Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Rigorous honesty

 In a recent meeting on Step 5, members talked about the initial discomfort at disclosing their deepest and darkest secrets and deeds to another person. I was the type of drunk who'd tell anyone just about anything, but there certainly was a sense of gravitas associated with writing down said secrets and sharing them, all at once, with another person, stone-cold sober.

When I was deep in my disease, I hung around with others who partied, maybe not quite as much as I did, but inebriation was our pastime. Nearly all of us were lying, cheating or stealing on some level, which included a fair amount of gossip about who was doing what and to whom. In those days, any admission of guilt, or owning up to my behavior, was done strictly to save my ass, avoid consequences, get out of trouble - sometimes worked, sometimes didn't. I liked to think I was a reasonably moral person, but rarely (never?) did I stop to take stock of how my actions impacted those I said I loved. Any disclosures or discussions of how I/we acted out were done within the cesspool of dishonesty and sneakiness, a negative feedback loop. Just like Bill W wrote, I was dishonest, etc. while drinking, then drank more to try to cover the bad feelings about acting out - a vicious cycle.

And then recovery, with the safety valve of the Steps to actually address both my actions and the underlying motivations and drivers, looking to heal the ingrained beliefs so that I didn't have to keep making the same mistakes over and over. Some of those lessons were harder to learn than others, but at least I now had language to explore the whys and wherefores. I remember, after yet one more unrequited love where I was still working through my father stuff, saying to a friend, "How many more times do I have to learn this lesson?" He calmly replied, "I guess until you get it." I was annoyed at the time, but he was right. Lessons will keep coming on the spiral of life, in different forms perhaps, but the same core issue, until I get to that place of deep, inner surrender, that place of once more saying, "I can't do this anymore." Not, "I can't do this anymore," while peeking through my fingers to see if the prize I wanted was there, but I. Cannot. Do. This. Any-Freaking-More. 

Early in recovery I came across a wallet in the parking lot of the grocery store, the same store where part of my hitting bottom was the pharmacist refusing to sell me syringes (that felt all-of-a-sudden, but my guess is he'd been watching me slowly deteriorate). Anyhow, I took the wallet to the Customer Service desk with several nearby folks expressing amazement that I'd turned it in. What I said was, "I want to be able to sleep at night." I'd always wanted to be able to sleep at night. My first sponsor would say, "If you knew better, you would've done better" but the thing is, most of the time I did know better. But knowing better and doing better felt nearly impossible while under the influence, and without the structure and guidance of Program. Sure, I had "moral and philosophical convictions galore" but just like the literature says, I "could not live up to them even though we would have liked to" (Big Book p. 62). Sobriety isn't about will-power, but there is a certain amount of self-discipline involved in getting to meetings or making good decisions about where to go and with whom, discipline that was non-existent when I was hungover, or thinking about how to get the next hit of speed. 

The other day I passed a man on the street who was very obviously in the throes of an opioid high, bent at the waist with his silly sagged pants below his butt, fumbling to light a cigarette, very vulnerable whether he knew it or not. Instead of disgust, I felt very sad - for him and all of the people who are on the other side of the divide. From that side, the chasm between clean and not clean seems impossible to traverse, which is the big why of why we can't do this thing alone. Sure, some do. Some people decide to quit whatever it is that is causing them trouble, but that didn't work for me. I needed to see and hear from those who'd made that leap. Those who'd made the leap and were still funny, were still enjoying life and having a good time, those who were able to sleep at night because they had nothing to hide anymore.

Would the old you even recognize who you are today? In what ways have the various promises noted in the Big Book come true in your life?

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Fall is a great time to start a small group discussion, or with a sponsor or sponsee on the workbook Now What?  See the Feb 4 post for a sample or contact me at for more info. Available for purchase on the WEB VERSION of this blog page, and at Portland Area Intergroup.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Step 10, etc

 I realized, after the fact, that I posted a day early last week. We were on vacation, I had a free chunk of time while drinking my birthday reward beverage at Starbucks and posted away!  Several years ago, the in-laws told me that in retirement, they sometimes lose track of what day it is. I've long been date challenged, but I do get it. I generally remind myself of what day it is as soon as I wake up, with different days of the week categorized for different tasks or activities (walking, gym, laundry, etc).

Sometimes I do lose track of which day of the week it is, but that is a far cry from losing track of weeks or even months. Lost weekends? Definitely. Friday night starting with drinks, morphing into a gram of cocaine, leading to a trip to the dealer for an eight-ball, and then suddenly the birds are chirping and it's Monday. Even after I'd stopped formally working, Monday morning had a heft that screamed, "Get out of bed!" I'll never forget the ugly feeling, the pitiful, incomprehensible demoralization of waking up at 6:00 in the winter, not sure if it was AM or PM. I am still and always grateful for the peace of mind that comes with sobriety, the not having to worry about what I did, or said, or where am I anyway?

And, here we are at home. I love to travel, and I surely love coming back to sleep on my own pillow. We did get to a sweet little in-person meeting while away - the two folks setting up the group, and three visitors (us plus a guy from Wisconsin). Interesting times, these. My Alanon home group is now both in-person and online, with maybe a dozen in each format. I've gotten very comfortable with my online groups, less inclined to get in the car, drive across town, park and drive back home. And... I do appreciate actually holding hands and reciting the Serenity Prayer in unison vs the cacophony that comes across in zoom.

That being said, I'm part of a small group that meets online every-other week, with attendees from California, Nevada, Washington, Minnesota, Montana, and here in Oregon - friends, all, including some who've just met in this setting. We are people who may never have crossed paths in our drinking years, bound together by common histories and a shared path of gratitude and celebration of all things real.

October, 10th month, reminds me to focus on Step 10 - the on-going personal inventory and when I am wrong, promptly admitting it. I'm painfully aware when I do or say something egregious, but sometimes it is less obvious when I've more gently stepped on the toes of my fellows. My old ideas are my ideas, and I need to remind myself that just because I think I know what is right for you, you, or you (including society and the planet) doesn't mean I am actually right. Such a drag, these three fingers pointing back at me when I'm pointing one at you! Humility? Definitely. I'd say that's one of the primary tasks of long-term recovery. The plug is in the jug, and my task these days is to strengthen the pause muscle in order to keep the plug in my mouth when I'm triggered to give my input or "suggestion" seemingly on autopilot. One day at a time, one choice at a time. 

I'm reading Drop the Rock - the Ripple Effect (by Fred H) about using Step 10 as a gateway to Steps 6 & 7. In the suggestions for spot check inventories are reminders to simply observe - my own actions, before opening my mouth, as well as my discomfort, as in pay attention. Being uncomfortable in the moment can be a learning opportunity - what am I feeling, and why? Always, the pause to investigate, or simply take a breath, before taking action. I'd guess that most of my discomfort these days has to do with old ideas (not feeling like enough, while conversely believing I'm right). Having been on this recovery path for decades now, the old "I'm such an alcoholic!" no longer holds much water. Sure, I was programmed at an early age and those old tapes are my default when stressed, however, I have years now of reprogramming to draw on when I can slow down just a bit. I've long been tempted to tattoo PAUSE on my wrist where I can see it every minute of every day.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the 10-year anniversary of my mother's passing was this month. I am an anticipator, and in the weeks leading up to the date, was thrown back to the sadness of her death, and the utter grief of the ensuing months. However, aided by my positive experience donating family memorabilia to the Museum of the Oregon Territory, I'd moved to a place of gratitude for who Mom was, and our close relationship, so the actual day came and went without my noticing until after the fact. I can work myself into a tizzy, but when I'm able to simply (not easily!) let the emotions flow, I'm less likely to get stuck. And boy howdy did I get stuck in the past, grieving a 7-year relationship for close to a decade, my father's death for at least 5 years if not more, and so on. Loss is painful,  and experiencing loss with the tools of recovery may not be less painful, but definitely of shorter duration, and less likely to sneak up masquerading as something else. In general, I need to be mindful of what I think I'm supposed to feel, whether that is around an anniversary (positive or not so much) or days like Thanksgiving and Christmas when the "shoulds" roar their expectant heads. I feel what I feel - good, not good, neutral or something in between and it's all ok. (as one of my Alanon readers reminds me, "being human is not a character defect.")

We're anticipating rain here in the Pacific NW - finally. As with all things - weather, politics (ugh), family dynamics, and yes, upcoming holidays, the beat goes on. Where are you today with a Step 10 practice? Do you take a formal daily inventory (nowadays even available in an app) or more a gut check? What "shoulds" can you observe and release as the season moves forward? I've heard that Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas are the Bermuda Triangle for those with eating issues, but I'd say the same for any of us with complicated histories. Be kind to yourselves...

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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. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Fun, defined and redefined

 We're out of town this week, a pleasant break to visit family, back to our usual routines after the 2+ years of isolation.  As a friend recently remarked, it will be a long time before we fully understand the impact that covid and social shut down had (or is having) on the world. Our home-away-from-home group is still online, we've become quite comfortable with staying in, masks in our pockets wherever we go...   And in many respects, I'm back out in the world, seeing movies (in nearly empty theaters), getting on airplanes, the occasional dinner with friends, and a few in-person meetings - at least until the next surge.

A regular subscriber recently brought up the topic of relaxation in recovery, often working with sponsees on the need to take time each day, or each week for some "me or we" time. Good advice. I know that when first sober, I felt like I needed to make up for lost time, and I heard that alot from men I worked with in treatment - the perceived "need" to work 50-60 hours a week in order to provide for themselves and the family they'd neglected. But the idea of lost time is an illusion, isn't it? Time is never really lost. It can certainly fly by, and can sometimes be squandered, but the movement of one day to the next simply is.

A program friend, Jill Kelly, wrote a great book a few years ago: Sober Play - Using Creativity for a More JOYFUL Recovery (3Cats Publishing, 2013) with ways to incorporate the principles of the Steps into life, not merely the stop-drinking part. She writes about art, from coloring to collage to painting, writing, dance, gardening, and other ways to get out of the stern mindset we alcoholics can sometimes find ourselves in.  

As someone who had way too much "fun" before sobriety, it took a while to relax and discover what it was I truly enjoyed. Early recovery was definitely discovery - my first hikes, walking as a way to further the detox, and those ever-entertaining AA dances helped fill the time. New friends and I took trips together, played volleyball, and of course, coffee dates. My problem, back then anyway, wasn't that I didn't know how to play, but that I find a sense of balance without burning the candle at both ends with work, school, meetings and fun (which felt like my right after those last ugly years). 

Recovery included redefining "fun." Fun used to mean, well into sobriety, fireworks and noise - dancing for three hours straight, in heels, at a bar with program pals or at AA functions (& believe me, we threw some epic dance parties)

I was younger then (!) so better able to handle working eight hours, hitting a meeting, and maybe a movie afterwards. I figured out early on that if I wanted to go to a party or a potluck, I was better off planning an event rather than waiting for the knock on the door. Friends have often commented on my energy, to which I reply, "naps" - still my go-to for a recharge. These days I'm excited to make a plan, but just as happy when it cancels. Where in the past I could and would schedule two or three things in a day, I'm now at my limit with one!  Quality, not quantity is the philosophy of long term recovery. 

In his book Beyond Belief - Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life, Joe C. writes, in the October 4 entry, "...we have an illness that commands a process of healing from the symptoms, followed by a lifetime of managing the condition." For me, a big part of that management has to do with balance, which can look different on different days. As I was once reminded, to achieve balance, a scale will teeter up and down before hitting the sweet spot. Much like my life - periods of relative calm followed by a frenzy of activity then back to calm. Too much calm can feel sedating, but to each their own. Everything I read related to recovery reminds me that we are best served when listening to our own inner compass. When new, I tried to copy this person or that. With time and experience, I have a pretty good handle on what works for me (my serenity level and/or joy meter will let me know when I'm off the beam).

What does it mean to you to have fun these days? How has that definition changed over time? If you find yourself over working (or over volunteering, over helping, etc) how might you inject some relaxation or social time into your week?

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. Available for purchase on the WEB VERSION of this blog page, and at Portland Area Intergroup.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022


 When I was a little kid, you couldn't buy meat at the grocers on Sundays because butchers didn't work on Sunday. Last week, I couldn't buy from the butcher case because they were short staffed so weren't open. Personally, that was a luxury problem - it's not like we don't have food in the pantry - but made me think about all the instant conveniences of this modern life, and how inconvenienced I can feel if I can't do what I want, when I want. And don't let the power go out, showing me just how much I rely on electricity.

I try not to compare, but someone in a meeting did once say that X% of people in the world aren't sure where their next meal is coming from. My problems are my problems, but miniscule in the grand scheme of things. Gratitude is a practice, gratitude is an action, and gratitude can be a reality check of the "How Important Is It?" variety, especially when thinking of all those who lost so much in the recent hurricane.

I heard a great speaker last week who described the common questions around knowing if you're in self-will or going with the flow, whether you think of that in terms of "god's will" or simply letting go of the steering wheel. Their suggestion was to ask: 1. Is it simple? 2. Is it practical? 3. Is it possible? I'm usually able to recognize (eventually) when I'm pushing against a brick wall. "Going with the flow" feels like it sounds - easy, nearly effortless. I often think of the line in Elizabeth Gilbert's book, Eat, Pray, Love where she is crying on the floor in the middle of the night, trying to force a decision that isn't yet clear. When she was still enough, she heard, or maybe felt, the message, "Go back to bed."  Ah yes. Do the next right thing, whether that is washing the dishes, eating a sandwich, returning that phone call - basically anything that can jolt my mind off the "problem" long enough that a solution has room to appear. 

I tend to want skywriting, or a billboard, when so often my solutions are related to putting one foot in front of the other. I think of my recent concerns about "what's next?" as I tried to predict the coming months or even years. By suiting up and showing up every day, my autumn is spoken for, between seasonal elections work, a trip to visit family, my walking group commitment and so on. I don't need to know what's around the corner. I keep coming back to: What am I doing today? How am I tending my heart, my spiritual connections, my trust-muscle today?

I made that trip to the Museum of the Oregon Territory with a box of family mementos, prepared to take half back home, but the curator loved all of it - the old button hook for lacing shoes, a 1933 copy of the Oregonian, loads of photos and family letters, and my mom's lists of household expenditures, which I always found hilarious, but apparently are a slice of American life worth keeping. I am grateful for the women in my maternal lineage who kept things, who valued memories, who lugged small boxes of cards and letters and photos as they moved from one home to another. My grandfather was Secretary of State in the 1930's, dying of tuberculosis while in office, so the family moved from a very nice home to a series of situations during the Depression after he passed, with Grandma taking in boarders, selling homemade candy and cleaning a movie theater to make ends meet - all the while, moving her baby grand piano and family memories along. She had her priorities! 

The Museum episode reminded me of how much attitude colors my experience - attitude and perceptions. I was sad when I got there, preparing to let go of a big chunk of what I've been carting around for years, only to leave with laughter, the curator's enthusiasm coloring my experience, an illustration of how my attitude and outlook - a smile, a kind word - can impact those I interact with. Not in a Pollyanna way, but a pleasant greeting doesn't cost a dime. In the past few days I've noticed two drivers nearly frothing at the mouth with road rage - a good reminder that my moods show. Again, "How Important is It?" which I'll remember the next time I'm behind the wheel or catch myself in judgement.

How do you catch yourself in the mood of "I want what I want when I want it"?  Are you able to step back long enough to be grateful for what you do have? What are your priorities? If you had to leave your house on short notice, what it is important for you to take along? For me, it would be journals and photos - what about you?

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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, and T-Mar tapes will have a small stack at the upcoming Girlstock conference.   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.