Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Brief Look at The Larger World

I've been caught up in personal matters for weeks now, and it seems like I barely glance at the news, much less pay any real attention to it. But a couple of noteworthy things have happened in the last few days:
1) The annual petition drive to get candidates on the ballot took place last weekend. The two local races that directly involve me, I was already aware of the candidates, and I already know I am going to be voting for the Democratic candidate. I wish there was a better way to get petitions than by going door-to-door, but it seems a rather entrenched custom.
I have to say I am extremely disappointed in my admittedly light efforts to get involved with the party and candidates this year. I have never heard back from the actual Democratic Party regarding my inquiry to start to get to involved with party functions. And once the candidate for county executive actually announced his campaign, the only contact I have gotten is fundraising appeals. To be fair to the latter, he has had several campaign events, but there have been work conflicts--but they still look like fundraising events, which I can't afford to attend. I'm still going to vote for him, but it's disappointing, to say the least. I actually wanted to help make a difference, and it turned out having only time and willingness isn't enough to interest campaigns. Not a good sign for the future.
2) The Republican primary for this congressional district was held yesterday. And the nuttiest of the three won! Claudia Tenney is a Sarah Palin wannabe, a real believer in all the nonsense that marks Tea Party political ideology. I don't know the Democratic candidate, Kim Myers, all that well. But I'm really hopeful that this seat can turn blue again in the fall. And if Tenney becomes my congresswoman--I will seriously consider moving when Sabrina graduates high school in a year. She's that bad.
3) America is slowly coming to the realization that Donald Trump has nothing but hot air and bullying tactics to offer. I really do not think he will win 270 electoral votes. As much as Hillary Clinton bothers me in some ways, I will likely hold my nose and vote for her--and try to ensure that the energized progressive wing of the party that Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have awakened drive her agenda. Trump is going to win his 40% of the vote, because 40% of the voters in this country are ignorant, foolish, or in the one percent that is his true constituency. But true to the form shown his entire life, he doesn't have the substance to hold this together for a campaign. There's no "there" there; he's just a gasbag.
4) The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Community. I take it this is bad news for global market types, good news for xenophobes and racists and assorted other misanthropes. At least that's how the media coverage is portraying the results. What's the real deal? I don't know. I have long since figured out that the mainstream media are corporate tools, so my gut feeling is that if the media is taking a dim view, it's a good thing. But the biggest thing I am taking out of the Brexit is that it has exposed electoral politics as being unrepresentative of the electorate. The two major parties there are basically two wings of the wealthy corporate establishment, just like here, and clearly neither party expected this result. Both leaders are likely to be ousted, but there is no one--no one--in Britain that speaks for the majority of voters on this or several other issues.
In a perverse way, I'm glad that we're not the only country this is true for. But not really. Seventy years after the war to defeat totalitarianism, twenty-five years after Communism was laid to rest--we, the ordinary citizenry, are as powerless and oppressed as any citizen of the Roman Empire was. And there are precious few places left on earth where governments are responsible to the will of the people. Democracy has become a cruel joke, and an expensive facade that I have few doubts will be dispensed with as unnecessary within twenty years in most of the world's "democratic" nations.
As an aside, the inclusion and participation of women in politics was long held to be a moderating factor, something that would lead to a more progressive, humane, liberal emphasis. In the four bullet points above, there are women deeply involved in all of them. Debbie Preston is a fucking disaster, Claudia Tenney is a potential catastrophe, Hillary Clinton is a mockery of her own party's values, and the woman rumored to replace Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader (the nominal opposition party in the UK) is what would be termed in this country as a "blue dog," someone who has been thoroughly co-opted by the establishment. Gender isn't a powerful indicator of political direction anymore.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A Few Words About Control

The circles I hang around within have an inordinate fondness for acronyms--for example, "TIME means Things I Must Earn." While they have a purpose, I've heard most of them a thousand times by now, and I have become very, very suspicious of the motives of anyone of my generation of recovering people that feel compelled to drop them into their conversation or sharing in meetings. It comes across as fake, faux-intellectuallism being substituted for actual substance.
There are only a few exceptions to this general rule. One of them is CONTROL--Can't Offer No Trust, Reason, Or Love. And this is the essence of many people, in and out of recovery's, struggle with not only addiction, but life itself. I struggle with it at times, too, to be clear. I was told from the time I entered rehab that my primary deep "issue" was trying to control my environment, including the people in it, and I resisted the idea as vehemently as I did because it was dead-on correct. I am not the control freak that I once was, but letting go of control tendencies still, after a third of a lifetime in the rooms, is an internal battle I fight far too often--and sometimes lose.
But I know I have made progress over the years. And this is one of those issues that gets extended attention and is recognized as a problem in recovery. However, it is an issue that is even more prevalent in the world outside the fellowship--and far, far too often, it is not recognized as a problem, but instead justified as a "right" or as something to be celebrated as a virtue. It isn't; it destroys lives, destroys people, and destroys the fabric of society.
I work in an environment where youth are housed because parental control has gone awry. And I can think of a few kids off the top of my head whose parents think that the essence of parenting is not educating their children to make healthy choices for themselves as they mature, but to make those decisions for them, to punish the children into modifying behavior when they make choices other than the ones the parents would have them make, and to manipulate other people, the environment, and their children into doing what the parents want them to do. A group home setting is a rather obvious red flag that something has gone awry. But when you see college students in their early twenties that can't make a decision without dialing up Mommy on their cell phone, you are seeing the same phenomenon. When you see and hear parents incessantly reminding their children of the problems that ensued when they made a bad decision in the past, you are seeing the same phenomenon. When you see parents that turn their back on children that have made decisions that the parents don't agree with, you are seeing the same phenomenon.
And this tendency manifests itself in a hundred other more subtle ways, and not just in parental-child relations, either. All of us know a person--actually, most of us would say that they know many people that do this--that is consistently late. That is a form of control--I am making you wait for me, and subtly telling you that your time is less important than mine. But there are also a huge number of people out there that change plans by the hour, that refuse to be pinned down to a course of action to the point of pathology, that don't keep their promises when they are given, and don't follow through on actions that take longer than a few minutes to implement. Most of the world sees this issues as manifestions of time management problems, or as a relatively harmless characteristic of a "ditz," or as an honesty problem. And in a narrow sense they are. But in a broad sense, the behavior has its purpose for the person engaging in it.
They are establishing, exerting, and maintaining control over you. And multiplied by several dozen, they are fighting to control their entire environment.
Within limits, this is not always a malign thing. Like everything else in life, being able to intergrate and complement others in our world is a matter of balance. There are also exceptions to every tendency; for example, I am scrupulously on time and fanatical about keeping commitments, but sometimes shit happens and you are late or you have to cancel. But there are people that do this sort of thing all day every day, and when it's a pattern, it's not a coincidence. And it ends up being infuriating, sooner or later, to those they affect. It may not lead to blowups, but it does lead to accumulated resentment, lack of trust and faith, and alienation from other people.
And most of all, especially in kids and young people, it leads to emulation. And the cycle perpetuates, because people come to beleive that to avoid total personal subjugationt to the will of others, they, too, must engage in this sort of behavior. It has become endemic in this society. And the general trends on a macro scale are only reinforcing this--computers and technology have served, above all else, to faciliate the capactity for outside forces to exercise control over us, and a whole lot of people find small ways to resist this.
And in the circles I move in, a lot of these behaviors and issues surrounding control are part and parcel of trauma survivors. Perhaps the most revealing moment I've ever had in any of my personal relationships came when I was reading something about PTSD around the time Nightmeredith relapsed after a couple years clean. I struggled with dealing with so many aspects of her personality over the time we knew each other--the seemingly inexplicable turning-on-a-dime behavior changes, the shutting down emotionally seemingly overnight, her word meaning next to nothing, the consistent choosing to be around people that were not her peers in any way, the lakes of distrust beneath the surface, the callous disregard of her effect on others. I struggled not only because I paid a heavy emotional price, but also because so many of her choices seemed to defy logic, that there was no obvious benefit to what she was doing. But reading that article was like a ray of sunshine penetrating a cave, because there was finally some clarity... like many people, and especially women, in recovery, there is a substantial trauma history going back to childhood in her case, and the unpredictable, inexplicable, and illogical choices she made and continues to make are a way of controlling the environment and the people around here.
And that is something I continue to see on a regular basis. The need to not be powerless, to not be vicimized, to have some control over the direction of our lives, is universal, and those that are completely subjugated and broken are rare. And the longer I stay in recovery, the more I am convinced that the reason relapse rates are so high are not because of poor character or even really because of fully conscious choices. Twelve Step programs are based on turning our will over to a Higher Power, which in layman's terms ideally is learning to trust in our own judgment when we act based on spiritual principles. For someone that has lived their entire lives being affected and controlled by others--many of who pay lip service to following the most obvious Higher Power, God--and suffering nearly unimaginable pain because of it, it's a tough, even impossible, sell. They come to see exercising control, even in ways that are ultimately harmful to themselves, as not a choice, but a necessity. And it is very, very difficult for such a person to fundamentally change their views and their ways, even after substantial evidence accumulates that letting go of that control is beneficial.
And to bring it back to the acronym, it has been their experience that controlling people offer no real reasons for what they do, that controlling people are not to be trusted, and that love--true and/or unconditional-- simply does not exist. It is not always a terminal condition; some of us do change, and many of us are able to make at least some progress. But I am learning as I go along, too, and I have been in at least seven relationships since I got clean with women that are afflicted with some form of PTSD. And it's very difficult, and often painful, to be involved with a partner that suffers from it. I have learned, through my own pain, how to adjust, but there is also realistically only so much patience and understanding you can show, and only how much heart you can expose to being hurt. The hope is that the person you are with comes to believe that you are not like everyone else that has come before--but in at least three cases in my life it has meant that recognition has only come after I had thrown up my hands and backed off, unwilling to be hurt on a deep level any longer.
And I am starting to be deeply involved with yet another woman for whom PTSD is the primary fact of her life. And while I am not running, and I am showing a level of understanding of her psyche that literally no other person she has ever been close to has ever shown, it is hard work, and it is exhausting at times, and I am not sure, frankly, I want to invest all of what I have emotionally. Part of me feels like a fraud because I am holding back on some of what I truly feel--and paradoxically, exercising some control of my own. None of this is an exact science, and I have to say that the rewards of being with each and every one of the women I have been with that have PTSD have been great, worth (much of the time) the risk of eventual crushing disappointment and hurt.
But there comes a time when there is more scar tissue than muscle. And scar tissue is much harder to pentrate, does not soften easily, and serves as a tougher barrier to anything attempting to get inside. It's a tradeoff.
And the point of this little essay is that if you see a bit of yourself in any of the descriptions--try letting go of a bit of control. It ultimately ends up hurting others, and hurtiing yourself.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Being Who I Am

I used to say often, about a decade ago, that being in recovery was like walking through a place where the weather often was stormy. It was raining more or less all the time; the difference seemed to be whether or not I had a functional umbrella or not, and whether there was a place to hide out when the wind and rain really picked up. I've had a lot of reason to revisit that mental picture recently. There is definitely a storm underway, and my umbrella is a little less firm than I thought it would be. But nonetheless, I am making some progress, and I have a bit of hope that the wind and driving rain will die down soon.
And as I mentioned, the honeymoon period is over. I haven't bagged it, and I don't intend to, but I've seen where the no-go signs are posted, and I've discovered where my own boundaries lie, too. I know my place is secure, but I also see things that give me pause, and I have managed to put the brakes on my own tendencies to get overly involved or checked my "savior" complex. The time I am investing is worthwhile, but my eyes are open, too, and I see much that gives me pause, too. And I have also definitely noticed that "one of these things is not the others." I am stable and can process conflict and disagreement like an adult, but I have already seen that this is a rare thing in her life. I've been in the same emotional place she is, and it took a lot of painful growth to learn how to rein in expectations and keep my own emotions in a safety zone. I'm applying that knowledge now.
It does feel good to clearly matter to someone emotionally, and there's a substantial sense of relief that some of the other aspects that were characteristic of the past few relationships are not in play. I am not financially extended at all. I am maintaining boundaries that need to be maintained. My recovery commitments have lessened in the past couple of weeks, but that has been as much due to circumstances like doctor's and legal appointments and the beginning of softball season as to choices made, and I do intend to start keeping up on them again. I am also still adjusting to third shift, augmented by the need to fill in other shifts when necessary, and I have re-discovered, for better or worse, what it is like to function with three or four hours sleep in a three-day period. The bill eventually comes due, which is why I am getting out of bed at 8:30 in the morning on Monday. But yes, it is an adjustment that is still ongoing.
But part of the reward is emotional, too. I've been told, sometimes in a loving and caring manner and sometimes not, that I have conducted my personal affairs in a way that seems to reflect the idea that I can will someone to stay and live clean. I did not start hanging around the person I am hanging around, who has had trouble with recovery for years, with that intention, not this time. The connection was real, but one of the reasons I was so vigorous in spending time with her a few weeks ago was that I really thought she was going to take herself out of the picture quickly. But something unprecedented has, so far at least, taken place. She has the most clean time she has had in a long time, and while my presence in her life is not the only motivating factor in her decision to change her life, it's certainly one of them. Like so many occasions in my life, once I stopped trying to make a certain desired outcome happen, it turns out that that outcome came to pass. Is it going to be a permanent change? I can't say, and neither can anyone else. But what has happened in the last few weeks reaffirms the basic truth of what a phrase heard in every meeting--"Just for today, I will have faith in someone in NA who believes in me and wants to help me in my recovery." For better or worse, at this moment that "someone" is me, for her, and it is working, only because my motives are not to be that person, but simply because I am being who I normally am.
And that is what is different. That could change at any time, I'm aware. But the process of self-transformation that began during the two years I was deeply involved with Lauren is continuing. As so often is the case, the changes made did not have the immediate hoped-for outcome. But they were real, and they were beneficial to everyone involved (and one of the unexpected and pleasant surprises of the past few weeks has been a mending of relations with Lauren; once the expectations attached to romantic entanglement have vanished, we actually are getting along better than we ever have before). And the seeds planted eighteen months and a year and seven months and seven weeks ago have sprouted and are starting to flower. Will the fruit eventually come? I hope so. But I'm not fasting waiting, either. I'm not always totally comfortable with who I am, but I am comfortable enough to be manageably living my life under circumstances that I've never been able to before.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Book Review: THE DAMNED

The Damned is a pretty fair first effort from British author Tarn Richardson. The book presumes one small deviation from fact--that the Inquisition went on until the early 20th century--and constructs a rather chilling tale around it: that the Church dabbled in enough witchcraft and other dark arts to be able to turn people into werewolves. The book is set during World War I, and the wolves find their way into the Western Front, with some interesting consequences. The only bad part of the book is the inevitable serialization; it's become a huge problem when a first novel announces on the cover that it is the first of a trilogy.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Thanks For Your Concern

The sun is up and it has been a difficult night at my job, so much so that I am rethinking the wisdom of holding it. And I don't have it in me to write a huge post. I will say this much: sometimes people like to think they know what's going on, and they don't. I'm all right, and I know full well what and who I am involved with. But what they don't know are our motives, what we're getting, and how we feel. And ultimately, it is a story that is going to be decided by two people, and only two people; the commentary is not necessary or solicited. Especially from people that have contributed to past unhappiness and the creation of a reputation. Thank you, that is all for today.

Friday, June 24, 2016

A Tired Soul

I spend too much time on social media, I know. But one reason I'm on it as much as I am is that you occasionally see something profound. One of those occasions was last week, when someone put something up that said that some people can't ever get enough sleep because they have a tired soul. And that one hit home. I really do think that my soul, much more than my body, is tired.
I am weary sometimes beyond words of the daily struggles. Of trying to stay financially solvent. Of putting up with the foibles of others. With trying to figure out the relationships I find myself in. With exhibiting patience on the job. With a hundred other littler but still important things. And with putting up with the minor but endemic indignities that life brings every day.
And with that weariness comes physical weariness. I could sleep for a week, I feel sometimes, and I am always tired, always. And with that weariness comes a resigned air, a realization that my soul and heart have seen much and gone through much and that a complete rejuvenation is simply not going to happen. Does it detract from the quality of life? I am starting to think it does, because it affects my willingness to be patient, and that affects both relationships with others and the ability to enjoy anything but activities that bring instant gratification. In the past week, I haven't even felt like cooking, and I don't make anything that takes longer than 15 minutes to cook.
I am hoping that this is a phase. I am cognizant of my own tendencies to know that part of this feeling is the uncertainty that any new relationship brings; if I can convince myself that it's the same old thing with different clothes, then I will bag the effort and not do the work that is necessary to tend to it. It's not become a burden, but no successful relationship is achieved by waving a magic wand, and now that the infatuation stage has passed, I'm not sure I want to put in the effort it takes, especially with a high risk/high reward type like I am with.
I am also dealing with vocational and financial changes, and not looking forward to the effort those are going to take, too. I sometimes wonder if this collective weariness signals a real basic change, if the process that all of us eventually undergo to achieve some sort of accommodation with our mortality has now begun. I have never been relentlessly optimistic, but for the most part, I have enjoyed my life, and even the parts I haven't enjoyed, I have largely embraced the challenge. But that really is kind of absent now, and for the first time ever, I have really wondered extensively about all aspects of the end of existence. I'm not to the point where it is a preferred option, not even close.
But it no longer scares the crap out of me like it used to, either.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Taking a Blessing for Granted

I am writing this at my job, as I often do. I have been fortunate that this job, like the last job I had, is one when I work free of direct supervision almost all of the time, and as such, when my tasks I need to do for my job are completed, I have a lot of freedom to do what I wish to do, within reason, during the remainder of the shift. I have been part of the work force for most of my adult life, with no interruption of longer than eleven months.
And I've been seeing what a blessing that has truly been. My lady friend started a new job yesterday; the circumstances of her life have played out in such a way that it was the first time she has been working in six years. I know of at least four other people that have not been able to work for periods of years, too. One of the more subtle but telling damages done by active drug addiction is that the habit of working is lost, and there is no guarantee that it will return. And it is getting more difficult to re-enter the work force by the month, as the job pool continues to shrink in this area and the willingness of potential employers to take on people with checkered pasts and limited skills sets recedes markedly.
It wasn't easy, either, for her; at the end of a three-hour shift, she was very tired physically and beaten down emotionally because of the employer's rather high expectations and frankly brutal manner of expressing those expectations. I sometimes go through that kind of stuff--but not often, and I can't remember a first day at the job that upset me so much that I vomited after the shift was over. And it opened my eyes that the life I lead--and the life I tend to expect to lead--isn't something that is easily attainable or realistic for many others. I have never really been truly grateful for not only my abilities, but for the fact that I have had forums and opportunities to express them that many others, for a variety of reasons, have not.
I wouldn't say I take this job for granted, not after being out of work for five months. But I can say that there are times when I wish it was more than it is. There are a lot of people out there that really would love to make what I make, even if it is a third shift job. There are a lot of people out there that would love the chance to work with troubled kids, more than I do. There are a lot of jobs out there where computer access is not given, where the opportunity to eat is not there, where there are vacation benefits and health insurance and such available.
And the most upset I get at this job is when my shift runs a few minutes late (which I get paid for, by the way). I have never left here in tears, with stomach churning, with stinging rebukes in my ear and my basic intelligence questioned.  I actually have a resume, with past jobs and skills and an impressive education, unlike some others I know that are willing to work but can't get hired. And I have never, ever wondered whether I will ever be able to emotionally handle working regularly again. I do take too much for granted. And this is one area where I definitely do, and should learn to show a little more gratitude.