The Helping Hand

In recent months, many of us have found ourselves cut off from our loved ones, including our fellows in sobriety. We have had to spend more time alone than usual and rely on ourselves more than we would like to. Sometimes the feelings of loneliness and isolation have been painful, especially for those of us who live on our own.

All of this aloneness has gotten me thinking about the perennial dilemma of how much support we should demand from the people in our lives and to what extent we should expect to care for ourselves.

Not surprisingly, there is a sober saying about this. And it gets right to the point:

We should not ask too much of our loved ones.

But how much is too much? We want to be able to turn to others for comfort and companionship, help and advice, but where do we draw the line?

This dilemma seems to be especially daunting for anyone who experienced challenges as a child. Most of us have some childhood issues or unmet needs, no matter how sweet or well-intentioned our parents. Some of us are loaded down with dysfunction and trauma from our youth. And all humans have a tendency to bring our unresolved issues into our closest relationships.

I wish we lived in a world where anyone with family baggage could be met at childhood’s end by a rescue squad of medical and psychiatric first responders (and perhaps a speedy getaway vehicle with a loud siren). These heroic rescuers would carry traumatized (or even mildly neurotic) folks (plus luggage) away from their dysfunctional youth, wrap them in blankets, nurture them back to sanity and release them into adulthood.

Alas there is no such healing posse to meet us when we leave our families of origin, no matter how much our childhoods resembled natural disasters, burning buildings or crime scenes. We depart, or sometimes escape, on our own, often without seeking professional help or treatment (at least not immediately). It is our intimate friends, and especially our loving partners, who bear the brunt of our yearning for rescue.

I wish I had known when I was destroying my relationships with my neediness what I am in learning as a sober person, which is to take more responsibility for my own wellbeing.

Fortunately, recovery offers a few guidelines on self-care beyond the general suggestion of never asking too much of others.

For starters we learn a simple approach to looking after ourselves known by the acronym HALT:

We should never let ourselves get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.

In sobriety we are expected to feed ourselves, find ways to calm ourselves (exercise, meditation or attending a recovery meeting are a few popular choices), make sure we are rested, and reach out to our friends.

We are also encouraged to develop a network of sober acquaintances, preferably more than just one or two, whom we can call upon for comfort or companionship when we feel lonely or distressed. Attending regular meetings also helps to satisfy our need for love and community.

And of course we should seek professional help for any physical, psychological or circumstantial problem that is more than we and our friends can handle.

There is one more piece of sober wisdom when it comes to not asking too much of our fellow humans, perhaps the most important advice of all:

Find someone you can help.

Instead of focusing obsessively on our own needs and wounds, we are taught in recovery to reach out to others. In particular we are encouraged to help other alcoholics and addicts who might need “experience, strength and hope.” But we don’t have to limit ourselves to our friends in recovery. Reaching out to all of the people in our circle, anyone who might want to connect in friendship or need, is a surprisingly effective antidote to our own neediness.

The secret to this magical move could be that many of our problems as alcoholics and addicts are attributed to our extreme self-preoccupation and isolation. It stands to reason that by taking unselfish action to help another we simultaneously heal ourselves.

Nothing lifts my loneliness, ennui or malaise more swiftly and effectively than focusing on helping a relative, friend or new acquaintance. And in these tough times, we will never be at a loss for someone in distress to whom we can extend a loving hand.

I don’t want to ask too much of you. So here is a gentle suggestion:

The next time you feel restless, irritable, discontented or lonely, try reaching out to help. Call or text someone. Inquire about someone’s health and happiness. Listen and empathize. It will help you, too, more than you could possibly imagine.

Uneasy

Some recovery sayings are easier said than done. For instance:

Easy does it.

When I first heard this little proverb, I scoffed at its obviousness. What a cliche. Who can’t do that? It seemed to me that nothing could be simpler than letting go and drifting peacefully with life’s flow.

I was wrong. There’s a saying about that, too. In recovery we learn that all humans are frequently mistaken.

There is, as it turns out, nothing simple about kicking back and chilling. Especially right now. At least not for me.

How about you?

I am writing this with a heart full of gratitude that I have found a new home away from home in a state whose low covid statistics make it a wise choice for a person in a vulnerable demographic. I am grateful to be living less than five minutes from my beloved son. There is much to celebrate in my adopted state of Vermont in the colorful, magical, chilled-to-perfection fall season.

I remind myself daily how fortunate I am.

And yet I cannot say that I find it easy to take it easy as I settle into my little 1920s bungalow with its pretty brick fireplace and tiny back deck. I feel nervous and out of sorts.

The world around me seems uneasy.

The two-lane rural route at the end of my driveway roars and rumbles from dawn to nightfall with the traffic of a state whose population has burgeoned in recent months with more than 70,000 refugees from the pandemic, including this writer, although I have been spending time in these mountains since the 1980s. The southwestern part of Vermont where I live is no longer quite as peaceful or bucolic as it once was when I first visited in 1984. You can hear it in the whoosh of traffic, see it in the anxious faces of the new arrivals from New Jersey and New York and the beleaguered expressions of the natives. There is a edgy something in the air that signifies fear, change, and a boom that is driven by death and panic–a boom that is not entirely welcome.

I don’t feel completely welcome here, which is one reason why I can’t seem to relax. Yes, I know and love this region after years of visiting. I’m not quite an arriviste flatlander. My son now lives and works here. Still it would be presumptuous and self-aggrandizing to call myself a native. And self-flattery is not a sober behavior. I cannot claim true Green Mountain roots.

Next door my neighbor is fixing up his late mother’s home in order to cash in on a real estate market that local brokers describe as “on fire.” When I seek refuge on my back deck from the noisy road, I hear the insistent bang of my neighbor’s staple gun and the shrill whine of his power tools. His feverish drive to fix up that house and sell it is palpable.

Nobody in my adopted home is taking it easy these days.

How can we let go and relax during a pandemic that has stolen over 200,000 American lives and shows no sign of abating? How can we not worry with a contentious election looming and an economy that is tanking?

We are living in terrifying times from which escape and respite are not readily available.

But here is the miracle, the audaciousness of recovery. Nothing about it is easy but we do it anyway. No matter what is going on in our lives or in our world. And because we commit to doing it no matter what, we can depend on it through the best and worst of times.

We do it anyway. With a prayer to our Higher Power and the help of our literature and our sober fellows, we follow the suggestions of our recovery program no matter how ridiculous or impossible or trivial they may seem. Our recovery program, with its sayings and meetings, its books and fellowship, is what gets us through hard times. What could be more challenging than giving up the beloved addictions that kill us while we remain convinced that they are holding us together? And yet with the help of our recovery program we jettison our deadly habits.

Sometimes it requires tremendous effort and a lot of prayer to follow our sober maxims. That’s why we call it “working our program.” But we sober folk also say from the heart and from experience that working our program is “worth it.” That is an enormous understatement. When we put the work into recovery we find promises fulfilled and miracles great and small.

So today I decided to work my program. On my back porch, as my neighbor sawed and stapled, I meditated on the idea of “easy does it.” While my dog sniffed the colorful shrubs, I leaned back in a plastic Adirondack chair and allowed myself to take pleasure in the comfort, indeed ease, I had purchased for $14 at the Price Chopper. Turning my attention away from my noisy neighbor, I raised my eyes to take in the beautiful stand of trees behind my house and marvel at the range of species on one small hillside (maple, oak and several varieties of pine) along with the panoply of leaf colors (emerald, rust, lemon and scarlet, to name a few). And I noticed that with a little exertion I was able to take things a little bit easier.

Which brings to mind another sober saying, one we repeat after every recovery meeting:

It works if you work it, so work it.

Like my neighbor, like the folks on the road, I had better get busy. It’s going to take some time and a little effort to find serenity and sobriety in these hills.

Shameful

In my estimation, the toughest piece of sober love, and the hardest recovery maxim to live by, is this:

We must accept life on life’s terms.

Life has some agonizingly painful terms, and practicing the degree of acceptance that is required to live with and by these rules is about as hard as recovery gets.

But we have to do it if we wish to stay sober.

I say this with one caveat. We don’t have to accept the things that we can change. So if change is possible, we can get out of onerous acceptance.

In recent months I have run into a collection of life’s rules and regulations that I am having some trouble accepting.

In my opinion, these terms reflect a shameful, indeed misogynistic, aspect of life in the place and time in which I live.

The rules to which I refer have to do with deep and sexist prejudices against women in general, empty nest mothers, divorced women, and single older women–especially when the single empty nest divorced older mother is the mother of a son. And I am all of those things.

Because of these characteristics, I have practically been run out of the socially conventional and apparently sexist corner of the world where I am currently residing.

My son and I have always enjoyed a close relationship, not only because we are a lot alike and have many interests in common, but also because when he was young he had learning issues that required extra support and advocacy from me. I was not only his mother but also the person who always had his back–not because I was perfect but because I loved him and that was what he needed. He was also an only child. Moreover, after his father and I divorced, his dad’s new life took him frequently to California, where his dad eventually relocated.  I was the parent on the scene. A close relationship was inevitable.

We were also blessed by the fact that I am not a sexual abuser nor do I have a violent temper. I have plenty of character defects but none of them resulted in abusing my child. And we have both been further blessed by the program of AA, which has encouraged us to be honest with each other about our history, and to express our resentments and apologize for past wrongs. No relationship is perfect but my son and I have a friendship that is as healthy in its closeness as any family relationship can be.

What I only discovered after my son left our hometown of DC a little over a year ago, is that according to societal mores and taboos, especially in parts of the world observing old-fashioned gender and family roles, the single mother of a grown son is supposed to disappear from his life except for Christmas and Thanksgiving. Then, depending on her situation, she should return to full-time work, find an ancient boyfriend online and stock her medicine cabinet with  age-appropriate sexual enhancements, take up dollhouse collecting or watercolor painting, and not reappear until or unless he needs her to babysit.

The older single empty nest mom of an only son is a pariah like no other.

Nobody in my son’s current life seems to understand  nor approve of the close relationship I have with my only and male child. No matter how much I try to get out of the way of his career and personal life, the mere fact that my son and I wish to spend time together results in him being bombarded with remarks like:

It is weird that you are close to your mother.  

You need to get free of her.

Your mother is scheming to get you to take care of her for the rest of her life.

Your mother is trying to control you, your life and your career.

Your mother is treating you like a husband. She needs a man.

And none of these things could be further from the truth.

It is hard to break through old taboos and myths–and the taboos and myths about older women and their sons are some of the harshest in our society. Going up against them is going up against a vicious and longstanding tradition of misogyny and hate-filled stereotypes of older women.

I don’t have scientific proof but I feel intuitively that if it were his dad and not me in this situation, the reaction would be entirely different. Their relationship would be celebrated as adorable. His dad would be considered a lively old character and a welcome addition to my son’s social circle. Heck, if his dad weren’t married and they lived together, it would be considered cute: look at those father/son bachelors. How precious!

Like I said, life’s terms can be brutal, and sometimes it feels equally challenging to practice acceptance or attempt change.

Accepting myself as a pariah, and coming to terms with the degree to which I have been unwelcome in my son’s adult life, is some painful recovery work. I am trying to be sporting about it, although I feel as if I am dodging slings and arrows on a daily basis, and spending a lot of time attempting to make peace with FOMA.

And this writing is as far as I will probably go in terms of making a bid for change.

It may be that I will not be able to make a permanent home in the surprisingly unfriendly community in which my son has taken up residence. I am already making plans to spend at least a third of my time in my hometown of 35 years, DC, where I have loving friends and am not shunned on a daily basis.

In recovery I have learned that when the going gets rough, I can always be grateful for at least one very important thing, as long as I stay sober. And that is this:

I am very very thankful that I did not drink over this pain.

Here is another thing that lifts my spirits in spite of all the negative energy coming at me these days:

I am endlessly thankful for my recovery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Survival

Remember the toilet paper panic of a few months ago, when millions of folks hoarded paper products and bathroom tissue became so scarce that one small town police station reported getting SOS calls from folks who had run out of TP?

The coronavirus pandemic has triggered the doomsday prepper in many of us.

While there is nothing especially harmful in a little hoarding during frightening and difficult times, I am concerned about what an apocalyptic attitude is going to do to those of us whose survival depends on our sobriety.

In recovery we are told to beware of “stinking thinking” and perhaps the most dangerous thought pattern of all is what I would call planning for a doomsday relapse. Many addicts and drunks have in our back pockets–though we may be loathe to admit it– a secret plan to relapse in the event that the world comes to an end: maybe it’s a nuclear war, or the final days of a terminal illness–or an out-of-control virus killing hundreds of thousands of people around the globe. Whatever our End of Days fantasy, we plan, in the words of the old saying, to “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.”

I am not saying that every alcoholic or addict thinks this way, or even most of us. But it has certainly crossed my mind that I might be more than tempted to fall off the wagon when facing the Grim Reaper, and I know more than a few others who have admitted to similar fantasies.

In fact, substance abuse experts are reporting a definite uptick in drug and alcohol relapses during the covid crisis. They blame social isolation for this tragic trend–and every sober person knows that too much time alone and lonely can breed the kind of stinking thinking that allows us to rationalize a return to drinking or drugging during a scary national emergency.

There is, however, an antidote to stinking survival thinking. It’s a simple axiom that anyone who has experienced the joy and serenity of sobriety cannot deny:

Nothing, nothing at all, is made better by a drink (or a recreational drug).

If we addictive types meditate on this, meditate on it deeply, it can help us jettison that day of reckoning relapse plan–maybe toss it for good. Because while most if not all of our apocalyptic terrors will prove unfounded, nothing will bring on our personal doomsdays sooner than a relapse.

And nothing will help our chances of surviving a global crisis better than staying sober.

Think about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let Crow and Let God

He did it again today. He does it every afternoon at 4:30.

The rooster across the creek crowed loudly and enthusiastically, his happy song giving a lift to my soul as energizing as a cup of Earl Grey and a scone at teatime.

I didn’t always feel so inspired by my neighborhood Foghorn Leghorn. The first time I heard his piercing call, I was disturbed. Roosters were supposed to crow in the morning–or at least that was what I had believed my entire urban-dwelling life.  Doodle-dooing in the late afternoon upset me. I wondered if he was a mutant or perhaps an ailing bird? Maybe his owners worked the night shift and had trained him to let them sleep in. I brooded about the rooster for quite some time.

And then I remembered that in recovery I am supposed to “live and let live” on a daily basis. I have no control “over people, places and things.” That includes barnyard friends.

My four-month stay in rural Vermont has been challenging to the sober practice of acceptance–at least in part.  While many aspects of life in the Green Mountains are easy to love–the dazzling emerald hills, the red barns and rainbow wildflowers, the sweet evening air–other elements of country living inspire in me a dry drunk desire to meddle and control.

Take the rooster, for instance. For the longest time I wanted to change his habits–or at least understand why he crowed at teatime instead of at breakfast. And there are some other creatures whose habits bother me. Why has a family of wasps built a mini-nest between the panes of my kitchen window? Could they not find a more suitable place to camp? And why did a recent thunder storm conspire with local raccoons to tip over my garbage can so that the clever critters could drag an oversized garbage bag onto the lawn, rip it open and feast on its contents?

I have felt equally compelled to alter the way that the people in my new neck of the woods interact with each other.  My neighbors next door and across the road could not be sweeter. We wave, smile and exchange greetings on a regular basis, and once in a while we stop to chat. Both families recently welcomed new babies–and I have cooed enthusiastically over these darling additions to the neighborhood.

But here’s the thing. Outside of warm greetings, families in these parts generally seem to keep to themselves, which is why, I guess, the two new moms have never met. I realize that it is not my business to be starting an infant playgroup here, especially when I recall that my only child is now 28. Still I can’t control my desire to get these women together. I want to see them strolling side by side with their babies and chatting on their porches the way we carried on in my suburban DC neighborhood when my son was young. And yet I know that isn’t the way it happens around here and I should mind my own business. I also need to stop fretting about the family who just moved into the apartment building across the creek and who were not included in the July 4th barbecue hosted by other residents of the complex.

“Let go and let God,” whispers my Higher Power.

So now I am attempting to do just that: Accept, even enjoy, the quirks of my new corner of the world. For instance, I am trying to chill out about the critters and enjoy their shenanigans. When I relax, I find I am actually amused by the antics of raccoons, chipmunks and other woodland creatures–and intrigued by the myriad species of insects that can alight on panes of window glass on a summer afternoon or evening.

As for the neighbors, I am trying to be grateful for the encounters I do have with them and not worry so much about how they relate to each other. Recently I delivered a baby gift to the nextdoorika I know best and enjoyed a slice of homemade cake in her kitchen. It was delightful to safely socialize and admire an adorable newborn across a rustic country table. And not too long ago, I spied an apartment cookout across the creek and saw to my relief that the new family had been invited to join in

Maybe one day I will host a housewarming and invite all of the folks I have met to meet each other. And maybe I will anchor my trash can with a few rocks to keep those adorable raccoons from spreading garbage on the grass.

In the meantime, whenever the weather is fair,  I plan to drink my afternoon iced tea outside in the garden: lean back, take in the glorious greenery of Vermont, and enjoy the sweet crowing of my most entertaining and eccentric homie.

 

 

 

Foul Weather Friend

Some of my favorite sober sayings are those coined by the wonderful people I have met in recovery. One wise friend of mine, for instance, offered the brilliantly simple observation that:

Alcoholics Anonymous teaches us how to behave.

Drunks and druggies are specialists in terrible behavior. When we are deep in our addictions, we fumble and stumble through life, insanely selfish, hurting and endangering other people (and ourselves) with our rage and craziness.

What a tremendous relief it is to enter the rooms of recovery and with the help of AA and the Twelve Steps, learn how to navigate our lives and relationships with intelligence, kindness and humility.

We learn to listen. We learn to cultivate the courage to reach out and help our fellows.

We learn to take care of our own physical and spiritual wellbeing.

We learn the beauty of restraint, progress not perfection, living one day at a time. We experience the true joy of striving for serenity, not the frantic manic happiness of our drinking and drugging days.

We learn to practice acceptance, and reach out to a Higher Power of our own definition for guidance and inspiration.

We learn to let go of self-centered fear.

I have been thinking about the words of my sage acquaintance lately, because in recent days I have started to worry that I am forgetting how to behave. The diabolical pandemic is causing me to lose my recovery compass and my map. And while I have not yet taken a drink, all of the radical life changes that have come with the global health crisis seem to be throwing me off my sobriety game. I am struggling especially with the disappearance of in-person recovery meetings. Indeed the stricture that I must stay away from other humans and somehow figure out a life that does not involve encounters with other people, is depleting me of the emotional and spiritual energy that fuels me. And perhaps because I am a Baby Boomer, not a Millennial, seeing faces on computer screens or tapping texts into my phone does not sustain me emotionally. I need the presence and the touch of other human beings.

In my isolation and loneliness, I am falling into depression, despite powerful psych meds that have previously alleviated my tendency to become blue. My life force and drive are fading. I am losing interest in things that used to give me inspiration and energy. Increasingly, I feel restless, irritable and discontent. I am veering dangerously close to a case of the f-its and a possible relapse.

But wait…there is more. More is always being revealed in recovery, as previously noted in this space. And more means hope.

The epiphany that came to my rescue today was this:

Twelve Step recovery is not a fair-weather way of life.

Even now, with the entire globe in crisis, when I feel personally threatened by a virus that has killed hundreds of thousands of people my age and is spreading menacingly and mercilessly through my country, the recovery program of AA has wisdom that can shore me up and guide me as always.

And a central piece of that wisdom, which I must put into practice immediately, is that living by sober principles and behaving in sober ways is not just for easy happy days. One of the most famous passages in recovery literature tells us that we must put our precepts into practice “in fair weather or foul…stay sober, keep in emotional balance and live to good purpose under all conditions….”

As I reflect on these hard but life-saving truths, it occurs to me that my behavioral crisis was really an escapist’s search for a way out. I wanted an easy approach to get me off the hook in coping with the terrors and deprivations of the pandemic, a way out of practicing the principles of recovery under challenging circumstances. I was suffering from a terminal case of “stop the world, I want to get off.”

I am sure I am not alone. Millions of people probably wish they could leave the planet for a healthier happier existence somewhere else–or perhaps time-travel to better days.

But as an addict I know where the escapist impulse will lead me–straight into the nightmare of a relapse, which will end my life as surely as any lethal virus. Escape is not an option. Instead I must practice my sober way of living courageously and compassionately, avoiding the traps of resentment and self-pity, and making use of the tools I have to reach out to others and participate in my recovery program.

One of the toughest sober principles is to “live life on life’s terms.” The terms right now are harsh and terrifying. The weather is foul. But I can take heart in remembering that recovery is a source of inspiration and comfort, and a way of life and behavior, for all seasons.

 

Moment of Truth

Like most people who suffer from depression, and many people who struggle with addiction, I have had moments when I wondered if I wanted to keep on living. I have lost loved ones to suicide and from what I know about the days and weeks leading up to those terrible exits, I don’t think I ever came close. But I have thought about it and wondered in a dark mood if arranging my own departure from this world was God’s will for me.

Then, a week ago, I received an epiphany about my own will to live that I hope I will never forget.

And it called to mind a sober saying:

More will be revealed

I suffer from a digestive disorder that occasionally causes fluid to back up into my esophagus when I sleep, and closes off my airways. I wake up in the middle of the night and discover that I cannot breathe, as if I were being strangled, and I know that I will die if I cannot unblock my respiration by coughing as hard as I can.

Usually it takes just a cough or two to clear things up but the other night, my initial efforts to breathe did not work. The fluid blocking my air passages would not move. It took about ten desperate seconds and every ounce of  adrenaline and will to summon the effort required to clear my throat. I had to battle for my life and I fought hard.

And I won.

Not only did I win back the breath of life but I was also rewarded with a timely epiphany about how I would respond when given a real opportunity to die. And my response was an unequivocal resounding NO. My will to live cannot be denied.

The experience was an amazing gift. Now I know that while I may fantasize about the idea of taking my own life, those are the daydreams of my discouraged ego, or reflect some other character defect. I know that in the deepest part of me I want to carry on. I had the chance to die and I fought it with everything I had.

More was revealed. And what I discovered saved my life, and will continue to protect me from my self-destructive impulses if I cherish and always keep in mind that remarkable revelation.

And then, astonishingly, still more was revealed on the very same subject.

Yesterday, I was sitting at my desk, when I was overcome with the sensation that my house was doing a somersault. I felt the walls and furnishings spin in a forward roll and I spun with them, falling onto my desk. I tried to stand and walk a few steps but felt as if I were on a ship pitching in a storm. So I walked gingerly over to my bed and lay down and felt the room continue to whirl. After awhile I tried to sit up and was so nauseous I staggered to the bathroom and was violently sick.

My son arrived and drove me to a nearby emergency medical clinic, where I was tested for signs of a heart attack or stroke. My blood was drawn, I had an EKG. As I lay back in the examining chair, the room, the physician and I went on another whirling ride. After an injection of Atavan, the spinning finally stopped and the doctor gave me the good news that my heart and blood pressure, kidney and liver, platelets and electrolytes were all functioning beautifully. It was probably an issue with my inner ear that had provoked my crippling dizzy spell. He ordered an MRI and some anti-vertigo meds and sent me on my way.

Today, when I woke up, on the ninth anniversary of my sobriety, the pitching and rolling sensation was gone, although I was a little unsteady as I walked into the kitchen to fix my morning coffee. My peculiar spell had vanished and with it the terrifying sensation that I might be dying from a stroke,an aneurysm, a heart attack or even some form of COVID-19.

What a marvelous way to start my 10th year in recovery.

And again, I was reminded, as I reflected with relief on the doctor’s positive assessment of my health, how much I want to stick around. And how very much happier and more hopeful life is now that I am sober.

 

 

 

 

Grrrrrumbling

Sometimes I wish I could growl. Not bark. Not bite. Just growl. That low rumbling sound of warning would be a wonderfully useful tool in my communication kit.

My dog Kirby just growled and I could not have been prouder.

The husband of the realtor selling the house I am renting (and trying to buy) just parked his truck in my front yard and moved his wife’s for-sale sign a few feet closer to my front door. It was a passive aggressive move (to attract more buyers) so subtle that perhaps only a high-strung person like myself who is desperately dependent on recovery proverbs to keep her in line emotionally would notice it. But I noticed it. And Kirby noticed it. And he growled.

I watched the realtor’s sly bid for customers from behind a desk piled high with forms that I am compiling to bolster the purchase offer I just made on the house. The realtor responded to my offer with a demand for a mortgage broker’s letter saying I am pre-approved for a loan. In order to be pre-approved, I need two years of tax returns, two months of bank statements and a completed mortgage application detailing assets and liabilities and all sorts of other financial and personal information. I have been rushing to compile these documents from various sources in order to strengthen my offer.

And meanwhile the impatient realtor is goading me by flaunting the fact that she is trolling for more customers. She dispatched her husband to move the for-sale sign to a location where not a single potential buyer could miss it.

I recognize that this is all fair play in the ruthless real estate game. It’s also rude and aggressive and underhanded. And I find it personally offensive in light of my earnest and energetic efforts to strengthen my own offer.

Is there a recovery saying to help me handle this? You betcha. A lot of them. But the most relevant would be:

I must learn to accept life on life’s terms.

Life’s terms can be tough and tactless and meaner than mean, especially in the home buying game. But I know that I have to accept the realtor’s terms and pray and breathe and hold onto my serenity no matter what.

And I know that I must also follow the sober advice to practice restraint.

That’s why I wish I could growl.  Growling shows forbearance. Jaws do not snap, vocal cords don’t formulate a grating bark or high-pitched howl. It is subtle and moderate but nonetheless registers an objection. It says in one judicious rumbling phrase:

I see what you are doing.

I don’t like it.

Yes, Kirby knows what’s up. I envy his vocal chops. But since being thankful is more appropriate to recovery than coveting another critter’s skills, I will try to focus on feeling grateful to have my feisty pooch as an ally in these trying  times.

 

 

 

 

 

Reprieve

In sobriety we are encouraged to cultivate  “an attitude of gratitude.”

Today I feel very grateful for my recovery.

Not because I am fully and perfectly recovered from my addiction and character defects. There is no such thing as being completely recovered. You never pass the sobriety course. There are no gold stars or prizes.

What recovery does give us is a “daily reprieve based on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.”

Recovery, as a sober friend of mine likes to say, “teaches us how to behave.” It is a guide, a guru in a lifelong program that if followed will keep us from relapsing into addictive behaviors and help us manage and rise above our flaws.

Recovery is also a refuge and a reference–a place our hearts and souls can go for help and comfort during times of stress and sorrow.

Like right now.

In these dystopian days, when a global plague, economic crisis, and widespread fear and frustration, are causing millions of people to feel angry, and provoking deranged individuals to increase their heinous crimes against people of color and other vulnerable populations, I find myself wrestling with feelings of rage about all the tragedy and injustice in the world. I want to vent my righteous ire and every day I am tempted to start fights with people who aren’t wearing masks, for instance, or who stand too close to me in the grocery store.

Then I turn on the news and hear more about police murdering African Americans, or shoving protesters onto the ground, or threatening to run them over. And I become more outraged.

Or sometimes, like yesterday, the violence erupts closer to home.

Last night I received another email from my building in Washington DC about the latest misbehavior during the covid lockdown. Only this time it was much worse than residents breaking the elevator buttons by pushing them with their feet. The email, and a phone call from a neighbor, informed me that a tenant on the 6th floor was holding a woman hostage with a knife. Her screams had led someone to call the police, who were staking out the apartment and attempting to negotiate with the violent man. The siege lasted almost 24 hours. Someone in the hostage taker’s apartment set off the sprinkler, flooding a bunch of apartments below the scene of the crime. Eventually the man with the knife was taken into custody.

Hearing this, I felt a renewed sense of outrage about criminal behavior exploding during the covid crisis. And a renewed desire to vent that indignation by becoming verbally violent myself.

Which is why I am feeling so grateful now.

Instead of finding someone or something to scream at, I am praying for a reprieve from my hostile inclinations. And seeking shelter from my character defects in the wisdom of recovery, which encourages me to avoid “righteous ire,” restrain my pen and tongue and practice kindness, fairness and patience.

Holding onto serenity and a gentle attitude toward my fellows is not going to be easy. I am no sweeter than the next person, although I am pretty sure that I am not criminally insane. I do know that I am thankful to have the wisdom of recovery counseling me to stay out of the fray no matter what happens in my country, in the world, or on the 6th floor of my apartment building in Washington, DC.

Gratitude and guidance will keep me sober one day at a time.

 

 

 

 

 

Magical

It says in our sober literature that recovery is “a way of life which requires rigorous honesty.”

Facing life with frankness is not easy–and it is especially challenging for those escape artists known as addicts. We drinking and drugging folk love denial and its best friend, magical thinking. We welcome any substance, activity or state of mind that can help us run from our emotional pain.

In recovery, we learn that the only truly effective way to exorcise our sorrows is to face them honestly and work through them using the steps we are taught in our sober program.

Still I find myself lapsing into magical thinking sometimes when I can’t bear to accept certain truths in my life. And I have to admit that in recent weeks I have been comforting myself with some make-believe notions rather than face reality.

To be specific, I have been in denial about the fact that someone in my circle of acquaintances has been treating me in a rejecting fashion.

I like to be liked and have tried my best to win the friendship of this individual–but to no avail. And having failed to make friends, I have comforted myself with all sorts of rationalizations for why this person has singled me out for shunning.

Admittedly it can be hard to tell if you are being rejected or adored in these times when social mores include wearing masks and standing six feet apart. For a while I rationalized that it was covid that had estranged me from my acquaintance. In my magical thoughts I fantasized that any minute the phone might ring or the person might send a warm text or email or even an invitation to get together

It didn’t happen.

Instead, a couple of days ago, I received fresh evidence of shunning. And this time, I could not summon magical thinking to shore up my ego or comfort my hurt feelings. I had to accept that this person didn’t want my friendship.

It was sad to let go of my magical hopes, although I know that sobriety requires me to face up to painful truths and get over them.

But while magical thinking is not a part of recovery, magic definitely is. We may emphasize honesty in our recovery proverbs but we also like to say the following:

Don’t quit before the miracle.

This morning I woke up to the beginning of what would prove to be a miraculous day: the sweet perfume and heavenly sight of white lilac blooms outside my window.  This led me down into my garden where I spent the afternoon planting lavender and petunias in rich soil that I scooped out of an oversized bag with my bare hands.

Afterwards, I went inside for a cold drink and a rest. The phone rang. No, it was not the shunning acquaintance begging for forgiveness and a coffee date. It was a dear old friend whom I see and talk to rarely. We had a wonderful wide-ranging conversation that more than erased the sting of rejection.

Sincere affection.

Genuine beauty.

Real magic.

Honest recovery.