Wednesday, May 25, 2022


 Through no conscious intent, three of my regular meetings are now Step groups: Bring Your Own Big Book (Tues 7pm PDT online), Beacon Group (noon EDT Mon-Fri online) and the monthly group I've participated in for several years where we talk about how we've applied the "Step of the month".

Both the zoom meetings simply review the Steps, again and again, with a different speaker each time. My first thought was "How much can one say??" thinking I had a handle on how they work in my life. After all, I've been sober a long time - the program has, to a certain extent, become internalized. But alas, I was wrong. Each time I hear someone speak to their interpretation of a particular Step, I come away with a "Hmmm. I hadn't thought of it in that way," or validation that I'm not too far off the beam in how I practice the principles.

As an example, in a share on Step 2, I was enlightened to the fact that 2 isn't where we are restored to sanity - we just "came to believe" that we could be. The continuation of that process comes in 10 where we read, " this time sanity will have returned."  I had no problem believing that my behavior while under the influence was absolutely nuts (whether that was getting loaded, being loaded or recovering from) and I hoped to hell that the people in the rooms could help me come back to earth. Looking back, it is obvious that the return to sanity didn't involve a magic wand, but a gradual process of trial and error, of silly decisions giving way to more rational thought. Again, something I hadn't really thought about before hearing the speaker, which reminds me of something my first sponsor used to advise: Remain teachable.

And Step 2 isn't just about the insanity of the drink. In my recent mental gymnastics about employment, I bounced my ideas, some of them crazy, past a trusted other. Not saying this, or any, person is a higher power, but I was taught that the "power greater than myself" can be another member, or the magic in the rooms when I have the courage of vulnerability. Sometimes in a meeting, I say what it is I need to hear, or I hear my story/need reflected in another's share. 

I've been in a familiar melancholy place this week, a bit on the blue side despite a string of sunny days. Is it my mom reaching out, or others who've passed in recent years? Maybe it's related to the upcoming class reunion, thinking of who won't be there - my cousin, my former sister-in-law and her cousin, a friend from the park days and too many others (we were a class of 500).  I'm also feeling the fact that I last saw many classmates 50 years ago, when we were 17 years old. We've lived lifetimes since then, whether the traditional routes of college/career, marriage, kids, grandkids, or the more circuitous route that some of us took (i.e. the detour of addiction).  However it's turned out, we're now old, we who were the beneficiaries of the 60's social revolution and had plans for a new world order. We're gray and moving slower, perhaps reflecting on "It might have been," or "Damn, it's been a good run." The whole passage of time thing sometimes freaks me out, especially when I'm talking with someone I've known since I was 9 years old. And, here we are.

As I dug in the garden, I was reminded that life will go on long after me and mine are gone. I live in Portland, on the path of a pre-historic riverbed - the Missoula Flood Plain (as in, Montana). Even digging just a few inches uncovers handfuls of river rock, from potato to finger size stones. I appreciate this tie to the history of the land as I traverse various streets near where I grew up, noticing what's changed in the human realm (high rise apartments) and what hasn't (the public stairs where we smoked as kids). 

Life moves on, and on, and on. When I think of the past, I sometimes wish I'd paid closer attention, that I'd asked mom and other elders more questions, that I'd spent more time in the moment instead of wishing and hoping for what was next. Being closer to the end of the story than the beginning has the advantage of perspective - what I once thought of as big deals I now see as mere blips, or even gifts in disguise. Since there is absolutely no turning back the clock, how do I move from a vague sadness for what was to hopeful anticipation of the future? In The Seeker's Guide, Elizabeth Lesser writes that "the secret in life is enjoying the passage of time versus efforts to clutch onto the past or anticipate or fear the future." She further suggests that we "Experiment with letting go into the mystery, curious," instead of afraid. The unknown can be terrifying or exciting. I sometimes need to remind myself that I've never been this many years old, with this much sobriety, this long married, and so on. I don't know what's next because I don't know what's next. Making peace with that fact is the focus of my spiritual quest these days, one day at a time.

How do you view the future? Is it something to look forward to, or dread (or maybe a bit of both)? How can the 12 Steps guide you over life's varying terrain? Is there an area today that could benefit from a return to sanity? How do you check in with yourself to be sure you are remaining teachable rather than having all the answers?

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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 - ideal  for those of you outside  the U.S.). Portland Area Intergroup also has a supply available.  Go to the WEB VERSION of this page, if you don't see the purchase link in the upper right corner

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Another week...

 I'm sure she is quoted often, but I will post here as I need to be reminded: "How we spend our day is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing." (Annie Dillard, in "The Writing Life")

As someone who has lived with a sense of time-urgency for much of my life, I can read that as "Oh crap, I'd better hurry and do something productive!" or, what I'm aiming for, a gentle approach that whispers, "Ah, here you are enjoying the sunlight on your face."  When I think of those years spent bound by the clock, always thinking I could squeeze in one more thing, with "more" being the operative word, I move into supreme gratitude for today being enough. 

I've had a couple of mental gyrations this week. One has to do with trying to get a handle on heartburn. I'm thinking of that part of the Big Book that describes the decision point of going on to the bitter end or accepting spiritual help, and how most of us hover, trying to figure out another angle. I'm doing the same thing, to a lesser degree: my beloved cuppa strong black tea contributes to heartburn and switching to coffee upsets the old GI tract. Waaaaaa! But I like tea and coffee. I don't want to quit! But I also don't want the consequences. I'll keep experimenting (Ha ha! Not yet ready to say I'm done with either.)

Another area of internal conflict has to do with the temp job I just finished. As my time came to an end, I offered to stay on-call. It seemed reasonable at the time, but as I've readjusted to the glories of retirement, I've had second thoughts. When I first took the job, I was excited. When I thought of staying, the energy was flat. I did a Pros and Cons list, with all the Pros related to "should's" and "what if's" - very fear based, while the Cons consisted of "I just don't want to." Today, that is enough. I've learned the hard way that fear is never a good reason to take, or stay, in a job that doesn't feel right. Sure, work is work and isn't always unicorns and rainbows, but I've got to like what I'm doing if I don't want to make myself crazy. So, I took a deep breath and sent an email, taking back the offer, only to get an immediate reply from my friend/supervisor telling me that the reconfigured wage wasn't great and she recommended I not take it. Thank you Universe, for the wisdom to listen to my inner voice, and for the confirmation that I made the right decision.

What I did this week, with heart soaring, was spend a day working for our local Election Board (and will do so again in the fall). I had a short gig feeding a friend's cat. I planted squash in the vegetable garden, shared in a Speaker Meeting, took some good long walks, and facilitated our 50th high school reunion committee. As a friend, aka Tarot Lady, tells me - what is mine to do will show up. I don't need to tie myself in knots trying to figure out "what's next??" All I really need to do is live one day at a time.

In a meeting last night I was hit by a lightening bolt of understanding when a person said, in reference to Step 7, that we don't really know what's next. It struck me that trust is what this whole thing is about. Trust and surrender to what is, whether you think of that in terms of a deity, or simply the natural progression of life that takes care of itself without my feeble (or well planned) machinations. All I've ever wanted was to feel ok, to live relatively comfortably in the world. In the past I had a lot of screwy ideas about how to get there, with self-centered fear driving the defects/defenses of control or acting out. Recovery has been a process of learning healthy coping skills, which mostly consists of staying out of my own way. The sun will come up tomorrow and I will do what is in front of me, and then the sun will go down and I'll have whatever internal resources I need to do what I need to do going forward.

We talk about triggers - those emotional booby traps that elicit fear or negativity - but a friend recently told me about glimmers, the moments of inspiration or insight that shine the light of sanity or awe on the path ahead.  I'm grateful where that light has shined this week.

Are there areas where you know you should do a particular thing but just don't want to? How do you discern what is inner rebellion and what is valid? Often, when I'm driven to a pros & cons list, I already know what it is I want to do - how about you? What makes your heart sing these days, and are you spending enough time doing that?

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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 - ideal  for those of you outside  the U.S.). Portland Area Intergroup also has a supply available.  Go to the WEB VERSION of this page, if you don't see the purchase link in the upper right corner

Wednesday, May 11, 2022


 We were in Michigan visiting family last week, with an overnight in Detroit, specifically so I could visit the Motown Museum, aka Hitsville, USA, the building where so many of my lifetime favorite music was made. We were supposed to be in Detroit in 2020 for the International Convention, which, as we all know, was canceled due to covid. Then, the museum was part of my agenda. This time, I was saddened to learn it was closed for renovation but was determined to at least visit the site and take pictures of the building. 

Imagine my delight when we were invited inside by a guy in a suit out back who thought it a shame that we'd come all the way from Portland, Oregon and couldn't see the exhibit. Actually, "delight" barely covers it. When he said, "Give me a minute and I'll take you inside," I started to cry, and once inside, especially in the sound booth and recording studio, found myself nearly overcome with emotion, feeling the joy of the space related to the music, the artists who'd given their all, and the places where the songs intersected with my own life.

Some places are just places, and some places carry the vibe of history and emotion, depending on what we bring to the experience. Friends referred to Motown as my Lourdes, my hajj, and they weren't too far off - it felt like a pilgrimage. I talked with several people about spaces that carry the vibration of meaning, a palpable connection to what occurred there. For one friend, it was unexpectedly at Kitty Hawk, seeing the hill where the Wright brothers launched. I experienced it at the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. My brother and I both felt it at the tomb of Mary Queen of Scots in Westminster Abbey - an almost physical presence in the space, a presence that reached across the centuries to say, "I am here." 

Sometimes that feeling is in the natural world, like at the Redwood Forest, or the Narrows at Zion, but it is always unexpected and absolutely cannot be conjured. I expected to feel something at the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington, DC, which was impressive, but to me, just a wall. Like a hoped-for spiritual experience with working the Steps - "OK I'm ready for my awakening!" - it just doesn't happen that way. At a morning meeting we attended several times in East Lansing, a member talked about levitating three feet off the ground when he finally shared his Step 4 with a sponsor. Most of my 5th Steps have been helpful, but no fireworks. I set myself up when I expect to feel a certain way, whether that is predicting joy or sorrow or anything in-between.

It seems to be, like my experience in Detroit, a matter of being in the right place at the right time, through no actual planning.  I can want an ah-ha moment but it either happens or it doesn't, and sometimes the wanting itself moves the hoped-for experience further away. Serendipity and synchronicity, by their nature, are random, unexpected. And that's ok. As I've said before, if everything is special, then nothing is. And, upon reflection, in each of the moments of awe, those that have bordered on an out-of-body experience, I've been fully present, in the moment, not planning ahead or looking back. Maybe that's the fourth dimension we're rocketed to - the here and now. Simple, but not easy.

We had a good visit with family, and a great time in Detroit, where after the Motown experience, a local picked up our dinner tab and said, "Tell people this is Detroit." We attended in-person meetings at the East Lansing Alano Club, and hit a sweet, small group at a soup kitchen in the Motor City. In both places, I felt the vibe of recovery - the quiet joy of how we come together to seek sobriety or celebrate the lives we've been given. There were a number of court slips to be signed at the Lansing club house meetings. My hope, always, is that a person will hear something in a meeting, or in a conversation with a member, that moves their motivation from getting the heat off to seeing the light.

Have you had experiences where you were awed by a place or a circumstance? What was that like?  Knowing that "this too shall pass" applies to the good times as well as the not-so-good, how can you cultivate being in the present moment so that serendipity has a chance to show up? Are you available to talk when a newcomer is at your meeting?

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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 AA literature and the little back room with non-conference approved offerings.


Wednesday, May 4, 2022


In marking a friend's 35th sobriety anniversary this week, he noted he hadn't expected to grow old in recovery. Isn't that the truth? I came in on the 30-day plan to get the heat off, with absolutely no idea I'd still be doing the deal all these years later. As grateful as I am on a daily basis, I'm also thankful that I didn't have a crystal ball back then - the life I have today, as simple as it is, would've scared me - maybe right back to the bottle. College?? An actual career? Talking from a podium?? Being a step-mom? No thanks  - sounds like more than  I'm capable of. Fortunately, life on life's terms generally comes at me incrementally.

When I was a young girl, maybe 7 or 8, I wanted to grow up to be a horse. Not have a horse, be a horse. Then I hoped to be Pippi Longstocking, or someone adventurous like her - I had a recurring dream of joining the Navy, sailing off to ports unknown. And then, puberty hit and all I wanted was a cloaking device. Was it merely hormones, or a combination of internal combustion plus the emotional dynamics of family alcoholism? I'll never be able to separate those two - which came first, the chicken or the egg - but finally, finally, I've been able to release the hold that my perception of the past had on me. But it is interesting (to me, at least) to watch the progression of my dreams get smaller as I got older - from independently traveling the world (Pippi) to wanting to be a teacher (because I loved school in the early years) to thinking maybe I'd like to be a secretary. There's nothing wrong with office work - I've done my share, and I like the organization involved - but from sheer adventure to sitting behind a desk says more about my growing introversion than about my abilities. The world became scary, but really, it was my fears of not being "enough" that shrank my view. (I should add that I did a lot of traveling with my pre-recovery boyfriend, which was amazing and I often felt like an imposter, like Room Service would say, "'Who do you think you are?") 

So much of what I believe is perception, whether about the past, or my current interactions. I recently heard someone say that 2 + 2 = 4, but so does 3 + 1, or 6 - 2. There are lots of ways to get at the "right" answers of this life. The combination that works for me won't necessarily be what's best for you - and maybe what worked for me last week or last year isn't what is called for today. That is an on-going lesson, the Alanon-ic belief that I know what's best for others (or in AA, what is described as the Director - "if only people would do as he wished!" Big Book p.61). But I also don't always know what is best for myself. My inner guide is much wiser these days, but sometimes still it is the scared part that steers me towards a particular decision. A good rule of thumb - does this course or that feel expansive or does it make me shrink? And always the reminder that "wait" is an action. If I don't know what to do, it's ok to do nothing until the way is clear.

We're on vacation this week, so will just do a short post since I'm typing on my phone. Happy trails to you, wherever your journey takes you, whether to a movie on the couch or a travel adventure.

If alcoholism/alanon-ism is a disease of perception, how do you catch yourself entertaining old ideas? Often our perceptions are spot on, but sometimes not. How do you know the difference?

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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 - ideal  for those of you outside  the U.S.). Portland Area Intergroup also has a supply.