Not Returning To My Regularly Scheduled Program

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Feels like my life just took a break for a special announcement. When I got home from the hospital, I was thinking about how on TV, when there’s an interruption in programming for a special announcement, when it’s done they have the canned “We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.” I thought, yeah, now I can get back to my routine.” Then I realized that may not be the best idea.

Went in to the hospital for chest and left arm pain. I had also been throwing up, so after G-I tract meds did not relieve the pain, they tried nitro. When that removed the pain, they decided to keep me for more testing. The good news was that all the blood test showed no heart attack. They did a chemical stress test, and the next day a resting stress test. While waiting for those results, they gave me Prilosec to see if the pain was simply referred pain from a G-I issue.

The Prilosec actually helped quite a bit. Everyone expected the stress test would come back completely normal and I would go home and follow-up with my primary. But the stress test had an “irregularity.” They could not definitively say if there was a problem with the heart or not, so we decided to do an angiogram to make sure.

The good news is that, structurally, everything looked really good with the heart and nothing was clogged. As a side note, however, there were indications that I’ve had high blood pressure for a while and should start treating that with my primary doctor.

That all started Monday night, and I came home on Friday. I have started on blood pressure medication, but I’m thinking there needs to be more changes. Making that decision is the easy part, but where to start?

Obviously, I need to up the meditation to reduce stress, as that has lagged quite a bit. We’re also going to join the YMCA. But there’s more I need to do.

My house stresses me out. So, I hired professional to help, and this week she is coming to the house to help me start decluttering . Circumstances (two moves and a car accident that had me sidelined for several months) contributed to my home being out of control. I’ve tried on my own, but I need help.

I have visions of a clutter-free home where I can sew medieval garb, paint with watercolors, and bake fresh bread  at will. I can imagine all the family members helping with the upkeep and care of the home, dishes, and day-to-day cleaning. Then we’ll all be smiling and sitting around a table playing games to all hours of the night and life happily ever after. Right?

Well, one little step at a time. My heart is strong, and I want to keep it that way for many, many years to come. It’s never to late to try something different. Today I’ll make one small step towards a healthier me.

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End of the World… or Just Under the Weather?

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It’s never when I’m feeling the worst, but it seems that when I start feeling better after being sick (cold, flu, middle-ear infection with vertigo), I often go through this period of feeling hopeless and helpless. It goes something like, “I haven’t been doing anything. I never do anything. I will never do anything. I’m a terrible person.”

It’s a feeling of impending doom. It’s that middle space between being so sick that I can barely move (and therefore am kind and forgiving of myself) to feeling well and charging ahead. I want to get stuff done, but just don’t quite have the energy to get going and get caught up with all I missed.

Anyway, that’s where I’ve been. Sometimes just acknowledging where I’m at helps. So, I’m getting back to it, all the daily stuff that keeps me going. I may not get caught up today, but at least I can stop myself from falling further behind.

Meditating While Angry

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It doesn’t work so good. I sit and follow my breath, and when thoughts arise, I’m supposed to let them drift away as if it were a cloud, or some kind of imagery like that. And my mind says, “F-*& that! I’m not done being angry yet. I’m not willing to let this thought or emotion drift away as if it were inconsequential.”

I was a little surprised at my stubbornness. I mean, it was righteous anger, what they did or didn’t do. It seems to feel good to be angry, powerful, like I am so right! I can’t let them get away with it.

But what holding on to anger really does is block me from myself. And it blocks out a presence of my higher power.

I identified 100% with “I am angry.” There was no other me other than anger.

Little by little, as I continued to sit meditations and catch myself replaying the story of how angry I was and why, over and over, I gained a sliver of detachment. I started realizing that it was just a story I was telling myself, over and over and over again.

As I started to identify with the ‘me’ that was observing this angry mind, I was able to let it go… a little. I can’t say that I’m completely done being angry yet, but I did make space for a ray of that sunlight of the spirit sneak in. I’ll take that, for now, and know that this will pass. I will allow that tiny spot of light to grow and let compassion and forgiveness sprout. It all starts at the beginning.

 

30 Years Sober

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On August 21, 2018, I celebrated 30 years sober. The secret? Don’t drink and don’t die.

It’s that simple, and that difficult.

You know what? It works if you work it, and it doesn’t work if I don’t. I’m reminded of that yet again when it comes to meditation.

We are moved into our new house. At least… all our stuff is here. We still have a long way to go before the house is settled. And the weird thing is… it’s still just sitting here. I guess I was hoping a magic fairy would come in while I was asleep and find places for everything and put everything in its place, but that hasn’t happened. More to the truth, I was hoping that the rest of the family would do the work that is mine to do. Nope. I have to do the work.

During all the chaos, meditation was the first activity to get dropped. You know, I have all these things to do. And who would have thought, my son also stopped doing his meditation. Strangely enough, my son and I have been arguing and at each other. I don’t know why. Yeah, it’s his fault, right? He’s not doing his meditation. So what if I’m not doing it either.

So, back to Day 1 of meditation. My son told me that the voice on the app I was having him use was annoying. (Not my opinion. I LOVE the Australian accent.) So I googled “meditation for young men.” I ended up settling on a site called Mindfulness for Teens.

So here I am, 3 decades of sobriety, sitting at my desk in a room full of unpacked boxes. Life still happens. Love, joy sorrow, pain, happiness, gratitude. The gift I get is to live this life. I marvel at the wonderful house God has brought me to, and I know that as long as I don’t get in the way to screw everything up, everything will be OK.

Insomnia? Me?

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It’s 4 a.m., and I can’t sleep. This is not usual for me. I went to sleep just fine around 10:30 last night. I woke up about 3:30 because my dog was whining and just couldn’t fall back asleep.

I’m moving the day after tomorrow. We’ll have the moving van here around 9 a.m., so I have one more day to get everything packed. (It’s just a local move, so if we miss a few things it’s not a huge deal. We have the old house through the weekend to finish.)

My mind was going over what furniture would go where in the new place. Then I was thinking about the kitchen. It’s a rental house, and when we looked at it, it had a free-standing pantry in the kitchen. I’m counting on that being there. What if they removed it? That’s the only reason why the house was OK, if we had that extra storage in the kitchen, but if it’s gone, what will I do?

By then, my heart rate was up and my body was tense. All of a sudden the idea crashed through all that thinking: there is nothing I can do about it right now.

Next I started thinking about the long to-do list related to the move, like changing our address on Amazon, and for insurance, and for meal delivery, and my daughter’s magazine….

Nope. Can’t do anything about that either. I still couldn’t sleep, but at least I wasn’t torturing myself with all that thinking.

I believe that the mindfulness meditation I’ve been doing helped me come to that realization sooner than it would have, say, a couple of months ago. I was able to get a bit of perspective. Am I sleepy? No. That’s when a novel idea struck me: why not just get up?

I’m usually one who likes to sleep in. I could sleep until 9 or 10 every morning if it wasn’t for my early-riser son… and he’s out of town right now. Maybe I’m getting older and don’t need as much sleep. I don’t know and don’t care.

The point is, acceptance of my situation, exactly as it is (ie I can’t sleep) can lead to action. Might as well get going with my busy day. I thank God for the clarity I have today.

Like a Dry Sponge

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There are days when I feel empty, rudderless, and godless. At moments I can feel so completely sure of a Higher Power working in my life, and other times I feel terror, like I’m fumbling, lost, a child in a grown-up world.

At those uninspired times, I need to break it down real simple. As long as I don’t take a drink or drug, there is hope in my life. When I get confused, I remember that AA is my spiritual path. Part of that spiritual path is to seek through prayer and meditation to improve my conscious contact with Spirit.

I had a profound experience during meditation recently. I had been feeling completely drained, exhausted, like my skin was a collection of raw nerves. I remembered to take quiet time and sit in meditation.

I started off with my usual mindfulness meditation app. But when the app ended, I remained sitting in silence. Then  I felt, with each breath, that I was drawing up energy from the core of the Earth. I was soaking up energy like a dry sponge soaks up water. Immersed in Spirit, I drank until my nerves were calm, my mind was at peace, and I felt renewed.

Just remembering that feeling helps me at this moment feel “OK.” We are still unsure of where we will be living a month from now. There are so many pros and cons of every house we have looked at. I don’t trust my own judgement. I know that if you give me 5 possibilities, on my own I will pick the worst possible situation.

I do not know what will happen next month, next week, or even later today. I have to trust that there is as energy above and throughout that guides me… when I keep my mind open and listen. As I prepare to go about my day, I must remember to stop, pray, and seek guidance in my every step and action.

What I’ve Been Training For

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I’ve been doing almost daily mindfulness meditation for a little bit now. I’m enjoying that quiet time set aside, and I also like the guided assistance of the Smiling Mind app. I’m finding that I am quicker to remember to stop, think, and breath. At almost any time, I can close my eyes, takes a few deep breaths, and feel calm wash over me.

And that’s a good thing, because this shit is getting real again. We got notice from our landlord that they need to sell the house we’re living in. With a family of four and three dogs (including a German Shepherd), finding a suitable house in our price range is not the easiest thing to do. So I rely on my training.

In addition to mindfulness, I also rely on a faith in a Higher Power. It’s not a formal thing. It’s not anything I pray to. It’s an underlying awareness of grace, that force which is life, that energy that was pure light that became everything and is everything. Perhaps the biggest benefit of long-term sobriety is the accumulation of experiencing things working out. By the grace of God, I should celebrate 30 years sober next month.

I am striving to maintain a sense of curiosity. What does God have in store for me next? It’s a quiet hopefulness. I know there is work to be done. We loved this house, and it is time to move on. I have multiple lines in the water and am quick to pull the line when I feel a nibble.

Of course, we still have 45 days. This could be an entirely different story when it gets close to our deadline to be out. But I know that all I need to do is show up, do what is in front of my, and don’t try to force my will. As the Big Book says, we relax and take it easy.

Meditation Reboot: Mindfulness Apps

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Last year I made a commitment to start meditating regularly. Well, that didn’t work out so well. Soon I was caught up in the daily frustrations and flashes of anger and completely forgot about trying to meditate. Peace of mind can be so elusive.

Then, a couple of months ago, my son asked to go off his ADHD meds. When he takes them, he doesn’t eat all day. By the end of the day, when the meds wear off, he is crazy hungry and out of control. We decided that if he was willing to commit to a regular meditation practice we would be willing to let him stop his medication.

I read a lot about meditation for kids and one idea kept repeating: the best way to help kids develop a meditation practice was for the parents to also practice meditation. I realized there was no way around it. I had to start meditating.

I decided to try a meditation app. Unfortunately, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of them. They range in price from free to almost $100 or more. I started downloading and trying the free ones, but found most of them to be incredibly annoying. You know those syrupy-sweet voices that are almost a whisper? I hate those. Where I live, they call that “airy-fairy.”

I asked people about apps they used and stumbled across an app called Smiling Mind. I downloaded the Smiling Mind app (it’s available for IOS and Android.) The dude is Australian, and I found his voice to be remarkably non-irritating.

This particular app is completely free. There are no parts that you have to pay to unlock. I really like that. None of the dealer’s ‘first taste is free’ thing.

Smiling Mind has a number of different programs. They have programs for kids in different age ranges, programs designed for teachers, and a number of programs designed for adults with different focuses such as sports or for the workplace.

Each program comes in several modules which are designed progressively to help you develop mindfulness and increase the time, gradually, that you spend in meditation. Each module consists of meditation sessions, but they also include activities to enhance your mindfulness.

I’m averaging about 3 times a week, but hope to increase that. You can set daily reminders on your phone or to tell  it to notify you when you haven’t been on the app for a few days.

I’m really enjoying working through the basic adult program. Eventually, I’ll be able to do longer and longer meditation with little to no vocal guidance. Of course, you don’t actually need an app to meditate. Simply following your breath can help you return to calm.

I feel like this app is helping me develop mindfulness to instill a deeper sense of peaceful contentedness. Try it! You might like it.

 

 

Inclusion and Cooperation, Not Division

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I’m a longtime liberal/progressive Democrat. I was born and raised to believe that it is not enough to make sure that I get what I need. Instead, I have the responsibility to look out for those who are less fortunate.

I live in a “blue” state, and am happy about that. I am proud of that. However, I just got an email to get a free bumper sticker that says, “Vote Blue” and I’m not going to do it.

It is this duality, if you are not with me you are against me, that contributes greatly to our divided nation. The venomous hate I hear spewed about people of color, or poor people, or people with special needs… It hurts me. But hating the hater solves absolutely nothing.

If I were to say “Vote Blue,” I am blindly, rabidly following  some abstract thing. Party loyalty says that I don’t have to think. Just walk in this lane and this lane only. Anyone who is not in this lane is bad.

What we need is discussion. What we need is listening. I know that there are people who have been saying this for a while. I am not original or unique. This little blog I write… well, it’s just a small thing. But by writing this, I am reinforcing my belief that we need to come together. We need to look beyond party loyalty. We need to look at our humanity.

I need to be willing to hear a different point of view and be willing to admit that I may be wrong. I don’t have any solution, but what I can do is enter into quiet contemplation. I can be quick to see where others are right. While I will most likely vote straight Democrat, I will not separate myself from my fellow humans by declaring that Blue is the only way to go.

So today, try to spend some time listening. Maybe listen to another point of view and try to understand where that person is ‘coming from.’ Chances are, we all share common values and beliefs. It’s easy to say my way is better, but we can only experience true joy when we realize the connectedness of everyone and everything.

Why Secrets Keep Us Sick

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It’s pretty common around people in 12-step programs to hear, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” Honesty is stressed. Telling our secrets, even if it’s just to one other person, can set us free. But what is it about keeping secrets that keeps us sick?

Humans need connection. Keeping secrets make us feel separate, disconnected. If I’m keeping a secret about something I did or something that happened to me, I’m actually believing that if you knew this you would know how sick and disgusting I am and I would be alone.  Therefore, I will bury this secret so deep that even I will forget about it. Denial can be a life-saving coping skill at times, but eventually, it will kill us.

It makes me wonder if the ’cause’ of many people’s relapse is the secrets they are keeping. See, secrets are usually about shame. As Brene Brown puts it in her TED talk “The Power of Vulnerability,” shame is believing that “something about me, that if other people know it or see it, I won’t be worthy of connection.”

So the key, it seems, is learning that this thing, however bad it is, does not make me unworthy of love and connection. It is letting go of that thing that makes all the difference. Letting go of the shame and accepting this thing as part of me is how I become whole. I accept all parts of me, all of my experiences, all that I am.

If it’s that simple, why do we still keep secrets? For the most part, it’s fear of being vulnerable. When Brene Brown talks about vulnerability, she describes it as doing something even when there are no guarantees.

When we are vulnerable, we feel connected. Doing the 5th step is all about vulnerability.  But sometimes, we need professional help to be vulnerable. Even people with a lot of time in the program often find the need to seek outside help.

If we’re afraid of vulnerability, speaking without knowing what the reaction will be, then often a therapist can help. It is their job to hear you and be accepting. It is their job to help you through it. When you talk to a therapist, it’s like side-stepping vulnerability because you have a guarantee that you will be OK even if you tell this horrible secret.

And that is how we become whole.

So, my message is this: If you are keeping a secret that you swear no one will ever know, please find a way to let it out. You are worthy of connection. You are worthy of love and acceptance. Otherwise, your secret could very well kill you.