Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Dependent on the Automobile

I am, despite my occasional disgust and distress about aspects of it, thoroughly a product of American culture. And perhaps the most obvious manifestation of it is my complete and total dependence on driving an automobile as a part of my daily routine. I grew up in a suburb of a middling city in a relatively affluent household, and in the late 1970's, it was a given that you were going to get your license and a car before you left high school. In my case, my father's line of business gave us access to cars without any effort at all, and I had my own car from the time I was a high school junior. And except for the five-plus months I was in rehab and the halfway house when I was 35 ( a time that, incidentally, on more than one level, saved my license; until I was 40, I was usually carrying around 5-8 points on my license at any given time, and at the time I went into rehab, I had 11, the limit at the time for being able to keep my license without remedial action. And believe me, with the life I was leading at the time, it wasn't going to take long before the twelfth point came. By time I got home, six of the points had expired due to eighteen months having elapsed, points I needed again within weeks. I haven't gotten a ticket for anything in eight years now, but that's more a function of starting to drive four-cylinder cars than anything else; it's harder to speed when your car isn't really capable of going fast), I have always had a car, and used it on a daily basis, since.
Yesterday, I discovered, when I was about to go meet someone for lunch, that I had a flat tire. I pulled into the nearest gas station and actually paid the dollar to run the air machine (I'm going to go off on another digression here. There is no bigger symptom of the greed that has taken over America in the last twenty to thirty years than the fact that in most gas stations now--all of them around here except, bless their hearts, Hess--you have to put four quarters into a machine to put air in your tires. That's right, the bastards running Corporate America are charging you to use the atmosphere of this planet. And a dollar? I can maybe justify a quarter, because I'm sure the people that make the air pressure machine need to be compensated. But a dollar is simply a rip-off, an unmitigated example of gotcha capitalism. If I could have made it down there, I would have made it to Hess, and if necessary waited to use the machine). And I knew there was serious trouble when the tire wouldn't inflate at all; it meant that there was a huge hole somewhere (it was a rear tire, and it eventually turned out that there was a substantial hole on the inside edge). So I moved the car to an empty area of the parking lot, and got my jack stand and breaker bar out. My dad and I used to own a tire store, and although it isn't my favorite activity in the world, I am more than capable of changing in a flat relatively quickly. I figured I would put the donut spare on, get to my lunch, and call my friend that owns a repair shop in the morning to order a new tire.
Except I could not budge the lug nuts. Even standing on the breaker bar did nothing.
I called my friend and eventually reached him. He was at his shop but about to go home, but he agreed to wait for me to get there. So I drove all the way through Binghamton and beyond at fifteen miles an hour, shredding what was left of the tire in the process, until I got there and he was able to use the pneumatic gun on the lugs and get the donut on. Because going without a vehicle for a couple of days is simply not an option for me. For a day or two, I could probably manage; my office isn't so far away that I couldn't walk to it, and in any event, I could make like several dozen of my friends and take the damn bus--there's a bus stop at the bottom of my hill, and my office is about thirty yards from a bus stop, too. But after thirty-five years, driving is so ingrained that I'm simply not going to do that. I've rented cars when my car has been incapacitated in the past, and I probably would have gotten a ride to the airport and rented one yesterday had my friend not been at his place (after somehow getting to lunch; both the company and the food was worth the hassle I went through to get there).
I don't know if this qualifies as an obsession, or a habit, or simply close-minded, or something else entirely. But I am as environmentally aware as anyone, and I know that steps have to be taken to curb global warming or we're all in serious trouble, and I'm full of good advice for other people--but I cannot abide to even think about not having a car for even two days. Yes, it's a contradiction and hypocritical. But it doesn't make it any less true...with the donut on, I am not going to go anywhere far; I know that they're not designed for highway speeds. But really, I'm not planning on doing anything today other than go to work, and take my daughter to the high school to get her schedule. I could have walked and I could have taken the bus, and she could do the same if she had to.
But I've come face to face with one of my areas of denial and acceptance. And I think I've come to a better understanding of why people who are clearly too old to drive effectively anymore nonetheless insist on doing it. It's habit, and it's empowering beyond belief, to be able to go where you want when you want to. And values and morals be damned, I'm not willing, at this point, to adjust or scale back on that. It's an area that I am going to have to work on as I get older, because the day will eventually come when driving will not be either financially or physically a good idea.

Monday, September 1, 2014


At last, a day with nothing to do on the to-do list. Sabrina has a friend coming over later and staying the night, but for an entire glorious day, there isn't much of anything, other than maybe some laundry, that I am going to be doing. There is nothing looming professionally that is occupying space in my mind. There are no conflicts smoldering with anyone, at least that I know of, and I've at ease with the other developments that have been going on--no stress, no wondering what's-going-on. The garden is fine, the back yard needs to be cut but it's too wet to do it today, and the house is clean. Yesterday I slept until 7:30 because I was exhausted. Today I slept until 7:30 because there was truly no reason to get up.
And that's what a holiday should be like. I've been reading a very interesting but long novel that I've finally started to make a dent in, and I hope to get it finished today or tomorrow, especially since it's overcast and likely to rain today. I may talk to some people on the phone today, but I'm not planning on going anywhere until my mother's late this afternoon, and I'm certainly not going anywhere in the evening--I can see the fireworks in Johnson City from my bedroom window, and I've not grown any fonder of crowds in recent years. At some time today, I have to feed my friend's cat, and Sabrina needs to go to Wally World to get school supplies, but that's minor stuff and probably can be done on the way to my mom's later.
Perversely, the Child That Normally Wakes At The Crack of Noon is up already. Apparently, the return to school three days hence (yes, three; for some stupid reason, the Binghamton City School District has decided that a hundred years of precedent should be dispensed with, and now only freshmen and seniors are starting school on Wednesday. Sophomores and juniors start on Thursday. I could, and might before the end of the week, work myself into a full rant about the absolute moron that is now the principal at Binghamton High School; in just one year, she has proven herself to be a nitwit of the highest order, the sort of vapid pseudo-intellectual that is brimming with fine-sounding ideas that have proved to be impractical or horribly wrong-headed in practice but sails on blissfully unconcerned with results because, you know, she's smarter than the rest of us that actually have to deal with the consequences of her decisions) is weighing on her mind, but I am encouraged that she is actually watching Good Morning America and attempting to get re-acquainted with the world at large, after a hiatus of several months where the only things that entered her consciousness were Taylor Swift, softball, and how much fun it would be to get a pet that Dad will take care of.
The down side of her early rising is that I have had only half of my usual intake of coffee this morning, and the pot is nearly gone. Fortunately, she is not clamoring to be fed, which means I can take a shower in peace and get on with my wonderfully empty day. Enjoy the holiday, folks.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Getting Younger While Growing Older

Our event at Rec Park went off very smoothly yesterday. Considering how overcast the day was and the number of other things going on around the area (and out of it, since several of my friends are at an event up near Buffalo for the weekend), turnout was pretty decent--it never approached mob scene, but there were always a couple dozen people around the attractions and tables, and we gave away a half-van's worth of promotional material, including nearly a hundred T-shirts with the program name and number on them.
The main attraction for the day for the teen-and-older set was the music program. There were supposed to be a good mixture of live bands and DJ going for eight-plus hours. The sound guy generously donated his entire day free of charge to making this happen (York Productions, thank you very much), and there was music the entire time. But as often happens with bands with young people in them, things like job schedules and family obligations intervened, and we only ended up with one full band (Riebred, pronounced "rye bread") and one acoustic player (Tyler Reed, whose band Lila Ignite couldn't make it) playing sets. And as always, I was thoroughly entranced by watching the sheer enjoyment that performers, even at this age and on this small of a stage, exhibit. Both deserved more of an audience, because both were very, very good, but I'm almost sure that it didn't really matter to them how many were watching. They were clearly enjoying themselves.
And the DJ's did, as well. There were probably a half-dozen that filled the last six hours of the event, and again, I watched them intently and realized that spinning electronically isn't all that different than standing up there playing instruments. These guys have put together their own mixes, taking pieces of various songs and creating beats and rhythms of their own. It's definitely not just sitting at a board and cuing up CD's. I had never really paid any attention to electronica practitioners before, but these guys are just as into what they are doing as band members. And the last scene of the day, as we were breaking down the tables and gear in the park around them, is going to stay in my mind for a long time; there had to be eight or nine guys on the stage watching the last DJ work his board, and it was nothing more or less than a jam session--some guys were moving with the beat, some guys were making suggestions, and the main player was into his board as a guitar player on an extended solo. I wish I had a phone with a decent camera on it; it was really a striking image.
A friend of mine that plays guitar spent part of the day at our table. He's a young guy, maybe 22; his father and I were friends in high school. He's been part of the growing trend of the recovery community getting younger and younger, and he's put some clean time behind him now. He's part of a band that has sort of been on hiatus for a while, but he still plays on occasion; I listened to him playing for the first time at another gathering we were both at a few weeks ago, and he's pretty good. Several guys in early recovery, it turns out, are guitar players, and it was really fun at the previous event to sit down and listen to them jam for a couple of hours. My friend brought his "A" guitar yesterday, a really nice high-end piece, and played for a few minutes for myself and some of the other volunteers at our table, but he has some trepidation about singing in front of strangers, and so he didn't want any stage time yesterday. But he and his band mates are definitely going to be featured at a future event... but what struck me watching him, and Dave and Evan a couple of weeks ago, and the guys up on the stage yesterday, is just how much they enjoy themselves.
And it kicks up some stuff. I dabbled many years ago, but never did much of anything with playing, and as I often say to those that ask, I never once picked up anything when I was not at least buzzed and often intoxicated. It's been a secret goal of mine to start again, to at least get back to where I can keep simple rhythms on a bass (I do not, especially at this point in my life, have the dexterity and range of movement in my fingers to be able to even think about playing a guitar effectively). As I am well aware in so many areas, I am not getting any younger, and if I am going to move forward with these kind of thoughts, I need to stop thinking about it, stop finding reasons not to do it, and start actually doing it.
I've been coming to these sort of decision-making moments a lot recently. I was reminded again yesterday, looking at pictures taken at the event, that I need to lose the paunch; I made a commitment to exercising a few weeks ago, and I've been doing that more often, but it seems like I've been at a cookout or event every other day since then, and it's hard to lose weight when you are eating Philly cheesesteaks, sausage breads, speidie sandwiches, cheeseburgers, sausage/onion/peppers, etc for lunch/dinner three or four times a week. After tomorrow, summer is sort-of over, cookout season will diminish or end, and school will start back up again, bringing some level of "normality" back into daily routine, and the eating less part of getting back in shape will become easier. Another decision I made a couple of weeks ago to stop wishing and wondering and instead just take a chance has so far worked out pretty well, and I'm enjoying myself and the company I'm keeping much more than I have in some time. A decision to collaborate with my good friend on a literary project is moving forward, albeit slowly, and although I don't have a clear vision yet of where I'm going to take it, at least we're moving forward. Friends have been encouraging me for a long time to write some kind of book or novel; for a long time, too long, I've been hung up on the lost manuscript, and not allowed any new ideas to germinate because in my mind, the old one hasn't been finished out. I'm still evolving mentally on that one, but there are different ideas percolating, and at some point I am going to start working on those new ideas.
In short, there is no reason for me to ever complain about boredom. There is much out there that I would like to do, and especially since I only usually sleep for five to six hours, all kinds of time to do it in. I've dedicated much of the last fifteen years of my life to my children and Narcotics Anonymous, and I haven't regretted it by any means. But I have two children in college now and the third is getting there and has her own priorities and life's hopes and dreams, becoming more independent by the day; and as far as NA, I've been clean for a long time and given back a great deal, and while I am not bidding the fellowship adieu, the days of me sponsoring four guys at a time and holding down several service positions are done. Let the young bucks have their shot at that.
I don't know if I can do everything I want to do. But I sure would like to try juggle writing a book, playing an instrument and becoming a part of a band, helping my friend with his project, and easing into a functional and satisfying relationship. I've said things like "I'm too busy" or "I'm too tired" for years--but honestly, I spend anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours on the Internet after I get home from work most days, and a lot of Saturdays and Sundays, I'm parked in the recliner watching sports on TV--and not even sports I really like a lot, but stuff like golf and college basketball. There is a lot of room and time for much more than I currently do...there was a band popular when I was in my twenties named The Call. I remember when I was in college, and MTV was just getting big, they had a big hit called The Walls Came Down, and in it, there was this older guy playing keyboards for them. The guy was Garth Hudson, famous in his day for being part of The Band, and he had to be twenty years or more older than the rest of the band. Some of my friends made fun of "the geezer"--but I remember thinking that it took a lot of guts both on Hudson's part and the band's part to give him such a prominent role, and Hudson clearly was enjoying himself. And that's what I want to be like now. I got a taste of this a few weeks ago when I got into that pickup basketball game at the event, when I was the oldest guy on the court by two decades--and I held my own, much to both mine and everyone else's surprise.
Age isn't quite "just a number." I'm not going to be able to play hockey for hours on a frozen pond again, or go on five-day epics of debauchery (even if I wanted to), or run 800 meters in under two minutes, or sit down and write sixty pages of a paper or two chapters of a manuscript in an evening again. But that doesn't have to mean I have to sit in my living room and watch the last two or three decades of my life pass outside the window. I haven't really regretted, as I've said, the last dozen or so years of my life; I've done my part to raise three really good kids, and helped a lot of others in their recovery journeys. But the areas of need have changed, and it's no longer really self-centered to start to want to do some more things for myself. And I'm taking tentative first steps toward doing so, and I want to continue on this new path in a new direction and see where it leads.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Beat The Heat Day

In about an hour, I am going to walk out of this house, and the preparation for the event being held in Rec Park today will begin. It is an awareness/fundraiser for my program (for new readers, I am the coordinator for a runaway/homeless youth program); while the fundraising aspect is not going to be a prominent feature, we will be getting a portion of the proceeds from the food vendor at the event (the Belmar, a bar located a couple of blocks from my office), and all of the proceeds from the sale of water at the event. But the primary purpose of hosting the event has been trying to put the program, and the need for it, in the public eye again. There was a time, four or five years ago, when the state and the county were aware that that there was a real problem with youth getting kicked out of their homes or leaving home because of untenable home situations. The number of at-risk kids hasn't really changed--but the willingness on a policy level to deal with the issue has, in equal measure due to funding growing scarcer and philosophical changes in governments at every level below federal.
But I'm not going to spend much time on the soapbox today. There will be an awesome lineup of local bands playing, and DJs spinning, from 10:30 AM right until 7 PM. There will be a bounce house for littler kids, and an inflatable jousting arena (a sort of American Gladiator type thing) for older youth and adults. Scheduling of other events still is fluid, but at some point during the day, there will be sack races, an Ultimate Frisbee game or two (what we called Frisbee Football in my youth), a couple of games for little kids, volleyball games going on, and a greased watermelon race. There will be a couple of people there to do face painting for youngsters and young adults. There will be various things given away all day, not just the usual knick-knack stuff but useful items like thumb drives, hairbrushes, magnets, and Post-it pads. And toward the end of the day, some T-shirts will be given away as well.
And truth be known, while I have worked hard to bring this off, I have not worked as hard as some of our wonderful youth volunteers, who did almost all of the legwork for getting the bands to play, had all of the ideas for activities, and will be roaming the park all day manning booths, managing activities, and keeping some semblance of order. There are a couple of dozen of them that have volunteered to help, and four or five in particular have really gone above and beyond. I wish I could name them, but those who go to the Beat The Heat Facebook page will have no trouble figuring out who they are. And simply, without them, and one above all else, this event would not be happening. When these young people are out looking for jobs, any prospective employer that sees "helped organize Beat The Heat" on anyone's resume should know that they are capable of completing remarkable tasks in a short period of time. I have been blessed beyond measure to have had these remarkable people taking an interest in my program, and volunteering so much time and effort to make our program viable and successful.
I will be having lots of help, both from our volunteers and from the personnel from the City of Binghamton's Parks and Recreation Department, without whose blessing and willingness to provide us with electricity this event could not take place. The permits were a trifling fee for an event of this scope, and credit should be given where credit is due. So come out to Rec Park, if you live in the Southern Tier, and help us end the summer of 2014 on a high note. I will be the tired-looking guy wandering around looking slightly befuddled-- but smiling. And with the exception of the greased watermelon carry, I may just take part in all the events we have planned. The jousting in particular seems like it might be fun, and I haven't played Frisbee Football in ages.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Distracted But Not Compulsive

This summer has had a bit of a surreal quality to it. For the past several weeks, it seems like Party Central, on the one hand. There have been several events, barbecues, get-togethers, etc., that I have been to myself, and every time I go on Facebook, I see friends who are having their own smaller gatherings. And on the other hand, even with a two-week vacation in the middle of it, I don't think I've ever had so much drudge and toil and hard work to do during a summer. I'm in the homestretch now--our program's event at Rec Park is tomorrow--but yesterday a close friend of mine remarked how preoccupied and distant I have seemed at times for several weeks now, and I knew he had a point. I am by nature obsessive on things I want or need to do, and putting this event together, and the Enchanted Forest trip before it, has dominated my mind for two months. I've tried very hard to take time for me and to shut off the switches; I've tried to go to more NA meetings, been spending time around friends more than I usually do, and made a conscious effort to add people into my life. These things have helped, to be sure. I'm not a basket case. I'm getting sleep, things that have had to be done have gotten done, and I haven't shut down in any way that I know of.
But at the same time, I will be glad when I go to bed Saturday night and all this weight is lifted. There have always been two warring factions inside my mind. One doesn't like to leave tasks uncompleted once they have been started and is impatient to begin tasks if I know they have to be done. The other demands perfection and complete order, and when life intervenes and things start spilling out of the box, I want to throw up my hands and walk away because "now it's f****d up." As long as I can remember, this split has been in my consciousness, and I still struggle with it when I am faced with unexpected obstacles and, especially, delays in implementing plans. To take one small representative example, I wanted to have a lot of T-shirts with our program name and logo on them available for both major events this summer. Our finance department has new regulations in place about first-time check recipients, and the outfit that is making the T-shirts was a little slow in coming up with the necessary paper, which killed having them at Enchanted Forest. I dealt with that all right, better than I thought. Then after that got taken care of, Finance took longer than I thought they should have to mail the check, and now that the guy has been paid, he's taking longer than I think he should have to finish the shirts. I am actually feeling some agitation as I'm writing this, recounting this experience in my head.
And I am picking up the shirts early this afternoon, meaning they will be available and ready for distribution tomorrow at the event--which was the original plan. So why am I aggravated? I can't give you a logical answer, other than it didn't go according to Hoyle. My favorite analogy to people that tell me I ought to lighten up is that you don't ask jugglers to calm down when there are six balls in the air. But still, this obsessive mindset is tiring. Granted, we detail-oriented people do tend to accomplish more than the laid-back (or straight-up lazy) types. But is it worth the price we pay? I really don't know.
I am less obsessive than I used to be, and profoundly glad for it. But I really would like to be able to idle the motor more than I do. And I am frankly jealous of all my friends in the halfway house and in the associated residential treatment programs. It sure looks inviting to be hanging out all the time, to be in school, to have so much free time. And yet I remember fifteen years ago when I was in a halfway house, hanging out on the patio and playing cards all the time and doing little else but reading books and going to meetings--and I couldn't wait to get the hell out of there, because I had things to do, kids to see and raise, a life to rebuild. On balance, I'm glad I spent those months the way I did, because if I had jumped back into "real life" too quickly I am sure I would have lost my way sooner rather than later, and I would have relapsed. And when I talk to the people I'm feeling jealous of now, they admit to feeling now like I did then--that they would prefer to have jobs, to have more to occupy their time. I guess it's a basic problem of human existence, that the grass always seems greener elsewhere. It's why we have to be reminded that patience is a virtue, and why turning our will over to a Higher Power's care is the struggle of every addict's recovery process. "Yeah, I know God's got this--but can't He move it along? I've got stuff to do. I've made plans, damn it." Every one I know goes through that kind of thought process much more regularly than we would like, and it doesn't matter if you have two days, two weeks, two months, two years, or two decades away from your last use of drugs. 
And these past few weeks have been made worse by the fact that I am the sole person on the job for two programs, mine and Ithaca. I am on-call for both, and again I am torn between being available 24/7 for two counties--and the phone not ringing, which we can't have too much of or there won't be any job past next September. School begins next week, and the phone will be ringing then, but we haven't had an admission in two months; there's this nagging sense that I shouldn't be able to devote as much time to these events as I have been.
See? That's that obsessive thing kicking in again...again, it isn't as bad as it once was. When I was off those two weeks, I managed to check email only first thing in the morning; that's progress, because I have spoiled more than one vacation by checking email every two hours and getting caught up in whatever the people still working were doing. Even with this event, I am letting our program volunteers do much of the leg work and organizing; I feel more like a figurehead some days than an actual overseer, and that's not really a bad thing. And I have been diligent about making sure that I am not altering my usual routines even with other things in the mix; I've been making at least three meetings a week; keeping other commitments, even taking on new ones; making sure those that are important to me are not slighted or ignored, and making sure I make time to spend with them. Because when it's all over years from now, no one ever says, "I wish I had spent more time at work," but a lot of people regret that they didn't keep up with friends or didn't devote enough time to relationships or that they pushed people away because they were "too busy."
I keep hearing these metaphors about life being a journey, and it is. And we have invented all sorts of way to get us where we are going faster. But we're not born with wheels or motorized conveyances, and the older I get, the more I am convinced that this life journey is meant to be walked. And not only walked and taken at a relatively leisurely pace, but we are meant to go off the path and times and explore, to see what's in the woods or pick something from the field or stand at the river's edge and take in the sights. Keep it moving by all means--but that doesn't mean we should be going full-speed with our head down or focused like a laser straight ahead.
And having said that, even with all the prep stuff that has to be done today, I intend to do my regular weekly shopping today, I intend to go to the meeting tonight; I intend to at least talk to those that I normally talk to every day; I intend to walk this dog we're watching at least two more times (the dog should be leaving tomorrow morning). I'm busy, but not to the exclusion of all else. I'm focused, but not obsessed to the point where I can't do or even think about anything else other than this major commitment of time and effort tomorrow. And I'd rather it was this way, because I can remember when I was not able to function in anything like a normal fashion because of obsession.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Not Jumping In--Or Piling On

I went to the noon meeting yesterday. The Nooner is a bit of a circus most days. It usually has a lot of newcomers in attendance whose grasp of the program is pretty tenuous at best, and it also draws some people with some clean time that have some curious ideas about recovery, as well. I sometimes go because it is a block away from office and a couple of my friends are regulars, and on occasion something worth hearing is heard.
And yesterday, an unfamiliar face was there, and she proceeded to accuse her ex-husband, someone I know very well and have been friends with for a long time, someone who has been around almost as long as I have, of becoming addicted to pain pills after a horrific on-the-job accident he went through a few years ago. And I got an indication of how much I personally have changed in the last few months and years as I was listening; I basically found myself thinking, "Who really cares?"
For starters, the motives in sharing this were hardly pure; she mentioned that she was still in love with him, wanted to reconcile with him, and that her overtures had been rejected by him. If this was a courtroom, any competent lawyer would have destroyed this particular witness; in a fellowship, we're not lawyers or jurors (even though the purpose of sharing in such a fashion is exactly analogous to a lawyer trying to sway a jury), but the same thought process ought to apply. One of the first and best concepts I heard when I was new to the rooms was "Check your motives," and whatever the veracity of the information presented yesterday, the motivations behind it were hardly spiritual or lofty. And that, not outrage at the supposed deceit that her ex was supposedly perpetrating on us all, was my primary take on what I heard. It was like being forced to watch someone masturbate; it's not the first time someone has been "blown up" in a meeting, and the reaction is always this uncomfortable, sick feeling that we're all being dragged through a big pile of shit against our will.
To compound matters, she took her case to Facebook later in the day, and of course there were dozens of responses to the post, which posed, as a question, whether someone buying pain pills off someone other than a doctor or pharmacy has relapsed. Again, ultimately, "who cares?" is the correct answer. If the person is truly dabbling on the dark side again, eventually the truth will come out regardless of whether someone else exposes them or not. My thinking has really evolved over the years on this one; I used to be moved to apoplexy when someone claimed to have clean time that they no longer possessed. But all the supposed idealistic "care and concern" about the "message to the newcomer" was just as much horseshit as the dishonest clean time. It took a long time and several people pointing out to me, including taking me to task for things I've written in this forum over the years, that almost always "care and concern" is a front to mask our own desire to look good by comparing ourselves to others--and "identify rather than compare" is another venerable concept that was drummed into me almost from the day I got clean. Comparison may be human nature--but it's not recovery, and it doesn't serve any spiritual purpose. And we sure as hell aren't helping each other recover when we indulge in the practice.
If the man was running for a service position that required a certain length of clean time, than perhaps this matter would be worthy of a little bit more attention. But he isn't, and it didn't escape my notice that toward the end of her sharing at the Nooner, the ex threw in some disparaging comments about the guy's sponsor that had absolutely nothing to do with anything remotely at hand. We all have legitimate views on the direction that our recovery takes or goes in, and I certainly do not agree with everything that I hear coming from everybody else. But unity does not mean conformity; Narcotics Anonymous is a big tent that needs to have a plethora of views and voices so that everyone, hopefully, that needs to hear a message can hear one that they can identify with. Are some views expressed hypocritical? Probably; we all fall short at times of what we would like to be, and say things that aren't necessarily totally honest all of the time. But again--who really cares? One of the purposes of being in recovery and working a program is learning how to make decisions for ourselves, and to find our own way. I've found out the hard way that finding fault in others, and calling them out to the rest of us, does absolutely nothing to foster my own spiritual growth. Nothing. While I notice it, and might privately consider that someone is full of shit, or think that someone is full of denial in a particular area, or not like something a group of people are doing--all it legitimately does is provide a set of guideposts for me that help define my own journey. I've gone the illegitimate route countless times over the years, and I can't emphasize enough that when I do so, I cross the line into attempted manipulation of others, and my Higher Power becomes something other than God and spiritual principles.
There is a time and place to discuss the sort of things that were heard yesterday with others--in private, among trusted friends who are using the information as a way to assess their own recovery process. I certainly have my views on what I heard yesterday, and I even talked about with some people before the meeting last night and on the phone. But talking about those views here, or on Facebook, wouldn't be helpful. I can tell you this much; I'm not going to stop being friends with the guy regardless of what the actual truth is. We have known each other for a long time. I have seen him change from someone with a perpetual scowl and someone that never spoke to a confident and jovial man. The accident he suffered through a few years ago could have killed him, and certainly could have killed his spirit, too--but the fact that he fought his way back to health and remains generally positive is a greater testament to his recovery program that whatever his so-called "actual" clean time may be.
The purpose of being around here is to find a new way to live, and to carry a message of recovery to the still sick and suffering. The thing that many of us lose sight of is that, depending on the day and the situation, all of us can be the messenger--and all of us can the sick and suffering ones, too. There is not a point where you can say, "Well, because I have a certain number of years behind me, I am permanently, on all questions, a messenger." We often say that all of us can learn from anybody else in the rooms, no matter what their clean time--but in practice, we don't seem to believe it, or shit like this wouldn't happen or gather the momentum it does. I used to care about stuff like this, and now I have a much better understanding of what my sponsor and some others tried to tell me when I was on fire and ranting about it--ultimately, it's not about what "they" do and say, it's about what I am doing, whether I am growing, whether I am pursuing a relationship with God in how I am living. That's what I have to share with others--not my views on whether others around me are measuring up to some suggested standards, and certainly not taking sides in what is essentially a dispute between two other people.
I'm well aware that I have had a history of doing exactly that--and I didn't like the results. I remember many years ago, when I played golf regularly, I used to play with one of my friends and his father a lot. His father didn't hit the ball anywhere near as far as I did, but he was always in the fairway and consequently always seemed to score better than I did. I remember asking him how I could control the ball better on iron shots out of the rough, and he said, "Don't hit your drive in the rough." Sometimes, it really is that simple. I didn't like being the focal point of controversy--so I've tried to stop doing and saying things that add fuel to these controversies. And by doing that in the last year or so, I've found that the we've all benefited--but most of all, I have. I'm not dealing with a big batch of ill feeling engendered by my opinions, and I like it better this way. It doesn't mean I don't have opinions. But it does mean that, after many years of trying, I've gotten some idea of what God's will is for us when dealing with each other.
Hint: it's not taking God's role.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

In The Home Stretch

We have a major event that benefits my program at Rec Park on Saturday, and although I haven't had to do the bulk of the work thus far--our volunteers/interns have done a lot of the legwork--it still has been a lot of work. I'm not complaining, because I have been totally amazed by how many people have been willing to donate time and services to helping us. It's been rather rewarding, to be honest. Sometimes you feel like you don't make a difference or that you've had no impact on the world around you--and then something like this goes on, and you find out differently.
But I have to tell you, I have been back at work for less than three weeks, and I am ready for a long vacation again. This feeling has been exacerbated by the fact that every other person that works for either my or our sister program in Ithaca is on vacation through Labor Day, which means that in addition to all I've been doing, I'm on-call for two counties until next Wednesday. I'm going to like the two bigger paychecks when they come, but if the phone rings, I have to deal with it myself--there are no referrals. And what's really been over the top has been the annual financial audit that our agency is undergoing; by the luck of the draw, my program is one of those that the auditors are going over this year, and I've been getting a bunch of questions and odd requests from agency headquarters for a week now.
Adding in that we are dog-sitting this week, and this dog has attached itself to me like a barnacle whenever I am home, and I am bone-tired at the end of the day. And the end of the day came unexpectedly early yesterday. I had to go to the office after dinner to meet one of our volunteers because that's when she was available after she got out of work. I got home around 6:00, walked the dog, came in and sat down in the recliner, dog in lap, to read a book I started the other day and that looks interesting--and the next thing I knew it was midnight. The dog had to go out, but when I went to bed, I figured there was no way I was going to conk out again--and the alarm had to wake me up at 4:35. And I still feel like I could sleep more, which is very unusual for me; I've always been one of those people that needs five hours at most of sleep. And chances are I am going to be very tired again for the rest of the week. I have a dentist's appointment at 8, then a meeting with my friend Musa to work on something we've been collaborating on, then taking one of the guys who is volunteering to do henna tattoos at the event Saturday to the store to get supplies, and then there's something else in the afternoon that I can't remember off the top of my head, and then my home group later tonight. Also, at some point I have to find what the auditors want and send that to my friend at agency headquarters, get to City Hall to get a permit so the fire-hoop dancers can perform Saturday, go around and ask for businesses to donate prizes for drawings and contests Saturday, and...you get the idea.
I'd rather be busy than not, to be sure. I know a lot of people in early recovery, and consequently I know a lot of people that struggle with filling up their day. I remember those days, too, when I was in a halfway house and spent hours every day playing spades and pitch with other guys in my situation. It served its purpose--we talked endlessly about addiction and recovery, and I honestly think those many hours discussing our lives and future helped cement my desire to not only stay clean, but to make some of the better decisions I made in that first couple of years. But I admit to a twinge of jealousy when I see a lot of my friends seeming to have more fun and less to do than I do.
But then I am fifty-one, not thirty-five or twenty-five. And I remember when my father was fifty-one, he was a guest of the federal government at Lewisburg, and I am certainly glad that isn't the path I've followed. I guess it's human nature to want more leisure time than we have, but it's a Monkey's Paw trade-off: I'm pretty sure I'd rather not deal with what I would have to go through to get all that leisure time. And sometime around ten o'clock Saturday night, when I am back home and relieved that the event is over, I will feel that special sense of accomplishment that only comes with pulling off something that's difficult to do.

And then I am going to sleep in Sunday morning.