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.

Becoming A Chameleon

Chameleons are a distinctive and highly specialized clade of Old World lizards with 202 species. These species come in a range of colors, and many species have the ability to change color.

An adult child of an alcoholic (ACOA) can be described as a chameleon. They change colors as a form of camouflage to protect themselves. They learn at any early age that if they can blend into the wall they may be able to avoid physical abuse. If they can be quiet they may avoid sexual abuse and without engaging they can avoid the emotional abuse.

Sadly, the abuse doesn’t come from just the dysfunctional parent. It also comes from siblings and anyone else who is close to the disease. Siblings can be more brutal than the drunk parent. And the lower you are on the totem pole the worse it can be.

By that, I mean the amount of older siblings you have is the amount of pain and suffering you will receive from them as well as your dysfunctional parent. If you have two siblings, than it’s doubled. I had three older brothers and the closer they are to me, the more pain and punishment they inflicted on me.

It was only natural for this to happen. The oldest one, got to know my parents before alcoholism took hold. He might have seen and witnessed some dysfunction, yet he had a normal and happy childhood. When brother number two came along, the drinking maybe increased and yelling probably intensified, yet it still was manageable. Plus the two of them had each other for support. To survive the beginning of this insanity and having only two years difference in age, it was easy for them to have their strongest support from each other.

Then brother three came along. The oldest was now 4, the second brother was 2, and now number three. As the family grew so did the events. Family vacations became a yearly getaway for everyone. The boys excited for two weeks in a cabin. Next to a lake where they could fish and swim. The long ride there created some stressful times for the parents and brother number 1 began to see that things weren’t as beautiful as they once appeared.

By the time brother 1 was 10 years old I was born. He was now old enough to realize that mom and dad, at times, drank to much. But he couldn’t grasp the idea that they were sick individuals. It had to be someone’s fault why mom drank. It had to be someone’s fault that made dad yell at mom. That someone had to be brother 3. No way could it be brother 2. After all they had been joined at the hip since birth and brother 1 could not trust anyone like number 2. With me being just a baby there was no way it was my fault, so the logical answer was that it had to be brother 3. And so the rift began. Brother 2 was caught in the middle. He had a sense of loyalty to number 1, yet he also felt parental to number 3. Brother 4? Me? I was in another family. The age difference between us made the brothers realize that it wasn’t cool to be with their baby brother.

Unknowingly, at the time, battle lines were being drawn. As years moved on, I began to comprehend what was taking place. The insanity went to a whole new level. Brothers 1 and 3 were constantly fighting, while brother 2 moved halfway across the country to avoid the wars. The parental wars went from bad to dark. Attempted suicides by dad. When he was wasn’t trying to kill himself, dad’s rage came out on the body of mom. Physical beatings. To heal from the pain she drank more… and more. She began hiding her scotch bottles in my closet – her own secret stash. No sharing with dad with those bottles!

As I got older, I tried to please my dad by having dinner ready for him when he came home from work. Pleasing mom, by lying to dad that she was sleeping because she was sick, not because she was drunk on her ass. Pleasing brother 1 by saying it was brother 3’s fault, while also pleasing brother 3 by saying it was 1’s fault. Brother 2? He was my idle growing up. What happens with idols? When the illusion of them being perfect is destroyed you move on to something else. I have not seen brother 2 in over 40 years. Yup I had become the perfect chameleon. Changing colors (feelings) to protect oneself. The sad part though was that with this change I lost myself. Scared to voice my own opinions and always craving for approval from others.

I also became full of resentment. The ones who never looked beyond my camouflaged colours became mean when I didn’t do what they expect of me.

Growing up I never received a weekly allowance. I rarely got any money. What money I got I usually stole from my parents or my brothers. One brother used to give me a dollar to wash his car on date nights. At first it was a big deal. Then after a few weeks I realized how little I was actually earning for the work I did and decided that he could was his own car! He didn’t like that idea and slapped me around in my bedroom and as he walked out of the room, he picked up a glass end table and threw it at me. I ended up in ER that night getting stitches in my knee. This was a fight that would never happen in a healthy family. This brother was not only feeling the shame thrown on him by our parents but also the shame from other brothers. His resentment, his anger, made me an easy target for his rage. Yet it was never because of our parents. The fingers pointed at each other but never them.

As the years have gone by, the patterns of our childhood still haven’t changed. All of us are either retired or nearing retirement. So time isn’t so precious that we can’t learn new things. Awhile back, I found an article about our home town that talked about the soldiers who died in the Vietnam War. I followed the link and watched a video on one of the young men who died from our town. I sent a link to a brother and told him the story. The next day he e-mailed me back saying he found two other stories about soldiers from our community. I asked him for a link and his response was to look it up – it’s right there.

That really hit me wrong. I am one who does still work. Hard work, exhausting work. I spent the time to make it easy for him but he couldn’t return a simple favour like that. The frustrating part is that if he knew how I felt about it, he’d shake his head, laugh and tell me to grow up. My feelings would have been thrown away like they have in that family since childhood.

Recently, it happened again and it is the reason for this ramble. With everyone in some sort of coronavirus lockdown, we all have more than enough time on our hands to learn something new. I was contacted about an article I wrote about seven years ago for a chance at appearing in a Chicken Soup For The Soul book. He asked if I could send it to him because he’s not that good on computers. Hey, I’m not your secretary. You’re not that good on computers? What a perfect time to learn! Anyway, if he can’t find the time to do it himself, why should I do it for him?

I know some would say it is trivial. But if you grew up in this environment and nothing has changed in over 60 years, why should I keep changing colors to please any of them? With that said, a couple of years ago my oldest brother passed away.

The last time we chatted was before Christmas in a series of e-mails. The context of those exchanges began to hit a nerve, so I never opened his last one. After his death, I opened it and in it he said that for what it is worth I did have a childhood filled with terror. A childhood that none of them could ever fully understand.

I waited my whole life to hear those words from any one of my brothers. I just wanted an acknowledgement that my childhood was hell. That the parents that raised my brothers were not the parents who raised me. Physically, yes they were. Spiritually, emotionally, mentally, they were not. Sadly, I didn’t open that one at that time. Kind of the story of my life growing up in that family – we will take things to our grave.

Not Scared Of Hell

On drunken nights my mouth brought my dad satisfaction, other nights my bed would be his urinal.   I’d lay there perfectly still pretending to be asleep waiting for it to end. In the mornings, I’d awake to the slaps of my mom for being a baby and wetting the bed.  But I kept the secret.

I kept the secret of my father sleeping with me entirely nude. I’d awaken to his snores and crawl out and sleep under it.  That way, if he woke up looking for me, I could come up with the excuse that I must have fell out of bed. But he wasn’t the only one who slept with me.  Mom did too. Though she was never entirely nude. She’d have a top on and that was it.

By the time I was 10 years old, I grew cold to the touch – any touch.  I remember one drunken night where my dad tried hanging himself.  I just laid in bed praying he would die. Another night, I woke up to the screams of my mom as she was being chased around the kitchen with a butcher knife.

I share this with you because I do have the experience of growing up in a very violent and dysfunctional home.  Through years of living life the 12 Step way I’ve come to a point of acceptance and forgiveness though I will never forget. 

By the time I was 16 years old I found out the way to stay numb and not feel anything was alcohol. That worked for 5-6 years but then I needed more and more booze to numb the pain, so drugs entered the scene – LSD, Meth, Coke, Pot, PCP, and even one time Heroin.  That worked for awhile.  When that finally quit working I tried suicide.

After that event I realized that I was rapidly becoming my dad. A violent drunk who abused anyone who stood in my way. That realization brought me to the point where I knew I needed to get clean and sober. By the Grace of God, I celebrated 25 years sober in 2019.

The start of my journey wasn’t the easiest. I, too, had to get to a point of reconciliation. It started with AA. Though at first I was quite cold to the idea of a Higher Power. I was raised in a very religious family and the God I grew up with was one I wanted nothing to do with.  He wasn’t there to protect me as a child.  Even when I called cops or talked to clergy no one helped.

Then I was told the only way to salvation was forgiveness and yes honouring my parents. Bullshit! Then one night at an AA meeting a gentleman was speaking (he later became my sponsor) said that Religion was for people scared of going to hell, while spirituality was for people who’ve been in hell.  That lit me up! I wasn’t scared of hell I was born and raised in hell.  No matter what anyone said to me about a peaceful and serene eternity didn’t matter.  I just wanted a little peace and serenity in this lifetime. 

So that day I quit worshipping a God of the church. I found a Higher Power of my understanding and began the work of healing and the rebirth of my soul. As both of my parents were deceased I couldn’t confront them with what I endured, so I took a suggestion of a counselor I was seeing – she too was an ACOA.

She told me to write individual letters to my parents and share my pain with them.  I worked on those letters for about a week. Then she told me to find someone I trusted who would just listen to me read it.  Then after I read it to burn those letters.

I’ve got to say it was one of the most powerful spiritual moments that I’ve experienced in sobriety.  By the time I was done reading that letter, I was shaking like a leaf and teary eyed.  By the time that letter was ashes, my hands were covering my face as I balled like a baby. That letter was to my father. 

The one to my mother wasn’t as intense and left me feeling a lot of pity for her. By the time I was done with both of these assignments I had reached a point of forgiveness. No, I’ll never forget – I owe myself that – but no longer do they control my life.

I’ve even come to a point where I understand that they weren’t really bad people. When they were sober they were in fact pretty good parents.  They had a bad disease – alcoholism. 

To this day, I still don’t have anything to do with the church.  Someday who knows, but right now, I still just want peace and serenity for today.  Tomorrow will take care of itself. And I believe my HP respects that.

That’s my experience.  One thing I’d like to share though is my relationship with counselors. Everyone I’ve ever been too, right off the bat, I ask them if they are either an alcoholic or a child of an alcoholic. I will not see a counselor who learned everything through a book. I want someone who has survived the war.

In The Moment

The Universal Law of Here and Now states that our tendency to cling to the past and grasp for the future is just an erroneous preoccupation with the idea of linear time. To live life to the fullest we need to focus on moment to moment events.

Yesterday my former wife, Betty, passed away after a 20 year battle with cancer. This event has brought me some sadness and put me in a place back in time. I’ve been on both sides of the cancer battle. First , as a caretaker for Betty and then as a survivor myself from throat cancer.

I do believe that it is harder on the caretaker than the patient. The patient has a schedule and rules to follow. Granted the treatment is grueling and at times you just want to quit. If it wasn’t for medical reasons, what you have done to your body would have you seeing a psychiatrist because of inflicting pain on yourself willingly.

The caretaker though, sees what you are going through. They see your hair falling out, your appearance changes and your weight drops. They try to cheer you up. They change menus trying to find something that you can eat and more importantly keep within you. They try there best to make your life as stress-free as possible.

As a good caretaker, the patient doesn’t see or sense or own fears. They have no idea of the financial situation their family is in. The caretaker does whatever they can do to make it possible for the patient to do nothing else but focus on their treatment and recovery.

I reflect and see that I wasn’t the best caretaker, nor was I the best patient. I did want to quit treatment. It was a demanding treatment. I lost my voice, I struggled to swallow, which made it difficult to eat, and my neck was burned from radio therapy. I know how much fear I gave my wife for wanting to quit, yet as a great caretaker, she supported me. Deep down she wanted me to continue treatment but she bit her tongue and hugged me. Eventually, with some nudging from doctors and nurses and her never ending support I did complete treatment.

As a caretaker, I did my best but I do feel I let Betty down as well as her family. I struggled with the bills and keeping them current. I wasn’t a good paternal figure for my step-children. I didn’t want conflict, nor did I wish to hear of their fears. I just wanted everything to go back to normal and forget this ever happened.

The reality is that I did do a good job. Could I do more? In hindsight, for sure I could have. Yet, I did everything I could at that time. The fact is that after being diagnosed with cancer Betty lived for another 20 years. She got to see all her kids finish schooling and all of them become parents themselves. She got to be a part of her six grand-children’s lives. Through our marriage, she got to travel throughout America and met people she would have never known and witnessed things that others have never experienced.

I say this because it is easy to shame myself for things that weren’t done correctly or done at all. Yet, finding it difficult to say I did do a good job and helped her have a fulfilled life. It’s not healthy to dwell on the past. It’s OK to look back on it – just don’t stare. Spending to much time looking back does nothing but destroy the present.

Double Standards

I have had this JPEG for a couple of months and find it very meaningful. If you look past a penis, breasts, and a vagina, it is thought-provoking. It speaks of a society filled with double standards as well as personal choices. It is why I saved this photo, in fact, it is my wallpaper on my laptop.

Let’s look at The Law of Choice which says that we have free-will and choice, we are never powerless, we can change our perception of people, places, and things.

If there is perfect freedom of choice, society wouldn’t have any double standards. The picture above is a perfect illustration of a double standard. The left side has a fit young lady announcing to her to date that she is a nudist. She’s comfortable and relaxed. Her date has a big smile thinking how lucky he is to have this lady as his date. He can stare and she won’t mind, she’s comfortable in her own skin.

On the right is a young man, doing the same thing to his date – telling her that he is a nudist. He too, is comfortable and relaxed. Yet, his date looks shocked, revolted, and maybe even fearful.

Both of the nude figures are sharing their lifestyle with their dates. Trying to make a story from the illustration, I see that both couples just came back from a dinner date. The nudists got their dates a cup of coffee and told them they’d be right back. They go to their bedroom and take off their clothes. They emerge from the room with their proclamation that they are nudists, to the thrill/fear of their dates. Both look ready to return to their bedroom if asked to put something on. The reality for both of them is that it’s a lifestyle and has nothing to do with sex. Yet, their dates see it differently. The man on the left is excited by the thought of what may happen, while the woman on the right is scared of what all this means. Neither one has a look of just simple acceptance.

It is just a cartoon, yet it does show how easily our thoughts and imaginations can run wild. Now imagine if the two dressed people were swapped in the photos. So the nudist was showing themselves to someone of the same sex. My own double standard mind would say that the woman would be more accepting than the man. In fact, the naked man might end up with a black eye.

It is because of choice that we can understand or we can judge. It is because of choice that we can be accepting or we can be disgusted. In my life my own choices have covered the whole spectrum, from understanding and accepting, to total disgust and judgement.

My own personal experiences in life has taught me that there is more than just black and white. There is a large grey area. A nude person doesn’t mean they want to have sex. The same can be said that a chubby person is not necessarily lazy. Just because a person didn’t finish school doesn’t make them dumb. Just as a nude woman isn’t a prostitute, nor a naked man a paedophile.

No matter what you believe or how you may judge the people in this illustration, I do believe it is wrong for the nudists to just shock their dates like that. The subject could have been handled while they were out and about, where everyone was dressed and content with how things were going. Then when they were in a more private place there wouldn’t be any surprises. The nudist would have known in advance what their guest thought and their guest would have known what to expect.

It was through the choices made earlier in the evening that led to the reactions later on. I believe that my Higher Power gave me one and only one gift in this life of mine. That is the freedom of choice. My whole life has been made up of choices – both healthy choices and unhealthy ones. No choice was good or bad – just healthy and unhealthy.

The healthy ones taught me how to succeed and accept the beauty in myself and others. While the unhealthy ones gave me the experience to improve, repent, and try again. Now when you look at that picture again do you see more than just a couple of naked people?

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