Thursday, February 21, 2013

What if money was no object?

I watched a video someone sent me via Facebook the other day. The title of the video is "What if money was no object?" and the audio is from a lecture by Alan Watts. The basic gist of the lecture is: What would you do with your life if money wasn't a factor?

This video really hit home with me. I am 51 years old and have been working for the same company for 23 years. When I started with the organization, I was doing something I really enjoyed. But over the years, that job went away and I took a totally different position within the company, which I've been doing for about the last 13 years or so.

Here's the deal with my job: I'm grateful to have it and everything that comes along with it (salary, insurance benefits, paid time off, the ability to work from home, etc.). I'm also extremely good at what I do. So, what's the problem? The problem is that I just don't like the work very much. Changing processes, added responsibilities, cutbacks in staff, and other things have made the job so much more stressful and, quite frankly, almost impossible to do. And that's not a good feeling.

Unfortunately, as a 51-year-old man with a family to support my options are pretty limited. Finding a new job that offers me everything I have now would be, I'm guessing, impossible at my age. So--as Alan Watts says--I continue "doing things [I] don't like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing things [I] don't like doing. Which is stupid." I couldn't have said it better myself. Watts goes on to say, "Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way."

I feel trapped, unfulfilled, and unhappy. And when I contemplate the "What if money was no object?" question, I always come up with two things. First of all, I dream of going to culinary school and working as a chef. If I had my whole life to live over again, knowing what I know now, I would've chosen that career path when I was younger. Realistically, though, quitting my current job and going to culinary school--which is quite expensive (there's that damn money issue)--probably isn't an option. Especially at my age.

The second thing I think about doing is helping parents of addicts, and maybe even addicts themselves. Having gone through what I've gone through over the last several years, I've learned so much about what the parent of an addict should and shouldn't do. Granted, I've learned it "in the trenches" as opposed to in the classroom. But I feel I have a lot to offer people who are in the situation I've been through. Strangely, five years ago I couldn't imagine being even remotely qualified to give another parent of an addict advice on how to work on their recovery. But now? I think I have valuable knowledge that would help people.

Once again, though, I don't think a career move to "Counselor for Parents of Addicts" is very realistic. I'm sure a college degree of some sort is necessary to do that kind of work, and I don't have one. I only finished about two years of college before I decided to take a break and get a temporary job...at the company I'm still working for. (So much for "temporary," huh?) But helping parents of addicts and helping break the stigma associated with addiction (and depression) is something I know I would love doing. It would make me feel like I was doing something to help others and supporting an incredibly important cause. My current job just doesn't give me that.

I want to make a bigger difference in this world. I want to help people. I want to let parents of addicts know that things can get better for them. That they can recover and live reasonably normal, enjoyable lives. And that they really have no control over their addicted child's decisions. I never really thought I would ever learn that. But I did. And if I can learn it, anyone can learn it. I want to help parents of addicts reclaim their lives.

When my wife and I attended the Family Program at Michael's House in Palm Springs while my son was in rehab there, we had frequent group sessions with other parents. During one of those group sessions, a woman who was brand new to the whole "my child is an addict" experience remarked, "You two should be the parent counselors." I took a great deal of pride in hearing that. And it's stuck with me ever since. It really is something I'd love to do.

So that's what I'm feeling today. If anyone out there has any words of wisdom or advice on how to make a career change at age 51--with no college degree and no pile of money hidden away somewhere--bring it on. I'm all ears.

P.S. I should add that I have recently had the great honor of being added to the National Parent Network for The Partnership at Drugfree.org. This network consists of parents of addicts who can provide assistance and support to other parents going through the experience for the first time. I am so grateful to have been chosen to be a part of this group. At least I will be able to get a taste of what I would like to do full time at some point. If money was no object.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

GOD

I got my third tattoo the other day: My dad's initials on my left shoulder. I had the tattoo artist make a template from my own handwriting, just like I did when I had my sons' names tattooed on my wrists about a year ago.

Coincidentally, my dad's initials were GOD. So the tattoo has kind of a dual meaning, considering it was a "God moment" that brought us back together.

Rest in peace, dad. You'll always be with me now.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Grieving

It's been four days since my father passed away and for some reason the grief didn't really hit me until today.

Of course there was enormous sadness in the hospital while my dad was suffering. It was so painful to see him hurting, not even aware of his surroundings. But after the hospice nurse talked to us and the doctors and nurses did everything they could to make my dad comfortable, that sadness turned into relief. Even when my dad stopped breathing, there was more relief than anything else.

The last three days weren't bad, either. But today has been absolutely miserable for me. From the moment I woke up this morning, all I've been able to think about is the fact that my dad is gone forever and that I won't see or talk to him anymore. I went in the garage this afternoon and saw the box of tools he gave me just a few months ago...and I cried.

This is the first time I've lost someone in my immediate family and I'm not sure I know how to grieve properly. Or if there even is a "right way" to grieve. I feel kind of lost and mixed up. And it's unsettling.

I had also never seen anyone die before. Now the event that provided so much relief just four days ago is sort of haunting me. I don't think I'll ever be able to forget being there with my dad, holding onto him while he took his last breath. That's something I was never prepared for.

I'm probably just rambling now. But I felt a need to get these feelings off my chest. I feel a bit guilty, too, because right now my entire family is gathered at my sister's house. My mom, my two sisters, my brother, my wife, and my two sons are all there for dinner. I was also there for a very short time. But I was only there physically. Mentally? That's another story. So I had my wife bring me home. I just needed to be alone, in my own space. At this moment in time, this is how I'm choosing to grieve.

I'm not sure what the days ahead will bring. I've never been through this before. I'll just take it a day at a time. That's something I've gotten pretty good at, I guess.

"We sang your favorite hymns and we held your hand/You took your final breath and that was that/But I'd never seen a person die before/I tried so hard not to cry, you know/'cause maybe sometimes we've got to trust ourselves/That when you die you go someplace else..." --Kathleen Edwards (from her song "Scared At Night")

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Goodbye, Dad

If you follow this blog, you're probably familiar with the rocky relationship I had with my dad over the years. I went forty-plus years pretty much feeling like I didn't have a father. Alcohol and work were, it seemed, more important to him than relationships with his children.

Thankfully, this past summer I came to a point in my life where I could let go of the resentment, anger, and, yes, hatred I carried around inside of me for so long. It happened rather suddenly. And unexpectedly. And  when it did I was incredibly relieved to have that weight lifted off of my shoulders. Some power from above gave me the courage and energy to move on. I never thought it would happen. But it did. I was finally at peace with my father. (Read about that wonderful day here.) Amazingly, from that point on when he told me he loved me and appreciated me it actually meant something to me. When he said to me one day last August, "I can always count on you," it made me feel so special.

My dad passed away last night--Wednesday, February 6th--at 11:00pm EST. He was 86 years old.

He had been sent from the nursing home he had been in for the last few weeks to the hospital emergency room in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. He was having heart and breathing issues. When I first saw him in the ER on Tuesday I knew he wouldn't last much longer.

My wife, oldest son, and I were the first ones to visit my dad on Wednesday morning. When we got to the hospital he seemed very agitated and uncomfortable. We did our best to comfort him, telling him we loved him and that it was OK to let go if he wanted to.

About 12 hours later, after being moved to another room, my dad was still noticeably uncomfortable. Since he was a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) patient (his wishes) whose prognosis was not good, the orders were given to stop any extraordinary measures to keep him alive. We met with an incredibly caring hospice nurse, and from that point forward the hospital staff merely worked to make my father comfortable. They removed his heart monitor, gave him morphine for his pain, removed his oxygen mask, etc.

Shortly thereafter, my dad fell asleep. And a few hours later, he died very peacefully, surrounded by my mom, my two sisters, my brother, my wife, and me. It was so great that his wife of 60 years and all four of his kids were by his side at the end.

I am very sad today, but I am also happy. Happy that my dad is no longer suffering. Happy we were all together when he passed. And happy that I had mended our relationship before his death. Although it was only six months ago when that happened, the important thing is that it happened. For years and years I frequently thought about how I would feel if I was still carrying around resentment towards my father when he died. Today I can happily say I'll never know that feeling.

Goodbye, dad. I love you. And I know you loved me.

"There is no joy without hardship. If not for death, would we appreciate life? If not for hate, would we know the ultimate goal is love?...At these moments you can either hold on to negativity and look for blame, or you can choose to heal and keep on loving." --Elisabeth KΓΌbler-Ross

Monday, February 4, 2013

Seven months, two days

My son is seven months, two days clean and sober today. He celebrated the seven-month mark this past Saturday, but I had limited computer access because my wife and I were traveling. So I didn't have time to post anything here.

It seems like just yesterday that I was posting about the six-month milestone. The month of January went by so fast, as did another month of sobriety. And with every single day--every single hour, actually--I remain eternally grateful that my son is experiencing this new life of his.

He's so much more mature than he was just a few months ago. He's becoming the adult I thought he could be, with commitment to sobriety, sober friends, a job, a girlfriend he adores; all the things that seemed to be out of reach for him not too long ago. (By the way, he brought his girlfriend over for dinner one night last week. She is beautiful and very nice. It's also obvious that she has a very calming effect on my son. I think that's great for him.)

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So my wife and I took a long weekend and went to Pittsburgh to see our friend and favorite musical artist--Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards--perform on Saturday night. On Friday, we started our trip to Pittsburgh and stopped in Akron, Ohio, to have lunch with my wife's aunt and uncle. That was a lot of fun, because we don't get to see them that often.

After our stop in Akron, we continued on to Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, where my first cousin once removed--my mother's cousin--lives. She's a travel agent, and I had called her prior to our trip to see if she could get us a good rate for a hotel room in Pittsburgh. She said she could, but suggested we stop and see her on Friday evening, have dinner with her, and spend Friday night at her house. Then we could continue on to Pittsburgh on Saturday morning. So that's what we did.

I was nervous about the stop/stay in Beaver Falls, simply because I hadn't seen my cousin in 44 years. Yup. That's right. 44 years. The last time I saw her, I was seven years old.

As it turns out, family is family and it felt like my cousin and I had stayed connected all these years.  We had a nice dinner with her and talked a lot about family. She had great stories about my mom's side of the family, including lots I'd never heard before. It really was great spending time with her and we intend to go back to visit again soon.

On Saturday morning my wife and I headed to Pittsburgh and got settled in our hotel room. Then we went out for a walk down Carson Street (on the South Side of the city), which is the street the concert venue was on. We had lunch at the legendary Primanti Bros. restaurant, stopped at a chocolatier for dessert, then went back to the room and rested up for the concert.

After an excellent dinner at a cool taco place called Yo Rita, we went on to the Rex Theater where Kathleen Edwards was performing.

Being the old people we are, my wife and I were so excited to find out that the theater had actual seats to sit in! (These days, most of the shows we go to at smaller venues don't have seats. You have to stand.) We grabbed seats in the front row and enjoyed an incredible night of music. Seattle-based singer-songwriter Sera Cahoone performed a great set to open the night. And Kathleen--along with her bandmates Jim Bryson and Gord Tough--put on an amazing show (as usual).

After the show, we went backstage (actually, upstairs) with Kathleen to talk for a bit and give her a little gift bag of goodies we brought for her, Jim, and Gord. Kathleen is so kind and generous. And such a good soul. If you've never heard her music, you need to check it out. Her songs have been an instrumental part of my healing over the years.

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Back to my son for a minute. All the one-day-at-a-times are adding up. I hope and pray that they keep adding up, too. My wife and I continue to live in the moment and don't allow ourselves to look into the future and play the "What if?" game. We would much rather enjoy every waking moment and revel in the here and now.

I posted a quote on Facebook this morning and it's advice that everyone should heed:

"We have a choice. We can spend our whole life suffering because we can't relax with how things really are, or we can relax and embrace the open-endedness of the human situation, which is fresh, unfixated, unbiased." --Pema Chodron (from her book Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change)

My wife and I choose to "relax and embrace."

Seven months and two days. I thank my son's higher power every day for watching over him. And I thank my higher power for watching over me (and my wife) and leading us down the road of own recovery. I believe something might have finally "stuck" for all of us. And I hope whatever it is is sticky as hell.

"The idea wasn't to stop anything. The idea was to start everything." --David Ryan Adams