What the Rocks Know

As a youngster, I became enthralled with collecting rocks.  Someone started talking about arrowheads and geodes at 4-H and the search for these magical stones became an obsession.  The very idea that these physical objects contained hundreds or thousands of years of secrets and usefulness in others’ hands was thrilling.  I don’t think I ever found either type of rock but the searching, collecting, exploring and handling of all the other rocks I found gave me hours of great joy and my parents some well-deserved quiet.

One Christmas, my Grandmother gave me a rock polishing kit.  I could take the rough, raw, basic rocks and immerse them in a capsule with a cleaning solution and after alot of time rolling around, they would come out sparkling, fresh and soft to the touch.  It was okay but I much preferred the paper grocery bag full of dusty, mossy, grassy rocks I had been gathering.  They were so much more interesting.

It wasn’t until about 5 years later, when adolescence hit and our family moved from our small town to the city that I realized people were like the polished stones.  Life was just one big plate of perfectly shining rocks and it was frustrating to me that I would have to work at seeing everything back in its original, perfect state – raw, bumpy, earthy, rugged rocks.

Fortunately, the disillusionment did not last.  I realized I could make my life a grand rock collecting adventure and that some of the shiny stones were fun to have around.

On my fortieth birthday, my five-year-old son spent the entire afternoon in our yard searching for “heart-shaped rocks” which he proudly delivered from filthy, chubby hands with this speech, “You gotta get old sometime, Mom!”.  I kept them above my sink until a few of them fell into the garbage disposal and ground it to a halt.  I was thrilled he understood natural beauty in the rocks and his aging Momma, and this reassured me his character was set.

It is now eleven years past my fortieth birthday. I still have a few of those heart-shaped rocks curated especially for me.  They serve as gentle reminders of my purpose in life and the kind of person I want to be and others I choose to spend time with:

Kind  – If I had to pick one single trait over everything, of course it would be kindness. Time and time again, practicing kindhearted gentleness brings greater joy and openness.  Judgement divides and narrows everything immediately:  hearts, feelings, opportunities, experiences and most of all, love.

Patient – Yes, patience is a practice that does not come easily when we are young.  At 51, I am a pretty patient person, and I am getting better at ignoring the “productivity culture”.  If all you accomplish in one single day is reassuring people of your love and confidence in them, that is enough for me.  I have a hard time being with “productive people” for long – they are boring.

Resourceful – You can have the IQ of a genius but still not be able to figure out how to manage simple challenges.  More specifically, I am more excited about finding simple ways to handle life that reap positive benefits for the broader world than explaining why that might be a waste of time.  To me, being resourceful is an inclusive approach to living and just being smart can be so selfish.

Creative – There is a time and place to be linear and logical (e.g., when applying for FAFSA support for your college-bound senior!) and the rest of life should be interesting and fun.  I am not concerned anymore about “making sense” to others, I just need to validate creative energy by using it, damn the judgers! Creative people spend more time enjoying taking risks than calculating failures. That’s why I like them.

Simple – I would rather spend the day with a Humanitarian focused on addressing fundamental needs than talking to the most educated, well-traveled person. I am so happy that my journey has opened my eyes to this basic truth and fortunate to have daily opportunities to practice simplicity.  As I am learning, simplicity encompasses more than just getting rid of physical and mental clutter – it is a spiritual practice that helps one focus on being fully present in the now.  When all you have is now, you tend to appreciate it and make better choices.

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Grand Canyon 2012, exploring the ancient rocks with my son, Mario and his friend Andy.  Listening to the Guide talk about the rock’s origins and formation with fascination – this is pure granite.  OMG!

So back to the rocks and their wisdom:  I love holding a rock and thinking about where it has been, for how long, what it is made of, the stories it “knows.”  It is like holding the Universe and all its mysteries inside your palm and exchanging energy.  To me, the unpolished rocks embody all the basic truths about living a good life.  They inspire me to live and put my best (but simplest) self forward.  I like rocks, yes I do.

“Rocks and minerals:  the oldest storytellers.”  A.D. Posey

 

 

 

 

 

Healing Happens in Phases: Ebbing and Flowing

So happy to bring you this insightful piece from my Recovery Friend, Rose Lockinger.  If you are new in your Recovery or simply in need of a fresh perspective, Rose’s piece reminds us to expect a journey full of twists, turns, surprises and mini-victories.  In short, like all things in life,  when doing the work of Recovery, expect the unexpected and welcome the lessons as they unfold. xoxo Joan

 

You know how people always say that we take two steps forward, one step back, well in no other place in my life have I found that truer than with my recovery.

My recovery, and by extension, my healing process, has been one that involves phases, there are times of growth and times of setbacks, but through it all, I have learned more about myself and what I need to heal the wounds of my life.

See, I have found that the healing process is never linear, although sometimes I would like it to be.  Sometimes I want to believe that it will be achieved perfectly but this is never the case.  Like it says, progress not perfection, this process of healing involves progress.  It never just continues in a straight and logical manner but rather it ebbs and flows, and there are times when I feel like I’m actually healing and other times when I feel like I am completely regressing.

I didn’t understand that this was the way of things when I first got sober and I guess I sort of believed that my life would just get exponentially better day in and day out.  The reason why I thought this way is because my life changed so dramatically and so suddenly that I just thought it would continue in this manner forever.  The Steps seemed to work perfectly and the further I got into them the better off I became.

I found that I stopped lying as much.  I stopped craving drugs and alcohol, and I even started to believe in God, in fact so much healing occurred in that first year of recovery that to a certain degree I kind of felt like I was destined to become the most spiritual being on the planet.  That I was destined to be free from all of my character defects within the next year or so, but then reality kicked in and coming down from my little spiritual hilltop, I settled into my new way of life and I began to see that not everything was being healed as quickly as my alcoholism was.  I began to see that many of the things in my life that were particularly ingrained were going to take a lot of work to get over and possibly more pain before they were ready to be healed.

I have also found that certain times in my recovery, I thought that I was healed from something, or that I had finally overcome some trauma or defect of character only to be reminded a couple of weeks later that it was still there and there was more healing to be done.  I’d get these epiphanies and believe that I understood something that would allow me to change or heal, and to a certain extent I would, but then it would just lead me to more parts of myself that need to be healed.

Without getting too far into the abstract, I sort of believe that this is the way that life works.  We are born whole and pure, without any attachment or damage and then through the process of our life we pick up damage and get hurt by people or things.  Then once we are ready, we begin the process of healing from this hurt, attempting to get back to a place of wholeness, but the process is unique and there is no set road map.  With each layer of healing that occurs another is revealed just like the peeling of an onion, and so the job is never done  It is always ongoing.

I’ll give you a recent example from my own life to help illustrate this point.  It is something that I have written about a lot and talked about even more, but has been probably the most important thing that has occurred in my recovery and has been one of the greatest sources of healing for me.

For years I hated my ex-husband, but after working my Steps I healed a little bit from the pain that I felt he inflicted on me, and so for a time I was okay.  I believed that I had achieved peace with this part of my life and in all honesty for some time, I had.  I wasn’t yet ready to really dive into that situation and experience true healing and so I only peeled back the first layer of the onion.

Then I moved back to my home state so that I could be with my kids and in doing so, I had to invite him back into my life.  Not in the sense that we were getting back together, but in the sense that we had children together which required regular interaction with him.

Being home and being around him brought up things in me that were tremendously painful and I really struggled for a number of months with this.  There were some days where I’d thought I found peace in the situation, only to have it destroyed the following day when he’d make some offhanded comment to me, or I’d find out something he said about me to our kids.

I’d go to meetings and I’d hear bits and pieces of information that I needed in order to heal from the situation and I’d leave these meetings thinking I had finally found the secret that would unlock my healing and allow me to act neutrally towards him, but this just didn’t happen.  As the months went on and the pain got greater, I continued my lurch towards healing by taking two steps forward and one step back.

Then something happened that allowed me to know that I truly had healed from the wounds of this part of my life.  I finally felt the true acceptance of who he is as a person and what the situation was.  I no longer felt anger towards him.  In fact, I just felt compassion and realized that he was doing the best he could.

Now even though these feelings seemed to just wash over me in an instant, it was months and months of moving in that direction that lead to the actual healing.  Now, this is not to say that I don’t get upset still from time to time because I do, but it is no way shape or form like it was just a few months ago.

So that’s been the story of my healing, a process that is messy sometimes and seems to move in directions that don’t make sense to me, but in the end, work towards my greater good.  Sometimes I am aware that I am moving in the right direction, while other times I’m not even sure where I’m going, but through it all, I usually wind up feeling better.

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Rose Locking is a passionate member of the recovery community.  A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction.  She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children, she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world.  Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.  You can find Rose on LinkedIn, Facebook & Instagram

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February 11, 2016 – Pudgey, Mario, Vanilla and me

My husband snapped this photo last night and emailed me with the title, “Evening Huddle.”  It is a helluva happy huddle!  A year ago, I was way off course and quickly sinking to the bottom of my addiction to alcohol.  My cousin sent me a great article recently that describes addiction as “the opposite of connection.”  Bingo!  Total disconnect – by selfish choice – then by habit – finally without any sort of logic or consent at all.  Just dead.

God and my family have brought me back to life.  In just 8 months, I have been fortunate to have regained my sobriety and focus.  And look at my reward!  A puppy, handsome teenaged son (and daughter, who just celebrated her 17th birthday and is overjoyed with her new ukulele), purring cat, large cup o’ Joe, Netflix and hubby all in one room filled with happiness, a roaring fire and quilts made with love by my Mom.

I don’t know why I steered so far off course in the first place.  It is so scary.  I am one of the lucky ones to have been brought back to a conscious, intentional life.  Yes, I feel pain instead of numbness at times.  AND JOY!!!!  Today, I am just grateful for my happy chaos – I am working with kindergarteners in an underprivileged community.  I have a beautiful family, a Mom I can still call on the telephone as often as I want, an amazing AA Sponsor, a life partner of almost 20 years, and many supportive friends.  Whether our family can afford to take a vacation this year or not:  WE ARE RICH.

I read a lot about addiction and recovery now.  If you are looking for inspiration, motivation, or just curious about people’s stories, I encourage you to check out 2 of my favorites:

RecoveryHeroes.com 

SheRecovers.com

You can be as public or private about your struggles as you like.  I have deliberately talked about mine because it helps my healing and accountability.  More poignantly, talking about it helps me live in the present and experience the joy to the fullest.

Go hug your mess!

 

 

5 Gifts of Living Sober

This past Sunday, I logged into AA Grapevine and entered my Sobriety Date to check the number of days I have been sober.  It’s just way of measuring success, I guess, like weighing oneself on a scale to stay motivated during a diet.  I am an alcoholic, so my “diet” will never end.  I have been sober for 7.7 Months.  If I did not have the “Sobriety Calculator” or any other means of measuring the number of days I have been sober, I, the Stubborn Doubter, have lots of empirical evidence that each hour sober is 100 times better than any vino fino tinto.  Here is my list of 5 Gifts of Living Sober:

  1. Stop Wanting And Start Living For years, I have had a restless spirit, longing to be and have things that were within sight but mysteriously unattainable.  Then, about 5 years before I got sober, I decided to approach life with more of an open heart.  “Perhaps if I pray to God to have an open heart, He can lead me in the right direction,” was my thinking.  I wasn’t ready to admit that I was avoiding doing things (e.g., the hard work of living sober) by preoccupying myself with having things.  I never believed I would have what it took to make that leap.  I do now! Each morning that I wake up sober, I thank God for leading me to pursue worthwhile things and also giving me the strength and courage to keep at it.
  2. Stop Gambling With My Health And Start Cherishing The Body God Gave Me  Of course, drinking is not a gamble to the non-alcoholic because they can stop.  Since I couldn’t, yet continued daily drinking for several years, I was literally treating my body like a garbage dump.  In my newly-negotiated relationship with Spirit (e.g., “Higher Power”), I truly believe harmful, self-destructive behavior that could potentially lead to death (like addiction to alcohol) is a beautiful opportunity to love oneself in disguise.  Does a person who really understands the importance of being healthy, physically, emotionally, and mentally, gamble with those gifts by sinking further into addiction?  I hear people in AA meetings say all the time, “I thank God for my alcoholism, it has given me the gift of (fill in the blank with anything valuable)”.  Again, if you’re not an addict or alcoholic, this “gift” may not make sense.
  3. Cherish The Company Of Other Alcoholics  I know I avoided going to my first AA meeting because I was sure it would be full of “depressing people” that I would not be able to “relate to.”  It’s the opposite!  It is home.  Alcoholics are the most compassionate, funny, friendly, dependable, humble and noble people I have ever met.  The “Hi, Joanie!” greeting you hear (often joked about, even) in meetings is warm, sincere, safe and accepting.  SAFETY is a major trigger word for alcoholics, the lack of which (whether it be emotional, financial or physical), because our disease plays with our minds and tells us that we must remain fearful and on guard at all times because no person or situation is safe.  I had a Counselor in my twenties (who was unaware of my binge drinking but completely pegged one of my alcoholic behaviors) described my emotional state like this:  “Joan, you seem to be in ‘fight or flight’ mode 24/7 – always prepared for the danger that lurks around the corner, feeling hunted.”  Precisely.  I was deeply unsettled but had no idea why.  My Alcoholic pals understand and I am so glad for each and every one of them.
  4. Accepting Endings And New Beginnings And The Process In Between3562ced271566a90f3770d5caa4487b8  Like “The Little Prince,” my favorite time of day has always been the sunset – and during my drinking days, especially so.  Watching the sun drifting into the horizon meant I had survived the challenges of the day (e.g., sick kids, frustrating work problem, hangover, overdrawn checking account, whatever) and that it would soon be time to open my bottle of serenity.  I avoided admitting I was an alcoholic for years because I knew it was a permanent commitment.  However, nowadays, my very grateful sober self sees something quite different in the concept of “forever.”  In her new book, “Bottled,” Dana Bowman describes the paradox:

“The toughest part was realizing that recovery would never be “over” – not if I was going to take it seriously.  When you’re a part of my club, taking out a lease on recovery is not an option.  When I really thought about the lack of alcohol forevermore, it felt like I’d been told to clean the Grand Canyon with a toothbrush, while blindfolded.  But every once in awhile, tiny moments of peace and joy descended upon me and were so defined and real, they lifted me out of my canyon.  I would focus on the higher horizon then, and just kept walking.

5.  “Ay, marry, now my soul hath elbow-room” (William Shakespeare, “King John.”)

I saved the best gift for last:  Living a Sober Life means spending your time the way you want to, free from the chains of an addiction that leads to darkness.  There is so much LIGHT in my life because of the new freedom I have discovered that it is okay to feel and express emotions and spend a day doing as I please instead of constantly weighing and measuring myself against impossible standards.  Reading poetry has always been one of my favorite hobbies, but I gave it up to lead a more “serious” life of career and family.  Now it is back in my life and I feel rejuvenated.  Here is a new favorite poet and her artful examination of leading one’s own life:

Poetry
By
Mary Oliver
The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

49 Thanksgivings Later

After 49 Thanksgivings, I finally “get” why it did not matter to my Mom, in her later years, whether our family ate dinner together on paper plates (themed, of course) or not.  The mere fact that we were together was enough for her – and it should have been enough for me – but, alas, I needed more “road miles” in life to fully understand.

This Thanksgiving I am wildly and enthusiastically thankful for 4 Things:

CURIOSITY

PALS come to Tango Canyon
Mario’s preschool class visited our 34-acre wilderness every year for their Spring field trip – here he is greeting the bus!  It was a truly wondrous time.

To be curious is a state of willingness to allow life, ideas, people, nature and the world to enthrall and intoxicate you.  In spite of my struggle this 49th year of my life on earth to discover and maintain a healthy sobriety, I am thankful to discover that I still experience the wonder of a child every single day.  AMEN to that and keep the curiosity coming!

After all, it has been said, “interesting people are interested people.”

SETBACKS

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It has taken me 49 years to learn the slow and steady “tortoise” way – I used to prefer to hurry and get my reward or pain “over with.”

We all experience setbacks and many of them are stunning, paralyzing and utterly terrifying.  Looking back, I really am thankful for each and every setback I have experienced.  Not only am I learning humility, I am experiencing the ebb and flow of the journey and learning to take my EGO OUT OF IT.  I mean, a mortal can only do so much – the Universe is so much larger and powerful, and there is no escaping the lessons we’re each meant to learn.  To me, setbacks are just another way of experiencing mortality and human limitations.  And like Garth Brooks famously crooned, “I thank God for unanswered prayers” every single day.

ACCEPTANCE

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You’d never know it but this picture of my darling children was snapped during one of the darkest times of my life.  Complete shock and uncertainty colored my days, but they, being the curious and resilient little teachers our children are meant to be, marched onward!

My husband and I were “curious” about life in a tiny town more than 200 miles away from our home so we packed up and moved away from friends, family, professional connections, and all the lovely comforts of city life.  We stayed there 8 years.  I joke that 2 of them were happy, but I seriously mean it!  Looking back, that really is not true:  my mental state was not happy because I was fighting the flow of our new lives.  But something super cool I have discovered in mid-life:  you can actually reflect back and accept what was once unimaginable and unendurable and it has the same effect – now my memories of what I thought was a “really dark time” are mostly funny and happy!  I am so thankful for this gift.

MY TRIBE

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Becoming a Mother is just one way of earning the responsibility for tending to a tribe.  This is my first little tribe member, Isabella Bernadette.

A wise woman once told me, “Your kids aren’t always going to be this little.”  Obvious statement of fact but, at the time, I could hardly imagine a time when my life was not dictated by play dates, diaper changes, snack times, story times, intrusive “Mom friends” and never-ending messes, usually involving bodily fluids.  This is my beautiful daughter, now 16 years old, at 16 months old.  I hardly remember the passing of time.  Another wise woman, my own Mother, told me, “Honey, life will pass you by so quickly it will leave your head spinning.”  And it has.  She was right, as usual.  I am thankful for my tribe of family, starting with my husband and children and colored with many interesting friends and co-workers.  At the tender age of 49, I have learned how to assess quickly what “works” for my tribe and what needs to just go away!  THANKS be to GOD!!

Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are, and whether you enjoy it on the finest china or paper plates.  Life is a gift.

 

Godspell And My Word Of The Year

godspellThese days, most of my “Zen” friends are choosing one simple word to depict the state of being they want to exude all year instead of going to the trouble of creating long Resolution Lists.  Simple and clean, easier to attain and measure, I am in favor of it!  My “word” came to me about 2 hours ago while I was waiting in the checkout line at the Hy-Vee grocery store.  AWAKEN.

Remember when Jesus gets all pissed off at the lawyers and pharisees in Godspell and belts out “Alas! Alas! Blind Fools!” to awaken them to the fact that they were merely repeating their predecessors’ mistakes?  My mind immediately went to this song in the sweet moment at the Hy-Vee checkout line when I encountered “Becky,” the former Little Sister I once knew a long time ago when I worked for Big Brothers Big Sisters.  She had an endearing speech impediment and looked like Strawberry Shortcake 8 years ago.  But now she’s all grown up, living on her own (about 250 miles away from home!), has a job and an apartment – and the same joyful and giving heart she had as a little girl.  My heart jumped as I caught her eye – I knew she might not remember me but she lit up the minute I mentioned her Big Sister’s name, “Sally,” the retired teacher who was determined to be a companion and role model to Becky – and awaken her to new ways of living to help her avoid making the same mistakes as her family.   In one explosively happy moment, I KNEW FOR SURE that Becky had been awakened – and that she still had that little girl’s joyful heart.  Becky was cheerfully sacking the groceries of the man in line ahead of me and she told him, “I like your hat, sir!”.  It was a Chiefs hat.  The man lit up.  Sweet little Becky awakened him from whatever preoccupation he may have been consumed with in that moment (rent, job, illness) and reminded him that there can be joy in life even in the grocery line!

0105151246When it was my turn to go through the line, the clerk checked the price of a beautiful pink begonia that had caught my eye and asked, “It’s $25.00 – still want it?”.  Still glowing from the beautiful moment I had just seen pass between the little girl with practically nothing I once knew and the grown man with grown concerns – the begonia immediately represented my Word for 2015 – AWAKEN Of course I want it!  This thing has magical powers (I wanted to shout but restrained myself!).

I told Becky that I knew her a long time ago and she was thrilled to be remembered.  Repeat after me:  SHE WAS THRILLED TO BE REMEMBERED.

Yes, Becky, believe it or not, you are remembered and treasured in my heart.  And you are the reason AWAKEN is my Word of the Year – you see, it’s when someone as innocent and humble as you can change the heart of someone as old and pessimistic as me – that’s when I am positive that GOD lives and works in our hearts all day everyday – if only we would AWAKEN……..