Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Lesson from the Fog

Recently, my life-long friend and I took a trip up one of the most scenic roads in the world--the Pacific Coast Highway.  Since I first discovered this route ten years ago, I have longed to traverse it again with my friend.  So we went.

The Pacific Coast Highway runs parallel to the Pacific Ocean from San Diego up the coast to California's northern most border with Oregon.  Along the central coast of California, the road winds through the Santa Ynez mountains, with miles of vineyards and grazing land for California's happy cows, alpacas and llamas.  While I enjoyed the miles of mountainous inland views, I kept waiting for that first glimpse of the ocean--telling my companion that it was just ahead, that we were almost there.

We finally rounded the bend in the road where we could see the ocean again and I inhaled as I anticipated the spectacular view.  But, a thick marine layer had rolled in and while we knew the ocean was to our left and that the view was amazing, all we could see was thick mist--miles of it.  I was stunned and oh so very disappointed.  We had talked of this trip for a long time and we had finally arrived--but our long-anticipated view was clouded by, well clouds.

There was silence in the car for a few minutes and then we began roaring with laughter.  We laughed as mile after mile of thick fog rolled by.  We laughed until our sides hurt. Our laughter shook our bodies and the car. I finally stopped laughing long enough to blurt out, "There is a lesson in this but I'll be danged if I want to learn it."  But the fog reminded me of three things I have learned in recovery:

Presence:  we had a choice when the fog rolled in--stay present in the moment or get lost in the "what ifs."  The recovery slogan reminds me that "Expectations are resentments waiting to happen."  So the choice was to resent the fog and God or to stay in the moment and enjoy the unexpected.  Because the fog was beautiful--the way it lingered on the mountains and occluded the view of the highest peaks.  And belly laughs with a good friend is always a wondrous thing.

Gratitude:  after arriving at our destination and realizing that the fog had lifted, we learned that it had been overcast and dreary the entire week but the day we arrived, the weather had cleared.  We were very grateful.  Our hotel sat on a cliff overlooking the ocean so as we sat by our windows listening to the seagulls and enjoying the roar of the surf, we were even more grateful for the sunshine because we had experienced the fog.

Perspective:  as I drove through the thick clouds, I felt anxiety rising up--I had promised my friend a spectacular experience and the fog was ruining that.  I was not delivering on my promise--my old nemesis shame began whispering in my ear--"you failed, you are not worthy, you are not enough."  But I realized that I am not God (a good thing) and that I had no power over the weather.  This was not my problem or failure--it was just life.  Life happens, fog rolls in and I am not responsible.

My friend and I have experienced similar journeys in life--the road we thought we were traveling on with spouses ended abruptly and we both are living in life's fog right now.  A term used years ago aptly describes us.  We are "displaced homemakers."  (By the way, I hated the term then and hate it still).  But the road of life that we are traveling on is no longer clear, we are living in the fog.  What will we do to make a living?  How will we parent our children as single women? What do we want to do with the rest of our lives now that our first plan evaporated?  How do we make meaning of what we have experienced?  How do we use the lessons learned to help another?

We have more questions than answers right now.  We are living in the fog.  But the lessons of the fog certainly hold some truths to ponder and apply to life in the here and now.

My friend and I will remember this "Thelma and Louise" trip (minus the murder and double suicide) for years to come.  The images of the rugged coast (after the fog cleared), the majestic mountains and the indescribable beauty of creation may dim.  But we will never forget our laughter at the fog.  My hope is that we can laugh at the fog of our lives, staying present in each moment, expressing gratitude for the joy of living and maintaining proper perspective.  There is a God and it is not me.  And that truth is the greatest lesson of the fog.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Improving our Conscious Contact

When they were much younger, my kids loved Star Trek. The whole notion of making contact with extraterrestrial beings makes for great entertainment and indeed all of my now-adult children still enjoy this genre of programming and fiction.

"Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before," was the opening narration by William Shatner for each Star Trek episode.  Much like space exploration, recovery requires that we boldly go where we have resisted going before--to explore the strange new world of connection and reconnection with our self, our Higher Power and with others.

Exploration of these strange new worlds is all about bringing the unconscious into our consciousness.  Our unconscious world is that part of the mind that is inaccessible to our conscious mind but that impacts our behavior and emotions.  The conscious mind is the awake mind--that part of us that is aware of and responds to our surroundings.  Bringing the unconscious into the conscious involves understanding that our emotions have a story to tell and taking the time to listen and explore that story.  It is grasping that behavior does not just occur--it springs from a deep black hole and having the courage to fly into that hole in order to discover the hidden source.  It is not an easy thing to do and unlike the Star Trek mission requires a life-long commitment to the journey.

The mission demands that we arm ourselves with three important character attributes in order to be successful:  integrity, inclusivity and intentionality.  Integrity is the state of being honest and having strong moral principles, being authentic.  Inclusivity is being open-minded; not excluding any person or idea but rather exhibiting a willingness to adopt new ways of thinking and being in relationship to others, including ourselves.  Intentionality reminds us that recovery work is something that is deliberate, that we do it on purpose and intentionally.

We improve our conscious contact with our Higher Power, ourselves and with others when we honestly and intentionally seek to improve, renew or restore the connections.  As we learn more about ourselves in relationship with others and with the God of our understanding, we strive for authenticity and congruence--having our behavior and words match. And as we courageously explore our woundedness--that black hole of our inner hurts--we find courage and compassion to tell our story--the real one, not the airbrushed one--so that others may share in our journey.  Seeking to improve our conscious contact brings many gifts:
  • We are better able to surrender our self-defeating behavior.
  • We find that we have the strength and insight to make good choices for ourselves.
  • Our ability to give and receive love expands tremendously.
  • We recover the feeling of joy.
  • We feel the security that arises from true fellowship with others and the God of our understanding, knowing that we are loved and accepted just as we are.
  • We no longer expect others to provide us with an identity or a sense of self-worth.
  • We find the courage to be true to ourselves.
  • Our hope turns to faith that God is really working in our lives, as we explore the wonders of serenity, dignity, and emotional growth.  (Working the S-Anon Program, p. 131)