More Hope in Recovery

I heard the words “Robert is dying” spoken for the first time the other day.  The context was that we are all dying but that my death is accelerated by cancer.  Although the statement was made in a wholly appropriate manner and one of great concern, it struck me as odd.

I do not think of myself as dying.  In fact, and particularly since my cancer diagnosis, I consider myself to be more intentionally alive.  Today, the genesis of much of my thinking about life stems from getting sober in 1984.

While in the detox unit back then, I came to appreciate the dying process I lived for years through my addiction to alcohol.  I went through life completely anesthetized.  For example, instead of grieving when my maternal grandmother died, I got drunk.  I noted the highway to my job had several bridge abutments I could crash into should I decide to act on my suicidal fantasies.  I recall running down a road in an alcohol induced hallucination, firmly believing that if I stopped running, my brain would leave my head and I could not get it back.  And then, there was the regular isolation and alienation I experienced.  Then, I was truly dying.

But in the summer of 1984, there was a spark of hope and desire to try to live.  I laid in the detox ward only wanting to function as regular member of society.  I wanted to do things like go to work every day; remember going to bed at night and not be hungover in the morning; or have an honest conversation with someone where I was not trying to run a scam.

As I wrote previously, since then, my recovery path has not been linear – more like a spiral – but the overall trajectory is intentional, choosing to live, and having hope in the process.  That hope is the absolute bedrock of my existence today.

So am I dying today more than any other 65 year old mortal?  I think not.  As I have posted over the past few weeks, I am choosing to more intentionally live my time each day, whether that is riding my bike, cooking a pot of soup, digitizing maps, watching Netflix, writing an article, or sitting and relaxing on the back porch with my wife, Emma and dog, Grace.  I do not just exist, waiting to prove that I am mortal.

Today Emma and I talked about changing a spring couple thousand mile bike ride along the Great River Road for a few hundred miles of the Natchez Trace – a more realistic possibility.  But then I have another CAT scan scheduled and a visit to the oncologist on November 22nd that could result in chemotherapy and disrupt those best laid plans.

In my morning gratitude list, I often write “the opportunity to make choices for another day” – that to me is a big part of why I am living and not dying, today.

These are lessons I am blessed with from living one-day-at-a-time for many years through a 12 step recovery program.

 

With a New Lease on Life, I Still Have to Pay the Rent.

Backyard lemons will be ready in the next month!

In 12-Step Recovery from addiction, sobriety brought me hope and a new perspective on life.  But I learned that knowledge was of little value without action.  I found that life could be a half-full and not half-empty existence if I took the steps necessary to live from a positive perspective.  I recollect well upon discharge after 30 days of detox, immediately getting a sponsor, going to 90 meetings in 90 days, and following the recommended actions to maintain my sobriety.  Though the practices changed over time, for the past three decades, the recovery road never failed me.  For example, although I have not been to an AA meeting in over a year, my recovery practices have only increased through time.  Though perhaps counterintuitive, the longer I remain sober, the more I take the necessary steps to maintain a sobriety.

I am coming to find the same attitude is needed for my life with cancer.  In my last post I wrote about the postponement of my chemo treatments until after the first of the year, the resulting sense of liberation, and a commitment not to waste the rest of 2017.

Last week I met with my nutritionist and had a couple of physical therapy sessions that laid out a course of action.  In my feeling of liberation from chemo, I chose to take too many liberties.  Two of my post-nutritionist meeting meals involved loads of pasta and blue plate special diner foods at odds with the recommended Mediterranean Diet.  I immediately fell into a lethargic state and procrastinated and put off my daily neck and back exercises.  By the time Sunday rolled around, I was pressed just to get myself to church in the morning.

In the same way that a relapse in sobriety is a process and not a single event, my dietary choices were a start down a slippery slope of enabling my cancer to strengthen. The experience provided a very solid kick in the ass!

Most mornings, one of the items I post on my gratitude list is the opportunity to make choices. Now I still have that opportunity to make choices and opted for actually reading and acting on the materials that the nutritionist provided me.  Since Monday I have made two pots of soup, that along with other healthy food choices, provided me with energy to function fully into the day including bike riding and work in my garden that I enjoy.

A graduate school professor of mine long ago talked about the “forgivability” for an error.  Around issues of sobriety, my errors were forgivable enough that I remained sober and did not get to point in the relapse process where I chose to drink or drug.  I am often torn knowing that sooner or later our own mortality catches up with the forgivability factor.  Acting on that knowledge is a critical factor in the choices I make today in living with cancer.

Again, I am grateful for my years of training in AA in both acquiring knowledge and taking action.

 

Having an Attitude of Gratitude in Recovery

The Sunday School session I attend at my church is called The Wilderness.  We discuss books and topics from a more social activist and progressive end of theology.  I was a slightly put-off when the title of our current study book was first announced  Happy: What It Is And How To Find It by Matt Miofsky.  Each of the four week’s of study is accompanied by a 10-minute presentation on the week’s chapter.  I got past the title to learn the book is really about finding serenity in our lives – albeit what I perceived as a rather basic discussion.  I must confess to a smugness because of what I perceived as my advanced training in this area after 30 plus years of sobriety through the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Steps.

But this past Sunday’s chapter Beyond Circumstances particularly intrigued me as of late I have been dealing with my own particular circumstances.  The classmate who led the discussion this week passed out pieces of paper because in reviewing the video presentation for this chapter, the author provides a list of things of which we might want to take note.

Here is the list the author suggested in the video for not letting circumstances adversely impact your serenity and peace:

  • learn to live in the present
  • change your perspective
  • live a life of gratitude
  • keep track of what I am grateful for today
  • let go of control.

Now anyone with a modicum of familiarity with the 12-Step Program of Alcoholics Anonymous has heard all of these list items hundreds of times in the meetings they attend, the literature they read, and the steps that they work!

The discussion in our class was far-reaching and insightful.  Out of the 20 or some folks in the room, only three kept a gratitude journal.  There was a rich discussion on the conflict of letting go of control in a variety of situations.

I am incredibly grateful to the 12-Step Program for the peace and serenity in my life today.  And as Step 12 suggests:

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics (or fill in the blank of other addictions/issues), and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

What an incredible gift of sobriety!!

My Many Recovery Tools

laptop

I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail – Abraham Maslow (ref)

 I have not been to an AA meeting for about six weeks, and I am not feeling bad about that.  My recovery is based in trying to live the Twelve Steps of AA – none of those steps mandate regular meeting attendance.  Yet I also know that in the future, I will attend AA meetings, perhaps with a good bit of regularity, as I have done in the past.

I view AA meetings as a recovery tool.  Other recovery tools include writing this post, commenting on other folks blog posts, being of service to other addicts, being of service to non-addicts, reading recovery literature, reading non-recovery literature, being accountable for my actions on a daily basis, being mindful and intentional, going to church, not going to church, writing a gratitude list, to name a few.  A common theme I find in all of these recovery tools is that they allow/force me to get out of myself.

I enjoy knowing that there are many tools that are essential for my recovery.  On my recovery road there are many that are tried and true, like:

  • Whenever I go to a recovery meeting, I learn something, whether for the better or worse, that is useful in my life.
  • Whenever I have perform any type of “service work” my recovery is enhanced.
  • Whenever I start reading the Twelve and Twelve on page 1, the solution to any issue I face is addressed before completing the Twelfth Step reading.
  • Whenever I write anything, whether a gratitude list, blog post, comment on a blog post, journal entry, essay, or fiction I receive insights on my recovery path.
  • Whenever I share my experience, strength, and hope, whether directly in recovery, or simply living life on life’s terms, my recovery is enhanced.

Sometimes the hammer works, but sometimes another tool is needed.  What are your go to recovery tools?

Gratitude List

luminoussunriseToday ten things I am grateful for (in no particular order):

  1. another day in recovery
  2. a spouse, family, and friends with whom I have a true relationship
  3. a sense of purpose in my career
  4. the opportunity to give back for what I have been given
  5. enough material resources that I do not “need” anything
  6. music
  7. living into the solution and not dwelling in the problem
  8. the possibility of putting myself in another person’s shoes before acting
  9. content with where I am today
  10. looking forward to the future process.

And perhaps the bonus is that knowing that today the AA Promises have all come to pass in my life of recovery.

Attitude of Gratitude, Today

crop hillisdeI am reasonably amazed at how incredibly blessed I am in with my life in recovery.  Today, I have an attitude of gratitude.

Gratitude List:

  • I am not dependent on alcohol and drugs to get through life.
  • I continue to learn to live life on life terms and enjoy the terms.
  • I am married to my best friend.
  • I have family and friends with whom I have a relationship today.
  • I am able to be of service to others without (known) ulterior motives.
  • I have a career for which I could not write a better job description.
  • I look forward to the future and do not regret the past.
  • I will retire in less than two years to a full and exciting life.
  • The only limits on what I can do, who I can be, where I can go are self-imposed.
  • I have an attitude of gratitude.

An Attitude of Gratitude in the Andes

Lorenia

Lorenia

I have been up in Hualcayán, Peru for the past several days. As I noted in my last blog post, the place is well off of the beaten path and does take quite a bit of effort to get to. So the trip took 28 hours to get to within a 90 minute further drive up an unpaved road. On my other blog, I wrote about that process.

Even though the temperatures get down into the low 30s at night, there is no heat, there is no hot water for a shower, we sleep in sleeping bags on a cement floor and the 3G wireless connection is tenuous, at very best (don’t know when I will actually be able to publish this piece) – but I am having an absolutely fantastic time.

  • The students I work with up here are truly fantastic. They want to be here, have incredibly positive attitudes in a less than ideal environment for Western creature comforts. I thoroughly enjoy working with them.
  • I am pleased that I have a real opportunity to not only apply my professional skills, but the project is also something that I believe in.
  • But the best part of my experience is getting out of myself and being able to engage with and learn from other folks. Here is a story about that: I was sitting in our lab with my coat and hat on for warmth last night doing some after hours work. A woman from the village and her daughter stopped by to have a conversation with the project co-director about various issues. I was downloading images from my camera taken earlier that day. When I looked up, I was startled to see Lorenia, the thirteen-year-old daughter standing beside me, looking intently at the photos as they flashed through iPhoto on my laptop screen. My first reaction was wanting her to disappear so I could continue with my work. That was not going to happen, as she pulled up a stool and sat down right next to me intent on my laptop screen. We ran through the limited conversation my Spanish allowed – age, family, school, the weather and so forth. She did not budge. So, I ran through pictures I downloaded of her classmates at the school celebration the day before, then photos from the village cultural heritage festival last year. Her mother was still in conversation and Lorenia was not going anywhere. I then went through photos of my nietos, nietas, esposa, hijos, hihas, perros, and more. I pretty much exhausted my iPhoto images that might be entertaining. I then booted my Rosetta Stone Spanish Language software and we played that game for a long time. The mother’s conversation ended and they left after about 2 hours. This is a story I will probably remember for a long time. Like many other experiences in life, I tend to remember those stories where I am able to get out of myself and relate to others. Of late, I have come to wonder if these events/stories will prove as memorable to other participants, like Lorenia.

Where does all of this come back to recovery? Last night the students were passing some sort of clear Peruvian brandy around the table where we eat dinner. The glass got to the person sitting next to me, a student I worked with previously, who knew I did not drink. She did not offer me the glass but passed it on to the next person. Another student suggested I might want some. I declined. No big deal to anyone.

But as I sit here now and reflect, I think of how, with one drink, all of the wonderful experiences I had in the past few days would go down the tube. As well, I would never come back to Hualcayán. Had I not been sober, I would never have gotten here to begin with.   I would never have been in the position to have the childhood friend of my step daughter who is the director of the project invite me to participate in the first place.

For all of the above I am truly grateful.