More On T.H.I.N.K.ing

“I had a habit of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. After discussing the matter with a friend, I was given an exercise to practice. When someone says something to me and I have a strong reaction—wanting to cry, wanting to rage, thinking I am inferior—I stop and visualize two doors. One is marked “Same old, same old,” or “My will.” The  other is marked “New and different,” or “God’s will.” On seeing these two doors, I imagine opening mine and viewing what I would normally say or do in this situation. Then I close my door and open God’s. By the time I’ve done this, I’ve given myself several moments between the initial comment and my impulsive reaction. This gives me time to practice the slogan T.H.I.N.K. and to choose a healthier response. I’ve not had a single regret-filled incident since I began to practice this self-restraint. Ironically, most times what’s behind God’s door is absolutely nothing. What a message! Could this possibly mean that other people’s behavior belongs to them and I don’t have to make it mine by reacting to it?”

Before I went into recovery and learned how to view myself and my world differently, I was on automatic pilot. And the worst example of that was my extreme reactiveness to just about anything. Something like a look from another person could really get me going! But to make myself vulnerable to other people’s thoughts or opinions about me put me at a terrible disadvantage. I continually got lost, too often dependent in other people’s ideas and behaviors. Twelve-step recovery has taught me how to sort out who I am as I interface with the rest of the world. Acting with more integrity than before, I can react less and be more proactive.

Which is a long way of saying that I’m grateful not to be on automatic pilot anymore. Grateful to recognize that I have choices now. And I try to make good ones.

Here’s a good book to consider buying: Discovering Choices, Al-Anon Family Group

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=discovering+choices&i=stripbooks&crid=1O39QV7INVPOU&sprefix=discovering+choices%2Cstripbooks%2C167&ref=nb_sb_noss_2

Cancer?Diary/Part 8

At Least, Not At This Time…”

At that last Zoom meeting with Dr. Malakoti, I complained that in all these months of tests and speculation I haven’t yet had a physical examination. I guess I got through to her because the scheduler at Fred Hutch called me the next day and made an appointment for just that, before we would decide on another lymph node biopsy. That made wonderful sense to me, and all of a sudden I felt more secure, like we weren’t just throwing darts in the air. An exam would tell Dr. Malakoti a great deal about the state of my health. And it also taught me the value of advocating for myself.

So Gene and I drove down to Fred Hutch for a noon appointment and anxiously waited to see my doctor. She felt around my body for swollen lymph nodes and measured the ones she felt in my groin on both sides.

Dr. Malakoti confirmed, “Yes, we will need to get you into surgery for this biopsy as soon as possible.”

“How soon?” I asked.

“Probably within twenty-four to forty-eight hours,” she assured me.

I waited, not too patiently, for a call from the scheduler. Nothing. I called them twice a day. Nothing. A week of waiting. Nothing.

So I decided to go down to Seattle because my son needed me to babysit for his kids. His anniversary trip to Belize with his wife was more important to me than waiting for a phone call that wasn’t coming. Life goes on, doesn’t it?

Dr. Malakoti did take the time to message me about the surgeons’ decision to biopsy the right node instead of the left. And she emphasized that they haven’t found any cancer in my tests “at least, not at this time.”

Those are ominous words. What do you mean, “not at this time…?” Well, I’ve made it to age 76 without any cancer or its symptoms. Now I have symptoms. Now they are subjecting me to invasive tests. Now they tell me, “You don’t have cancer at this time.” So what does that mean? That cancer is a slow-moving train that may or may not collide with me someday? Everyone in the world can say that, can’t they? From the day they are born. How am I any different from other people? I have some hallmark symptoms of blood cancer. So they are treating me seriously.

I guess, since no one in the medical community will talk straight with me, I will have to wait for a definitive sighting of lymphoma, or lack of it, in my second biopsy.

I asked Dr. Malakoti directly when she examined me: “What are you looking for? What do you suspect? Could I have lymphoma?”

She moved around the room to get something, but did not answer my question. Maybe any form of speculation is strictly forbidden at this point. Maybe they will level with me when they have an answer.

So I return to patience and acceptance of what I cannot change.

Walking Through Cancer?/Part 7

                                 

                                                     Still Digging

Time flies. It’s March now, a long time to not know what’s wrong with me. But the medical community operates, sometimes, at a snail’s pace.

Gene and I drove back to Fred Hutch in Seattle for my second PET scan. We had another dinner out and stayed at the same hotel so we would be close by for the 8:15 am appointment. I needled my doctor to secure two (2) Ambien for me from the pharmacy. I am extremely claustrophobic, which is the principle reason for the prescription. They’re not really “coddling” me. They just want to avoid a disaster in the PET machine.

The nurse injected the radioactive liquid into a prominent vein and waited for it to circulate in my system. It usually takes an hour, but I was asleep and didn’t notice. They walked me into the machine and then walked me out. Gene drove me home where I had another long lunch and another long nap.

Today is March 18. I had a Zoom meeting with my doctor at Fred Hutch. What are my hopes? That they found no areas of concern and refer me back to my original hematologist, Dr. Julia at Providence oncology, and let her come up with an explanation. You can’t fault the doctors at Fred Hutch for thoroughness. They seem to have pulled out all the stops.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This is an example of my “future-tripping,” which I’ve done too much of. Enjoy every moment I have. Today is sunny and 70 degrees. I will indulge in my “spiritual” weeding (oh yes, weeding is a spiritual exercise for me!) and be grateful for the sunshine.

Dr. Malakoti, Dr. Poh’s P.A., addressed me on Zoom and said that the second PET scan showed lots of lymph node involvement. So they want to do another biopsy of another node in my groin, near the last one they removed. It’s the fastest way to rule out lymphoma. Another one? The queen (lately I’ve been demoted to princess) of silver linings sees this added surgery not only as a probable end to all our uncertainty but also a chance to learn from my mistake the last time. After the surgery, go home and stay there for two weeks. Suspend all activities.

Waiting for the scheduler to call me for the exam with my doctor, my negative side internally whines that, since I live two hours away from Fred Hutch, going back and forth on Route 5 will be another weekly hassle.

“Oh Carter, I’m so sick of the Route 5 parking lot. Now I have several more trips down to Seattle to endure.”

But my son rescues me from myself momentarily:

“Endure? How about you put a brighter face on it? Instead of dreading the traffic, the pain of surgery and the waiting for results, why don’t you and Gene come down to Seattle for two nights and spend time seeing your grandchildren and having some fun?”

Out of the mouths of babes…

A Good Daughter

From Courage to Change, September 4:

“As we let go of obsession, worry, and focusing on everyone but ourselves, many of us were bewildered by the increasing calmness of our minds. We knew how to live in a state of crisis, but it often took a bit of adjustment to become comfortable with stillness. The price of serenity was the quieting of the constant mental chatter that had taken up so much time; suddenly we had lots of time on our hands and we wondered how to fill it.”        

I’ve learned how to “be still in the stream.” Obsessing over my daughter and living in all her drama was threatening my health. I was suffering from severe PTSD and endured many other negative consequences in my life as a result of my constant worry over something I couldn’t control.

So, I took the first three steps in my recovery program. It was hard to do that because I felt that letting go was giving up on my daughter, not loving her enough anymore. But that’s not how I feel now.       

Once, not so long ago, she was a loving daughter to me, a college graduate with her whole life ahead of her. Then, like the great cosmic crapshoot that afflicts millions of families, she fell out of her life and into substance use disorder. She’s been lost to us all for a long time now.

But my daughter, not the substance user that lives in her body, would want me to reclaim my life as I have, and learn to be happy.

I believe this with all my heart. I love my daughter. And love always wins.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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 voice 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 that you could save.
 
 
 
Surrender

“Listen And Learn”

So often I don’t listen. I’m consumed by my own thoughts and the next thing I will say. But there’s so much I don’t know.

I feel I must know a great deal; I must appear strong and competent.

For others.

I know I don’t know everything, but I want to appear confident.

For others.

I would do well to put myself aside and learn from others.

For me.

 

The End Of Isolation

“Thank You For My Recovery”

I always end my shares at meetings with these words. Why am I thanking the people there for my recovery? Because they and so many others are the mirrors I need to see myself as I really am and grow.

Before my recovery in the rooms, I was depressed and very isolated. I still saw people, I worked, I had friends. But on what level was I operating a lot of the time? I was often very dishonest, with myself most of all. So I shuffled through life, bewildered, often feeling like a victim, sad, and unaware of the tools out there that, if utilized, gave me the power to be happy.

The 12-Steps and other tools I’ve picked up in the rooms are my guidepost for living. They encourage me to review my life but not to stay stuck in the past. They ask me to look at my imperfections, ways I may have hurt others, make amends to them, and move on. This is where the mirrors I mentioned are especially critical, why it’s helpful to have a sponsor and other friends who can give me honest feedback about myself. Help me to be accountable. To grow. Up. Shed any illusions about myself that may have been getting in my way.

I got my life back in the rooms. Regardless of the storms whirling around me, and we all know what that’s like, if I have myself and my health and wellbeing to anchor me, I’m much stronger to weather my difficulties.

Trusting In Ourselves

From Hope for Today, November 12:

“Serenity? What is that? For years, I was like a weather vane that spun around according to the air currents that other people generated… I attributed these mood swings to nervousness, lack of assurance, and whoever else occupied the room at the time. Serenity always seemed beyond my control… Where does this serenity come from? It comes from trusting that everything in my life is exactly as it should be… It comes when I choose to care for myself rather than to fix someone else…

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: I am powerless over many things, but my serenity is not one of them.”

In the rooms I am learning to keep the focus on myself rather than obsess about fixing other people. We have learned to “release our addicts with love and cease trying to change them.” I am the only person I have power over, and when I pay attention to my own growth and betterment, everyone else in my life benefits. This is selfishness at its best.

Someone once told me that the greatest gift we can give our children is our own happiness. So I will continue to strive for it every day—and it will nourish them and all the people in my life.

Our Growth Through Recovery

 From Opening Our Hearts, Transforming Our Losses, p. 170:

“Reflecting on our progress:

‘Looking back, I can still experience the pain I once felt. But it’s the looking back that tells me how I have grown.’

…We recall where we were at the onset of our grief and acknowledge where we are today. Step Twelve is not only about our own changes. One member came to realize that Step Twelve is about more than creating a better life for himself; it is also about encouraging and helping others. When we share our struggles and the changes we’ve made, we inspire others and offer hope that healing from our grief is possible.

‘Thanks to Al-Anon, I have done more than just survive. I have emerged as a stronger, more loving, and more compassionate human being.’”

 

I liken the onset of my grief to being in a dark tunnel. Absolutely immersed in darkness and stumbling around, for lack of light. I stumbled around for a long time, crippled by my own demons and an inflated sense of responsibility.

Thank God for my recovery program which I finally had the good sense to follow. Years later, humbled by my inability to save my daughter, after countless meetings, readings and sharing, I decided that I was worth saving.

Unless we live in a bubble, there are surely other people in our lives whom we love and who love us. I miss Angie terribly, and I pray for her every day. But it’s the other people in my life who are benefitting the most from my ongoing recovery.

I’m grateful that I stayed in my program long enough for the miracles to begin. I made it through the tunnel and found the light. My life is good right now. I can laugh till my belly aches. I’m grateful for what’s right in front of me.

I’ve stopped chasing the butterfly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Wolf You Feed”

Memoir Excerpt:

“I am sometimes at odds with my recovery groups about the nature of addiction: is it a disease or a choice? I don’t want to force my views on them. There’s a wonderful Cherokee tale told by a grandfather to his grandchildren:

‘There’s a battle inside all of us between two wolves. One wolf is jealousy, greed, dishonesty, hatred, anger and bitterness. The other wolf is love, generosity, truthfulness, selflessness, and gratitude.’

‘Who wins the battle, grandfather?’

‘The wolf you feed.’

Insist that our loved ones are choosing to be addicts, that they want to stick a needle in their arm and live in a gutter, and we feel justified in our anger and our bitterness. Keep feeding those feelings, and they will consume you. I choose to believe that my daughter is wired differently and is prone to addictive disease. That’s no surprise, since four generations in my family have all had addictive disease in varying degrees. For whatever reason we still are unsure of, whatever life stresses beckoned her into that dark place, she became a victim of addiction.

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, has said: “I’ve studied alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, marijuana and more recently obesity. There’s a pattern in compulsion. I’ve never come across a single person that was addicted that wanted to be addicted. Something has happened in their brains that has led to that process.’”