Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Old ideas

 For the past 7 or 8 summers, my high school has held an "All Years" gathering at the park adjacent to our school. I went this past weekend, looking forward to seeing a few people who didn't make it to our 50th reunion last year, including my 8th grade boyfriend, and another guy who was part of the pot-smoking park crew. The former boyfriend, of slow dancing and making out in basements at parties when we were 13 or 14, mentioned that we'd lost touch once high school started, and that we must've taken different paths. Boy howdy, did we ever! While he was rightfully being a student, I spent most of my non-class time in the park, smoking cigarettes or pot, drinking on weekends. Yes, different paths. 

Different paths, and so nice to reconnect with him and several others, with the shared frame of reference of our neighborhood, our times, our memories. And, as always for me, the weird realization of the passage of time, whether interacting with people I've known since I was 9 or getting ready to celebrate 30 years recovery of someone I 12-Stepped. Time marches on.

We were in beautiful British Columbia on vacation last week, seeing the sights, visiting Intergroup in Vancouver and Victoria, hitting a few meetings, and otherwise touristing. Good to get away, and always good to get a bit of a program re-set via hearing perspectives new to me. "Principles before personalities" is always easier for me to do in a room of strangers!

And, being out of my usual routines often seems to make room for new insights, whether prompted by something heard in a meeting, or simply the mental space generated by being in unfamiliar surroundings. I became aware of a few old ideas, masquerading as truth, which can be an awkward realization as my brain attempts to justify itself.

Awareness of my old ideas came in the form of blinding revelations when I initially explored 12 Step philosophy and how that related to my patterns of thinking. Moving from daily use, from "me, me, me" to the process of evaluating my thoughts before they turned into actions took constant effort. I'm grateful for sponsorship, a couple of good therapists, and friends who were there to bat around these new concepts (Honesty? Open-mindedness? Willingness?)

These days, old ideas sneak up on me, out of the cobwebs into consciousness. An example - I realized that confidence, especially in a female, equates to conceit in my indoctrinated misogyny. Heaven forbid one believe in oneself, lest they appear vain. Sometimes in really listening to the lyrics of love songs from the 1960's, I think, "Well no wonder I got all screwed up in the romance department," hearing over and over again that "I can't live without you." So, don't be too confident, you're nothing without a mate, and for the guys. "Big boys don't cry," - all the subtle and overt socializations that make up the web of old ideas.

And with Steps 6 & 7, I have the opportunity to release "my way" and those characteristics that get in the way of my usefulness and serenity. For me, that means paying attention to the instant reactions, asking "Is that true or is that an old idea?" It also helps me, when I can exercise the pause, to follow a thought through to the "how important is it?" question. In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter that some car passed on the right? Probably not. I can get pissed off about a whole lot of things that cross my path in a day, or I can say, "Oh well," and move on towards what's really important - love, family, friends, honesty, open-mindedness, willingness.

How do you recognize old ideas today? What actions of others can you release to the "How important is it?" bin? In long term recovery, how do Steps 6 and 7 play out in your day-to-day life?

*  *  *

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, July 19, 2023


Human life occurs only once, and the reason we cannot determine which of our decisions are good and which bad is that in a given situation we can make only one decision; we are not granted a second, third, or fourth life in which to compare various decisions. ~Milan Kundera   (Book: The Unbearable Lightness of Being 

This quote came up on social media this week, with news of M. Kundera's passing. I find myself arguing with the premise that we only have one shot. Obviously, we're born, we live, we die, so we don't actually get a second life, and as people in recovery, I really believe that we're given another chance to get it right, "it" being this life and how we are in it. Pre-recovery I was chained to the bottle and the bag, fighting the hangover, existing in that nether world of unspoken fears, knowing deep down inside that I was killing myself, but terrified of the unknown if I were to stop.

 I count my sobriety anniversary more importantly than my "belly-button birthday" as that is when I truly started to live, to participate, to make healthy decisions, to grow into the potential that parents and teachers often told me I had (though my fulfillment of that potential and their ideas are likely very different. But maybe not. My mom wanted me to be happy, to not break the law, to be kind - probably in line with where recovery has taken me).

In meetings twice this past week, the topic was related to why we keep coming back. If the initial motivation was to get sober, get the heat off, stop hurting, why continue when those needs have been satisfied? Some believe that stopping meetings equals returning to the drink. That isn't always true, from what I've seen, but I definitely benefit from on-going contact with my peers. I first went to meetings out of desperation, not wanting to drink again, needing to fill my time with a positive (or at least neutral) activity, obsessed with getting my meth-cook boyfriend sober. Over time that shifted to a quest for emotional safety while I navigated the rocky path of causes and conditions. And from the beginning, the fellowship surrounded me with a detached kind of love that let me know I'd be ok, no matter what. And, that they understood where'd I'd been.

That is important, and not exclusive to my recovery relationships. I'm in touch with my former sister-in-law in the UK, something like 40 years after the fact of my boyfriend leaving the country to marry another woman. She was married to his older brother, a domineering, charismatic, bigger-than-life man. My boyfriend lived in his brother's shadow, culturally and by disposition, following the brother's orders. It was a crazy life of comings and goings, flying here and there, sometimes with ten or twelve family members in tow, and while my sis-in-law was definitely not alcoholic, she was there and frequently remarks how no one else quite understands what we experienced. It's like those of us in the rooms - "normies" do not get it. Being with those who understand matters.

Being with those who understood, and who were willing to dive into life mattered so very much, negating my fears about being "stupid, boring and glum." Hardly. From those 1980's AA dances, to hiking, to travel, to volleyball games, to meetings on the beach, you showed me that sobriety could be filled with laughter and joy, interspersed, of course, with gut wrenching tears of grief and fear - in other words, the whole of life.

I have several friends who celebrate sobriety milestones this month, including my spouse. Congratulations to all who decided to get sober in the middle of summer. When the time is right, the time is right, and even though my sober-versary isn't for a few months, this is the time of year that memories of that last painful summer come up, as I tried to maintain the appearance of being OK when I was anything but. As a friend once said, "It's not the yets that scare me, but the agains." I never want to go anywhere near how I felt back then. 

What is it that keeps you coming back as a person with long term recovery? What are the various places (or people) where you feel understood? 

*  *  *

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, July 12, 2023

Nature abhors a vacuum

 According to Aristotle, nature abhors a vacuum. When I asked my radiation doc about the on-going swelling around my surgical site, he pulled up computer images that showed the empty space where my tumor had been, telling me that part of healing is my body filling in the empty space, and that it takes time. Time - the final frontier! Oh me of little patience, of "now, please."  Waiting is an action, or so I'm told. 

I've also observed the truth of "nature abhors a vacuum" in my program. My six-month co-secretary position for an online group, which involved selecting a reading and chairing every other week, came to an end, and within days, a woman asked if I'd sponsor her through the Steps. I appreciate the opportunities to put my program into action, especially the ones that seemingly appear out of nowhere.

I have a handful of sponsees, all of them with time. Speaker Lila R addresses this - that when we get decades under our belts, we might best serve by working with others who are in the same vicinity. I do remember what it was like, but don't feel I have much more than encouragement to offer the newcomer. My sponsees, like myself, have years of experience staying sober, benefiting from the occasional check in or Step work. That being said, I also have a small handful of trusted others I go to - over time, these friends know me, know my history, and are willing to give honest feedback. All these years in and it is still the fellowship that keeps me coming back and keeps me on track. 

So, I can trumpet "nature abhors a vacuum," trusting the process that what is mine to do will present itself, and, sometimes I need to hang out in the vacuum, the in-between, the "I'm not sure," or the "I wonder what's next." Be still and know, as a friend likes to say. If I'm too busy trying to figure it out, I'm not making space for the still small voice, the internal knowing that comes to me quietly. Sometimes the voice whispers the big stuff, like "It's time to go," or "Do not open your mouth right now!" but more often the voice simply says, "Clean the kitchen," or maybe "Give so-an-so a call." "Keep it simple" is always a good reminder.

And something I very much need to remember as my sister-in-law progresses into a diagnosis of dementia. I feel badly for her, of course - what a scary thing, to be aware that your cognition is slipping away - and, I have deep sadness for my brother, a good man who is doing what needs to be done (like replacing small appliances with those having an automatic-off feature). When I shared my concern with him, saying I don't imagine he expected his retirement years to play out this way, he pointed out that he hadn't really had any expectations, no grand plans to sail the Nile or walk the Camino. I don't know which makes me sadder - that this is happening in their lives, or that he never really expected to be happy anyway. A bit of a curmudgeon, my little brother - very smart and very funny, and, where I inherited the family disease of alcoholism, he got the genetic lottery of depression that comes and goes. 

So what's a sister to do? Love him, offer my support, which might mean sitting with his wife while he's at an appointment, and continue to take care of myself in the Alanon manner of releasing my ideas of what their life should look like. That being said, I do understand that it is very ok to be sad, to grieve the slow slipping away that is dementia. And, one more time, I'm reminded that aging is no joke, and that one never knows what is next, for any of us.

A group of women gathered this week who hadn't, in this configuration, for about five years. Our shares centered on all that's gone on in those years, the massive and tiny bits of life on life's terms. Five years is a relatively small window of time, a mere blink, but a lot has gone on in my own life, not to mention the global pandemic. What I'm left thinking about is taking a step back to ask, "How has program carried me through?" Like the pitiful, incomprensible demoralization that brought us to the rooms, the details of the last five years (or three weeks, or 20 years) are different for each of us, but it is the internalized principles of the program that help me navigate my personal ups and downs and in-betweens.

So many of my friends' lives are in flux right now - some with happy changes, some not so much. If you are in-between, how is it you are able to seek or maintain balance as you wait for the earth beneath your feet to stop moving? 

*  *  *

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, July 5, 2023


 The 4th of July used to be my favorite holiday - it was my and my boyfriend's anniversary and we'd throw a big party to celebrate, drink, and watch fireworks from the deck of our riverside home. Later, after we split, it was my least favorite holiday, memories and grief hitting me with each "bomb bursting in air." For many years, I've been neutral - enjoying our local Blues Festival, the 5k and 10k my husband and I participate in - but I've turned into a cranky old lady who doesn't like neighborhood fireworks going off until the wee hours. I don't get the attraction, especially since our city has made them illegal, due to fire danger. On my walk this morning, several people I passed remarked on how lovely it was to be quiet. And, it's a new day.

Last Friday, as I pressed out crust for pizza that I don't make very often anymore, I was transported back to the mid-1970's, when my younger brother would come to our apartment with the green shag carpet and avocado countertops, to keep me company while my new husband was off on his weekend marathon card game. Little bro and I were on the quest for the perfect pizza crust (before you could buy them ready made), trying bisquick, pop 'n fresh dough, even won ton wrappers. We'd grate mounds of cheese, several varieties, and cook up onions and garlic, and usually ground beef, greasing up our hands to press out the dough. We'd then smoke a joint, or two, eat pizza, drink soda-pop wine, and sarcastically laugh our way through the Donnie & Marie Show on TV. I was 19 or 20, while he would've been 17 or 18. It was fun. 

Sometimes the card game would be at our place, and my brother and a cousin or two might show up, along with the other guy's wives. We'd drink like lunatics, one time building a human pyramid in the living room (I have the photo to prove it), often heading off for Chinese food in the wee hours after dancing to disco in the living room, just like I'd watched my parents do when they'd roll up the rug and jitterbug to the Big Bands. 

Looking back, I think of those times as playing at being a grown up. Though a couple of our friends started having babies, I didn't. I didn't even know how to cook when I got married. But I went to work each morning at the insurance company, moving up the ranks, and cleaned house Saturday mornings, often taking a nap before the evening festivities commenced, feeling very adult in my independence after high school. My husband and I bought a house a few years later, which meant more responsibilities than we were emotionally and temperamentally equipped to handle at the time, and we split up soon after. Our parents were right - we'd been too young to get married.

So when did I actually start feeling like an adult? I "acted as if" through my 20's after the divorce, traveling around the world and hosting big parties, while behaving more like a spoiled teen. I got sober at 31, but even then, for a number of years, had the imposter syndrome of expecting someone to come along and say, "Wait - what is she doing here?"

I did feel like an adult when I signed the refinance mortgage on the house I'd bottomed out in, moving the note from my now-ex boyfriend into my name - becoming financially self-supporting contributed to maturity. So did learning to show up when I'd made a commitment, as did practicing keeping my word, along with keeping your confidence, even without your having to ask.

The 1980's were big in the adult children of alcoholics movement, identifying all the ways we might have been impacted by family dysfunction, with a focus on the "inner child.". My first sponsor pointed out that sometimes, when I felt "grown up," it was really just my inner child play-acting, doing what she thought she was supposed to do. Heady times, those years - definitely on the discovery/recovery trajectory as I learned to put words to what I felt deep inside, identifying differences between what had been "normal" and what was healthy.

 Over time, what has impacted my maturity, feeling comfortable in my own skin, has been the 12 Steps, both working them myself and watching how you apply the principles to real life situations - walking the talk. I will say that feeling like a bonafide adult most days doesn't mean I feel my age. As a friend, 20 years younger but starting to feel her years, recently said, "I don't feel my age, maybe because I still talk like a 17-year-old." Dude, I can relate.  

What I know today is that maturity has little to do with calendar years. Alanon's Courage to Change daily reader describes maturity as "Knowing myself; asking for help when I need it and acting on my own when I don't; admitting when I'm wrong and making amends...recognizing that I always have choices and taking responsibility for the ones I make...acknowledging that my needs are my responsibility... (March 3). I'd add in the importance of Rule 62, not taking myself so seriously.

While there was a time when I might've equated maturity with boredom, today I'm grateful that I no longer (rarely anyway) need to ride the emotional rollercoaster of immature responses to life on life's terms. Somewhere along the line, I became way less interested in drama, and finally learned to following the advice, "When you know better, do better." 

It is a journey, and sometimes I still feel like kicking and screaming, but overall, life is good. What I might label as "problems" are really just inconveniences. Thank you, AA and Alanon, for my recovery. Despite not liking nearby fireworks, I do take note of my freedoms on July 4th: freedom from my addictions, which has allowed the freedom to actively participate in my life, both the ups and the downs. Without sobriety, I probably wouldn't even be alive to complain about the noisy neighbors. 

How does maturity show up in your life today? Does it ever feel like you're faking it 'till you make it? If so, how can you move the needle a bit closer to serenity and self acceptance? 

*  *  *

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