Wednesday, November 1, 2023

To-Do vs Want To

 Prompted by friends talking about pending retirement and what they hope to do once untethered from the 9 to 5, I'm thinking about my own life in the moment. Now three-plus years into the freedom I so craved, most weeks go by in a blur of chores, errands and appointments, time at my desk and neighborhood walks. I have a volunteer gig with the American Cancer Society, perfect in that I choose when and where to participate. I have my meetings and service, though less friend-time than I might like (oh our busy lives). What has felt missing for a while now is creativity, the discipline needed to get into the drawers full of art supplies, or to write fiction. It seems funny to use "discipline" and "creativity" in the same sentence, but creativity requires willingness, a commitment to keeping open spaces in the day or week in order to see what arises.

I kept a specific retirement journal during the three years leading up to the actual date, full of musings and hopes, feeling, at times, like I couldn't work another day (when there were 700 left to go), falling back in love with my job, imagining the perfect day post-retirement. The process was good, and helpful to hone-in on what I wanted to do before leaving my profession, like replacing my 10-year-old car while I still had a regular paycheck. Everything I read about planning for retirement though, suggested that it wasn't just about how much money to save, but about how I wanted to spend my time. Not just reading the paper in an easy chair, like the fellow in the Big Book who then drank, but what activities I might like to try, or get back to. Have I done all I projected? Some, not all (the pandemic curtailed a few plans), which has me, today, wondering if it is time to re-evaluate.

And this is pretty funny - in looking at the pre-retirement stuff I'd printed out (I should've been a Boy Scout - always prepared!) is a checklist, including: Recall all the things you loved doing in your teens or twenties and make a plan to bring the joy of those experiences back into your life. I don't know that I should list sitting under a tree smoking a joint, or snorting lines in the disco's bathroom, but that was my idea of "joy" back then. What a trip, from there to here.

I think about the statement "it's the journey, not the destination." For so long, it was the destination I focused on - the degree, the next marathon, the position at work, the mortgage, the wedding, the retirement date - but then what? The events themselves are simply markers along the way. After the wedding comes the daily-ness of married life. After the promotion, the actual work. So, retirement is both a journey and a destination - a destination without actual completion (unless that's death, which has its own, vast, psychic baggage to explore!).

I do tend to be focused on destinations, the end point, primarily as a place to take a breath and move on to the next thing, because there always is a next thing. Once the trees in the backyard were cut down, there was a new garden to plan; once the to-do list is complete, more will present itself; once this walking event is done, there is another to prepare for, and fill-in-the-blank with your project or plan. One day at a time, can I strive for more comfort with the process? If early sobriety was about the plug-in-the-jug, the middle chunk about causes and conditions, and these later years about spiritual fitness, how do I relax into the flow - always an important question for me, even more so when most of my deadlines are self-imposed. 

I do appreciate that I'm able to get to the gist of what's bugging me sooner these days. Where in the past I might've gotten lost in the woods, flailing about until the spinning top of my emotions settled, today I can put pen to paper and listen to my heart. Oh yeah, it's been too long since I had a friend date. When is the last time I played with my box of colored markers? (I will admit to still carrying a voice from grade school that deemed this girl and that one as the artists, that girl as the smart one. I think I was the troublemaker!)

So, yes, pen to paper, and always pay attention to the HALTS. I'm rarely hungry (not for long anyway), and anger isn't my thing. Tired, definitely, as I awaken too often during the night. Lonely can be tricky to recognize, but if 95% of my interactions in a week are in or around errands and appointments, I start to feel disconnected without knowing what's missing. Just for today I can pick up the phone, make a plan, schedule a hike or a walk or a movie. 

How do you notice when you're restless, irritable or discontent? How do you unravel those emotions in order to do a 10th Step on yourself? When is the last time you had fun with friends? What is on your list of "someday I will..."? and can you take a small step towards that goal today?

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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 

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