Putting Away Childish Things

It might be naive of me to think that when a person reaches a certain age, they realize that the road they have travelled, may not be a wise path to use for their retirement. With that opening statement, I’ve let you into my world, as far as knowing that I am nearing that magical retirement age. When I was younger, sitting at the end of a bar, drinking my beer, I’d proudly say that I had a three step plan for my future financial security. Social Security, Welfare, and Food Stamps! I said it halfway jokingly but also seriously. Why should I save for old age, when realistically, with the life I was leading I’d be dead before I was 50.

My first “real” step in planning for the future was to admit being an alcoholic and to quit drinking. It was that first step that I realized how I had placed myself in a very lonely spot. I had reached a point in my life that I couldn’t imagine a life with alcohol, but I also couldn’t imagine life without it. This act of surrender has kept me sober for over 26 years.

With every year in sobriety a sense of shame would set in because I had no real plan for retirement. At 50 years old, I was $65,000 in debt, with no savings and a very small 401-K plan. The one thing sobriety instilled in me was that I couldn’t control things in my life, yet I still could control one thing – my word. My debt was mostly self-inflicted. A mortgage, credit card debt, and medical expenses. Some would say that the medical expenses were beyond my control, which to me was an “easy out” for justifying not paying that bill. More than once I contemplated bankruptcy, but those thoughts always brought me back to keeping my word.

By 2010, I started a plan to get out of debt, which was obtained by 2016. It has been over a decade since I decided to “grow up” and being responsible for my financial actions. I live a life that is debt free and now have a respectable savings portfolio.

I now can see the immaturity in others from my age group that spend money like tomorrow will be the end of the world. One gentleman I know has spent his life living my original retirement plan. Social Security, Welfare, and Food Stamps. When his eyes got bigger than his wallet, he got deep into debt with credit cards. When he no longer could get new credit cards, he “borrowed” from his sisters and his mom. Think about that. A man in his 60’s borrowing from his mom, with no plans of ever paying her back.

When mom passed away, his two sisters and himself, each inherited over $75,000. That does not include the $35,000 he still owed his mom. I suggested to him to just put it in a bank and forget about it for a year. This was his last chance for any type of financial security. He no longer had mom to bail him out. Just live your life like you have, pay your bills, contact your creditors, make payment plans, and above all leave the inheritance alone. I figured if he did this he could see that he could manage money and more importantly that the $75,000 didn’t disappear.

Sadly, he lasted a couple of months and bought a house. He is in his 60’s with his first home. He lives in a major metropolitan area, so he couldn’t purchase a top of the line home. He got a fixit-upper. Remember the movie The Money Pit?

So, what else would a person rolling in money need with a new home? How about a new car? I use “new” loosely as it is new to him. Anyway, why not get a 15 year old Mustang? A gas hog in a major city, another impulsive buy that you would expect from someone in their 20’s or 30’s – not in their 60’s. Now, I’ll sit back and watch this guy head back down the road to destruction. I foresee new credit cards at first, then since mom isn’t an option anymore, borrowing from his sisters.

I look back at my life with a sense of awe because of the things I did, the people I met, and the places I’ve been. Things changed when I quit drinking. I don’t have the money needed for a great relaxing retirement, but thankfully, I’m not broke and I have put away those childish things.

Right now I have one major purchase I hope to make before the end of the year. I’ve worked for this investment for the last three years. Saving every penny I could, as well as using credit wisely to build on my credit score. I could make this entire purchase with cash, but is it wise to do so? My best wage earning years are behind me and what savings I have is it. Now living in the UK, there is added protection by having some of it with credit when making a major purchase.

The one thing the last ten years has shown me is that I can manage credit responsibly and not fall into the mistakes of my past. The major lesson I have learned is that a person can make money work for them instead on money making us for it.

It’s OK, to act young and be young when we are young. I believe when you reach a certain age, you need to quit competing with others. You need to quit having a sense of entitlement and to live within your means. It is quite sad to see someone who had a chance to live comfortably piss it away.

Need Income? Value Your Job

I have mentioned that if a person wants to reduce debt that they have two options. They can either increase income or decrease expenses. Today, frustration leads me to talk about income. How can we generate income. In reality, the more money you have the more opportunities you will have to generate income. For some, that is not an option, so they begin selling possessions to make ends meet. In my younger years, I sold TV’s, stereos, automobiles, and tools. Anything that had any value was a potential target for sale or pawn.

Finally, a third, more common approach to acquiring income is to gain employment. This has been my approach for nearly 40 years. It has been the method which has kept a roof over my head, food in my tummy, and luxuries that many people take for granted. It has helped me get out of debt and helped me build a comfortable nest egg. It has also led to some extremely pain filled nights with a sore back, total fatigue from working overtime, and some stressful nights wondering if the economy would make me redundant in a job that was no longer necessary.

Through it all, it was the job, that gave me a purpose. It gave me self-worth and self-respect. My dreams and my goals were place entirely in my own hands. I wasn’t reliant on any government benefit program to help. Just my own sweat and tears to make my visions come true.

The frustration I mentioned earlier is by seeing people whine and moan about money they need but won’t go the extra mile to make it happen. The extra mile being a good reliable employee. Recently, I witnessed a young married man, the father of three young children, lose his job because he didn’t want to do his job. He liked the money but to do the job he was hired for never happened. Though he charged a company for a full days wages, he often started late and left two hours early. He’d talk on his phone, non-stop, constantly buying or selling things. He reminded me so much of George Costanza on Seinfeld. Mister import/export man! Always talking about how much money he wanted to make. Yet, he devoted no time to the one thing that was a guaranteed source of income – his job.

Let’s face it. In today’s world, with Covid-19 forcing lockdowns and furloughs, no job is safe. No job is guaranteed. So if you have one or get one, then you need to treat it with respect because they are hard to keep and even harder to find. Within three months this young man went from being enthused to having an opportunity to not caring about his responsibilities. Towards the end, the job he was enlisted to do was not done at all. When he was finally let go, he was shocked it happened. Vowing to hire an attorney and file a grievance over wrongful termination, he still won’t acknowledge that he lost this job because of his own actions.

Another person I know has had more jobs in the five years I’ve known him than I have had in my lifetime. Everything he does he goes full throttle into it. His recent “job” was being a labourer dealing with medical testing kits. He purchased a lunch box, thermos, and made sandwiches for the whole week. He had to wear special clothing and a mask, which turned out to be a problem for him. He said that after three hours he had to resign from the post. He made it sound like it was a very high class job that he was an indispensable part of. The reality was that after three hours he quit. He found it hard to remove the special clothing to use the washroom and he struggled to breath while wearing a mask. I can’t think of anyone that finds it comfortable to wear a mask. I’ve been doing it for over a year and my glasses still steam up and there are times I can’t breathe getting to the point of being nauseous. Yet, I keep trying. I have to do it. I want a job. I need a job and to do that in today’s world that means taking extra steps to insure my health and the health of others.

I have told my children that anytime they start a new job, they need to stay with it for at least three months. After that time, you’ll begin to learn ways to do the job more efficiently and what once seemed like an impossible task, after three months, becomes routine and no extra special effort is needed. After that time, wait until your one year anniversary to suggest any changes that may make a job easier. There is a reason why a job is done a certain way, even after three months, you may not understand why, so just do it their way and learn. Also long term employees, who are now co-workers, don’t like newcomers who know it all.

When I look back at my working career, I shake my head because I can’t believe how much of a dumbass I was. I made many simple jobs difficult. It took awhile but I always got to a point where I was doing the work, in a way ruling the work, instead of the work ruling me.

In today’s world, it is a special art to become a good employee and a good co-worker. A good employee shows up for work on time all the time. In fact, they are usually early which leads to being a good co-worker.

I work at a job that I can’t leave until my relief takes over. One gentleman shows up a half hour early, which lets me unwind and relax to the end of my shift because I know he is ready to take over. Another person who reliefs me may show up 10 seconds early but usually it’s five to ten minutes late. He’s a nice enough person but not a good co-worker. At times, I relieve both of these people, which one do you think I show up early for? Ironically, which one do you think gets upset when I show up five minutes late?

We need income to stay out of debt. The best way to obtain income is having a job. Not all jobs are created equal, but our attitude towards a job is strictly on us. With a right attitude a job is more than just earning money. It is about self-respect, self-worth, a means to stay out of debt, and an ability to meet people who under any other circumstance would never be part of your life.

2020 is done… but not yet gone

2020 has finally ended, yet the memories of it will become a new reality in 2021. When you look back at all the facts and figures of Covid-19, and what appears to be low percentages of the total population, a couple of aspects can’t be figured in.

How many people do you know that lost a loved one? A child? A spouse? A friend? So maybe less than 10% of the population died, does that matter to the person who is grieving? Does it hurt any less that wearing a mask has become a national debate? Does it help to know that a vaccine is now here to the husband who goes to bed alone?

Covid became 2020 and it will be a part of 2021. That is a reality. How we behave while it is part of our lives is up to us. It should always be remembered that what comes out of our mouths can be extremely painful to someone who has buried their partner.

For those of us who have survived 2020, the future is still uncertain. The amount of lost businesses and jobs is staggering. In America, they’re arguing over a stimulus check of either $600 or $1,200. Let’s face it, neither one will help the average citizen for more then a couple of weeks.

For me, if there was a silver lining on 2020, it was that I was living in England. The government here created a payroll scheme that protected employees from forced layoffs due to Covid. When placed on furlough the government paid 80% of the employees wages, provided there job was guaranteed when businesses re-opened. The employers had the option of topping up the remaining 20% of an employees paycheck but it wasn’t mandatory.

For six weeks I received a full paycheck, yet never worked one minute. I got paid to stay home and protect my health and the health of others. During those six weeks, as an American citizen, I received a stimulus check of $1,200 from the American government, just because I am a citizen of the United States. And if that wasn’t enough I got a pay raise.

Plans and investments I wanted to make in 2020 were put on hold, yet that was OK, because I can have an even better portfolio when these investments are made.

It wasn’t all “peaches and cream” for me though. In May, I did lose my wallet. The nightmare of calling credit card companies and cancelling cards, then explaining which charges were legitimately mine, while stressful went as well as could possibly be under the circumstances. The worst thing I lost was my biometric card, which shows that I have a right to live and work in the UK. Obtaining a replacement card took some work. Yet again, with the lockdown rules in effect, under the circumstances it went better than expected.

At the end of the day, 2020 wasn’t to bad for me personally. I still have a job. I still have a home. After spending six weeks together, locked up in our home, my wife still loves me. The amount of time I spend on mass transit – buses and trains – I’ve avoided the Coronavirus.

I wear a mask, I social distance, and wash my hands. When in contact with someone, I keep it to under 15 minutes and our home has various windows open to keep the air fresh and never settled.

I realize that 2020 was far from a good year for many folks. I know for some it was a year of tragic loses – from jobs to loved ones. How may have lost their homes or the cars? May sound simple but “things” can be replaced. Cherish the memory of your loved one and the time you did have together. Those memories will live forever while Covid-19 will eventually go into our history of things that made us a more “whole being.”

As an introvert, the lockdowns that have become part of life in the UK, has not affected me. In fact, I’d like to think it has made me more of a spiritual being. There is a Native American saying that describes lockdowns and learning to live with one’s own company. A busy mind is a sick mind. A slow mind is a healthy mind. A still mind is a divine mind.

Enjoy the silence. Enjoy the time learning to love yourself. There is a being inside all of us, waiting to be awaken and when that happens is when our dreams begin to become our realities.

Sci-fi or Reality?

Before I go to far into this writing, I need to put a disclaimer on it right away. I am not a person who believes in conspiracies, not do I claim to be a Democrat or a Republican. The thoughts I’m about to share, are just that – thoughts. They are not intended to be politically motivated, so let’s just say they are thoughts of fantasy or science fiction.

With that out of the way, I will say I love politics. I started this by saying I wasn’t a Democrat nor a Republican. I can also add to that that I am not a Torie nor a Labour representative. While my roots are from the United States political system, now that I live in England I becoming more knowledgable about its system.

With the election of 2016, making Donald Trump the President of the United States, conspiracy theories have risen to the point of being a joke. The fantasy of some stories take on a life that is sinister and represents nothing of what a democracy strives to be. From suicides to pizzagate, everything seems to be hidden in the deep state. With no concrete facts these stories seem to become real with even more conspiracies. And if you don’t believe what a news outlet says it has to be fake news.

Every actor who moves to another country is somehow involved in sex trafficking, while there is a photo of former President Clinton, getting his shoulders rubbed, in an airport terminal, by a 22 year old masseuse, with the headline saying it’s child sexual abuse.

Now that I live on the other side of the pond, it is said to see what has become of the United States. A nation that was once looked upon with envy, is now seen with pity. Which is not what I intend to share here.

Rather, I’d like to talk about very recent events, using the voice of Rod Serling, as we enter The Twilight Zone. The election draws near and civil unrest seems to fill the airwaves. On one side is the religious gun totting fanatics who preach about America first! On the other side is a group that speaks in very liberal ways. They want the well off members of society to pay for the poor. This one issue seems to divide the country to a point that reunification seems impossible.

No matter what the present President does, nor what the challenger says seems to go any further than the base they already have. Things only seem to get worse when a Supreme Court Justice passes away. Both sides believe their candidate should make the choice for a replacement. While the President chirps in the background that the election is fixed. That if he loses he may not relinquish his power.

The President, makes his decision and nominates his choice for a new judge on the Supreme Court and the judge is approved by the Senate, two weeks before the election. With the new judge sworn in, the conservatives have a 6 to 3 advantage in the highest court in the land. Now the Presidents says if he loses he will let the Supreme Court decide who should be President. A judicial system that has turned political, a system that is 33% owned by the President.

On election day, the challenger becomes the 46 President of the United States in a landslide victory. Yet, the now former President won’t concede. The Supreme Court goes into an emergency session and after just three days, come to the conclusion that the election was flawed and the challenger, in fact, lost the election.

A new civil war of unrest between the two factions come to the forefront. President Trump declares marshal law and homeland security agents are deployed to every major city in the country. Because of this unrest, Trump begins the process of eliminating the 22nd Amendment.

With the new political system of judges firmly installed they agree to let Trump run for President for an unlimited amount of time. Halfway through his 10th year as President of The United States, he appoints his daughter Ivanka, to become his successor because of his failing health.

With this Donald Trump feels that the nation, including liberals, owe him a place on Mount Rushmore, because he helped women by letting his daughter become President.

OK, back to reality… just a story. Yet, I do believe that this election will tell which direction the country will go. Not just for four years, but maybe forever. I have the “luxury” of watching from afar. I have the luxury to hear other people’s thoughts on what is going on, as well as interpreting what other news services have to say. People and services that have nothing to do with the United States. I have never met a person that dislikes the United States. They speak in loving terms about it. They speak of the vacations they have taken in the States. While for those who haven’t yet made the journey across the pond, it is usually part of their bucket list. Yet, through all these bright thoughts of America, they are confused as to what is taking place throughout the United States.

In 1987, ABC-TV had a mini-series entitled Amerika. The plot was how the United States became a satellite country of Russia, without a shot ever being fired. Could something like that happen today? I can see it happen. The reason it can happen is because of power. When people have power to run and conceive a country, they want more. It’s like an addiction. When the power of one country isn’t enough, then more power can only be gained by overpowering another country.

The scary part though, is that when two people in power meet with the same goals, one will be a clear winner, yet the loser will never recognize their own weakness. Eventually, they’ll lose not only their own power, but also the power freely given to them by others.

A Higher Power Named Silence

I have often introduced my Higher Power as Silence. There is a lot of power in Silence. Solomon Ibn Gabriol once said that The first step in the acquisition of wisdom is silence, the second listening…

Listening and silence go together magnificently. In fact, the letters used in the word silent are the same letters in listen. The greatest teachers, preachers, heads of state, were masters at being silent. When they spoke people listened. They knew that what was said would be thoughts on which they could learn and grow.

Presently, I have a job that will carry me into retirement. If you let it, the job can be physically demanding. No matter how you do the work it will be exhausting. So it ends up being a question of do you do the job or does the job do you?

30 years ago I had the same duty at another job and my supervisor taught me a simple way of making a physically demanding job and easy doable experience. It’s a job that takes place during the cold winter months, so last winter I explained to some co-workers how to do the job quicker as well as easier.

Now that a new winter season is approaching, one rather windy co-worker is already, for lack of a better word, whining about it. He is saying how we don’t have the time to do it all. That it could take 2-3 hours to do it all. I said that it can be done in a half-hour if done the way I suggested and in fact I know it takes a half-hour because I did it last winter.

As I mentioned this person is rather windy. He loves to talk, yet struggles to listen. Why should I repeat what I said last winter when silence is not observed and ultimately wisdom can’t be obtained?

Not just with this person but anyone who can’t give me the same respect I give them by being silent I have walked away from. There is nothing as frustrating when you are verbally sharing with someone and they cut you off in mid-sentence. They act as though they know what you want to say, so they quit listening, abandoning silence, and begin pushing you away by giving their thoughts without acknowledging yours. Making your opinion, your voice, worth less than theirs.

In the old times before the white man came to America, the Native American Indians had a wonderful way of solving disputes between tribes. The five tribes would sit in a teepee and one chief would voice his concerns, needs, and wishes. After he was finished the chief sitting next to him would say what the first chief said. Then the next chief would say what he heard. They would do his until it got around the circle and back to the original chief and he would say that the others understood or go into more detail with what he said and meant. They would continue to go around this way until the original chief was convinced that the four other chiefs understood exactly what he said.

Then the second chief would voice his concerns, needs, and wishes. Once again the other chiefs would say what they heard. Again it would make it back to the chief that started the discussion and he would say that the others understood or he would explain further. After he was happy with what the others said, it would go to the third chief, and so on, until all chiefs were heard and understood. It was because of this unique way of listening and understanding that the Iroquois Nation was conceived.

With sobriety, I started a new life and was told by more than one person to find a Higher Power to help guide my journey. It was refreshing to look at this without thoughts of religion. This Higher Power would be mine, just mine for this realm of existence.

My first spiritual counsellor asked me about prayer. He asked me do I pray? How often do I pray? My answer was that I didn’t pray but I was willing to start if it would help me stay sober. I prayed with the prayers I learned as a child. The Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and from recovery, The Serenity Prayer.

As my foundation in recovery strengthened I added prayers from AA – The Third Step Prayer and The Seventh Step Prayer, as well as The Slave’s Prayer. Then it evolved to talking to my Higher Power, sharing my thoughts and feelings about my day.

By personalizing my prayers, I began to wonder what was my Higher Power’s name. First, it was Trust. After all, this Power that had become a strong force in my life was the first Being who I could totally Trust.

In time the name changed to Love. With Trust came Love. 100% total and unconditional Love. Like Trust, this was something I had never experienced in my life. Yes, I was loved, but with conditions. As a child, I was loved if I got good grades, or kept the family secrets, or never brought shame to the family name. Then I was hated, ignored, and abused.

This Higher Power, Love, taught me that I was given the greatest gift – choice. While some of my choices in the past, may not have been healthy, I was still Loved. It was an acceptance that made me want to make healthier choices. With this new revelation I began to see Love as my best Friend. A friend who would never leave me.

As a friend I began to see that I was mistreating Love. While I was doing all the talking Love remained silent. Love never complained and waited for me to make a new choice. A choice to listen instead of speak. It was then that Love evolved into Silence. It was then that we began to share wisdom. To paraphrase Matthew 13:13, “For they look, but they don’t really see. They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand.” We can see, listen, and understand through Silence.

When Silence became part of my life my prayers changed. Many nights, instead of speaking, I’d just listen. Hi Silence, then for the next half-hour, hour, two hours, I’d listen to the Silence. I’d just lay still with my eyes closed, keeping my mind focused just on the Silence. Not waiting for anything in particular, just enjoying my communion with Silence.

Try it sometime. Listen to the Silence. Turn off the TV, the radio, and the phone. Just you and Silence. Get back in touch with the real you, the original you, that can only be found in Silence.

When you become one with Silence, you become a better friend, a better co-worker, a better employee (or employer), a better sibling, or a better spouse. All because Silence has taught you how to listen.

Money is a tool

Recently in an e-mail, I was asked how do I do it? What a loaded question! It was asked about my spending habits and how can I live so cheaply. How can anyone answer a question like that in one e-mail? The whole history of how I learned to live the way I do didn’t happen overnight.

If it wasn’t the idea of looking at bankruptcy, my life probably would have never changed. I would have kept spending money like there was no tomorrow. In 2010, I was $65,000 (£49,000) in debt, with no means to pay it off. I had no savings and a rather small 401-K. A mortgage that we were upside down on, three cars that were junk, and a home that was falling apart. At the age of 52 I was ashamed by how irresponsible I was and how my habits with money were chillingly immature.

Due to this financial nightmare my marriage ended early in 2010. I left our home which had a three bedrooms, two baths, two car garage, and an acre of land and moved into a 450 square foot apartment. Even that small apartment wouldn’t have been possible if my landlord didn’t hold my check for the first months rent.

The only furniture I had was an old couch that was left behind by the previous tenants in my new home. Those first two weeks I lived off of PB&J’s, cheese sandwiches, and hot dogs. I didn’t have a TV, so after work, my time was filled with many hours of reflection. I realized that my circumstances would only change when I made some goals.

Until this crisis I never had any goals. Go to work, go home, and repeat. It was a depressing way to live. And during this time of reflection I came to see that not only had my adulthood been this way but my whole life. Growing up, instead of going to work, I’d go to friends, or the bar, or anywhere else, just so I didn’t have to look at what was going on inside of me. It was through these reflections that I began to understand my alcoholism.

My early goals all revolved around money. The first one was to not bounce any more checks. I lived by bouncing checks. At $35 for every written bad check it drained my finances really quick. Again, with these reflections, I began to see that the $10 of gas I put in the car to get back and forth to work was actually $45. That’s if the bank cashed the check. If they sent it back to the store where I got the gas, another $25 was added to that. So that $10 could cost as much as $70. Yet, I never blinked an eye at doing this. The idea of making a budget or watching my pennies never entered my mind.

To achieve this goal, I started rounding up the checks written and rounding down my deposits. So, if I wrote a check or used a debit card and the amount was $10.01, in my ledger I recorded it as $11. And when I made a deposit for $100.99, in my ledger it was recorded as $100.

I quit balancing my checkbook when the statements arrived and got into the habit of quitting using checks or debit cards when my balance showed $10. Within three months, my checking account had close to $200 more in it than the balance showed. This simple step also started me on my second goal, which was to start a savings account.

Slowly, I began seeing that I had a little extra money in my pocket on payday instead of being broke. Now it was time to start paying back my debts. The largest debt was my mortgage. The ex-wife also left the house and it sat empty for a couple of months. So I wrote the bank and said I was walking away from it and releasing all claims to it. This save me some money in legal fees and time with court proceedings.

I roughly owed $45,000 (£34,000), the bank ended up selling it for $36,000 (£27,000), so I owed $9,000 to the bank, which they processed as an income and I owed taxes on. So with that cleared, I began working on the rest of the debt. Which was from credit cards and medical expenses.

By now my credit was shot, so I really didn’t care about credit scores or loans. All I wanted was to get out of debt. There was roughly 12 different creditors that I owed money to and I began paying off one at a time. I started with the smallest and paid on it and only it until it was paid in full.

This might take me a couple of months to do yet I kept my focus on just that one bill. It didn’t matter how many threatening phone calls or letters I got in the mail. It was just one bill at a time. When that bill was paid, I went on to the next and so on.

Paying this much debt off this way can be defeating, as in there never seems to be an end to it. So, I created an award system to go along with my hard work. Once a week, I’d treat myself to a coffee and a sweet roll. This used to be a daily affair, but now I felt like a happy child being rewarded for a job well done. That $5 expense brought me more happiness than it did when I had that luxury every work day.

After every bill was paid, I’d treat myself to a home delivered meal – usually pizza! Then when a large bill was paid, I’d treat myself to a night on the town and finish it off by staying in a hotel. All simple things, but when you had nothing they are extravagant gifts.

That’s the thing with debt. We can feel we are entitled to things that are actually luxuries and not needed to make our life more enjoyable. A simple example is the computer program – dropbox. You can use it for keeping photos, documents, and whatever else your heart desires. It can add up in cost and for what a person uses it for can be quite expensive. So I use the free version. Just to move photos from a tablet to a tower or wherever. More times then not, I’ll get messages saying my dropbox is full. If I really want to keep what is stored in there I’ll get a flash drive for a couple of dollars and put it on that.

I’ve come to realize that the things that I felt I needed to have were nothing more than luxuries. Now that I live near a major city in England, I don’t need a car, there is more than enough ways to travel without needing a car. Money saved on gas, insurance, maintenance, and taxes.

I didn’t need cable TV. I used rabbit ears or watch TV on the Internet. Money saved $35 and up a month. I didn’t need a fancy phone contract. Now I use pay as you go.

There are only two ways to get out of debt. Increase income or decrease expenses. I tried increasing income and all I ended up doing was to also increase my expenses. The only way for my to get out of debt and manage my money was by decreasing expenses. I got to a point in my life that I was tired of working for money. I wanted money to work for me.

Along the way, goals change. Mine went from getting out of debt to moving to England. Now that I’ve lived in England for four years I have new goals. One major, life changing goal, that for now I’ll keep quiet about. When it happens I’ll share it from the roof tops because it will prove to me that managing money in a constructive way can bring rewards that not to long ago only seemed like pipe dreams.

In 2010, I was $65,000 in debt, with a credit score of 355. By 2020, I celebrate my fourth year of being debt free. Today, my credit score is above 700, I have a six month emergency fund plus a very healthy savings portfolio.

It started with a commitment to get out of and stay out of debt. It is achieved by increasing income or decreasing expenses. At first, it takes discipline to stay the course, to be mature enough to realize you didn’t get into debt overnight nor will you get out of debt overnight. With this discipline, I realized that I wasn’t entitled to anything. It also gave me the insight to recognize a 72 hour cooling off period. Which means, that any major purchase that I might make doesn’t happen right away. I wait 72 hours. After that time, if I still want to make the purchase then I can see that it is a necessity. If I don’t want it then I can see it was nothing more than what would have been an impulsive purchase.

Managing money doesn’t need to be something to dread, nor is it something to be ignored. Money is something that shouldn’t be feared, nor something to be worshipped. It’s not a god, nor the root of all evil.

The sooner a person realizes that money doesn’t bring peace of mind or happiness the more enlightened they will be. 12 Step Programs speak about a Higher Power. It is the spiritual center of our existence. When we have no money, that centerness should still be there. When we have money, that centerness should still be there. The more you worry about money, the less centered you become.

There is nothing more ugly than an uncentered human being obsessed with money…

The Secrets Told

Recently, I purchased the book written by Mary Trump, which is a first hand account about growing up in the Trump family. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a fan of Donald Trump, yet I did not buy the book looking for slams against the American President. My opinion of him wasn’t going to change by reading a book about his shortcomings.

I wanted this book just because of what I read in some short reviews before it was released. As an alcoholic and an adult child who grew up in a dysfunctional alcoholic home, I wanted to read the story of this family written by a clinical psychologist who is part of that family.

Through my 25 years of sobriety I have seen five different therapists for different issues on my path of recovery. Straight out, on my first visit, I would ask the counsellor if they were an alcoholic or an addict. I wanted someone who knew what I was talking about through experience, not what they knew through books. Out of the five, only one wasn’t an alcoholic/addict. Instead she was a child of an alcoholic. That counsellor taught me more about life than the other four did all together. It was this reason as to why I wanted to read Too Much And Never Enough: How My Family Created The World’s Most Dangerous Man.

Mary, is the daughter of the eldest son of Frederick Trump. The son who died at the age of 42 from heart disease and alcoholism. Fred, jr. spent his own life trying to please his father and have his father acknowledge his passion and creativity for the things that brought him joy. For his short time in this realm of existence Junior was a failure in his dad’s eyes because he didn’t chase money. He didn’t value material or financial wealth, instead he put that behind his children and his wife, as well as the joy he found deep sea fishing with friends and being an airplane pilot.

My father wasn’t so deeply invested in money. To be honest, besides his worship of one son and his love of gardening I’m not sure what he was all about. Fred Trump’s joy of a son came in the form of Donald. He belittle his eldest son in front of others just to make Donald seem larger than life. And Donald joined in the “fun” of making his older brother feel like dirt. The favourite son in my family, never put down his brothers to build himself up, but we all seemed to try to impress dad by doing things that Number 1 son hadn’t done or maybe we did it a bit better. It didn’t matter though, dad’s favourite was a god and nothing anybody did could change that status.

When Mary Trump’s dad passed away, her grandparents were cold not only to their grandchildren but also to their departed son. In their eyes he was a worthless penniless bum. His name wasn’t spoken or really recognized at all after his death. In my family, my mom despised one of my brothers. She shamed him in front of me and others. In her eyes, he was a useless bum.

In the book, Donald created a world where he was the center of it and his word was gospel. He looked down on the rest of his family because his dad didn’t stand up to him or never said that his other children were as valuable. My dad never stood up to one and that one went to war with another. Like Donald and Junior, these two spent their adult life not wanting to be near the other. A war that has lasted since 1976. How do I remember the year? Because it was the year that I graduated high school.

As war drug on, those two tried to get the other two brothers and their dad to join their side in the fight. Just like Donald has done throughout his life. When push comes to shove, he always gets someone else to do the dirty work, that way he can’t lose. When Donald’s dad passed away and his last will was being contested Donald had his baby brother, Bob, go about the dirty work of telling Mary that their inheritance was very little, mainly because her dad had died.

Bob spent his whole life seeking the approval of first his father, then after his death, his approval of Donald. Bob is so much like me. I so much craved the approval of my father, then my brothers, and never received it. In the book, Mary describes Bob as an after thought. That statement hit home. I don’t know if I was an accident, but an after thought is certainly true. I never felt accepted for just being me. I was never acknowledged as an equal to my parents or my brothers.

There were times I was made to feel like shit because I was being blamed for my drunk father beating my mother – who usually was drunk herself. I was blamed if my dad went into a diabetic shock and I didn’t do anything to try and prevent it. Didn’t matter that I was 12 years old. It was time to grow up! I was blamed first with words, then with violence. I once had a glass table thrown at me, that put me in the emergency room needing stitches for my knee.

Everything that happened in the Harm home, like the Trump home, was considered normal. A “normal” that meant we keep it behind closed doors. We keep it a secret. When the secrets are exposed and the truth is told, then and only then, can the healing begin.

Sadly for the Harm family and I believe the Trump family as well, the full healing of the family will never take place. Why? Because some of the people involved will continue to live the lie. I do not ever see Donald admitting to any failure in his life. When he fails, a word that wasn’t accepted in the Trump home, he finds someone else to blame. He didn’t fail with Covid-19. Obama was the one who failed. And while the economy was making a strong recovery at the end of Obama’s presidency, it was all because of Trumps wizardry that it became so strong.

My mother sat back quietly and watched me be abused, physically, emotionally, mentally, and yes sexually to an evil drunk. Brothers will say he was a good man and add when he was sober. The sad part is that as an “after thought” I saw a lot less sober times than they did. They were anywhere from 8-12 years older than me. They were raised by different parents.

It is known that alcoholism is a progressive disease. While my brothers maybe saw the beginnings of it, I got to see all of it. From a drunk mom at 8 AM, drinking scotch straight out of the bottle. The shame I felt believing it was my fault that they drank nearly killed me. The guilt and shame killed Mary’s dad.

It wasn’t till I was ten years sober that I began letting go of the secrets. Sadly, I couldn’t confront my parents and tell them that what they did didn’t magically disappear. I remember their fights. I remember the screams from their bedroom when they were making love. I remember as a young adolescent waking up in my bed – nude – with a naked parent sleeping next to me, stinking of booze.

While I couldn’t confront them with what happened, my book Damaged Merchandise did let my brothers know that I would no longer accept the responsibility of others. By all of our secrets we kept evil alive. My brothers were all old enough to go to child protective services and got me out of that hell, but instead they tried to ignore it and act like everything was OK.

In 2015, I had my last conversations with my oldest brother. It took place through e-mails. I got tired of where our conversation was going, knowing it would end up with me being shamed once again, so I never opened up that last e-mail. It sat in my inbox for over four months and I only opened it after I found out he had died. The e-mail was brief and said that it probably didn’t matter much but he wanted me to know that I did have a childhood that was evil, that was filled with terror, and he apologized that nothing was done to protect me.

That’s all I ever wanted. Just an acknowledgement that my childhood was not normal, nor healthy. That dad wasn’t a great man, he had some good points, but in the end he was a sadistic drunk. My mom was no angel and did the worst thing any mother could do – hate one of her sons.

I believe this is why Mary Trump wrote her book. That her childhood wasn’t normal and that her family was dysfunctional. By her sharing her story, she was letting go of her secrets and begin her process of healing. I also believe that you are reading this because you are dealing with your own shame and your own secrets and trying to make sense of it all.

I could relate to so much in Too Much And Never Enough. The one thing that is true with dysfunctional families is that we can all relate to the experiences of others. No one has a truly unique story. We’ve all walked the road of shame and sadness, wondering how we could have changed things, instead of realizing and believing that it wasn’t our fault how things turned out.

In a dysfunctional family, we give the abuser power by keeping the secret. Ironically, it was a step-daughter who wanted me dead that actually saved my life. It was her hatred for me that made me seek help and get sober. She still hates me, even after 25 years of sobriety, but that’s OK. It was her hatred that gave me life. It was by her letting go of the secrets that gave me a chance at healing and a new life, not only for me but for her as well. For that I’ll be forever grateful.

Best Father’s Day Gift? No Gift

Just got done with Father’s Day and have been left with mixed feelings. Throughout my life I have one biological child – a son. A child I never really met. At the time, I had no use for the mom, except for one thing. That one thing produced that child. I was an active abusive drunk who wanted nothing to do with a long term relationship. By the time I got sober that boy was now a young man.

A man who I knew nothing about. A man who might not even know who I was. A man who may have already had a dad and a happy life. Sobriety taught me that recovery wasn’t just about me. It included others. And this son was one of them. If he ever tries to find me I’ll welcome him with open arms and do my best to answer any and all of his questions.

With that said, I have raised children. Seven of them through two marriages. None of them mine by blood, but they were mine by love and choice. Four of these kids would laugh at that last statement. To them, I didn’t represent love. They would say pure evil. You know what? That used to be a true statement. It was who I was over 25 years ago. An active drunk. A drunk who had no respect for life, nor their existence.

When I found sobriety, I did my 9th Step with them. With each one individually I made honest amends. As much as I prayed for their forgiveness, two of them, to this day have not forgiven or forgotten. After this much time, they are still waiting for me to fall on my face – drunk. Part of me understands and can accept that they have a right to feel the way they do. The other two go from moments where we talk and seem to be growing close, then something happens and they shut me out.

I have reached a point that I can’t keep subjecting myself to their pain. One blames their failed marriages on me. OK, their childhood may have led to bad choices in life, yet I won’t accept responsibility for their actions. One marriage? OK, maybe… just maybe I can shoulder some of the blame. But after the second or third failed marriage maybe it’s time to look inward and stop pointing fingers at me.

The other one actually lived with me and my new wife and three new step children. She moved into a new home after saying her step-dad abused her. I never questioned her on what happen, though in one counselling session I heard part of the story… and I’ll leave it at that – a story.

Admittedly, it was a difficult change. To go from a dysfunctional family to one where openness and honesty was on display, she struggled to find acceptance. I won’t go into details, but my drinking was just the tip of the iceberg with that first marriage and it all came to light AFTER I was long gone and out of the picture.

When the change is this radical nothing good can happen if the effort to change isn’t there. Story telling and flat out lies were told to new school mates, making this child bigger than life, at least in their mind. There were stories of sexual adventures with some neighbours, which were unbelievable from the moment they were told.

The worst though was when the sheriff’s department came to see me, saying that this child reported me for abuse. One thing I have never done in any way, shape, or form, is abuse any child since sobriety. It is a part of my life, drunken life, that I am most ashamed of and one that I would never repeat as a sober individual.

The game wasn’t thought out. The mistake was that I was active in the community. I ran an AA program through the county jails. I took diversion classes with another step-child, so the local law enforcement community knew me. And more importantly they knew my new family and knew that if any abuse happened in that family, the kids’ mom would have reported it right away and in reality, the two boys could have probably beaten the shit out of me before I could have hurt them.

Caught in this lie, the child never accepted responsibility or offered an apology. Instead, they created a new game. They threatened suicide. So off for treatment for that. More money, draining out of our pockets, for a child who only knew one way of life – dysfunction. Eventually, this child returned to their original family of insanity and to this day no apology has been given.

I have moments where I seem to be getting close to this child, then something happens and we go back to squared one. A few years back the Labour Party in the UK was having a leadership contest and one of the candidates was Andy Burham. One night, before a debate the TV commentators were talking about the qualifications of the representatives. When they got to Andy one editorialist said, “Andy Burham’s platform is whoever he talked to last.” This describes this child to a tee.

They have no opinion of their own and want acceptance and friendship from everyone. I could live with that, knowing they don’t have a backbone, but the games and lies are becoming to much. I used to send their family money for the holidays. Not once was I ever acknowledged with a thank you from them or their kids. So that stopped. Then the lies started. Did you get your Christmas card? Come on, you’ve got to send one before I can get one. I know if I said I didn’t get one then the next comment would have been something about being lost in the mail. The best was an apology on Facebook about some Christmas Cards that weren’t finished and forgot to be mailed. The photo was a bunch of blank envelopes with one having my name on it but no address. Come on, do I have stupid written on my forehead.

Now the latest was them spending Father’s Day with their bio-dad. A dad who had nothing to do with this child’s upbringing and never paid a penny in child support.. Yet this child goes out of their way to wish him a Happy Father’s Day on their Facebook page and nothing about me. Childish on my part? Maybe, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it hurt.

I now realize that basing my hopes on this person is not worth my serenity. They are manipulative and constantly play games. They have had a lifetime of living with lies and have become masters at it. What does that make me? I can see it and know it, yet I keep going back for more. By focusing on this one child, I’m ignoring two beautiful Father’s Day messages I did receive from two other step-children. It’s time to quit focusing on what I don’t have and start focusing on what I do have. The sad part is that if this child knew of my financial worth, they would be my best friend. I think it would bring me more peace, after my death, to leave my fortune to charity.

There are a few I am fond of. One is Cat Protection. Just love shelter animals and have been blessed with some great cats that came from there. The other would be The Salvation Army. It has been over a span of ten years that I have given money to this organization. My last four years in America, I even got tp be Santa Claus through their Adopt A Family Program at Christmas. I was on my own and had no family to get gifts for, so I gave money to one family that The Salvation Army chose and they had a very nice Christmas season. It was done anonymously, so I never got to see the smiles of youngsters getting their gifts but it still filled my soul with warmth and gratitude knowing I had the ability to help others.

So maybe the best gift I got this Father’s Day was no gift. Without a gift, I will finally Let Go and Let God…

Trust The Process

They say before something great happens to you, everything falls apart.

~ Depression Quotes ~

I saw this quote on a page from Facebook called Depression quotes. It hit home, not only from my own life experiences but also from conversations I had with a Lutheran Pastor over a decade ago.

My own life hasn’t been a bed of roses. From early childhood, I experienced pain – physically, emotionally, and sexually. I was taught at a young age that it was OK for a man to beat a woman. That if dinner wasn’t made on time, a punch to the face was the price. I learned as a child that when a man wanted to “make love” to his woman no wasn’t an option. If she didn’t want to have sex then she was beaten until she agreed. I didn’t do these things to those extremes but I did believe that a woman was inferior and their sole purpose was to be a servant to their man.

Children were treated the same way. As useless possessions that would get me a beer or do the housework, while I “made love” to their mom. Growing up, like most kids, I was scared of the dark. I slept with the bedroom door open. Next to my room, at the end of the hall was the bathroom, where the door was partially open and the light left on. That was my night-light. And directly across from my room was my parents bedroom. They also slept with their door open. With me being scared of the dark, I heard every little noise, and the noises that came from my parents room were anything but little.

Like I mentioned, no was not an option. If dad wanted to do something that was uncomfortable or painful for mom and she resisted, I was guaranteed to hear her scream after being punched in the face or the stomach. The beating would continue until her resistance was gone and dad received the yes he was hoping for. I never used these extremes to get what I wanted. I used manipulation and other head games to get what I wanted and the messages our kids heard and learned would be carried on for another generation.

As my own life spun out of control and I hit rock bottom with the admittance and acceptance that I am an alcoholic, I began the shameful process of looking at my life. It would become the first time in my life that I didn’t run from the pain and the suffering. Instead, I embraced it. Though I didn’t like the feeling, I also was relieved that I could feel. That even though I blocked out my childhood and a good part of my adulthood by staying numb, I could still feel and for the first time I could cry.

It was during my first five years of sobriety, that I became good friends with a Lutheran Pastor. We had a lot in common and we both enjoyed our talks on the spiritual side of things. Naturally, he would share his thoughts through the Bible, while I shared mine with thoughts from AA, John Bradshaw, Deepak Chopra, and many others.

The one thing he said that stuck with me for what now is over 20 years is that we can not grow until we suffer. He said that the whole idea of the Christian faith was built on the idea of suffering. Its main symbol, the cross, was the main symbol of suffering. While it represented suffering, it also represented victory and a new life.

I tried to avoid suffering through drinking. It worked for a long time, yet it took more and more alcohol to keep the pain away. It got to the point that alcohol began to fail, so drugs came onto the scene. First, it was pot. The feeling of relaxation, while still believing I was a part of the world, made it the perfect drug. While it might have helped with me being able to unwind, it did little to help with the pain. So the next step was harder drugs. Coke, Mescaline, LSD, and back in the 80’s there was a drug that is now gone – Quaaludes.

All this experimenting took place while I was in college, which somehow I was able to maintain good grades. The trick was in speed – crystal meth. I could have a test at 8 AM and party till 2 AM the night before. Then set my alarm for 5 AM and next to the clock would be a couple of lines of meth ready for me to toot.

The alarm would go off, I do my lines and instantly I was awake. I’d study for the next two hours, then head off to class for my test. With the speed in my system I was razor sharp and everything just flowed through me. I would get an A, believing ti was the easiest test I ever took, yet as soon as the test was over I had no idea what I wrote or what I learned. It was gone.

The fact is that there is many ways for a human being to avoid pain. From alcohol and drugs, to sex, work, schooling, anything that we can focus on which hides the pain. I do believe that the longer the pain is avoided, the greater the fall will be.

When I finally surrendered not only to alcoholism but also to pain, my life took a major turn. For the first time in my life I not only saw reality but also dealt with it. With this new reality it was natural for shame to follow. Here I was approaching 40 years of age, with nothing to my name. I couldn’t rub two pennies together. Not only was my financial situation horrible but also my relationships with family.

Through my actions, I destroyed the mental well-being of my step children. An action which 25 years later has still not been repaired. Brothers who I haven’t seen in over 40 years. I used to try and rebuild these bridges, yet by doing so, I was keeping myself in shame and depression. I finally came to an understanding that someday we will be reunited. It may not be in this lifetime but someday it will happen.

This September, God Willing, I will celebrate 26 years sobriety. I was homeless when this journey started. Today I live in another country, located in another continent. Not a penny to name, to now living comfortably, without a debt to my name.

I have had open heart surgery, two feet of my colon removed, and throat cancer… yet here I am, grateful for another day of adventure and peace. There are plans for a comfortable retirement, yet they won’t steal the happiness of today.

The fall was hard and very painful. Good things didn’t happen over night. An American college football coach at Iowa State University named Matt Campbell often talks about the process. The idea is that we must embrace the process before the process can love you.

The process happens a day at a time. There will be disappointments and failures, yet that’s OK. It’s part of the process. No matter how many setbacks or failures you have, you’ve got to keep moving forward. The process will take care of you and eventually the process will love you. If you don’t believe that, than please look at me. I am part of the process and am now enjoying the rewards of embracing the process and having the process love me.

Back To Work

The end of this extremely long holiday is coming to an end. Seven weeks. Nearly, two months without worrying about my job. Worrying in the sense of going to bed at decent times. Setting the alarm clock. Making my two meals for a 12 hour shift. Wondering what magazine or book I should take in case I have some free time. Working 7 PM to 7 AM, I usually having some free time.

This is the third week in a row that I was preparing to go back to work. I started getting notices that it would be the first weekend in May. That was quickly changed to the next weekend. I began getting prepared. Got my meals made. My backpack loaded with my work shoes, odd medications, and other trivial stuff for work, as well as a book. Then the call came that we would wait till at least mid-week depending on what the Prime Minister said.

He said, we can work, yet we should probably stay home. He said not to use public transport unless of course you need to use it. By the end of his talk, I was more confused than I was before it. Instead of staying alive we were told stay alert. Say what? I’ve been alert. I’ve stayed two meters away from others. Except for grocery shopping and an occasional medical appointment I have stayed home. When I’m in a store or on public transport I use a mask. More to protect you than to protect myself.

After his talk, I waited to find out when I would return to work. I guess my employer was just as confused because for the next three days my phone and e-mail remained quiet. Finally, on the fourth day I hear we would be reopening on Monday, the 18th of May.

For the last seven weeks the major decision of my day has been what movie would I watch tonight? I have watched more movies in this time than I have in my whole lifetime. Now I need to get back into work mode. Find my work clothes. Have a shower and shave. Hopefully, my wife will cut my hair. Later, I’ll look on-line for train schedules and begin final preparations for my journey to work.

I’m grateful for the chance to get back to work. I’m thankful that my employer believes that I am worthy of returning to work. Yet, I’m also anxious about the return. I work at a major transportation hub in the north of England. When things are running smoothly there is no way that social distancing can be maintained. While I have had this job for a few years, Monday will seem like day one. New rules. New regulations. It won’t be just that way for me but for everyone who has been on furlough.

I’ve read stories from America, where store employees have been mugged and even shot because they denied entry to a person without a mask, or they were walking the wrong way in a store. Everyone is going to be on edge. Whether they admit it or not, everyone will be a bit fearful. When is the last time you walked down a crowded street bumping into people. It used to be normal. Everyone in a rush to get where they needed to be. The sidewalks have been empty and the roads quiet.

Many businesses won’t return. Many employees won’t have a job waiting for them. Many people have become ill. Many people have died. I wonder when will I be safe to shake someone’s hand, or give a supportive hug to someone? When will we be able to have company over and not worry if they are sick or not?

Three years ago I had treatment for throat cancer. The treatment has left me with an occasional dry hacking cough. I’ve become paranoid with this. Every time I cough, I get strange looks then folks moving away from me. I remain quiet knowing why I’m coughing, yet I so much want to explain this uncontrollable cough of mine. I also admit that I look at others quite sceptically when they cough or sneeze.

I have friend who survived Covid 19. He was in the hospital for three weeks. One week spent in Intensive Care. He has admitted that there was a time he wanted to quit. He couldn’t breathe and the pain was unbearable. He has been verbally attacked in stores because of his cough. A cough that he will have for the rest of his life. Unlike me, he has tried explaining it to the people that point fingers at him, only to be met with a cold shoulder. Not one apology from those who were quick to judge. It’s a brave new world. Something we are all a part of. I admit it’s something I’m a bit nervous about, yet I can find comfort that I’m not alone in these uncertain times.

Just think how strange it will be to go out to a restaurant and then catch a movie. How rewarding it will feel to go to a concert or a sporting event. That day will come and we’ll give each other high fives! We will survive. We’ll share stories with our kids and grandkids about how we survived and remember those that have died.

Until that time comes, I’ll go to work. I’ll stay alert by using common sense. I’ll be polite and courteous with those that appear healthy and strong, as well as those who are coughing and ill. After all, at the end of the day we are all one. We are all brothers and sisters and we’ll spend our eternity together.

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