page at

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Connections and re-connections

 This past week, my Alanon home group, which meets Tuesday and Friday mornings, started a two-month experiment of once weekly online and once weekly in-person. I don't usually attend on Fridays but wanted to be there for our return to the circle. I get choked up thinking about how happy we were to see each other in the flesh, and to get those hugs we'd been missing for literally two years. Yes, yes, yes to gratitude for online meetings, and I'm ready to steer my personal program towards a combination of zoom and in-person. It's been a long two years.

What's interesting is how many people in meetings have said they haven't minded pandemic living. Actually, my brother says the same thing - he's a homebody anyway, so no real changes to his routines. I ride the line between cozy contentment and the need to hit the road (literally or metaphorically). I will say that the pandemic has added a level of scrutiny to decisions: Who will be there? Is everyone vaccinated? Is a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd worth the anxiety? Sometimes yes, sometimes no - and I fully realize that I am one of the fortunate ones who hasn't been directly touched by the devastation. 

After last week's post of the "google 10th Step," a friend added: 4b) Forgive myself for mistakes made, so as not to "beat myself into a relapse". (thanks J.D.) Yes. I can clobber myself for even the smallest  faux pas or error - from losing a grocery coupon at the bottom of my bag, missing out on a time-sensitive bargain - to the bigger screw ups of hurting someone's feelings, past or present. Lack of power was my dilemma and sometimes it is lack of perspective that is the trouble. What are my priorities, and can I truly live in the space of forgiving myself for being less than perfect? One day at a time.

This has been a week of friendship, family and connections, with an in-person meeting (we've met in a park, online, in backyards and living rooms, masked and un-masked for the duration), a sweetly fun visit for our daughter's birthday (ahh - to be in my 20's again, but only if I could re-do it sober!) and friends coming from out-of-town for the weekend. And another dear friend just celebrated 9 years of sobriety! As part of my morning practice, I spend a few moments in gratitude for the many gifts of recovery. Some days, the same things on my gratitude list are on my "Grrrrr what's wrong" tally, but overall, I do my best to maintain an attitude of gratitude. Thank you, Mom, for your eternal optimism that apparently rubbed off. 

Whenever we celebrate my stepdaughter's birthday, I think of the passage of time, but also where I was at the same age - in this case, married, promoted at work, drinking my brains out on weekends, and getting at least tipsy every evening. I also remember the excitement and possibility of youth, when it felt like the whole world was waiting to be explored. Is it possible to bring that expectantly positive energy to my 67-year-old self? Can I be both comfortable and feel hopeful anticipation for what lies ahead?  

It's different, obviously, when the end of the journey is closer than the beginning. On one hand, I can look forward to diminished capacities, but on the other, I imagine the possibilities of doing what I want, when I want (within reason!). I think it's a balancing act. Too much comfort and satisfaction can morph into inertia which slides into the retrogressive groove, while a blasé been-there-done-that quickly becomes "Is that all there is?" Staying teachable, remaining curious (and taking naps!) can help me remain in a place of open-minded wonder, trusting that all is unfolding as it will, without my wranglings. I can be mindful of all that life's journey has taught me to this point while remembering that I'm not done just yet.

How has your life changed these past two years, and what, if any of that will you hold on to as we move forward? If you find yourself simply going through the motions, how will you re-engage with your life, open to new energy in what you thought were old dreams? And always, what is a small measure of self-acceptance you can bring to mind the next time you make what you consider to be a mistake? (and remember, some say there are no mistakes - merely opportunities for growth)

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

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Outlook and attitude

 I'm beginning to understand just how much of my Step work, especially 3, 7 and 11 has to do with simply holding still: getting quiet, listening, waiting for clear direction. I continually struggle with the idea that doing nothing is an action in and of itself. Holding still takes both courage and focus, when my natural tendency is to do something, even if ill advised. Listen. Pay attention. And "If you don't know what to do, don't do anything!"

As a friend reminded me, via a meeting share, we don't gain a spiritual connection by trying harder, as in a direct cause and effect. Sure, I can make myself ready for healing, I can set the stage for serenity, but I can't think myself "better.".

It struck me, that for all my recent internal pissing and moaning about this temporary job (the long commute, not the work itself) that I chose this. I'm the one who said, "Yes." I don't need the job. I wasn't seeking work. And I said, "OK" when asked. Holding still allowed me to move beyond the surface chatter to the deeper truth and take responsibility for my choices.

With that realization, I've been approaching the commute with a new attitude, appreciating the various views and small successes when traffic flows smoothly. At the worksite, I looked up from my computer last week to see a deer, not six feet from my window. I gave a little wave to farm people I intersected with on the road and daily give thanks for the extra money going into our property tax fund. It's about attitude, 90% of the time. 

In a meeting focused on Step 10 this week, a member shared how easy it is to do a daily spot check inventory on one's smart phone. Curious, I googled it! Up popped "How to Complete the Tenth Step of AA." I don't know the actual source (undoubtedly not conference approved) but I liked the directions: 

  1. Avoid immediate decisions based solely on emotion. Instead, take a step back, breathe deeply, and then act. 
  2. Be honest in your assessment of situations (Brilliant! How often does my skewed view cast a shadow on what is really going on?)
  3. Admit any mistakes you're making
  4. Forgive others when they've made mistakes
  5. Focus on progress, not perfection
I love it - especially 1 and 2. Step 10 is about changing my outlook as well as my behaviors, thinking before acting. And sometimes owning my behavior has just as much to do with catching my worn out thinking before it becomes an action as it does with making amends to you. Do I promptly admit when I've fallen back into negative thought patterns, the what-if's or the I'm-not-enough's? The making right in this case would be to change the channel and remind myself of my inherent worth (and tendency to over-dramatize my importance in whatever scenario is bugging me). Yes, make right whatever "wrongs" I've done towards my fellows, and, pay attention to the internal barometer. Some days I'll be stellar and other days I'll stumble, and it's all ok. 

These are challenging times, with mask mandates lifted just as the nightly news reports on a new variant, war in Europe, prices on nearly everything going up... I'd be a robot if I didn't feel at least a little disturbed. And, as a friend who also has long-term recovery pointed out, being sober a long time, I've lived through a lot without taking a drink, both in the big world and my own. I don't have to drink, no matter what. I can focus on what is right vs what is wrong, without sticking my head in the sand. I can remember to breathe. 

How often do you try to "think" yourself better? How might you practice the art of surrender instead? What would your inner wisdom have you do when you find yourself in a twitch about this thing or that? Where does the idea of paying attention fit with holding yourself accountable with kindness?


Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Being restored

 As February's Step 2 practice wound up, I've realized that being restored to sanity can take time. When I "came to believe" a bolt of lightning didn't immediately strike me sane. I was restored to sanity, however shaky, around the drink, but as for the rest of my ism's, the progress has been more gradual. If believing it to be so, or wishing and hoping, praying and dreaming (cue Dusty Springfield singing) were enough, I could've saved myself literal years of gut-wrenching insecurities.

What I've come to understand, after an episode that would've triggered an all-out panic (Warning! Warning!), instead thinking, "Hmmm. That's interesting", is that perhaps a head-on assault isn't always what's called for. Maybe being restored to sanity sometimes comes from the gentle action of time, eroding fear, exposing the flimsy rationale for what is an old idea of lack - the belief that there isn't enough (love, attention, booze) to go around, that I'm somehow not enough. Maybe it is the focus on serenity over time, or daily practicing the principles, that takes the rough edges off whatever alcoholic/alanonic thinking I'm dragging around. Maybe regular efforts at Step 3 and 7 over the years sinks in, and trust becomes a way of life, not a faraway dream meant for someone else.

In the 12x12, on page 31 (modifying language), Bill writes, "No one could believe in God and defy them too." Where, and how often, have I claimed to believe in the spiritual concept of healing, yet continued to try to run the show? Where have I opened one palm in release while hiding a clenched fist in my pocket?

The Big Book says, "At once, we commence to outgrow fear." It doesn't say, "Boom - all gone!"  I need to pay closer attention to the actual language, not what I "hear." Commence to outgrow fear. Came to believe. Made a decision...  None of it says, "Woke up one day, completely free of my human tendencies to grasp, to hold tight, to fear the unknown."  Recovery is a process. Trust the process, again and again.

In my Step group this week, someone brought up the Buddhist concept that being alive involves suffering, but that I so often create my own suffering (which is directly referenced in the Big Book - "Our troubles, we think, are of our own making."). The longer I'm around, and the better I take care of my HALTS, the more this becomes obvious. Really, today, in the grand scheme of things, I've got nothing. As was told to me in treatment all those years ago, I know where I'm sleeping tonight and I've had enough to eat today (and my city isn't being bombed).

Along those lines, on a walk this week, I came upon a man, probably in my age range, mid-way up a steep hill, headed towards a set of public stairs that go from the bottom of the ridge to the top. The thing is, this guy was hooked up to a rolling oxygen tank cart. He told me he has 30% oxygen capacity, and these stairs were number four in his quest to complete five that day. I was beyond impressed with his dedication and tenacity, especially as I sometimes find myself complaining about this ache or that pain. As a guy named Sonny used to say, when you'd ask how he was doing, "I've never had it so good." Sure, there are probably a few things I wish were different, and I am very fortunate to have good health, but today, all, ALL of my troubles are between my ears. I know that comparison isn't the road to serenity and I send healing energy of peace to those caught in the crossfire in Ukraine, in Afghanistan, in the Republic of Congo and all places on earth where violence is more the norm than the exception.

So today, well into March when I pay attention to the energy inherent in Step 3, I make a decision to get out of the way. I breathe into gratitude for all the privileges I enjoy - for safety and hot running water, for a cozy home and a strong marriage, for good friends and relative security. Above all, I am grateful for recovery, knowing it could've gone either way, knowing that sobriety provides the platform for participating in the world in a sane and healthy way.

How has your sanity been restored, either quickly or over time? Are you holding on to the illusion of control in any area?  How do you regain perspective when you find yourself in a mindset of scarcity?

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

The stories we tell ourselves

What is the story you are currently telling yourself?

What terrifies your mind but stirs your soul?

I'm a note taker, a jotter-down of tidbits and points to ponder. I'm not sure where the above originated, but they jumped out from a notebook I recently opened and seemed appropriate to where my mental energy has lately been, especially the first.

I had a flare up of obsessive thinking this past week, triggered by a bit of information disclosed that surprised me. Intellectually, I understood that what I was told had little bearing on my circumstances, but that didn't stop my mind from traveling down the "what if?" lane of fear and insecurity (intellectual knowledge rarely translates to emotional stability for me, at least not initially). But, because I have now decades of experience in taking a step back from my reactions, I was able to simply hold still and observe my disquiet, my discomfort. 

Recognizing the tip of the emotional iceberg, I uncharacteristically picked up the phone, and put pen to paper to get at the root of the problem as it manifests today. I may think I've dealt with a particular type of situation or emotion a thousand times, but really, from this vantage point, from here and now, every blip is a new blip - familiar, maybe, but I can't apply last year's solutions to today's dilemmas because I have changed, however incrementally. What is the story I'm telling myself, and is it actually true today?

 I talked it out, relieving the internal pressure-cooker, and then sat in a meeting and heard someone describe her use of the fear inventory (list them, ask myself if I'm stuck in self-reliance or figure-it- out mode, then let go). Oh yeah - the Big Book has a solution for this. Oh yeah, I'm not the only person who sometimes gets stuck in rumination about one thing or another. One day at a time. One day at a time.

We visited family in San Francisco this past weekend. In addition to seeing how the littles have grown since our last visit, we got to connect with AA friends, attending a couple of in-person meetings in the city, and across the Bay in Oakland. I hadn't realized just how much I've missed gathering and was nearly moved to tears in both settings as we stood in a circle, held hands, and recited the Serenity Prayer. I do so appreciate online meetings, and I've missed hugs and side conversations, and "Keep coming back!" chanted in unison. It did feel a bit odd, being unmasked (both were held outdoors), and I confess to waving when someone spoke, like we do on zoom, but the benefits far outweighed any lingering concerns. There are in-person groups here in Portland, though at home I'm more likely to lazily roll into my office and onto the computer (Put on shoes? Factor in driving time?).  Maybe it's the onset of spring, but I'm definitely feeling hope around a return to some semblance of normalcy (though I will keep masks handy for crowds and follow guidance for future vaccinations). I'm guessing that online groups will stay in operation for quite a while, and I would miss connecting with friends across the country so hope that is true. More will definitely be revealed.

As for the second quote, I don't know that there is much these days that actually terrifies my mind (other than war, environmental collapse and the like). Letting go of old internal fears has been a long and slow process. These days, I'm doing my best to pay attention, trying to be more attuned to what stirs my soul, whether quiet nudges or the full-blown fireworks of "yes!" For today I will bask in the warm glow of time with loved ones as well as heart connections with people in the rooms. My temp job continues, so all I really need to know in this moment is where I'll show up tomorrow. One day at a time, all is well.

What is the story you are currently telling yourself, whether about your own capabilities or a particular situation? If the story leads to a rabbit hole of fears or negativity, might talking with a trusted other release some of the power it holds? And what about anything that might feel scary but exciting at the same time? If it is a viable option for action, what is a small task you can do this week to move you closer to your goal? 

* * *

The workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" is now available in PDF form (emailed to you) or hardcopy, sent via the postal service. See the blog entry for Feb 4 for a sample. If you don't see the PayPal link, go to the WEB VERSION of this page at