Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Au Revoir, Farewell

And so we come to the end.

I’ve thought and prayed about this for some time. Since I started this blog, my work has picked up dramatically. As I was leaving for the land on Friday, an editor e-mailed with two assignments needing a quick turn around. With these, I have five stories due by May 15. In December, having so many deadlines at once seemed like a fluke. Now, it’s beginning to feel like the new normal. After two lean years, that’s a huge blessing. But it takes a lot of my time.

My Al-Anon commitments have also increased. When I began blogging, I was just beginning to get involved in service. Today, I have five sponsees, prison service and Alateen commitments in addition to my committed meetings. That’s a blessing, too. Nothing has helped me to grow more in this program than being of service to others.

This blog, too, has helped me grow in recovery. When I was blogging every day, I felt like I was attending a large, dynamic, daily Al-Anon meeting. Picking a topic and sharing on it helped to crystalize my thoughts and sometimes revealed thoughts I didn’t realize I had. Visiting all of your blogs brought other topics to the forefront of my consciousness. Your comments and encouragement have fed me. In many ways, blogging kept me more on the beam than anything else I have done.

But more and more, I struggle to post even once a week. It’s harder still to return visits to all of you who have been kind enough to leave comments. What’s more, I find myself wanting to post on a topic only to remember that I’ve blogged about it before. I have this picture in my head of an old woman staying too late at the party, repeating stories that the other guests have heard too many times, chattering away as one then another of the guests make their excuses and leave. There is art, I think, in knowing when to go home.

There are plenty of other bloggers who are able to keep their blogs fresh year after year and sometimes I think I should be able to do so, too. But my program has taught me that comparing myself to others is not helpful. I am simply not them.

I’ve titled this blog post au revoir rather than goodbye. I do so with a nod to an early college professor of mine, Mr. Cousins, who taught English Literature. He was one of my most frustrating teachers, because no matter how hard I tried I could not get an A in his class. No matter how hard I pored over “Ode to A Grecian Urn” or “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” dissecting each piece of literature line by line, I always missed the nuances.

For the life of me I can’t think of the name of the story I’m thinking of. But I remember clearly the final irony. It was the story’s last words: au revoir. I had taken French and so I thought I understood what the phrase means. I understood it to be synonymous with goodbye. Not so, Mr. Cousins had said. The phrase, more precisely, means until we meet again. And it was that nuance that leant irony to the ending.

And so I say au revoir. Because life is long and much can happen, and for all I know God may have other plans for me. I have seen other bloggers quit only to return a short time later. I don’t believe in closing doors. At least not anymore.

Not long ago, I learned from a fellow classmate that Mr. Cousins had died. I was sorry to hear it. For all my frustrations with him, and they were many, Mr. Cousins got me to think. He taught me things that I remember to this day. And so I titled this post as I did also in the hope that even if I never return to the blogosphere, some little thing I wrote here may have resonated and become a part of your story, too.

The other half of my title is what I hope for you. That whatever life and God as you understand God has in store for you, that you, dear friends, fare well.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Three-Mile Rest Stop

This weekend, I very quietly, very privately marked my third Al-Anon birthday.

For me, it’s one of those milestones, like the three-mile rest stop at the Grand Canyon. A place where I allow myself to rest for a few minutes and look back at how far I’ve come before continuing on my way.

The three-mile rest stop is actually a pretty good analogy because whether you are headed up or down, it’s possible to look back and feel you’ve accomplished quite a lot. At the same time, looking ahead, you are reminded of how far you still have to go. And so it is with me today.

I have settled into my hike. The initial effort of placing a body at rest into motion has passed. But I’m not tired yet. Old injuries have not flared up. My joints do not ache. I do not long for an extended rest. I have found my rhythm and it feels good.

This time last year, the going was harder. I hadn’t heard from my daughter for more than a month. Her last e-mail to me was that she was on a waiting list for a homeless shelter and she could see how people turn to prostitution.

My granddaughter was in foster care.

My work had dried up completely. My husband laid off an employee for the first time ever and the future of his business seemed uncertain. An IRS audit was not going well.

It was the first real test of my faith since I’ve been in this program.

It is a testament to this program that I could see God’s hand in all of it.

I was in no position financially to help my daughter as I once would have, even if I thought it was a good idea, which by then I didn’t. And I had no way to reach her. No phone number. No address. I could only send as encouraging a message to her via e-mail as I could muster, and pray. So that’s what I did.

Another month went by. Mothers Day came and went without a word. When I finally did hear from her, she had been sober for 50 days.

At the end of this March, she celebrated her first anniversary in AA. My granddaughter is back home.

As for me, I have so much work that I worry about meeting all my deadlines. My husband worries about hiring. We discovered an accounting error that accounts for the IRS’s concerns and are optimistic about an appeal.

Life is very good. But also very different.

The tough times changed us. We got through the lean times by selling things. We are still selling things. Only now, it feels like we are shedding the things we have outgrown or no longer need.

Our life is in transition. As we spend more and more time up at the land, we find we need less and less. Our city house is emptying, and eventually we will shed that, too.

It’s more than just the material possessions. It’s what they stand for. We are shedding a whole way of living in the world, old patterns of thought and behavior.

A dozen or so years ago, I had this dream of what my life would be. These days, I try not to have such dreams because they lead to expectations. And when I have expectations, I can’t always see the trail God has put before me.

Still. From my perspective of the three-mile rest stop, I look back and recall I had this dream. I was living in New Hampshire, so the setting for my dream was New England. My dream looked like this: I lived in a house I had designed. It was powered by solar panels and water was supplied by a well. Large picture windows looked out over a meadow. There was a barn in which I taught writing. I lived near a small town and supported myself as a writer. I had no debt. I was married and was happy.

At the time, the only part of this dream that was true is that I was living in New England. Today, the only part of the dream that is not true is that I am not living in New England.

True, our barn is an old tin thing that is missing most of its roof. It is not fit for storage, let alone teaching. But I did teach writing for many years so I do not feel unfulfilled on that score.

And our house is not perfect. We made mistakes. We learned along the way. But we built it with our own hands and we love it. To us, it has its own kind of integrity.

The funny thing is that my husband is the last person on earth I would have expected to share this dream of mine. I thought by marrying him I was accepting a very different kind of life. But it seemed the life God had put before me.

So here I am settling into the life I dreamed about all these years ago and it turns out my husband has been the driving force for all of it. And after some initial resistance on my part (yes, unaccountably, it’s true) I’ve climbed happily on board.

Isn’t life funny?

I got into recovery as we started building this house and there are so many parallels. Technobabe once told me of a book called “Building a Home with My Husband.” It was a memoir.

For years, I played with the idea of writing my own. I just didn’t know what story it was I was trying to tell. What the point was. Until now, my life had been all crisis with no resolution. Now, finally, it feels it has begun to take shape and form.

I guess you can say that now I’ve written my memoir. Only I call it my fourth step. I have no desire to publish any of it. But writing is how I make sense of things and I guess I instinctively knew at some lever I had to write out my life to begin to make sense of it.

In the process of taking that step and each step that came after, the path emerged from the mist. I’ve made it through a muddy stretch and found a resting spot with a beautiful view. There is quite a lot of trail ahead. An imposing bit of trail called the devil’s corkscrew is still to come. I know that, but for now it does not matter. I will tackle it when I get there. At this moment, I have taken nourishment and water. I feel rested and ready to move on.

I’ll see you down the trail.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Blind Faith

At a meeting recently, the chairperson shared this prayer. Several people were familiar with it and what was funny was that every one of those people thought someone they knew in recovery made it up.

It is, nonetheless, a good prayer because it so perfectly captures the fumbling in the dark feeling that we all feel from time to time in recovery. I offer it here as a gift, in the hope that it might give you comfort the next time you feel a little lost:

Dear God,

I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself. And the fact that I think I am following your will noes not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe this: I believe that the desire to please you does, in fact, please you. I hope I have that desire in everything I do. I hope I never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it at the time.

Therefore I will trust you always for though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death, I will not be afraid because I know you will never leave me to face my troubles alone.