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Begin in the beginning…

This is the post excerpt.

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Ok, so this is clearly under construction, but you’ve got to start somewhere. I feel like I’ve just pushed the sawdust over into the corner and cleared a space between boxes that will need to be unpacked someday just so I can clear my throat and say something. This blog is about recovery, and in my mind the word recovery is always lit up like a theater marquee with those small white lights that circle and flash around the title. Recovery has become a big thing for me since I first entered the realm of 12-step meetings just about exactly 4 years ago today. The word recovery is very powerful, because with that one word, you get a sense of three very different places. Like the word “Healing” it feels like both a noun and a verb to me. It makes it clear that there was a previous state of being, and then something happened. You were wounded or injured or shamed and so you were no longer who you had been. There was a wound or a challenge or an addiction, and you began to hope that there may be a future state where that wound may be healed and the addiction may be managed, but at this specific time, we’re strung out between that painful past and a future where we hope to be free from that pain. Recovery is an action, a choice. If you cut yourself, your body will very likely bring forces to bear automatically to heal that cut, and it will happen without any intention to heal on your part: it just happens. Sadly, recovery isn’t that simple. The people who struggle with addictions or challenging people in their lives are like people with compromised immune systems. We don’t heal automatically. We get cut, and then months or even years and decades later, we notice that we’re still bleeding from the open wound. It didn’t heal. It still hurts. Finding a way to consciously and deliberately heal is hard, you can’t just call out your white cells and motivate them to come to your rescue: it doesn’t work that way. You begin to take steps… stairway-to-heaven-screensaver

It’s hard. It feels all uphill. It feels stupid, to be working so hard at something other people seem to do effortlessly. Also, just the act of beginning to heal your wounds is exhausting and you’re almost certain to already be flat on your back just from living with the wound. It’s not fair. But eventually, something will shift, because;

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Elizabeth Appell.
Recovery is a road, not a finish line. About four years ago, today, I took the first step down that road. I’m still walking. This is the place where I and others can and will publish tales from that road. Welcome.

Silence is Golden

Perhaps not original, but today I confirmed that it’s actually true. I’m almost done taking my first MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Relief) class, and today was the all-day silent retreat. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but while excited to have a day for introspection, I wasn’t really expecting much. I was wrong.

cloister

Ok, so it didn’t look like this, but there is a gentle quality to the time spent in silent meditation which I found refreshing and healing… and more. When the day began, we were cautioned to try to avoid speaking unless something beyond the scope of the class came up. We were also advised to avoid eye-to-eye contact with the others in the class. That struck me as odd. The 27 of us have been together every Wednesday night for 6 weeks now. We’ve gotten to be friends, we know each other, yet today, we didn’t interact in anyway at all. No words, no glances and no facial expressions. That turned out to be a very nice supportive part of the day too. With no one to interact with, and no way to really get out of our own heads (no music, no cell phones, no books) I found myself sailing deep into seldom visited coves and bay of my mind. I quickly saw, that to try to come up and out of that place to exchange some social nicety would have ended the meditative part of my day without actually providing any real communication. Everyone else was under the same “no talking” rule, so we quietly walked past each other and sat beside each other from 9am until 4pm. Silence.

I had one epiphany. I’m currently in a rather temporary and transitory stage of life, so the concept of “Home” has been a hard one lately. I’m not sure if I have one; I’m not sure I ever will again. Today, sitting on my yoga mat or walking quietly in the grass with no one else distracting me from me – well I found a bit of home right there. Just being me, and being with me. I was home. Not in the sense of being located in a place which was home. I, the person writing these words became home. I was with me, and me myself and I became home. Convoluted verbiage, but hopefully you get it.

Home really is where the heart is. Not some long lost place where you left your heart. Your heart beats now in your chest. Be there. Open your heart to yourself, and welcome yourself home.

It’s not either/or. It’s both/and.

I’m not sure why I’m so subject to seeing a world made up of two choices. I think it’s not just me. Things are either Black or White, it’s Male or Female, it’s the Lady or the Tiger. Right or wrong, up or down, in or out, win or lose. You get it. Politically the extremes are holding the whole conversation today and leaving out anyone with a shred of doubt or a non-dogmatic mix of beliefs.

This is a Tensegrity object:

tense

You can see it’s composed of rigid rods and flexible cords or cables. This sort of structure is being used to build bridges and large buildings, but notice that the rigid bits aren’t connected, other than by the flexible bits. The rods are compressed (rods are good at compression) by the cables (cables are really great at holding tension) and the whole thing works. If the cables weren’t there, the rods, being unconnected to each other would collapse into a pile of Pick-Up Sticks. The cables, were the rods removed, would softly fold into a nest of string with no strength.

Each component, by itself, is inadequate. Both together form a very strong unit.

The human body is much like this. Your bones are compressed by your weight, they hold compression loads well, but they’re held together by ligaments and muscles under tension. Neither a pile of bones, nor a sack of  ligaments would function as a whole.

Again, you need both.

Now take a leap beyond the bounds of physical objects into the realm of beliefs. I have some very fundamental beliefs about the way I should operate, the way human society should be structured and what is right and wrong. Those beliefs would seem to be the firm girders of my moral structure. They bear the weight of my life and support many of my actions and values. They are the rods. Yet, if I were nothing but hard girders, there would be no flexibility, no way to adjust to a changing world or new information. It feels to me that there are cords too. They are the flexible members of my psyche which connect these firm beliefs of mine, and many of these come from outside myself. A belief in personal freedom may be a solid girder in your world, but it’s held in tension against the freedom you would have to grant others – if you were to be consistent. Money in the bank which, as an adult, you could spend on anything you want, is limited by the tension of knowing that bills will be coming in and you’re going to have to pay them, so your strength is muted by your responsibility. The result is a belief system with solid support of girders and the flexibility provided by the tension of restraining factors.

This can be very frustrating. It can feel like no matter where you turn, there’s a reason you can’t go further. At every turn, there’s a limit and a countervailing tug.

Welcome to real life. It’s supposed to be that way.

You’re supposed to be nervous on a first date. There will always be a dilemma about money. The To-Do List will always challenge the Hours-Available.

People find themselves in 12-Step programs because they’ve avoided the hard reality of this tension by wishing away one component of it. Maybe the world seems too hard, too rigid and too unyielding and so they wish away the hard facts and try to live in the squishy stress-free world of a ball of string. You could believe that people should just buckle down and do their jobs and be strong and quit all this mealy mouthed grey-toned living and face the hard Black and White Truth. If you do, you may end up with a structure and a life with no flexibility and no way to adapt.

Thomas Jefferson said, “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

It’s like that.

Not for the faint of heart

I mentioned earlier today that I had my Monday meeting tonight. It was good, really good, which means we had to search for the box of tissues and pass them down the table to where they were needed. This illustrates one reality of Recovery: there will be tears. If your life has somehow outlawed tears in public in front of total strangers, well; welcome to the Real World. Mostly, the people who end up in “The Rooms” got there at the very last second. As Recovery proceeds and as your history is uncovered and held up for all to see, many people find that the evidence has been there all along and somehow it just wasn’t seen. The Truth had been stuffed away with the accompanying tears.

Somewhere in your life, you’ll have run into The Serenity Prayer:

God. Grand me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

This prayer is normally spoken aloud at the beginning of every 12-step meeting in hushed and reverent tones. I live by it, but sometimes I think we can overdue the Serenity part. Recovery is not a simple Zen-like retreat from daily life, it may in fact be the battle of your life. The prayer also encourages Courage and Wisdom to apply it when the circumstances call for it. Not all battles are fought by armies and not all battlefields are obvious; some of them are living rooms and kitchens and office cubicles and bedrooms. The world of Recovery is very egalitarian: the grey head may be a newcomer who’s addicted child has pushed them to the breaking point so there was no option besides coming to Al Anon. On the other hand, the quiet young person in the corner may have more wisdom and may have lived more Hell than you can imagine. You would easily walk by either of them on the street on in the supermarket, so remember:

everyoneyoumeet

A message from the body…

Recovery is a big thing, and it doesn’t only happy in a church basement in a circle of chairs. Those moments are sweet and rare in the overall sweep of a life. That’s like a practice session, while the real game begins the moment you get back in your car to head home afterwards.

I’ve begun doing yoga. Coming from button downed Connecticut where the appearance of yogurt on the shelves of Stop & Shop was shocking, you’d be right if you thought this was a big change for me. I recall my first several 12-meetings and my amused horror to find that people really did say, “Hi, I’m (insert your name here)” and everyone else really did respond, “Hi. (that same name again)” That cliched introduction has been mocked so many times, it was disorienting to find that it was real and taken seriously. I’m over that now, so now I’m getting used to a new world where the yoga class really does begin with some “Ommmmmm’s” and really does end with “Namaste.”

yogadog

The thing is, I really like it. A lot. It’s amazing how overall stretching can give you the same wonderful exhaustion that a really good run can. It’s also amazing to find out that many parts of my body have been left out of the conditioning required to run. Pretty much everything above the belt line has been resting on the couch while the Quads and Hamstrings and Calves have been doing the heavy lifting. Well, not anymore, and those above the belt line parts are making their displeasure known. It turns out that I’m in fairly good shape for 61+, but I’ve managed to get here without much stretching or flexibility, so my work is cut out for me.

Then, BAM, the metaphor hit me. Capable, but stiff. Inflexible. Unable to change to meet new challenges. Pain limits my attempts to alter my way of being, so I stay stuck in my rut. Oh…

So a part of my recovery will continue at my meeting tonight at 7pm in the church library, but that’s only one part of it. There’s a Conference Call tonight with another group of recovery friends. There will be some meditation today and maybe I’ll unroll my yoga mat and do some simple stretching too. Read a book. Call a friend. Be good to myself. I once was blind, but now I see.

Namaste.

Tell the Truth.

The thing that caught my attention when I attended my first 12-step meeting was the astounding honesty of those present. Shockingly calm and direct and brazen truth of a kind never heard around my dinner table when I grew up. I was hooked immediately.

It’s kind of like a bumper sticker that was popular years ago, “Underneath my clothes, I’m naked.” Well, aren’t we all?

The thing is, while we live our lives as a continuum, like a movie playing; we recall it like a photo album. We recall specific moments, and just like a photo album, we can choose what to include. We sift through our lives to find the moments that tell the story we want to tell. All the moments are likely true and real, but the overall picture we paint with those stories may bear no connection to reality at all. Consider the constellations among the stars. There really aren’t any bears or scorpions or swans or dippers up there; those are stories we’ve made and passed down that connect unrelated stars to make pictures we like. The moments of our lives are just like the stars; moments scattered over our years. Some are bright and some are dim. Some always catch our eye and some fade away. The story of our life, if telling the truth, would include them all and it would be like a cold winter night out in the mountains away from the lights of the city. There would be a heavenly host indeed; representing the path we’ve trod in our years and it would be broad and captivating and deep and magnificent and there would be scenes everywhere you looked.

The stories we tend to tell about our lives are like a child’s drawing of the big dipper, (Ursa Major: the Great Bear) on newsprint with a crayon. All the delicacy and detail and nuance is be gone and there is only crude wavering lines to tell our tale.

Within “The Rooms” I began to hear people tell the whole broad and honest truth. The patterns weren’t easy to trace, but the honest brilliance of the telling made up for the lack of an easy moral to the story.

Before I put up my first internet dating profile, I was given some advice: tell the truth. Put up the photo of yourself without the toupee and without the push-up bra. If that’s going to put off people, you may as well get that over right from the start so you’re not wasting time with people who will find out the truth eventually. If there is an eventually.

Tell the truth. To yourself. Begin there. That’s where your Recovery will start.

There’s a reason the coins look like this:

tothineownselfbetrue

Life: an endurance event

So, first off, a word about the Nike advertisements. I’m a runner and in my day I ran 3 NY Marathons, but the most recent was 1991. I see life through the lens of that sort of endeavor. One winner of the NY Marathon said afterwards, “The will to win is nothing without the will to prepare.” There’s a fundamental truth in that. We all want the finish line, but are we willing to do the dawn practice runs on Sunday morning?

In the late 80’s and early 90’s, Nike ran one of the most moving ad campaigns ever: “There is no Finish Line” along with “Just Do It” motivated me to put in the miles and hours so that I could run 26.2 miles in a race.

Now, over 20 years since that last Marathon, those words still motivate me to put in the time and miles and hours to run the race of my life. Of course I want to jump to the finish line, but the finish line of life? Do I really want to jump straight there? No.

So, please pardon my use of those iconic Nike Ads. they still get me out of bed and back on my feet and to the task at hand. I have meetings to go to and meditation to become comfortable with. I’m trying Yoga and learning about Mindfulness. I’m trying, because there really is a finish line, and I have miles to go before I sleep. running shoes