Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Letting go...

 How does one do that "letting go" thing, you may ask. It's a question I certainly had for my treatment counselors all those years ago. One in particular, a wise and gruff older gal, said to me, "You just let go!" moving her hands from closed fist to open, which was of little help at the time. Hold on, let go, manipulate, obsess, release in very small increments - this has been a tough lesson. Often I don't even realize I'm trying to control until I notice my (metaphorical) clenched fists or shallow breathing. Uh oh. Have I forgotten my powerlessness? 

In a new-to-me online meeting this past week, a member shared that the Steps are tools, not weapons. Oh yeah. I can sometimes come at the self-correction part of Steps 6,7 and 10 with a bludgeon. I did that, again? Will I ever learn? Crap.  (you get the idea)

What if I was to truly employ the strategy a sponsor gave me long ago, which is to imagine holding that tender part of myself in my arms, saying, "Ah, here you are again. What is it you need to feel safe (or loved, or secure)?" As I very well know, behavior is rarely changed via punishment, whether self-imposed or otherwise.

I am certainly far from perfect - how boring would that be? This last week, the person in the big SUV behind me honked when I didn't take a left turn. I didn't take the left turn because I could see that the very long train I'd been trying to out-maneuver since leaving Costco 10 miles earlier, had traffic stopped up ahead. I may have given him a snarky wave, ala "take a breath, buddy" and will admit to wishing the train delay on him, and...  within a few blocks was singing along with the radio. I don't hold on to stuff as long as I once did, especially random traffic slights. And, really, how important is it? 

I've written here about my transition from running to walking, and have likely mentioned that I participate in a weekly training group. This last week I was invited to join the ranks of Pace Mentor, which essentially means showing up (which I do anyway) and earning a pair of shoes and a cool t-shirt. Unlike running mentors, who need to maintain a consistent speed, the walking mentor is a pretty low-key position, but I got a little misty telling my husband about it. For so many years I told myself I wasn't an athlete - I never, ever played any sports after summers of street ball as a pre-teen. The perceived humiliation of the President's Fitness Test (those of you Americans in a particular age range will know what I mean) didn't help - there was no way in hell I could shimmy up that rope. And then high school, when even the idea of getting dressed and undressed in front of strangers had me nauseous (and earned my only ever "D" for non-participation). Then I got sober and someone suggested that walking helped with detox. Then someone else recommended Jazzercise, the aerobics classes set to pop music. And then I started to run and tackled a marathon, inspired more by Oprah than my gazelle boyfriend. 10 marathons later, I transitioned to walking to save my creaky knees, with a goal of striding off into the sunset. So I guess I am an athlete. I don't need to make excuses, being wary of "I'm just a walker." I suit up and show up, and as I often joke, "I'm not fast but I'm consistent." In my personal before-times I didn't show up consistently for much, unless it was happy-hour or the dealer. Vive la difference.

So, this week I'm thinking about self-acceptance, and letting go (of my foibles and yours). I'm sitting in gratitude, reveling in not working (yay!) and plotting out time that is now, once again, my own. I'm not the best at letting go, still, but those little visuals, like the closed and open fists, help, as does thinking about all the things I've stressed about in the past that never came to be. One day at a time, right here right now, all is reasonably well.

What does letting go mean to you today? Are the ways you conjure the energy of release any different now than what you may have done in the past? Can you continue, again and again, to forgive yourself for stubbing your toe on people, places and things? What are labels you once gave yourself that no longer fit? How would you describe yourself today?

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Check out the post from Feb 4 for a sample of the 78-page workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" now available in PDF or hard copy. Email me at with any questions. For those of you local in Portland, Intergroup has just restocked their supply of the workbook - head down to see Garry and the crew for all the AA literature and the little room with non-conference approved offerings.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Searching and fearless...

 April is the 4th month, hence a focus on Step 4, the searching and fearless inventory. In the 12x12, on page 52, in a section they must've just added since I don't remember reading it before, Bill suggests we "carefully consider all personal relationships which bring continuous or recurring trouble." Hmmm - that would be all of them pre-recovery and many since! He points out that our insecurities "may arise in any area where instincts are threatened," the old "instincts gone awry." Yes, my instinct for safety and security definitely led to decisions based on self that later placed me in a position to be hurt. 

Lila R, who we follow in our monthly Step Group, believes that with long term recovery, the only person on our yearly inventory should be ourselves. If I'm cleaning up as I go along, there shouldn't be any lingering resentments. Are there certain political figures and positions I dislike? Definitely. People I'd rather not spend time with? Oh yeah. But the beauty of long-term recovery and being true to myself means that I can (usually) choose where I spend my time, and I can balance news that is certain to cause outrage and news that increases my faith in the human race. 

This year, I intend to approach my inventory with a plus and minus column - not just focused on what I do "wrong" but what I feel good about, what I may have accomplished, along with any lurking insecurities and fears, asking if they're realistic or boogey-man fantasies. 

In a recent meeting, someone shared that they write a letter to their fear, naming the what and the why. Years ago, that exercise was suggested at a workshop, with the instruction to write to our fear with our dominant hand and respond with the other. I'd just met my now-husband at the time, and as we grew closer, my fear was that he would go away. I wrote that, sat in silence, then let my non-dominant hand write the reply, which was long the lines of "You know what to do when they leave. What if he stays?" Apparently my fear was pointed in the wrong direction. 

At this stage of life it is all about letting go of the illusion that a) I have some sort of control, b) that I can foresee the future and c) that people (including me) will live forever. I don't need to know the ending of a story before it even begins. I can appreciate those around me, knowing with each passing day, each news of someone else dying (a classmate, a friend's husband, a long-time AA member...) that it can never be too soon to tell someone they matter, but it could very well be too late.

We attended an in-person Speaker Meeting this past weekend - Don L of Bellingham, Washington if you ever get the chance to hear him. Great message, and I'm not sure I'm ready for a full return to the masses. Speaker meetings often remind me that AA itself has different applications, different niches for different people. There are those who go to 1 meeting a week, and those who attend daily; those who work with newcomers and those who are more available to the medium or long-timer; conference regulars and speaker-meeting/circuit speaker groupies - there is room for all of us. 

I tend to vacillate between full-in and allowing space in my program - the old suggestion (Biblical??) to wear the world like a loose garment. I do many spiritual things, things that hold meaning to me, with Program being just one. The important thing for me is that I have a framework from which to meet the world, with the 12 Steps as the foundation.

Brazilian writer and journalist Fernando Sabino (1923-2004) wrote, "In the end, everything will be okay. If it's not okay, it's not yet the end." This sends me back to last week's quote about stories beginning and ending with the word "and." It, this life, is about the flow from one experience to another, big and small. Morning coffee, pre-dawn walk, kid graduating from college, taking a trip, not taking a trip - it is all okay in the end, the beginning and the middle.

My temporary co-workers gave me a gift, flowers and a nice card, along with kind emails from the higher-ups, as I wind my way out of the job. I'll go in a few more days to train the permanent director, wanting to set her up for success. I am grateful for the experience, and am grateful to be (nearly) done. Six months ago I would never have foreseen this brief return-to-work episode, which is yet another reminder that all I really need to do is suit up and show up and pay attention to what is in front of me to do, or not to do. 

Where are you gripping tight to the illusion of control? What might happen if you let go? Are there fears that you might address in a letter? What do you think they'd say back? Are there things going on in your life that you wouldn't have imagined a year ago? How can that knowledge help you surrender your need-to-know today?

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Check out the post from Feb 4 for a sample of the 78-page workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" now available in PDF or hard copy. Email me at with any questions.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2022


 I have a notebook I kept in high school, with articles (Vietnam War, Nixon's demise, Women's Liberation, Black Power - topics of the day) along with poetry and quotes that struck my sixteen-year-old self as moving or important. I sometimes attributed the quotes to "unknown" either out of laziness or perhaps I'd written it down without noting the author. Here is one that still feels right today:

"Perhaps all stories should begin with the word 'and.' Perhaps they should end with the word 'and' too. It would remind us that no experience every begins; there was always something that preceded it. What really began, for us, was our awareness of something going on. At the end the word "and' would remind us that no story every really ends - something more will happen after."

Yes, yes and more yes. I sometimes think in terms of "the next phase of my development," or a new chapter, which each imply transit or transition, but sometimes I behave as if one thing stops and another starts abruptly, like jobs or relationships or vacations. I need to remember there is always a backstory and an epilogue. And those times of transition (which seems to be nearly constant) are so important to acknowledge, whether a change of season, a favorite shop or restaurant closing, or a meeting that no longer serves. As I may have written before, but need reminding myself, a therapist once described it as being on the monkey bars where I've let go of one rung but haven't quite grabbed on to the next - that momentary suspension in mid-air, neither here nor there. 

I'm in that place of pause as I complete my 90-day job assignment, remembering the "and" on both ends, signifying what went before and what will go on after (whether I know what that is or not).  I'm also thinking a lot about the "and" as I'm in contact with old classmates via reunion planning, some after literal decades: We crossed paths, interacting intensely when we were fifteen and... life went on. It can be funny, or a bit odd, to do the "how have you been?" routine after so long. I kind of care, but I'm more interested in seeing whether the person I knew back then is still in there - are you still funny? Did you ever take that trip you used to talk about? Did life turn out the way you thought it might?

Along those lines, I just learned of the recent passing of one of those people - a funny, delightful sixteen-year-old that I hadn't seen since. To me, he's frozen in time, "and" the reality is that he married and had kids, divorced and was ill. My experience, my knowing him, is very limited to a specific time and place, as are so many memories, whether of someone I used to sit next to in meetings, or a friend from decades ago. As time passes, on the planet and in recovery, I'm both more and less attached to the stories, the memories, my version(s) of what was. I read somewhere that when we get really old, and less out in the world, it will be our memories that nourish us. Goodness knows, I have a deep well to drink from.

And the beat goes on, one day at a time, one chapter at a time, one story at a time. Have you made peace with your stories? Are there those you've released as less-than-true? If you met someone you cared about when you were a kid, or a teenager, what would you want them to know about you today?

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Check out the post from Feb 4 for a sample of the 78-page workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" now available in PDF or hard copy. Email me at with any questions.  

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Self-care, and fun in recovery

 Whenever I hear Van Morrison sing "Wavelength," with its reference to the Voice of America radio station, I'm immediately thrown into a memory of riding around Beverly Hills circa 1979, in a VW Bug, with my Saudi boyfriend and his Iranian friend singing along at the top of their lungs, talking about their late-night searches on the radio dial for programming from the land of the free, home of the brave, and their deep longing to set out to this place, so far from home. 

I don't know that particular longing, the one that says, "I can't stay in this country, this city, this town without losing myself." I do know that feeling in regard to a relationship or a job - that quiet voice that says, "There is more to life than this," often followed by the fear response of "But at least I know what 'this' is." I've often had to stay in that place of neither-nor before the Universe stepped in to make a decision for me. And, sometimes, I've been able to get there on my own, via quiet stillness and my trusty journal or inventory work.

In a meeting this week, someone talked about self-care, the prescription that we take an hour, or even 30 minutes out of the day for "Me Time." I'm thinking that it's more than that - that self-care is an attitude, not merely a bubble-bath or massage appointment. If I'm taking care of myself all the time - saying "yes" when I mean "yes" and "no" when I mean "no," checking in with my physical and emotional state before making a decision, getting enough sleep and healthy nutrition - then I don't need to carve out specific times. Yes, candles and soothing music are nice, and sometimes other people and obligations take precedent, but I can care for others while still caring for myself. It's ok to sometimes resent my obligations, or to not like everyone I interact with. It's only not-ok when I pretend otherwise, putting on the happy face of "It's fine. Really."

My meth-cook lover was a follower of Lao Tsu - well, he was a reader of the Tao anyway, whether he actually practiced "The Way" or not. He often spoke of the philosophy of non-doing, the no-thing-ness of a peaceful mind. I thought that was merely his excuse to get out of cleaning the kitchen, but am very slowly coming to understand the value in not striving, not trying so hard, the value of the often elusive pause. 

As I near my re-retirement, I've again been reflecting on highlights from my career. Some of those are related to being present when a person has a breakthrough - when they "get it" in regards to their recovery. There's not much more beautiful than being there when someone makes the hard phone call, or when you see the lights of understanding come on where before the shades were drawn. Not much more beautiful unless, like me, you also count the times when the utter joy of being alive takes over - like when we took a group of teenagers in treatment to the ocean. Witnessing a small handful of tough 16-year olds from eastern Washington see the ocean for the first time, splashing around like little kids, still warms my heart. And then there was the time in prison, when during our monthly karaoke talent-show, one of the "OG's" (old gangster) did what he called the "Grand Finale," and got nearly all the guys up for a Soul Train line dance to the 70's hit, "Ain't No Stopping Us Now." (I will admit that the other disco-era counselor and I couldn't help ourselves - we joined them!). Neither of these instances were covered in any textbook I'd read, or instruction manual, but sowing "fun in sobriety" has been one of my life missions - whether at work, or in my personal life with potlucks, Big Book charades, or dance parties. I didn't get sober to be "stupid, boring and glum". It was at least partly the laughter that attracted me to recovery - wait, you mean we can enjoy life and music and each other without being high??  We each have our own version of "happy, joyous and free," and for me, it often involves celebrating life with music, food and those who share my enthusiasm. It can also mean a quiet walk, or a heartfelt conversation with a trusted other. Always and again, it is about what makes your heart sing, what brings you peace of mind in the turmoil of this troubled world. 

Where are you on the self-care meter this week? Are there any lurking decisions that are asking to be made, or are you getting the signal to wait? What does "fun in recovery" look like for you these days?

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Don't forget to check out the post from Feb 4 for a sample from the 78 page workbook, "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" now available in PDF or hard copy. Email me at with any questions.