Wednesday, February 22, 2023

More revealed, and yet to come...

 Ah well... my pathology report indicates the Big C, as in cancer (though I'm hoping for little c), damn it. At this point, I have an MRI scheduled and a consultation to talk about next steps and next decisions, so am still, again, in waiting mode.

As I've recently quoted, "waiting is an action." I think of times I made a poor decision rather than sit still, as well as the times (more so in these later years of recovery) when I was able to actually pause for the next right thing to present itself, like when I felt pressure around work when waiting for clarification was all I could really do. I'm reminded of the suggestion, "If you don't know what to do, don't do anything." Ha! Easy for you to say.

Waiting takes so many forms - waiting for my dear mother to die, waiting for test results, waiting for a phone call, for time to pass (sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly) with the choice to spin, or simply get on with the day. Dentist appointment, regular meetings, a trip to the grocery store, my usual morning walks, laundry...  the beat goes on.

I had a sweet time visiting my good friend this past weekend, with a drive out to the spectacular Point Reyes on the northern California coast. I must say that while I was in awe of the amazing beauty and power of crashing waves, a herd of deer, a tough walk down and up 313 stairs (each way!) to the lighthouse, I felt somewhat muted, like I was in a fog - probably because I was in a fog. I was trying not to think about the biopsy results, but of course, in trying not to think about it, that's what I was thinking about. 

There are lessons here about self-acceptance vs self-criticism, as well as letting go of the "should's," especially as related to emotions. I'm also aware of my inner addict yelling, "F-it! Let's get pizza!" before my saner self remembers that it is likely best to be on my game for this next leg of the journey rather than slogging my way through a cheese and ice cream fest on the couch. 

I do so appreciate all who've reached out to let me know of their own cancer journeys. When the nurse asked about my support system, I told her I'm covered in that department. Whether it is a close friend who has my back, those good friends who've "been there, done that," or the many acquaintances who've also walked this path, in AA and Alanon, I do know I am never alone. 

I have plans for a fear inventory, and maybe more Step 4 or 10 writing (these would be the pen to paper inventories rather than columns - often the simple act of writing what I'm feeling, leads me to truths and insights I might not have otherwise reached). And, as I've said and been told, I'm putting one foot in front of the other. The biopsy doc thanked me for staying calm, saying it made their work easier. I wanted to tell him that in my family, we're good patients - calm, and we do as we're told, usually with a dose of humor. 

I may be in denial, but I truly don't feel this is my time to die. I might need to go through a bit of a rough patch, but my confidence is bolstered by all those (and I mean ALL THOSE) I know who've walked through this journey, or one similar, extremely grateful that this is 2023 with all the medical advances, not 1950.  So, as Mary Oliver writes, what am I to do with this one wild and precious life? 

What that meant on the way to the dentist was giving a few bucks to a street person, directing him to an agency where he could get socks and gloves. I have troubling circumstances, but I am so fortunate. Another earthquake in Turkey and Syria? My "problems" are miniscule. I have a warm home, a strong marriage, good insurance, and great friends, a full pantry and gas in the car. Life is good, even when it may seem otherwise.

Thank you in advance for your well wishes. I'm more a text and email gal on a good day, and that hasn't changed much, so if you phone, don't be offended if I don't pick up. Sometimes talking can feel overwhelming, especially when I don't yet know exactly what I'm talking about. One day at a time, this too shall pass, turn it over - thank goodness for the silly sayings that come to me automatically. Stay tuned, and thank you for coming along for the ride.

How do you put one foot in front of the other when the road of happy destiny seems rocky? Who do you call on for support? What slogans or program tools do you rely on to get you through what can feel like a tough time? How does a gratitude practice fit in?

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See the Jan 13, 2023 post 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, February 15, 2023


 In the daily reader, Beyond Belief, by Joe C, the February 9 entry notes that we share in meetings, not so much for others, but for ourselves. "When we express ourselves we are having out-loud conversations with ourselves. If we are authentic, new realizations flow in real time." As I've often said, sometimes in meetings I hear what I need to hear, and sometimes I say what I need to hear, the magic of the unscripted - often silly but sometimes profound. And I never know until it happens.

The other day, in one of my in-person meetings, I heard just what I needed to hear about staying in the moment, with the reminder that fear takes me out of today. Boy howdy, does it ever. As a well-practiced future tripper, staying in the moment can be a challenge, though I understand the value. 

I had a biopsy on Tuesday, not unpleasant in and of itself. And now the wait, the limbo of wondering whether the thing that showed up on my scans is benign or malignant, and in either case, what is to be done? We're frequently reminded in meetings that learning to be comfortable with discomfort is a primary task of recovery - not just in early sobriety, but always. I'm certainly not contemplating an escape via substances, but how else might I check out or try to outrun my tendencies towards prediction? Coffee, beyond my daily half-caf cuppa, is an option, though any more than my usual tends to upset my stomach. Same with sugar. My mom died in a long past October, just as Halloween candy was on the shelves. At that moment, and for a few months, I was defenseless, stuffing my emotions with chocolate. I don't think that would work today, as I'm way more aware that one is too many and a thousand not enough.

What if I practiced the truth that the only way through is through? What if I practice what I know is a pressure valve, like a walk in Forest Park, or my own neighborhood, a coffee date with good friends, journaling, inventory? What if, instead of running, I held still, paying attention to both the still, small voice as well as those who've traveled this path.

My sponsor wished me the energy of curiosity and faith. Faith is easy - faith that all will be well, even if it isn't; faith that I can do hard things; faith that a bunch of people have my back; faith in my as yet to be identified medical team. Curiosity? That takes some thinking. Curious about what's next, without obsession, curious about the arrows pointing to my core beliefs (the "It'll never happen to me" stuff), curious about my body and healing and what this little (big?) wake-up call could mean? 

For starters, on a practical level, my vague intentions to get my desk in order now seems like a priority. What of other, more nebulous intentions? Do I really, truly want to visit India, or is that mere fantasy? What about any lingering or new hopes and dreams? Many years ago, the therapist I saw after my dad died gave me a worksheet titled, "Everything You've Ever Wanted To Do" with the idea that writing something down with intent could equate to manifestation. This was true in some cases. Well before getting sober, I wrote I wanted to walk on the Great Wall of China, and a couple of decades later, ran a half-marathon on the Wall. Some of the things on that list fell off - my dad was right about not buying a beach house, with his belief you'd then be tied to going to that one place needing repairs - and some things have been added. I've long said I don't have much on a bucket list, but now that I've settled in to retired life, are there any longings simmering to the surface, just waiting for a bit of attention to rise to the top?

I won't know anything more on the biopsy until next week. Annoying, and an opportunity to simply get on with life, in the garden, visiting a friend, lunch with Mom's 93-year-old cousin. I will note that growing up in 12 Step programs, one of my coping mechanisms is sharing in meetings, so I've been talking, in either vague or specific terms, about what's going on. What I'm seeing, and have learned from others earlier on the path, is that there are a lot of opinions and experiences out there. Yay, and I get to choose what I listen to, as in "take what you like and leave the rest." 

Some very helpful indirect comments in a recent meeting helped me get back on the beam - the reminder that if the Universe, Spirit, Whatever, lifted the compulsion to drink and use drugs, the same energy can help me walk through whatever is ahead. I may not believe in a deity on a throne, but I do believe in the fellowship of the spirit, yours (and my) example of lives changed from despair to hope, one day at a time.

How do you practice staying in the moment when your insides say, "Run!" How do you practice self-acceptance for the whole of it, the positives and not-so-much? How do you discern the differences between "take what you likes" and leave the rest? What might go on your list of "Everything I've Ever Wanted to Do"?

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See the Jan 13, 2023 post 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, February 8, 2023


 One of my daily readers tells me "There is a spiritual reason for everything." I'm not buying the implication that the Universe is so ordered as to blast out lessons to each and every human on the planet. I do, however, believe that there are opportunities and choices inherent in what happens in my daily life. For example, I can keep my nose in the phone while the young guy replaces my windshield wiper blades, or can initiate conversation, a brief and pleasant connection. I can freak the "F" out over medical questions, or use tools of the program to calm the inner rattle.

It's funny - it used to sort of annoy me that my mother, who rarely talked about physical limitations, did so in her final few years. And now I find my long-term friends and I doing the same - Medicare and procedures, this ache or that pain. I now realize that we humans tend to talk about what we are doing, what is most present in our lives, and for many, aging brings noticeable change - humorous if we can share it with our peers. I don't especially welcome this over-focus on my blood pressure, diet, sleep or lack thereof, although in my running days, I was very aware of every slight muscle twinge, so I suppose it's merely a matter of perspective. 

So, where is my focus to be? On the narrow this-is-how-I-feel-in-my-body or the glory of sunrise? The numbers on the blood pressure cuff (important but not obsessively so) or the green shoots starting to appear in the garden? In the book, The Invitation, by Oriah, she says (and I paraphrase) that she's not interested in your GPA or income level, doesn't care about where you're spending the month of January or where you picked up that stunning little purse. She wants to know what you dream about, what wakes you in the middle of the night, what or who are you longing to become? She wants to know what scares you, and where you go when you feel frightened and alone. In essence, she asks, "Who are you?" And isn't that what recovery is all about? Who am I when the labels are dropped?  Wife, sister, former professional, friend, AA member, fill-in-the-blank... 

I used to be fearful of those moments just before sleeping, when there was no one in my mind but me and the still small voice. I was fearful, because if I really listened, I'd hear the voice whispering, "So what exactly are you doing with your life, you with that highball on the bedside table, you with the coke mirror in your underwear drawer, you with the massive hangovers?" I knew, even before I knew, that if I truly paid attention, I'd have to do something in order to make peace with myself, and at that point, I had no frame of reference for what that might be. So, I'd take another slug of whatever booze was on the table, hoping to fall asleep/pass out to Johnny Carson on the TV. In the cold light of day, I could distract myself with the hangover, with breakfast, with the ever-shrinking to-do list, but at night, it was just me and my thoughts.

I don't fight those nighttime demons today. Long term sobriety has given me the gift of myself, pretty much the same no matter who I'm interacting with (though I must admit I cuss more with my friends than in other public places). As time goes on, I do sometimes wonder what kind of old lady I'll be - funny, cranky, daft? Ha ha - maybe I'm already there, and a little of each! I do know I'm not great with small talk, never have been. Every conversation doesn't need to be about our innermost thoughts, but at least some of them do. Maybe that's part of why I appreciate meetings so much - it's where I'm privileged to hear your hopes and dreams, fears and joys. 

I had the opportunity to spend time with good friends this past weekend, with a couple of exceptions, friends I haven't seen in person for three years. I'd forgotten just how sweet it is to sit around a table with people who know me, people I've shared meetings with for decades. We are definitely not a glum lot, though can seriously and sincerely walk each other through hard times when needed. I have a few such groups, from school confidants, to the interstate fellowships I participate in via zoom. Long term recovery and long(ish) term life bring gifts I hadn't known I'd wanted. And I hope I always remember that, especially on days that might veer towards the negative. I don't need to live in Pollyanna Land, but as was pointed out in my monthly Step Group when we started to moan a bit about aging, this life is a gift. I could've died at the end of a syringe, or behind the wheel or any number of other alcoholic ends. This aging journey is unexpected and untraveled (by me, anyway), either an adventure or a trial. Again, perspective, which can shift on any given day. Would I rather be running 10-minute miles on steady knees, with blood pressure below 120? Sure. And, how will I make friends with this process, this unmapped terrain? I can listen and read about others' experience, but like with recovery, the journey is mine to make, one day at a time.

Where is your focus today? Work/finances, romance or relationships? Physical concerns or maybe other people? Is that where you want to spend your emotional energy? With the noticing, can you shift your focus just a bit? When someone asks, "How are you?" how would you answer today?

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See the Jan 13, 2023 post 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, February 1, 2023

Respond vs React

Last week I had a routine health check. At the time, it felt like the tech was distracted, so I half expected to get a call to come back for a re-scan, which came this week - a stellar opportunity to practice the principles in all my affairs.

Even semi-expecting the call, my brain hit over-drive with the "what if's," pinging from total trust to thinking about where I'd want to travel before I die. Grateful for good insurance and an anticipated positive outcome jumping to thoughts of surgery and my elaborate, heartfelt funeral. Sigh. Normal, I was reminded by close friends, and... I am a believer in positive thinking, so have been doing my reasonable best to rein in the catastrophic obsessions. Feel the feelings while remembering that feelings aren't facts (being mindful of my tendency to move directly into competent mode). Stay in TODAY, since the re-scan appointment isn't for another week. And, I'm guessing that my provider gets lots of worried phone calls as the notice about results was quickly followed by a letter telling me that this doesn't mean I have the dreaded "C" word (cancer). 

I'm reminded, again and again, that the tools of the program aren't just for dealing with sobriety itself. First Things First, One Day at a Time, Easy Does It, to name just a few bumper sticker bromides, have been useful when I've dealt with work stress, grief (pending and actual), friends and relationships. Truths are truths, and a benefit of long-term recovery is that I've had a lot of practice in reaching for the phone instead of a drink. That reaching before thinking myself into a corner isn't always automatic, but the time and distance between react and respond is shorter these days.

I will say that thinking about death, as in mine (which Buddhists say we should do regularly), does prompt a list of all the things undone. So what, if I'm not here? Well, many years ago I was told to leave my desk as if I'd be hit by a truck on the way home - morbid, but a good reminder that someone else may need to finish something I started, whether a discharge summary at work, or paying the yearly homeowner's insurance. I'm the bills person in our arrangement, and I like to think I'm organized, but sometimes even I can't find what I'm looking for. I'm reminded of an ex's dad who was at a total loss when his wife had a stroke. My ex had to teach his dad how to run the washing machine and make iced tea. That is certainly not the case for me and the hubs, but like in the workplace, it's never a good idea when only one person knows how to do something.

Pre-recovery, I remember the sense of impending doom (probably because doom was pending), that sense of fear that I'd die before I'd ever really lived. In the exaltation of pink cloud sobriety, I thought, "OK, you can take me now - life is good," finally feeling like I was growing in to myself, though I will say, thoughts of mortality carry a different weight at 68 than they did at 38 or even 58. Life is short, seeming shorter and shorter as the years go by.

As I've sat with my fears, that tug of war between trusting and scared, I'm realizing the part of me that feels small can think, "Ah, see - the other shoe has dropped" or that there is some sort of higher power keeping score and I've had too much good stuff so it's time to even it all out. I know that isn't true, and, part of me believes that if I simply live a good life or pray the right way or go to a lot of meetings that life on life's terms won't happen to me - that I'll sail along unscathed until I die in my sleep after turning 100. Nothing like a slight tug on the rug beneath my feet to expose magical thinking. What does it say in the Big Book? That it's ok to keep our head in the clouds as long as our feet are firmly planted in reality? 

We had a counselor in treatment who often said, "Oh well!" to our complaints or whining. Bad news? Bad luck? Bad decision? Oh well. Oh well, as in "You'd best accept reality and move on." Oh well, as in "What made you think you could bypass life's ups and downs?" Oh well, indeed.

If everything that happens is a learning opportunity, I'm there. One of my daily readers tells me that "Waiting is an action." My usual M.O. is to keep moving, but in this case, there is nowhere to go. Nowhere but the rooms, my journal and my friends, one day at a time. And I'm a firm believer in the "Name it, claim it, tame it" club. After sharing in a couple of meetings, talking to trusted others, and writing this post, as well as having a good cry, my fears have essentially lifted. Today is today. I'll deal with the rest of it when it does or doesn't show up.

Where do you turn when life on life's terms deals a wild card? Do you allow yourself all your feelings, without using the "self-pity" warning as a weapon? If you were abducted by aliens, would anyone else know where you keep your passwords or your bank records? How do you bring yourself back to today when your brain races ahead?

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See the Jan 13, 2023 post 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