Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Name it, claim it, tame it

 As I previously mentioned, Queen Elizabeth's passing triggered a deep well of grief over my own mother, gone now ten years. Ten years. I'm finding it hard to comprehend that a decade has passed, and that is true for many things - I met my husband 13 years ago, moved into my house 19 years ago... so much time passing in a blink. I will honor my mother by visiting her gravesite at the anniversary of her death. I'm also making a trip to the Museum of the Oregon Trail with some letters from the 1800's and other family artifacts to donate in her name. While I've sometimes complained about all the things she kept, I'm grateful for the connection to family history. Not having children myself, many of her photos and letters have gone to cousins, but I do want some to be saved for posterity rather than getting tossed in a future recycle bin by someone unaware of their meaning. 

I wasn't exactly sure what was going on with an unusual (for me) flat mood, but program has taught me to get quiet, to ask my heart, "What's up?" so that when I found myself face down on the massage table, the tears came. Oh. Hello Mother. I miss you. What I'd prefer to do is name my dis-ease as a way of distancing from the discomfort - give it a label, put it in a box and move on. Alas, I too often forget that my emotions simply want to be acknowledged. Ah, here's that grief again. Oh, insecurity, is that you? Hmm, hello impatience - just hold your horses. "Name it, claim it, tame it," doesn't mean "don't feel." That's old conditioning, the "don't talk, don't trust, don't feel" of alcoholism. These days, I can eventually name it, claim it, and not necessarily tame it, but accept my humanness and move on.

I think of Mom's annoyance when her doctor, a wonderful woman, first assigned her to hospice care. "They don't know!" she fumed, upset that the medical establishment presumed to "know" that her life would be over in six months. It ended up being eight, and as the end did near, Mom had shifted to hoping she'd see her dear father on the other side, dead since she was eight. Initially concerned that she was not going to go quietly into the night, I watched her move to a place of acceptance, maybe because she didn't feel good, maybe because the reality of her diagnosis simply took a while to sink in.

Acceptance is a process, though I used to think it was an event - that someday I'd wake up, cured, able to move through life accepting right and left. Loss? Oh well. Someone's slight or unkind words? Not mine to understand. My history - family and otherwise? Merely a blip. And it took some time to understand that acceptance doesn't equal approval, with the old arguments about "Acceptance is the answer," or simply the declaration of "Page 449!" as we 3rd edition folks call it. Does absolutely nothing happen by mistake? I doubt it. And... not mine to argue. Like Paul O said, I can't be at peace until I accept what is. Only then can I make those decisions to accept what I can't change (people, places, things) or change what I can (my attitude, my location, my perceptions and perhaps those I spend time with). 

Take the aging process, for example, whether you're 35 or 70. There are fine lines between fighting the process, surrendering to it, and actively participating in efforts to slow the roll. I'm not talking face-lifts here, though to each their own, but more about the self-care involved in staying active while I can, monitoring my sodium (hello blood pressure), keeping appointments with the dermatologist, etc. A co-worker used to tease me about living forever as he munched a bag of chips while I ate salad. That isn't the goal, but what is the goal is to not speed up the inevitable decline with crappy habits, one day at a time. My current dilemma is how to be mindful without obsessing about food - at the end of my life will I be pleased that I had the fortitude to forego ice cream that one Saturday night, or be grateful for a fun evening with friends enjoying a treat? Moderation, I suppose, though I still have a tough time with that concept.  

For those interested, I was just turned on to a new smartphone app: Everything AA. I don't know who runs it (out of the UK I believe) but it has the Big Book, 12x12, a day counter, pamphlets, etc etc.  I don't rely on my phone a lot, but it is nice to have a ready reference. And another new-to-me site: Chronic Pain Anonymous ( with online meetings and other resources.

Glorious autumn here, while you in the southern hemisphere are welcoming spring. Another trip around the sun, doing my darnedest to stay in the moment (easier to do with lovely crisp mornings and sunny afternoons, though I am very happy to finally see rain today). And, sending hopes for safety to all in Hurricane Ian's path.

How does "name it, claim it, tame it" play out in your emotional life? What does "acceptance" mean to you, and where is that concept hardest to implement? How do you take care of your physical health while not turning that into self-condemnation? In what areas of your life have you considering additional support, whether that's another 12-Step fellowship, therapy, or maybe a hiking group or book club?

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Fall is a great time to start a small group discussion, or work with a sponsor or sponsee with the Now What? workbook. See the Feb 4 post for a sample or contact me at for more info. (Order off the web version of this page, or, available at Portland Area Intergroup. Also carried at the TMar table at September conferences)

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Trust - you, me the process

 In a meeting this week, several people shared about the various ways they'd tried to quit drinking in the past, like in More About Alcoholism - switching from wine to brandy, never having it in the house, etc. I couldn't relate. The question "How often have you tried to quit?" was the only one I didn't have an answer for when I got to treatment. Why on earth would I have tried to quit when I saw no viable alternative? My dad once said, after he was sober several years, that he'd give anything to be able to have a few drinks. I knew I was incapable of living like that.

I did quit drinking once, for 5 whole days in an effort to drop a few pounds. I felt so virtuous, riding my bike for 30 minutes each day, very much not drinking my usual evening vodka-7's. So virtuous and proud of myself that at the end of those 5 days, I celebrated with a large bottle of light wine (an affront to wine everywhere). And that one bottle gave me enough of a buzz that I went back to the store and bought another. So much for my "diet." Another time, years later, my meth cook lover and I decided to stop using speed/the needle for a weekend, driving to his family's beach cabin for the break. We did eat mushrooms (I never did like psychedelics, and this was no exception) and drank, a LOT. So much for taking a break.

I hear people say that they drank to stop their brain, to stop thinking or feeling. Not me, at least not consciously. I drank to have fun, even if it was just me and the television. Drinking was what I did, a diversion, entertainment, the social lubricant, what I thought was the creative spark. I drank because it was Mon, Tues, Wed or Thurs, with more intent on the weekends. I drank because I could, because it was always five o'clock somewhere, because that's simply what I did, without a whole lot of thought. 

And today I don't. I am one of the extremely fortunate ones whose compulsion was lifted early on. How or why, I have no idea. Someone once spoke of the "window of opportunity" we pass through, not sure if it was a plate glass storefront or a tiny peep hole, but they weren't taking any chances that if they went back though that window, they'd be able to find their way to this side again. I feel the same, reinforced by a friend I ran into at the library years ago, a friend deep in relapse, who said, "It's so hard to get back." People do, and I so admire their courage and strength, and... I need to stay, one day at a time.

A big piece of that has to do with trust - trusting the process (which confused me at first), trusting you people, trusting my own inner wisdom. Years ago, working with teens in treatment, I participated in a Challenge Course which involved a "trust fall," which meant standing on a platform attached to a tree, six feet off the ground, falling backwards into the arms of a group of fourteen and fifteen year olds. Talk about doubt and the self-talk that said, "Are you kidding?!" But those kids caught me, and in turn, I caught them. And each time someone says, "Can I share something with you?" or opens their heart in a meeting, I think of that metaphorical leap into the unknown, the radical trust we are encouraged to employ. Radical in that this is not my usual way of being, I can take care of it myself thank you very much, and trust in knowing, or at least suspecting, that it will all work out in the end if I simply stay out of my own way.

I say "simply" but we know it isn't simple to let go of the reins, to face my dilemmas with open palms, but hanging on isn't easy either - in fact, that's probably harder. It's those last few steps before letting go where I struggle the most, believing that if I think hard enough, or pray in just the right way, or google it one more time that the magic answer(s) will appear. It's exhausting, keeping the world spinning on my own, keeping an eye on you and you and you over there. Just. Stop. 

And so I end this week grateful for the shift in seasons, for a group of trusted others I can be real with (even if that includes a few strangers at a meeting). I am grateful for my health, always, and for the long journey towards being able to pause - not perfectly, and not every time, but taking the breath before opening my mouth or hitting send is coming easier these days. I am grateful for all that has brought me to this moment, even the hard stuff. As our treatment counselor used to ask, "Have you had enough to eat today? Do you know where you'll be sleeping?"  Well then, you are fortunate indeed.

How did you attempt to "control and enjoy" your substance use before making it to the long-time-sober club? What shifted that enabled you to stay? How do you make yourself open and available to the daily reprieve? If you find yourself with clenched fists, hanging on tight to something you are probably powerless over, how do you move to a place of trust?

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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 - for those outside the U.S or those who prefer the computer, though do note it is not a writeable PDF.). 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. Contact me at with any questions. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2022


After last week's post on grief, here we are with another loss in Queen Elizabeth's death.  I don't have much of an opinion on the monarchy, though like many Americans, have enjoyed the fairy-tale like aspects of what we see on television, so I was surprised by my tears when I heard the news - not the Queen! Like my long-lived mother, the Queen was always there, a constant, and now just one more exit of the WWII generation I grew up with. As the week progressed, I've seen several articles about how her death has triggered mother-loss for many of us. I'm glad to know I'm not alone in that, much like with our program when I initially thought I was the only person to feel the pitiful, incomprehensible demoralization of my alcoholic behaviors. Being human, a worker among workers, still sometimes surprises me.

Continuity and history matter to me, along with a sense of predictability in this techno-world I don't quite understand. Continuity in our meetings means hearing the readings and announcements, seeing familiar faces and welcoming new people. It's a bit different in these covid times, especially now that some groups gather in person and some online, but I still appreciate the regularity. Consistency and history matter to me, joining with those who remember when we'd all go to lunch across the street, or when a member decided against treatment for her cancer and left us soon after, those who recall when the Thursday night group almost shut down due to the college's new rule against smoking in the building ("No one can tell us what to do - it's against the Traditions!") and the time that person jumped up on the table as they shared. 

Continuity and community come in various forms, of course. Like this week when we three adjoining neighbors were all out front doing various tasks as our regular mailman came by, chatting with each of us about the weather, our mail, or just shooting the breeze. I like the old-fashioned human connection vs the delivery driver who tosses a package on the porch and drives off without hearing my "thank you!" - probably because they have a quota to fill. (Another of my pet peeves is when a runner, walker or cyclist passes within a foot of me and looks straight ahead to my "Good morning," even the ones not wearing earbuds. Come on, people - just say hello).

Speaking of continuity, I seem to have come full circle in the work department with my seasonal elections gig, getting an email request to come in for a few hours this week to enter address changes, as it appears I have an aptitude for the task. I had to laugh - my first job out of high school was typing benefits checks at an insurance company for $314 per month. Here I am, 50 years later, riding the bus to work, typing addresses, and at very part-time, probably earning not much more than $314 per month. So very funny, and I'm so glad to not be in charge, to simply say "yes" or "no" to requests to come in, suit up and show up and do what is asked. When I phoned my brother with report of my aptitude, he chuckled, but added "There's nothing wrong with being competent." I can be grateful for 10th grade typing class and a mother (as well as the Queen) who was an example of taking care of business. And, grateful that at this stage of life, I can take a small (but important) job that doesn't have anyone's life at stake.

I've been known to pick up the random feather or two (usually crow) on my morning walks. Lately I've simply noticed, imagining each as a little arrow reminding me of the spiritual path. Just that fraction of a second pause from my usual mental chatter is enough of a reset to move away from rumination or planning and towards presence in the moment. Feelings do come and then go, if I let them. Even if things in the world feel a bit shaky, I can tap into my own consistency, the continuity of my own daily habits and routines.

Are there public figures whose deaths have triggered your own emotions? Are you more of a continuity person, or is it novelty you prefer? Besides our program, where else do you experience a sense of community? Rather than focusing on your "defects" this week, what positive attributes can you list, and celebrate? 

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Fall is a great time to start a small group discussion, or work with a sponsor or sponsee in the Now What? workbook. See the Feb 4 post for a sample or contact me at for more info. (Order off the web version of this page, or, available at Portland Area Intergroup. Also carried at the T-Mar table at September conferences)

Wednesday, September 7, 2022


 I attended a powerful meeting on the topic of grief this past week, my lesson being that the rooms of recovery gave me the language with which to mourn, to grieve soberly. I knew about drunken sorrows, my own and the family trauma over my grandmother's death that was often expressed around the kitchen table after a few rounds of high balls. You taught me that sadness unexpressed will eventually find its way out, usually via inappropriate expression that may not even look like what it actually is. You taught me to cry until I didn't need to cry anymore, share until I was all shared out, and to listen for those who'd already been down this road. You taught me about anniversary distress, and about anticipatory grief (and no, that doesn't make the actual loss any easier to bear). 

And you taught me that grief is a true and valid emotion for all sorts of losses, whether moving out of a home, a pet's death, changes in friendships and in our own capabilities. An elder in the meeting spoke of how they used to literally walk up to thirty miles a day and the journey to acceptance around aging and how that isn't realistic anymore. I could so very much related, having just reminisced with my out-of-town friend about the joy in completing a twenty-mile trail run. I sometimes wistfully look at the marathon medals and photos of seventy-five plus mile bike rides on the wall above my desk, grateful for the memories and just a little sad that those days are very likely behind me. Sure, there are seniors out there on the roadways, but I'm not willing to train at that level anymore - so, some of it is ability and some is choice, but nevertheless, those days of high endurance have passed. 

The meeting topic came on the heels of learning the terrible details about a classmate's drowning death in 1968, from a friend who was there. I haven't been able to shake the image of the shock and terror that must've occurred that long ago summer day. I've been struck with the grief, and also the reminder that we never know what tragedies and losses other people are carrying around - even if "dealt with" (whatever that means), our losses are part of who we are today. And I know I'm not alone in the experience of a present loss acting as a link in the chain to all the others, which is probably why, when thinking about this young girl's death, I found myself in tears about the ugly ending of a relationship, which led to sadness and missing my dad. My emotions are often a tangled web.

But, or rather, and , as was pointed out in the meeting, I can't experience joy without knowing sorrow - or as several old songs point out, you've got to take the bitter with the sweet. And what I found with the grief around my mom's death, sadness and joy are often intertwined, with memories of the love and laughter leading to a place of deep emptiness that eventually fills with sweet gratitude.

I just learned that a meeting acquaintance has crossed over after a diagnosis of ALS. This supposedly rare disease has now taken three women I know, each with decades of sobriety. I don't know if there is a correlation, but it sure seems odd to me. What I know today is that there are no guarantees. No guarantee that you head out for a day on the river and will come home; that you go to the grocery store and come home, or to work or any number of things we (I) do on a given day assuming I will wake up in the morning, travel safely, avoid the seemingly random violence and accidents, illnesses and natural disasters that sweep out of nowhere. I don't live from a place of fear, and I do my best to be aware - I check out the exits when I go to an event, I'm careful walking down stairs, I get my checkups and boosters and all the rest. And then, I do my best to let go - of expectations, of fears, of that crystal ball I sometimes write about. 

Pre-recovery I feared death, mostly because I knew in my heart I hadn't truly lived. I'd gone through the motions, and had a lot of experiences, but had never stretched myself to my capabilities. I don't feel that way anymore. I'm not ready quite yet, but fortunately, don't have a sense of the un-done (unless it's dealing with closets full of stuff).

I had "one of those mornings" yesterday, heading out to hit the post office and then the grocery store, only to realize that the post office opens at 830am, not 8:00. No problem - on to the market, only to realize as I parked that I'd forgotten my list and coupons (you laugh, but I saved $48), so back round to the post office (open by now) and home to get said list and coupons, only to get stuck on a narrow street behind a large garbage truck. By that point, I had to see the humor in my little plans and designs, and just puttered along until I could safely pass the truck. Package mailed, groceries purchased, back home a bit later than anticipated, but as our treatment counselor used to say when we were whining about one thing or another, "Oh well."

I often think about timing and chance encounters - Bill and Bob (who very well could've said "No" to the request to talk with a stranger), the 5 day overlap in treatment with my best friend (what if I'd come a few days late?), attending an AA potluck and striking up a conversation with the fellow I'm now married to, and this week, deciding to hit the bathroom before leaving Costco, which let me run in to a good friend for an extended parking lot conversation. I am not in charge. I am not in charge. I am not in charge - of connections, of garbage trucks, of when a wave of sadness may overtake me, of the joy at seeing a beautiful sunrise. Where is my attention today?

Do you have a safe space where you can express your grief when it arises? Are you able to give yourself permission to feel your feelings rather than do battle with the "should's?" How does your experience with grief inform your views of "one day at a time?" Can you use "How important is it?" to see the humor in daily pitfalls?

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Fall is a great time to start a small group discussion, or work with a sponsor or sponsee with the Now What? workbook. See the Feb 4 post for a sample or contact me at for more info. (Order off the web version of this page, or, available at Portland Area Intergroup. Also carried at the TMar table at September conferences)