There is no magic wand

There are times like this, in the middle of the night, when I wake up for a pitstop and worry sneaks in before I can get back to sleep. Not helpful. I fruitlessly wish for a magic wand to erase the fearful thoughts from my mind to allow me once again to get the rest every body needs.

I’ve been on my recovery journey for almost ten years now. When I began, I had no idea it was an endless journey. Not that I presumed I’d immediately “get” all the things I needed to “get” to be recovered. It’s more that I had no idea of the many layers of recovery that were both needed – and possible. I am humbled, I am grateful, I am relieved that this is a journey that continues for as long as I am alive and have the capacity to live and grow and understand and change.

The past couple of weeks, my recovery focus has been on Steps 8 and 9: made a list of all persons we had harmed and became ready to make amends to them all; made direct amends wherever possible, except when to do so would injure myself or others. When my sponsor and I met last, I pulled out the amends list I had started…in 2012. It had overwhelmed me then; my body tells me it terrifies me now. And that feels unreasonable to me.

This journey is not simple. It’s not easy. At times, it isn’t even fun. (Imagine that.) Yet it is so very worthwhile! I don’t think it’s worthwhile; I know it’s worthwhile. I have been graced with more blessings than I ever thought possible, in terms of how I think, how I’m experiencing my life. There are times when I look back over the last few months and I am in awe of how much I’ve changed – at how much my Higher Power, whom I call God, has transformed me and my thinking.

That’s why it puzzles me and frustrates me when I get stuck in fear, in feelings of being overwhelmed, in the anger and resentment and general grumpiness that have been accompanying me these past couple of weeks. My sponsor and I laughed when she shared about the “earthquake” in her own thinking with a book we have both been recently reading. Now I’m having my own “earthquake,” as the gnarly, ugly bits of resentment still present in me are getting stirred up.

The crazy part is, I still want to take these Steps toward greater recovery, albeit in that “I don’t wanna! I don’t wanna! I’m freaking scared and already feel terrible enough about myself that I’m not sure I wanna do this at all” kind of way. You know, that digging-my-heels-in way of insisting that I be dragged into this, even as I know I cannot be dragged into this. I can choose to stand still or to walk forward. I suppose walking backward is an option, but that is unthinkable. It already feels like I’m walking backward just to have the negative feelings stirred up and brought to the surface, as if one can ever stay clean and tidy mucking out the stables that have held those hurts and resentments.

A few days ago, I read in The Forgiveness Handbook that “our biggest demons are those we do not have the courage to face” (p 42, Diana L. Guerrero). I think she’s right. And I think I’ve found one of my biggest demons. At least it feels that way in this moment. I’ve also often heard that I need to trust the process – trust that working the Steps, doing the best I can to do my part, and letting go of the results will bring me to the recovery I desire. I know it’s true. Both intellectually and on deep body levels, I know it’s true, because I’ve experienced the truth of it over and over again.

When fear and worry creep back in, I futilely long for that magic wand to make the fear, the pain, the feelings of being overwhelmed vanish, to return me to the serenity that’s hiding in the closet once again, the serenity that was with me so deeply only a few days ago. Yet, ironically, I also know that it is precisely my willingness to walk through the fear and the pain, even kicking and screaming all the way, that enables me to return to that serenity and experience the deep inner healing that comes with it.

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Rest for the Weary?

Virtually every morning I write in my reflection journal, usually in response to a devotional reading or some snippet I’ve read from my Bible. I say “virtually” because, as rich and nourishing as this practice has become, I have learned to hold even this with an open hand. My early schedule has challenged me to rethink what I have time for each morning. I used to take half an hour or so to read and reflect, often gaining insights along the way. Anymore, I’m often sleepy and simply don’t have the energy or inclination to spend my mornings rushing about to get everything – including some reflection writing – done before leaving for work.HPIM1992 T back

When I read the passage that starts, “Come to me, all you who are weary…and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28), I thought of how often I feel the need for more sleep these days. Then I read the verses that followed and began to think beyond my yearning for restful sleep. I still need the rest that sleep brings – don’t get me wrong. But I’m noticing other things, other ways these words speak to me.

“Rest” can be the recovery I experience as I continue to work my program, as in rest from the insanity of compulsive behaviors like overeating. “Rest” could even be letting go and taking a break from staying so focused on my recovery work that I miss the rest of what life has to offer. Sometimes I feel as if all my attention is focused on my recovery work, especially, specifically actually, around wanting to begin making progress in my newly restarted OA journey. I’m in this ‘learning about the nature of this illness’ and ‘how to work the program’ state where reading and thinking – and sometimes writing – about it are helping me understand myself and giving me a glimpse into what recovery might look like for me.

It’s different than my Al Anon challenges, in that it involves reactions to foods, as well as triggers and compulsive behaviors that I don’t fully understand and am powerless to control without the help of a program and my Higher Power.  Yet it is also like my Al Anon/ACA challenges for these very reasons. The primary difference is that my OA issues directly impact my physical well-being, as well as my emotional and spiritual well-being.

I’ve long been aware that I have what I would call an ‘addictive-type’ personality. Even in high school, I knew that if I took up smoking or drinking, I would probably become a chain smoker and an alcoholic. (Fortunately I never liked either.) But the notion of compulsively eating is a new concept to me and I’m still – and gratefully – taking in what I’m learning about it in the OA literature.

The need for humility...

The need for humility…

Today, I’m grateful to have read beyond verse 28 in the passage from Matthew, for I noticed something. Jesus says that he is “gentle” and “humble in heart.” As I wrote out the verses, it occurred to me that Jesus is not only “gentle” with us, he is also gentle with himself when he needs to be – as when he goes off by himself to pray and perhaps rest from the burdens he carries. And he’s humble – a characteristic needed in 12-Step work. The need for humility is also something I noticed as lying behind several of my character weaknesses.

I had to review the Steps because I was sure one of the first three steps used this word. It turns out it’s Step Seven: “Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.” Yet even beginning this program requires learning to be humble. It takes humility to recognize, acknowledge and accept that we are powerless over alcohol or compulsive eating or debting or whatever it is that leads us into these rooms.

Humility speaks to me of the willingness to admit our powerlessness. And that, for me, means I also have to be gentle with myself as I find the humility to fully accept my own powerlessness and as I learn to turn to God for help every step of the way.

Rest? I suspect it comes when we give up the struggle and find the humility and the willingness to let go and let God do that which we cannot do for ourselves. Maybe that’s when sleep truly becomes “rest.” It’s 8:43 p.m. now. It’s so-o-o past my bedtime. Zzzzzzzzzzz…

Reflecting on the journey – Day 366 (Mon – Dec 3)

HPIM1935I’m starting this post, not knowing if it will actually become a post. My internet connection is teasingly inconsistent. In the cone shaped icon that reflects the signal on my computer, there are four “arcs,” rather like the bars of a cell phone. The signal swings, at times, between one or two tiny arcs and the full cone of four arcs. And my computer is old and slow in general. But this is the last day of my one-year journey. I need to honor this day in some small way. It’s been a long and challenging twelve months.

It has been a year since I began this journey of facing my fears, testing myself, as it were, to see if I have the courage to change. When I consider my first posts and my seemingly worthy goals of clearing the tangible clutter from my life – or my room, to be more realistic – it doesn’t look like I’ve made a lot of progress. But when I look at the changes in how I respond to things, I am amazed at the difference. My sponsor commented on this when we met this past weekend and I mentioned that it had been almost a full year since I started my blog. Her observation was that the changes in me have been “huge.” A very nice thing to hear – and to have affirmed.

HPIM1937

I began this blog because I was tired of being ridiculously burdened by too much clutter that makes every move (and there have been lots) difficult and exhausting and highly stressful. I had come to realize that the reason I have clung to so much stuff and acquired even more is fear. I have been afraid to let things go because I thought I might need them and I knew I might not have the resources to replace them. One of the most annoying things someone can say to me is, “If you haven’t used it for over a year, you don’t need it!” Argh!!! The retort that leaps to mind when anyone is thoughtless enough to say that isn’t worth repeating.

The problem is that anytime someone would say something in this direction, a part of me would wilt in defeat, feeling the shame of being afraid to let go of my stuff and the deeper shame of being unable to afford a place that would allow me to get all my stuff out where I could actually use and enjoy it – and, yes, clear some of it out. I really don’t need everything I have in storage – I just don’t have the energy and time to plow through it when there’s nowhere to put any of it.

But I’m ranting. Forgive me.

HPIM1938As I was saying, I began this blog with an idealistic intention of clearing the physical clutter out of my life. Yet what I’ve actually been doing is learning to respond differently to the things that used to leave me paralyzed or quaking in fear. And I suspect there is a direct cause and effect going on.

When I began clearing the clutter not long after I wrote my first post, I started with the small things, the easy-to-discard things. At least, they had become easy to discard by that time. Without realizing it, I soon found myself letting go of somewhat (emotionally) “bigger” things.

HPIM1942Somewhere along the way, I began to let go my tendency to overreact in various situations. That was a more subtle process that began with small shifts and progressed until I found it easier and easier to let go of something I wished would have happened differently. That in itself has felt like a miracle!

As I consider the timing of this blog, it occurs to me that the idea for it began forming a few weeks before I had to move out of an apartment I’d shared with a friend, a few weeks after I’d begun my 7th Step – asking my Higher Power to remove my shortcomings. Actually, the approach I took was to look at my shortcomings and imagine the positive flip side of them. That’s what I asked my Higher Power to do, I asked for these character weaknesses to be transformed – and that’s what’s been happening.

I have to wonder if we sometimes underestimate the power of opening even a tiny door of willingness, a small window of trust. If I clench my hand into a fist, nothing can get in. But if I simply relax my fingers a little, before I even open my hand to become a receptacle, a space forms between the fingers and the palm – a space into which something else may come. Maybe that’s what I’ve been doing this past year – learning first to simply relax my hand and my fingers, then gradually, little by little, letting my fingers unfold.

The willingness to change does bear fruit

The willingness to change does bear fruit

Day 166 (Fri/May 25): The unexpected grace of small steps and 12-Steps

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven (Eccl. 3:1). Time. Timing. Time…

Last Friday I learned that I need to reduce my thyroid medication a bit, which explains the poor sleep and the too-frequent feelings of anxiety. It takes time for the shift in dosage to have an impact, so I’ll have to be patient.

On the heels of this helpful news, I began letting go and attending to the needs for my body to have adequate rest – which includes not pushing myself every minute of every day. With my schedule, it’s been hard to get to many tasks, from balancing my checkbook to writing my blog posts. Still, I realized I could actually create more ease in my schedule. I wonder, now, if that’s what actually opened the door to some unexpected grace.

It had finally dawned on me that I had some available vacation time. So I shortened my work days on Friday and Saturday. It seemed like such a small thing, to realize I could actually use my vacation time, yet I had been clinging to those vacation hours out of fear of not having them. Once I decided to avail myself of these hours, I immediately began experiencing more ease in body and spirit.

I was tempted to run

Sunday, I attended a Debtors Anonymous (DA) meeting. I arrived feeling a lot of anxiety and fear. My work at the temp place had been extended through July, for two days a week. That means regular weekly income that might come close to a normal, if not particularly large monthly income when combined with my regular part-time job. It’s been so long since I’ve had an adequate monthly income I hardly know what to do. So I didn’t speak at the meeting for quite some time. I just listened.

What I heard were words of encouragement and hope. One man shared that he had already paid down all but $400 of a $10,000 line of credit in only two years and that his income had increased 50%. Such financial blessing is beyond my ability to conceive right now, but it inspired me nonetheless. It’s the second time in recent weeks that I’ve heard someone share about making so much progress in reducing their debt. I’ve come to realize there are more possibilities than I thought around my financial situation.

I also kept hearing references to DA being a primarily spiritual program. While I can’t articulate what that means for me, on a body-spirit level I know what it means and I could feel a shift in the corners of my thinking.

The next day, Monday, I knew I would have a window of privacy during the my workday and planned to take advantage of it. I called the three creditors whose calls I have been ignoring for the past couple of weeks. I first spoke to the one for the credit card that had not yet charged off and affirmed my intention to pay the $105 to keep the charge off this month. (Although, after making that payment last night, I’ve decided it’s probably in better to let it charge off, so the late fees and interest can cease and I can begin actually paying down the balance.) The call was surprisingly gracious and the representative expressed appreciation for my having initiated the call.

Next I spoke to the agency handling the largest of my three debts. To my amazement (and incredible relief) they are willing to accept $20 payments each month for now because it shows my intention to pay the debt. The rep gave me a website for making online payments when I asked about doing that. What an unexpected blessing!

I cannot rush this process…

The third call was to the company who had been pressuring me for a $500 up-front payment. I had sent them $50 in April and $50 earlier this month. I was again amazed and relieved that they had concluded this was a monthly commitment and that they were okay with that!

After that third call, I simply sat there, practically stunned by the grace and ease of the conversations and the results. I know that in God’s time the rest of this will sort itself out in a way that will be best for me. The results of these calls were an affirmation of God’s grace.

The next day, Tuesday, while I was happily back at my part-time job for the whole day during the week (yay!), I was given the incredible gift of being able to participate in an InterPlay event happening this coming week. My work schedule will only allow me to be there for the opening day and most of the next day, but some loving friends have enabled me to attend for free. I am so excited, I can hardly contain myself! I also attended an InterPlay class that evening.

I left there feeling overwhelmed by the grace and unexpected blessings of the past few days. Is this really all about letting go and letting God move in my life? I believe it is – and I’m doing my best to keep getting better at getting out of God’s way!

InterPlaying…

Noticings:

  • How much easier it’s becoming to let go worry about the details.
  • How good it feels to post again!
  • How much easier it’s becoming to accept God’s grace when it arrives…

Action steps:

  • Calling my creditors.
  • Deciding to stay home tomorrow to let myself simply have the space to rest and catch up on a few things.
  • Picking up a notebook to help me track and get a handle on just how much I spend on what.

Day 132 (Sat/Apr 21): From persistence to derailed in one short phone call…

I realize I am simply not having enough time lately to write the kind of posts I like to do. So, I am giving myself permission to write some mini-posts. There is just too much happening to not need to talk about it.

Yesterday, I started a post and I probably need to read it to hear the reminders in it for myself. As you can see, it never made it to the site. So, I’m including it here. But first I’ll begin with the derailing part…

My cell phone rang. “Restricted” displayed. Against my better judgment, I answered. After all, my aunt and uncle have their number blocked… It was the creditor I mention below. They’re starting to get pushy. I’m not willing to give them the chunk of money they want. I don’t know what to do right this moment. And my body reacts will all those unpleasant chemicals that scream “AUGH!!!!”

For now, I keep shaking out my arms and jumping up to do some kicking and other “thrusty” movements (as I learned in InterPlay). I’m grateful to be at work at a place where I can do this.

I also cling tightly to my faith and my Al Anon program, reminding myself to simply thing about what the “next right thing” might be. When I slow it down enough, it helps me to manage the unmanageable. I know I’m not the only one who goes through this. It’s just that I feel so alone when it’s happening on that visceral level that shifts me from serene to survival in a split second…

So, I take a deep breath…let it out with a(n audible) sigh…and remind myself that this too shall pass and God is always there for me.

Now, this is what I began writing yesterday/Friday at lunch (and I’m not even going to read it or proof this post – “Uncle!”):

This morning, my reflection time centered around a wonderful passage from Luke (11:5-13). It’s about persistence (“shameless persistence,” according to the New Living Translation). I feel so grateful for this passage and the reflection with it in my Life Recovery Bible (a 12-step edition, with helpful reflections related to the steps, to the Serenity Prayer and to other recovery themes). This particular reflection was on the 7th Step – humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings. It talks about the importance of asking for help when we need it – and I realized that’s exactly what I did yesterday.

The last couple of days I’ve been pretty stressed about my credit card debt situation. At a time when I finally am receiving some decent (albeit temporary) income, it seems I am getting resistance to my desire to continue making payments. The person at the collection agency “offered” me the option of giving them $500, then continuing with my small monthly payments (for a period of time not clearly defined) to bring things to a kind of “halt,” where they would cease their more aggressive efforts to collect on the debt. Sounds good, at least from their perspective.

The thing is, I’m wrestling (and starting to get ahead, finally) with the guilt of knowing I actually could pay if I was willing to sacrifice other needs – and am not willing to do that. My car visited the auto-hospital yesterday for a check-up. She received minor servicing and a diagnosis of front brakes in imminent need of replacement, a squeaky belt in need of same, and a leak in the oil pan (which is fortunately still covered by my extended warranty). The brakes and the belt replacement are going to run close to, you guessed it, the exact amount the collector would like me to hand over to them.

I totally reached the frazzled, stressed, can’t-figure-out-which-end-is-up stage yesterday afternoon. I had headed to a Debtors Anonymous (DA) meeting Wednesday, only to find the parking lot filled with both cars and homeless people. (The meeting is at a church that ministers to the homeless.) I was running late anyway and found myself unwilling to leave my car unattended with all my stuff in it. (It’s sadly acting as a storage extension at the moment.) So yesterday, when the fuses in my mind were about to blow, I tried calling a friend from my Al Anon group who also attends DA meetings, but didn’t reach her. Next I texted my sponsor (who also attends DA herself) to see if she might be available for a phone chat.

We connected later and I’m so glad we did. She affirmed my intention to take care of myself and my vehicle first. She reminded me of the progress I’ve made. (Always helpful to hear.) And she applauded the fact that I’m finding out about my options and learning what I need to know if I have to go the worst-case route. (I refuse to use the “B” word on my blog. If you use it, I’ll edit it! ;-)) We talked for almost an hour and it was amazing how helpful it was just to be able to talk to someone about how stressed I was feeling.

That ends what I wrote yesterday. Today, I’ll simply leave it there. I enjoyed a lot of serenity for about 36 hours. Now I’ll look toward rediscovering it again as I wrestle with how to respond to this morning’s unwanted phone call.

Thank you for being there… Things are kind of hard right now…

Sunday, Jan. 15th (35/331): Private journeys

I attended a memorial service today for a dear friend’ husband, who passed away New Year’s morning while she was at church. He died peacefully in his sleep, just hours after they had shared an enjoyable evening, planning more of their future together after more than fifty-five years of marriage.

As I listened to the stories about this unobtrusive, remarkable man (whom I had never met), and especially as my friend shared briefly about what a wonderful support he had been for her, I was struck, by way of contrast, at what a private, sometimes lonely journey recovery can be. A few tears slipped down my cheeks as I felt my friend’s loss and also my own yearning for such a relationship. I wondered if I will ever know the kind of love and connection they had.

Barely three hours later, after listening to shares of a different nature at an ACA meeting, it occurred to me that the difficulty I’ve experienced in these past six or so months might well be a gift. Like it or not, I have been forced to take a hard look at the patterns of thinking and behaving in my life, and the patterns that don’t work have become abundantly clear, as has the amount of fear that drives many of those patterns.

The gift, for me, has been manifesting in the form of healing in my thinking around relationships. I used to think I could not walk this journey alone and I really didn’t want to try. But in the past six months, I have not only discovered I can walk alone (in human terms, for I know I am never alone in the sense that God is always with me), I have come to appreciate the value in finding my own way. I have discovered that I do not need a partner or spouse to encourage me, share the burden with me, or support me. Perhaps this is obvious to you; for me it is a revelation. No, a miracle. Even as I felt the longing for someone to share my life, as I listened to the story of one man’s love for his wife, family and friends, the “need” for such support was gone.

I suspect the main reason I am receiving healing in this area of my life is because I let it go and got out of the way of my own recovery. Interesting how that works. Without conscious effort, I implemented Step 3 in the 12-Step program: I turned my life and my will in this arena over to the care of God. Clearly, God has been working on me!

I’m not sure it’s quite the same thing, but an image that comes to mind is this: one way to get over a headache is to drop a hammer on your toe! It’s called “diversion” and it seems to be working. I think I’m a bit ADD that way – the best way for me to let go of something is to direct my attention elsewhere.

Now, if I can figure out how to apply this in some way to my job hunting goals, maybe I can really make progress!

Action step(s):

  • Putting God first several times today when I could have insisted on my own way
  • Setting out some clear goals and prayer requests
  • Being attentive to the money I was spending, with an awareness of what I actually have available to spend, and making choices accordingly

Thursday, Jan. 5th (25/361): Hard but good…

Today was hard. Early this morning, my fearful thoughts ran something like this:

  • What if I called the staffing agency?
  • They might demand time I’m not (yet) willing to give and try to make me do something unwanted or want me to put everything else on hold…
  • Augh! I don’t want to call! I’m afraid it might start a chain reaction!
  • New possibility–>I could get clear on what I’m willing to do.
  • Here’s where I get stumped…
  • I could call and be willing to set clear boundaries around my availability.
  • What about being open to either direction? [i.e., admin assist work and ministry]
  • Eek! What I really want to do is some kind of ministry; if I jump into office work, I might get stuck there.
  • How do I let go of this fear???
  • What are all those presumptions I’m making about these…

A little later, as I did my morning reflection time, the verse that spoke to me was: “Do not judge according to appearance…” (John 7:24) I thought about my present circumstances. I’m staying at my aunt & uncle’s because I don’t have the money to actually pay rent, no matter how low. My monthly paycheck from my part-time job lets me pay some of my bills and buy some food and gas. I sort of get by. If it weren’t for the occasional financial gift from friends and the like, I don’t know how I’d make it at all. All this is to say that this is a very rough patch for me at the moment.

The challenge with looking for work is that because of my financial need, I don’t feel free to pursue the work I’m passionate about because it doesn’t come in a neat package with a regular paycheck. I’m also on this intentional journey to break through my fears, and finding employment is one of the scariest things for me. Right now, things appear really bleak and, from the outside,it might look like I’m doing almost nothing to change my situation. But the truth is, I know I’m doing some of the hardest work there is.

Still, the financial piece has made it hard for me to relax and simply get on with the stuff (I don’t know how to do very well yet) that could lead to improving my financial situation. I attended an interview workshop today. It was very helpful, even though it triggered my fears as well.

Later, shortly before I met with my sponsor, I was reading the preface and intro in Opening Our Hearts, Transforming Our Losses, an Al-Anon publication. It was timely to read about grief when I’ve had these bubbles of grief trying to rise to the surface. I especially liked what it said on page 7 – that I don’t have to confront everything all at once and I can be patient and gentle with myself, trusting that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. That’s worth rereading for me.

My sponsor unwittingly helped me get the tears rolling. (Thanks be!) She named and affirmed that things are hard for me right now and that it’s okay to say that it’s hard. I don’t have to pretend that it’s not. I so needed to cry…

I appreciated coming across something I wrote a year ago that’s helpful for me now: The process of healing is not likely to be a straight line. It was a relief to recognize this. When I feel afraid, I feel like I’ve lost faith, like I don’t trust God to take care of me. My sponsor reminded me that God knows how hard this is for me and my feelings of fear are a normal, human response to the very real challenges I’m facing. I’m so grateful that it’s okay to be human and that healing is happening even when I don’t yet see the results.

My action step(s):

  • Attending an interview workshop.
  • Doing some research on chaplaincy positions/requirements.
  • Testing and improving my skills on MS Word and Excel 2007.
  • Meeting with my sponsor.
  • Letting go my self-imposed need to work tomorrow (when I’ve already fulfilled my hours for the week).

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