Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Staying present

 I've found myself in a spiral of existential angst coupled with happy, joyous and free. Interesting how my mood can shift from one to the other, sometimes in the space of hours. 

I'm realizing, after inopportune tears triggered by a song from 1972, whether conscious of it or not, I'm picking up the psychic vibration of fear and frustration so prevalent today: the horrific wars in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, hate crimes, warnings of lone-wolf terrorists, not to mention the dysfunctions in the American congress are like background noise - not always noticeable, but there. Add to that, concerns for my sister-in-law, who has struggled to settle in to her new living situation, and I'm vacillating between fear and faith (having worked on a hospital geriatric-psych unit years ago, I know firsthand that finding proper placement can be challenging). I meditate on peace, for my family and for the world.

And, have been reminded again and again that I can't do anything concrete for worldwide situations (other than send money, and my little drop in the bucket won't solve the problem), The best I can do is sow kindness in my corner of the world, whether that is a sweet interaction with a houseless person at the coffee shop, conversation with a Syrian Uber driver, calling my brother each day, or simply sharing a smile with a neighbor as we pass on the street (I'm constantly amazed at how many people don't say "hello" back, even when not wearing earbuds). I need to be conscious of the hoola-hoop, staying appropriately aware of what's going on in the world (with the knowledge that bad news gets more attention than good), but not over-indulging.

And, reminder to self that moods do shift, with a phone call, the sun coming out after a foggy morning, a much needed hug. One of my daily readers points out that I have choices in where to spend my mental energy. I can forget that when caught up in current events, or my own stories.

For much of my recovery, I've participated in small, in-home groups, whether a monthly Step group, friends who go through a particular recovery-related book, and now, a small group of women who gather to talk about spirituality - connections, disruptions, intentions. Our reading this month was about the cosmic beauty we notice - sunrise, red leaves on the sidewalk, a friend's smile - and how quickly we revert to affairs of the day. As I took an early walk on Sunday, just before dawn with a light misty rain, I caught myself over-thinking, barely aware of my surroundings. I reined it back in, like I imagine roping a wild horse, which worked for a few moments before I was off and running again. OK, so I can't live in a place of total rapt attention to the now - breakfast needs making, calendar needs attending to, etc, and... if I live in my top two inches, I'm less likely to notice the sweet moments when they appear. 

What strikes me, again and again, is the absolute honor of bearing witness to the details of each others' lives, whether sordid, joyous, happy or sad, and how we move from a place of wonder (how did I get here?) to gratitude for the experiences, all of them, painful and sublime. Maybe other people get that depth other places with other people, but AA and Alanon are where I feel at home, in the best sense of the word.

Where do you find peace when affairs of the world are so distressing? How do you interact with kindness in your own corner of the universe? Where do you feel "home?"

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Thinking of a year-end inventory? I've just restocked my supply of the workbook "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?"  with 78 pages of topics, member's views, and processing questions. (See the Jan 13, 2023 post for a sample.) 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, October 18, 2023


 I don't recall where I came upon the idea, but on my birthday in 2018, I wrote a letter to myself, five years in the future, which means that I just opened the envelope to an interesting future-trip of hopes and dreams. I knew I'd have been retired for about three years, wondering about how I'd adjust. I also wondered about my relationships with two important ex's, both now deceased. I rightly hoped my spouse and I would continue to be laughing and loving as we near the 14th anniversary of our first date.

I did not predict cancer - my husband's or my own. I didn't foresee my sister-in-law's dementia. I did not predict covid and the global pandemic. I didn't know I'd be walking rather than running for fitness, or the particular travels and trips I've taken. I rightly warned myself to beware of the "calendar fillers," with over-scheduling being a trait I've written about for years. (Part of hitting bottom with my addictions was seeing my calendar with months and months of blank spaces. Re-engaging with the world has been part of my recovery, but as with all things, balance is key.) I thought I'd be spending much of my time with two friends I rarely see.  In other words, I do not have a crystal ball!!  

This was a fun exercise and one I might repeat, maybe for my 75th birthday, six years away, though I am now acutely aware of the fickle nature of time and happenings. A future letter could be focused on spiritual growth perhaps, intentions for seeking serenity.

Along those lines, I listened in in a talk from Sister Bea, a long time AA speaker (I believe I still have one of her cassettes from the '80's!). Now 89 years old, and living back in Ireland, her topic was "Living in the Solution." I appreciated hearing that she is very human and needs reminding to reach out to power(s) greater than herself, still. I think I move along believing that asking for help and living in the moment would become automatic by this stage of the game, but, alas, I also need the daily reminders that I am not in charge. 

Sister Bea did describe the relief in (finally) not caring what others think. That one is easier as time passes - maybe because fewer people are paying attention to me (ha ha). But the whole deal of living within my hoola-hoop, increasing concern for my own danged self while decreasing my concern/directions/ideas for other people can still be a challenge. I have so many good ideas! I'm reminded of what a friend once said - "I'll have lots of feelings (and ideas) during the day. I just don't have to attach a sentence to every one."

I'm part of a running/walking group that meets Saturday mornings. This weekend I had conversations with two newer women, independently of the other, speaking to "if not now, when?" in regard to physical health and fitness. Both in their early 50's, they talked about a vision for the future - on the couch or active in the world? That 50-year milestone is now almost twenty years in the rearview mirror for me. First of all, how strange, and secondly, a good reminder of the opportunity to make decisions along the way. At 50, I had no idea I'd meet my husband in a few years, or that I'd finally complete and publish my novel (Shadows and Veins, available at Multnomah County library or online retailers), or complete more marathons. My mom was reasonably healthy then, with the ravages of long-term cigarette smoking catching up.  Again, I did not have a crystal ball. 

And so, my experience, should I choose to remember, shows me again and again that I can do footwork, but the results are out of my hands. I can have a five-year plan, make reservations, sign up for a race, etc, etc. and the Universe has the final call.

Funny enough, this was the first year that I wasn't consciously aware of the anniversary of my mother's passing, now 11 years ago. While at the symphony over the weekend, a certain musical passage had me in tears, thinking of how much pain I was in while waiting for her to pass. I'd thought an anticipated goodbye would be easier than a sudden departure. Not so. And, over time, the empty space fills with fond memories. I now get together regularly with a group of paternal cousins, sisters plus one. Our parents are all gone, and it is both fun and bittersweet to share stories and fill in gaps I didn't know were there.

What might you say to your five-years-older self? What about to yourself five or ten years ago, when you likely didn't know what was ahead? How does the daily reprieve play out in your life today? What do you do to maintain or increase your spiritual fitness?

Wednesday, October 11, 2023


 My sister-in-law moved into adult foster care this week - one of those family homes converted to house four or five people with various needs. My brother and his adult stepdaughter had been talking about this move as the dementia progressed - they met with the facilitator, talked with the necessary people, and with an unexpected opening (vs a long wait list), made the move. He isn't supposed to have any contact for a time period, to help his wife settle in, though he says sometimes she didn't know that she lived in their home. Such a very sad thing - for her, most definitely, but also for him, now suddenly living alone for the first time in over 40 years. This life and where it takes us is so very unpredictable.

And then, we spent a few days in the Bay Area, celebrating my husband's stepfather turning 94, physically frail, but mentally sharp. This life and where it takes us is so very unpredictable. 

We also got to connect with program friends - a friend from my husband's old days, and from our before-times meetings, both in SF and in Oakland, hitting great meetings both places. I so appreciate how we come together, in person, in zoom, and in person again. (I got a hug from a friend I've only every known on zoom - what a treat!) Again, where life takes us can be unpredictable - who knew, pre and post zoom, that we'd have built a community 600 miles away from home - the beauty of our fellowship. 

I need to remember the unpredictability of life, not just when crisis hits, but "on the daily." That doesn't mean walking on thin ice, waiting for the other shoe to drop (which is where I've spent too much time) but rather, seeking that place of gratitude for one more day, for my loved ones, for the ability to walk up and down stairs, read a book, cook a healthy meal.

A long-timer recently used a phrase that used to irk me to no end: "You're right where you're supposed to be." Dear god that used to annoy me, thinking, like many newcomers, that my situation was unique. In retrospect, though, it was also reassuring to know that what I was feeling at 30, 60, 90 days, a year, 18 months, etc didn't mean I was crazy, and that others had been on the same roller coaster and survived.

I can apply "You're right where you're supposed to be" to today as well as well as the early years Right where I'm supposed to be as I've acclimated to retired life, hitting another trip-around-the-sun birthday this week, paying attention to what makes my heart sing, enjoying a routine that works for me. "You're right where you're supposed to be" can mean being flexible, relaxing into the reality that what worked at 10, 20 or even 30 years sober isn't necessarily what is needed today. People often say, "Portland has changed!" Well, cities are supposed to change. People change. What fills my spirit changes. Everything changes, and getting comfortable with that is the whole point of growing older (in sobriety, or simply in general).

And, some changes are definitely harder than others. I had a good talk with my sometimes-curmudgeon brother, who noted that he's felt a bit teary. Of course you do! Your partner of 40+ years is fading away with cognitive decline. You are living alone for the first time in your adult life. You are not the most social of beings to begin with. Things go bump in the night that you hope is the cat but aren't sure at 3am. Of course you are teary. I can't fix this, but I can show up. He's not mushy, but I am, and the good news is that I like him. More will be revealed, but today, I will sit with acceptance and love, hoping for a smooth transition for both him and his wife.

How do you roll with the punches when life-on-life's-terms hits unexpectedly? What does "You're right where you're supposed to be?" mean at this stage of your recovery?

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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, October 4, 2023

Suit up

  A quote from writer Matt Haig offers the following: To stop time, kiss. To travel in time, read. To escape time, listen to music. To feel time, write. To release time, breathe. 

I'd add, to speed up time, change plans abruptly! I was scheduled to share at a daily speaker/discussion Step meeting last Friday, but at five-of meeting time on Thursday, got a panicked call asking if I could do it then instead. I wasn't as dolled up as I might've been on Friday, but my hair was combed and I was out of my pj's so said, "Uh, maybe??"

I don't always react so serenely to change. Of course, it depends on what it is, and the proposed difference. But usually, if I take a breath, I can go with the flow. When I got the last-minute call, I told the meeting secretary I had a volunteer commitment immediately after the group. With my initial vision, I didn't see how I could possibly speak, but she asked, "Can you share for the allotted 30 minutes and then leave?" Well, sure, now that you put it that way - a small example of me not always seeing the bigger picture. 

Or should I say, rarely seeing the bigger picture. I can't possibly know that if I turn that particular corner, I'll see an old friend I hadn't seen in years, like running into a high school pal in the far reaches of the local grocery where I didn't find what I was looking for. This friend is newly retired and hating it, describing her formerly cushy office and workmates. I've heard us described as FIP, or "Formerly Important Persons." There were perks, of course, like the regular paycheck, but I do not miss either the office or the responsibilities. I wish her well on the journey. 

Which, again and always, makes me grateful for the fellowship. With both in-person and online meeting options galore I need never feel alone. I was reminded this week that how we come together is no accident, like my taking a service commitment with a 10+ group of women just as I was diagnosed with breast cancer, drawing on the experience, strength and hope of members who'd walked the same path. A chance encounter, reading something that triggers an ah-ha, making a lifelong friend in the four days our treatment experience overlapped - none of these can be predicted. 

I just read Matthew McConnaughey's book, Green Lights, one of many I've picked up from the little lending library kiosks throughout the neighborhood. He is definitely a character, with a unique way of telling his story, but I really like how he ended: "Life is our resume. It is our story to tell, and the choices we make write the chapters. Can we live in a way where we look forward to looking back?"

Can I live in such a way that I look forward to looking back? Every day is not a breathtaking adventure, but even the quiet times can leave me satisfied and at peace, which is one of the many gifts of long-term recovery. Years and years ago a woman shared at my home group how all she really wanted was to stop drinking, but instead got so much more - true friends she could count on, a solid partner, work she enjoyed, a sense of self that didn't depend on substances or what others thought. I wanted what she had, realizing on some level that obtaining any of it meant continuing to keep the plug in the jug while doing my best to apply the principles of the Steps, one decision at a time. 

I watched a moving documentary, "26.2 to Life" about the running club inside San Quentin prison. The fastest guy spoke about being sober for the 18 years of his incarceration, dropping AA hints like "one day at a time." He was granted parole by the end of the film, but not before he'd run 107 laps around the exercise yard to reach 26.2 miles (6 weeks after his release, he ran the Boston marathon). I will never again bemoan my privileged life. As the outside coach who trains the incarcerated runners said, he doesn't want to be judged by the worst thing he's ever done and hopes there is room for redemption and change. I hoped the same for myself, and my experience in AA shows that to be true as I got so very much more than I would've deserved at the time. 

This weekend I attended the memorial for a local long-timer, who died just a week before his 41st AA anniversary. He'd known he was on the way out, so was able to plan his service in the remaining days, asking that it be held like an AA meeting. We should all be so fortunate, to be remembered as a kind person, dedicated to fun and service and passing it on.

The following day, I walked the Portland Half Marathon - a great experience on a great course, with lots of fun neighborhood support. I did well - 29th out of 61 in my age group - but the best parts were the connections, brief but touching. As I shared my "F*** Cancer" theme for walking, the woman I was conversing with shared about her bilateral mastectomy a year earlier. A little further on, I passed an old guy who let me know he was 81 years old (!). A mile ahead I saw a young woman in a tutu, with a sign pinned to her back that read, "Clean & Sober 9 months!"  I caught up, letting her know I'd been sober longer that she'd been alive, suggesting she keep putting one foot in front of the other because it just keeps getting better. 

Suiting up and showing up - for my community, my family, my friends and myself. What a difference from the days I'd make promises only to break them, make dates and appointments only to be late if I showed up at all. I like being responsible and accountable. What used to take conscious effort is now simply who I am. Thank you for showing me how it's done.

How do you feel when plans change? How do you calm yourself in order to go with the flow? What about the McConnaughey quote? Are you living in such a way that your memories are overall positive? (even when looking back at the tough times?)  If you planned your own memorial or celebration of life, what music or readings would you choose? (It's never too soon to plan). How do you suit up and show up these days?

*  *  *

It might be time to start thinking about a year-end inventory. 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