Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Return To The Dark Ages

Literally, not figuratively. Sabrina's City League championship game was supposed to be yesterday afternoon, and so I found myself cooking dinner shortly before 4 PM. It was a peculiar set of circumstances, and I had all four stove burners going and simmering with one thing or another. It was raining outside, then it was thundering a bit and I did notice the wind had picked up some, but my honest thought was "Good! It hasn't rained for weeks around here" and then "I won't have to water the garden tonight."
And then suddenly the lights went out, and the only illumination was the four circles of flame on the stove burners.
I now know what scenario is the most inconvenient for a person when the power goes off. It was a good five minutes before I could get the stuff either shut off or prepared to eat. One of the dishes was macaroni and cheese, and it's kind of difficult to stir in the cheese sauce and the milk and butter in the dark. The hamburger meat got overdone. The green beans and squash got overcooked, too. It wasn't easy to get out the dishes and strainer, etc.
And the misery was compounded by a few other factors. One is that I have central air conditioning, which of course shut down immediately, and it was rather quickly fairly infernal in the kitchen. Two was that I, who assiduously collected candles in the past because I like both the fragrances and because I've been without power before in the past, came to instantly regret the decision in recent months that, in these times of tight wallets and very limited discretionary spending, candles were a bit of a luxury. I then also discovered that the three flashlights I have all are of the "too cheap and small to be really helpful when it's not pitch black" variety, especially since the best one had separated in the drawer and it took me a few minutes to find the D battery and put it back together. I also had reason to once again wonder what the hell I used to do without a smart phone, because the wifi was knocked out along with the cable and the laptop's 100% battery charge was superfluous without access to the Internet (whoever used to have an open access network in the neighborhood has moved, it would appear).
I was very lucky that both Sabrina and I had just come home not long before the storm started, and the garage door was up; it is electric-operated, and in some past outages, our cars were stuck in the garage because there was no way to get inside and open the door manually. I usually, but not always, crack the door open at the bottom whenever threatening weather approaches, but yesterday was just sheer luck that it wasn't down, probably because I knew both of us were supposed to be departing again after dinner was over. I ended up raising all the shades and opening some windows, which didn't work out too bad once the rain stopped and the sky lightened. But as the temperature started to creep back up, it was starting to get uncomfortable again in about ninety minutes, and lying down and waiting for the power to come back on became an untenable option. NYSEG's website wasn't really helpful, either. Within a few minutes of the power going out, the estimated restoration time was listed as 6:30--but within minutes, it was changed to "assessing," which is where it stayed under the power did come back on, shortly after--you guessed it-- 6:30. I don't know what happened, even now, to cause the outage. I discovered yet again that whatever power district I live in has its border a few house away; the power never went off six houses down the street, heading toward the river. There was a tree down a few blocks away in the road, but it didn't appear to have hit any power lines, and there was a crew going down Grand Boulevard while the power was still off cutting branches that were laying on lines, apparently.
What this reminded me once more was just how tenuous the way of life we all take for granted is. It would be chaos beyond belief if the electricity was turned off for any length of time. If I was a security consultant, the possibility of disrupting power supply would keep me up at nights; I imagine that the only reason there hasn't been a major attack on our power grid to date has been that prospective terrorists need the lights on, too. I quickly spent ten dollars I don't really have on candles, and put D batteries on this week's shopping list. I still have about fifty gallons of water in the basement (a result of being flooded out of home three times in eighteen months when living in Webster Court a decade ago), and I'm certainly not going to starve if for some reason I can't go to a store for a few days. But you can't prepare for everything; I never imagined being in the middle of making dinner when the power went off, and what a pain in the ass it would be to get all that taken care of without being able to see what was going on. You can do things to deal with the sudden darkness--but not really safely while four things are cooking on your stove. It was pretty hairy for a few minutes.
I've been aware for many years that I could never have lived at almost any time in the past. My vision would have ensured an early death a long time ago without glasses, most obviously, but I also am totally inured to the conveniences of the day and age. I'm not interested, frankly, in "survival mode" stuff; if we revert to a more primitive age, y'all are welcome to this world. I'm too old and too used to living this way to adjust on a massive scale like that, especially since I've performed my biological imperative and reproduced three times.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Not Worth The Overtime

I agreed, a couple of weeks ago, to take on the other third shift guy's Sunday gig this weekend, because, basically, I need the money, and ten hours worth of time-and-a-half is going to look good going into the bank in a couple of weeks. However, I have come to the conclusion that it's not good enough; human beings are not made to work fifty hours a week, especially nights.
But it's not helping that this job, which was pretty easy during the school year with different kids in the house, is turning into an endurance test on a nightly basis anymore. I'm not going to give specifics, but a couple of these young men have gone off the rails in the last couple of weeks, while another couple of guys' inherent personality defects are being given free expression. It's all come to a head this week, and honestly I have been contemplating calling in sick every single day this week. It's that bad.
And tonight has been simply beautiful, in the most sarcastic sense possible. I have four hours left, and the two-plus days I will have off afterward will not be nearly enough to decompress, especially since the composition of the house is about to change significantly without biggest endemic problem child going anywhere. A few weeks ago, I had a chance to go to another program for a small decrease in salary (but working days and in a program where there isn't as much hands-on stuff). I couldn't see past dollar signs and turned it down; I sent a frantic email to that program's supervisor this weekend asking if the position is still open. If it is, I'm switching as soon as I possibly can.
I'm not made for caretaking, and I'm certainly not made for co-signing teenage boy bullshit at this time in my life, not for a living. I will no doubt feel better at 9 AM when I am out of here--but not much, especially since I will already be stressing returning here on Wednesday night. I don't know what the hell I was thinking when I turned the other job down a few weeks ago.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Softball Updates

I haven't been writing as much about Sabrina's softball this year, partially because I kept my vow to stop coaching and partially because with the third shift work, I haven't been watching a whole lot of what she has been playing, too. She has been basically been playing two teams, her City League team and the All-Star team she's been a part of four years now. The City League team hasn't done half-badly; they're in the championship game again this year. The league is down to five teams, and enough of last year's core remains to get them this far. Sabrina has been almost as dominant as a 17YO in a 13-17 league as she was as a 12YO in a 9-12 league. She has homered at least six times, and her slugging percentage has been astronomical. Still, the team is only the second-best in the league, and they are likely to lose Monday, but there's no shame in that.
The all-star team isn't as loaded as years past, but she is playing well, there, too. She is the best catcher on the field in every game she's played, and her arm has gotten strong enough so that if she catches the ball, no runner is going to steal a base on her--and at least nine have tried thus far. She's hitting fairly well, at least the games I've seen, and she has been doing so with a gimpy foot, an injury sustained when some Amazon on another team in last week's tournament slid into her foot and then popped up on top of it on a play at the plate. But she is enjoying herself immensely, and that's what is really important.
And I am enjoying spectating again. After the twin disappointments of last year's varsity fiasco (I don't even want to talk about how Binghamton won a state championship this spring, except that when you have to recruit kids to move to Binghamton to get you over the type, it's a Pyrrhic victory. My loathing for Lord Farquad has only increased; he is everything that is wrong with scholastic sports in the 21st century) and the wearying travail of City League, it's been fun to just sit in the stands again this year and watch. It will likely be Sabrina's last hurrah. Softball has been good to her, and fun for the most part. In spite of everything, I would heartily endorse her efforts as being totally worth it over the years.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Random Thoughts, Late July 2016

1) I have not watched any of the Republican convention, and haven't even paid a whole lot of attention to it. My mind is made up--I'm not sure that I am going to vote for Clinton, but I am as sue as sure can be that I am not going to vote for Trump. To sit in front of a screen and listen would be pointless.
Except that it really isn't. The idea that people that are members of that party that hold and espouse the views that are regularly expressed disgusts me, and the idea that that they hold political power in much of the country disgusts and infuriates me. To me, this convention is not democracy in action; it is democracy perverted, a mockery of what democracy is supposed to be. Democracy only works when the citizens participating in it are well-informed and take their civic duty seriously. It's never been entirely the case here, in 240 years, but it used to be a lot closer to true than it is now. Trump is enough of a buffoon that I really don't think he will be elected. But the fact that he is one of the two candidates with an actual chance of winning is an clarion call that this country, the alleged beacon of freedom for most of the world, has seriously lost its way.
2) You can accuse me of being a fair-weather fan all you want, but baseball is fun again this year. Not only because the Red Sox are good, but because they are entertaining while they win. Their pitching is not good, and so a whole bunch of their games end up 9-6 or something like that, and no lead is safe. But damn, they can hit; there are seven players in the everyday lineup that are on-base 35% of the time or more, something no other team is even close to fielding. It seems a lot like 2004 again.
3) On a more personal level--I am growing increasingly dissatisfied with my job. I have never worked in long-term residential care before, and it is not comforting to discover that there really aren't a lot of options for guidance and discipline with the population we work with. It's no wonder foster care is broken, and that residential success rates are so low--this is an artificial world, the only one where there are no enforceable consequences for all but the most heinous acts. And these are teenagers; of course they've figured this out, and game the system for all it's worth. And when I am the only staff present during my shift--well, it's stressful as hell.
And the state of New York is not helping. I had to change health insurance to something worse than I have now, simply because it's offered. And I have to enroll two of my daughters in it, too, and it's going to cost me $57 a week for it. And then there is child support and taxes and all that...on paper, I should make a decent living. But life is not lived on paper, and it's a struggle, and going to continue to be one.
4) Ordinarily, I would be the first one to make fun of a craze like Pokémon Go. Except there's one problem--I'm hooked. I've been playing for about a week now, and have collected about a hundred of them. There's a lot of multiples, but I've gotten some real gems, too--a Dewgong, a Parasect, a Tauros, and a few other powerful ones. I haven't battled yet, but I'm starting to figure out training and stuff like that.
Is it harmless? Yeah, I think so, for the most part. I'm sure I'll get tired of it eventually. But for now--it's gotten me out of the house more than usual, and I've rediscovered one of the passions of my kids from many years ago. I remember when Pikachu was Rachel's best friend. I remember how delighted she was when I paid $40 for a Poliwhirl card that completed her set of 152 for her fifth birthday. And the best thing about Pokémon Go is that there are no Ash, Misty, and Brock to deal with..,.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Chance to Share

A friend of mine that used to live in Binghamton that now lives in Elmira asked me a few weeks ago to go out there and speak at a meeting. It took a while to work out logistics, but I was out there last night, sharing to a small meeting on Step Seven. And it did me a world of good to do so.
The one great advantage to sharing in unfamiliar surroundings is that you tend to get more honest about the exact nature of your current life. There aren't people sitting in front of you that are directly affected by your choices; there aren't busybodies sitting there that will wreak havoc with gossip and half-truths with the information presented; and there's no one there that is likely going to be a part of your future, in any significant way, and so the universal tendency to try to sugarcoat less palatable aspects of your story is not present as much.
And while I was discussing my biggest shortcoming, I had a rather striking moment of clarity. Not for the first time, but for the first time in this ongoing situation, I had the epiphany that God's will and God's purpose in the maintenance of a relationship that has evolved over three years and more effort than I have ever put into anyone else is not identical to mine. I'm not going to rehash everything that has been going on, for a number of reasons. But even though we are not "together", and that it seems certain that we are not ever going to be "together" again, I have realized that I occupy a place in her life that no one else does and is likely to ever occupy long after I depart the earth, in a very positive fashion. That the place is not all that I wanted it to be for myself is something I'm accepting and even embracing. It does feel rewarding and good to know where I truly stand, and how much positive effect I have truly had. And my life is certainly richer and more fulfilling with her continued presence in it, on this level.
And this realization, this acceptance, has come about because I continually asked for a particular shortcoming to be removed. I don't always do that, and when I do ask, it's usually because the pain and unmanageability have gotten so great that I need a lot of help to get some relief. The ironic part of all this, I realized while I was talking last night, was that the questions I had asked for guidance and answers regarding for the last few years have been answered. I know where I stand in her heart, beyond doubt. And it's a very important and exalted place.
It's just not the one I thought it was going to be. But I have come to accept and embrace it for what it is, and as a result, the shortcoming that was in play has been, at least in this instance, removed. And a few other shortcomings have lessened or not come into play-- the usual inclination I have to "set people straight" that are vocal with their opinions, and the need to spread largess to influence how someone I want to care about me feels about my presence in their life, People can and do say and think what they want, and I have accepted my powerlessness over that; I'm not going to tell you that I don't care at all about the noise, but I can honestly say I don't care much. As for the second, I don't have the resources I once had, and it has been very gratifying to find out that the depth of my pockets is immaterial now. That might not always have been the case, but honesty compels me to say that my motives weren't always altruistic during the time we've known each other, either. And as the famous passage in the Basic Text says, "It's not where we are that counts, but where we are going."
The nature of shortcomings derives from, but is not identical to, the "defects of character" of Step Six. Shortcomings are the actions that have their roots in the mindset of character defects. And when the mindset changes, the shortcomings are less apparent and less harmful, and on occasion even removed. The removal is not permanent, any more than any other aspect of a recovery program is permanent--after all, we are promised only a daily reprieve from active addiction. The foundation gets laid in, and the edifice of a new way of life gets built, and in time we put a lot of distance between what we used to be and what we are. The hope is that the architect is God, and that the new way of life is one based on the application of spiritual principles on a regular and rigorous basis. I don't always meet that standard, and it's harder to meet that standard when the area of your life that is in play matters a great deal emotionally to us.
But I'm never sorry when I am able to actually ask for God's help in removing the shortcoming. And the end result is beneficial for everyone around me, and for me, as well.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A Life of Some Quality

Yesterday, I got a few reminders of what is and isn't truly important in life. No, nothing terribly dramatic happened, at least to my knowledge (you never know what's in the postal system at a given time). But while big-picture stuff is undoubtedly important, God--and the devil, if you insist on being negative--is in the details, and in the littler parts of life, I got a few timely reminders that my life really is good:
1) The love of my children. One small pleasure of having a third shift job and having days off during the usual work week is that I am seeing a bit more of my daughter. We've gone through a rather rough year or so, but seem to have emerged from it with bond and love intact. Simply put, she is a pleasure to have around--even if her room looks like one of those "after the tornado" pictures you see on the news.
2) Being to walk into, and feel welcome in, any meeting of my fellowship, no matter how long it has been since I have been to a particular meeting or who is there. For people who do not easily make friends or are socially awkward or are not comfortable around other people, this is an absolute godsend. And the purpose of our fellowship is to learn how to live a life without drugs and drug use, a task that none of us used to be able to manage and that far too many people in the world today are not capable of doing.
2a) I have been complacent at various times about this in recent years, but at the moment, I am not. I am profoundly and permanently grateful that the siren song of my drug of choice, and other drugs for that matter, has been muted and absent for a long, long time. Even when life got really tough recently, when push came to shove, I never truly struggled to keep the drugs down. Many people talk in our meetings about losing the desire to use, and I had started to take for granted that the desire to use was permanently in abeyance for me. It is in abeyance--but I am not taking it for granted now, at least not today.
3) There are times when one doesn't get what they wanted or hoped for out of relationships or friendships, and you end up wondering whether the effort was worth it and whether or not you made any difference at all in the other person's life. I have been brought to believe recently that in at least one case, even if the fairy tale didn't become reality, I did make a positive and lasting difference in someone's life. Knowing that someone that doesn't trust anybody else trusts you without reservation is a better feeling--and a better testament to character--than any other feeling in the world.
4) I am beyond happy for the patience and forbearance that my landlord shows me. It is so gratifying and relieving to know that I do not have to worry about keeping a roof over my head. And that I can use a property that I do not own as mine is a blessing beyond words. And soon, all financial burdens will be made right.
5) A variation on number three. Some people are, despite your best efforts and your best intentions, simply not going to ever be your friends. Some people are simply not ever going to be able to move out of the behaviors that are characteristic of the disease of addiction (whether or not they are actually drug users or not). The Serenity Prayer is famous all over the world, and I have come to realize that I now possess the "wisdom to know the difference" a lot better than most of my fellow travelers on this earth. Or put more bluntly, the quality of my life has improved when I was able to practice addition by subtraction.
5a) Good people enter my life on a regular basis, too. And growth takes place in some that I have known for a long time. I can think of a dozen people off the top of my head that are very different people, for the better, than when I first came to know them. And they enrich and enhance my life as much or more than I do theirs.
6) When the chips were down and I needed them to be there for me, my family came through. With a little more noise than would have been ideal, but they came through. And I am grateful beyond words.
7) I am glad that I am free of the obsessions and defects of character that dogged me for fifteen years. one notable element missing from my life during the turbulence of recent months is the desire or compulsion to act out, whether verbally, physically, or sexually. It is almost with a sense of wonder that I find I am able to ignore provocations, accept that acting out is not a solution and only leads to more problems in the long run, and that I am becoming a better man by the day.
This ain't a Frank Capra movie. I'm not sure life is "wonderful". But it's mine, and it has more good moments than bad, every day.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Walking the Walk

Today may turn out to be one of the most significant days of my life. I've been under the shadow of a gigantic financial burden for a long time, one that has come to a head in recent weeks. I'm not going to rehash the old story, but I came into recovery with a huge debt, one that has, due to the inexorable nature of interest, gotten larger despite not missing payments for a decade and a half. I've been working with my attorney and my family trying to stave off serious penalties, one that may cost me my ability to drive in New York State, and today is the day when my proposed solution gets to the state. I don't know, frankly, whether it is going to be accepted or not.
Today, by coincidence, is also a day when all the medical insurance headaches of the past year also go in a new direction. I would rather keep the insurance I have and the insurance my kids have until the end of the year, but again, the inexorable reach of the state and laws designed to put pressure on absent parents has intervened, and I have to enroll myself and at least two of my kids in an insurance plan which costs more than its worth. I knew the day was going to come, but I was hoping it would be in January, when my finances are hopefully more settled, but it is not to be; I have to get it done as soon as possible, and today it is possible.
This is what it means to walk the walk. We don't get a free pass on life when we get clean from drugs, and life goes on in all its splendor and squalor regardless. I've done the best I can do in a lot of areas for a long time, and I've developed enough faith, based on experience, that if I do the next right thing, as my predecessors have told me since the day I got clean, than God will provide a way through the morass, even if it isn't what I expect or even want. There have been times in recent weeks where I have seriously despaired, when I have wondered when all the efforts I have made over the years are worth it, whether the shadows and clouds are ever going to dissipate. But as usual in these situations, the thinking about what might happen and the raw, naked fear of possible consequences has turned out to be worse than the reality. I did not have blind faith; I've taken actions that I needed to address my problems. But I've done what I can do without trying to manipulate the results, and I've had to surrender control of the situation.
I've also been around people and situations recently that do not have faith, that do not surrender ultimate control, that spend their life trying to manipulate events and people. And one of the nicer realizations of the past few weeks is seeing just how alien that way of life and those tendencies have become to me. I ended up turning away decisively when the machinations began to have some direct effect on my life; I simply cannot live with that sort of chaos and lack of belief anymore--and I certainly cannot deal with the inevitability of consequences that result from living a life in that manner, including an inability to step away from pharmaceutical solutions to the feelings, from fear to anxiety, that such behavior kicks up. There isn't any situation in this world that I am going to get high over; I've seen first hand in the past few weeks how much more of a problem that using creates. It necessitated cutting a couple of people completely out of my life; it also has caused me to shore up and extend existing boundaries with people that matter to me that I don't wish to cut completely out of my life, because there are limits to what I can do and what is safe for me.
I've also had ample cause to realize that some are sicker than others, even those that have also stopped using. I am powerless over people, and perhaps even more so over other people ostensibly in recovery that engage in behavior inimical to principles. I've learned once again that with some people, the only way to win is not to play, and that you can't please or be liked by everyone. I have changed a great deal in the last four years or so. I am aware that not every decision I have made has been a good one--but even those that did not turn out to be wise I have labored diligently to persevere through. I have made amends where necessary, not merely apologizing but making sustained and long-term efforts to make it right. And I cannot make the opinions of others my higher power in these situations. There is a fine line between acknowledging that some input may be valuable and allowing others to dictate what I do and how I feel. I've straddled it at times, and maybe even walked a few steps on the wrong side of it. But by and large, I have done my best to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
And that continues today.