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WOTY, A Recap, and Whatever Else Might Be in my Head

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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  writing is a muscle, and when you don’t exercise the muscle, you lose it, rapidly!  It’s easier to stay in the rhythm of writing than in trying to resurrect it.

But try I must, since my life is vastly improved when I use this outlet.  There’s been a lot going on, and so the unmotivated side of myself seizes upon these life issues and uses them as a handy excuse, a get out of jail free card, if you will.

And now, lo and behold, it is January 1st.  The last day of the holiday season (for the most part), and a time to look ahead and focus on self-improvement.  For the past few years I have participated in the WOTY theme (Word of The Year, an anchor to remind yourself of the priorities you’ve set for yourself in January); this year, given my pulling away from the blogging world, I was sure I would not participate again.  In fact, I wasn’t 100% sure I remembered 2016’s word of the year.

Then I woke up this morning, and a word popped into my head, and I can’t seem to let go of it.  And I haven’t found a whole lot of those lightbulb-y, aha! experiences of late, so I need to grab hold of them while I do.

So methinks I will be participating in the fun again this year.  But first, because I hate to do things out of order, I want to write a bit on where I’ve been and what’s been keeping me from the blog.

I’ve referenced the most obvious of problems a few times in the past 2 months, and that is an ongoing podiatric issue.  I elected to have a minor corrective surgical procedure in early November, and somehow I wound up with a fractured heel.  That sums up in one sentence something that, had I kept my writing muscles in shape, a subject matter that could have entertained you for hours.  Sadly, I did not, and I believe I am at last at a stage of acceptance about the whole issue.  My heel is fractured, it is a long and slow recovery (made longer and slower by my non-compliance, but give me a break, it was the holiday season), and there are worse things in life.  End of story.  Simple to say and write out now, but the mental process took some time.

A second issue took place since I’ve last written, and if I do what I should be doing, I will sit down in the near future and make a full and proper post about the experience.  I had another job opportunity come and go in the past few weeks.  This is not the first opportunity (or the second for that matter), but it was by far the most painful loss I’ve experienced in a long time.  I believed in my heart and soul that this job was meant for me. Simply put, I was wrong.  Or at the very least someone of importance disagreed with me, because they chose someone else.

I know many will be reading this and thinking “Oh boo hoo, you didn’t get a job?  Sing it to the choir, sister!” Or maybe your thoughts have trendier expressions than mine, who’s to say?  But what I’ve learned about myself through this process is how far I go to protect myself from disappointments such as these.  I assume failure before every new experience, so that if it happens I am not too shocked or upset.  I let my guard down this time, and ooh baby did it hurt.  And the timing of it was either awful or perfect… I had house guests arrive one hour after I received the news.  Not sure if this was a good distraction, or it prolonged the healing process, but as they say, it is what it is.  I believe there is more processing to come.

Finally, and possibly most irritating, was an incident that occurred a few weeks back directly after the weekly meeting I run.  A bit of backdrop:  I started the meeting 4 1/2 years ago, at the request of people who were starting a brand new clubhouse.  The goal of the clubhouse was to be a safe space for 12-step program members of all kinds to recover and support one another in recovery.  At the time I was horrified… I had only 6 months or so sober myself, who am I to start a meeting?  But I was convinced, and the rest is history.  The meeting is going strong, and in fact is one of the more well-attended ones in the club house.

Since that time I’ve backed out of most involvement in the clubhouse; once upon a time I attended their business meetings and social events, now I am almost exclusively using the space to run the Monday meeting.  I imagine it’s an evolution, and there are ebbs and flows, and I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about.

But in the meantime all sorts of political changes have taken place, throughout all of which I’ve minded my own business.  I recently heard they elected a new president, and thought nothing of it until he introduced himself to me.  And something in my gut told me, at that very moment, that something was going to happen.  And I can tell you I don’t often get gut feelings.

And please do not get me wrong, the new president is a wonderful gentleman.  He introduced himself as though he did not recognize me, but I certainly know him, and respect his sobriety greatly.  And I stand in awe of his service… it is a huge undertaking to lead a clubhouse, and I respect his decision to do so.

A few weeks later he arrived oddly late to my meeting… there was at most 10 minutes left to go.  I did not think a thing of it, until he hung around waiting to speak with me.  My radar picked up the signal of distress, and I waited patiently through the “how’s your foot?” questions to see what was up.

And my radar was correct, he was coming to me with a problem that was brought to him.  He understands I write a blog.  He has not read it himself, but somebody in our local community has, and they are concerned that I am breaking the anonymity of a specific person, and that if this person were to find out, he/she would be devastated and leave my meeting.

So let’s back up here:  the person coming to me with the problem has yet to read the blog himself, and the person coming to him isn’t concerned with his or her anonymity, but someone else’s.  And they’re not speaking on behalf of that person, they’re just projecting a potential problem.

My defenses register all of this immediately.  But first, this is on the heels of a recovery meeting, second, the newly elected president is saying all of this in the gentlest of ways, so it’s not liking he’s “coming at me,” per se, and third, I detest all forms of confrontation and thus will always want to consider all options before I respond.  One last factor that I’m ashamed to include but will for the sake of honesty:  at the time of this discussion/suggestion, I truly believed I would be employed on a full-time basis in a matter of weeks.  If I’m working full-time I am no longer chairing this meeting, and this becomes a non-issue.

In the moment, I politely thanked him for the feedback.  He had expressed which individual was the concern, and I assured him that I do not think such an issue exists, but I will make sure to find out, as the individual and I are very close.  I then wished him a good day, and I actually have not seen him since.

Then the stupid job fell through, and I realized that I never actually dealt with the issue.  And I have been mentally blocked ever since.

To be fair, it was a busy holiday season, and all of the things I wrote about above were happening, and I’ve already declared how easy it is to make excuses.

So here is my vow:  I will get to the bottom of this issue, because I do completely respect the person in question.  As it happens circumstances prevent me from doing this for a few weeks, but I will get to the bottom of it.

In my heart I do not believe I have broken anyone’s anonymity.  The vast majority of the readership live nowhere near me.  If there is the smallest handful of local people reading this blog, and they put two and two together, it is because they attend the same meetings I do, and hear the same things I do.  I don’t use names, and only occasionally use gender.  I don’t talk give physical descriptions, or anything else that might directly point the finger to a specific individual.

But if the busybody source is correct, I will take immediate steps to back it down even further.

And now I have written a novel, and never even gotten to my Word of The Year.  I will leave you with the word, but will save the rationale for another post, since nobody has time to read any more out of my brain.  My Word of the Year is:

Service

And I have much to say about it, what that word means to me, and how I came to determine that I need this in the forefront.  I will also look back and see how 2016’s word impacted my year as well.  Until then…

Today’s Miracle:

Writing.  On a Sunday.  Out of schedule.  With a house full of people.  Enough said!

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M(3), 12/5/16: Acceptance is the Answer

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It feels good to be writing on this blog, I can’t seem to string two weeks together here!

This is the Monday I’ve been waiting for all year.  When I chose the new format of the Big Book readings back in January, I realized that December would be a free pick month, and I didn’t need two seconds to consider what reading I’d select.

Normally I choose this reading at least two times in a calendar year, so I’m overdue for this topic!

The reading is the title of the post.  It is in the personal stories section of the book Alcoholics Anonymous, and is one of the most popular ones in the fellowship.  If you say to a member of the 12-step program, “what is the significance of page 417?” they will likely have the answer.  It is the seminal paragraph in Dr. Paul O’s story:

And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.
When I am disturbed,
It is because I find some person, place, thing, situation —
Some fact of my life — unacceptable to me,
And I can find no serenity until I accept
That person, place, thing, or situation
As being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.
Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.
Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober;
Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms,
I cannot be happy.
I need to concentrate not so much
On what needs to be changed in the world
As on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.”

Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition p. 417

I’ve told, possibly a dozen times or more, the significance of the story in my own personal journey of sobriety (here’s one example if you haven’t read).  And there hasn’t been a time I’ve read the story that it doesn’t help me gain perspective in some way.

The main reason I took the blog in the direction I’ve taken it… writing about the lessons I’m learning within the fellowship of the 12-step program… is that I find so many universal lessons within the program, lessons that teach me so much more than just how to stay sober.  This story, and the enlightenment we in the meeting rooms receive, is possibly the best example I can provide.

As usual, the story did not disappoint.  We had a large group this morning, and the positive reaction was unanimous.  In fact, a bonus treat was introducing the story to a woman for the first time.  She was familiar with the paragraph I have above, but not with the story itself.  Even more amazing, she shares the same profession as the author of the story, and the profession plays a huge role in his recovery story, so it held special meaning for her.

For people unfamiliar with 12-step meetings, books are typically kept in the meeting room, then shared by all.  The first person to share this morning said what stood out most to her about the story was how the author was able to improve his marriage by using the principles of the program at home.  Coincidentally, in the book this woman was reading from this morning, someone wrote at the end of the chapter:  “portrait of a marriage.”  So someone else agrees that reading this story can help to build bridges with your spouse!

Another long-timer shared that would stood out most to him was the idea that “serenity works in inverse proportion with expectations.”  In other words, the more you expect out of people and life, the less peaceful you are likely to be.  Another universal concept that everyone could use in their lives, especially around the holidays!

A friend shared that what struck her this morning was how she related to the author’s sense of self-deprecating humor.  Because he wrote so humorously and compellingly, she was able to relate to his story, despite having little in common with him in terms of logistics.  She especially related to the way he described chemically altering himself to achieve unconsciousness.  She found that even though she merely drank wine at night, the end result was the same.  It’s reassuring to read that the basic principles of the program work despite the substance of choice.

Another gentleman shared that he used to read this story with a sense of self-righteousness, as he too only drank alcohol, and refrained from any kind of drug use.  But he is starting to come around to the idea that at the end of the day, the underlying issues are the same for all of us, and comparisons, good or bad, are detrimental.  We all only have today in which to stay sober.

I of course got an absolute ton out of the reading itself and from the wisdom everyone shared.  As I mentioned earlier, this reading applies to all areas in my life:

When I criticize a person, or judge them:

“When I complain about me or about you, I am criticizing God’s handiwork.  I am saying I know better than God.” -pg. 417

If I’m frustrated that people aren’t taking my advice:

“And if I don’t know what’s good for me, then I don’t know what’s good or bad for you or for anyone.  So I’m better off if I don’t give advice, don’t figure I know what’s best, and just accept life on life’s terms, as it is today – especially my own life, as it actually is.” -pg. 418

When I am angry that my husband won’t see my point of view:

“… in AA I was told… ‘the courage to change’ in the Serenity Prayer meant not that I should change my marriage, but that I should change myself and learn to accept my spouse as she was.”  -pg. 419

When I am fearful and anxious that my stupid foot is taking too long to heal:

“Acceptance is the key to my relationship with God today.  I never just sit around and do nothing while waiting for Him to tell me what to do.  Rather, I do whatever is in front of me to be done, and I leave the results up to Him; however that turns out, that’s God’s will for me.” -pg. 420

I’m already sad the meeting is over and I won’t be able to pick this selection for a while!

Today’s Miracle:

The reading, and the insights is never fails to deliver, count as my miracle!

M(3), 10/24/16: The Freaks Come Out At…10 am on a Monday?

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My head is still spinning a bit from the animation and wide array of shares from this morning’s meeting.  I’m not sure if it’s because we’re approaching Halloween or what, but man were things interesting this morning!

And so I don’t forget, apologies for the missing post last week.  I missed the meeting as well, since I had another job interview!  Fingers crossed that this is the one that gets me back in the workforce!

Back to today:  we read from the book Forming True Partnerships, which is a compilation of articles describing how people in recovery navigate their various relationships.  Today’s reading focused on a relationship specific to 12-step programs, sponsorship.

I imagine most reading this blog have at least a nodding acquaintance of the concept of sponsorship.  At the most basic level, a sponsor takes his or her sponsee through the 12 steps of recovery.  From that foundation, the relationship can move in as many directions as there are people in the roles of sponsor and sponsee.  The expectations from both sides of the sponsorship coin vary widely.  Like most pieces of the 12-step puzzle, how you sponsor and how you are sponsored is entirely up to individual interpretation.

The story we read this morning detailed a woman’s account of being “dumped” by her sponsee.  The author sponsored this woman, successfully in her opinion, for about a year, during which time she took the newly sober woman through the 12 steps of recovery, spent many hours on the phone with her, went to meetings together, and introduced her to a new network of sober people.  Not long after a year into the relationship, the sponsee slowed down her phone calls, started ignoring texts, and finally sent the author an email that stated she did not feel she needed her anymore.

After concocting several snarky email responses in her head, the author did what she considered the next right thing to do, which was contact her sponsor for advice.  Her sponsor had a similar tale of woe, and advised her to respond in honesty.  The author replied to the email and let her know she was hurt by the decision to “fire” her over email, and left it at that.

From there the author describes several great things that came out of the situation.  First, she was able to identify and sit with the feelings of sadness and hurt… a novelty for her.  She recognized that she had placed quite a bit of value in the relationship, and it distressed her to realize that the reverse wasn’t quite the same.

The hurt and sadness caused the author to look at the relationships central in her life, and discover ways to deepen them.  She reached out more to her family and friends, and especially to other women in recovery.  She found that being a better friend was the best remedy for the hurt she was feeling.

That was the synopsis of the story, and the crowd (which in this case was about 18 meeting attendees) went wild with their interpretations of the story.  Several in the crowd were almost offended by this woman’s sensibilities.  For them, the relationship of sponsor/sponsee is a sacred one, and there are no room for hurt feelings within it.  If the sponsee needed to move on, either to another sponsor, to try the fellowship without a sponsor, or even to go out and drink again, then that is their decision, and a sponsor’s hurt feelings should not come into play.  No email back talking about hurt feelings should have happened.

A few thought expressing her feelings was the right thing to do, as it allowed the author to be true to herself, rather than cultivate a resentment which could lead to a relapse.

Others took a middle-of-the-road stance, and agreed that hurt feelings shouldn’t come into play; then again, sponsors and sponsees alike are human beings, and feelings come with the package.

Most who shared loved that she reached out to others in the program, rather than using hurt feelings as an excuse for isolating.  One or two who shared related it to the expression “when God closes a door, he opens a window.”  The author had to feel the pain of sponsee rejection to realize that her life would be fuller reaching out more to others, both in the program and outside of it.

The title of the post implies that there were a few shares that were difficult to put in the framework of this post.  I’ll just chalk it up to the season of spookiness and leave it at that.  I’m always grateful that people feel free to share and express themselves authentically!

It’s funny, the part everyone was debating in the story was the part I glossed over as I was reading.  I’ve had several people fade out of my 12-step life, as I imagine people would say I’ve faded out of theirs.  I believe I have a somewhat open-minded thought process about the relationships within the fellowship.

Two things did strike me as I read this woman’s account of her life in recovery.  First, she explained at the start of the story that she considered herself a “fringe” member of AA.  Meaning that she worked the 12 steps, attended meetings, and had congenial relationships, but she also had a very full life outside of AA.  When she was asked to be a sponsor, she was frankly surprised, as she thought that generally happened for the “in” crowd.

While I’ve never considered there to be “in” or “out” crowds within the fellowship, I was grateful to read of a woman staying sober and having a rich life outside of the program.  Sometimes it’s daunting to hear of people who, years into sobriety, continue to go to meetings every day, sponsor dozens of people, plan vacations and retreats with other folks in recovery, and do so with ease.  It would appear as if their entire lives revolve around recovery.

So it’s a relief to read there are people out there like me, finding a balance between recovery life and non-recovery life that works.

The second part that stood out is the wisdom she gained, and the actions she took as a result of the hurt and sadness.  Like the author, I am relatively new to feeling my feelings, and if I’m being really honest I’m not sure I’ve gotten to the point where I can learn the necessary lessons.  I’ve had recent experiences involving similar hurt and sadness, and so far the most I can say is that I’m learning how to sit with the feelings, rather than berate myself for feeling them.  Reading how she turned around those feelings into something good was inspirational.

Finally, something that my very wise regular attendee said struck home for me, albeit in a slightly off-topic way.  He said what he is reading in the story is the grief process… the author is grieving a relationship that meant a lot to her.  He said at the root of all grief is love, for you would not grieve something if you did not love it in some way.  And for those of us who used to drink our feelings a way, isn’t feeling grief really a blessing, because we are acknowledging our love for another?

This brought me back immediately to a funeral I attended this weekend.  And yes, 2016 remains the Year of Funerals for me.  Too many to count at this point.  This woman was very important to me in early sobriety, and she died with 40 years of recovery under her belt.  I started crying before the funeral started, and I don’t think I stopped the entire Mass.  At one point I looked around and, I kid you not, I am the only person crying in the place!  This woman was older, and her health had been failing, so I assume her friends and family were relieved she was no longer suffering.  So then, true to form, I berated myself: “For goodness sake, you are least important person in the room, quit crying!”

When my friend shared today, I felt better about my tears, for I truly loved this woman, and will remain forever grateful for the lessons she taught me.  I will cry all I want from now on!

Today’s Miracle:

As I glance up at the length of this post, I wonder if the miracle is that I’m about to stop typing 😉

M(3), 9/19/16: Willingness is the Key

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Today’s meeting, and its subject matter, was so spot on for me that it gives me the chills just thinking about it.  Then again, I feel that way pretty much any time we talk about…

Step Three

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him

I’ve said it before, and no doubt I’ll say it again:  step three is my favorite of the 12 steps of recovery.  It has universal application, and applies to every single human on the planet.  Maybe animals too.

We had an interesting turnout today.  For the first time in years, maybe ever, there were more strangers in my meeting than there were regulars.  This increase in diversity resulted in a wider array of wisdom and shares, which can only be a good thing.

One of the regulars, a man who I quote virtually every week in this blog, started our meeting off right with the announcement that he is 30 years sober as of this past weekend.  This announcement elevated the collective mood of the room big time.  He talked about a particular section of the reading:

…He might first take a look at the results normal people are getting from self-sufficiency.  Everywhere he sees people filled with anger and fear, society breaking up into warring fragments.  Each fragment says to the others, “We are right and you are wrong.”  Every such pressure group, if it is strong enough, self-righteously imposes its will upon the rest.  And everywhere the same thing is being done on an individual basis.  The sum of all this mighty effort is less peace and less brotherhood than before.  The philosophy of self-sufficiency is not paying off.  Plainly enough, it is a bone-crushing juggernaut whose final achievement is ruin.  -pg. 37, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

He said the first time he went to a Step Three meeting, an argument broke out over what the word “juggernaut” means.  Each of the multiple people involved insisted they knew the correct definition.  Finally, someone suggested pulling out a dictionary; someone did, and the definition was/is:

Juggernaut:  a literal or metaphorical force regarded as mercilessly destructive and unstoppable.

Once the irony settled in that they were acting like juggernauts while arguing about its meaning, everyone laughed and moved on to more productive conversations.

Humorous anecdote aside, my longtime sober friend went on to talk about what an apt description the word juggernaut is when describing self-will.  How often do we, in the zest to prove ourselves right and another wrong, get so deep into a debate that we lose sight of the original issue?

Or the times when we pursue a goal, something we justify as a “single-minded passion,” to the exclusion of everything else of value in our lives?

Or when we want something so badly we rationalize every questionable decision and action so that it fits our current needs and wants?

The list is endless, as is the specific list of ways we alcoholics misused our self-will:

  • “I’m an adult, and nobody is going to tell me what I can or can’t drink!”
  • “How dare they tell me I drink too much, when they fill in the blank.”
  • “I need this drink now, since life is so stressful.  Once life gets calmer, I will think about cutting back.”
  • “How can I not drink when it is such a part of my life?  Everyone I know drinks!”
  • Ad infinitum…

If we accept that relentless self-will is counterproductive, and we are intrigued by the idea of turning said will over the care of the God of our understanding, the next question becomes how exactly do we pull off such a feat?

Many people shared in the meeting this morning regarding the ways in which they went about this process; the underlying theme throughout was willingness.  The key to turning things over is simply to be willing to do so.  The minute we start arguing about the different reasons why our way in the right way, we have closed the door to willingness.

This is exactly why I love Step Three so much; it is a lesson that I need to learn over and over again.  I suspect for the rest of my life I will be remembering that I need to display some willingness.

I have an ongoing situation that has created some intermittent periods of anxiety in my life.  I have a strong suspicion that if I could go back and create a timeline of when I was feeling the most stress regarding this issue, and chart my feelings and subsequent actions during those period of angst, I would find that I decided to take back my self-will and force the solution of my choosing.  Therefore, just reading this selection brought instant relief:

The more we become willing to depend on a Higher Power, the more independent we actually are.  -pg. 36, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

When I am taking back my self-will, my logic screams out, “So what does that mean, you sit around and wait for God to hand things to you?”

And of course that’s not the answer.  The answer lies in yet another tool of recovery I love but conveniently “misplace” in times of stress:

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Today’s Miracle:

Rain, rain, don’t go away!  We just got rain in our area for the first time in forever, and never have I been happier to deal with gray skies! 

 

M(3), 5/9/16: Figuring out HOW to Live and Let Live

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Spoiler alert:  so much good stuff at today’s meeting that my mind is still reeling.  This might ramble a bit.

Today’s reading came from the book Living Sober, which I’ve described a hundred times so won’t bore you again, except to say it is an easy-to-read book with practical advice on how to get and stay sober.

Typically before the meeting I take time to prep a little bit, read through a book and thoughtfully select the reading.  However, a case of the In-My-Headedness had my mind occupied, and I wound up spending time emailing with a friend to help me figure things out (which she did, and I am grateful, friend who reads this blog!)

And yes, In-My-Headedness is a real condition.  Or if it isn’t, it should be.

All that said, I had to select a chapter in a hurry, so I picked Chapter 5, “Live and Let Live.”  It vaguely applied to my crisis du jour, and every chapter in this book is a good one, so why the heck not?

It’s crazy how things work out.  The chapter selection brought back to surface a very brief, and relatively minor brush with alcohol I experienced recently.  Since I assume the memory was brought into consciousness for a reason, I shared the experience, not so much for myself, but for anyone else that it might help.

And for the rest of the meeting we talked about brushes with alcohol, and how it affects us.  My conclusion is that where you are on your recovery timeline is the most critical component of how intensely if affects you.  As I mentioned, mine was brief, and it did not affect me in a lasting way.

And I will pause here to comment how incredibly grateful I am to make the last statement.

A friend of mine with similar sobriety time to mine shared two stories of brushes with alcohol.  The first was brief, and her choice to accept or decline was taken away by a well-intentioned friend announcing (loudly) that neither of them wanted alcohol because they are sober.  So the issue there was less with alcohol, more with mixed feelings of someone choosing to take her anonymity away from her.

But her second incident was one that affected her more intensely.  Here’s the scene:  out to dinner at a chain restaurant with booth seating, she is trapped next to an enthusiastic beer drinker.  Not wanting to call attention to her vexation, she endured the affair, but grew increasingly uncomfortable as the smell of beer became more and more pungent.  By the end of the night, she felt like a wreck, and escaped as quickly as she felt socially correct to do so.

She considers it a valuable learning lesson, and an event she will never repeat.  She will either opt out of such occasions, or she will see to it that she puts a healthy distance between her and the more-than-casual drinkers in the group.  Her sobriety is too important for her to take chances like this one.

A few others spoke of more and less harrowing experiences that involved exposure to, offers of, or temptations with alcohol.

Then my friend in early sobriety raised his hand.  I have referenced him the past few blog posts, feel free to refer back for more information.  My guess is that he has almost a month of sobriety at this point.

He shared a very recent and poignant story of being offered a beer on Mother’s Day, which happened to be yesterday.  He is at a point in sobriety where he not only craves alcohol intensely, he believes strongly that it would be a temporary salve to some of the more troubling physical consequences of his excessive past drinking.

On top of all this, he was feeling emotionally low; it was Mother’s Day and he has no mother.  He did not go into further detail than that.

He shared that he said no to the offer of a beer, and had to walk outside to try to get a hold of his emotions.  He was angry, and he is fearful:  sure he refused this time, but what about the next time?  He doubts his ability to stay strong as he did yesterday.

As is always the case, a newcomer’s share is always powerful stuff.

My experience, my story of addiction, my life, is as different as night is from day to this gentleman.  Yet he shared this story, and I am transported back…

…Back to days of trying and failing at recovery, when even if I did manage to abstain, there was a very conscious voice in my head shouting, “Why bother?  You know it’s just a matter of time before you pick up, might as well do it now!”

…Back to days in earlier recovery, when less intimate friends would be asking in astonishment why I was drinking soda, and convincing me that it was okay to drink.  And my feeling of intense discomfort and painful self-awareness.

…Back to days when, comfortable with saying no to a point, then spending enough time around alcohol to where I started considering things like… Wow, am I really never going to have a sip of beer/wine/gin and tonic ever again?

…To current time, when someone offering me a cocktail is no more than a blip on the screen.  Talk about gratitude.

There were some powerful other issues discussed, more in line with the topic of the chapter.  Several of the group, and I will count myself among them, have a hard time figuring out the boundaries of the “let live” part of live and let live.  At a bare minimum, it is certainly easier said than done!

All agreed that when we make even the most minimal effort at staying in the moment of living our own lives, and letting go of that which distresses us, we are living our most peaceful and fulfilling lives.  The expression live and let live is timeless for a reason!

Today’s Miracle:

A day late, but hopefully not a dollar short, sending out love to all those who mother or who are mothered.  Hope you had a wonderful day!

Friday Afternoon Ramble

Think of this post like you would a long, chatty, catch-up phone call; if you don’t have time for it, don’t pick up the phone!

It’s been awhile since I’ve written without a purpose, but since I missed my weekly “post with a purpose,” now’s as good a time as any.  Since the reason I missed Monday is the reason I am writing today (also, to procrastinate on some new baking challenges I’ve set for myself for an upcoming busy weekend), let’s start with where I was on Monday, which was North Carolina, for a girl’s weekend.

Girl’s weekend started probably about 10 years ago in my family.  Half of the “girls” live in the Philadelphia area; half live in Maryland, one lives in North Carolina.  The one in North Carolina is the only one who happens to have a vacation home where we can comfortably gather without the “boys,” so North Carolina it is.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out my personal timeline as it relates to Girl’s Weekend:  did I go to the inaugural one?  How many, exactly, did I attend?  What was the year of the last one I attended?  I have it narrowed down, but can’t get confident with the specifics; then again, nobody else is wondering, so I suppose the pressure’s off.

What I remember most about Girl’s Weekend is the last one I attended before this one.  That year we chose to fly in and out of the larger NC airport, which happens to be about 2 hours from my cousin’s vacation home.  When it was time to leave, we were loading our luggage and ourselves into the two behemoth cars my cousin had wrangled for us to use that weekend, and a perplexingly big deal was being made out of who was going into what car.  I was told which car to go in, and was satisfied to stay out of the debate, so I slid into the front seat of the assigned car.

As it happens, the confusion and debate centered around who wanted to be in the Intervention Car, and who didn’t.  To this day, I’m not sure if the argument was over the number of people who wanted in on the intervention, or how many wanted out.  I have my theories of course, but I’ll leave it as one of life’s mysteries.

In case it is not patently obvious, I was the star of the Intervention Car.  To be honest, I could not give you one detail about what was spoken.  Which is a shame, because this many years later, I am genuinely curious.  All I remember is that frozen feeling you get when you are blindsided.  Two hours, trapped, in a car… nowhere to run.  And then another hour plane ride home, and then another hour ride from the airport to my car.  I’m uncomfortable thinking about it now.

Needless to say, I was not rushing back to Girl’s Weekend anytime soon.  By my best guess, that weekend happened 7 years ago.  And by the way, my sobriety date is not quite 4 years ago, so I’m thinking intervention-by-car-ride is not the most effective means of expressing your concern.  At least, it wasn’t for this alcoholic.

So years of resentment go by, then I hit my alcoholic bottom, then another couple of years getting comfortable with sobriety.  And here it is, 2015, and I think I’m ready to give this a go again.  No talk of the Intervention Car, I have no wish to revisit that situation, and so I couldn’t tell you who else even remembers it.  Everyone seemed excited that I was joining them, and I left it at that.

As is always the case of firsts in sobriety, I had some… I’m not sure I would say nerves, exactly, maybe disquiet?  Apprehension?  Whichever word, some thoughts about whether or not the drinking and party atmosphere would negatively impact my sobriety.  This house sits on a completely residential, gated island, so I’m not easily planning my escape.  Then again, it’s a large house, with lots of bedrooms, and everyone knows that I’m sober, so I conclude that I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.

Believe it or not, alcohol was not my biggest concern.  My goal, coming into the weekend, was to lay down a new track in terms of my personal memories of Girl’s Weekend.  Any time I thought of this event, or it came up in conversation at family parties, I would feel a punch in the gut (metaphorical punch, my family is not one for physical violence), because the memory of those last hours haunted me.  I wanted to prove to myself, and maybe to them, that I am a different person now.

Plus, and maybe this could go without saying, I genuinely love my family, and crazily enough like them a whole heck of a lot too.  We have fun together, and my self-imposed isolation was starting to bug me.

So off I went to North Carolina, for 5 days.  And yes, we believe in long weekends in my family.

How did it go?  It went, by any standard of measurement, well.  I would say it exceeded pretty much all of my expectations, and I suppose it did that because I went in with absolutely no expectations.  I was determined to go with the flow, and I think having the plan to have no plan was a good one when you are dealing with 11 women cohabitating in one house for 5 days.

We laughed, and ate, and talked, and laughed and ate some more.  We did not sleep much, it seemed there was too much to say to one another to waste time sleeping.  We repeated this routine in the kitchen, in the dining room, in the living room, on the beach, in a small nearby town, and on a boat.  Some drank alcohol in addition to eating, talking and laughing, but a few of us didn’t, and most of those who did stopped appropriately.

A fact which never ceases to amaze me.

There was no drama whatsoever, no hurt feelings, no verbal altercations of any kind.  At no point in time did my feathers get ruffled.

If I ever doubt that I have significantly changed in sobriety, I need to look no further than the sentence above as proof that I have.

The best example I can give:  I was speaking to my two aunts, and the sillier one said, “You’ve got to stop being so negative!”  I rewound the conversation and saw nothing negative.  Rather than arguing the point (or, worse still, getting offended), I said, “Aunt Barbara, thanks so much for that learning opportunity!”  I then spent the rest of the time helpfully turning the negatives into positives.

Example:  I was the designated driver.  Go figure!  But the DD status also translated to morning runs to the grocery store.  One morning I had to go out for a bunch of groceries, then run up and down the stairs with the groceries, while everyone else went to the beach.  I texted to make sure they had a chair for me; they did not, but they did want me to bring them snacks.  When I got to the beach I thanked everyone for providing me the opportunity for service, as well as the opportunity for physical activity.

Here’s the interesting part:  I started out this turning-the-negative-into-a-positive with a decidedly sarcastic slant, but by the end of the 5 days I was doing it automatically, and sincerely.  And it actually felt good!

I need to get that attitude back when dealing with my teenaged children, that’s for sure.  Perhaps this weekend, when there are 8,000 things going on at once, and a son who is 48 hours away from being an official teenager.  I vow to reinstate the Girl’s Weekend Attitude of Positivity as we slide into the weekend, and I’ll let you know how it goes!

Today’s Miracle:

In the time I’ve spent writing and editing this post, I’ve completed both baking challenges, one a complete success, one an excellent learning opportunity (I now know self-rising flour and all-purpose flour are not interchangeable).  And how’s that for a positive spin?

M(3), 10/5/15: Has It Been 3 Years Already?

It seems almost absurd to say this, but today we celebrated the 3 year anniversary of my Monday morning meeting.  I know it’s trite but… where the heck did the time go?

Plus over the weekend my husband and I celebrated 16 years of wedded bliss, so it’s been a commemorative few days!

Due to the celebratory nature of the meeting, and possibly because there were copious baked goods, the mood was festive this morning, with a nice sized crowd to boot.

Because it is the first Monday of the month, and because we are commemorating the birth of this meeting, and because I personally can’t read it often enough, I selected the story Acceptance is the Answer from the Personal Stories section of book Alcoholics Anonymous.  If you’ve ever read this blog before, then you know this is my favorite story in the Big Book; I’d read it every Monday if I could get away with it.  Which I wouldn’t, because the meeting regulars would vote me out if I did.  It was the very first reading I selected 3 years ago, and I get something new out of it each time I read it.

For those unfamiliar with the story, here is the seminal paragraph.  Most 12-step regulars will know the page on which to find it:


And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.
When I am disturbed,
It is because I find some person, place, thing, situation —
Some fact of my life — unacceptable to me,
And I can find no serenity until I accept
That person, place, thing, or situation
As being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.
Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.
Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober;
Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms,
I cannot be happy.
I need to concentrate not so much
On what needs to be changed in the world
As on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.


What’s so great about this story, and the reason I go back to this particular well time and time again, is that the message is universal.  On any given day, there are no less than a dozen things I am struggling to accept:  how my children are behaving, the weather, why some electronic device is not working correctly, traffic, how my clothes fit, someone who calls too much, someone who doesn’t call enough, the state of the world, the state of my house.

All the tremendous energy it takes me to worry, complain, be irritated, plan out the various scenarios by which I make the world as I see fit… where does it get me?  Almost without fail, it gets me to the same spot I was in before I started.  That is to say, I am left with the same children misbehaving, poor weather, faulty electronics, and so on.

And so, acceptance is the answer.

Anniversaries provide the opportunity to reflect back through the time they are commemorating.  I can say, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the happiest time periods in the last three years were those spent consciously practicing acceptance on a regular basis.  Conversely, the periods filled with the most strife were the opposite:  I was railing against something or someone who I believed had done me dirty.

The lack of acceptance which has proved the most challenging for me personally has been self-acceptance.  Again, I can look back on times when practicing self-acceptance has brought about miracles in my life, sobriety being the most obvious. The simple acceptance that chemical alteration does more harm than good allowed me to live in the solution, rather than living in the problem of active addiction.

This blog in an ongoing testament to the power of living in the solution.

Yet even with this knowledge, wisdom that has been almost beaten into my head, I am still erratic with both acceptance in general, and self-acceptance in particular.  Why is it so?  I’m sure there’s a variety of answers, both psychological and practical, that would account for lack of consistency.  I guess I just need to practice acceptance that it takes me so long to practice acceptance!

Today’s Miracle:

As is the case every time I select this reading, a woman sat in amazement today, because this story was so timely for her.  This story is the gift that keeps on giving!

M(3), 7/13/15: Laissez-Faire, Recovery Style

Ten attendees at today’s meeting, robust by summer standards, several of whom had been away for some time.  In other words, a reunion of sorts for me.  We read from a chapter from the book Living Sober, entitled “Live and Let Live.”

Certainly, those in recovery have no trademark on the expression live and let live; the proverb precedes 12-step recovery by many years.  However, it contains a powerful message for those of us choosing sobriety.  How many of us drank “at” a problem, a resentment, an irritating person?  How many, when in the midst of a challenging social situation, turn to thoughts of a drink to soften its edges?

Naturally, then, when issues arise in sobriety, it is essential to develop a new set of skills.  Because, since we are flawed humans living amongst other flawed humans, situations will continue to arise that rub us the wrong way.

The part of the chapter that stood out for me personally, and I so noted to the group, was:

We have learned it pays to make a very special effort to try to understand other people, especially anyone who rubs us the wrong way. For our recovery, it is more important to understand than to be understood.

Living Sober, pg. 12

Ouch!  That last sentence hurt, since I can rewind not very far back and find a multitude of examples of doing the exact opposite.

From my share a good friend was freshly back from an extended family overseas vacation, and she shared of her struggles during that time:  a family that relies heavily upon alcohol, especially when in vacation mode, far from the comfort of home and sober support, and very little chance of escaping all the alcoholic conviviality of the group.  She worried that, at close to 2 years sober, the chaotic feelings she experienced, and to some extent is still experiencing, even while home, are not normal.  She worries that she will feel this way for the rest of her life.

Thankfully, the group has several with decades of sobriety, and all were quick to assure her that it is normal to experience feeling of discomfort when surrounded by excessive alcohol.  You’re not “doing something wrong” in sobriety if you look longingly at a glass of your old favorite varietal wine.

Chances are, if you are attending a 12-step meeting, you have acknowledged a problem with alcohol on some level.  People who have experienced problems with alcohol will, from time to time, wish to imbibe alcohol.  It would be illogical to think otherwise!  The difference is, in sobriety, we learn to think through the longing, and play the tape through to its inevitable end, which is not that one glass of wine.

Even in the short time span of the meeting, my friend reported feeling much better about the situation, and about her confidence in her sobriety.  Sometimes all it takes is getting it out of your head to feel better.

A few others reported being “live and let live” people naturally, so applying that philosophy to sobriety came a bit easier to them than to those of us who struggle with the concept.  Needless to say, present company is included in the half that struggle!

One attendee finds that even with over 7 years of sobriety, her natural inclination is the complete opposite of live and let live; her hackles are raised the instant somebody interferes with her sense of right and wrong.  Her response to feelings of irritation and discontent is prayer.  She finds that by taking all issues to her Higher Power, both crises and smaller irritations, she is better able to live and let live.

Another gentleman, the type who enjoys the “live and let live” philosophy naturally, finds that it is a skill.  Like most skills, it gets easier and stronger with practice.  He finds that even when his feathers are ruffled these days, the feelings of discontent are benign and short-lived.

Finally, a variety of people talked sober vacation strategy:  limiting your time spent around alcohol, creating sober activities for yourself to counteract prior traditional ones, packing inspirational literature, researching 12-step meetings in your vacation town.

All tried and true advice given by the very wise group of Monday meeting attendees.  I would love to hear others that we missed.  What are your go-to strategies for staying sober away from home?

Today’s Miracle:

As always, getting more than I think I need from this group is a blessing I hope I never take for granted.

Time for a Story about Alcohol (It’s Been Awhile)

First, my apologies.  I promised in my last post that I would write a follow-up and include all the wisdom I failed to include from last Monday’s meeting.  There was so much great stuff!  But, and anyone with kids will understand, it is the first week of summer vacation, and to say chaos reigned supreme in my household would be an understatement.  I’m feeling under the gun right now, waiting for someone to call needing a ride!

So, instead of resuming the recap, I am going to share a story that was a prologue to last week’s adventure.  Rather than link back to my last post, here’s the set-up:  last weekend we travelled to a beach town for the weekend so that our daughter could participate in a basketball tournament.  We had been looking forward to it, because usually tournaments are not in fun places like resort-y beach towns.  The coach of the team made the lodging arrangements, so there was a bit of excitement at the mystery of it all.  Unfamiliar beach town, lack of knowledge regarding accommodations, it was a true adventure!

The night before we were to leave for the weekend my daughter had a basketball game in town.  Most of the parents were there.  One particularly organized mom, the mom I actually know the best, started speaking to me about logistical details:  who is bringing what snacks, how to select a restaurant for a team dinner, and so on.  Through the course of this conversation, she mentioned the fun it will be to drink several times.  None of these references bothered me, truly I couldn’t even be very specific about what she said.  As the conversation progressed, however, the references became more pointed, “it will be awesome when we get sit by the pool and drink,” “Us moms are going to have a blast drinking.” My recovery sensors started humming, though nowhere near high alert.  At this point there have been 3-4 different references to drinking to which I simply did not respond.

In retrospect, I wonder if my lack of response may have prompted the continued talk, or maybe I’m unnecessarily Monday morning quarterbacking.  In any event, she continues on the path of how much fun carousing will be, and indicated her daughter felt that Organized Mom would be the embarrassment of the group, I suppose because of her drinking antics in the past?  I have no clue, since I could count on one hand the number of times where we have been in a situation with alcohol together (and I would have fingers to spare).  I laughed politely, because, I’m not even sure what else would be an appropriate response to this silly conversation.  Then Organized Mom says, as she continued to recount her conversation with her daughter:

“So I told her, ‘Oh, you don’t know Josie, she’ll be right there with me!”

Does is go without saying that I am Josie?

I’m going to plow right ahead with the story so there’s no cliffhanger:  I say and do nothing in the moment.  I regretted it for a solid 24 hours, but it’s the choice I made.  My brain was, quite simply, frozen.  It seemed incapable of forming logical thoughts.  There are a few reasons why this is so:

  1. Environment:  we sitting on the bleachers of a basketball court, ostensibly there to watch our daughters play basketball, surrounded by parents and younger siblings.  It was surreal to me to be trying to figure out how to decline a drink.
  2. Out-of-shape mental muscles:  it has been a really, really long time since I’ve had to think about declining a drink.  As in, I can’t remember a situation where someone offered and I felt uncomfortable.
  3. Complete and utter bewilderment:  even as I type this I have no clue why this woman would think such a thing, or say it to her daughter.

It was number 3 that ultimately kept me from responding in the moment about my choice not to drink.  At the time, I assumed that we had somehow intersected during my active addiction, and I’m just not remembering.  Her daughter and mine have been in the same circle for the past 11 years, so who’s to say what I’m forgetting, especially in terms of the active addiction years?  In addition, my husband coached this team for many years, and in the early days, we did include alcohol during the season wrap-up party.  I was terrified to start a conversation about my not drinking and then have to respond to a “But what about that time…”

So I laughed again, and then I got away from her as soon as I politely could.

As I mentioned, I regretted this decision the moment I resumed my seat next to my husband on the bleachers.  Because now, not only did I have all sorts of awkward Mom/drinking events to anticipate, I have now tacitly agreed to participate!

When I shared this story with my husband, he was surprised by the decision I made to stay silent.  “What’s the big deal,” he says, “I tell people all the time, ‘No, I actually don’t drink’.”

This conversation did nothing to set my mind at ease.

I talked it over with some friends, received some great advice, weighed the pro’s and con’s of telling a half-truth (i.e. I don’t feel like drinking tonight, or that some medication prevents me from drinking).  At the end of it all I concluded that I will correct this feeling that I did wrong somehow by telling the simple truth when it comes up:

No, thanks, I don’t drink alcohol.

The first night we are there, we are on the boardwalk pretty late, and I’m thinking that I’m actually going to get away with not having this conversation at all.  Then one of the moms says, “I vote we leave the dads on the boardwalk with the kids so the moms can go back and drink!”  My husband and I look at each other, and his eyes convey what he is thinking:  say the words and I will go back with you.  And while I remain forever grateful for the support, I realized this issue dragged out way longer than it needed to already.  Time to put on the big girl panties and deal.

We head back, and drink mixing begins.

Organized Mom, immediately: “Josie, what can we make you?”

I say, “I’m going to run back to my room to grab a soda, because I actually don’t drink.”

Organized Mom (stops mixing and stares at me):  “Like, ever?”

Josie (in what I’m hoping is an even tone):  “Correct.”

Organized Mom:  (continues to stare as if she is processing a complex thought):   “But for how long?”

Josie:  “Umm, for a few years now.”

Organized Mom:  “Wow… just… wow.  I can’t even imagine!”

I leave to get my soda, but realize I did not pack plastic cups.  I walk back into their room to borrow one, and now they’re all looking at me like I’m an exotic creature.  I grab my cup, go back to my room and fill it with soda, and sit down with them.

All agree they can’t imagine not drinking.  All justify how much, how often, and the rules they have in place for their own alcoholic consumption.

I nod politely at each of these stories, in much the same way I nodded on the bleachers the night before.  After the subject seemed to exhaust itself, we moved on to other subjects.

And that was that.

I’d like to think that I’ve learned some lessons here.  And the primary one is that Benjamin Franklin had it right (or Thomas Jefferson, whoever said it first):

Today’s Miracle:

Today my daughter started her first day of work, ever.  I was as nervous as if I was working for the first time!

M(3), 6/22/15: Bungee Jumpers, Horses, and Recovery

This is what it was like inside my brain Saturday night!

So it’s officially summer, and the meeting attendance has dwindled.  Incredibly, though, we ran out of time today for discussion, even with only 8 people sharing.  I’m thinking that this post might be continued into another, because I am sure that I will be unable to tie into one post all the insights shared in today’s meeting.

There was so much, in fact, that we read only two chapters from the literature selection.  For the record, we read from As Bill Sees It, and the topic was acceptance.  I jokingly chose the topic because I walked in on the dot of the meeting start time, which is late for the chair of the meeting to arrive.  So I selected it lightheartedly, hoping the group would accept my tardiness, but it seemed to touch a nerve with all present.

The first topic of discussion centered around the feeling of anger, and how to satisfactorily handle angry feelings in sobriety.  I’ll give the example I threw out to the group:  this past weekend I travelled out of town with my daughter’s basketball team for a weekend-long tournament.  The weekend, overall a wonderful time in a beach town spent with delightful people and watching my daughter socialize and challenge herself athletically, had some issues common to travelling with a group.  Specifically, finding the balance between going along with the group decisions in terms of eating and recreation (much more on the latter in another post) and doing what we as a family wanted to do.

As an aside, I would often watch the other parents and wonder if they were struggling with all this togetherness as much as I was.  Is it possible to want to do things as a large group every minute of the day?  If so, I must be an introvert, because I was getting a little nuts in the head by Sunday.

The culmination of my angst played out over the last night (for my family, some of these other diehards were extending it into a mini-vacation where they could spend even more time in one another’s back pockets).  We were on the boardwalk of the beach town, which of course is a wonderful place for all of these teenage girls to be, but not so much for the parents.  We had all gone out for a team dinner beforehand, and due to alcohol consumption by some of the parents, my husband and I volunteered to split up and be designated drivers.   A job I was happy to do, in driving from the restaurant to the boardwalk.

Fast forward a few hours, and I was not nearly so happy, because now it’s 10:30 pm, we’ve been milling around this sensory overload of an environment aimlessly for hours, plus we had decided as a family to go to an adorable ice cream parlor near the motel.  But we can’t leave the boardwalk without taking people with us, because we are part of a caravan. I tried everything I could imagine to coax enough people to come home with me; not a single plot succeeded.  It was only at the point that I was sulking like a 4-year old, on the verge of a tantrum, when my husband looked at me with disbelief and says, “You’ve got to get a grip,” that I recognized I was truly about to have meltdown, the likes of which I have not had in sobriety.

To my credit, I will say that I simply got quiet (ish) after his remark, breathed for a few moments, and finally took back what little power I thought I had by walking to the car and waiting for the group to be done milling around aimlessly.

Overall, though, I was displeased with my emotional reaction to the situation:  shouldn’t I be better than this?  With a few years of sobriety, shouldn’t I be better able to deal with these situations as they arise?

I will again rave about the power of finding the right 12-step meeting as a saving grace.  Although I told the story this morning more or less to confess a situation I wish I had handled better, I wound up receiving more than I could ever write down in  blessings from my group.  Each person that shared after me told a story where they felt intense anger on the inside, which is why the title reads as it does!  The ultimate point each person had, though, in sharing their most recent experience with a similar situation was this:  our sobriety does not make us superhuman.  Resentments will pop us, as they do for every human being on the planet, but in sobriety we now have a choice:  we can handle it the way we have in the past, the kind of decisions that ultimately led us back to bitterness, anger, and ultimately, to drink, or we can choose a healthier option.

One attendee who related his recent story of inner turmoil spoke of the discomfort of knowing there is a choice:  we see the 2 paths clearly, and it’s almost painful turning away from the choices to which we’ve become so accustomed.  And when he said it, I pictured myself stiffly walking off the boardwalk that night, and discomfort was exactly what I was feeling!  I wanted so badly to lash out and argue with my husband why it was okay for me to be self-righteous, as I had a laundry list of reasons to be angry.

That same attendee spoke of giving ourselves the proper credit we deserve.  In his story, he griped and complained about his situation… in his mind only.  He rose above his resentments and did what he needed to be done.  So while he would have liked to have thought more gracious thoughts, the reality is he did what needed to be done.   I wish I could say I only complained in my head.  However, the only person with whom I vented was my husband, and even then I cut it off light years more quickly than I would have in the past.  Progress, not perfection.

And that was one story, one small set of exchanges!  There is more to tell, but I am on summer schedule, so I’m going to get back to this more later in the week.  To be continued…

Today’s Miracle:

Still marvelling at seeing Paul McCartney last night in concert… that’s man’s talent and energy is a miracle!

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