Wednesday, December 28, 2022

You're right where you're supposed to be...

 A program elder and friend tells me that in reading my blog, she often recognizes herself at my slightly younger age, thinking the equivalent of "She's right where she's supposed to be." It's reassuring to learn that I'm not the only one who grapples with thoughts of "what if" and "why?" helping me to further understand that, yes, life is a process. 

As helpful as it may be to realize I'm not alone, "You're right where you're supposed to be," was SO annoying as a newcomer. When other members told me that what I was feeling at 90 days, 18 months, 2 years and so on was fairly predictable, I was insulted. Like many of us, I mistakenly thought that I was the only one who'd ever felt this way, had this experience, went through what I was going through. Immaturity on parade, right? That feeling of connection, inclusion, it's-not-just-me has been one of the greatest gifts of long-term recovery. "Yeah, I felt that way too" - such simple, yet profound words.

A good friend quotes William Stafford's poem, "The Way It Is" including the line, "Nothing you do can stop time's unfolding." Sometimes that is frightening, like the moving sidewalk is going too fast, but truthfully, would I want to stop time's unfolding? Would I really want to be stuck in 1985, those final dark months of despair? Or what about 1990, in college grinding through term papers? And while the high twinkles of a new attraction are intoxicating, I much prefer the solidity of our eleven-year marriage as well as the deep knowingness and trust of long-term friendships. Now is pretty darned good, as it unfolds.

I suppose what one, as in I, want with the idea of stopping time is to stop my own aging - the old, "If I knew then what I know now" schtick. But really, I wouldn't be 30 or even 40 again (not to mention 16 or 26). Sure, I could run faster, ride my bike longer, stay up later - so what? Life itself continues to teach her lessons, one day at a time, if I stay open.

In his book, No Time Like the Present, Jack Kornfield writes (p. 245) "Look in the mirror. You will see that your body has aged. But, oddly, you will also experience that you don't necessarily feel older. This is because your body exists in time. It starts small, grows up, ages and dies. But the consciousness that is looking at your body is outside of time. It is spirit that takes birth, experiences your life, and will witness your death, maybe even saying at the end, "'Wow! That was an amazing ride!'"

I may question the mechanics of what is called "the observer," the witness of our higher self, but I appreciate Kornfield's validation of what I feel most days (and what my mother repeatedly said, that she didn't feel older on the inside). Suiting up and showing up, without needing to figure it all out, is definitely one of the challenges of "keep coming back" in long-term sobriety. One day at a time is truly all we really have, and it's taken me 36+ years to get even an inkling of that truth.

And speaking of wise elders, I ran into a program acquaintance this week at the market. We must've met at a meeting, but our friendship has consisted primarily of conversations in the grocery store parking lot, which means I haven't seen him for a few years with covid and all. It was good to connect, hearing of his recent celebration of 50 years adherence to the OA program and 30+ years sobriety. We had a mini-meeting, there next to the apple display case, as he shared elements of his daily practice, an example of program in action over time.

I know not everyone who reads this blog is over 50, but hang on kiddos, you're getting there! As they used to say, the secret to becoming an old timer is don't drink and don't die. And as the path gets narrower, what really matters becomes more pronounced - connection, love, health, recovery. (I used to equate the narrower path with a claustrophobic lockstep, but these days see it more as clarity of vision and purpose.)

What of your circumstances today would prompt someone to say, "You're right where you're supposed to be"? Are there times you still (or again) think that you're the only one with your feelings, reactions, hurts and joys? How can you connect with community to help share the load? As this year winds down, what character aspects or thought-burdens do you hope to release as you step across the threshold into 2023? How can you affirm yourself for making it through 2022, one day at a time?

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This could be time 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. Note that the workbook is also available at Portland Area Intergroup at 825 NE 20th and T-Mar will have copies at the Year End Round-up in Seaside, if you're there.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Paths not taken...

 As I prepared to re-store holiday ware I'd taken out for a small party, I contemplated donating the bulk of it, mainly the dinner-party stuff from a previous life - reminders of another time and place, though no real emotional connection. I do believe in using "real" versus paper plates when entertaining, so not a bad thing to have an extra dozen dishes, but parties these days tend to be smaller affairs, easily accommodated by our everyday stuff. I came to no firm conclusion, so put said dishes back on the storage shelf until next year, but did realize that if we were to move, these would not come with us. Part of my declutter efforts can be that simple - yes, this item has (even limited) use, but in the long run, not something I need to hang on to. Such a process...

Besides hanging on to physical items that may or may not be past their prime, an aspect of my character is that I function best when I have things to look forward to. Yes, every day is a gift and I like making plans. As a friend says, we got sober to do stuff, not just sit in meetings or in front of the TV (though there is a time and place for that!). A contributor to my hitting bottom, my realizing that my life was at a dead end, was a blank calendar. Blank, empty spaces, week after week, month after month. No plans, no dates, nothing. It was those seemingly insignificant moments, and those with more weight - looking at the blank calendar, advising my physician I might need more sedative for a procedure due to my methamphetamine use, finding a pistol on top of my toaster - that led to my internal "enough!" No one huge event, merely a series of crummy indignities; pitiful, incomprehensible demoralization on a drip. 

I went to an in-person meeting over the weekend. Running an errand beforehand, I checked in with Google-maps for the quickest route, which took me by JDH - the Juvenile Detention Hall. Good to remember that the second time I drank, and the first time I got drunk, I ended up there, having been picked up by the police. An inauspicious beginning to my drinking career, though grateful it was my only official brush with the law.  

We recently watched the movie, "Everything, Everywhere, All at Once." If I'm correct, it had to do with all the life choices we could've made,but didn't - and that there are multiple universes operating from those coulda/woulda/shoulda decisions. The main character's parallel universes included ones where she was a martial arts expert, a singer, an actress, and various "regular" jobs. The premise has me thinking about all the choices I didn't make, and how life might've been very different. As a child, like many girls, I wanted to grow up to be a horse (a stallion, no less). At various points I wanted to be a teacher, a secretary, a travel agent, a pioneer on the Oregon Trail (100+ years too late for that one), and Margaret Mead (again, too late, and already taken). I wanted to be Pippi Longstocking and had recurring dreams about sailing the seas. How might life have turned out if I hadn't gotten married at 19, or if I had, and gave birth to two children, just like Mom? What if I'd sent my cousin and the good-looking meth cook away on that fateful October morning in 1983? Well into my alcoholism by then, but where might the road have taken me sans IV drug use? What if I'd stayed in the insurance industry instead of going to school to be a counselor? What if I hadn't gone to that potluck at Gryphon Group in 2009, and sat by the guy who'd recently moved up from California? As in the rapid-fire sequences in the movie, the possibilities are endless, with both small and big choices leading to completely different outcomes. 

According to the internet, the meaning of the film is "that what makes life meaningful is the recognition that because there is no inherent meaning, all things and moments are equally meaningful."  That's some heavy-duty philosophy there - do I believe that taking a nap on a winter's day is as meaningful as giving a few dollars to a street person? As I get older, in recovery and actual years, I do find myself thinking about the MEANING of LIFE, as in, "What's it all about anyway?" We're born, we live lives of trauma, drama or balanced stability; people we care for live and die; maybe we reproduce, maybe we don't, and then eventually, our physical selves cease to exist. Some would say that the meaning lies in our connections - the people we love and who love us back. Some would say that the meaning is in our actions, those places we've been takers or givers. And some might say that none of it means anything, outside our very small circles.

A lot to be thinking about on this first day of winter (or summer, depending on where you are), though it seems fitting for these cold and dark days to be contemplating my purpose(s). On my dawn walk this Solstice morning, I passed a home where a program acquaintance lives and saw him sitting in a chair, lamp on, book in hand, and imagined him doing his morning meditation. It made me think of all the people at that moment who were looking at their daily readers, or writing in journals, going into a meeting or just wrapping up. I appreciate being part of this worldwide fellowship, part of the solution instead of the problem. Solstice greetings to you, with wishes for peace and serenity.

When you contemplate the various paths you might've taken, are there those that still beckon? As the calendar year draws to a close, are there places to declutter, either internal or external? What can you release and what might you invite into your life or your program? What is your personal philosophy about the meaning of life? Are you living in accordance with your values?

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This could be time to think about a year end/new year inventory. 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. Note that the workbook is also available at Portland Area Intergroup at 825 NE 20th 

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Letting go

 While at my mom's one remaining cousin's place for lunch last week, the phone rang. From my end, the guy sounded like a scammer - my cousin confirmed that the person wanted to send her money. At 93-years-old, she has some memory issues, but recognized that the person on the phone was some sort of shark. My mom got a similar call years ago, again when I happened to be there. That time, I grabbed the phone and told the person to hang up and never call again. There is a special place in hell for those who'd take advantage of the elderly, that generation raised to be polite and let a stranger have their say.

I did let Betty's daughter know about the call, but what is a person to do? What is a person, a recovering person, to do to protect their elders, or their kids? How do you ensure that your child won't drink too much and get behind the wheel, or that your mom or grandma won't be taken advantage of? The obvious answer is, you can't. Something I learned years ago, while still involved with the boyfriend addicted to heroin, is that, short of locking them in a room and throwing away the key, I cannot save, protect, or shelter my loved ones (or anyone else for that matter). I can make a suggestion, or offer support, but I need to be very careful to listen for the question - did they ask for my help, whether related to life decisions or driving directions??

And.. it can be scary and painful to know I can't keep my loved ones safe - from illness, from traffic mishaps, from poor choices. What I learn in Alanon is to take care of myself, to address my own anxiety without letting it spill onto another person. What am I afraid of? Loss? Danger? That I can't handle how what happens to you will impact me? The unknown? All of the above? My primary purpose is to see to my own peace of mind. When I am centered and in a place of trust, I can better let go of what I think is best for you.

What I do know is that it is fairly easy for me to let go of what strangers and acquaintances do or don't. All those years working in treatment taught me that I am not in control of another person's process. However... the closer a person is to me, the harder it is to remember it is not my job to fix, save, advise, or soften the blow(s) of life for anyone other than myself, and I can't even fix me (or I would've done it years ago!). Trust the process, even when (especially when) I can't see into the future. 

I'm thinking specifically of my ex this time of year, as the 4th anniversary of his death approaches. We were back in contact after his wife died unexpectedly, about a year prior to his passing. He didn't handle it well, left with 4 teenagers, and each time he phoned, it was obvious he was drinking. I suggested a grief group, or counseling that was so helpful to me when Mom died. He replied, "Johnnie Walker is my counselor," and I didn't bring it up again. The irony was not lost on me that while I was running a half marathon in early December, 2018, the man who put me through treatment and helped me get on my feet when newly sober, was dying of alcoholism in a hospital in Miami. I am learning (sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly) to make a suggestion once, and once only, but man oh man did I want to somehow force him to get professional help. Death that seems to come before its time is always painful, but especially so when it was probably avoidable via a change in habits. I say that having lost both parents, 2 grandparents, an uncle and my first husband to tobacco related illness, and a cousin and ex from the drink. I was so mad at my mom for not quitting smoking after Dad died, like I did, and, she was her own person on her own path, no matter how much I may have disagreed.

Today, I can focus on gratitude for all the ways my life is richer for having known my ex, including the pivotal phone conversation in 2009 that closed a door and opened the one that cosmically resulted in meeting my husband just a few weeks later (I couldn't very well be open to love if I unconsciously held on to the idea that I'd blown my one chance by age 30).  I sometimes wonder how life would've turned out if I'd gotten what I thought I needed all those years ago. It took over a decade to understand that I likely couldn't have stayed sober in that relationship.  Experience continues to teach me that the jobs, friendships, romantic relationships - the lot of it - have been exactly what was supposed to happen at the time. Not in a "god" pulling strings way, but "If things were supposed to be any other way, they'd be different." And hallelujah for how they are today.

Where do you find yourself wanting to control another person's trajectory, whether life choices or how they interact with you? How can you remind yourself that you are not their higher power? What does that kind of powerlessness feel like? Frustration? Relief? How do you take care of your own emotional needs before trying to influence another?

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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. Note that the workbook is also available at Portland Area Intergroup at 825 NE 20th 

Wednesday, December 7, 2022


 In meetings last week focused on Step 11, I heard the message of working this Step gently, with compassion for ourselves, as in the suggestion to "gently relax into the daily reprieve." Hearing that brought me nearly to tears. Compassion? Gentle? I sometimes come at the Steps with force, a bludgeon of "If I only do this right/hard enough everything will be ok" when actually, everything is ok. All I really need to do is show up. And as I've been reminded, the Steps are tools, not weapons.

A program friend often tells of correspondence between Carl Jung and Bill Wilson, where Jung described the alcoholic's craving for alcohol like a low-level search for God - maybe that's why they're called "spirits." All my life I was searching, if not for god, then for peace of mind (and note that for me, peace of mind might be found in mad excitement).

Pre-recovery, most of my searching was via self-help books and long, stoned discussions, with "moral and philosophical convictions galore." Well into sobriety I dabbled in various churches, never finding quite the right fit. Nothing at all against church, but for me, most of my searching of that nature had to do with, one more time, looking outside myself for a fix. If I pray the right way, sing the right songs, all will be well. What I know now is that my spiritual life changes and evolves as I do. The "god" I had at 30 days sober is different than my spiritual connections at 30-plus years. I don't need to understand the exact mechanisms in order to feel centered and connected.

I used to complain to a homegroup member, "I just want somebody to tell me everything will be ok," to which he replied, "But everything is ok, Jeanine." What I was probably asking was, "Tell me everything will stay the same," a dreamer's quest for stability. Everything, everything is temporary. Everything will change, die, go away. The reality of that is closer to home the older I get, but still I want certainty. Certainty that my friends will always be by my side, that the musicians I grew up listening to will live forever (RIP Christine McVie), that love will last (though that one is true, whether the person is alive or not).

I see Step 11 meditation as getting still, which is different than getting quiet, and releasing the internal chatter. I can sit on my cushion (which is actually the couch) quiet on the outside while my mind races to this or that task, memory or plan, surprised when the ending bell goes off. While not a practicing Christian, I love the saying, "Be still and know that I am God." Be still, and become aware of my inner wisdom, the knowing that was there all along. My addict-self still wants bright lights and bullhorns - DO THIS NOW! but my truth tends to be quiet, and certain - maybe not always specific, but there is a definite "yay" or "nay" energy to whatever it is I'm pondering (and if there isn't, then it isn't time to make a decision). And it isn't usually an actual voice unless voice can be defined as knowledge. The dictionary describes voice as sound, but also as "a particular opinion or attitude expressed." Perhaps my psyche expresses its particular opinion via my gut, the internal red light/green light. Today I can relax into the mystery, releasing my need to know.

As usually happens, I've moved from holiday grieving to holiday celebration, spending time with friends and family, enjoying the coziness of almost-winter. My friends and I will, one more time, mark Solstice online, exhaling into the return of the light. I'm one who doesn't mind the darkness, grateful for a warm home, a full pantry, and electricity, very aware that not everyone who seeks shelter finds it. I can nit-pick my grievances, or, with just a second's pause, remember that I could very well have died at the end of a syringe, or behind the wheel of a car, or even worse, lived for years on the margins, spending my days looking for the next fix or drink. I've been given the opportunity to live, however I define that on any given day. Sometimes that means curling up with a good book, or for a winter's nap, and sometimes it means spending time with loved ones, or being of service in one form or another. In any event, even after all these years, I never forget that recovery is a gift. 

How do you relax into the mystery of this sober life? What do you do if the holiday lonelys strike? How does your inner wisdom get your attention? In this potentially busy time of year, how do you practice self-care? If you find yourself weaponizing the Steps, how do you reset to a place of compassion?  How do you remind yourself that everything is OK, right here, right now? 

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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.