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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Sometimes I just feel lost…

It’s the middle of the night. Actually, for me, it’s only a couple of hours before my alarm will remind me that it’s time to get up, get dressed, and head to a job that helps pay the bills in a reasonably gracious way, but is not a place that feeds my soul. I’m grateful I have two jobs and that the other job is one I care about a good deal.

Yesterday, my son called me. We hadn’t talked in a few weeks and I was glad to hear his voice. It touches me when he reaches out. I’m ashamed to say that I don’t reach out to him more often. But our conversation was just what I needed, even though I hadn’t known what that was.

He picked up on something in my voice. When he tried to identify what it was, he said I sounded “negative.” Oddly, I hadn’t even realized I was coming across that way. I was simply focusing on him and how he was doing, with little interest in talking about me and my life. Maybe that was the tip-off.

He asked me if I felt “happy,” if my life and where I was living right now felt “stable.” (He’s already becoming a good psychologist, even though he still has two more years of undergrad work to do.) I told him “no” that I didn’t feel what I would call “happy,” but that my life felt “stable,” sort of… How “stable” can it feel when my housemate may rent the other room but I may simply be surprised one day to find a stranger moving her things in? How “stable” can it feel when the ‘housemate’ living in the converted garage never communicates, in that I never know if she’s around and may – or may not – need to use the bathroom we share? (And will share with the new roommate, when she comes.) How stable can it feel when I rarely see either housemate because one is a night owl to the point that she often doesn’t come home till a few hours after I’ve been asleep and I leave before dawn and the other has an indecipherable schedule that includes frequently staying elsewhere and communication amongst us is a foreign concept to them both?

After my son and I got off the phone, I was appreciating the opportunity to hear his voice and to connect (we talked for a full hour) and feeling grateful that he had helped me see something I hadn’t quite brought into focus: I’m depressed.

I have noticed feeling defeated, almost hopeless, on a number of occasions, but hadn’t connected the dots. It’s odd, in a way, at least to me, that depression has a way of sneaking up on me without my realizing that the negative attitudes bubbling around in my thoughts are actually an indicator that I’m moving into depression. I have always seen myself as a positive person and an optimist, so it’s hard for me to recognize, let alone accept, that I have shifted into a negative, depressed frame of mind – even though I see the clues.

Somewhere along the way, in the past two to three years, I seem to have lost my way. The passion I felt while I was in grad school, anticipating work that was meaningful, rewarding, satisfying, seems to have faded. I feel buried in a life focused – or not so focused – on survival, paying the bills and simply getting from one day to another. My energy level varies from day to day, rising most when I have projects at work that can capture my attention and keep me from thinking of how powerless I feel over my life right now. Even the longing for a loving relationship has joined the vague pile of hopes that sometimes feel unreachable.

Yet this is not where I want to be. This is not where I want to stay, in terms of my attitude, my feelings, my energy. I may not have much control over my energy, but I can make choices around my attitude.

I won’t pretend to feel “happy” or “stable” or “good” when I don’t feel that way. But it helps to recognize what’s happening. Now that I know I’ve been sliding toward depression, I can accept that and let it go. I’ve discovered that when I try to fight feeling depressed – which most often happens when I don’t yet realize that I am, indeed, depressed – it makes it worse. What works best for me is to realize I’m feeling depressed, to recognize my powerlessness over it, and to do what I can to help myself through it.

Before bed, I pulled out some of my flower remedies to get started. (Larch, for confidence; Sweet Chestnut, for optimism; and, after admitting the despair underlying the depression, Gorse.) When I woke up in the night and couldn’t get back to sleep, wondering how to find my way out of the quagmire of defeat, I pulled out a book that has never failed to help me walk through the dark periods: When the Heart Waits, by Sue Monk Kidd.

It will go in my backpack “tomorrow” (which is to say, in a couple of hours) and I will again appreciate the best part of being dependent on public transportation: the time and freedom to read as I take both bus and train to get to work. I may not be very bright and alert all day (funny how lack of sleep does that), but at least I’ll be on a good path to find my way again.

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…

2 Days – Holding Still for the Chocolate Pot (Sun – Mar 10)

It’s hard to believe it has already been almost 60 days since I started another journey within the journey. There has been so much going on – most of it an inner journey of discovery and letting go of barriers I hadn’t even realized were there.

What, you may ask, is the “Chocolate Pot”? I’ve explained where the term arose for me in a tab now at the top of this page. The short version is that the “chocolate pot” is a delicious and wonderful place to be – and that’s where I’ve landed!HPIM0796

After months of being challenged on a daily basis to let go and let things unfold, I went through a crisis moment. Actually, it was more like a crisis day with a bleed through to a couple of days preceding and following that one incredibly rough day. I wrote about it in my last post. It wasn’t long before I had my 60th birthday, which may have contributed to the intensity of it all. For some reason, “60” was a significant birthday for me. In fact, it feels like 60 is a significant year for me – and it’s barely begun!

Whatever the basis for my fears around finding a place to live, ultimately I had to hold still, to let go and let God do the work that only God can do. And amazingly enough, that opened the door. A little more than two weeks ago, someone responded to my online ad looking for a place to live. He said he liked what I said in my ad and sent me the link to his ad. A couple of phone calls and a few text messages later and I came to see the place. It was a bit farther away from both my places of work than I’d hoped, but I knew within the first few moments that I would enjoy having him as a housemate.

It's how I feel!

It’s how I feel!

We talked for half an hour to an hour. He showed me all around the house, including the garage and the back yard area, and told me about himself, his partner, and the woman who rents the third bedroom from them. The house was lovely and clean and full of the little amenities that most of us take for granted until we no longer have them. In fact, I’m appreciating those amenities on a daily basis. It was a delight and a joy, for example, to be able to make a sandwich simply because the refrigerator (which is one of two and practically all mine!) is only a couple of feet from the beautiful granite counter top. Instead of having to go outside to a dingy little garage, get my sandwich fixings out of the tiny fridge, go back inside the house, make my sandwich in a cluttered and often not-too-clean kitchen, then return all the fixings to the tiny fridge in the dingy garage, I now have the luxury of simply opening a refrigerator door, grabbing what I need, turning around and placing it on the counter to prepare my food. Have you ever stopped to appreciate such a delightful convenience? I take very little for granted these days. It’s one of the gifts of the rough road.

The real “chocolate pot” for me, though, is in the combination of both lovely home and lovely roommates. The Asian couple who owns the place (two gay men) have made me feel comfortable and welcome. In fact, Tony (the housemate I met when I saw the place) greeted me with “Welcome!” and gave me a hug when I arrived with my first load of things to move in last weekend. What a wonderful beginning!

It *does* feel serene...

It *does* feel serene…

I had fun with the possibilities before coming to see the place, drawing on my (positive) stereotypical images of gay men and Buddhists. I posted on my social media site: ‘Two gay men! Three Buddhists! You know what that means? The house will not only be beautiful, it will be spotless! And it will be like a year-round Serenity Retreat!’ The funny thing is, the house is beautiful and clean, if not quite spotless. And our schedules are so different, we each can enjoy quiet time in the house alone, so serenity is easily accessible on a daily basis.

I have no illusions that my new home (love that it feels like a home) will be an endlessly serene and perfectly harmonious experience. What I do know, that I didn’t know just a short time ago, is that I can choose how I want to respond to anything that isn’t quite as I’d prefer. I can communicate about it, if it’s something that can be changed or negotiated. I can let it go if it’s not very changeable. Even my commute-times, one of which is on a very congested freeway that takes significantly longer to get to work now, provides an opportunity to let go and simply enjoy the time for reflection.

Yesterday, I met with my sponsor. As I was sharing about the recent move, about how I was managing things financially, and about how I have been experiencing the transition, she remarked at the difference she sees in me. As she put it, I’m a completely different person than I was not that long ago. I knew what she meant. Even two months ago, I would not have been ready for this wonderful new place to live.

HPIM0853

So nice to have new friends!

Holding still..So worth it! 🙂

49 Days – Clouds along the way (Tue – Jan 22)

I’m feeling a muddle of emotions right now. Yesterday morning I couldn’t reach the loan company, so I went ahead and uploaded the documents they should need to figure out my payments. It felt good to get that done, even if I’m not quite certain what all they’ll need. Thankfully, I was able to release it to God long enough to get busy at work and be distracted by my tasks there.

Shifting...

Shifting…

Last night, my landlady said something about the inaugural address and asked if I’d seen it. Then she remarked that it would be best if I could be out of the house by the first of March, that I could move “anytime.” A few minutes later she told me that someone would be coming by to look at the desk and the dresser in my room today. She said they wouldn’t touch them; just step into the room long enough to get a quick look. I tried to appreciate the advance warning, even though I feel vulnerable having anyone come into my room while I’m gone – even her. The deflation at how often I’ve felt like I have no privacy flowed back into my thoughts.

When I thought about someone only being able to take a cursory look, I asked her if she might want to tell them that the desk is quite high. It is actually inconveniently high – even with my adjustable chair at its highest position, the desk is still too tall to use comfortably. My landlady stated emphatically that she was not going to tell them that! She knows it’s too high for most people.

I went back to cooking my dinner, bothered by the idea that this person will only get a quick glance at the desk and possibly end up unhappy with it once they get it home, if they decide to buy it. I don’t know if it’s an Al Anon thing to be almost compulsively honest at times, but it bothers me that she plans to make a point of not mentioning something that might understandably – and quite reasonably – deter the sale. It feels terribly unethical.

So now, I feel like my privacy is being invaded and I’m somehow facilitating a bit of deceit. And it bothered me for quite some time. It also bothered me that she has gone from “we have plenty of time” (i.e., till the end of March) to I can move “anytime,” best by “March 1st.” It feels as if I’m on ground that keeps shifting.

I am, in fact, eager to find a place – or at least for a place to find me. I’m also intimidated at the prospect of getting on one of those roommate websites or the area online advertising sites. A part of me feels anxious to get this going. But I asked my Higher Power for clarity around what the next right step should be and got the message: my loans. They have an imminent, even immediate deadline, whereas I do have a few weeks in which to find a new home.

As depression tries to sneak up on me again, I am considering some of the things I have been reading in the past few weeks, asking myself how to see all this differently.

One step at a time

One step at a time

I read a wonderful reprint of an article by Norman Vincent Peale, the well-known author of the long-time best seller, The Power of Positive Thinking. In the article, titled “Do It!” [Guideposts, January 2013, pp 24-25], Peale states that if we’ll only take the first step in what we believe to be the right direction, God will support us the rest of the way. He talks about taking action as a way of liberating energy and building confidence and how those unfulfilled tasks become energy drains. In short, he recommends that whenever we believe we are moving in the direction God wants us to move, we should just do it!

I did notice how I had little bursts of productive energy after taking even small, seemingly-unfruitful steps with my loan process. In the past couple of days, I’ve gotten some papers sorted to where I can tackle them more easily and last night I got my checkbook up-to-date. (It’s always helpful to know how much is actually in there, don’t you think?)

Sunday evening, I read a terrific article in the February O Magazine, called “Off the Beating Path” by Martha Beck (pp 43-45). Last night felt like I hit a “rumble strip,” as Beck calls those bumpy patches where things seem to be going the wrong direction. One of the ways to navigate these times is to reverse how we see things. When we think it looks like disaster, flip our thinking and consider the possibility that it’s actually a good thing and look for the ways that it is.

At this precise moment, it’s more head knowledge than heart knowledge for me in my present circumstance. Yet being encouraged to move “anytime,” by March 1, does free me to do just that, without having to worry about how much notice I will need to give. I’m trying not to think of it as my timeline shrinking – which is ironic because I would truly love to be able to say, “Hey! Found a place! Moving this weekend!” Now I know that would actually be okay. As for the “let’s not tell prospective buyer the desk is annoyingly tall” thing…I need to let that go. It doesn’t have my name on it and reminding myself of that by writing it here actually helps me to see the truth in that. I didn’t realize how much I was getting caught up in taking responsibility for someone else’s behavior.

You know what else, just acknowledging that has lifted the depression quite a bit! An “Ahhh! Moment” – just like the cover of O invites. Thank you once again for giving me a place to sort out what’s going on inside. 🙂

Growth happens in even the tiniest of spaces

Growth happens in even the tiniest of spaces

(Btw, have I mentioned that “cross talk” is perfectly acceptable here?  ;-))

52 Days – Am I Afraid to Be Happy? (Sat – Jan 19)

Last night my fears were trying to get the better of me, so I cast about for what to read. I had a Guideposts, a Forum, a DA book – A Currency of Hope, and Ponder’s Open Your Mind to Receive. I was floundering, wondering what would be most helpful to me to read, feeling anxious and worried even about such a small thing.

I briefly considered the Ponder book, but thought I needed something other than “merely” opening my mind to receive. I was unsettled, unable to think clearly. I opened the DA book and found a story that I had already bookmarked to read: “Busting Out of Debtor’s Prison.” I started reading it. I connected with things the author was relating about his experience. He spoke of feeling angry when his Pressure Relief Group told him he needed to earn more money.

I felt angry at the idea of being told that too. Earning more money would just raise my monthly payments on my student loans! Of course, that wouldn’t be until next year when I “re-qualify.” And I keep forgetting that I would still have the other 85-90% of that extra income to use for other things.

I want to surrender my fears to my Higher Power

I want to surrender my fears to my Higher Power

I’d truly like to learn how to stop my mind from racing to that place of fear! It’s especially ridiculous (although it feels fearful, rather than “ridiculous”) because I rarely even have clear thoughts about what that unseen, expected disaster might be! Mostly it’s a vague sense of pending disaster that has no basis in reality. And mostly, when I stop to think about it, when I can calm myself down and think more clearly, I discover that my worst imaginings are, themselves, ridiculous.

I am so grateful for the things I read last night. I am grateful to have read the story from my DA book. And I’m even more grateful for having returned to the Ponder book and to be reminded by the words from the Book of James, that I do not have because I do not ask (James 4:2).

In the passage from James 4, I was struck by the words in verse 4:1 that talk about our cravings or our desires being at war within us. That rings so true for me. I notice that I long both for a place of my own and for a place where I have a roommate with whom I enjoy sharing the space, that I might have the social connection of another person in the home. I long for an independent income that frees me from the need to work at a “regular” job, yet I love being able to be around others and share the experiences that bring laughter and friendship through the workplace. I long for a love in my life, yet I’m afraid to be open to the possibility of this happening with someone I’ve not yet met. I’m afraid of the unknown, for I have no control over it.

I want to rush toward changing my words and changing my experience, yet the idea of being abundantly blessed scares me! Which seems completely crazy, ridiculous! But it does…and I don’t really understand why. Is it really just the unknown that scares me? Is it some unarticulated sense of responsibility that a part of me knows will come with it? Is it the fact that I would have to change how I see myself or how I do things if I suddenly were financially blessed and found myself in a loving committed relationship where my life would no longer be just “my” life but would be a part of “our” life?

Am I truly afraid to be happy and blessed? And if I am, why?

I want the courage to jump into the "hoop."

I want the courage to jump into the “hoop.”

56 Days – Remember to breathe, remember to breathe… (Tue, Jan 15)

Did you know that listening to upbeat music helps my spirit but muddles my thinking when it comes to writing a post? Well, it does. But I shall press on because I have had a most unfun day.

I don’t know why I thought it would be a good, even really good idea to begin my day by doing the processing of my student loan paperwork, to have the payments reduced. It sounded like a good idea – especially because I need to get it done ASAP. Unfortunately, when I entered my new and improved income, it turns out my monthly payments are alarmingly large. The federal government has the ludicrous notion that anything above 150% of the national poverty level constitutes “discretionary” income. Clearly they have not lived where the cost of living is ridiculous.

My uncle once asked me why I didn’t move somewhere less expensive to live. I pointed out that one needed to have a job and that it costs hundreds of dollars (at least) to actually move. Unless one has virtually nothing more than a few suitcases and a box or two, there are expense involved in relocating. (He hadn’t thought about that piece.) Of course, there are probably cheap places to live somewhere nearby…if one doesn’t mind living in a place where one’s belongings and one’s physical being, for that matter, are at risk on a daily basis. I mean, I’m sure there’s some kind of dump that goes for cheap. I’d rather live in my car.

I’ve been wrestling with this all day, trying to separate the reality from the wildly terrifying detours my imagination keeps spinning. Not too successfully… Finally, on the drive home, I remembered that I’m on this self-imposed 60-day journey. It gradually dawned on me that maybe I could hang in there for 60 days without doing something radical or insane. Then again, what would I do?

There’s always driving off a cliff. But I’d have to find a suitable cliff. Then I’d worry about all the unfinished business I’d leave behind. My son would get stuck cleaning up the mess and that is not a burden I would wish to lay on him by design. I could run screaming from the building – but it’s cold – and now dark – outside and who needs that? I could simply stand in my room and scream till my throat gives out, but my housemates might not appreciate it and I’m quite certain I’d rather not discover what it feels like to end up in a straight jacket.

What’s most annoying about this is the way the fear is fogging up my brain. I felt like I was moving in slow motion all day at work. I would have to think about things very carefully because I was viewing it through a cloud of fear and despair. My logical mind just doesn’t get a chance when my Al Anon, Adult Child terrified perspective grabs on for dear life. What exactly I think will happen I don’t know. It’s that vague, unidentifiable fear that spells disaster and emotional, if not physical, death. Especially, for me, when there are legal authorities like the government involved.

On the upside – I was actually too stressed to eat much today! Usually I start eating when I’m stressed. Maybe this could actually turn out to be a perk!

This morning, I truly believed I’d appreciate having bravely taken this first step in this loan process. Now I’m having to work hard to feel appreciative. Perhaps by tomorrow I will feel better. Right now the anxiety is too fresh. So, let me do a quick gratitude list and notice some things that might help me as my body continues to process this challenge.

  • I’m grateful to have a roof over my head and to be able to meet my monthly expenses for now.
  • I’m grateful to have a place to work two days a week where I can express my feelings and let my body have some of the movement it needs, whether it’s a quick dance, a quick temper tantrum, or any other kind of movement that supports my bodyspirit.
  • I’m grateful that I have people who encourage and affirm me at both my places of work.
  • I’m truly grateful for the years I have in Al Anon and the bits of wisdom that can bubble to the surface in times of stress.
  • I’m grateful beyond words that I have faith in a Power greater than myself and that this Higher Power, whom I call God, cares about me and is watching over me no matter what is going on in my life.
  • I am grateful to be reminded that all I really have to do is the best I can and God will take care of the rest. Thanks be!

New Beginnings, Tiny Transformations (Tue, Jan 1st)

An affirmation for the new year!

An affirmation for the new year!

In the past two weeks, it feels like there are new beginnings in my life. So many things keep arising for me. Little things. Tiny shifts in my thinking that give me a new perspective. Sometimes it’s even tiny shifts in how I do things.

For instance, the other day I put my washcloth on the other faucet handle in the shower. Since I keep a cloth for wiping the counter on one handle, it dawned on me that it made more sense to keep the cloth I use frequently within closer reach. Yet it had never occurred to me to switch the two. Indeed, I had never given it any thought.

It makes me wonder, how many other little – or not so little – things do I do in my life that could be done a little more easily, conveniently, even efficiently if I thought about them for a few moments?

I certainly don’t intend to scrutinize everything I do, but it’s interesting to notice that many of these shifts are happening as a sort of chain reaction to small changes. There’s something about being open to new possibilities, about being willing to change, that clears a path for change to simply happen – unexpectedly, gracefully, with an ease that wouldn’t have been available if I hadn’t first let go.

HPIM1909Each time I become willing to make a change in one thing, I find myself willing to make other changes. With that willingness – and the changes that accompany it – creative new possibilities spring forth. Okay, so switching which washrag hangs where isn’t all that creative. Still, I’m noticing that my willingness and openness to change and be changed is trans­forming bits and pieces of my experience that I never thought about doing differently.

With the end of 2012, today seems like a day to reflect on my dreams and my desires for my life. The word “goals,” I confess, feels intimidating. “Goals” feel like targets and targets require being hit or you’ve missed or, worse, failed. Goals are places to be reached, rather than a journey to be taken. Dreams and desires continue to expand and transform as my circumstances and, more importantly, my thinking change. Things I couldn’t conceive of including in my dreams become new, exciting additions to my dreams, sometimes replacing former, limited versions of themselves. Even the way I imagine possibilities is changing.

Saturday I shared my fledgling “Dream Book” with my sponsor. Inspired by the “Possibilities Book” Georgia (played by Queen Latifa) has created in Last Holiday, combined with an annual collage party I’ve enjoyed attending for the past few years, I decided to create a “scrapbook” of dreams and desires. It’s not technically a scrapbook. It’s actually a large binder (purple, of course) with pages filled with images I’ve cut or torn out of magazines and catalogs. For the time being, I’m most interested in images of the kind of place I’d like to live – welcoming, comfortable, spacious, although I continue to clip any and all images that reflect my dreams.

Changing my thinking

Changing my thinking

So far, I have only a few pages in the book, but the pile of images from which to choose keeps growing. Right now I’m searching for images of kitchens, since I feel limited in my freedom to enjoy using the kitchen where I live right now. Among the images I’ve selected is one with a friendly-looking woman. It conveys both the notion of a kitchen to enjoy and a roommate who invites me to enjoy and share it with her.

My sponsor was so pleased to see what I’ve started. After she looked through the book (all 6 pages of it), she returned to a card I had tucked into one of the front pockets of the binder. It’s a list I created when I began my 7th Step. It has six of my character weaknesses, along with their positive counterparts, written with colored markers and in such a way as to create its own visual image of what I want to release and what I want to expand in my life. The last one on the list is “Deprivation Thinking”; the positive counterpart, “Expectations of Abundance.” She pointed to that and said, “You’re already doing this.”

Today I wanted to spend some time considering and affirming my dreams and desires for this year and for my life, perhaps by adding more pages to my dream book. Yet without realizing it, I let my Higher Power lead me and I soon found myself organizing some paperwork for a meeting I attend. The funny thing is, I didn’t even start out intending to do that. I simply wanted to update my notes for the last month. But one thing led to another and I was gifted with an unexpectedly productive afternoon!

I’m not quite finished, but now I know I don’t have to be finish today. I can continue it another time. What a change from old patterns of thinking that led me to believe that it would never get done if I didn’t complete it now! It’s surprisingly freeing to discover I can see so many things differently.

I’m still hoping to work a little on my “scrapbook” this evening, but I’m going to let those plans unfold as well.

It's a beginning!

It’s a beginning!

Pretending is hard (Wed – Dec 19)

HPIM1975I’m sitting here with a patch over one eye, trying to calm down the irritation that has persisted for about a week now. I see the eye doctor on Friday. They’re giving me a discounted rate and treating me as a returning patient rather than a new patient. I have no insurance, and we’re keeping what they do to a minimum. I just want to make sure my eyes aren’t in danger of any permanent damage and to make sure I’m taking care of them properly.

A caring friend asked me why I was wearing the eye patch. I began by saying that I thought it was “dress like a pirate day,” but I knew her question was sincere. So I told her. I’ve had pain in my right eye for too many days in a row and there’s something I can see that was never there before. Sunday I about freaked when I saw this anomaly. The next day, my Higher Power sent me a(nother) “do not be afraid” message and reminded me that all will be well.

On the way to work yesterday, I decided to sing. Not sure why, but listening to music or anything else didn’t appeal to me. So I made up songs about what I was doing and how I was feeling. Somewhere into the ‘how I was feeling’ part, the deep pain of missing my son surfaced and I began to weep. It’s been three and a half years since I’ve seen him. Neither one of us has the income to travel the distance between us. The one time recently when we thought there might be a possibility of getting together, it turned out it wasn’t going to work. And in my present living situation, presuming my landlady didn’t openly object, he’d only be able to sleep on the floor and hope that I didn’t step on him in the night.

HPIM1972Life is hard right now and I’m not feeling very courageous. I try to tell myself that it takes courage to face each day, to keep hanging in there when it feels so hard. That doesn’t always help much. I’m feeling alone. I’m facing a transition in my student loan repayments status that terrifies me. My living situation is still depressingly stressful while I have little energy for looking for a new place. And my body is experiencing more than the usual aches and pains as a result of it all.

Last Thursday at lunch, one of my colleagues asked me what I was doing for Christmas. It was one of those rare occasions when the lunchroom was practically empty. It was just the two of us. I shared with her about how long it’s been since I’ve seen my son. I told her a little about my less-than-happy living situation. When I mentioned that I might go to an Al Anon meeting on Christmas Day, she said she’d been in Al Anon as a teenager. Interesting how that explained why I felt a kind of connection with her.

It was an odd conversation in a way. She was getting ready to fly to Paris to join her family. I was talking about spending Christmas alone in my room. She flies to Paris often (having been born there and having dual citizenship). I can’t imagine the freedom to fly to see my son a few states away.

HPIM1976Still, it was nice to not have to pretend my holidays will be a fun-filled family event. I’ve gotten to where I dread people asking me what I’m doing for the holidays or even how I am. I’ve been having these moments of feeling like I’m at the end of my rope. Not in a suicidal kind of way, but rather in an “I’m going to throw things through the window and run screaming from the building” kind of way. Last week, in a particularly dark moment, I remembered a flower essence remedy that helps when you’re at your limit. I found some in my “medicine bag.”

The remedy is called Sweet Chestnut and it’s connected with the principle of release. I’ve been thinking a lot about release lately as I’ve tried to get along as best I can. As I read the description in Mechthild Scheffer’s book Bach Flower Therapy: Theory and Practice (Thorsons Publishing Group, 1986 – the best book on the flower remedies, in my opinion), she was describing exactly what I was feeling – what I am still feeling to some extent. Sweet Chestnut, she writes, is for those who are experiencing “that terrible, that appalling mental despair when it seems the very soul itself is suffering destruction. It is the hopeless despair of those who feel they have reached the limit of their endurance” (p. 161).

As alarming as that sounds, it is also the point when one is about to move into a “crucial inner change” – a time of releasing old destructive patterns and initiating new stages of spiritual growth and development. “One realizes that everything is taken from one because one needs to go forward empty handed if one is to be able to take hold of the new life that is coming towards one; that one has to give oneself up completely to be totally reborn” (p 162).

A positive response can happen during this challenging time, a time author and minister Catherine Ponder would likely call “chemicalization.” For this is the time when the old is being stripped away to make way for the new. The result, if one is willing, is a deeper trust in God in a time where transformation has made room for prayers to be heard and miracles to happen.

I know I’m here. I know I’m on the brink. But answering the questions of “how are you doing?” or “what are you doing for Christmas?” are no less easy because I’m on the edge of transformation. So I pretend to be fine most of the time because few people ask those questions truly wanting an honest answer. And I’m not always sure what that honest answer would be.

I pray that your own holidays are abundantly blessed with friends, family, and joyful memories. 🙂HPIM1983

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

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