Wednesday, May 31, 2023


While in Hawaii, I hit a beach meeting on day one, and another overlooking the ocean the day before heading home - a nice set of bookends, and always so good for me to hear the message from different people, in different places. And what a mind-blowing trip - May 17 on the radiation table and May 24 at an AA meeting on a beach in Kona. Still processing the whole deal as I rubbed special lotion on my radiation burn and slathered on the sunscreen. And now, home sweet home.

Watching glorious sunsets, I half expected the voice of god to boom from the heavens. Alas, nada, zilch - merely the not-so-subtle (have you seen sunset in Hawaii? Not subtle!) reminder to live in the actual moment. Not the To-Do list waiting at home, or where shall we go for dinner tomorrow (while still full from today's meal) - just sit and breathe in nature's magnificence. What I'm supposed to know will make itself known, and rarely in my time.

I'm a bit weary today, with a late evening homecoming, and easing back into the groove so will keep it brief this week and end with a small poem from John O'Donohue:

I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

Always, the question is, how do you bring yourself back to the here and now? How do you remember to keep your butt and your brain in the same place?

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Meetings, meetings, meetings

 Posting early as I'm leaving on a jet plane (though I do know when I'll be back again... ) for a much needed respite between cancer radiation treatment and "real life."  Grateful for this vacation that was planned six months ago, and for the timing allowing it to happen.

One of my excitements about this trip is the daily outdoor 7am AA meeting a friend told me about. I love going to meetings in other places and part of travel prep for me is looking up meeting locations (thankful for the internet which makes it easier than the old days of going to Intergroup to look at the international directory!). Years ago, in an English-speaking meeting in Florence, Italy, the chair read a statement that essentially said, "We're glad you're on vacation, but we really hope to hear experience, strength and hope about recovery," in other words, not just "I'm so happy that sobriety brought me to this beautiful place."  I get it. Once, in a very small meeting in Prague, Czech Republic, my friend and I were greeted with "Please! One of you tell your story! We're very tired of listening to each other!"

I've been to some stellar meetings in other places - the English-speaking meeting in Istanbul, Turkey that ended in dinner with an American and an Irish woman, leading to a music store, which ended up with my friend and I in a Kurdish bar with a group of young men, one of whom was leaving for mandatory military service the next day. What an experience!  In Bejing, years later, the meeting-after-the-meeting was in a restaurant we'd never have entered on our own, seeing how non-tourists ate (and were charged far less than in places near our hotel). 

On that same trip, I chaired an evening meeting in Shanghai. Years earlier, in Paris, we sat near a well-known musician, who referenced my share in his. Another time, in Scotland, I felt like I needed subtitles - are you sure we're speaking the same language??

In lockdown, I attended the online meeting out of Budapest, Hungary that I'd been to in person when my friends and I traveled there for a run (10k for me). That was my last overseas adventure, in 2019, the "before-times," and as I write, I feel the familiar itch to cross the pond (as we say in the U.S)

It's funny - when I first got sober, I feared that my traveling days were over, since my boyfriend and world traveler catalyst had left. But lo and behold, airlines will take my credit cards as easily as they took his, and I learned to budget so that I could follow my dreams. A past boyfriend didn't get it - his preference was to have something material, something concrete to show for the money I'd spent on a trip, while I much prefer the experience and memories. That was always one of my questions - "Self, in twenty years will you be glad you have an extra $1,000 in the bank, or that you have the memory of a trip to _______."  The trip nearly always won. 

And memorable meeting experiences aren't necessarily in far-away places. I think of when the key person didn't show up, and five of us held a meeting on the back steps of the church, or when four of us literally had a meeting on the road as we drove to our friend's family home in Montana. Meetings on the beach, or during a hike, around a bonfire - the intention and act of a meeting moves the ordinary into the realm of the spirit. We speak differently in meetings than in everyday life (though sometimes our coffee shop conversations can go deep). It must be the one-at-a-time aspect of meeting shares that sets them apart from daily talks. That, and the opportunity for emotional honesty that can be missing in the "How are you? I'm fine," of everyday interactions. I feel so very fortunate to be a part of our fellowship.

What I've learned over the years in recovery is that dreams do come true. My dreams are likely different than yours (which is why I am so very grateful for a small handful of compatible travel companions), but/and sobriety has allowed the chaff of my true desires to separate from the wheat of the should's. OK, not always - there are bills to pay after all - but generally speaking, I know what makes my heart flutter, what excites me.

Which brings me to now - post (??) pandemic (lockdown phase at least), post-cancer treatment (this is the first week in months I haven't had a medical appointment), settled in to retirement, ready for the next adventure, whether that is getting on an airplane or train, or diving into the garage de-clutter project that my husband and I are committed to. One day at a time, doesn't necessarily mean BIG things ahead, which is OK today. The garden beckons. 

I will say that I had to ride the emotional rollercoaster last week, hearing the oncologist describe all the possible side-effects of the medication I'm recommended to take for the next 5-7 years (!?). And... I am grateful for science and data that indicates a big reduction in chances of recurrence with this particular medicine, so I will follow doctor's orders. The good thing about long term recovery is that the journey from self-pity to acceptance is much shorter these days. While one of my first thoughts was "F-it! I  may as well eat a pizza!" my second and third were more along the lines of "Bring it! I can handle whatever lies ahead," following one of my favorite meetings where I was reminded of the absolute gift of this recovery life, the gift of walking through all of the ups and downs together. 

I will note a passing of a long-time member here in Portland - Kelly L. Kelly came in about 6 months before me, and when I met him, had a broken leg so needed rides to the daily nooner. He sure needed meetings, so I assigned myself to pick him up from his dad's. At the time, I was still kinda-sorta hanging out with my meth dealer boyfriend (and I use that term loosely). I'd had enough, apparently, so on the way to the meeting one day, asked Kelly if he'd be ok that we stopped by where the guy was living to drop off a box of his stuff. I can't remember what was said, but the guy was giving me crap on the front porch, when all 6 foot 4 inches of Kelly stepped out of my car, asking, "Is everything alright?" That was the end of my guy's BS, for that day anyway. Kelly was a big man, a gentle giant, and from the stories I hear, was that helpful person to a lot of us young women new to recovery - helping us move out, stay out, stop putting up with snarky comments from those still using. Kelly, may you rest in peace, and find that biker AA meeting in the sky.

What have been some of your memorable meeting experiences? How has sobriety allowed you to discover/uncover your true heart's desires? How do you balance the should's and the want-to's? Who were the beacons in your early days? Are they still around? Today, are there those who see you as an elder in sobriety? How do you carry that honor and responsibility?

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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 ($12.95) for those of you outside the US (or who prefer that format) or hardcopy ($19.95 mailed to you. Email me at with questions.  You can order from the WEB VERSION of this page, payment link on top right. Note that the workbook is also available at Portland Area Intergroup at 825 NE 20th 

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Spiritual fitness

I am so very grateful we don't graduate from our recovery practice. Sure, some people move on or move away from meetings, some leave for a bit and come back, or not, and the principles of the program are there for me to practice as deeply or as superficially as I choose at any given moment. 

The question of spiritual fitness has been up for me these last few months as I've walked through an unanticipated medical diagnosis. I had my final radiation treatment today, and will meet with the oncologist on Friday to learn about on-going medication and monitoring. All in all, in hindsight, it has been relatively low-key, but man, were those first few months of uncertainty a challenge! I find myself asking, "What just happened?" thinking of the month of diagnostic scans, the month or so of surgery and recovery, and four weeks of treatment. So, yes, relatively low key, and I find myself a bit weepy, with gratitude and grief related to the quickly formed and intense relationships I've made at the clinic, along with the vulnerability of laying on the table each day, techs drawing on my chest, measuring and calculating and radiating the heck out of my left torso. I ended up phoning my sponsor, saying, "I'm having emotions so thought I should call!" 

This does feel like a turning point of sorts, the in-between space that my recent Tarot reading indicated. As I've quoted an old therapist before, it's like being on the monkey bars and letting go of one rung before having hold of the next. And while I prefer skywriting (DO THIS!), I'm thinking that this particular transition is of a more subtle, quieter type. I'm signing up for a new volunteer gig, precipitated by my gratitude for an easy cancer path, and, a character in a short story I started several years ago has been talking to me. I don't need fireworks. I do want to pay attention to the whispered urges, the fleeting ideas, which involves getting quiet and being still - often tough for me to do.

And, with the passing of the last of my mom's generation this past week, which uncomfortably places me and my generation in the role of elder, I'm even more determined to pay attention, though I think that is less an activity than a way of being. Since Mom has been gone, and now Betty, there is no one left to answer questions, like "Who is that tall woman standing behind Grandma in this photo," or "Tell me again how you get the applesauce so tasty." In response to my post regarding Betty's passing, a friend noted the sadness at seeing the end of a generation, hopeful that the next generation (us) will pass on what we learned. That's a tough one given rapid technological changes that make much of the old wisdom obsolete, though some of what I learned from those raised during the Great Depression came in very handy during pandemic lockdown (for example, always have toilet paper in the closet and beans in the pantry). Some of what I learned growing up was probably bunk - like my favorite Aunt telling us that tan fat was better than white fat, as she basked in the backyard, extension corded fan oscillating. 

In a long-ago psychology class, the story was told about a woman who always cut the ends off ham before baking. When her husband asked why, she said, "Because that's the way my mother did it." When he asked his mother-in-law why, she said it was because her mother did it that way. When he finally got to grandma, she said "I cut it so it would fit in the pan." Tradition and "because we've always done it," aren't always reason enough to continue. And isn't that a big piece of recovery, especially of the Alanon variety - looking at old ideas, beliefs and passed-down opinions to see what is true today? I don't remember how old I was when I first realized "the" truth, in many cases, was simply "my" truth. I can still get caught up in thinking my way is best, which is why I keep coming back!

How does your spiritual fitness, or lack thereof, show up today? What transitions are you facing, and how do you keep moving forward while honoring your emotions? How can you be a bit more gentle with yourself? Are there any lurking, "But I've always done it this way" beliefs that might need to be examined? What lessons learned from your elders (family or program) might be important to pass on?

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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 ($12.95) for those of you outside the US (or who prefer that format) or hardcopy ($19.95 mailed to you. Email me at with questions.  You can order from the WEB VERSION of this page, payment link on top right. Note that the workbook is also available at Portland Area Intergroup at 825 NE 20th 

Wednesday, May 10, 2023


 Just after my Tarot reading that addressed transition, as in "You aren't where you were, but you're not yet where you're going," the Richard Rohr daily email I receive spoke to the same - to the fact that transition can't happen until we/I let go, and let go completely. Or as it says in the Big Book, "Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely."

Absolutely. Not semi, or partially, but absolutely. In the R. Rohr posting, Barbara Holmes describes that process as a tug-of-war. Yes, I understand the need to let go, to release the illusion of control, and... my human tendency is to hold on to the familiar, whether job, relationships, or ideas about myself. What does it mean, and how do I actually do the letting go process? All this esoteric instruction can be confusing for someone who is a do-er. Give me a task and I'll complete it. Give me an idea and I'll wrestle back and forth between understanding and resistance. 

I did meet with the counselor this week, who, like my physician, affirmed that yes, I'm doing well and it is normal and very ok that I have feelings around my diagnosis (vs "I shouldn't feel this way"). His comments made me think of a program tool I'd use when on the verge of going off the deep end: write a list of all the things going on right now, which, in the past might've been, 2 term papers due next week, a roommate moving out, a project due at work yesterday, a 3rd date with someone new... you get the idea. I'd look at my list, realizing that any reasonable person would be stressed out, thus giving myself permission to take a deep breath and relax into my humanness.  

I haven't done that for a while. For one thing, life is way less stressful now that I'm retired, and it can still be useful. OK, so X, Y, Z happened, and then Q, R, S - again, you get the idea. Any reasonable person would have an emotional reaction, and I am a reasonable person, though apparently I sometimes think I'm supposed to be beyond mere human feelings. Oy vey.

I do understand that acceptance is a process, not an event, and rarely on my timeline. When I first heard the paragraphs on acceptance (p.449 or 417, depending on your edition) I thought there would come a day I'd move through life serenely embracing and approving all that happened. Ha! Was I ever wrong, not then or now achieving sainthood. (And, acceptance does NOT mean approval!) The journey from "No!" to "Ah, it is what it is" is shorter these days, but it is still a journey, the length of time influenced by the situation in question. Writer Ivan Nuru wrote, "If it's out of your hands it deserves freedom from your mind too."  I've gotten much better at putting up the internal "STOP" sign when my brain heads down the rabbit hole of "what if?" or self-condemnation, and freedom from the bondage of self truly does lie in this moment, right here, right now. 

And right here, right now has to do with letting go with love as I got the call that my mother's oldest living relative is expected to transition in the coming few days. My mom's just slightly younger cousin, they grew up together, and stayed close throughout their lives. Whenever I'd see Betty, every few months for lunch, she'd say, "I sure miss your mother," to which I'd reply, "Me too." At 93, she's had a good long life, a hard-working life on farms or homes with big gardens - a true gem of a woman, with never a harsh word for anyone. And, what happens for me with grief is that one loss opens the door to all the others - parents, lovers, grandparents, friends, aunties and uncles, some actual relations and some not...  a lifetime of good people. So I've gone to my garden, hands in the healing dirt, channeling my inner-Betty, who always had a plant or cutting, or good advice for this novice. 

What is it you need to let go of today? Is there something you're anticipating that you can release into the unknowable future? If you're feeling stressed, might it help to make a list of all that's happening? Wouldn't any reasonable person feel a bit overwhelmed? What are the tools you utilize to stay in the moment vs the "out there" somewhere?  

For those interested, you can contact Amanda, the Tarot Card Lady for a reading (done via zoom)  Instagram: Facebook:

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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 ($12.95) for those of you outside the US (or who prefer that format) or hardcopy ($19.95 mailed to you. Email me at with questions.  You can order from the WEB VERSION of this page, payment link on top right. Note that the workbook is also available at Portland Area Intergroup at 825 NE 20th 

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Doing the right things...

 So many times, in earlier recovery, I'd sit down in a meeting and tears would flow, whether from the feeling of safety in the room, or, as likely, due to the fact I was sitting still for the first time in the day, giving my emotions a chance to catch up. This happened in one of my home groups last week as the chair talked about walking through hard times, bravely and with strength.

What I realized, as the tears welled up, is that often people tell me I'm calm or strong, but really, it's just that I'm quiet. I truly am doing ok, and... as an introvert, sometimes my feelings of not-ok are hidden by my silence. What I also realized is that I'm still processing my diagnosis. Crap - I'm being treated for breast cancer?! I'm moving right along, the treatments are pretty low-impact, and I'm being treated for cancer. (And, of course, along with that shock is the chastisement of "Other people have it way worse than you, so just deal!").

I think the bubbling "what the hell?" has to do with confronting my mortality on a level deeper than simply getting close to age 70. A fall from a ladder, a car accident, a more serious diagnosis - all stories I've heard in the past few weeks - the end is closer than the beginning, whether from an internal or external source. Buddhists say one should contemplate their own death regularly. That's all well and good in the abstract, but can be emotionally challenging in practice (which, I suppose, is the point - to get to where it feels less threatening).

What is important is to spend a moment (or three or four) with my feelings, and when tears arise, pay attention. Pay attention, which meant setting up a counseling appointment (done) and/or putting pen to paper (pending). Paying attention might mean talking with my spouse, sponsor or another trusted other about what's going on, even if I don't exactly know myself yet. This week it meant picking up that 5,000 pound phone (yes, still) to talk with someone further ahead on this particular path. And paying attention can mean simply accepting that feelings aren't facts, but/and it is probably fairly normal to have moments of faux-depression (I say "faux" as this feels more like what PMS used to feel like, not full-blown depression, which can be horribly debilitating). 

So, I'm doing all the "right" things, with acupuncture and a massage on the docket, along with a Tarot card reading as we marked May Day. I don't drink and I go to meetings. I've had sponsor and sponsee contact. I do my regular journaling, and cranked up my favorite oldies playlist while driving (Years ago, a fellow in a meeting gave me a calling card that read "HP, give me a song to sing that's louder than my insanity!" It works,)

The Tarot reading was especially helpful. I appreciate the wisdom of the cards, like Runes, as part of my spiritual resources. Nothing earth shattering, but as a way to access my inner knowing, in this case a reminder to let go of the reins so that the mystery has space to work in my life. It was very interesting that out of a nine card spread, six cards were associated with the body. Makes perfect sense. What and where is my focus?!? Can I move to a place of greater trust? 

And so I wake up today in a good place, marking the halfway point of treatments. I meet with my physician on Mondays and this week shared with him that energetically I feel fine, but emotionally was a bit flat, while knowing that a lot of people in that waiting room have it way worse. He told me that, yes, I'm doing great, and this is a big deal. I appreciated the validation. The roller coaster is real, so today I'll simply hang on and see where the ride takes me next.

What is your spiritual practice? Who do you talk with when your feelings want to take over your mood? Are you able to be gentle with yourself when the "shoulds" are whispering (or yelling) in your ear?

For those interested, you can contact Amanda, the Tarot Card Lady for a reading (done via zoom)  Instagram: Facebook:

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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 ($12.95) for those of you outside the US (or who prefer that format) or hardcopy ($19.95 mailed to you. Email me at with questions.  You can order from the WEB VERSION of this page, payment link on top right. Note that the workbook is also available at Portland Area Intergroup at 825 NE 20th