Wednesday, July 27, 2022


 After reading last week's post, a friend, intrigued by the letter writing exercise, wondered if it is truly possible to write a letter "from" my 15-year-old self without the adult censor stepping in. Probably not, so I revisited the page, doing my best to release what I think the 15-year-old me "should" feel. The first letter was mostly related to people who've died and won't be at the reunion - valid and true - but the more honest response the second time around had more to do with whether or not any cute guys would be there, and would I look chubby in my new pants (never mind that I weighed 30 pounds less at 15 - the fear of chubby has been with me since about age 11). 

Today I can let my inner teenager be dorky and superficial because that's who I was. A few years into recovery, I found journals that had been missing for nearly a decade. Knee-deep in family of origin work, I was excited, hoping to find the key phrase or entry that would unlock the "why" of who I was and how I'd been impacted by the family illness at 11,12 and 13 years old when my father was hitting bottom with his alcoholism. What did I find? Not much. One entry said, in the loopy handwriting of a 12-year-old, "Dad got home from the hospital. He had a nervous breakdown. Greg H. said hi to me today. I wore my new yellow jumper to school." So much for the heavy emotional impact I was looking for. Did I have feelings about Dad's visits to the psychiatric ward? I must've, but at the time, didn't have the language or inclination to describe it. 

Today I can be mindful of not attributing more maturity or introspection to my younger self than was actually there. Any emotional processing or recollection I do of my childhood or teen years, or the years I was hitting bottom myself, are purely conjecture, perspectives from the vantage point of sober adulthood. My first sponsor used to say (and maybe even had a t-shirt) "It's never too late to have a happy childhood." It took me awhile to agree with that. Awhile and lots of therapy and tears to release the losses and celebrate what I did have as a kid - parents who loved me, imperfect, but genuine, a best friend, a safe home, food on the table.

The reunion - drum roll - came off well, very well, with close to 100 attendees. As I'd hoped, a wider range of people showed up than might've at a fancy-dress banquet, talking, laughing, and gnawing on the chicken wings someone brought. My greatest pleasure was in hearing the exclamations of "Is it you?!" or "Remember when we....?" and the comparisons of neighborhood proximity "I grew up on 45th, and you were on 43rd, and this cluster of friends were on 44th."  I'd be lying if I said we didn't naturally drift in to groups similar to when we were in school, the people we hung out with, but there was a lot of crossover between those "who normally would not mix." With age and experience and life under-the-belt, the old distinctions (athlete, stoner, etc) simply don't matter. How have you been? Who are you now?

My lessons from the weekend have been related to letting go/letting be - a skill intensified by these pandemic years, with several classmates calling-off due to Covid status, as well as realizing that I may have been in charge, but I wasn't in control. I set the table, so to speak, with help from friends, and what people did with that was up to them. Some sat mostly by themselves, some flitted about, some scanned the crowd for people they hadn't yet said "hello" to. All in all, a good weekend of connection.  

As a friend said, "I thought getting older would take longer." So very true. And so very true that getting older is a gift denied to many. As I write this, a friend and strong local AA member who relocated to the Midwest to be closer to family - "Three-Dog John" - has just come to the end of his life, having lost his courageous battle with several health issues. John, and his trusty little dog, Kevin, were a fixture at our 12x12 Club, sober for decades. An intrepid hiker and outdoorsman, he fought health issues, including a leg amputation, with grace and dignity. Today, I give thanks for who he was in my (& my spouse's) sober life, once again reminded that there are no guarantees.

How do you discern what are actual memories, and which are colored with current perceptions (and does that distinction really even matter)? How have views of your childhood or using years changed with the distance of time? How do you recognize the precious nature of this life without drifting into morbid reflection? Who needs to hear that they matter to you?

* * *  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 outside the U.S.). Portland Area Intergroup also has a supply available at 825 NE 20th Ave, suite 200.  Go to the WEB VERSION of this page, if you don't see the purchase link in the upper right corner, or email me at with questions.  This weekend, we'll be at Summerfest in Eugene, OR and I'll have workbooks with me, if you're in the area and would like to purchase directly.

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