Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Moving forward

 I attended the online Beacon Group this week (noon EDT), on the topic of Step 4 as related to fear and sex (they do Step 4 resentments separately). I could relate to so much of what the (female) speaker shared about the times we grew up in ("love the one you're with"), including being the first generation with access to effective birth control - we at least imagined we had all the freedom in the world. 

What the speaker said, and my own sponsors have echoed over the years, is that the sex inventory isn't simply a matter of making a list of where my behavior hurt myself or others but looking beyond the "I did this" to uncover causes and conditions, like the mistaken idea that I'm OK only if you say so.

All of the 4th Step, whether resentments, fear or sex, benefit from looking at those deeper layers of the "why" I act out in a particular manner - what am I afraid of? Am I looking outside myself for a fix?  If I'm angry at a particular person, place or thing, am I forgetting my powerlessness? What are my fears, real or imagined? Am I operating on self-reliance or figure-it-out mode? 

There aren't many blinding revelations in my inventories these days - the same characteristics tend to pop up. Which brings Steps 6 and 7 to mind. What does it even mean to become entirely willing? I can say to myself that I no longer want to do or think x,y or z, then 15 minutes later, I'm up to my elbows in a justified x or z. I supposed that's why I keep coming back. Progress, not perfection. 

In the Step 4 meeting, the speaker referenced a quote I've heard before that's attributed to Michaelangelo. When asked how he possibly created the magnificent statue of David out of a piece of rock, he said he simply chipped away at everything that wasn't David. For some reason, that brought a tear to my eye, thinking of the immature girl I was in 1986, who had a lot of chipping away to do. But it also triggered a deep recognition of the here and now - are there trappings of personality, behaviors or habits that may have been adequate and appropriate to the younger me but that might not serve as I move into this next phase of my development? Do I walk my talk in all areas, or am I cutting corners? Do I automatically point the finger at you, you or you, ignoring the three pointing back at me?  This upcoming milestone birthday really has me thinking, and feeling what it means to apply program tools to the aging process. 

And then, as the fates would have it, I was in a meeting with someone five years ahead of me on the calendar, talking about this exact topic (funny how that seems to work - when the student is ready, the teacher appears?). They spoke to the idea of developing a matrix, a structure of sorts for how they want to be in the world going forward. I resonated, and love making a list! It's not so much a bucket list of things to do before I die, but the energy I bring to the tasks and adventures I'm drawn to. People talk about the joy-meter as an indicator of satisfaction with their days. I think of that along a continuum from pleasant and enjoyable to fun to outright joy. Joy has a measure of excitement, whereas pleasant and contented feels calmer, but no less satisfying. 

In the manner of an inventory, I've started to jot down experiences that come to mind with that measurement, looking at patterns or commonalities. Sitting on the couch, or at the beach, with a cup of tea and my journal is definitely a positive experience, but with a different energy level than the time friends and I rode bikes into Central Park on a glorious November day. I'm realizing that the events that bring me joy or satisfaction are directly tied to my values. I wouldn't enjoy rock climbing, for instance. I do value adventure, but also safety and security. 

When I think of the emotional and spiritual energy I want to experience and bring into the world going forward, what comes to mind is connection and conversation, going to new and beautiful places as well as appreciating "home" in all its incarnations. And... I don't want to turn this new idea into simply another To Do list of things to accomplish. Yes, I'd like to learn Spanish (and have a CD set that's been on the shelf for a year), so can add learning and stretching my mind to the matrix, along with finding beauty in the everyday - carry water, chop wood. And while reliving the past isn't necessarily part of the deal, a good friend points out that all those memories are part of who I am today so I can celebrate the good times and not so good, the people who've come and gone. 

This whole aging business is a process. I've never been here before, but just like in sobriety, I can follow the taillights of those who are on the road ahead. We can learn together and from each other. 

How do you use the inventory process in long term recovery? How do you move beyond the superficial act or action to get at causes and conditions? How might the inventory be useful in the aging process? 

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The NOW WHAT workbook is 78 pages of topics and processing questions, great for solo exploration or in a small group. Go to the WEB VERSION of this blog page for the link on ordering (PDF for those outside the U.S., or hard copy mailed to you).. Please contact me at SoberLongTime@soberlongtime.com  or shadowsandveins@gmail.com with questions. And a reminder that the workbook, is available at the Portland Area Intergroup at 825 NE 20th. for you local folks.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

People who would not mix...

 My long-term friend, the Tarot Card Lady (on Instagram and Facebook) noted in a recent post related to the daily card, that instead of tying self-image to what we do, try looking at what it is you (I) enjoy. What a concept, especially as related to the subtle shift from achieving and striving to simply be-ing. 

I thought about that while on a long walk, realizing that despite my internal protests, I am an athlete, a distance-walker (previously runner). The story I tell myself is that I'm not really an athlete because I'm so slow, or too this or not enough of that. And then I sit at my desk and look up at a wall of medals and photos of me at various events. Oh yeah, I guess I am an athlete. I'm also a writer, though again, the internal voice is around "not enough" - not good enough, not self-promoting enough, not productive enough, blah blah blah. OK Critical Self - just hush.

The question could be, not "What do you do?" but how do you inhabit your life? How do you show up for yourself or others? When I review my day, is the image of a flurry of activity, liked or tolerated, or maybe a "What did I do today?" Or, satisfaction with time spent alone, with friends, with family? I don't always have choices in how I spend my time, but most of the time I'm able to go with "want to" rather than "have to" or "should," which is definitely a gift of long-term recovery (and getting older!).

What matters to me these days is connection - talking and laughing with people I love, like the group of old school chums who get together monthly, or the cousins who meet for breakfast every other month, being intentional about staying connected after our mothers (the glue) are gone. This past week I invited myself to a small gathering of one of my home groups, with a visiting member in town. What a joy to sit across from each other in person, to share our passion for recovery, still lively all these years later. And then on Sunday, I got to hear an out-of-town speaker who my husband has raved about for years, and now I know why. For me, the program hits my heart via a mixture of laughter and tears, celebration and solemn acknowledgement of how fortunate we are to have made it out alive. 

Later on Sunday I drove to a local rural park for a Celebration of Life for a long-time member. I didn't stay long, as I didn't know anyone there, but felt it important to show up and give my respects to this person who'd been key to my early sobriety. About six months ahead of me, he had a broken leg when we first met, and was staying at his dad's house near me. I don't remember if I volunteered or was assigned to give him rides to the daily nooner, but I knew that he sure needed a meeting (ha ha and so did I). He shared wisdoms and insights that I still draw on today, like "If I only go to one meeting a week and miss it, that means I'm two weeks without a meeting." One day I told him how I sometimes missed the physical sensation of my drug of choice. As he explained it, that was a part of life we experienced that not many people do, but that it was over and now we got to focus on being sober. Made sense at the time, and got me through that day without picking up. On another occasion, on our way to the nooner, I stopped at the meth cook's place to drop off some things he'd left at my house - we were still kind of involved, but those early months of my recovery were rocky as he grappled with the change. Anyhow, on the front porch, he started to give me grief (I think he mentioned how I'd gained weight - well obviously, since I'd stopped methamphetamine and started eating). My pal Kelly, simply got out of the car, all 6 foot 4 of him, and said, "Is everything alright?" which sent my semi-significant other back into the house. Yes, everything was alright.  Yes it was, because I was letting go of one life and picking up another. Kelly was a biker, a drug addict, larger than life, who in these later years, played Santa for kids of women in treatment and gave new guys a place to stay. He definitely walked his talk.

We are normally people who would not mix - the biker, the social worker, the naturopath, the artist, the attorney, the librarian, the engineer, the hospitality staff...  Normally, maybe not, but what is "normal" anyway? Just the setting on a washing machine, according to a friend. There wasn't much "normal" about my life before recovery, but by the grace of the 12 Steps, I've been able to take my place in the human race. Being a productive member of society wasn't a particular goal of mine, but once here, it sure feels better than being part of the problem.

How do you inhabit your life today? How do you respond when asked, "What do you do?" How might you shift your response to who you are rather than what you do? What does community mean to you? How have you connected this past week?

Tomorrow is the 4th of July holiday here in the U.S. - something to celebrate for some, not so much for others. Whatever you do on this day off, stay safe.

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I've had some questions about how to purchase the NOW WHAT workbook. You need to go to the WEB VERSION of this blog page for the link on ordering. Please contact me at SoberLongTime@soberlongtime.com  or shadowsandveins@gmail.com with questions. And a reminder that the workbook, 78 pages of discussion and processing questions, is available at the Portland Area Intergroup at 825 NE 20th. for you local folks.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

In a blink...

 On one of my morning walks this week, I paused to chat about the weather with a woman watering her garden, Saying she frequently sees me passing by, she wondered how far I walk and was impressed with my answer of "three to five miles." This led to disclosure of my upcoming 70th birthday, to which she replied, "Oh, you're so young!" telling me she's 82 and hopes for another 10 years. We both remarked that if the next 10 goes as fast as the last, we'll exhale a couple of times and be there. 

I suppose it's part of the developmental stage of later adulthood to talk about later adulthood - in awe, complaining, marveling at the passage of time. with so much happening in what seems to be the blink of an eye.  In a blink of an eye, my heroin addicted boyfriend was dead from an overdose. In a blink of an eye, my stepdaughter went from child to young adult. In a blink of an eye my mother went from a tow-headed toddler to a sorority sister to a young, pregnant wife and beyond. And now my cohort is turning 70. In a blink...

And in a few blinks of an eye, I went from shivering denizen to happy, joyous and free, crossing that cavernous divide between "then" and "now." I am still and always impressed at those early members, starting with Bill and Bob, who were essentially navigating in the dark. Imagine being "AA Number 3," the man on the bed in the print hanging on so many meeting and clubhouse walls. Here were two fellows who talked like you thought, and were sober, sparking just a glimmer of hope that life could be different. I sometimes take for granted the hundreds of meetings available to me, forgetting that at the beginning, it was groups of twos and threes gathering in each other's living rooms (while the wives hovered in the kitchen). I think of the ice baths, lobotomies and other efforts at a "cure" and am forever grateful for how the stars aligned to bring AA to life.

A friend recently, brilliantly, pointed out that we don't simply deal with "life on life's terms," but also "people on people's terms." Obviously, but how often do I forget that it's not "life on Jeanine's terms," or "other people on Jeanine's terms?" (cue emoji of woman smacking herself in the forehead) My spouse and I joke that we're both eldest siblings, and both always "right." Funny, yes, when I can remember that me feeling large and in-charge is simply a mental construct, not based on the Universe bestowing that designation on me (ha! that would make my younger brother always "wrong," which he might argue at 66 years old and successfully navigating the world up to this point). Some things do happen in a blink, while others, like the process of self-examination and change can feel like slogging through quicksand. Will I ever learn to pause? Will I ever (fill in the blank that fits for you)? One day at a time, one choice at a time can be a relief, or a "not this again..."

What I've heard is that sometimes the days drag by while the years fly. It took years to relieve the grief over an important relationship ending. It was probably four years before I could think about my deceased mother without crying. It took about six months to stop dreaming at night about work, with the theme of "Oh, I'm no longer in charge!" and probably a full year to think of myself as a walker instead of a runner. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, sometimes in a blink and sometimes with an exhale and sometimes when I least expect it, I will know what I need to know when I need to know it (with the reminder that "figure it out" is not one of the Steps).

We've just entered summer here in the Northern Hemisphere, a time of outdoor music, garden blooms and a longing to sit on a bench or a beach and read good books while eating watermelon. Some days are like that, and some days are filled with tasks, service, a few "have to's" and some "want to's". This sobriety gig is a good life, a very good life. 

How have your conversations with your peers changed as you've gotten older in life and in recovery years? How much has gone by in a blink, and what still can feel like a slog? What do you do when you catch yourself feeling in charge of the world or your loved ones? Where can you utilize the idea of "people of people's terms?"

* * *

I've had some questions about how to purchase the NOW WHAT workbook. You need to go to the WEB VERSION of this blog page for the link on ordering. Please contact me at SoberLongTime@soberlongtime.com  or shadowsandveins@gmail.com with questions. And a reminder that the workbook, 78 pages of discussion and processing questions, is available at the Portland Area Intergroup at 825 NE 20th. for you local folks.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Home Sweet Home

 Ah, it's good to be home after two weeks in Ireland, both North and the Republic of. What beautiful countries. In addition to visiting with friends, and the usual tourist stuff, we hit some great meetings (several AA and one Alanon for me). I always appreciate the cross-pollination of attending meetings in different cities and towns. What I will say about Ireland, specifically, is that they say the Serenity Prayer really fast! I was still on the "God, grant me" and they were already halfway through!

At a speaker meeting, the leader shared that his first sponsor, in those often-hectic early days of sobriety, told him that he suffered from "painfully acute self-awareness." Oh my, yes. Relieve me of the bondage of self, oh please. Intense self-awareness plus a good dose of self-doubt made it pretty darned uncomfortable in this brain of mine. How enlightening it was (and is) to hear others talk about the same feelings that rattled around in my head. Maybe I'm not such a freak after all! I'm so grateful that the edges have softened over time. 

I had a wonderful reunion in Dublin with a woman I last saw when she was a teenager, in Miami, in 1988 and I was a couple of years sober. Her parents, and my ex and I, were good friends, which meant we spent a lot of time with her and her three siblings during my drinking years. She married an Irishman, moved over, and stayed. It was fun and heartwarming to share memories and get up to date, and to learn that her father was sober for 20 years before he died, and one of her brothers has been clean now for 15 years. Healing happens in many forms, and for me, healing often comes via revisiting important relationships and connections.

I had a cosmic moment in a small village on the coast of Northern Ireland, where we spent a few days on our own (with hubs driving on the opposite side of the road!). At one of the tourist sites, I realized I'd misplaced my wallet, and upon returning to our lodging, realized it wasn't where I'd thought it might be. Retracing my steps, no one had seen it, but everyone recommended that I cancel my credit cards. I didn't, with the gut feeling that it would turn up, and when I went to bed that night, envisioned going to the bakery first thing in the morning, knowing, believing that they had it, and would've held on to in since I told them, "We'll be back tomorrow." Well, that's exactly what happened. The staff people said they realized who the wallet belonged to, but didn't know where I was staying, so held on to it, since I'd said, "See you tomorrow." Trust - in the good people of Cushendall, and in my gut. 

While there, I had a drinking dream - the first in a very, very long time. In the dream, someone handed me a tall glass, filled to the brim with some sort of layered drink. I brought it to my lips, but then put it down, saying, "I'm not willing to throw away 38 years of recovery for a sip of this." It is always a good reminder that the disease is alive and well in some part of my psyche, and that recovery has the upper hand, at least for today. 

And so, the beat goes on, reacclimating to the day-to-day of life at home, reconnecting with my regular groups, walking in our neighborhood, planting the garden I'd delayed while away. Vacations can be weird - while gone, it felt a lot longer than two weeks, and now that I've readjusted to our time zone, it feels like I never left (except for the few Euros on my desk, and the new box of teabags in the cupboard). I am grateful for the resources, good health, and energy to follow my heart; good friends across the sea, and my adventurous spouse. I sometimes think that my story could've gone either way, when the disease still whispered its siren song, but here I am, here we are, all these years later, living life on life's terms, which is sometimes rocky and sometimes grand.

When is the last time you had a drinking or using dream? Does your recovery-self come in to play while sleeping? How has the painfully acute self-awareness of the drinking days and early recovery mellowed out over time? What does "relieve me of the bondage of self" mean to you today?

* * *

I've had some questions about how to purchase the NOW WHAT workbook. You need to go to the WEB VERSION of this blog page for the link on ordering. Please contact me at SoberLongTime@soberlongtime.com  or shadowsandveins@gmail.com with questions. And a reminder that the workbook, 78 pages of discussion and processing questions, is available at the Portland Area Intergroup at 825 NE 20th. for you local folks.



Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Inventory

 

I'll be home in time for next week's post, but here is an oldie from May, 2018. Thank you for your understanding of these repeats... see you next week.


April was the month of inventory - 4th month, 4th Step, searching and fearless. In the group I participate in, we use a format for the yearly inventory that focuses on our own behavior and attitudes. Ideally, if I'm practicing the principles in all my affairs, I stay current with interpersonal upsets. Which is not to say that annoyances and lurking resentments don't creep up. "And," if I am doing my reasonable best, I deal with my humanness as it grabs my attention, which most of the time includes acknowledging that pesky spiritual axiom that if I'm upset, I need to look within myself for the source of my discomfort. I heard someone once say that if I have a resentment, it's because I haven't yet accepted my powerlessness over the situation, person, place or thing. I hate that part. It's easier to point the finger (the government! my co-worker! my spouse! my whoever!), but that momentary flash of righteous indignation and self-satisfied glee doesn't last. Owning my part, which sometimes takes input from a trusted other to figure out, and being willing to do something different, either in the moment, or next time, is the foundation of continued growth.

So then, May is the time for Step 5, admitting to "God, myself and another human being," the exact nature of my errors and mistaken beliefs. What I've realized is that Step 5 is also about boundaries. In the old days, I would've told anyone anything, and did. In Step 5, I'm told to share with "another human being," as in one other person. This includes learning what to share in a general way at group level, and what is better for the sponsor or trusted other. My first sponsor once cautioned me against doing my therapy within the relationship I was struggling with - i.e., for me, don't take all my anguish about my insecurity in romantic partnerships to the person I'm currently in partnership with. That has "fix me!" written all over it, and was what I was looking for, whether implicit or explicit. I'm not suggesting that we should be dishonest, but one of my hard lessons was that my partner was not the sole provider of support, and was not there to process every.single.emotion I had. Another friend once wisely said, "I have lots of feelings during the day - I just don't need to attach a sentence to every one." Amen, and something I'm still learning.

We had a very lively discussion, in Step Group, about the "nature of our wrongs," and the false beliefs and fears that can get in the way of "happy, joyous and free." Most of my defects, or rather, defenses, have to do with worry and anxiety about what might come to be. I can trace that back to the emotional uncertainty of growing up with active alcoholism, but I'm no better at foreseeing the future now than I was at age 10. One of our members quoted Bob D, of Las Vegas, who once said, "Stop trying to clear up the wreckage of your future!" Oh my God. That felt like an epiphany. At 32 years sober, that phrase hit me as if I'd never heard the term "one day at a time." The real question isn't whether or not I'll be OK next week, or in 2 years or in 10. The REAL question is "Are you OK right now?" And to that, the answer is nearly always, "Yes." As we were often asked in treatment, when flailing about with one imagined crisis or another - "Do you have someplace to sleep tonight? Have you had enough to eat today? Well, then, you're OK." I didn't want to hear that at the time, but that is absolutely correct. There are emergencies. There are valid fears, certainly, but most of my "what if?!?" is based on fantasy. Another truism heard in a meeting: Higher Power is in the right-here-right-now. If I'm off balance, it's because I'm reaching out into the future, where I'm all alone with my brain.

Most days, I'm steeped in gratitude for what is and am aware of the blessings of a safe home, a strong marriage, a good job. But, I do get out in the ozone, especially when I lose my spiritual balance. For example, living next door to a rental can feel stressful and trigger my safety and security fears. Will this group of tenants be nice? Will they hold loud parties on the front porch, like the last crew? Will they take all the parking spots? Not earth shattering, but events that do impact our quality of life. This weekend, there was some confusion about who was moving out and who was staying. I reacted to my perception of events and took some action, which precipitated a scolding reaction back my way. My initial response was to blame one of several parties, but instead, I phoned my sponsor to vent. She chuckled, bless her heart, and helped me to see both the humor in the situation, and my part. Grrr.  I did some writing, slowed down enough to breathe, and kept my mouth shut. My on-going battle with impulsivity might end up on my next inventory, but yelling and creating chaos will not.

And that, for me, is the essence of on-going Step work. Sometimes I do clean up the wreckage of my future by not creating it in the first place. It is an on-going process.

Where are you with your inventory, either daily or a yearly housecleaning? What keeps cropping up for you? Can you accept and forgive yourself, and move on? Who will you share your findings with?

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Name it, claim it, tame it

  I'm away for a couple of weeks, and unsure of wi-fi access and time zone differences, so will be re- posting a couple of early blogs. This one is from January 2017:



This week I had an experience where a past hurt, in the form of shame, reached across the years to remind me that no matter how much time I have in recovery, I still have emotional work to do.

In a brief exchange, someone responded to me with unexpected sarcasm. Usually, I would brush it off, but these particular words, in this particular tone of voice, cut me and I started to cry. After their apology, I got off of the phone, but the tears didn't stop and I remembered that "when I'm hysterical, it's historical." I know that when my reaction to a situation is out of proportion to the event, there is a deeper root.

So, I intentionally sat with the intensity of the pain. As I was able to quiet my mind, I could sense that my tears were very young and from a place of feeling small and defective, like a nuisance. I don't remember my parents ever speaking to me with sarcasm or hurtful words, but I do recall the sensation of being in the way. What I know from years of recovery work (inventory, outside help, education) is that often, as little children, we make decisions about the world and our place in it that are based on our perception, not necessarily the reality that an adult might see. We, or rather, I, carry this worldview into adulthood, and without exposure, I run the risk of continuing to react to stressful situations like the wounded 5-year-old I once was.

Getting to those inner layers of truth isn't easy. For a time, into early recovery, I'd misplaced the journals and diaries I'd kept since 5th grade. When I finally found them, buried in a closet, I opened the volumes from 7th & 8th grades, hoping for a miracle revelation. I was looking for the one entry that would explain why I started drinking, why I had such low self-esteem, why I was starting on the journey of alcoholism. No such luck. There was an entry that said, "Dad got home from the hospital today. He had a nervous breakdown," followed the next day with "I wore my new yellow jumper to school. Greg H said hello to me in the hall." Introspection was not a trait of 13-year-old me.

Sometimes the Universe does hand me lessons on a silver platter. When I'd been sober quite some time, I stopped at Mom's to introduce her to a new date. When I saw her a few days later, she asked, "Does he like you?"  Not, "Do you like him?" or "Are you compatible?" but "Does he like you?" Thank you, dear Mother, for that illustration of one of my basic flaws - being more concerned with whether "he" likes "me" than vice versa.  Another time, when once more I heard a berating voice in my mind chastising me for some minor mistake, I had the realization that it wasn't even my voice, but my Dad's. And not a voice he used with me, but one he used, out loud, to himself. Oh. I can stop that now. I truly don't need to carry my father's self-criticism any further.

But, it is rarely so obvious. It is much easier to blame and point the finger - He shouldn't talk to me like that! She needs to be nicer to me! (Beware the "shoulds" in any form!). The more painful, but ultimately more rewarding process is to slow it down and wait for the story to unravel. When have I felt like this before? Does this remind me of anything from my past? What do I need to do to take care of myself?

What I did this week was allow the tears. I wrote about it, and in the healing magic of putting pen to paper was able to see where my hurt in the present was attached to the past. I then shared about it - with 2 trusted friends, and then in a general way, at one of my regular groups. And I talked to the other person involved, calmly, and from my point of view (when you said this, I felt that), finishing with "Thank you for triggering me, because it helped me to heal."

I am certainly not claiming that my feelings will never be hurt again, but by taking the time to dig deeper than the zing of emotion this time, I hope to be able to put spiritual distance between the feelings and my response next time. And in that spiritual space I can remember that the winds of other people's moods do not need to impact mine. I can remember that what made sense at 5 or 6 years old doesn't anymore. I can remember that speaking my truth can take the power out of my pain or confusion or shame. No matter what 5-year-old me thought, I am not defective. I am not a nuisance. I am no longer small.

How do you practice self-care when your emotions are triggered? Where do you need healing? Who do you talk with when old reactions get triggered?

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Just for Today

 In a discussion focused on Step 3 this last week, I realized that, for me, Step3 was both an event and an ongoing process. I had an intense surrender experience in very early sobriety, and... every day I have the opportunity to get out of my own way, which is definitely of the "progress, not perfection" variety.

I told a story in the 3rd Step meeting about an experience I had in a church I attended years ago. I participated in a pre-service book study, and at one point, the decision was made that we'd each share our faith journey over the coming weeks.. There were 5 or 6 people in the group, all normies - a couple of PK's (preacher's kids), a few who spoke to being raised in the church, and me. When it was my turn, I thought, "Oh my god, what am I going to tell these people??" I gave a sanitized version of my story, culminating with hitting my knees in surrender and saying "I can't do this anymore." Afterwards, one of the fellows came up to me with tears in his eyes, saying, "You've had a direct experience of God - I'd give anything to feel what you described." I said something to the effect of "Be careful what you pray for because I had to almost die to get to the point of giving up." My point today being that the spiritual journey is different for all of us. For me, it was sudden, and also of the educational variety. What exactly is this higher power business? What indeed?

Maybe this HP business is about how we care for each other, in ways big and small. One of my retirement gigs is as a temporary/on-call elections worker, which means a flurry of activity a couple of times a year. I'm part of a team that goes to people's homes to assist them in voting, whether reading the ballot to a sight impaired person, or transporting a ballot for someone with mobility issues (we've had Vote by Mail in Oregon, successfully, for over 20 years). I so appreciate people's gratitude - they asked for help, and got it, which is not always the case in this hectic world. And it's a gift of recovery to be able to be of service in different areas, in and out of the rooms. I can beat myself up for not doing "enough" - a characteristic of my Alanon-ism - but the truth is that most days, I do (and it's more accurately, most weeks, or most months with an eye to the ever-elusive balancing act between self-care and self-sacrifice). 

As a wise friend once told me, adults gather information before making a decision. (Thanks JG) Well, my spouse and I are starting to gather information about his retirement, likely in a few years, but not too soon to start planning. Retirement is not just about money, though of course that figures in. All the checklists I saw as I prepared had to do with "How will you spend your time?" That's one more plus in the AA column, where we have community and opportunities for interaction to the level we prefer. I was wisely told not to jump right in to a new gig, volunteer or otherwise, but to give myself at least a year to settle in to operating off of a time-based agenda. Of course, the pandemic made that easier for me, but it was a challenge, having been so accustomed to the clock. Again, progress not perfection, of the one-day-at-a-time variety.

I'm, once again, leaving on a jet plane, so my next 2 week's posts will be drawing from earlier blogs as I'm not certain of wifi connections - kind of like re-runs on TV. We had a counselor in treatment, all those years ago, who'd say, "You can do anything you want to do, as long as you don't drink or use." Part of that had to do with discovering what it is I really want to do. In theory, I could've run for President or Mayor, but more along the lines of what I actually want to do is to read good books, walk in the woods, sit at the shore, share laughter with my spouse and with good friends, and travel (which nearly always includes checking out local meetings). Years ago, my good friend and I were in an English-speaking meeting in Florence, Italy. An American shared about wondering why he'd use precious vacation time to go to a meeting. My thought, then and now, was that if I wasn't sober, I wouldn't be on vacation, and I certainly never thought twice about whiling away hours in a foreign bar (or crashed out in a hotel bed with a massive hangover). 

Sitting in my backyard the other day, I overheard a fellow on a bicycle say to his pal who was apparently leading the way, "I don't even know where I am!" I'm grateful that today, I know where I am, and who I am and where I'm headed, whether near, or far from home. 

How has Step 3 shown up in your life, either as an event or an on-going process? How are you of service, in or outside the rooms? How do you walk the line between pushing yourself ever-so-slightly and knowing that who you are, and what you do, is enough? Thinking of life in general, do you know who you are and where you are headed, just for today?

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Consistency

 Most of my weekly meetings are online - as I've written, I love being able to regularly see friends who live in other places without buying a plane ticket. I do attend one in-person meeting and have made that my Wednesday noon habit, even buying a yearly parking pass to further cement my commitment. This week, I didn't want to go. It was a beautiful day with the garden calling, I was tired from not enough sleep the night before, blah blah blah. But I went anyway, knowing that if I didn't go this week, it would be easier to skip next week too, and maybe the next. 

I'm not afraid I'd drink if I skipped a meeting, or that I'd have an Alanon relapse (so much harder to measure!) but for me it's more about consistency, mindful that if sobriety loses its priority (slip) I could be headed down a potentially dangerous road. It's not that I walk around in fear. I genuinely like meetings - I like "us" and I appreciate the reminders and nuggets I hear in your shares. And I am a creature of habit. Years ago, in talking with my therapist about the tug of war between my early morning run and a series of late nights that necessitated a nap (I love my naps), she suggested I might skip my run sometimes. Oh no, I replied. Of course, there are times when I stay in bed, or skip the meeting, or eat the burger, but flexibility is not my strong suit. Sometimes it's about going through the motions and being pleasantly surprised, whether it's a walk on a rainy morning when the sun comes out, or going to a meeting I might've skipped and hearing just what I needed to hear (or being able to share my experience with someone I wouldn't have otherwise). And sometimes it is simply going through the motions without a prize at the end!

I do know that many of my peers in long term recovery don't attend meetings, while many do. Where I might've had rigid ideas about that in the past (you'll drink!!), I've come to truly understand that we each do this thing called a sober life in our own way. Take what you like and leave the rest. The not drinking part is non-negotiable for this alcoholic, but the rest of it is up for grabs, shifting and changing over the years.

I was honored to be invited to a "Now What?" workbook group, comprised (mostly) of women I've known in the rooms for years. It was wonderful to hear the workbook in action, as well as to receive some feedback. I sometimes suffer from lack of motivation, or more realistically, differently-directed motivation, but I am considering a "Now What? Part 2" that would consist of past blog posts with expanded processing questions. It's hard to believe that I started this blog in 2017, with the idea morphing into the workbook. I admitted to the group that I haven't actually answered the workbook questions myself! On the To-Do list...  

What I mostly appreciated in the meeting was sitting with solid, long-term women I've known for years, taking the emotional risk to go deep. I miss that. A small group of friends and I attempted a spiritual circle, with the idea of meeting and talking about a quote or a reading (crosstalk encouraged), but it didn't quite take. The pandemic changed so much related to gathering, as well as intention, but my longing for community is still there. I do get that in my online groups, but there is something to be said for sitting across a table, coffee mug in hand.

And so here I am - appreciating my online connections, wanting and not wanting to go to an in-person meeting, riding the up and down moods of long term sobriety, knowing that "this, too, shall pass," whether that is the highs or the lows.

Does consistency figure in to your program/your life? What about flexibility? Where do you experience community? If your current level of connection isn't working for you, what is an action you might take to change that? 

I've had some questions about how to purchase the NOW WHAT workbook. You need to go to the WEB VERSION of this blog page for the link on ordering. Please contact me at SoberLongTime@soberlongtime.com  or shadowsandveins@gmail.com with questions. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Milestones...

 I recently read an article/poem about how the discomfort I may be feeling (or have felt in the past) is related to growth, to becoming, to moving to the next phase of my development. In reading the piece, I felt an exhale, a settling in to what is. 

I'm not feeling any particular pull or yearning, though as I've written, am very aware of turning 70 - very aware that 70 is not the new 40, no matter how good I feel; very aware that the end is way closer than the beginning; very aware that every day truly is a gift. Grade school/ high school pals and I are planning a group birthday dance party and lawn games at the park this summer, the park where many of us drank away our high school weekends. It should be a hoot, with me in charge of the playlist - old R&B from the 60's and 70's, disco, some new stuff - and another in charge of lawn bowling, etc (what she is calling the Honored Citizens Games or PE in the Park). We may get 10 people or 50 - in any event, it will be fun.

And, it is fun watching my cohort celebrate their birthdays throughout the year, whether with a big trip or a quiet evening with family. I'm into milestones, and 70 feels like a big deal. Yeah, just another day, but for those of us who didn't think we'd make 30, it is a big deal.

The month of May corresponds with Step 5, the sharing of our inventory with another human being and whatever notion of a higher power we have. For me, that is related to being completely honest with my innermost self, not hiding behind this justification or that rationalization. And then talking with a trusted other, whether that is a sponsor or a friend. And then, seeking to change, or amend, whatever behavior or attitude that is causing me or others discomfort or pain. Without the Steps 6/7 intent to change, the inventory process is simply an exercise of "woe is me," self-flagellation. Being human is not a character defect (from Alanon Courage to Change) but when the same thing comes up on inventory after inventory I have to ask myself, does this trait really stand in the way of my usefulness, and if so, what am I going to do about it? If not, then put down the rock. I don't get points for beating myself up, no matter how familiar that may feel. 

On our walk Sunday morning, my spouse and I stopped in at an estate sale, one of those "everything must go" affairs in a house that a neighbor said had been in the people's family for several generations. He also noted that the most recent inhabitants were hoarders, which was evident by the sheer mass of items for sale. It made me a little sad, like when over the winter, I passed a house with a big dumpster out front, next to tables set up with canned goods and clothing, office supplies and knick knacks (according to the fellow in charge, he'd just bought the place from a widower who either didn't want to, or wasn't capable of dealing with a full house). I look around our home, our comfortable and homey abode, and think about the fallout if, heaven forbid, something happened to both of us at the same time. My brother would likely be of the dumpster variety, but what a burden to place on anyone. I am nowhere near a minimalist, but I feel closer and closer to Swedish death cleaning. Use it or lose it? I'm not ready to chuck everything, but when I walk into a room or open a closet with a groan, I can take it as a sign. 

So, sliding up to age 70, aware of the transition to "old age," (I could pretend in my 60's, but not really anymore), use it or lose it, or at least organize the closet, and see how I can utilize the Steps to walk through uncharted territory.  One day at a time, the clock marches on and on until it doesn't.

Where are you in either sobriety or belly-button age? How do you mark your birthdays or anniversaries these days? Are you in acquiring or releasing mode, whether that's related to possessions, relationships, tasks, or states of mind? How has Step 5 come in to play this month?\

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Ready for an inventory or small group discussion? Check out my workbook "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" 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 shadowsandveins@gmail.com 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 8, 2024

"Someday"

 In my sporadic decluttering efforts, I recently went through a couple of drawers of art supplies - craft and construction paper, calligraphy pens and ink from a long ago class, colored pens and pencils, glitter...  Mind you, I don't actually do arts or crafts, but I certainly could, in that elusive "someday"...

I shared a photo with my brother of a box of colored pencils that I'm certain I've had since we were kids, along with my "someday" intentions. He emailed back, "I hate to think we can never change and take up the activities we thought we wanted to do. At least give them a reasonable shot...The practicalities of life steer the ship for the most part. Darn." Darn indeed. I've got these cool colored pens and pencils, but maybe after the laundry, or the TV show, or the long walk. It really is about priorities, and about making space. I make space for writing each week - it is part of my routine (and thank you for coming along), but the other stuff - the birthday cards I used to make for friends or the collages - haven't raised to that level of attention or intention.

But I also wonder, is it ok to pick up those pencils without a driving passion, without an eye to a gallery showing or gift shop sales? Is it ok to simply putter around and draw misshapen cats, or stick figure people? In grade school, there were two girls identified as the artists (Kiki and Bunny), and they were very good. Their flowers looked like actual flowers (or whatever the subject was). I'm sure I internalized the "I'm not any good" message, though actually, it is true that I'm not skilled at representational drawing. And while kudos to Grandma Moses, maybe it is ok to just doodle. (Of course, I do know it is ok, after I tell my inner art critic to shut up).

So then, giving up the internal whisper that I must do things well or not at all, whether cooking or drawing or running a race (I gave up that dream years ago - somebody has to bring up the rear!). Back to my recent musing about parenting - I was in therapy at the time, and my counselor suggested I think of the concept of "good enough parenting." I didn't employ that thinking, but have utilized it to be a good enough step mom, a good enough supervisor, a good enough 12 step member, or as we read, a worker among workers, no better, no worse.

It took me awhile in sobriety to understand that thinking poorly of myself was just as much of an ego trip as thinking highly - both evidence of self-absorption, or as my sponsor says, the "me me me" syndrome that is sure to lead to dissatisfaction. Relieve me of the bondage of self, oh please.

In a meeting last week on the topic of Step 11, the speaker suggested that instead of asking for guidance, one could ask to be open to guidance, which in his belief, is always there, if I'm paying attention - to the chance encounter, the unexpected conversation, a passage in a book that speaks to me (even if I've read it 50 times before). That would imply that getting quiet is an avenue to my inner wisdom, which can equal simply sitting still, or more formalized meditation. This speaker also quoted someone else (I don't know about you, but I don't have an original thought in my head!) saying that meditation is a blue-collar undertaking - you clock in and clock out and what happens in-between is none of my business. I like that image as I do, still, sometimes chastise myself for not doing it "right." Then I remind myself that Bill wasn't writing about Eastern sitting-on-a-lily-pad meditation, but the idea of reflecting on an inspirational reading. I can remember that in the moments I spend quietly with my journal, or noticing spring's glory on my walks.

We attended a retirement party for a friend this week - someone I've known since early recovery. He would've been about 25 to my 31 when we came in, which amounts to a lot of life lived in the meantime. I'm often struck with "who would've thought?" when contemplating my long-term relationships. Who would've thought we'd have walked each other through parents dying, relationships ending and then beginning, children growing up, grandparenting, getting a career and then retiring; health scares and travels, relapses and back in the saddle? I am wealthy indeed, and not in the ways that I may have thought were important.

Is there a hobby or other pursuit you'd planned to do "someday?" Does it still call to you? If so, what is a small gesture you can make towards it this week? Can you release any lingering notions of perfectionism? How does your internal wisdom show up these days? How do you measure your wealth?

* * *

Ready for an inventory or small group discussion? Check out my workbook "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?" 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 shadowsandveins@gmail.com 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 1, 2024

Life moving on

 In responding to last week's post, a friend noted that the "pause" helps them stay in awareness rather than automatic response mode. If (and that's still a big "if" for me) I can pause, no matter the situation, I can ask myself "What else might be true?" instead of the story I'm telling myself. This makes me think of a moment of judgment I was in at the grocery store a few years ago, related to the cashier's appearance and demeanor. As we chatted, they shared about their two adopted special needs kids, and what a joy it was when those kids had a success at school. I can forgive myself for my sometimes-petty nature, and remember, always, that all is not what it may seem on the surface.

A friend and I are planning a big trip next April, and this week got together with another friend who's had that experience, gleaning advice and direction. That friend talked about her own unexpected psychic rearrangement on the journey and suggested that while we may have an idea of what we hope to gain, it would be good to try to stay open to whatever may actually happen.

Ah yes - plan, but don't plan results, especially in the realm of the heart. I think of my very limited vision when I first got sober. All I really wanted was to get my boyfriend back. It was several years before I understood that I couldn't have stayed sober in that relationship and thank you HP that he didn't return. As I've heard, it doesn't have to feel good to be good, and I certainly don't have all the information when I'm operating from my emotions. 

I think about several folks who say they've lost their sense of purpose as they've retired, or simply gotten older. I could debate "purpose" as I've strived to disentangle myself from the notion that productivity equals worth, but have very rarely felt adrift at this stage. Or invisible, as some of my peers describe. I don't get the same kind of masculine attention I might've 20 years ago, but thank God! And I've had male friends speak to the gift now that the libido no longer runs the show. As a friend reminds, we are mammals, with generally predictable life stages of maturing, the child-bearing capability years, and the decline/aging. How will I embrace the time I have left, including the odd feeling of having outlived my father?

 This week I signed up to walk the Portland Half Marathon (13.1 miles) in October. Maybe it was related to my dad, but as I filled in my bib message of "Happy 70 Bday," I started to cry - gratitude? Wonderment at being this age? The disbelief as I grow old with friends I've had since grade school?  And maybe related to this year anniversary of cancer treatment? Whatever - I can feel the feelings and let them linger or move on through, as the case may be. 

I ran the full marathon for my 60th birthday, with spectators singing "Happy Birthday" along the course. Hard to believe that was 10 years ago now, which is a huge reminder to be present and pay attention, because the next 10 will likely go as quickly. Years ago I read "It's Only Too Late if You Don't Start Now" (B. Sher). Is there anything I'm putting off for the elusive "later?" As I've heard over and over again - If not now, when?  

I frequently pass by my high school going to and from errands. This week I drove by at lunch time, passing groups of boys in twos and fives. I could tell the cool kids from the not, as well as the stark difference between what must've been freshmen and seniors. Oh those 9th graders looked so young, making me think of how young and immature we were when drinking ourselves silly at the local park. Babies, though I certainly didn't think so at the time. 

Observing the obvious maturity in the 12th graders as compared to their underclassmen also made me think of how we come into the rooms - often still dressed like the street urchins or barroom drunks that we were, bouncing off the walls with the half-filled coffee cup so's not to spill. And then, over time, the spinning top slows down and we/I began to dress my age, act more my age (ha - that's debatable) and settle in to this sober life - still fun, but not quite as frenzied. And then, one day, I realized that the sober life was simply my life, and that my AA friends were simply my friends. Today, gratefully, we speak of aging sober and the challenges, or rather, opportunities inherent in experiencing loss, whether those we love, or our own physical or mental capabilities. With program, we need not walk this path alone.

How do you strengthen your ability to pause? Whatever your particular calendar age, what did you imagine that to feel like compared to how it actually is? How do you both stay in the moment and take care of yourself for the long run? And happy May Day, the ancient European marker of the halfway point between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice. Enjoy!

* * *

Ready for an inventory or small group discussion? Check out my 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 shadowsandveins@gmail.com 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, April 24, 2024

Awareness as a tool

 Mindless repetition of any practice, with no clear goal or clarity of intention, can in fact keep us quite unconscious—unless the practices keep breaking us into new insight, desire, compassion, and an ever-larger notion of [Higher Power] and ourselves. Automatic repetition of anything is a recipe for unconsciousness, the opposite of any genuine consciousness, intentionality, or spiritual maturity.     Richard Rohr 4/9/24

The above Richard Rohr quote speaks to me (I get his daily emails) as I strive to remain teachable, always, but especially in long-term recovery when so much of my practice feels automatic - don't drink, go to meetings (or not, as the case may be with you), strive to be honest, open-minded and willing. As my first sponsor used to say, "You either grow, or you go." She didn't say anything about a time limit or an arrival date.

This past week, in Sedona, Arizona, friends and I went for a hike, then more trekking over rocks and boulders to find the Airport Mesa Vortex. We got there, and along with a dozen other seekers, sat quietly to absorb the energy and nature's beauty. I wanted to, but am not sure I actually felt anything, other than the wind. The quest was a bit of "Serenity now!!" in that we'd come all that way and I wasn't leaving until we found a vortex! It was a fun, and beautiful quest in the amazing geology of Sedona, but reminded me that I can't simply conjure up a spiritual experience - OK, Universe, it's Tuesday and I have half an hour, so let's have at it. My moments of psychic rearrangement have usually occurred in a pool of tears, after inventories galore, and the pain that comes with unearthing the deep and often dark caverns of grief - for those I've lost, things not said, or for my own un-awakened self who struggled with how to be in the world.

So, vortex or no vortex (a friend who lived there says it is a sham designed for tourists - not sure I believe that either), I came home from vacation with a renewed appreciation for my everyday life, as well as gratitude for stellar travel companions and the resources to experience new places. I traveled a fair amount in the few years before hitting bottom, but much of that was through the haze of a hangover. It is good to be alive, and aware, and to remember what I did the day before.

Staying aware is a component of keeping my program practice vital. If I'm glossing over the pages in my daily reader because I've practically got them memorized, maybe I can switch to a book of poetry to steer my morning contemplations. If my meetings feel stale (less an issue in the time of zoom), I can always try another, grateful to live in a metropolitan area with multiple choices each day, both online and in-person. Whenever and wherever I notice myself in a stupor of the automatic, I can shake myself awake. 

Kittens help with that - we've had ours now for about 8 months. Nothing like young pets to shake up one's perspective, noticing the sheer joy of their explorations. (For us, part of that has meant moving anything glass or precious out of leaping range.)  Our daughter provides that window into newness and possibilities as well, as do newcomers in meetings where the whole world is at their feet. I am not 24, or 2 months sober, or a kitten (!), however, I don't want to be a stale old lady who's seen it all. I have seen and done a lot, and, the world (both the inner and outer landscapes) are still there - as interesting as I let myself believe them to be.

I once heard someone share that an alcoholic will take a rut, put in indoor-outdoor carpeting and call it home. There's nothing wrong with cozy familiarity, but please let me see beyond the nose on my face or the dirty dishes in the sink.

How do you remain teachable today? Where do you find magic in the everyday? How do you shake yourself out of a mindless stupor to keep your spiritual program alive?

* * *

Ready for an inventory or small group discussion? Check out my 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 shadowsandveins@gmail.com 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, April 17, 2024

Bondage of self

 This week I'm in sunny (hot) Arizona, vacationing with my two travel buddies. I'm not generally a fan of high temps (hence, my love of the usually temperate Pacific Northwest), but a sunny getaway during the rainy months is welcome - as my friend says, vitamin D via nature, not a pill.  And, it's good for my soul to experience an environment unlike my usual day-to-day,  whether that's in the desert,  the Oregon coast, or a walk in the woods. 

I shared at a speaker meeting last weekend (I was the Alanon) - always a trigger for anxiety as well as an opportunity to be of service. I almost didn't go into the addiction counseling field because I knew that lecturing was part of the job description. In high school I'd either cut class or stay home sick on the rare days I needed to do a presentation. Ah, bondage of self - way more concerned with what people might think of me than was warranted. Some of that is adolescence, with the "invisible audience" stage of maturing. No, dear, you only think people are watching you (ha ha - a whole 'nother state of mind when using paranoia-inducing chemicals). Anyhow, I tend to twitch as I think about speaking, but, thank you AA/Alanon, am ok once I get going. And as we know, there are usually three talks we give - the one in the car on the way to the group, the actual share, and the one on our way home, thinking of everything we left out. Yes, here I am, one more time, more like my fellows than different.

I expect to be deep into my temporary elections job when I get home. I think back to early retirement when I had the urge to know what I was supposed to be doing next. I've since settled into the knowledge that what I'm to do will present itself, and that I can change my mind as my priorities shift and change. What a concept! I used to operate on the belief that a decision was a decision was a decision. Obviously, some things are an either-or, but so much isn't. That is one of the freedoms of getting older - that knowing that things change, I change, what I may want changes.

In 1981 in Portland, downtown was reconfigured to include Pioneer Square, dubbed the city's living room, a block with open space and seating for events and just hanging out. As part of the process, personalized bricks were sold that now and forever pave the area. I bought one for myself, my boyfriend, my brother and my bestie's three kids. While I've sort of looked for mine over the years, to no avail, one of my "When I'm Retired" items was to find the brick, which I did recently, with the help of a nice security guy. As I told my brother (who now wants me to find his), this is likely my marker, my headstone of sorts as I don't expect an actual grave when I go. 

And so, an example of priorities - I had vague "I should find my brick" or "I really should go find my grandfather's gravesite" but neither were pressing. Like when I was bemoaning that it was taking literal years to finish my novel, asking myself, "If I say this is important, why is it I do everything but??"  My therapist at the time said, "Maybe you need to choose it," as in, decide, then take the action. And that includes looking at my internalized "should's," a current one being around my writing. I've been wrestling with the "now I'm retired, I should write another book" demon, when in reality, I'm not feeling moved to do so. Is this a dream to release, along with the long ago desire to own a house at the beach or go back to playing the piano? If I really wanted to do any of these things, I'd be doing them, so perhaps I can let myself off the hook, like recently realizing that it's really OK that I haven't read many of the classics or that I'm woefully undereducated regarding classical music, acknowledging that there isn't likely going to be a test at the end! ODAT, what moves my heart today?

As I was leaving my walking group last weekend, full of gratitude for this recovery life, the old fear of the other shoe dropping popped up, as if there is only so much good to go around, and I've had my quota. But then I remembered that last year at this time, I was being treated for breast cancer. Sometimes the other shoe does drop, and the principles of the program always, always get me through.

How does the bondage of self show up for you today? What are your priorities at the moment, not what you think they should be? Does the fear of the other shoe dropping ever stalk you? What do you say to calm it when it does?

* * *

Ready for an inventory or small group discussion? Check out my 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 shadowsandveins@gmail.com 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, April 10, 2024

Inner feelings

 I've found my way (or the way has found me) to the social media algorithms for aging - aging women in particular. I don't mind so much, though it is eerie to suddenly see ads for something I was only thinking about along with the articles about getting older. I'm now seeing all sorts of lovely pieces on aging with grace, aging with "screw you Madison Avenue!" or aging with an eye to the inevitable.

Many of the pieces I read talk about how one feels the same inside all along, though the image in the mirror has changed. I remember my mother talking about that - how she felt the same as she always had, even as she entered her 80's. I agree, though I do have more confidence in myself and my ability to handle life-on-life's-terms than I did when younger. But yes, I was a mischievous and energetic kid who liked reading and climbing trees. Climbing trees is probably not a good idea these days, but the rest still fits. I like to throw parties, I'm drawn to people who make me laugh, I love the beach. How much of who I am and always have been is innate, and how much is learned, and does it really matter at this point?

So what is different, besides the smile lines and saggy neck? Friends and I talk about a shift in energy. What used to include working all day, attending an evening meeting then maybe dinner or a movie afterwards has morphed into quiet evenings at home. A day now feels full if I have two things scheduled, where before, cramming the calendar was the norm and actually fed my energy (I've long said I'd rather be busy than bored). I used to bounce back quicker from a long run/walk or a strenuous hike. I've always needed my 8 hours of sleep, but these days, the getting there is more of a challenge. I have less interest in the latest anything and prefer shopping in my own closet.

On an internal, emotional level, life is generally calmer because I'm not as twitched about people, places and things as I might've been. That's in context of course - an election year here in the US has plenty of opportunity for rumination - but overall, I'm more aware that the beat goes on, with or without my input. There are still blips on the path - a diagnosis, a loss, a change in circumstance - and, I now have years and years of walking through the fears, stumbling over the boulders and watching you do the same, knowing that yes, I am and will be OK.

Maybe it's about redefining what "OK" means. It certainly isn't that every single thing goes my way, that the neighbors will never take my parking spot or that I'll be able to zip the cute jeans. It doesn't mean that I'll never get a scary diagnosis or that no one I love will get sick (I remember my aunt, near the end of her life, asking, "You didn't think I'd live forever, did you?!" Well, yes, I'd kind of hoped...). It doesn't mean that the roof won't leak, or the beloved pet won't die.  What it means today is that I am OK - the internal me, the part of me that observes all the stuff happening in me and my world. And I very much realize that this contemplation is a luxury and might be a different conversation if I didn't know where I'd sleep tonight, or where my next meal was coming from. Always, perspective...

In a recent meeting, someone shared that they prefer the idea of living the Steps vs working them. I like that image. In earlier recovery, I did have to work them - consciously wondering which Step applied and how to use it. I no longer feel like a project, like damaged goods, and over time, the Steps and the principles have simply become a part of my world view. So, for me, the question is, how do I apply the Steps, in my own relatively comfortable life, while being aware of the suffering around me, as well as making myself available for service (whether in program or the greater world)? Deciding where I'll point my attention, how I will greet and accept the various feelings that arise in the course of a day, how I will implement the pause - all keep me in contact with the Steps and the principles of the program.

How has your internalized view of self changed over the years, and how are you still the person you always were? Has the inventory process helped to unravel the parts that were learned and the parts that are simply you? If life is a series of lessons, what is it you are learning today? How do you live and apply the Steps to life on life's terms, the big things and the small, knowing you are ok, no matter what?

* * *

Ready for an inventory or small group discussion? Check out my 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 shadowsandveins@gmail.com 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, April 3, 2024

Decisions

 My stepdaughter's birthday was this past week - our relationship being one of those unexpected gifts I hadn't known I'd wanted. 

I spent a lot (a LOT) of time in my 30's and early 40's on the decision. I was aware I'd kind of done life backwards - when my friends were having kids as young marrieds, I was drinking my brains out, intuitively if unconsciously knowing I probably wouldn't/couldn't stay sober for 9 months. I was then faux-retired, traveling with my boyfriend, neither interested in curtailing our lifestyle.

And then, sobriety at 31 - still in the childbearing years, without a prospect. I could hear the clock ticking, and explored having a baby with a gay friend, but while that was still in the planning stage, met the guy I'd be with for the next 9 years, someone even more ambivalent than I was about parenthood.

And so, he and I muddled through, sometimes talking about marriage and kids, mostly not. I did talk about it for hours with my running pal - training for marathons gives one a lot of time to converse. We were both aware that time was slipping away while saying things like, "When I finish my degree," or "After the next race," obviously not compelled.

I did an awful lot of thinking, however, including checking out several books from the library that were very helpful. One suggested that I journal in one color ink when I was certain I wanted a baby and another color when I was just so-so. That was a great and eye-opening tool, and one I've used for other decision situations. This book also said that whichever path I chose, there would be some regrets, and that not having kids didn't mean that I'd have to be a super-achiever in other areas. Again, useful information for other either/or matters

Eventually, mother nature took the decision from me, though by then, I'd written my master's thesis on the validity of not having children in a culture that hadn't quite caught up with the reality of reproductive choice. And the beat went on...  I never even dated anyone who was actively parenting.

Then I met this guy, this extrovert, who had a 9-year-old daughter. It was a bit of a process for all of us, but our relationship is one of the highlights of my life. As it was for my mom, who'd always said, "Whatever makes you happy, honey," but was so very happy herself to have a granddaughter. 

So what does all this have to do with long-term sobriety? A reminder to myself that, even though I had my hopes and dreams about how life would or could turn out, the details were/are in the hands of the Fates. As always, I can make plans but the outcomes are not in my control. That can feel scary, or "thank goodness!"

I went out to dinner and an in-person meeting last week for a Program friend's 36th anniversary. I will say that while it was nice to see people, it didn't feel like something I need to do again. Friday nights used to be a required meeting/social night, when I lived for the weekend. I drank every night of the week, but on Fridays, especially, it felt important to fill-in-the-blank with meetings and meetings people. These days, whether related to post-pandemic or simply getting older, I'm less inclined.

In any event, the Friday birthday person will always be in my memory for something she said, probably 15 years ago: "When I know better, I have to do better."  At the time, I thought "Crap!" because I knew better but wasn't doing better. Funny how I can hear something 46 times and on the 47th have that "ah ha" moment.  I read somewhere that maturity includes the ability to foresee consequences, then behave accordingly. That is much easier as time goes on, vs the old days of act-now-pay-later. 

This came up recently with a "should" vs self-care. Gratefully, I'm in a place where self-care usually wins out, but still sometimes with the guilt-battle of thinking it's not ok to want what I want or feel what I feel. It used to be that the agitation of that inner-conflict would push me towards a peace-keeping decision, no matter the cost to my serenity. Today I'm better able to slow it all down, take a deep breath and know that if nobody's bleeding and nothing is on fire, I can do what's best for me. 

What is your process when you have a big decision to make? What parts of your life are different than what you'd thought would happen? What about the "When I know better, I have to do better?" Does that trigger a "Yes!" or an "Uh oh"?  What is it you do when an old "should" is trying to convince you to let go of your serenity?

* * *

Ready for an inventory or small group discussion? Check out my 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 shadowsandveins@gmail.com 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, March 27, 2024

Connections

 I'm thinking about connections this week, the gift of our shared histories and recoveries - like Dr Bob said after meeting Bill that first time, "He talked my language." How many times have I heard a complete stranger say what I'm feeling? How many times does someone share something that lights a flame in me, or triggers an insight? 

A good friend and her husband are moving out of state. I say "good friend" though this isn't someone I've hung out with all that much. But we've been in various Step Groups together over the years, have socialized, and have shared many, many meetings together, and deep conversations - that intimacy we can have in Program where we weave in and out of each other's lives. Connections.

I'm also thinking of a small group that meets online every 2 weeks, starting for a good friend's 30th anniversary during the pandemic. The wonders of technology let us stay connected from multiple cities across the country, where if left to our own devices, we might see each other once a year. Connections.

The Big Book says "We are normally people who would not mix." What I like to say in response to that is, "I would've drank with any of you," and we might've been best friends by the end of the evening, or the end of the bottle or bag. I still cringe when I think of my ex and I getting chummy with the out-of-town band at one of our local spots, inviting them over the next night to party Portland-style. Oh man, did the next morning's hangover have us saying, "What did we do?" followed by a phone call to back out of our offer. Embarrassing, but we knew we'd never see these people again, so what the heck. I/we had lots of grand plans in those days - the brilliant ideas of the sitting-on-the-barstool variety that never, ever came to pass. I am still and always grateful to wake up clear headed each morning, remembering what I did the day before and with whom. 

My spouse and I made it through the big rummage sale this past weekend, a little bit richer, a little less in the garage, sharing laughter along the way. Knowing it could be a dicey time, we started each morning with the Serenity Prayer and our intention to go with the flow. Interesting, isn't it, to actually talk about what is, or might be, going on rather than relying on mind reading? Ha! I will also say that being in recovery has taught me how to comfortably talk with strangers, thus I made a couple of sale-pals as we counted down the hours. I also paid attention to the still, small voice that was not so still and not so small when it shouted, "Get out of here!" on Sunday. Because a friend was there to help out, I was able to take an introvert's break, catch the bus home for a quiet couple of hours, and return refreshed and ready to load out when the time came. Thank you, Program tools. Thank you "to thine own self be true." Sometimes the connection is with myself. 

What are the connections that feed you today, whether particular meetings or particular people? How do you honor the connection to your higher self when the busy world wants to distract you? Is there a potential disruption to your path that could be averted with a conversation?

* * *

Ready for an inventory or small group discussion? Check out my 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 shadowsandveins@gmail.com 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, March 20, 2024

Centered...

 In a meeting last week, someone pointed out that they would never have imagined the life they have today. I was verklempt as I realized that yes, my life is wonderful, and it is the life I'd always imagined for myself - simple and solid, centered on home and relationships.

I've written about that before, how when I was married to my first husband (way too young) I'd imagine what life could be like. And then, in a long-term relationship with a man who traveled extensively for work, I longed for what I thought of as normalcy - a mate who comes home at night to a casserole in the oven, simple and solid. It took a long time, even in to sobriety, to realize that never could've happened given the circumstances.   

Part of my unconscious dilemma of being able to acknowledge what it was I wanted in life is that I didn't even know who I was. I was unsettled, but from what? Starting to drink and drug at age 13, my sense of self was defined by whoever I was with at the moment. Sure, my core personality (very shy and introverted until that 3rd drink) was there, but I would've had a hard time describing myself. Getting sober at 31gave me the opportunity to grow up, to define what it was/is that matters to me, learning to listen to the still, small voice.

Richard Rohr, in his post from March 15, says, "We do not find our center; it finds us." Ahh, that feels like a relief, an exhale. Now that I do know who I am, I don't have to search under rocks, try, try, try to "find" peace of mind. If I'm not careful, that sense of center will fly right by when I'm distracted by the issue of the day - last week it was a flat tire, this week it's preparing for the big rummage sale, next week it could be just about anything. I need to handle the affairs of the day while still leaving space for the mystery, to metaphorically or actually smell the flowers.

When my spouse came home from work after my emotional reaction to the idea of living the life I'd always wanted, I started to literally weep as I expressed my gratitude, which was also attached to the year anniversary of my surgery. I've since heard from a couple of people that those anniversaries of diagnosis or treatment continue to be a touchpoint, even years after the fact. Just one more reason I appreciate your experience, strength and hope, guiding me along places I hadn't even known I was going.

One of my daily readers says, "I can live spiritually in the simple acts of daily living."  I need that reminder as we mark the Equinox, sometimes, still, thinking that "spirit" is out there in the forest or a bed of daffodils, when, really, the spiritual life is in the flat tire or doing the dishes as well. Quiet moments in nature are wonderful, and I spend most of my days in the kitchen or in the car. How do I bring my focus back to the bigger picture? 

Back in the day, did you have a vision for how life might be in the nebulous "someday?" How does that imagining compare to how your life looks today?  How does your sense of self contrast with how you were in the world before recovery? With the earth in brief balance between light and dark, how do you re-center if you're feeling off?

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Ready for an inventory or small group discussion? Check out my 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 shadowsandveins@gmail.com 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, March 13, 2024

Acceptance

 We made a quick trip this past weekend to visit the in-laws, always a joy, especially seeing the little ones grow up in just the short time since our last visit, as well as being able to share and express love with my husband's elderly and ailing (though healing remarkably) step-dad. These connections are precious. I am so grateful to be a part of the family.

Always, one of the highlights of our visits is seeing our AA family, attending our home-away-from-home group with a laughter-filled coffee date after. Again, precious connections over time and space.

The speaker-discussion meeting we attended provided much food for thought with the speaker talking about the inner peace that comes when we can accept all of life as being what it is. As he described it, we often start out focused on school, career, partnership, etc, but that true serenity comes when we understand that we are OK, regardless of what is going on in our world. As the Big Book says, "job or no job, wife or no wife."  I won't find inner peace as long as I attached my mood to my outer circumstances. OK, so obviously, I'm impacted by what is happening to and around me, and if I'm able to take a step back, I know I'm ok no matter what. 

That seems particularly relevant today, literally one year from my surgery for breast cancer. Oh man, I was scared, never having had surgery before, wavering between trust and fear. At the time, my sponsor encouraged me to go into the process with curiosity, an "Isn't this interesting?" mind set. That was helpful and brought me back to the here and now several times. A good reminder, still, as I think about the disruption to my routines that felt like forever.  And, here we are, a year later and all is well. (I knew it was time to discontinue physical therapy when I realized it didn't hurt when someone hugged me).

I did send a "thank you" message to the cancer counselor who helped me walk through the scary days, including giving me "permission" to be freaked out, even though my situation was fairly straightforward. I can still tell myself that I shouldn't be feeling what I feel, since so many others have it worse. True, and it is more helpful to acknowledge my emotions and let them pass through than to scold myself.

Being a union household, we generally take a cab to the airport, and I'm always curious about where the drivers come from. One of the trips this week was with a man from Ethiopia, who described tribal conflicts that prompted his father to immigrate. We made a comment about things in the US being in a bit of a state at the moment, to which he just chuckled, saying he was grateful that here one can express an opinion without worrying about being turned in by the neighbors and being carted away in the night. I can complain about our national dysfunction and am reminded that other places do not have the freedoms we do. The question to myself is always, "Am I part of the problem or part of the solution?"

Both the in-person meeting last Friday, and a regular zoom group last week, touched on the idea of actually practicing the principles vs dialing it in, along with the importance of being honest with oneself. On one hand, I no longer view myself as broken, as needing to be fixed, and, I am aware of the human tendency at rationalization. Let me be honest, with you and with me, aware of when I'm simply going through the motions and when I'm truly connected to my heart, and to yours.

Where are you on the acceptance continuum today? How do you detach from people, places and things in order to dwell in serenity? What in your past serves as a reminder that all is well, even when it doesn't feel good in the moment? How are you part of the solution today?

* * *

Ready for an inventory or small group discussion? Check out my 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 shadowsandveins@gmail.com 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, March 6, 2024

Live your best life

 The likely grandchild of "Have a nice day" and "Don't worry, be happy," the current T-shirt, coffee mug and bumper sticker adage of "Live your best life!" can either make me pause, gag, or smile, depending on my mood. 

Currently, I have friends who are traveling in Southeast Asia and in Qatar, others who are snow-birding here in the States. A couple of friends go out dancing two or three times a week, while others are active in their grandchildren's lives. Some of my friends live near the sea and others are in big cities, hundreds of miles from where they were raised. Some are happy, some are so-so, and what I realize as I think of how others are living their lives, is that comparison is the enemy of serenity. Sometimes, my best life means getting on an airplane or behind the wheel, and sometimes it means staying up to watch a silly sitcom with my working man who got home late. Sometimes sitting on my couch with a cuppa on a cold, rainy day is heaven, and sometimes it's not. And as I'm forever reminded, "This too, shall pass," whether that is joy or sorrow, boredom or excitement. 

Speaking of de-cluttering (ha!), my spouse and I are getting ready for a big sale at the end of March - one of those events where one buys space, then crosses our fingers that we at least make back the investment. Hard to say at this point, and all dependent on who shows up wanting what. I think of all my mother's tchotchkes and Avon stuff (she was the neighborhood Avon Lady for decades). She, and we, thought we were sitting on a gold mine, and had we tried to sell ten years earlier, that might've been true. It will be what it will be - some books, some music, some t-shirts and miscellany, hauling it in and hopefully hauling less back home.

I keep seeing articles that our generation's kids don't want the fine china, or the heavy dining room table, being more of the Ikea mind-set of light weight and easy to move. I get it, kind of, but do feel an attachment to "stuff," like my mom's carved hope chest, my grandmother's desk and a couple of wicker-seated chairs. I understand that much of what I value is no longer in fashion, which leads me to keep what I like (and actually use it) and dispose of the rest (whether sales, donations or to family and friends). It is definitely a process.

And while it can seem that many intangibles have also gone out of style (greeting those one passes on the street, general kindness to strangers, truth vs opinion), I hang on to the universal truths of the program - strive for honesty with self and others, amend when I screw up, remember that I'm not in charge. Sometimes I feel unmoored "nowadays" with just enough technological know-how to get by, watching my generation of musicians and other icons die. Why, I remember seeing that band when I was 15, or 20, or even 35, and now we're all old people, gratefully, as that is a gift denied to many, though the ticking clock can be disconcerting.

And so, with March being the month for Step 3 focus, how will I get out of the driver's seat? How do I remember to go ahead and make plans, then let go of the wheel of expectation?  How will I "live my best life," knowing that I'm the only one who can define that?

What does Step 3 mean in your daily life? How to you move away from comparison to contentment? What universal truths make up your worldview? How does "live your best life" shift from day to day?

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Ready for an inventory or small group discussion? Check out my 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 shadowsandveins@gmail.com 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, February 28, 2024

Choices

 I'm reminded, again and again, that when I'm sober, I have choices - how to spend my time, how to spend my money, how to spend this one precious life. (I recently saw a post on social media that said, "Stop waiting for a special occasion - every day alive is a special occasion"). 

I'm also reminded, again and again, that it's one day at a time - absolutely all of it. Sobriety, healing physically or emotionally, gardening, the kittens maturing/simmering down, the seemingly endless de-clutter projects and on and on. That used to bother me. "Quit throwing around that 'odat' BS you old-timers" I'd think, as I'd drive myself crazy trying to solve the problem of the day all at once. In reality, living one day at a time is a huge spiritual discipline. Obviously, we really can only live in this one day, but man, oh man can my mind jump to the future, to no avail, whether that is the big "F" future, as in anticipation of health or illness, or the smaller "f' concerns of getting to the grocery store during a sale. One day at a time, one task at a time, one decision at a time. 

The good news is that I've gravitated to meetings, mostly online, with others who feel about program like I do - that it is a way of life, not a destination to check off. To me, recovery is like a second language - if I don't use it, I lose it. I know that people practice the principles in many different ways, especially as time goes on, but for me, "Don't drink and go to meetings" still works.  

It was literally one year ago that I received a diagnosis of breast cancer, during a snowstorm, internal knowing all would be well going to battle with a slew of fears. And here I am today, healthy and healing. I think of all the other times I thought life was over, or questioned my ability to survive - my father dying, way too young at 56, several relationship endings (always a challenge), a couple of job lay-offs or leaving a job without another in place... Life works out, and I've ALWAYS been able to walk through the fear, the sorrow, the sadness, at least partly because I now have past experience to draw from, and because I have your experience, strength and hope to guide me.

Several sponsees are going through the wringer lately. Sometimes I can share my experience, strength and hope and sometimes I can simply be a compassionate, listening heart. I remember the panic when I was first asked to sponsor someone. I called a friend, with way more experience (as in 6 months more) than me. "What do I do?!" "It's simple," she replied. "You just nod your head and say 'uh-huh, tell me more'." Ha! Obviously there's a bit more to it than that, like the Steps for one thing, but the process isn't as complicated as I can make it. Sometimes my sponsors get me and sometimes they don't. Sometimes I relate to what is shared with me, sometimes I don't. The important piece is in the listening, or when I'm the one seeking guidance, in the telling. My disease of isolation can sometimes whisper that I don't need to call or text or email because, with X number of years, I know what to do. Sure. I usually know what to do, and, it is in the reaching out that healing occurs. I don't usually get my "ah-ha" moments in a vacuum. Those moments of insight nearly always come from something I've read, or something I've heard, whether in a meeting or in a conversation with a trusted other. 

In addition to my year cancer-versary, this week marks 38 years since I went to my first Alanon meeting, desperate for some magic words that would convince my drug-dealer, heroin addicted kinda-sorta boyfriend to get clean (even though I knew that's not how it worked). The disease got him, despite my attempts at both attraction and promotion, but as I sat in meetings, I realized that I'd been impacted by the family disease, even though my dad got sober when I was 12. I've shed a lot of tears in Alanon, seeking to unravel what I learned in my family and what needed to be unlearned. After many, many inventories and some years of outside help, today I'm able to reflect on the positives I got growing up instead of focusing on what was missing. I don't have active alcoholism in my life today (thank you Universe!) but I do carry around this brain that can still believe I'm in charge, that it's up to me to fix whatever is out of whack, that if I hang on real tight, everything will be ok. Everything is ok. Always has been, even when it felt otherwise. Thank you Alanon. 

How do you remember that everything is alright, even in the midst of turmoil? Do you sponsor and/or do you have a sponsor? Knowing that relationship looks different in long-term sobriety, what works for you, and as importantly, what doesn't? 

* * *

Ready for an inventory or small group discussion? Check out my 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 shadowsandveins@gmail.com 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, February 21, 2024

Be-ing vs do-ing

 In a recent Public Broadcasting documentary about the artist Edward Hopper, one of the historians said, "Some people are born as who they're meant to be," implying that he was on his trajectory from the gate. That stuck with me, thinking of all the times I've heard people in the rooms talk about how sobriety has allowed them to become who they were meant to be. What does that mean exactly? Was I not myself when drunk or sticking a needle in my arm, when the substance of the moment was making decisions for me? Like many of us, I grew up being told I had potential. Potential. What does that even mean?  Back then, potential and a few dollars would've bought me a pack of cigarettes and a drink. Potential. There's a lot of pressure in that one word.

Maybe that becoming who we were meant to be has to do with our goals and dreams. I never let myself dream much about the future, knowing my follow-through muscle was sorely lacking. I often go back to the great addiction movie, Boogie Nights, thinking of the two women sitting on the bed, coked to the gills, talking about all the things they planned to do, with the hideous hangover making even getting out of bed a chore. 

So, I kept my world pretty small. I say that, though traveling to faraway places with my boyfriend, but that's as far as it got - the next trip, where should we eat, dare I sneak a wee bit of cocaine in my luggage? But never any plans for myself. Sure, I thought about taking a class, and even did a couple of times, but my boyfriend's schedule took priority. I'm not complaining - it was an exciting time in many ways, and we genuinely cared for each other, but as far as me being me - I didn't even know what that meant.

When I was married to my first husband, in my early twenties, I had a daydream about living on my own, going to college, growing tomatoes in my garden and having friends who were mine, not just because their mates were friends with my spouse. Very simple, and a little sad to think that was all I wanted. And then, a few years into recovery, I realized that I had it. I was going to school, had a group of new friends, and tomatoes in the yard. What else might I achieve if I but dreamed it? For me that meant working in treatment, visiting the Great Wall of China, earning a couple of degrees, running marathons. The Big Book tells me that my wants might not always be granted, but my needs always will. I can say that for me, it's been both, maybe because, over time, my wants have come into line with my needs - still fairly simple, and simpler as time goes on.

What does all that mean today, aging in long term recovery? Way less about achieving and more about being present. I always liked the sound of "I'm a human be-ing, not a human do-ing" and as time goes on, that makes more and more sense. Paying sweet attention to relationships as I bear witness to the fragility of this life; paying attention to the beauty all around me (and seeking that out if there is too much concrete in my days); paying attention to my spiritual practice as I heed the old-timers who came before me saying "The solution to all my problems is spiritual in nature," (recognizing that 99% of my "problems" are mere annoyances).

And so, one day at a time, I will reflect on the "me" I was meant to be to see if there are any remaining gaps. I will pay attention to my surroundings as spring blossoms appear. I will value dear friends and family, even those who's worldviews are different from my own. I will use the slogan, "How Important is It?" to clarify what does and doesn't matter. And, I will plant tomatoes when the time is right.

Do you feel like you've become who you were meant to be? What dreams did you have coming in to recovery? Have you achieved those and/or readjusted? Where are you on the continuum of reaching for achievement and relaxing into what is? What is it you most appreciate today?

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Ready for an inventory or small group discussion? Check out my 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 shadowsandveins@gmail.com 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