Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Gratitudes and sorrows and everything in-between

The 10 years that my mother has been gone means that my brother has been living in the ancestral manor that long. I've now been in my home for 19 years - a blink of an eye apparently. In thinking about the whoosh of the 10 years since mom died, I realize that a lot has happened - my Stepdad, first husband, ex-boyfriend and several other friends died; my stepdaughter finished high school and graduated from college; my husband fought cancer; I retired; I completed a few marathons and other races; and oh yeah, the world was shut down by a global pandemic.

We'd all have our various lists of events and experiences over any 10- or 20-year period. Taken incident by incident, a lot of living has occurred, but looked at as a whole, I say, "Wow - how did that happen?" Is it just human nature, or related to a lack of mindfulness?  As a kid, I remember summers that often dragged on, with me and my pal sitting on the neighbor's lawn waiting for something to happen. Someone once told me that "life" slows down after retirement, but I haven't yet had that experience. And life doesn't slow down or speed up, right? The sun rises and sets, earlier or later depending on the time of year, but a day is still a day. 

And I know on those long summer afternoons, time moved so slowly because I was bored, with Mom's "Just go play outside," a tough sell when I was between kid stuff and young adolescence - in other words, trouble waiting to happen. Bored + bright + genetic predisposition = alcoholic in the making. I know I crossed that invisible line within 20 minutes of my first beer. The specifics of the trajectory were up for grabs, but the disease took hold without questioning the eventual destination.

In a meeting this week about the spiritual experience, many shared their aversion to any kind of god-talk. I had both - the psychic rearrangement and skepticism about what it actually meant to turn my will and life over, which at the time, I equated with No More Fun. Something happened to me, or in me, during treatment where I found myself on my knees, crying my eyes out in surrender, and then a month or so later at home, when I again hit my knees, this time with joy, thinking, "Is this all I had to do? Stop drinking beer for breakfast and sticking a needle in my arm, and life feels this good?" I can question whether all that elation mixed with confusion was merely a side-effect of dormant synapses coming back to life, but something had shifted. I think of it like a pencil snapping in half - one day I needed to escape myself via substances, and the next day I was done. At this point I don't need to try to figure it out but suffice to say I've been grateful ever since that I didn't have to fight the urge to drink or get loaded.

Which doesn't mean that I'm cured. I am a firm believer in the daily reprieve, however the maintenance of our spiritual condition looks on any given day - in AA/Alanon or out, on a bicycle or the couch, in solitude, or with like-minded others.  

And so, I do what works for me today, while paying attention to when it begins to feel rote. I use a mediation app, which has been helpful, but when I found that I was more interested in the daily check mark (200 days!) than the actual meditation, I went on strike. I eventually added the app back into my morning practice, intentionally not paying attention to the "X days in a row" notation. With anything, whether reading certain passages out of the literature, or my morning routine, it is only meaningful if it is meaningful - as in, am I in the moment, or already on to the next thing? I can be in the process of reading something and totally blank out, mind on three other things. Attention is a discipline. 

In our neighborhood, there are houses with stale Halloween decorations flapping in the wind, a few turkey banners, and a smattering of holiday lights. That's kind of like I'm feeling - not quite done with one thing before moving on to the next. I've been very aware of ""Gratitude Month" and a Step 11 focus as I pause to appreciate all that has gone into me being here, in these circumstances, at this moment in time. But I will say, Dios de los Muertos notwithstanding, it is this time of year that the veil between the living and those gone on feels thinnest for me as I'm flooded with memories of laughter and love with each holiday ornament I remove from its box. I straddle the line between sorrow and gratitude, knowing as the season progresses, I'll move to a place of celebration. But right now, with tissue paper strewn on the living room floor, decorations being set in their appointed spots or somewhere new, I reflect on Christmas' past - Grandpa hiding under the tree nibbling on peanut brittle, a house full of cousins. Mom and Dad gave me a typewriter when I was in high school, knowing I wanted to be a writer. It took many years and detours for that dream to come true, and here I am today, writing, crying, cooking, hugging those dear to me. We'll go to my bestie's for dinner tomorrow, and on Saturday, my stepdaughter will be here with her fella for more turkey and our yearly tradition of decorating the tree together. I can mourn those gone, then put that down in order to celebrate all the love I have and share today.

Are your childhood memories of holiday times nourishing or best forgotten? How have you created new traditions in recovery? Who is in your Family of Choice, and do they know how much they mean to you? As we Americans mark Thanksgiving (despite the day's murky and sketchy origin story that is likely less than true), what will go on your Gratitude List? 

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This could be time to plan a holiday gift for a sponsor or sponsee, or to think about a year end/new year stock-taking. See the Feb 4 entry for a sample of the "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" workbook with 78 pages of topics, member's views, and processing questions. Available in PDF format for those of you outside the US (or who prefer that format) or hardcopy mailed to you. Email me at with questions. 

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