Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve ritual

For the last five years, I've come on a writing retreat to my soul place on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle. Aldermarsh is a small cluster of elegant buildings on 5 acres on a country road. It is dark here at night with only a faint glow of the city to the south. It is quiet here at night. You can hear owls and coyotes and the wind in the trees. I walked for 45 minutes on the road here yesterday and in that time only four cars and one truck passed me.

I came the first time by myself. I had friends living on the island to see every couple of days and the owner here to help me with the wood stove and the generator when the power went out in a wind storm. Now I come with several other women, people I enjoy being in silence and in conversation with. We're far enough north that the days are very short and the evenings long and slow. We stay in silence most of the day. Some of us writing, others reading, resting, reflecting. At night we play cards and chat and laugh.

Tonight we will have our New Year's Eve ritual after dinner. We will sit in circle and share our answers to several questions.

What do we want to release from our lives at this time?
What do we want to welcome in?
What are we most glad about from 2011?
What do we most want to be in 2012? To have? To do?
What is our clearest purpose (reason for being) at this time?
What is our biggest challenge?
What do we fear?
What do we long for?

Each year this produces a very rich conversation, a deep intimacy amoung friends, and a strong space for us to hold these desires for each other.

If you decide to do this ritual by yourself or with others, I'd love to hear how it goes.

Happy New Year, Jill

Monday, December 26, 2011

A part of AA I don't often connect with

Yesterday afternoon, my family all left about 1:30. I began thinking seriously about all I had to do today ( I leave tomorrow for a 10-day writing retreat) and there was no way I could fit in a meeting at my home group, so I went online and looked for something close and soon. There was a Speaker Meeting at an address about 10 minutes away. I knew where it was, just didn't know what it was. It turned out to be an AA clubhouse in a storefront in a part of Portland that moves east into much cheaper, shabbier neighborhoods. (My neighborhood isn't chic by any means (it's a very old, working class neighborhood of Portland) but it's become trendy with young people and is very tolerant of gays so we have a wide range of ages and styles around here and most people are moving up.) This was definitely something different.

The storefront was weirdly arranged with a warren of small rooms and then a long narrow back room. There had obviously been a Christmas potluck going on and there were a dozen people at small tables talking and eating pie. No one spoke to me, no one even nodded at me, and all my old shyness and insecurities came rushing back at me. I realized I was still in my holiday clothes, not in jeans and old jackets like most of these folks.

Then a white-haired woman beckoned me into the long back room and introduced herself and we chatted a little. One of the first things she asked me was my sobriety date and I found that odd, but it turned out to be an Oldtimers' meeting and I wondered if you had to be an Oldtimer to go. She had 38 years in the program. I took a seat, I was a few minutes early and the few men at the table were the leather-skinned, bedraggled veterans of the alcohol wars that I used to see in my first meetings in Pennsylvania where there were mostly very low bottom drunks coming in. One of the meetings was called Sober Up of Die.

The speaker had 30 years and I looked forward to his sharing but he was a terrible speaker. He meandered around, spoke almost not at all about alcohol or alcoholism but gave us way more intimate details than any of us wanted about his 4 wives, 9 kids, and even more grandkids. There was no real lesson learned. He just seemed to need to talk about all that. And I listened and thought about my own trajectory in the program, the years I've been sober, the years I've been more sane than not. And I was glad to be there and to be reminded that I've been more than lucky in this life. Not only am I sober, but I didn't lose everything like some of these folks who not only lost the relationships and the money but the wherewithal to get it back.

That meeting wasn't what I was looking for and it was out of my comfort zone and it was perfect. God bless us, everyone!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Progress and the slippery slope

Last Sunday, my family met for brunch to celebrate my birthday and that of my nephew Alex. The hilarious and very congenial waiter convinced the table to order a plate of gingerbread pancakes to share as we waited for our food orders. My sister cut the plate-size cakes into small triangles and passed them along. They looked really good and so I put butter and syrup on mine and ate them (three bites). They were great but good and the amazing thing is I didn't think about taking a second helping (there were several left) or about trying to sneak them or even wanting them. It didn't occur to me and that seemed such a major breakthrough. And when the waiter brought the birthday cake slice for me in a to-go box, I didn't even hesitate, just passed it right along to my sister.

But it's the holidays, a time fraught with peril for those of us who are alcoholic and/or food addicts. It's a time of year when normal eaters and drinkers binge and the dangerous substances are everywhere. At every party, every event (no matter how benign), there are plates full of sweets and cookies with rum and spiked drinks. And sometimes abstinence feels like penance, rather than a choice freely taken. And even resolve gets shaky.

Last night another family dinner, this one smaller. My nephew ordered gelato after. Ice cream is my weakness. And he didn't finish it and I really, really thought about it. About using the spoon the waitress had so kindly placed in front of each of us. I was craving for a minute and then I thought about the consequences. About starting up again in all of that. And I took a deep breath and let it go.

May we all find peace around food and drink in this holiday season.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Letting go of the outcome...even on my birthday

Saturday was my birthday and I gave myself a party. When I was at the beach on writing retreat in early November, I asked for suggestions on how to take some small risks in my life. One suggestion, from Christa, was to celebrate my birthday in a new way. So I invited some of my closest friends to join me from 4-6 pm for a birthday circle. I knew I wanted several things. I wanted good friends to help me celebrate. I wanted them to bring poems to read. And I knew I didn't want a big food extravaganza. So I planned it for late in the afternoon, made tea, had juice, and some simple snacks.

I had invited 30 women. 18 said yes and 15 came. Most of these women were from my various circles, which tend to be very New Age. Two of them were from my family, which is not New Age at all. And I was concerned that, well, that that difference wouldn't work out very well. As a hypervigilant, I'm always watching to be sure everybody is okay. And I didn't want to have to do that on my birthday. Also I felt awkward about imposing a circle on my guests when maybe what they expected was a meet-and-greet like my annual open house.

I had suggested that those who wanted to could go out to dinner with me afterward. Then my sister wanted our family to get together in the evening and I said yes to that. And then that changed and suddenly I had no plans for afterward and that didn't feel good either so I talked to my good friend Mary and we agreed to have dinner and that seemed fine. I was practicing flexibility

I had a nice morning. I worked out, I got a facial, I got my apartment organized. I got a shower and got dressed and my first guest arrived at 2 pm. She'd gotten the time wrong. And although I wasn't ready for guests, I let go of the outcome and spent a lovely hour talking to her and another friend, who drove down from Seattle and then the party started and somehow the snacks and drinks got put out and the candles never got lit but who cared. And at a certain point, it seemed right to call circle and it was lovely. My friends told how they knew me, they read their poems, some gave me gifts. And people left when they needed to and some arrived late and it was all fine.

The poems were lovely and varied. Some were written for the occasion. Others were by favorite poets. One friend, Lily, asked each woman to say a word or phrase about me and then she danced it. So cool! And during the circle some women cried and it was all okay. And then some people stayed late and we talked about  the world and our love for it and our grief over it. And then they all left and Mary and I went to dinner at one of my favorite places and had a great time.

I felt very loved and celebrated. And I felt that the new way I celebrated in was not so much the circle or the poems but that I let go of the outcome and trusted that it would work out fine. And it did.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Being in my body 1

It is difficult for me to admit but but wanting in my body is close to incomprehensible to me. In the Pleasure Reboot program I took a week ago, Jenna talked about pleasure as a feeling and feelings only living in the body. They don't live in the mind. We need to be present in our bodies to perceive pleasure, happiness, contentment, satisfaction, joy, relaxation.

Most of my life I have felt separate from my body and for good reason. At a certain point in my childhood, I went from being unconscious of my body to being hyper-conscious of it. It was a time of emotional trauma and my body was full of fear. I had no way to talk about the fear, to process it, to befriend it, and all I could do was distance myself from it. Later, when I no longer lived in constant fear, I found other emotions to avoid: humiliation, nervousness, boredom, anxiety, and later jealousy and heartbreak.

Of course, my life wasn't all awful. I had laughter and happiness and pride and accomplishment and excitement. But I had already learned to distance myself from my body and so it was very difficult to register those more positive emotions and they never seemed as strong or important as the misery.

As my alcoholism progressed into chronic hangover, the physical illness was wretched and I further distanced myself from my body so that I wouldn't feel so sick, so ashamed, so lost. And because my drinking led me to a lot of casual sexual encounters, I didn't want to experience them either, though I always thought I did.

I've been sober now for more than 22 years and I have healed a lot. I have learned to understand my alcoholic tendencies, to understand my experience of attachment disorder, to understand why I couldn't pick better partners or make the ones I picked really love me. I understand a lot. But that's in my head, not in my body.

I'm coming to see that in order to let go of food as soother, I have to learn to feel pleasure in other parts of myself. And this is terrifying to me. Even thinking about writing this and posting it brought on two panic attacks today, deep experiences of fear in my body. But I do have a small degree of willingness. And maybe even just an inkling of curiosity.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Better boundaries, fewer rules

A couple of posts back, I talked about an Enneagram workshop I had gone to and some learnings about being a One. Today, I was at the monthly meeting of the Soul Strippers group I belong to, and we were talking about things we might want to manifest in the New Year, not as projects or as tasks, but more ways we wanted to be in the world. After I'd done a little writing on this, I realized one of the things I wanted was better boundaries and fewer rules.

We Ones are very rule-bound. We have learned that this is a hedge against chaos, against the unpredictability of life and of other people and so we are most comfortable when we know the rules and when others follow them. I've known that for sometime. My relationship with the rules is what makes me a One. But until today I hadn't connected my need for rules with my relationship with boundaries in relationships.

In my past, I've not been very good at boundaries. I have had a tendency to take responsibility for others' behavior and others' well-being, co-dependency at its worst. This was true with my romantic partners. I tolerated a lot of hurtful behavior, putting their needs before my own for fear of losing them. And I was always trying to re-establish the rules, getting them to agree to things. Sometimes they humored me, sometimes not. But the rules never lasted. Boundaries were an issue with my mother and they have been an issue more recently with other mother figures in my life, including 12-step sponsors. Mostly in all these cases, I've given up my power in order to have rules.

And I'm seeing that intimate relationships are lived in the emotions and rules come out of the head. Talk about a disconnect.

It may be that those of us with a tendency to addiction have an increased issue with boundaries. That it takes a certain degree of emotional health to do that well. I know that in these last several years, I have had the courage to set boundaries with friends, clients, and acquaintances in ways that would never have occurred to me before. Doing this has not been easy and it has not resulted in happy endings. But it has resulted in a new kind of strength and clarity for me.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

taking care of yourself vs. taking care of someone else

I had an unpleasant task this week. I needed to write to a participant in one of the groups I host and ask her not to return. The particulars of the group and why she wasn't a good fit are not of importance here. Suffice it to say that when I brought up the issue at a meeting (she wasn't there), all the other members of the group, including me, felt that she wasn't a good fit. And as host, I volunteered to communicate with her.

I had been uncomfortable in this woman's presence for some months but I probably would never have said anything if two other members hadn't approached me with their intention to withdraw from the group if she continued with us. So then I had to look at the dilemma. Did I want her gone because I was uncomfortable or did I think it best for the group if she left? And what about her feelings?

Some relationships are easy to end. You spend a couple of times with an acquaintance, don't care for her, and you say no to the next invitation or two and she gets the hint and you both move on. If I don't like working with a client, I don't take the next job. If I don't like the energy or style of a teacher, I don't take another workshop. But when you open a group to the public and accept all comers as members, it's a lot trickier to disengage.

Our decision was not made lightly and I took some comfort in that. We were all also conscious that this would be difficult news for her to hear. And I appreciated that we talked about that before making our decision. And I sent the letter.

If you've read this blog for a while, you may remember I had a similar decision to make and action to take a year or so ago, when one person's energy and needs didn't fit my retreat group. And so life comes around again with another messy situation. I felt stronger this time. When I got the woman's response this week, I didn't respond with the details she wanted, and just reiterated our decision. I knew there was nothing to be gained for her or us by telling her the reasons. She either knew anyway or didn't really want to know and just wanted to argue. I was sorry for her sadness but relieved for us.

It is not easy to balance taking care of what you need and want and considering what will happen to the Other if you speak up for that. But the alternative of irritation veiled in politeness, of a kind of emotional swimming upstream, isn't acceptable. So I'm slowly learning to speak my truth with more tact and more kindness, and yet still speaking it.