Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Lessons and opportunities

 I shared at an in-person speaker meeting this weekend. I tell myself I won't be the best but also probably not the worst...  It was good to gather for a good old-fashioned spaghetti feed fund raiser for the District, and to share laughter and love in community.

I don't formally speak very often, but as I think about my story, I find myself in a bit of melancholy about the people whose stories intersected with mine - most of whom are gone now: my first husband from lung cancer, the important boyfriend who followed, from the effects of his alcoholism, the meth cook lover from a heroin overdose. Good people, all.

This past week, I took advantage of my healthcare provider's offer to meet with a cancer counselor (online). I had a sense of relief in talking about the whole of my experience thus far with a neutral party. I must admit to a bit of skepticism, however. I worked in the behavioral health field for a long time, so can sometimes recognize a professional's approach to therapy, which can be a little distracting. I do my best to stay in the moment, present to my emotions rather than a detached clinical eye. In retrospect, I did notice a sense of spiritual arrogance, as in, "What can he teach me, me with 37 years sober and 30 years working in the field?" Oy vey - such an ego. But, I was able to release the judgement and relax into the conversation, and did learn a thing or two about self-compassion, including a brief exercise to utilize when I metaphorically shake a finger of chastisement at myself. As I heard, and as I hear in meetings, how would I treat a friend in similar circumstances? Gently, and with care.

So, can I set aside everything I think I know about cancer, about my health, about my "knowledge" so that I can have a new experience? Can I drop the rock of certainty and live, at least for moments at a time, in the mystery?  I do NOT believe in a diety, pulling puppet strings, and I do believe that there are lessons and opportunities to grow in all situations, even (especially?) those that sting.

Speaking of similar circumstances, I now know two women who are a step and a half behind me in the breast cancer journey, and at the speaker meeting, met three who are well past their cancer-free declaration. Thank goodness for early detection, and for seeing how our experience can benefit others, no matter the scenario. I keep hearing that in a few months, or a year, this will be in the rearview mirror, something I walked through. Being still in the mire, I find that image reassuring. And, if I apply my own past experiences, whether job loss, relationships ending, loved ones dying, the acute agony, fear and uncertainty passes. The feelings don't evaporate, but over time, they mellow and simply become part of my history. 

I am feeling more like myself this week after the past few months of fear battling with trust, after getting two pieces of good news (margins were clear on the tumor removed during surgery, and a PET scan indicated no other signs of cancer elsewhere in my body). Radiation to follow, but probably not chemo. I am feeling that the crisis of uncertainty is passing, so the low-level energy drain has given way to my more usual sense of optimism. One day at a time, of course, and... today is good.

Thank you to all the readers who've reached out with encouragement and sharing your own health journey. We do together what we cannot do alone. 

How do you sit still when all you can really do is wait? Are there places you can utilize the "Set Aside" prayer?  (please let me set aside everything I think I know about _________ so that I can have a new experience)

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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.  You can order from the WEB VERSION of this page. Note that the workbook is also available at Portland Area Intergroup at 825 NE 20th 

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Sunny days...

 I chaired a meeting this past week based on an old Grapevine article about making amends to our bodies - our bodies that withstood so much during our active alcoholism and addictions, and that I sometimes take for granted. Nothing like a diagnosis to cause a pause...

In that meeting, a wise person shared their own reminder to face their fears rather than try to run away, to "look them dead in the eye." Ah yes, the only way through is through, which is that one-day-at-a-time stuff. Just for today, all is well. Just for today, I can sit still. Just for today I can do the dishes, read a novel, make dinner, do the next right thing. I can remember that FEAR equals face-everything-and-recover, not "f*** everything and run" which I've been doing a bit of in the food department. Damn, this being human is annoying sometimes!

Here in the northern hemisphere, we celebrated the Spring Equinox (Fall for you down under) on Monday, and here in the Pacific Northwest, I'm saying, "It's about time."  "It's been a long, cold, lonely winter" to borrow a phrase from George Harrison, with spring blossoms later than usual (of course, what is "usual" anymore when it comes to climate?). All that being said, it is in nature that I find solace. I sometimes think that has to be big and dramatic - waves crashing, a forest of trees - but sometimes it is simply watching birds peck for seeds in our backyard or seeing the sunset across the stair-step roofs of the neighborhood. The rainy season is far from over, but we've had a couple of beautiful sunny days, which makes it all feel more balanced.

Which could be a metaphor for life. I have far more sunny days than not: a repository of memories and stellar conversations, the loving arms of family and dear friends, this amazing recovery journey. I did get some positive news this week (finally!) - still cancer, but the margins were clear which means the surgeon got the entire tumor. Next steps are still in process, but grateful that this part of the journey is complete. Not to be too Pollyana-ish, but when I'm feeling stuck in self-pity or fear, I really, truly can take a look around to remind myself there is much more to life than my limited focus. And I can be gentle when I'm stuck in the mire...

I keep hearing just what I need to hear. I haven't been sleeping well and woke up a little crabby on Saturday. Because my walking group was taking a break, I got to attend a meditation meeting with my husband - 15 minutes of silence, which went faster than anticipated. The woman who shared before me talked about her cancer, and others spoke to coming up to the edge of their discomfort in various ways. I talked with the woman afterwards, who told me she rarely talks about her cancer journey in meetings, so it was one of those little program miracles that she did, and that I was there to hear it. Again and again I see and hear evidence that I am not alone, whatever the case may be - grief, changes in life situation, medical stuff... whatever, and I mean whatever I'm experiencing, there is another member who's either been there or is doing that. Where would I be without my community?

And the definition of "community" continues to expand in this world of online meetings. I had the pleasure today of meeting, in person, someone I'd known only from zoom, who was passing through Portland. We are people who normally would not mix, mainly because we would never have met, whether that applies to using days when I was sequestered in my basement, or in recovery when I get entrenched in particular routines. I love to experience that spark of recognizing a kindred spirit, of making the connection, of saying, "I see you."

I was honored to hear a 5th Step this week - one more reminder of "we do together what we cannot do alone," of saying, "I see you and I fully accept who you are in this moment."  I think of how I often resist making that phone call myself, the "she's probably busy," or, more deadly, "I can figure this out on my own." What I know, of course, is that it isn't about whether or not I can "figure it out" (ha ha, which is not one of the Steps), but the act of reaching out, of asking for help, the "Do you have a few minutes?" that can be so hard to do. Why? Do I think I'm supposed to be fixed by now? Am I embarrassed by my puny "problems" or stubborn character aspects? A little of both, I suppose, and... an exercise in humility to pick up the phone and practice the principles in all my affairs. 

How have you, or are you, making amends to your body? Has that process changed since you've gotten older? If you find your focus on the darkness, is it possible to shift just a bit towards the light? How does self-acceptance fit with that? Are you able to reach out to your sponsor or trusted others to check in, even if that feels like a stretch? If not, what could you do to move closer to the "we"?

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Please note that you can sign up to have this post delivered to your email each week (see upper right of the page, on the WEB VERSION)

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 

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

A day early this week...

We cannot tell what may happen to us in the strange medley of life. But we can decide what happens in us -- how we can take it, what we do with it -- and that is what really counts in the end.   Joseph Fort Newton

I heard in a meeting last week that gratitude is a commitment, an attitude, an action. I've also heard gratitude referred to as a spiritual elevator. What I'll say about that is, sometimes I need to visit the basement before I can get back to my happy place.

I appreciate being allowed the space to cry, to yell, to be pissed off (and actually, it's "me, myself and I" that needed to give myself permission to be angry about my diagnosis). As always seems the case, my emotions simply want to be acknowledged. Upset? Throw a fit, punch a pillow, piss and moan, and... exhale. Funny how talking about it (fill in the blank with the "it" of the moment), writing about it, sharing in a meeting truly does take the power out of whatever I'm ruminating on. Oh, I'm not the only one? Ah, you say this is normal? Fine. Now we can move on.

Trusting the process has never been my forte. When new I'd yell, "F*** the process!" mostly because I had no idea what it meant to trust - to trust that life was unfolding, that there wasn't much I could do about it anyway, that I was And something I've come to understand is that my circumstances may change, but it can take a while for my heart and soul to catch up with the new reality. Out of a job? Out of a relationship? Retired?  Diagnosed with cancer? Breathing, breathing, breathing...

I'm posting a day early, thinking that there are some who read this post who may be wondering about my Monday procedure. I'm here, a bit tired (though slept much of yesterday), doing my best to follow instructions.

I will say, that as a former Quality Assurance person at a small local hospital (my title was Director of Outcomes Management, if you can imagine such a thing for an alcoholic!), I was pleased with the safety-check prior to getting knocked out. The surgeon (who's penned initials are still on the surgery site) went over my stats, her intentions, then checked in with anesthesia, the assistant (who assured that all instruments were sterile and accounted for), and a couple of others I don't now recall. As I was going under, the anesthesia person whispered, "Think of a happy dream, Jeanine. We will take good care of you" - pleasant to contemplate in the seconds before I went unconscious.

And so, here I am, sitting upright, with a planned walk at my husband's side later today, per post-op orders. He's back to work tomorrow and has asked that I put together a "just in case" list of people who live nearby. I've done so, but for the life of me, can't imagine what kind of help I'll need. A trusted other actually suggested that he contact my sponsor to rattle my cage about accepting help! That wasn't necessary, but I am taking a look at my self-reliance - not a bad thing, in and of itself, and... not a bad thing to be realistic about my abilities, especially when there is likely still some sedation in my system!

Is it tough or easy for you to ask for help? How about giving assistance to others (I, for one, am much better at that). How do you relax into resting when you're more accustomed to "busy"?  

See you next Wednesday... And thank you for all the positive energy and good wishes across the miles, stated or silent.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Riding the rollercoaster

 Random thought of the day - Does anyone else ever wonder about the back story when you see a lone shoe on the street or sidewalk? Just one shoe, all by itself, in good shape or bad? I often wonder how it got there, on a curb, a walkway, or middle of the street, making up a story about an argument, or a quick escape where one shoe fell off the back of a truck. Is it a heel? Did it get thrown at someone in an argument, or pulled off as a woman stomped away? Did some kid get in trouble for coming home with just one shoe where there should be two? The possibilities are endless.

Which is simply to illustrate that my mind can be an interesting, or terrifying, or silly place to be - the sometimes bad neighborhood where we're told not to go alone when we first get sober. OK, so no one can actually get in my mind with me. I think the warning has to do with not keeping secrets, from myself or anyone else. I don't need to tell everyone everything - that was a mark of my alcoholism. If we were drinking together, we were best friends. These days my life is pretty much an open book, and I'm realizing with this recent diagnosis and pending surgery, just how much I operate from self-reliance.  I have a solid spiritual practice, I'm a member of a strong fellowship, and I'll get my own groceries, thank you. My husband and I are fairly low maintenance, so I don't anticipate a lot of need, though right now, have no idea how I'll feel in a month or so. Again, the not knowing gnaws at my heels as I slip in and out of prediction mode, trying not to tell myself stories. 

As a recovering addict, I will say that one of the toughest things about this whole medical ordeal are the IV's, for the MRI and assuming for surgery. It's been a long, long time since I stuck a needle in my arm (or back of my hand, etc) but my poor veins never came back, which means a conversation every time there is a blood draw or an IV on the agenda. Fortunately, I am fairly healthy, so it doesn't come up too often, and I am very grateful for the nurses and techs who believe me when I say, "Please trust me on this" as I give them direction. Addiction isn't logical, but I truly never imagined during my two-year methamphetamine run that I might need my vascular system for valid purposes later in life.  And I just learned about a handy little gadget called a vein finder - kind of like the stud finder I use when hanging pictures on the wall. Who knew? I'm sure glad there wasn't a home model when I was out there!

I'm doing my best to ride the rollercoaster, from competence and trust to tears. Being human is not a character defect. Being human is not a character defect (from Courage to Change). How I feel one minute doesn't mean I'll always feel that way, whether joyful or sad. I heard this week that if I'm practicing the "Accept the things I cannot change" in the Serenity Prayer, it means that I must change - my attitude or outlook, letting go of the illusion of control. 

And, after a meeting on the topic of powerlessness, I realized that as much as I'd like to get on with it, I can't really work Steps Two and Three until I fully embrace Step One. I sat down with pen and paper, arguing with myself about being powerless over cancer. I don't want to be powerless over my health. Am I really? Don't I have choices and generally practice good self-care? Yes, and, I can make plans, eat the kale, go for the walk, and any outcomes are out of my control. Damn it. I hate that part. 

I hate that part and am just coming to terms with the fact that I'm angry, pissed off, annoyed, with "god", the universe, my left boob. I can feel my inner-kid stomping her feet - "But I do all the right things! Followed by "What did I do wrong?" all tied up with the magical thinking of cause and effect. And then I beat myself up for feeling peeved - it could be a lot worse; there are folks who are in much worse shape; quit your whining. Can I hold gratitude and anger at the same time? Well obviously, because that's where I am, on the see-saw of "thank you" and "f-you." 

As I've been reminded, when I'm angry, it's usually because I've forgotten my powerlessness. I do realize this is all part of the process. I'm continuing to put pen-to-paper and will make an appointment with the cancer counseling my provider offers. I'll go through the preparation process as outlined in my fancy breast cancer notebook, sort of like getting ready for a race - hydrating, laying out my clothes the night before, thinking about what I'll eat afterwards. I'll show up on Monday, trusting my medical team and my support people, and will keep putting one foot in front of the other, whether that's slogging along in the mire or happy, joyous and free. 

Is your mind still a bad neighborhood at times? How do you come back to the present moment when you find yourself in a dark alley of negative thought? How are you practicing the principles of the Serenity Prayer this week?

Wednesday, March 1, 2023


 And the beat goes on...  My mind keeps returning to p. 449, for those of us raised on the Third Edition (p.417 for any of you 4th Ed. newcomers). "And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed...I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment." Supposed to be? Maybe not, but what is, is. My new to me, Stoic Daily Reader reminds me that it is senseless to argue with or rally against circumstance, as circumstance is neutral, not aimed at me. Acceptance does not indicate approval or much of anything other than acknowledgement of reality. As a friend reminds me, "If things were supposed to be any other way, they'd be different."

I also keep thinking about long term sobriety and what that entails. If the disease had its way with us, we wouldn't be here to face life on life's terms, the joys and travails of aging sober - grandkids and great grandchildren, diagnoses, retirement, loved ones dying, getting wrinkles and gray hair, forgetting where we put the keys, long term friendships - none of which would've happened if we'd died at the end of syringe or behind the wheel, gone home with the wrong stranger, choked on our own vomit or any of the myriad and painful ways we alcoholics and addicts die. So do I view troubles as an opportunity to "cheerfully...demonstrate [god's] omnipotence"? (4th ed. p. 133)  I wouldn't go that far, at least not in the initial reaction phase. But as I've settled in to what is, I know that my current situation is very much an opportunity to draw on my spiritual resources, to open my arms and heart to those who express their love, to hunker down with my program. Isn't this what we do? I can tra-la-la along the road of happy destiny with the best of them, but it's when the road gets rocky that I'm called to dig deep and trust all that brought me to this moment. 

A new friend (as of now, zoom only) sent me a Rumi poem, The Guest House, that ends with the line, "Be grateful for whatever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond." Again, do I believe in the Universe pulling strings? No, and I can learn from what shows up, I can relax into the now. I do know that I've had strong urges to phone my mother this week. Someone wondered if that means her spirit is near. I have no idea, but I like the image, so will picture her comforting touch, holding my tummy when I was sick, or rubbing Vicks on my chest, like she did when I was little, allowing the grieving and longing to pass through.

In another hit of mother-energy, the daughter of my friend and mentor, who died quickly and surprisingly from cancer 5 years ago now, is in India, and placed her mother's ashes in the powerful Ganges River over the weekend. Along with my spiritual sisters, I meditated on my friend's life and transition at the time her ashes were delivered to Ganga Ma, Mother Ganges, revered as a goddess who aids the dead on their path towards heaven. I don't know much about Hinduism, but I very much appreciate the symbolism of the river as mother, moving, and flowing. It all goes back to the "god as I don't understand god," my non-understanding of spirit that shifts and changes over time. As does my relationship to the archetypal energy of "mother," which today I see as caring, comforting, and guiding. Drawing on my spiritual resources, today, means calling on the energy of those strong women who've gone on, caring, comforting, guiding.

I met with the surgeon this week - liked her a lot, heard what I hoped to hear regarding my options, and have an outpatient procedure scheduled in a couple of weeks. Again and again, this is about suiting up and showing up, staying in the moment, doing what's in front of me - waaaayyy more manageable than the big chunk I often try to bite off. Figuring it all out, or trying to see around corners, doesn't work in this situation, and probably never did, which never seems to stop me from getting ahead of myself. One day at a time, one step at a time, moving forward.

What are some of the gifts of long term recovery that you would've missed had you not found sobriety? Are you able to reframe the tough times as teachers? What "one day at a time" situation are you facing today, and how can you surrender and relax into what is?

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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