Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Radical Acceptance

Self-acceptance (365/342)
Originally uploaded by JenniPenni

I have learned to not question why something or someone appears or is in my path at a particular time ... it is just as it is to be.

Many months ago, a local friend recommended with great fervor that I check out a Buddhist teacher and author -- Tara Brach. Her claim to fame is the book "Radical Acceptance". I was told by this friend that Tara had free podcasts on itunes and that I would likely just love her teachings. I let this go in and out of my consciousness and then, for some odd reason unbeknownst to me, I woke this morning on a mission and after my prayers, I went onto itunes, and downloaded some of her podcasts, listening to her throughout my day's travels.

The timing of all this is exquisite. I would not have been ready to listen to her when my friend first spoke of her. To hear her now is just right for me at this moment in my life. I had to do the work on surrender and letting go these past 2 months or so in order to fully take in her message.

Radical acceptance, according to Tara, is an active, heart-mind presence to the reality of this very moment. It is being with ourselves in relationship to whatever is occurring in this moment, without evaluation or judgment, just the courageous allowance of being with what is. This is not new information, mind you. In my Kabbalistic program, we are taught this as well. What is new for me and why the timing is so perfect, however, is that this feels tangible, attainable, real, and more possible than it ever has to me before. I loved the "idea" of being with "what is". It intrigued me. It sounded like a great thing to do in theory. In practice, on the other hand, it was always just out of reach for me.

It's even wilder that I would be writing as of late about movement toward this very concept of acceptance. I feel like I can "taste" it, I feel my willingness here, my longing and my desire to practice this -- particularly in the throws of some significant unknowns in my life.

Tara goes on to speak about 3 kinds of reflexes which take us out of a place of acceptance or even block acceptance. I absolutely related quite personally to each and every one of these. They are:
Fight; Flight; Freeze.

Fight is exactly how it sounds. In a nutshell, it is resistance to what is. Which I spoke of at length in last night's entry ! I know fight well. Fight involves control and self-will and questioning and even blame.

Flight is also what you might imagine. It is avoidance of what is. I mastered this one. Flight is deflection and distraction and running away from and cutting off. I lived a greater part of my relationship with my ex in this reflex mode because I could not bear for quite a long time to actually look at the reality of what was.

Freeze is a pushing under and "stuffing" what is. It is denial. It is suppression. For me, it was a paralysis and an inability to feel safe enough to let "what is" be felt. Flight and freeze for me went hand-in-hand. Once I would get a "whiff" of a painful reality, then I would quickly run from it or cut it off, while simultaneously squelching it out of my conscious awareness. Drinking served this purpose. And once drinking was no longer an option, then my ego took over.

I am beginning to really grasp the spaciousness and the freedom that is possible in being able to accept reality, for exactly what it is. I realize too that it involves accepting me just as I am and others just as they are -- without the need to change a thing -- so that I can arrive at this place of acceptance. Not even 2 months ago, I learned about the significant role that my "Woe is me" identity served for a big chunk of my life. To have continued to have this be my story would have been in direct conflict with accepting reality as it is. Instead, I would have remained stuck in a place of "Why is this reality happening to me?" It makes me shudder to feel the trappings of this, a virtual self-made prison. Prior to this, I was paralyzed by fear of the unknown, of abandonment. These fears would most definitely block the acceptance of reality as it is. These fears took hostages. Ain't no one gonna be free to experience reality as long as these fears were in command. Reality as is would have been deemed unacceptable.

Radical acceptance does not mean the absence of fear or pain. Instead, it is the courage to be with one's fear, one's pain in the face of reality, of what is. It is to accept that, for example, "I am scared about ______" and still be present to what is here, without resisting, running, or squashing. I can feel the alive quality in this. I can see the beauty in this.

I am not one for New Yr's resolutions, per se. I am, however, going to make it my intention from this point forward, to have the courage to be in the reality of my life, with exactly what is here. And to choose acceptance, moment after moment after moment.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

ChChCh Changes...

Originally uploaded by flightlessXbird

"A SAME person will drink."
~ Anonymous AA member

The quote above was shared by a member of tonight's meeting in response to the chairperson's topic of CHANGE. In particular, we were all asked to reflect on how we viewed change prior to entering AA and how we view it now that we're working a recovery program.

There are some basic fundamentals about change that were highlighted during the meeting:
- change is inevitable
- change is constant
- change is necessary for growth
- without changing, an AA will eventually drink

The chairperson spoke of that "voice", the one many of us, including me, were familiar with -- that was in our heads, gnawing and nagging at us that something needed to change. Namely, our alcoholic consumption. And how scary it was to think about having to change. And how often we ignored or denied and squashed that voice and kept on drinking. And how some folks never "hear the call" and are still out there, lost or insane or imprisoned or 6 ft under.

I have written about the fact that I heard this voice at least a year prior to stopping drinking and how I am aware today that this voice was both my future self and G-d. I sat in the meeting tonight feeling extreme gratitude for having the wherewithall to just heed this voice's plea and to acknowledge that I could no longer continue as I was; that I, in fact, needed to change. Before I quit drinking, I can remember many a restless, drunken night of awaking in a cold sweat just thinking about what the voice was telling me I would eventually need to do. And how absolutely terrified I was at the prospect of living life without drinking, without drowning and numbing any and all things painful and uncomfortable and anxiety-producing. When I would let myself try to envision a life without alcohol, it felt like a most ridiculous notion and virtually impossible. To make the change of putting down the bottle was to die an excrutiating death. The wild thing for me to just type this out is that I have the polar opposite thought today: to pick up a drink today would be the most absurd thing I could imagine doing, as likely as putting a gun to my head with my finger on the trigger.

And yet, even putting down the alcohol, if I am not working a program (which I did not for many years), then my progress toward making change is minimal at best and in dealing with change, quite poor. A guy  who I absolutely love at this Tue meeting said that he's gotta be doing the 3 S's in order to both change and accept change in his life as a sober person: Surrender; Steps; Service.
I couldn't agree more. The work I have done in this past year of returning to AA has found me doing those 3 S's in a big way. The work with surrender, which is continuous, has been one of the greatest tools in my life, both for my own change/growth AND for the way I am learning to accept change and be less resistant to it. Steps 3, 6 & 7 have been integral in terms of how I manage change in my daily life and in the big picture of my life. These steps remind me that whenever my self-will rears its head, it is a sure sign that I am trying to push away change. I am not surrendering or accepting life on life's terms. And that to work these steps, I need to turn things like resistance, self-will, or lack of acceptance over to G-d.

Returning to AA and regularly taking my inventory and especially writing here in my blog, I have discovered that in the past I prided myself as being a "laid back" person and very accommodating, flexible even. This would give people on the outside the impression that I dealt with change quite easily,  perhaps able to let change roll off my back. This of course was not the case at all.  Upon closer inspection, this was a facade and a mask so as to be "pleasing" to others, to be a peace-maker. Underneath all of this, like a dormant volcano ready to blow, there has been a control freak. An obsessive-compulsive nut job. A resentful, angry bitch. A self-pitying victim. A stubborn as all get-out, resistant to change of every kind, scared little girl, driven by fear of the unknown.

Today, while I cannot honestly say that I welcome change with open arms, I can acknowledge a few pieces of growth in this area:
- I am not afraid of change in the ways I was before and I know that I will not die from change.
- I can recognize my resistance to change much more quickly and this is my signal to take an action, like say the Serenity prayer or name the resistance or talk to my sponsor or share at a meeting.
- There is change that I have been able to anticipate and shift my attitude accordingly so that I could actually meet it with some level of excitement, to appreciate the mystery in it.
- I have a number of positive experiences under my belt that are a result of being open and allowing for change and to recall these fondly in my memory banks helps me to be less anxious about upcoming change.

Change will happen, with or without my permission. It takes a lot of energy to fight and resist change. The real juicy stuff that life is made of is in deciding to flow and accept and surrender to it. It feels good to want to experience the unfolding of life, rather than the one who wanted to pack it up neatly and give change its place on a shelf tucked away somewhere.

Bring it on, 2010 ... this gal's lettin' her hair down (and I actually have some to do that with) and offering an outstretched hand to make peace with change !

Monday, December 28, 2009

The swiftness of complacency ...

sleepy raver
Originally uploaded by lomokev

A chain of events this evening brought to the forefront of my awareness the fact that I have been experiencing some mild levels of complacency in my recovery program. This has shown up as: daydreaming during meetings, half-listening because I've heard that person's similar share a dozen times, tuning in to only key pieces of a story or reading because "I know this stuff", contemplating skipping certain meetings. Unchecked and given enough momentum and speed, complacency will thrust me into "self-will run riot", as it states in the Big Book. And, once I've entered that territory, I am but an arms' length away from picking up a variety of things that are harmful to me, the worst of which is, of course, alcohol.

And, as the old saying goes: "When the student is ready, the teacher appears". Tonight, she came in the form of a falling down drunk. I was with a therapy client and her parents out for dinner as part of a regular family session I facilitate. My client had gone to the ladies' room and came back out looking quite distressed and requested my help for a lady in the bathroom that was falling all over the place. I went into the ladies room and found a very large woman, lying sideways on the dirty tile floor. I did not yet know what was wrong, considering that perhaps she had a stroke. When I asked what happened and if she was alright, she began to talk incoherently, the f-bombs flying out freely. I didn't even have to get much closer to her to know what I was witnessing: she was drunk as a skunk. I asked her if she could get up and she could barely lift her head up, just more mumbling and curse words leaking out. I went out to talk to the wait staff to explain what was occurring. Several large bouncer-type guys went in and were unsuccessful in lifting her. I suggested that an ambulance be called and that is the action that was finally taken. I returned to the table with my client and her family and had to "de-brief" with my client, who was visibly shaken by what she saw and I realized that perhaps she had never witnessed this before. I tried to explain to her in the best way I could about the effects of alcohol and what it does to a person, so that she could make sense of what she viewed.

As I drove from this dinner session, I had the feeling of totally sobering up. Like having been thrown into a shower or my face sprayed with water, then given a full pot of high-test coffee. If I had any slight notion that complacency could continue to occupy space in my being, it was thwarted after this experience. I saw vividly the ugly messiness of what alcohol is capable of and what it did to me on a repeated basis. And how its aftermath affects others, like my client. I can't say that this woman was definitively an alcoholic. What I can say is that she lost any control she believed she had in terms of what she consumed. It is indeed cunning, baffling, powerful. It robs you of dignity. And of sanity. And any assemblance of appearing to be a civilized human. Meeting all of this head-on tonight was an invaluable, impactful lesson about the swiftness of complacency.

I had no hesitation on my drive to get myself to the Monday night Big Book meeting. In fact, I arrived early ! I grabbed the "How It Works" sheet immediately so I could be the reader of this passage at the start of the meeting. And, as synchronicity would have it, we read the chapter on "How It Works" tonight. I hung on every single word, sitting up at attention. I raised my hand early on to share about my experience at the restaurant and about my awareness of how complacency had entered into my recovery program. I listened intently to each share. I remained after for awhile to talk to some old-timers.

The last line of the How It Works chapter is still reverberating in my head, especially after tonight's experience: "That being so you have swallowed and digested some big chunks of truth about yourself." Seeing the woman on the bathroom floor was a time machine to my past. It was the aspect of my alcoholic behavior that I never had an objective, outside-looking-in view of. I wonder how many countless, innocent by-standers were subjected to seeing me in the very same state I saw this woman tonight ? How many did I offend? How many did I traumatize and terrorize with my behavior? Did I , by chance, help a recovering alcoholic remain sober because of my disgraceful, disgusting demeanor ?

These are the questions that have swirled about me in my travels tonight. I need these questions to make grand appearances from time to time. This is what keeps me from drifting off into complacency. This is what keeps me coming back. This is what keeps me sober.

A new set of goggles ...

Originally uploaded by Lisa at TSS

" I can choose peace rather than this."
~ A Course in Miracles

Having slept on the words of last night's entry, I awoke today with a helluva lot more room to wiggle. It is amazing to me how the simple act of "naming what is here" opens up a world of possibility in an otherwise skewed view.

After my morning prayers and a brisk chilly walk with my dog, I met a local friend for coffee, someone who I've not seen in awhile. We both spoke about the contrast of holiday hub-bub and then the "crash" afterwards. I shared with her much of what I wrote about last evening. She could absolutely relate. This led into a discussion about a book that she is reading, which is quite timely in terms of this subject. It is titled: "Loving What Is", by Byron Katie. It is all about simple questions and strategies that can be readily used to "turnaround" any situation in your life where you feel stuck or where you find yourself wanting to defy your current reality. The smile that was building inside of me by the pure divinity in receiving this information at this exact moment was overwhelming.

After this lovely interaction with my friend, I took myself for a nice swim. There was not another soul in the pool. I plunged into the lukewarm water, with a renewed peace and optimism about being in my life, just as it is. With each stroke, with each kick of my legs propelling me forward, it was like experiencing a live metaphor : "Being in the stream of life" . That's how it felt while I was doing my laps in the pool, with relative ease. And that is how I can be in reality, whenever I choose.

We are always at a point of choice at any moment in our day. This is taught in AA and in dozens of other spiritual teachings. Remembering that this is always an option is the issue. For me, it's usually when I get in my own way. When my lenses are fogged up and I am not seeing things for what they are. To some extent, this is the place I was in last evening, though, to my credit, I was already experiencing the movement that brought me to today. I am appreciating the willingness I have to open my eyes just a little bit wider when I could easily shut them instead.

Today, I am swimmingly better, having put on a new set of goggles...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Post-holiday reality ...

watering hole
Originally uploaded by mugley

Over the past 2 days, there is definitely something in the "air" and it is no longer Christmas-y. Being out and about over this weekend, I've noticed that the former pre-Yuletide cheer of strangers and unexpected cordialness has fizzled, like a bright balloon that is slowing deflating. I must also acknowledge that this is about the lens I am looking out of and that I personally am feeling the contrast of the child-like wonder and excitement that I held in anticipation of re-claiming Christmas.

This post-holiday shift in outlook and mood was ever present in tonight's AA meeting. The speaker is someone who is a regular at this meeting and who is known to be a bit scattered in her manner, openly sharing that she suffers from Bipolar disorder as well. Her sharing of her story set the "tone" in the room. People were restless, as evidenced by a lot of shifting of chairs, bodies, frequent trips to get coffee, tea, use the bathroom. It was hard to concentrate. Her story ran over the allotted time, which left about 20 minutes for members' shares. 2 members monopolized this time with lengthy, long-winded shares. I felt my irritation at an all-time high and actually said to myself, aloud in my head: "You are irritated. This is what is keeping you from being engaged in the meeting. You have a choice about how you want to be here." At this moment, a member from the back yelled audibly, interrupting the member going on and on "Let someone else have a chance !" While I was relieved on one hand (as many were) that he spoke up, I recognized too that his impatience took him away from being "in" the meeting, just as I had recognized for myself. Two other members were able to get in quick shares, yet these were rushed, and then time was up. Most folks left immediately; there was not the usual lingering afterwards to talk and connect further.

Part of reality is that things in life don't go as we wish. Don't occur the way we had envisioned them. Aren't in "our plan". Reality is. It is just the way things are. When questioning reality surfaces for me, it is a signal about selfishness. A call for attention to the Steps. A reminder to turn my will over to G-d.

As I arose these past 2 days, I thought to myself, "Ok, the holiday is over and the energy given to celebrating it has been spent, so what now?" I can feel the gap. It is quieter and stiller in my apartment than I have felt in awhile. This is not a bad thing or even the fearful thing that it once was, it is just "different". The Christmas music is no longer in the background on my ipod. The tree, while it is still up, is quite dried out, so I put on the lights sparingly. All of the gifts have left my counter and have been dispensed. It is back to the reality of my life, here in the company of my dog. It strikes me that I live a pretty simplistic, ordinary life for the most part. The highlights of my day are my prayers, my morning coffee, taking a couple good walks with my dog, getting to the gym if I am motivated, teaching an enjoyable class or having a great session with a client, going to an AA meeting, reading, and sitting here to write. This is peppered with sporadic social plans and/or phone conversations. The reality of my life is not accompanied by a choir singing in the background or by decorations or by wrapped gifts; it is a background hum of the refrigerator, the same set of painted walls and window views, and a similar group of revolving items drying on the dishrack.

I would imagine that this post-Holiday phenomena that I am describing here is what others may feel after a huge event, like a wedding or a graduation or a barmitzvah. Life gets organized around a "thing" and when there is no longer the "thing" , then where and what do we connect to ? In Kabbalistic terms, this feels like a Yesod dilemma. I am aware in this moment of the answer: I need to connect to me. To my Godself. Not OUT there, but IN here.

This is what will ultimately close the gap and allow me to more fully be in reality and in my life.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Gifts of the program ...

Gifts from the sea...
Originally uploaded by juntos (ON/OFF)

At this morning's AA meeting, the chairperson chose the theme of "What are the 'gifts' you have received as a result of being in AA?", given that this was on the heels of Christmas and the emphasis on this particular holiday of giving and getting gifts.

The shares of members ran the gamut from the most fundamental gift of the program -- not drinking or being obsessed to take a drink -- to coping differently, such as responding vs. reacting to challenging situations to taking care of ourselves, setting better boundaries with family or friends who actively abuse substances, being more honest, actually experiencing true joy. For some members, the only gift that they were able to gleen from the program thus far was that they didn't want to run away from the mess they created of their lives because of alcohol and that, as one man shared in relationship to not paying many months of rent : "I am now willing to face my consequences".

I didn't share today. I did have my hand up a few times, seated way in the back of this very crowded meeting, and yet, it was more important today to just sit back and fully take in the shares of others.
I was struck by some members' passion and real joy about their life as a result of this program and equally moved by those members who were still swimming amongst their wreckage and were willing to be present and in reality and not run away from it or want to drink over it.

As I settle inside my space on this rainy afternoon, this topic is still with me and here is a list of some of the numerous gifts that I have received as a result of working the AA program AND my Kabbalistic program, sort of like a year in review:
- I have an active, alive relationship with G-d
- I am more present, more here, more willing to be in ALL aspects of the reality of my life
- I am less resistant and impose my own will less onto situations of my life that I do not have control over (I am still working on this)
- I am more direct, clear, factual and honest in my communication with others and of my wants, needs, dislikes
- I am chipping away at my old identity of being a victim /"Woe is me" and becoming more accepting of "Life on life's terms"
- I am turning over and shredding some of my significant areas of fear, such as abandonment, terror of the unknown, lack/not enough, "What about me?"
- I am more willing to inquire within FIRST before pointing the finger at others (again, still working on this)
- I am more confident, capable and can comfortably admit and own my mistakes, faults, actions I am responsible for
- I am allowing more things to live and have places within me and around me, such as painful emotions, fearful or even messy thoughts, shameful past behaviors, aspects of my history
- I am willing to show up for situations/interactions which in the past I would have avoided, this includes making amends to others
- I am "catching myself" much more quickly in moments of reacting, imposing my will or otherwise engaging in "little one" or negative behaviors and have a willingness to turn them over to G-d
- I am less selfish, less self-seeking, less prone to self-pity (still a work in progress)
- I am more financially responsible, less focused on lack and economic security, and more open to allowing, manifesting and trusting that I will be taken care of (also a work in progress)
- I am more connected,  open and intimate in my relationships and am not afraid for others to really see me.
- I am less resistant to identifying I need help or I don't know or that I can ask for help, support.  In relation to this,  I am taking better care of myself in all ways,  including being less combative about seeing a doctor or taking a Western medicine to get relief (i.e. just finished antibiotics for a sinus infection).  
- Lastly, I am more spacious, experience more freedom, am lighter and less controlling, obsessive, guarded (still working on this)

The gift, in and of itself, was being able to actually create this list, effortlessly.

And more will be revealed ...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Joy of Living...

Joy of Dive, Dive of Joy
Originally uploaded by Osvaldo_Zoom

I can't remember the last time that I was truly filled up, excited about the prospect of Christmas and all that it means. I just finished wrapping all of my family members' gifts, loading them like a make-shift Santa into a huge IKEA bag and feeling pure joy in the giving. To be free of the need to have reciprocity is a product of being in the programs of AA and Kabbalistic healing. And, even more so, in the company of G-d.

At my favorite women's AA meeting tonight, which was held in one of our members' homes, there was such a cozy, spirit-filled, intimate feeling that permeated the room. There were gifts and cards abound, not one person was left out. There were only about a dozen of us and yet, all who made it there were all who needed to be there.

The chairperson chose to read segments from the 12 & 12, specifically the 12th step ! And what she chose resonated for each of us in such different ways and yet could be boiled down to one common denominator ... working step 12 for each of us is indeed, what the book says, to experience the joy of living.

Some members could identify the changes they see in themselves in terms of the omission of old behaviors, old ways of being in the world. Other members spoke of the heart-warming feeling of giving with no expectation of receiving on this holiday. And not just about the giving of material items, more so about the giving of self, being selfless, being there for another alcoholic or another person in need, which is also outlined in the 12th step. It's about really living the steps of the program and practicing these principles in all of our daily affairs. This may look like old habits simply dropping by the wayside or the urge for a drink disappearring or, as one member noted, having the awareness of negative behavior such as rage and being able to take responsibility for her actions, to do the 10th step immediately.

The reading tonight and the ensuing discussion reminded me of a line in the prayer of St. Francis which vibrates deep in my solar plexus each time I read it as part of my morning prayers: "For it is by self-forgetting that one finds." This line is the very nature of 12th step work. Perhaps that is why it's an 11th step prayer, as each step prepares us for carrying out the one that follows. And each share tonight was a reflection of this powerful sentence.

I shared with the group about my experience of "cutting out" Christmas because of the painful associations I had with the rituals of the holiday in my previous partnership. And what it has meant to me to be able to truly re-claim this holiday, just for me. Creating a whole new set of memories, free of resentment and free of pain. In my own self-forgetting, I have found the spirit of the holiday and the incredible heart-opening feeling of experiencing the generosity of acting from this place.

I will be like a little kid tomorrow, anticipating the tearing open of gifts and seeing the delights and smiles and hearts opening up among my family members. I am no longer having to hide behind the armour of "I don't celebrate" and separating myself and passively watching everyone in the gift exchanges; I will be showing up, attentive, present and most importantly, in connection, in relationship.

The gift of giving, giving freely, giving of myself ... this is the joy of living.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Miraculous ...

BIRD + Coínco VI región
Originally uploaded by Hugo Provoste

Tonight I strayed from my home group, as I really wanted to hear the story of a man who is considered an "old-timer" and who is well-respected. He spoke tonight at the same group I attend on Mon night's for the Big Book.

There is something that I cannot put my finger on specifically, though I know it when I feel it, about the deep spirituality that is found in meetings which are primarily attended by African-Americans. I was 1 of 2 Caucasians and the only woman there tonight. It was a treat to take a seat there and to feel the anticipation and the buzz in the room for the story that was to be shared with us.

The speaker's very first line, directed to every person in the room, was that each one of us who walks through the doors of AA is a miracle. And the fact that he could sit before us, with 35 + years of continuous sobriety was indeed a miracle, given his low bottom entry into the program.

He shared with us that he drank to numb the pain of having been repeatedly molested as a young boy. He suffered tremendous shame about this, questioning whether or not he was a true "man" as a result. When he drank, he tried to prove his manhood through his sexual prowess and admitted that he has fathered 17 children. This was not something he boasted about; it was the reality of what happened because of his alcoholism and his deeply-rooted fears about not being a real man because of what happened to him.

His drinking began in the early teens and continued until he was 40. He lost countless jobs, the worst of which was as a fire-fighter where he arrived drunk to several calls and put his co-workers and others in grave jeaopardy because of his drunken state. It was this job, however, that sent him to a rehab within a psych hospital. He recalled how he was in a hospital gown, ass hanging out the back, and had uncontrollable diarrhea and nosebleeds as he detoxed. He asked them what would they give him (meaning medication) to help him stop drinking and he was told, we won't be giving you anything sir, you're going to attend meetings. He couldn't fathom how that could possibly help him in the slightest. He remembers his paralyzing fear and what it took to open his mouth. And how the counselors "broke him" . He thought they were mean, perhaps even racist until he later understood that they were, in fact, helping him save his life.

The speaker shared some great "gems" that were told to him in those early days that he has passed on to his sponsees over the years and shares with others at meetings. A humorous one was: "I thought I could drown my problems with drinking, but my problems got swimming lessons!" The other one I really liked was this one: "Our feelings are gonna come up whether or not we give them permission. So you might as well deal with 'em."

And here's the real miraculous part: this gentleman went on to get a Bachelor's and then a Master's degree and is the head addictions counselor at a state prison, where he openly shares his experience, strength and hope with the inmates who want to get sober. He feels this is what G-d meant for him to do all along. At the end, he proudly announced, that at the ripe age of 76, he was getting married tomorrow night on Christmas Eve. We all stood in applause.

Every time I am at a meeting, I am keenly more aware than the meeting before, that I and each one of us who makes it to the rooms and doesn't drink a day at a time, is indeed a miracle. I shudder, sometimes, thinking about where I've traveled from and, in my wildest dreams, I could not have pictured my life as it is now back then. And it begins with Bill W and Dr. Bob's meager beginnings. That because of the miracles each of them were, we too are given this second chance at living -- soberly, honestly, and humbly. I still think about college friends that I reunited with a number of years ago who had a good laugh at my expense about how they would wonder what happened to me and guessed either that I was in a mental institution or homeless. If that isn't a sobering reality, I don't know what is.

And what I think about all the time is the miracle of how some of us "got it" and had the hand of G-d grab hold and pull us out of the muck of our alcoholic lives and that some folks never make it. Many are homeless or in jail or in mental institutions or they die. What did G-d have in store for those of us who got sober versus for those who don't make it ? I don't believe I'll ever know the answer to that question, for it is not for me to know. It's between G-d and them. What I am to be most concerned with, on the other hand, is that I was given this opportunity for a re-birth, that my journey is G-d's will for me and that I have a purpose and a reason to be here.

"I am a miracle"  does not leave very much squeezing-in room for "Woe is me".   It is the resounding cry of pure awe and celebration of my life,  rather than the tears of self-pity.    "I am a miracle" is the reason and the reminder upon waking that the first thing to hit the floor is my knees instead of my feet so I can give thanks to G-d for another day,  here and alive and open to do G-d's will.  "I am a miracle"  is the mantra that will allow me to be in each moment, each interaction and each situation with gratitude and appreciation.  Lightening usually doesn't strike twice in the same spot. And if I take that first drink, I may not be given another chance.   

What will keep me sober, one day at a time, is always remembering that I am a miracle.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Who am I without _______ ?

Everywhere questions
Originally uploaded by DoBeRaGi

It is like being at home with family at my regular Tue night meeting. I had missed these folks for several months when the meeting changed nights and venue and since the beginning of this month, has settled back to Tuesdays again. I have siblings of every shape and size and individuality in this room and I am accepted and have the freedom to be however I show up.

Tonight was a speaker meeting. The person who shared his story is a regular member of this group. He is a bit eccentric, an artist and yet, someone who is deeply passionate about his recovery. He can be extremely shy and soft-spoken when what he is revealing is serious and, conversely, he can be animated and dramatic when he allows his own awe and wonder of his Higher Power and sobriety to be seen.

In the sharing of his story, something that jumped right out at me was when he declared that sobriety has allowed him to ask the question "Who am I without booze?" And that he is a work in progress and is enjoying watching himself evolve. That resonated with me so much because that is very descriptive of my own process - both in recovery and in my healing. It is exciting to feel my own unfolding and be a mystery to myself at the same time. To experience my femininity and what I am gravitating to and what repels me. To identify what I want in my relationships and what I don't. Even simple, daily decisions about routines and expectations that I've had for myself are in question.

A perfect example of this is the fact that for the past 3 weeks I've not been to the gym. Some of this has had to do with end-of-semester work, being in Florida, then having a sinus infection. All valid reasons and not excuses. I am feeling much better now and I have missed swimming. So I went to tonight's meeting prepared to go for a swim afterwards. This felt really, really right. It's what I wanted rather than what I believed I should be doing. And I am the only one who has created these rules and expectations and they are not founded in anything logical. Yes, exercise is good for us and it makes me feel better. To be driven to go, on the other hand, does not feel authentic. So as I entered the pool tonight, there was not pressure about doing a certain amount of laps or swimming for a certain time period. I listened to myself and my body and when I felt on the edge of pushing myself to the limit, I stopped. Without guilt.

I realize that for most of my life, I have not truly known who I am without being defined by something or someone external to tell me or direct me. It is the ultimate in giving one's power away to allow another or a group or a situation to give us our identity.

Working with the question, "Who am I without _______?" throughout my life, the blank could be filled in with the following:
- Conditioning
- The image my parents wanted me to fit into
- Chaos
- Drama
- Excuses
- Booze
- Being the life of the party
- Victimization
- Self - pity
- A peer group
- People to please
- My significant other
- A reputation to fulfill
- Control
- Status
- Popularity
- Conformity
- What I do for a living
- What is expected of me
- My history

As I gaze at this long list,  I see the entry-way into Steps 6 & 7,  right before my eyes.   I can humbly ask
G-d to help remove each of these so I can experience more freedom,  more of my true nature. 

The not-knowing and the surrender to discovering and uncovering is the beauty of who I am becoming.

The Motherload ...

Show me those teeth
Originally uploaded by Rivamist

For the past month now, I have been exploring "Mother" in all forms: mothering my little one; all of the voices within me that needed a place re: my own mother; understanding and finding compassion for both my mother and my lack of being mothered. Which brings me to an additional piece : the only "live" beings that I have ever mothered were my former cats and then dogs. And, interestingly enough, up until now, I repeated the very same patterns that were modeled for me by my mother. This wasn't even a "bleep" to come up on my radar, until I saw the total contrast of seeing myself with my own dog and the tender moments we've had of late.

A litter of small kittens was left on the doorstep of one of the group home's I supervised in the city, during the height of my alcoholism. They had no homes and I decided to take 2 of them in. They were tiny, required a lot of attention and would jump on me constantly. In my drunken stupors, I would throw them off of me and basically considered them a total nuisance. While I did feed them, provide water and change their litter, I provided little else. My drinking came first. When I stopped drinking, I did not necessarily become a better parent to them. They did sleep with me in the bed and I can remember moments of them purring beside me and yet, I only had a small tolerance for offering up a significant amount of attention. And then I met my former partner, who was allergic to cats, and it didn't take me long to find them a home of a work colleague and I gave them away. It is only in this moment that writing this is like punching myself in the gut. I gave them up because I gave my power away to the needs of my partner and never looked back. It feels like a replication of my own adoption process, in which I was "somewhere" for 9 months, even named, and then given away.

A number of years later, my ex and I bring in our 1st dog. It is clear from the very start, that this is HER dog. She cooed and ahhh'd and gave so much attention to this dog, that I felt tossed to the side. Over time, if she was on the sofa and had the dog in her lap and I wanted to be close to her, the dog always came first. I was an after thought. So my own mothering with this dog was limited and again, I made sure she had all the basics, though I didn't give her the kind of attention my partner did. When I think about this dynamic, I think about the birth of my brother. It was the only time I saw my father showing any form of caring to any of us. He would bounce my brother on his lap, while balancing his beer glass (I have a picture to prove it !) and he would look at him and giggle and smile. I saw this for the first few years of my brother's entry into our home. And I was very jealous. And my mother, who would sit across the room and watch this occurring, appeared to be detached, more removed. Perhaps she experienced what I did with my ex and her attention for the dog. And my mother didn't give my sister and I any more attention either, in fact, she went away more.

5 years after the 1st dog was brought into my ex and I's life, our 2nd dog arrives. She was acquired when my ex was out walking and couldn't drive because of recuperating from a hysterectomy. She found her at a pet store and she happened to be from the owner's own litter. I fell in love with her from the 1st moment I met her and yet, my time and attention to her was piecemeal, as the substance abuse of my ex built momentum and I disappeared in all ways. Again, this is a duplication of what occurred with my mother. She did say that she fell in love with me from the moment she picked me up. And, over the years, as my father's drinking escalated, she went farther away. I am allowing more compassion for her because I am able to see it in my own behavior and know the direct experience of what it is like to have a partner abusing substances and the emptiness and the absence of love and availability that you can offer because you're just barely staying afloat.

After I end the relationship with my ex, we split up the dogs. I take our 2nd dog with me, as she was not favored by my ex at all. I couldn't bear the idea of her remaining there, neglected. Over these past 3 years, while my attention has definitely expanded and improved toward her, I had this revelation very recently that I had still not been a good mother to her as I see how I've dramatically shifted in my growth and healing and see my tenderness and love and care for her that was not there previously. I had always ensured she was fed, had a warm home, walked, given treats -- all the basics. And she craved attention and affection, which I only offered sporadically. The work of mothering my little one and giving voice to all of the emotions that were dormant within me about my own mother, has found me so much more present with my dog. She lays on me while I read at night; she sits with me on the ottoman in the livingroom when I do my prayers. She has layed her face next to me on the pillow and gently put her paw on my shoulder. I talk to her a LOT. I sing little songs to her in the morning. I never did this before. It is clear to me that she feels and is responding to my availability and attention for her. And it is this contrast, that brought about all that has surfaced in this entry.

I am grateful every time I can have the courage and willingness to look within and do this kind of inventory. And to name what is here without judgment or shame.

And all of this coming to the surface, prompted a phone call to my own mother first thing this morning. To thank her for the card she sent and her generous check she enclosed. And to simply ask her how she is doing and what she may need in her new apartment. And to invite her out for lunch on New Year's Eve day, so we can talk.
It was a lovely conversation; in fact, I could hear her excitement about the fact I had called, which I've not been able to bring myself to do as I was deep in this work. And what we will talk about is not set in stone for me. The hurts and grudges and other voices have had their place on these pages and there is not an urgency any longer to have them brought up directly with my mom.

I will sort this through in my healing session this week. As my healer shared with me before -- when it's time to talk, and all the voices have been heard, what's left is just the truth. And that's the place where I want to connect with my mother. And from where I will continue to mother.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Power greater than myself ...

Bring it on......!
Originally uploaded by Nicolas Valentin

After working a 10.5 hr day, I arrived home exhausted. I told myself that perhaps I didn't need to go to a meeting tonight. And, that thought was followed with "when you least want to go to a meeting, you MOST need to go to a meeting". So, within a half hour of arriving home, I was back out the door and on my way.

And the miracle is that we always, always get what we need. Particularly, if we trust that it is not OUR plan but rather it is G-d's plan for us. My own thoughts about not going to a meeting was about imposing my will; the thought that followed reminding me I need to go, was G-d's will.

So what is the chapter we read tonight from the Big Book ? "We Agnostics". It is the 2nd step in its full glory. It is about our willingness to believe that there is indeed a power greater than ourselves. Whether you want to refer to that power as G-d is up to each one of us and what works.

It has only been since my return to the rooms of AA that I can honestly say I have opened my heart and have come to believe in a power greater than me. My entry into AA and my subsequent leaving AA two plus years later, found me believing that I was the only one who caused my drinking to cease. It was my hard work in therapy and my willpower. What arrogance ! Which, under close inspection and as I am aware today, is simply a guise for fear. To recognize that a power greater than me was the reason I could put down the booze would mean that I would have to let go of my own need for control. I wasn't willing to do that back then.

In the past couple of months, my relationship with G-d has widened and deepened. I am coming to understand that I don't have to understand, but rather just trust. Have faith. Believe. To be able to do this, it means surrendering and turning over my will. In EVERY aspect of my life. Which means that I have to acknowledge first that I am powerless over each situation in order to come to believe in a power greater than me.

When it was my turn to read, I was so moved and stirred by the lines in the following paragraph: "We found that God does not make too hard terms with those who seek Him. To us, the realm of Spirit is broad, roomy, all-inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek. It is open, we believe, to all men."

What hit me about these lines is the aspect of simply needing to seek and that G-d is here and accessible and available when we do so, without judgment or criteria or standards for having contact. And what I now have some insight about my early rejection of G-d when I first entered AA and the many years out of the rooms is this: I did not seek G-d. I, in fact, resisted G-d. Believed that I defied G-d. And separated myself from G-d. Hence, the separation from AA and the half-baked notion I had that I "got this" , I don't need any of those people. I was, in essence, rejecting G-d and G-d's existence.
I was also interjecting the idea that I could do this alone. I realize now what a fearful, isolating place it was to live like this.

Where I reside within myself today, in relationship with G-d, is a much more peaceful existence. It is not free of fear; what I understand now is that when I have fear, I can ask G-d to help me let it go or even hold it for me. What leaves me in awe is this thought: G-d has always been with me, has never left me. I refused to see. I did the leaving.

Now, all I need to do is seek. And I am met with broad, open arms. And in this embrace, I meet myself over and over again.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A big scoop of reality ...

Big World for Small Lego
Originally uploaded by miwaza

My magical outlook of winter's white beauty on the land last evening has had a change of heart this morning. The reality of the impact of the big dump and digging out of it. Ugh.

In order for oneg to exist, nega must exist too. Or as my healer gently reminds me: all aspects of a situation need a place to live.

I have spent the past 2 hours shoveling my snow drifted in porch and digging out my buried car. My landlord informed all of us that she cannot afford the plowing service, so we were on our own. And I could feel the irritation begin to build. So I borrow a shovel from her to begin the arduous messy task. It is not the fancy, ergonomically-correct shovel but rather it is the old-fashioned wooden handled kind with the big metal scoop. I knew then that this would be a long, frustrating process.

As I begin to dig and toss the white piles off to the side, feeling the uncomfortable twisting of muscles in my back that haven't been used in this way for quite some time, I am flooded with unpleasant memories of doing this very thing as a young person. And it hits me in this moment that this too was a huge contributing factor for my dislike of snow and winter. Around the age of 11 or so, my sister and I were required to shovel out the driveway, under the command of my father. We were not allowed to go out with the other kids until this was completed. Where I grew up, it was not uncommon to have 2-3 ft of snow and frequent snow storms. As I watched and heard the kids from around the neighborhood gathering, the bitterness inside of me for having to do this chore was swelling. I can remember mumbling under my breath and cursing out my father, and, come to think of it. my mother too -- as it was her "rule" about the not going out before finishing shoveling. There was one time when my anger leaked out in the midst of digging out of a huge snow storm and my father caught wind of it; he told me to get the hell out his way with my sissy behavior and go sit in my room. It is memories like this that help me understand more about the intolerance for expression of anything negative or conflictual in my history. And my subsequent "stuffing" of these kinds of feelings, drinking to numb them, and plain old avoiding them.

So, as I let these memories have a place while I dug out my car, I was brought into the present reality and my adult one who is supposed to be working a recovery program and healing practice for herself. I put the shovel against my car and closed my eyes and said the Serenity Prayer. And what that did for me was enable the tension and the resentment to melt a bit. I struck up a conversation with a neighbor who came out to do the same task with her car. I spotted a small sweet bird sitting on the branch of the pine tree in front of me, with her little claws in the snow on it. And I picked the shovel back up and also reminded myself that, as a responsible adult, this is part of what you do. It is not about finding an easier, softer way, but instead to just do it and find some grace in the act of it, even if I have to fake it for awhile.

Completing the work, I tested out to see if I could back my car out and indeed I could. It turned out to be a fulfilling accomplishment. I returned to my warm apartment and took a long shower and thanked G-d for the experience today to feel all of this.

It was, indeed, a big scoop of reality.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow !

When there's snow on the ground (365/271)
Originally uploaded by JenniPenni

There is something secretly delicious about being snowed in.

There is no urgency for me in this snow storm. I have slowed my pace so much so, that I am practically in retrograde. Some parts of my day have simply been spent sitting on the overstuffed chair in my livingroom, quietly reading, my dog on my lap as we listen to the wind howl and watch the snow blow and drift. To be seated in a cozy, warm space and have a view of this winter wonderland is like having great comfort and shelter in the midst of nature's fury.

I have generally, for the better part of my adult life, had a disdain for the snow and all things cold and icy. As a young girl, however, this was not the case. On a day like today, I couldn't wait to get my snow suit and boots on and drag my sled to the top of the hill so I could be the first one to leave tracks and to enjoy the quiet yet thrilling ride before the neighborhood kids converged on this coveted sledding spot. I didn't like to share what I considered "my hill" with the other kids. It would suddenly get loud and there'd be a waiting line to go down and the older boys would show off by standing on their sleds while holding the ropes. It interrupted my snowy peace. I realize now that this was one of the few experiences in my childhood which gave me respite from the turbulence in my home. Being the only soul out in the morning after a heavy snow was pure heaven. I loved the stillness and the fact that I could hear my boots making crunchy sounds as I left a path of little bootprints to mark my territory.

When I outgrew sledding, I developed an interest in skiing. My first boyfriend was an avid skier and he took me on the Pocono slopes with his family where I practiced just keeping my balance on the beginner hill. As I mastered the skills of weaving and jumps and crossing the skis to come to a stop, I loved the exhilaration of sailing down the mountain.

All of this came to a screeching halt when I began to drink. I viewed snow as a nuisance and a challenging deterrent in readily accessing booze and getting to the bar. If I prepared for a snow storm by stocking up on an ample supply of liquor, then it became something that allowed me to isolate and stay holed up inside, drinking myself into oblivion. I also didn't like the cold of winter because I couldn't maintain beer in my car, as the cans would freeze up. I am aware too that being stuck inside was a trigger for my panic attacks, like a feeling of claustrophobia.

After I stopped drinking, I continued to view snow as a pain in the ass. It required shoveling, digging my car out and having my fingers and toes go numb. More so, I realize that my energy and mood shifts during winter. I don't know if I would necessarily say that I experience seasonal affective disorder, yet I do know that the absence of warmth, long nights, colorful foliage does impact me.

When I was with my ex and her abuse of substances picked up, winter days of being stuck inside with her felt like an eternity. She would spend countless hours back and forth between the den engrossed in TV and the basement, where she smoked cigarettes, pot and drank from what she thought was her secret stash of beer in the fridge down there, which we never used. My hypervigilance found me monitoring that fridge and the number of beers that disappeared daily. During snow storms with her I felt completely trapped. Suffocated. Not to mention that there was absolutely no intimate connection between us during the last few years of our relationship, so we basically co-existed in the same physical space and there was not much else. Those last few winters felt so bleak.

This past year, as I began to ruminate and dread the approach of winter, I was reminded by someone I love deeply that this was a time of rest - for both people and nature - so that we were all rejuvenated when it was time to thaw and blossom in Spring. This helped me shift my perspective dramatically.

While I cannot claim to fully embrace and reclaim my former love of cold and snow, I have definitely done a 180 shift. It would be more accurate to say that, in working my AA program and being in life on life's terms and not imposing my will on situations, I can feel my acceptance of winter rather than resistance. The fact that I enjoyed my time this morning during the snowfall and even playing with dog in it as I swept off the porch is a big step for me.

I am also aware of this today: at the beginning of this year's winter season, I was just broaching how to bear my aloneness. It felt nearly intolerable. Now, almost a year later, I have relished my time here on my own. The loneliness and fear of abandonment have dissipated a great deal. I loved cooking a great meal, taking a leisurely steamy hot shower, being in my own company. I am no longer rejecting or fighting the reality of my life.

I feel a change of season within me. My winter is both needed and welcome.

Any length for sobriety ...

Rainier Descent
Originally uploaded by photo61guy

As I arose this morning, the snow had already been falling steady, with about 2 inches on the ground. A fleeting thought entered my mind about just staying in bed and not going to my morning meeting. And then, this flash: on days like this, even in blizzard conditions, I always found a way to get a drink. And with that, I got up, said my prayers, and prepared for my snowy trek to the meeting.

The roads were slick and the driving was challenging to say the least. And what I continued to tell myself aloud in the car is that if I just take my time, be cautious, everything will be alright. And getting to a meeting was the most important thing I could do to honor myself today. What was normally a 10 minute ride took a half hour and I made it well on time.

Arriving through the doors of the meeting, there was just one person there. And she informed me that the chairperson was not able to make it because of the weather and she asked if I would like to chair the meeting. I accepted graciously and knew right then that my grappling this morning was worth getting there.

At the start of the meeting, there were 5 of us. This is normally a meeting which can exceed 50 or more people. And as the beginning segments of readings were underway, one by one the members trickled in, covered in wet snow yet with smiles on their faces. I lit up in my seat just watching each person enter and I knew what I would talk about for the topic of discussion.

I shared with the group what it was like to want to invest in my sobriety today and that I would go to any length, including driving in snowy terrain, to do so and how good that felt. I expressed gratitude that each person in the room who also made that choice was helping me to be sober today. And with that, I opened the floor for sharing. It was intimate and warm and nearly every person got to share, which was a treat given the size of the typical Sat morning meeting audience. People spoke of the commraderie in the room and how great it was to be reminded that we each had the willingness to go to any length for sobriety.

After the meeting, several of us stayed and talked and laughed and commiserated about the conditions and what the day would look like for each of us. I left there in such a state of deep appreciation. And funny thing is that I didn't even mind the snow ! In fact, I parked the car on the main drag of the little town where the meeting was held and I walked into stores and then picked up items at the Farmers Market so I could make a nice dinner for myself, knowing I'll be snowed in.

The trek home was even longer and I listened to Christmas music and simply took my time. Entering my home was such a delight, as it was a welcoming warm and cozy reprieve from the bitterness outside.

And today, there is not the kind of anxiety I experienced both in my alcoholism and even after I stopped drinking about being stuck inside for the day. I have a book I've never read that awaits me. I lit candles. I will turn on the Christmas tree in a little while. I'll make some phone calls to friends I've not spoken to in some time. And then I'll make a lovely dinner and after that, who knows and who cares.

It is an exceptional day to be sober.

Friday, December 18, 2009

What lies beneath ...

Originally uploaded by Pro-Zak

Tonight's AA speaker is someone I see at a regular favorite meeting. He is gentle and kind and very soft spoken. His story, while fairly drama-free, had a particular significant lesson that he passed on, which many folks commented about. He shared that what he has to be on the lookout for in his sobriety are the conditions which set him up for eventually wanting to seek out a drink. He spoke about things like fears, unspoken needs, resentments as the "fuel" underneath the surface behavior of acting them out through drinking.

While I did not share tonight, I took this aspect of his message in very fully and deeply. As I drove home, I began to give careful thought to what my "conditions" are, those things that can bubble and brew underground, like a coal shaft in my interior that can cave in the walls and foundation because of turbulence inside of me.

One such condition that I can identify that almost always led me to drink was not being in my truth. This took on many forms. When I was not direct about how I really felt or what I wanted and feared being displeasing. When I shape-shifted to be what you wanted me to be, even though somewhere in the recesses of my core, I knew that it wasn't the real me. Hiding the true nature of my sexual orientation was a signifcant aspect of not being in my truth that very often was at the heart of my drinking. Fear and shame and stigma overtook me for a long time. It is a dark, lonely place to not feel like you can have the freedom to live in your truth. I always felt like a fraud. That my "real" self was always camoflauged, kept hidden, a dirty secret. I lived a very tormented existence during this time. My need to be accepted and pleasing to others outweighed being in integrity with myself, embracing my true being. Just reflecting on this brings me into such a state of gratitude about who I am today. That I really and truly am comfortable in my own skin and that I live the truth of my life in a much fuller way, without apology. That is real freedom.

When I think further about conditions that are a set-up which are not associated with wanting to drink but could impact my living in a sober way, there are many. Arrogance. Superiority. Isolation. Hiding. Resentment. Control. Manipulation. Avoidance. Denial. Greed. Dishonesty. Imposing my will. The list could probably go on ... These are the aspects underneath the surface of me that are both insidious and dangerous. They can linger and fester when I am not attuned to myself. If I ignore the rumblings of my interior, these things build up speed, spread like a cancer, and before you know it, they are permeating everything I do, every interaction I have.

From a Kabbalistic perspective, this is the territory of poisoned ground, Hesed of Yesod. Those conditions I just named above, when left unattended, are the very things that sustain "nega" states of being. This is what maintained my self-pity and victimhood and fear of abandonment behaviors for such a long time. Being able to identify and name these conditions, as soon as they are at the early stages of formation, is what keeps the foundation of my interior solid versus collapsable.

I do not take my awakeness for granted. I can very readily get real sleepy. To acknowledge this is to understand the importance of working a recovery program and to be actively engaged in my Kabbalistic healing practices.

I am but an arms' length away from that first drink. I am also a closed eyelid away from sinking in my poisoned ground.

Remembering this is deeply sobering. Getting on my knees each morning and each evening is what will keep me from forgetting.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Serenity Prayer in Action

Bottom of the panonian sea II
Originally uploaded by Katarina 2353

At my favorite women's AA meeting tonight, the chairperson read a small piece from "Living Sober". It was centered around the Serenity Prayer and she asked the group to share about how we use it -- both in staying sober AND in our daily affairs to live a sober life.

As I thought about this, I recall that my return to the rooms at the start of this year found me using the Serenity Prayer as a "go to" tool in my newly constructed AA toolbox -- like a favorite hammer -- to pound serenity into my thick, stubborn head that wanted to impose my will on situations.

Today, I know where it is in the toolbox and it rests comfortably alongside many other items that have been added over this year. It is a prayer that has become a part of my fabric as I practice my steps, especially the 3rd step. Any time I become aware of wanting to alter or manipulate or not accept a situation, the words of the Serenity Prayer begin to rise up in me, almost automatically now, gently resting on my shoulders and reminding me that I can wait, that I don't have to take any action in the moment, that I can pause and take those soothing deep breaths.

I experienced a situation this morning, involving a phone call from my bank about a claim I filed re: the faulty clutch repair on my car a month back; they are only refunding me a small portion of the total cost, as there is not enough documentation to support a full refund. I had "counted my chickens before they hatched' and already had a place for that money to go to take care of a particular bill. That will not be the case now. As I was speaking to the bank representative, I first felt my feathers ruffle and an irritation about "not getting what I deserve" and, within seconds, as I identified above, the words of the Serenity Prayer washed over me and I felt a softening and an acceptance. I thanked the representative for doing what they could, given the circumstances, and expressed my gratitude for being able to have a portion refunded. I felt a "letting go" and I understood in that moment the last line of the prayer -- that I had "the wisdom to know the difference" in terms of what I could and could not change.

After this call, I had fleeting thoughts about upcoming bills and the temporary decrease in incoming finances. At this moment, I reminded myself of the line in the Promises about "...fear of economic security will leave us" and that I trust G-d will take care of me and provide exactly what I need. Whenever I've settled into this, it has never failed me.

During the course of today's events, I had several financial situations taken care of for me, unexpectedly. First, I walked my dog and found a $5 bill on the sidewalk ! A lunch meeting was paid for. A dinner with a friend and her son was paid for. A coffee before the AA meeting was paid for by a member of the women's AA meeting who happened to be working at that particular establishment. The only expenses I had today was the dollar tip I gave to the AA member at the coffeeshop and the buck I put in the AA basket.

When I experience serenity to accept the things I cannot change, I am rewarded 10- fold.

When I have the courage to change the things I can, I am brought into deeper relationship with G-d and with myself.

When I have the wisdom to know the difference, I have humility.

G-d's will not mine be done. This is all I ever need to know.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Santa Healing

Originally uploaded by George Eastman House

For the past 10 Christmas seasons, I have accompanied a client of mine, a woman in her late 40's now, to see Santa at a prominent mall downtown. This trip, once highly criticized by my colleagues, is now understood as an integral part of this woman's treatment plan.

"What is the allure of Santa for an African-American woman with Schizophrenia and a developmental disability?" , one might ask. And I've had many answers over the years. Today it became clear that it boils down to a few basic things: she can count on him being in the same spot every year. He won't judge her. He'll welcome her on his lap, offering a hearty smile and a few kind words. It's this kind of predictability and safety and comfort that is a rare find for someone who experiences false beliefs on a regular basis that people are out to hurt her or are talking about her or trying to take things from her.

The criticism about seeing Santa that arose from my colleagues 10 years ago was that it was "not age appropriate". When I surveyed the room to find out who still watched cartoons or built sand castles or played video games or enjoyed getting ice cream on their face, the argument started to lose its steam.

The origin of taking my client to see Santa stemmed from a tragic situation that arose right before her December birthday, 10 yrs ago; her sister died of cancer. My client slid into a significant depression and an intense relapse of Schizophrenia symptoms, refusing her medications, denouncing the existence of God, and refusing to see me for therapy appointments. As I waited for her one such time in the basement of her agency's office, she kept peeking down, then cursing me out, going outside and repeating the cycle. When she stuck her head far enough in to stay for awhile, I asked her: "What would your sister want you to do for Christmas?" She stopped on the stairs. Sat down. And she thought for awhile, mumbling under her breath. She finally replied: "I want to see Santa." And that is what broke the cycle, at least temporarily, of the downward spiral she was in.

The first time we went it was as if you were watching a child who had never experienced the magic of Santa before. Her eyes got big, she became giddy, she couldn't stop talking to him when we met him. She showed the picture taken with him to every person she encountered.

Every year, as the weather begins to cool and autumn approaches, my client begins to talk about seeing Santa. It is the highlight of her year. She tries hard to manage her symptoms as December approaches. She's more mindful of how she is interacting with others. Because, after all, "He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!"

The healing in Santa for my client goes deeper than all of this. Santa brings out innocence and magical thinking and naivety. For a woman who became symptomatic in her early teens, removed from her home for aggressive behavior and bounced around boarding homes, institutions, psych wards for the majority of her life, Santa is as omnipotent as God. And, because she was the "runt" of her family's litter (the youngest of 10 children) living in the projects, she didn't get to experience what other kids did at Christmas time. She learned to survive and trust no one and be a fighter. There was no one dressing her up and walking with her to the mall to visit Santa and ask what she wanted to receive. She was lucky to get leftover scraps from the dining room table after wrestling her siblings. Santa offers her the chance to reclaim her childhood in a way that therapy can't even begin to touch. That much, I am very aware.

And so it is with great honor that I escort her on this annual healing trip to the man in the red jacket with the jolly laugh. Today was no exception. In fact, because we've been going to this same mall, we have interacted with the same Santa for at least the past 6-7 yrs! As we walked up, he knew her by name ! Even more special today, when she declared to him that she had hardly any money this year as they've cut her disability benefits, after the photo was taken he leaned over and said: "The pictures are on Santa. Merry Christmas." Her reaction was priceless. This small gesture was felt in enormous proportions. It was absolutely magical to watch her today. Particularly because she had spent the past 3 weeks in a psych ward, having had a serious relapse in symptoms, which included trying to mace her roommate and threatening to harm staff.
Santa was in the exact chair she has always known him to be in for the past 10 years. And he was there just for her. This was truly Santa healing.


Mother's Little Helper

Originally uploaded by Lola_TC

There's a Rolling Stones' song with the same title of this post, though it is referring to popping tranquilizers -- a very different kind of "helper". The one I am referring to is me and the collective "we" --all of the children whose parents used them to save themselves.

I had a beautiful Kabbalistic healing today with one of my classmates. I spoke about my little one and the issues I am working on presently to allow all of the voices to be heard re: my relationship with my mother. One of the voices that arose during the healing today was this one: "I could not save you, Mom."

This voice brings me incredible sadness. And anger and resentment and even compassion. All of these feelings are here.

I never had the chance to speak with my father while he was alive about why he adopted me. I did, however, get an answer to this question from my mother. During a lung cancer scare on a hospital bed beside her back in December '05, my mother shared with me that the day they brought me home, she held me in the front seat and knew that I was "special". When I heard her tell me this back then, I was deeply moved. When I put this piece of the puzzle in with the other ones I've been collecting and fitting into the bigger jigsaw picture of our relationship, this information passed on by my mother has a different flavor.

My mother had polio and scoliocis when she was a young girl. My grammy described her as a "sickly" girl on a number of occasions. She didn't get to do the things she had dreamed of, like ballet or sports or play an instrument. Partly because of being ill and partly because her family was poor.

Fast forward to the early '60's: she desperately tries to conceive a child and gets tests and my father gets tests and there is no logical reason why they can't  make a baby. Then along comes me, given up by my biological mother for reasons unknown to me and delivered to them 9 months after I am born in June of '62.

At the age of 4 going on 5, I am taken to ballet classes. My best guess would be that in my right mind, I would not have chosen these on my own ! My mother pushes me to practice and practice and I whine and moan and downright hate it. She keeps guard when I have to stand on the tips of my toe-shoes in the livingroom while she irons and I want to fire daggers out of my eyes at her. She makes sure my grammy sews my costumes and that I look "just so". When I tell her in 5th grade that I want to play softball, she does give me the choice between ballet and softball. Begrudgingly. And, suddenly, her interest and availability in her daughter playing softball, unlike ballet, has fizzled entirely. She doesn't come to a single game. Ballet=mom's dream fulfilled through me; softball=mom's dream squashed, withold attention from daughter.

At a young age, around 8 or 9, I see older kids playing instruments. I am intrigued by the viola. I love the sound. It's not as "high-pitched" as the violin and it's a bit bigger, more "meatier" to hold. I want to play this. I share this with my mother. The idea is immediately rejected. I will be supported, however, to play a "band" instrument -- marching band, that is. I am coerced into playing the saxophone. My mother insists that I have lessons. I go every week to the woman I will now refer to as the "sax Nazi" and am rattled to my core everytime I enter and leave her house as she barks commands about what I am not doing right. I hate this as much, perhaps even more, than ballet. I am told that I will play in the Junior High band and the same for the High School band. I don't want to be up at ungodly hours to arrive on a damp field to be drilled by bando military sergeants about keeping a proper height of marching step or how to sway the sax at just the right angle. I will later come to find out that my mother's push for me to keep playing the sax is so that her dream of being in a Bowl parade is fulfilled through me. I could absolutely vomit when I think about this and the countless events that I missed out on hanging out doing things I would've loved to do but instead was marching on hot pavement in an over-sized polyester uniform with a 3 point hat. After my last parade and concert in 12th grade, I never picked up that sax again.

At church, I was introduced to others by some attribute not simply as "this is my daughter, K" but rather "she's in the marching band at ______" or "she had her 1st solo recital at Miss Jean's school of dance". I was to sing in the choir and be an altar girl and when I was older, I was to be a scripture reader. I became a trophy for my mom to hold up proudly. I was a subject she could discuss with friends and family. She could show me off. And yet, I never received the accolades from her directly, but instead I was talked about in circles in the 3rd person. I served as a nice distraction to deter away from any potential discussion about her aloof, in-the-closet-drunk husband.

In my senior year in high school, I was my mother's ultimate shiny prize to show off. I was the first in my family going to college. This was told to every bank teller, cashier, postal worker, you name it. It was never, however, told to me.

Interesting in this moment to look back upon this and understand that the rages I experienced when I was drinking were often misfired at my father. It is clear to me that the surge of heat running up my neck or the tension I feel in my shoulders as I type or the tightness in my clenched jaw in recalling all of these things would be a pretty darn good indicator that I was pissed as hell at my mother ! And it was not safe and far too terrifying to have this enter my consciousness at the time. I couldn't let myself go there.

I'm aware there is a cost that is incurred when you adopt a child, far more expensive now than back then, but still substantial nonetheless. Money can't buy you happiness. Nor could it buy my mother an unsinkable life raft to keep her from drowning. But it did buy her a child to keep herself afloat for awhile.

Funny thing is, letting this particular voice be heard has dropped me, in this moment, into a place of compassion for my mother. The bitterness and anger I felt just a few paragraphs ago has faded. The storm that was raging inside had taken a turn and the winds have died down.

I am putting the puzzle pieces away, for now ...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sweet release ...

A situation today with one of my troublesome students brought me to a place of distinguishing the often subtle (and sometimes not so) differences between surrender and letting go.

I have written a lot about surrender, while very little about truly letting go. My sitting with both of these today has given me a larger window view as to why.

Surrender to me, one of the words used to describe Hod in Kabbalistic terms, is an act of trust in one's faith -- G-d, the Universe, my Higher Power. It is the feeling I get when I have no idea about what is to happen, entering the unknown, and letting myself literally and figuratively free-fall, with a trust that G-d is there to catch me if needed or simply to guide me so I don't have such a bumpy landing. Surrender feels lighter, more passive to some extent (not passive as in "don't care" but rather passive as in "allowing" ).

Letting go, on the other hand, is an animal of a different color. In the literal sense, if I am holding onto something and I want to release it, I have to "let go" of it. This requires an action. A decision. A choice. It is active rather than passive. But the key piece for me lies in the act of the "holding on" that is an obstacle to the letting go. Resistance, fear, denial, resentments ... these are all things that are products of holding on. And, they require surrender in order to make the conscious decision to let them go.

What I learned about myself today in terms of this situation with my student is that I have been holding on and now it is time to let go.

This student has failed the research course I taught this semester 2 times previously and was now taking it for the 3rd time with me. She has not turned in 2 assignments and the clincher for her to pass is the final paper, which was due last Tuesday. I shared with students who've been struggling, which includes her, that I would be back on campus the following Tuesday (today) to collect the last of the assignments before submitting grades by this weekend. I approached my mailbox, hopeful, that there would be a paper awaiting me from this student. My last conversations with her have been ones in which I have encouraged her, cheered her on and yet, she was quick to let me know that she doubted she could do this. I comb through all the papers in my box and, alas, there is not one from her. I catch my supervisor, the Dept chair, in her office and share with her what has transpired. I am torn. And I feel really disappointed. I share this with her and she has the stance of "knew this was gonna happen again" and I feel the sinking further inside. I leave her office feeling heavy.

And here is when the ponderings of what it means to let go surface. After talking with my sponsor on my ride home from campus, I begin to understand that these feelings I am having are because I have been holding onto the idea that I could "make things different this time" in terms of her success in my class. My holding on is associated with fear of failure as a teacher. My holding on is also connected with having a genuine belief in this young woman and having talked with her about "changing her story". If I get really honest and unpack this, I made her my mission to improve and fix. And, ultimately, it would be about feeling like I accomplished something as a teacher. Heavy sigh.

So... I drive and drive some more. I stop the car and I sit still. And then I pray. I ask G-d first to help me surrender to this situation before me. And then I ask for the willingness to stop holding on to making a trophy out of this student but instead, to be able to let go of my fears that have fueled these actions.

After doing this and returning home, I felt lighter and clearer. I knew what the next right action was to be. I sat at the computer and wrote her an email to simply state that I was on campus to collect papers and that hers was not among them. I have to submit grades by Friday and that she currently does not have enough points to pass the course with this assignment outstanding. Any action from this point forward is up to her. I am understanding that I am not a failure as a teacher if a student doesn't pass. As my sponsor said to me: "Perhaps she just doesn't want to" . I attempted to change HER story. That is imposing my will and not trusting in the plan that is here for her. Surrendering to that, allows me to truly let go.

And letting myself really feel that is a sweet release.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Coming home ...

The Return Home
Originally uploaded by aknacer

Home no longer has only an emphasis on a "place" or a "destination" for me, as much as it is a return to myself; it is a sense of familiarity; it is the act of connection and knowing where I have a sense of belonging.

I spent the past 5 days in Florida visiting old friends who moved there recently. While I can say that to be with them is certainly a place where I can be myself and where it is familiar and where I connect and have a sense of belonging, it was not "home" in its larger, broader sense. It was a place to temporarily land and hang my hat, yet not much more than that. Florida, in and of itself, particularly the parts I spent time in over this period, is not a location that I could ever imagine comfortably calling "home". There is a dullness, a mundane-ness, a "standing still in time" that I felt there, energetically, that does not call me, does not stir me, does not tap into the "aliveness" that I experience when I am in the area in which I reside.

Sitting on the window seat of the plane that delivered me back to my physical home, I looked out upon the billowy puffs of clouds and thought to myself: "This too is home." Which then got me thinking of the impersonal Home, with a capital "H" , from where we all originated and will return -- if this is your belief. Some call it Heaven. Some refer to it as "The Kingdom". It hit me, staring out that airplane window, that I am but a tiny speck of existence who has found shelter on the physical plane which is also a tiny speck and that the Home we all belong to is vast and limitless and transcends our residency on earth. And even the vessel carrying all of us passengers in this endless sky is but a miniscule particle. If I drift too far into this line of thinking, it is absolutely overwhelming. So I shall stop in this particular train of thought.

Other faces of home ... stepping off of the plane and walking through the airport that I've strolled and even ran through many a trip over the past 2 decades, I had a reverse experience. In the past, particularly when I traveled with my ex, the long trek through the airport to the baggage claim was frought with feelings of indescribable dread in the return to home. Trips with my ex were acts of desperation in connecting outside of the relationship to external places in an effort to escape the reality of "home".

Today, I was relieved and delighted to be returning to the home I have created in the form of both my physical space, and even more so, my spiritual space which includes my AA community, my Kabbalistic community. My trip brought me into deep appreciation of what is here, in the way of home. It allowed me to feel the contrast and the gap and to understand and discern what I want and what I don't want for myself. My traveling to another destination was no longer a means of escape. To recognize this made all aspects of the return that much sweeter. I had a rich conversation with a man visiting my city from Utah and got to share with him great eating spots he might check out in Chinatown, as he also teaches in China. The train ride was one filled with joy as I took in the night view of the city skyline and reminded myself about how "alive" it feels -- all the lights, the skyscrapers, the river.

Entering my apartment, I paused to simply take in the stillness, the "feel" of my home. I smiled at the sight of my Christmas tree and immediately plugged in the lights. I took in my pictures, the vivid green-ness of my plants. I was "greeted" by a surprise package at my door : an ornament sent to me by the love of my life. A symbol of one of the myriad of ways we have connection. Receiving this, was like having her welcome me back home. I then picked up my dog at a friend's house and was met with a barage of licking and jumping and excitement. After getting my dog settled back in, I returned to the Big Book meeting that I went to last week and was warmly welcomed back by the 7 or 8 members who I met through my new friend who told me about this meeting. They had remembered that I went to Florida and several asked about my trip! Taking all of these things in, deeply, in their totality filled my heart up to capacity.
Arriving back from the meeting, getting into comfy pajamas and taking a seat in front of my laptop to write ... a ritual and a necessary form of expression that I have missed incredibly while I was away.  All of these things represent home.

As I feel my eyes getting droopy and the day's travels take their toll, I prepare to end this entry and get ready to retire for the night to the land of sleep and dreams. To meet G-d on my knees in prayer and give thanks for the safe travels. And to soften in deep gratitude for the opportunity to really experience the joy of coming home.