Thursday, March 23, 2017

Obvious Scapegoating

A week after the gigantic snowstorm that left the area paralyzed for essentially three days, the mayor of Binghamton fired the Commissioner of Public Works and his top deputy yesterday. The reason given was the allegedly inadequate response to the storm, which seems to refer to the allegedly dilatory plowing that took place as the snow was coming down. With all due respect, I'm not buying that as the sole reason for the shakeup.
First of all, at the rate snow was coming down, there was no way that earlier or better plowing really could have been done effectively. Yes, I was frustrated, too, at the inability to go anywhere last Tuesday and most of Wednesday. I realize that comment sections on websites were full of angry complaints, as was social media. But honestly, I have to say that personally, my street was done rather early and often, a major departure from storms past, and that it was possible to get around as early as last Wednesday afternoon. I think that a lot of the noise being heard was the general and worrisome tendency for instant response that has become part and parcel of the world we live in. People want things done yesterday, if it affects them personally, and when it doesn't happen, there are unprecedented ways available for people to bitch. I can't speak for the rest of the city, but I can say again that 1) I have no complaints about the response on the West Side and 2) the City has been very aggressive, much more so than in earlier years, about getting rid of the massive piles of snow on main thoroughfares and in the middle of streets like those downtown. I don't see anything on the surface that seems like a justification for firing people.
There are dark hints surfacing in forums like Trolls Craigslist that there are deeper reasons, and that's probably accurate to a degree. But I also think people need to take into account more than they did that two and a half feet of snow is not going to disappear in a couple of hours, and you're not going to be able to just drive around like nothing happened sixteen hours after the snow tapered off. I think that the kicker is that the school district had to call off three days in a row, and I remember the message was, a week ago today, that "due to continuing impassibility of city streets." I think that's a crock of shit, to be honest; I would have guessed that the bigger problem was that so many kids walk to elementary and middle school, and it really wasn't (and in some places still isn't) safe to walk anywhere. Even today, you can't drive three blocks without seeing a whole bunch of people walking in the street like it was a sidewalk.
And the inability to use sidewalks is not the City's problem. Sidewalks are the responsibility of residents. We are now a week past the storm, and there are still properties on my street where the sidewalks have not been cleared. How about ticketing some of the people that haven't done what they were supposed to? City police turned into revenue agents years ago, and ticket drivers for every conceivable offense without mercy. Leave a television on your curb, and you will see code show up within 24 hours telling you that the garbage collectors don't take electronics anymore. Parking costs 25 cents for 30 minutes, or 1/4 the amount of time that a quarter gets you in Johnson City. You're telling me that people that deserve to be ticketed can't be touched?
I don't know any of the individuals involved here, and I have no idea of what was going on inside City Hall. But it seems peculiar and harsh to make this an issue now, especially since the major anomaly last week was the City lifting the travel ban six hours before the county did. And that came from the Mayor's off, not the Department of Public Works.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Living With Anxiety

I don't think myself as an overly anxious person. Some amount of worrying is normal in every human being. And while anxiety is certainly a part of obsession, which I and every other addict, recovering and active, exhibits regularly, there are not synonymous. I will stress at times, have gotten depressed at times, ride the seesaw of emotions at times. It's just a part of life; while the philosophers and New Age people might want a life with a flat line of emotions, the realistic part of me knows that isn't possible.
I tended to discount the diagnoses of "anxiety disorder" that I began seeing show up in client records and among people in recovery about a decade ago as--well, not quite not real, but an exaggeration, a way to bundle together some personality traits into some "disorder" that Big Pharma could sell their products to "treat," and to allow a lot of other people to slap a label on their inability to take personal responsibility for their lives. My views have evolved and changed considerably, though, in the last five years. It's a real thing, and it's as debilitating in its own way as lung cancer or a missing limb. Far more women than men seemed to be officially diagnosed with it, which is either an effect of the current state of American society or because women are more open about suffering from it (and the two are not mutually exclusive).
But the true reality of anxiety has been brought home to me in the last month. Like almost every woman in early recovery, there has been a lot of trauma in my girlfriend's life, and it has shaped the way her life has been playing out for a long time now. And I am not sure if it is genetic or circumstantial (and at this point, it doesn't matter) and I am not sure if an "official" anxiety disorder diagnosis is in her records somewhere (I suspect so, from one of the meds she takes), but even if not, she sure does have it. It's been an eye-opener, and it has caused me to once again reassess who I am and what God would like me to do in the situation that I am.
I've learned to not take much personally.
I've learned that periods of silence are OK, indeed probably preferable in some instances.
I've learned that if I have nearly two decades clean and sometimes struggle with emotional regulation, then it is exponentially more difficult for someone with six months clean to do so, and expecting that is a fool's errand.
I've learned that her need for order in certain areas of her life (arrangements of furniture, counter tops, etc) and the need for what sometimes seems to be absurd numbers of choices in areas (eg shampoo) is anxiety-related. I've learned that it isn't funny or healthy to "mess with" someone by moving objects or disturbing what they're comfortable with just to mess with their heads.
I've learned to become very aware and vigilant when the rate of words changes, and that she has no real control over it. It isn't always in a negative way, or aimed at me, but it is a sign that she is anxious about something.
Again, I've learned that silence is sometimes helpful. I've also learned that during such periods, proximity is much more helpful than I had believed. Just being around is more helpful than anything I can do or say.
I've learned that stressing over things is reality in countless areas, and that while reassurance is welcomed, it does not change the feelings. And it is another area where proximity is helpful.
And I've learned,  most of all, how much it has hurt her when people that have mattered to her in her life have discounted, ignored, played with, or took advantage of her anxiety. How much it has hurt her when people have left because they didn't want to deal with it, couldn't accept it.
I've learned how much my presence in her life does matter to her, how much she appreciates me--and my willingness to find ways to accept her as she deals with her own mental health stuff.
I've learned how to disagree and express my own emotional stuff without blowing up, without threatening her sense of security. I am learning more and more how to effectively communicate, how to alleviate distress, and how to effectively compromise.
I've learned, in short, a lot. Much that I never dreamed there was to know. I fall short at times--but less and less with every passing day. The last three years have proven to be the most challenging, emotionally, in my entire life, and that continues to be the case.
Not painful, but challenging. It is making me a better man, and it is improving at least four lives and many more potentially. Sometimes I wonder, when I pray, whether my whole life has gone down the way it has because this was going to be needed for me at this time and place. I don't believe in divinely inspired "tests", and I'm not really enamored of the idea that God "plans" everything--but I certainly do have a belief that God's way is always available to us if we're seeking it, and that God can use any situation to both further His purposes and to help us find a better, more serene and peaceful, way to get through our own lives. And for me to be where I am with this, to have gained the insights I have, to find the strength and resolve to find the acceptance and ability to be useful and helpful, to get out of my own feelings and start to understand where I need to be--to realize and embrace what being committed to someone really is, to not recoil or run away when some of the baggage train is unloaded and opened--it's all remarkable and amazing.
And gratifying. I don't always feel peaceful, and I don't enjoy everything that I find myself doing and feeling, but at the end of the day, I know I am a better man, and that I have made and continue to make a huge positive difference in the lives of others. And they, in turn, are capable of and are making a huge positive difference in mine, and it has changed my perspective on the entirety of my life. I think about the stuff going on around me and within me that used to tear me up even a few weeks ago, and I realize how trivial so much of it was and is.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Hitting A Nerve

Sometimes I wonder if anyone is ever reading what I write. But then I write something about our local recovery community, and I find out in a big hurry that I have a rather substantial local audience, at least. Yesterday's wasn't the most controversial thing I've ever wrote, and it won't have the longest reach or be affecting things years down the line. But it definitely hit a nerve around here, because about fifteen people either commented or contacted me about it.
To clarify: I never said I was walking away from meetings completely. I said that I was attending less of them, and that at this point in my life, the reasons why I go to the ones I do have evolved. I don't go to meetings because I struggle to keep it down. And honestly, I'm nearly two decades removed from active addiction; there are limits as to how much identification people coming in the door are going to have with me and my story. That's just reality. I don't talk as much as I used to, and what I do talk about tends to be about living clean, as opposed to the struggles of staying clean and the debris field of early recovery.
I had a lot more I could have said. But frankly, it doesn't matter all that much to me, and I'm in a hurry this morning anyway.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A Prudent Distance

I was talking with a friend the other night, a person who has a few years clean now and that has more or less given up on attending meetings or being involved with either fellowship in any significant way. I've become aware of several other people in the last few years that also have gotten clean and stopped attending meetings or being involved, and their lives seem to be full and fulfilling. And as my life has gotten fuller and more crowded in recent weeks, I've been thinking more and more of such stories, and wondering if this, too, is going to be my destiny.
Between my working to six o'clock or so most nights (and later on some) and Lauren's work schedule, making meetings has become a bit difficult, for both of us. And I have to be honest with you that, looking at social media posts and from what noise does reach my ears, I'm not missing them that much. And my low opinion of a few members of the fellowship has been confirmed by some of the things said and done in the last month; let's just say that some of the loudest voices in the room regarding "women with the women" and "supporting newcomers" are hollow and empty. And I am truly amazed that me and those in my life seem to occupy so much space in the minds and hearts of people I, left to my own devices, wouldn't give a second thought to. I feel more sorry for than angry about such people. But I'm not made of stone, either, and I'm not going to tell you I don't see it or hear it or notice it. I just am not feeding into it.
But I knew that was going to happen, given the track record of some of the people involved, and I expected no different. I was already avoiding places where people like this are likely to be found, anyway. I was a little disheartened the other week when the small meeting we had been patronizing for several weeks wasn't so small that day. But it's a common phenomenon in the rooms; a small group develops a reputation for being a good meeting, and before you know it word spreads and suddenly it's not a small meeting anymore, with all the baggage that comes from that (and y'all thought I couldn't be diplomatic or haven't grown spiritually, didn't you?). The two meetings that I like the most are, unfortunately for those in the house prone to anxiety and panic attacks, not small, and it's been hard for me to get to them consistently in the last month (although I should be able to make it tonight).
But I'm beyond the point where I am attending meetings for what I necessarily need for myself. Most of my personal recovery has been about giving back more than taking for a long time, and that hasn't changed, even with all the recent developments. The difference is that I've had to find my way to applying the principles I learned in recovery to all areas of my life much more stringently in recent weeks, and honestly, although I haven't been perfect, I haven't done a bad job of it, either.
And sometimes a productive recovery means keeping a safe distance from the Kool-Aid available out there. It may take days, or it might take years, but eventually those serving it get either karmic payback, or what one puts it into it comes back at them, depending on how you believe the world works. And ultimately, one of the blessings of having the experience that I do is knowing enough to keep clear of unleashed animals on the prowl; there's nothing to be gained by being in their presence. And the conversations I've had recently remind me that although it isn't necessarily the preferred way, it is certainly possible to lead a clean, productive, and happy life without being deeply involved with many meetings.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Living Life

Out of bed far too early for a Sunday. But this is the new normal; except for the four Sundays of the years that are the fifth ones of the month, I will be working on Sunday as long as I am holding this position. It's the nature of the job and the services provided. I'm not going to mind so much once I am actually doing it, it's the getting out of bed and getting going that's bothersome.
Sabrina slept over a friend's house, as she is often doing. I have come to an acceptance, if not necessarily approval of, many of her behaviors and attitudes. She's really not a kid anymore; she's a very young but nonetheless actual adult, and I needed to readjust my expectations around that. And to be truthful, given the massive nature of the changes around here in the last month, she's handled them remarkably. Of all the outcomes I expected, what has actually happened was near the bottom of the list. It's a credit to both women that they have become so close, and that they are a good support for each other. And it's helped me, too.
My girlfriend is with her daughter this weekend, until she returns to work this afternoon. Yesterday was the first extensive time I have spent around her daughter, another indication to me that we are already in uncharted territory. It's been a while since I've been around a nearly-9YO with a lot of energy that doesn't have a boatload of emotional issues and developmental disabilities (those kind of kids are a significant part of my caseload), and it was a welcome change. And it was nice to see her mother in her natural element; it's been far too long. Unlike some of the other women I've been involved with, she actually knows what she's doing when she is with her kid, and the love she feels is obvious and apparent. After Nightmeredith's nearly-cruel indifference to her children, and indeed going back to the beginning of my clean time, it dawned on me that I have been around and with far too many women whose parenting set my teeth on edge. That, thankfully, is not going to be an issue here.
The dog is the fourth member of this little homestead, and while he is managing, I sure wish he could talk. He's had a touchy stomach for weeks now, and is in the midst of another bout of diarrhea. I talked to my oldest daughter, in vet school, and she told me it is likely stress, which would be understandable, and I'm a little reluctant to leave him alone here when I go to work. But he acted like himself most of yesterday, and I changed dog foods yesterday, so I am hoping that a trip to the vet will not be necessary in a few days. Other than the diarrhea, he is acting healthy; he could stand more exercise, but with a couple of feet of snow still on the ground, we're kind of limited with that.
I owe, I owe, so off to work I go.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

A Country Imploding

I am not inclined, this morning, to go through a listing of all the objectionable things that are coming out of Washington, DC; it would take far too long, and there are others that can talk more knowledgeably and thoroughly than I can. But I want to say a few hundred words about the general direction of how life in this not-quite-United States is heading.
What we are seeing, in a very general way, is the next chapter in the sectional/regional conflict that began before the Revolution and manifested itself most memorably in the Civil War. The union between the various regions of this country has never been easy, and at heart, all conflicts of this nature are due to differences in values and priorities. The middle of North America has been a historical anomaly since the time when Europeans started arriving here in force four hundred years ago. And long before the Revolution, it was already apparent that at least two very different cultures were evolving. Without trying to be overly simplistic, the northern area was more diverse and more devoted to classical Greek ideals of governance, while the southern area was more in line with traditional ideas of political organization of elite, aristocratic control of the levers of true power. The coming of age process in North America coincided with the greatest cultural change homo sapiens has ever known, the dawning of and acceleration of the Industrial Revolution. It has taken 250 years to become apparent, but the changes wrought by such a profound and lasting cultural paradigm shift only masked, not permanently changed, the eons-old conflict between the natural tendency of societies to stratify and to concentrate power and resources at the top of said society.
Those that deny evolution, or somehow think that humanity is a partial or total exception, are wrong. Human beings are among the most social of animals, and in every--every--grouping of social animals, from termites to other primates, the social group is invariably separated into a few (at most) chiefs and a whole lot of Indians. And every animal society that has ever existed shows the same tendencies that we are now witnessing in this country, and that every human society has also exhibited; that in times of scarcity, in times of crisis, and in times of stress upon the organization of the society, members of it are deemed expendable, and the focus of the individuals at the top of the hierarchy moves to marshaling  resources to ensure that those individuals survive and thrive.
Mankind is unique only in that we can use spoken language to justify primal biological instincts. A queen bee does not have to justify to the worker bees her "reasons" to split the colony and force members of the hive to depart. Almost all alpha males in any social mammal grouping do not have to justify killing the offspring of other males or challengers to their dominance. The sick and the lame and the old of almost every social animal grouping are brutally dispensed with when their usefulness to the larger grouping diminishes or vanishes. It is observable fact, and even the most obdurate and close-minded people will admit to that fact. It is only when talking about human society that this basic biological fact is not universally acknowledged or deemed applicable.
It is denied or sugar-coated or justified because one of the ways that human beings have rationalized their destructive behaviors has been to believe that we are the highest life form, that somehow we are different than others. But there has always been an element of denial or hypocrisy in those beliefs indeed, it is the root cause of the widely documented and age-old fact of man's inhumanity to other man. Morality and ethics were developed as a response, a survival mechanism, of the many equivalents of worker ants or members of the pack to try to ensure their own relevance, and indeed existence, that they could not be dispensed with casually or cruelly by those at the top of their own hierarchies. It has never been a perfect mechanism. The only reason it has persisted as long as it has is that there were always "others" to focus the destructive energy upon. Homo sapiens is biologically the same all over the world.
It is us that differentiates between classes or categories of other human beings. It is our consciousness, our mind, the thing that we like to believe makes us different from other animals, that ultimately causes us to need to justify our animalistic instincts. We have thousands of generations of this moral compass to overcome, in our minds, and do so, we need to invent rationales that give us comfort when giving into our primal natures. We like to believe that we are more than animals, but we cannot completely deny nature; so we end up making compromises that erode the consciousness we have developed in order to intrinsically accept our innate nature.
But the rationales and the excuses and the justifications do not alter the basic behavior.
And on a very large scale, this is what we have always seen in human societies, from prehistoric hunter/gatherer groupings to the global political organization today. Clans developed for this reason. City-states developed for this reason. Nations developed for this reason. And despite many centuries of trying to find and then implement better solutions, this basic conflict between the top of the society and the middle/lower masses, between ruler and ruled, continues to be the basic human condition, the overarching truth, the dirty unspoken reality of human society.
It's not quite what we have come to call Social Darwinism. But it's close.
And in this country, the democratic ideal, the Land of The Free national fairy tale that we have always entertained as our guiding principle, has never been the reality for a substantial number of us. This country was conquered from its original inhabitants, to start with, and our treatment of American Indians has always been a national stain on the soul. Our actions toward African-Americans are well-documented, well-known, and ongoing. The adoption of material success as a marker of moral authority has always been more pronounced in this country than elsewhere. What has been the anomaly over the centuries has been the Jeffersonian ideal, that the more or less natural organization of society was morally wrong. It has held sway in the national consciousness for a long, long time, even as the actual practice has fallen far short.
But in 2017, despite a lot of denial and heads in the sand, homo sapiens, deep in our collective primal souls, knows that time is running out. We know that the climate is changing. We know that there are far, far too many of us inhabiting this planet to sustain us all. We know that hard times are here, and that harder times are coming.
Bringing it back to this country and regional differences...life was always harder in the southern regions of this land. One of the largely ignored justifications for the way the southern part of the country developed was that the land would not support the more egalitarian and ostensibly more "democratic" ways of the more temperate regions of North America. The way Southern society evolved was based on the forms of society that much of the rest of the world had developed, when an aristocracy was deemed necessary in order to stably survive. The North was not as dramatically different as it liked to pretend, either; the "democratic" bent of the society was always closed to many, and there was a lot of blood on Northern hands, too. One of the biggest unacknowledged facts of American history is that the Revolution occurred in large part because the people of the northern, more populous colonies were much more militant that the native population had to be exterminated or deported. The conflict known as the Seven Years War in most of the world is called the French and Indian War here. The conflict we know as the American Revolution was not merely a colonial uprising against distant overlords; it was a war against the American Indians, too. And the War of 1812 was not a stalemate or a draw or historically inconclusive--there was a loser, a big loser; the American Indian tribes that desperately looked to Great Britain to reverse the inexorable losses suffered over the previous two centuries. When the British essentially gave up on fighting the Americans, it was the death knell for American Indian control of any significant part of North America.
Moving forward two hundred years--we have grown and evolved to the point where resources and ability to focus on outside groups to exploit for the gain of a larger portion of our populace is no longer possible. And what we are doing, in times of stress and crisis, is adopting nationally what the South decided long ago; that power and resources should be concentrated at the top of the society. It doesn't matter that the most outrageous sort of nonsense will be uttered in order to justify the flaunting of our national mythology, our better natures. The intent is not to justify to those in power; they know full well what they are doing.
The intent is to prevent a united resistance. The intent is to sow doubt, to reinforce the natural inclination of the many drones/worker bees/ pack members that their best interest lies in being a part of the (smaller) group--a subservient part. People that are not directly benefiting from the changes being ruthlessly implemented need justifications that will allow them to fall into line. That is the entire past 35 years of American history in a sentence.
In any dog pack, the same process takes place. There is only one leader, but the rest of the pack believes that their best chance of survival means being a part of the pack, and zealously and jealously keeping other dogs out and at bay. The process has been underway here since at least 1980 and probably since 1966; it is only becoming more blatant now, as the sense of a world in irredeemable crisis becomes overwhelming.
And this is why we are seeing Trump. This is why we have all these Republican assholes in Congress. This is why we are starting to not only screw the poor, but actually beginning the process of forcing them to die. This is why more and more resources are going to the few. This is why there is such a huge emphasis on imagined external enemies. This is why fewer and fewer of us are being allowed to participate in our "democracy." This is why we those of us that still able to mark ballots have fewer real options to choose from.
And this is why it will only get worse, not better. There is resistance--but history tells us that the resistance will either peter out or that it will be suppressed at some point. And either outcome meets the needs of the elite, the alphas, the kings and queens and leaders.
The goals are two: 1) A smaller pack, and 2) the consolidation of unquestioned power and access to scarcer resources for those at the top of that smaller pack.
The South embraced and justified this strategy three hundred years ago. It is only now that the rest of the country is getting forced, with less lubrication than there ought to be, into line. Is it too late to fight? No. Is it too late to fight and win?
Possibly. But know this; the time for peaceful and lawful change has likely already passed. The alphas have control of the carcass, and they will not share without a fight to the death. That's a biological fact, too, in any other animal society, and that's what it is going to take in this one.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Small Miracles

Yesterday was one of the more stress-filled days of my life, no joke. But at the end, some semblance of sanity and justice prevailed. We remain a household of three, and the original plan more or less is back into place, albeit with a bit more urgency than before.
This is one instance--a very small one--where the Preston-era change of attitude at the Department of Social Services worked to someone's advantage. It's unfortunate that the eventual result was built on the unhappy experience of many others, but to recap a long day, DSS' insistence that Lauren would have to go to the first available apartment on the DSS list that came open, should she be admitted to the shelter, even if said apartment was someplace like Crandall Street or in another crime-infested, drug-filled neighborhood, tilted the scales in her favor, as first her PO and then her treatment counselor refused to take her out of here to take that risk.
It's not a blank check; it was made clear to her that she is expected to find a place within a few months, at most. The leisure to work and build up a significant nest egg is gone, although my personal belief is that her PO, at least, has come to believe that staying here is an unqualified benefit to her. But she can keep her job, and more importantly to her, she can keep the support system she has in place. It's not as varied as I would like ideally, but the bond that has developed between the female residents of this house was somewhat unexpected and completely welcome, and for both of them, it fills long-neglected voids. It can get uncomfortable for me, at times; they tend to agree with each other when I get into a contretemps with one or the other, and both of them have wants that far exceed our income, and that has led to some issues here. But on the whole, this is a much nicer and happier atmosphere than it was even three weeks ago.
And how do I feel? Since the last big problem we had, I let go in my mind of the relationship, and the fantasy aspect of it has certainly vanished. But the fact is that we do have a basic level of compatibility that I don't think either one of us really suspected. I haven't forgotten all of the things that caused me to want to throw in the towel completely some time ago, but it has also been tempered by some growth and (something that I had needed) a realization that whatever my expectations might have been, she does have genuinely strong and deep feelings for me. Very little has gone right for her in her life, and she still has a wariness that is going to take a long time to overcome. And for my part, I am not totally sure that I can live with some of her values and conceptions of life.
But something has happened that didn't seem remotely possible a few weeks ago; we have settled into what is more or less a "normal" state. People aren't throwing in the towel when disagreements occur; no one sleeps on the couch; issues don't fester for days. It's fairly comfortable and fulfilling around here. Yesterday was not a good day because it looked as though that life was going to be altered for no good reason. But sanity prevailed in a system that is largely broken, for once.
And by whatever miracle that took place, we'll take it.