Little by little – A nice place to be (Sat, Jun 15)

While dressing after my shower, I pondered what I might like to read for my morning reflection time. The number “473” came to mind. Thinking of the various daily readers from my Al Anon and OA programs, I knew there would be no page 473. I considered the possibility of reading only pages with those numbers in them – 3, 4, 7, 33, 34, 37, and so on. A possibility.

When I pulled out my copy of Courage to Change, it was more than an hour later. Although my usual morning routine is to shower, then fix breakfast and do my reflection and journaling time, before doing anything else, this morning I felt led to go through the two small (but expanding) stacks of mail and papers on my desk. Surprisingly unsurprisingly, I found myself opening up virtually every piece of mail and putting it in the appropriate pile, “shredding” it, or simply tossing it in my recycle wastebasket. I have avoided opening mail from creditors because it’s depressing to be reminded of how much I owe. There’s also the vague fear that one of the letters might finally be demanding something I can’t do. Yet none of those fears were with me today. I opened these envelopes without fear, curious to see if they held any surprises. The one that might have didn’t, since I had taken a call from them the week before and didn’t need to respond to the letter. It felt good. And it felt good to take this small – yet big – step in lightening my burden of paper piles.

By the time I sat down to do my reflections, I was truly hungry (for my breakfast, that is) and truly ready to appreciate what I read. I began with page 3 in Courage to Change (CtC) – and didn’t go any further. It was exactly what I needed to hear. Some of the lines that jumped out at me (sometimes loosely quoted here):

I can do nothing to change the past except to stop repeating it.

I am already breaking out of unhealthy and unsatisfying patterns of the past and making wiser choices.

My life is built upon layers of little everyday accomplishments.

When I think this way, setting goals and taking small risks becomes nothing more than a daily striving to make my life better.

Taking some tiny action each day can be much more effective than a frenzied attempt to make radical changes overnight.

When I face a new challenge, I can take my beginning wherever it may be and start from there.

It takes only a slight shift in direction to begin to change my life.

With my Step 9 work, I am really getting, on deep levels, the meaning (and perhaps even the gift) of not being able to change the past. I’m noticing the fears that arise are fears around repeating past behaviors. The reading from CtC reminds me of the progress I’ve already made. I’m learning to respond in different ways.

As for the part about “frenzied attempts to make radical changes overnight” – that was the story of my life for decades. And it was a lesson slowly learned to discover that small daily actions, even tiny steps were far more effective. At some point in my life, quite some time before Al Anon even, I realized that small shifts in direction can make huge changes down the road. It’s like changing the trajectory of an arrow: the tiniest shift and it lands in a wholly different place.

It’s taking time for me to become the person I glimpse in my mind’s eye every now and then. She’s bold and confident, unafraid to be fully herself, yet approaching the world with a serenity and wisdom that allows that boldness to be a blessing and a help rather than a threat. Little by little I’m coming to know her and little by little she’s freeing herself of the burdens and snares that have held her captive for far too long.

May you be blessed this day with small steps of progress and moments of serenity and joy. 🙂

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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…

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