Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Going with the flow

After returning home last week I took my usual Thursday walk though the neighborhood, appreciating spring's blooms that are late this year, but lovely nonetheless. As I trod up a hill and around a corner, I saw the fellow who walks while wheeling along his oxygen tank. My "problems" are miniscule.

Later that morning, the phone rang. There was something wrong with one of the radiation machines, so my start date was delayed until Monday. Sigh. There I was again, thinking I knew what was coming next. And then, a call that we were back on. Okey dokey. This is after my flight home was delayed two hours. Another call last week was from a friend changing vacation plans for the end of May. And my husband's flight home (a day after me) was delayed an hour. If the past week has been an indication, what I need to be mindful of is flexibility, of going with the flow, of making plans but not getting too invested in outcomes. Again and again, relax into the moment, whatever it brings (or doesn't). 

Bill Plotkin, PhD, writes that the first half of life is our survival dance and the second half is our sacred dance. I very much agree that the first part of life (I won't say "half" given the addictions that delayed maturity) is about striving, about moving ahead, if that means sobering up, education, finding the right job, maybe a partner, perhaps parenting (though that wasn't my path). I experienced a notable shift as I entered my sixties - less interested in pursuing a step-up at work, no energy for another degree. So then what? How does the sacred dance enter the picture if I don't yet know the moves? What is my sacred dance if the things I've been doing for years feel a little flat? How do I relight the spark if my practice feels rote? (And how much of that "flat" is related to pandemic holdover isolation?) More will be revealed.

I took a different route on my long weekend walk, traipsing through the schoolyard where I attended grades three through eight, past the public stairs where I had my first kiss, and first drunk, and then through the park at my high school, past the brick bathroom where I smoked pot with the guys at lunch time. And then, almost hilariously, I attended a newish meeting in the neighborhood that is in a church my cousins and I broke in to when we were 13 or 14. And so it is, living in the town, the neighborhood, where I grew up and did much of my damage. Thanks for the memories, city streets, and thanks to AA for moving beyond morbid reflection to see the humor in my antics as I tried to navigate the world.

When I think of "what it was like," I can name places and events, but the rest of it (feelings, motivations) is mostly speculation. I have a vague sense of what I was thinking at 14, or 16, or 26, but a lot of that went by in a blur.  And even the events themselves are sometimes murky, remembering things differently than friends, and some not at all, including the feeling that my younger brother and I grew up in completely different households. 

Does it really matter at this point? When I speak at a meeting about the past and today, it's like I'm talking about two different people, and in many respects, I am. My husband teased me the other day about being wild back in the day, but I wasn't. I was introverted, and self-obsessed, shy and scared. My inner know-it-all was in there somewhere, visible with a small group of close friends, but unless I was hammered, I was the girl in the shadows. I do describe myself as a party-girl, excited for possibilities that gatherings promised, but I was the one who made sure to get to the bar or club after my friends so I wouldn't have to walk in alone. Today, I can view the past more realistically, neither glorifying or villainizing, and accepting that there are gaps in the story.

Where are you on the striving continuum? Is there anything - a project, or perhaps an unnamed longing - whispering for your attention?  How are you with flexibility when things don't go as planned? What is your relationship to your story? Are you able to see humor as well as the pain?

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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. The payment links are at the top right of the WEB VERSION of this page. I've just moved to a new payment platform - please do email if you run into any problems.  Note that the workbook is also available at Portland Area Intergroup at 825 NE 20th 

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Connections near and far

 We had the sweet opportunity to visit family out of town this past week, including our AA family. The beauty of zoom is that we've stayed closer in touch with our AA folks than past twice yearly visits allowed. While I am very much not grateful for the pandemic, there have been some unforeseen benefits, including several people who showed up at our in-person meeting on Tuesday that I'd never met in person before. I love AA, and I love our connections, near and far.

I engaged in a semi-frenzy of housecleaning before we left, which always makes me think of an acquaintance from my before-times. She was the girlfriend of a good friend, a blackjack dealer in Tahoe who'd regale us with stories of how the dealers and other casino staff stayed high without management catching on. These were the cocaine years, with "alert" being less obvious than an opiate nod. A few years older than me, and much wiser, she told me she always spruced up her home before going on a trip, in order to return to a clean house. Seems sort of obvious now, but not so back then, when we'd sometimes get back from weeks away to milk or yogurt gone bad in the fridge, or a kitchen full of fruit flies from a rotted melon on the counter. I'm not a pristine housekeeper by any means, but I, too, appreciate coming home to a clean kitchen and a made bed. Barbara, wherever you and your darling daughter (who'd now be pushing 40) are, I wish you well. 

Speaking of friends, I made a few phone calls recently to people who often cross my mind, then poof, I move on. As I'm reminded again and again and yet again, we just never know whether the "I'll get in touch later" will come to be. Yes, people die unexpectedly, but I'm also thinking of the simpler fact that once I start the drift away from a friendship, it can take on a life of its own and suddenly it's been years since we talked. I can let time get in the way (too early, too late), or my perception of our ideological differences. The faux intimacy of texting also interferes with actually picking up the phone, and for many these days, the protocol is to text first, then call, which can be another barrier. Remember when the phone literally rang off the wall, running to answer, or walking the very long cord away from wherever the parents were sitting? And how about in early sobriety, being advised to never leave the house without a quarter in your pocket for a payphone, just in case a compulsion hit?  (I was a latecomer to cell phones, finally giving in when my car wouldn't start and there was nary a phone booth for blocks). Even with all our technological advancements, sometimes communication feels way more complicated than it used to.

And so, I return from a little vacation and begin four weeks of radiation tomorrow, four weeks that will undoubtedly go by in a blink, given the speed which time seems to pass these days. As I feel energized with spring's blue skies (if not here, then away), much like the garden coming to life, I also realize that I'm, once again, in a bit of a holding pattern, tethered to the radiation table Mon - Fri. As I'd mentioned in a recent post, the in-between times can be spiritual, ripe with possibility. So what is my choice to be - piss and moan about having to plan my days around these appointments, or remember gratitude for the process that is meant to reduce my chances of a cancer recurrence? Will I grouse about what I can't do, or sit in the stillness and listen to my heart about what might be next? There are several items on my day planner, but what about what's next internally? A six-month service commitment is soon drawing to a close, I'm feeling in flux with meeting attendance, no seasonal elections work until autumn, and it's been too darned cold and rainy to do much in the garden. Will I experience treatment lethargy? How uncomfortable will the radiation burn be? Questions, questions - future tripping, when what's called for is to simply suit up and show up.

Are there friendships, old or new, that are whispering for your attention? How can you move to reaching out this week vs just thinking about it? Is there anything in your immediate or more distant future that is drawing your attention away from today? How might you come back to the here and now?

Wednesday, April 12, 2023


This week, I'm sharing some inspiring words that have crossed my path from sources other than our 12 Step literature.

"The world around you is only beautiful when you are at peace with the world within you." 

Author unknown, but my source is a friend who sends uplifting quotes and messages once or twice a week, this one generating an internal, "Yes!" Yes, and... it can be a journey from thinking my problems (and solutions) are out there somewhere to remembering that my answers are within. Are my HALTS out of whack? Am I sitting in fear (which is always projected into the future)? Am I relying on my own finite resources rather than trusting the process? How can I move towards the peace within when my mind might be rattling with discord?

A quote I read frequently at the beginning of the day is from Jessica Powers, a poet and Carmelite nun, who died in 1988: "There will be something - anguish or elation, that is peculiar to this day alone. I rise from sleep and say: Hail to the morning! Come down to me, my beautiful unknown!"

I love the reminder of the mystery, of the day unfolding as it will - often in the manner I expect, but not always. I know in my mind I'm not in charge, and... I still forget. Keeping close to the program (and particular poems and readings) is the reinforcement I need on a regular basis. The same friend who sends the inspirations reminds me that my recovery has a 24-hour shelf life.

Being happy is not a fatality of destiny, but an achievement for those who can travel within themselves - Pope Francis

This lovely quote about the internal journey reminds me that self-searching isn't limited to those of us in alcohol and addiction recovery, but more the human condition. I rarely, if ever, traveled within myself pre-sobriety. I may have thought I did, with those "moral and philosophical convictions galore," but capital T-truth introspection was nearly always colored with justifications and rationalizations, leaning heavily towards a higher power that excused all my misdeeds. Yes, like described in the Big Book, I felt awe at a sunset or a starry night, but there was no consistency in my spiritual reachings  - I was too busy reaching for another drink! 

I so appreciate the words of wisdom that cross my path, either from my own searching, or gifted from a friend. And funny how something can fall flat one day while the next, pierce my heart. A few years ago I was at a conference and overheard a couple of women referring to the recent speaker, saying, "Well, she went on and on" while I was in awe of the same talk. Perspective, frame of mind, receptivity - and that whole bit about the teacher appearing when the student is ready.

I got fitted out for radiation treatment, which consisted of several dot sized tattoos and a gizmo that will help me inhale to a certain point and hold my breath (so my lungs inflate, thus protecting my heart). Quite a production, though I'm told the daily procedure itself will only last a few minutes. One foot in front of the other, one day at a time, one appointment at a time. 

I must admit to feeling a bit off as this "blog week" draws to a close. I've spent far too much time at medical appointments lately, between scans and blood tests, a recommended pneumonia vaccine, etc etc. The tech I saw on Tuesday teased that he'd issue me a timecard, I've been there so often. On one hand, I can consider all this scanning and testing simply as information gathering, which feels better than the grouch I've been all day. Perspective, frame of mind, receptivity...

Do you have favorite poems or readings that bring you comfort?  How do you move towards serenity while accepting your inner grouch as a natural part of the human experience? What does it mean to you to travel within yourself? How do the Steps guide that journey?

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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, April 5, 2023


 I met with the cancer counselor again last week, noting that I've moved from anxiety to curiosity about what's next, a much better place to be. I so appreciate the women who've answered my questions and shared their experience, strength and hope.

My primary home group in the Time of Zoom (I have three) was intense this past week, with members sharing from the heart about really tough stuff. I continue to be in awe of how we bear witness to each other's struggles and joys, our pain and our success. I think back to when my mother was dying, when I probably shouldn't even have been allowed to drive a car but kept showing up at work. A co-worker would ask how I was doing, and I'd tell them, as appropriately honest as I could. They'd usually say, "Sorry," and move on to the task at hand, understandably. 

We don't do that in AA and Alanon. In our meetings, we witness, even when it's uncomfortable or heartbreaking, when it's joyful or when we so very much relate. I sincerely appreciate our "no crosstalk" rule. OK, we all do it on occasion, but generally speaking, our 12 Step meetings are where I can say what's going on, sometimes adding, "And don't come up to me afterwards!"  I'll never forget a time, years ago, when I cried my eyes out during a share, only to have some fellow approach me after the meeting, asking, "So, how's it going?" Dude, were you even listening?  And I will admit to self-screening my shares, depending on the group and my perceived level of safety. Our stories disclose in a general way... and I am emotionally bound to the groups where I feel comfortable talking about the whole of it.

What I do know is that the "waiting room" of life is scary, whether that is awaiting test results, for my mom to die, to find out whether I've been accepted to school, or will be hired for a job. Spontaneity is not my strong suit. I have plans, and even when I don't, I like to know what's coming next. A holdover from growing up with the unpredictability of alcoholism? Perhaps, or maybe just my nature. 

As I heard in another group, it is those in-between times that are most sacred, the liminal space of "I don't know." Between breaths, between diagnosis and treatment, the space between my plans and reality. It so often goes back to getting still, to paying attention to my heart, to saying, "What else might be true?" instead of "This is how it must be."

In the world of cosmic "so you only thought you knew what's next," I had a procedure on a forehead basal cell carcinoma this week (there's that word again). It was scheduled way back in November, and I was told to keep the appointment because they're hard to get, not knowing at the time I'd also be recovering from breast cancer surgery. So here I am, a two-inch line of stiches on my scalp, complete with bald patch where they shaved my head, and this healing bit under my arm. All I can do is chuckle at this point. I will say that the hardest part was the instruction to limit movement so the forehead didn't bust a stich and start bleeding - no lifting over ten pounds, including purses, groceries, children and grandchildren (specifics per written instruction), no bending over at the waist, keep blood pressure down, and stay on the couch or bed as much as possible. Sigh...  I will admit to breaking rank sooner than I should've, doing just a wee bit of gardening, seated, and paid for it with a headache. OK, OK, I'll do my best to do nothing.

And then, as the restrictions lessen and the healing proceeds, I have a new appreciation for the little things - picking something up off the ground, walking five miles with my Saturday training crew, sleeping on my "usual" side. These last few months have been, if not a jolt of a "wake up call," a nudge to pay attention to all that I take for granted.

Maybe it's the hint of slow-coming spring, or perhaps that I'm feeling less existential dread, but I've found recent energy to dive into a few small projects, like framing a couple of things that have sat in my To-Do shoebox for too long. I've also registered to walk the Portland Half Marathon in October - a worthy goal, and one I can train for on my own (vs a full marathon, which is a challenge even with buddies). If getting sober was a second chance to engage in life, maybe this diagnosis business is a third opportunity to ask, "what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" (Mary Oliver)

Where do you feel safe to share what's really going on? Is there anything in your life at the moment that feels like "waiting room" territory? In addition to your idea of how things should play out, what else might be true?

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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