A Story About Humility

As an alcoholic, I have spent my time in recovery learning. I never want to get to a point where I believe I know it all. How arrogant that would be. Former Czech President Vaclav Havel once said, “Seek those that search for the truth and run from those that have found it.” We all need to be teachable. We all need a sense of humility.

Humility is being teachable. C.S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of ourselves but rather it is thinking of ourselves less.” Humility also relies on a strong sense of gratitude. What we have and who we are is directly due someone or something else in our lives. Ultimately all the gratitude goes to our Higher Power, because if it wasn’t for this deity putting someone or something in our life, we wouldn’t be who we are.

Presently, I know a couple of gentlemen who have come into some serious money, not because of something they did, but rather through inheritance. Yet, if you talked to either of these individuals you would swear it was because of their financial knowledge that they have what they have.

One is roughly my age. Since I’ve known him he has struggled to rub to pennies together. In the past he has been very impulsive with money. Very much like a kid in a candy store, he has to have it all. We kind of developed a love/hate friendship mainly because we were very similar with where we were with debt.

The major difference was his debt was self-inflicted. My debt developed through medical expenses. For me, it quickly spiralled out of control. My ex-wife had breast cancer and we were already on a razor thin budget when she started her treatment. In no time at all, my paychecks couldn’t cover the co-pays nor her prescriptions. So I started using credit cards to help pay these bills, which in reality, only made matters worse.

Here I was in my mid 50’s, with nothing to show for it. A house in need of major repairs. Cars that needed to be in top running shape so the ex could make all of her appointments and take me to work, and I had nothing in the bank. No emergency fund. 401-K? I borrowed the maximum I could on it.

At the same time, this friend of mine was using his credit cards to buy couches, stereos, and other junk, that in reality a person in their 50s shouldn’t be so obsessed with. The clincher was his purchase of a towbar for the back of his car. He wanted it so he could haul his boat to the lake to go fishing! All well and good, but he didn’t have a method to haul the boat, in fact, he didn’t own a boat, in fact, in didn’t own any fishing gear! Five years later he sold the car with the towbar! As far as the boat? He still hasn’t purchased one, I doubt he has gone fishing anywhere – from a bridge, shoreline, anywhere!

Just a couple of years ago, he was on the verge of bankruptcy. Anyone who knew him kept telling him this was where he was headed, yet he knew better. For a little while he had a little humility. That quickly disappeared when his mother passed away and left him with just under $100,000. The sad part was that she died with him owing her over $30,000. The debt was forgiven by his two sisters, so in fact, he stole from their inheritance.

A new sense of I’m king of the world appeared and he purchased a home. All well and good, yet I question the logic of a person in their 60s purchasing a home? I just look back at my own home adventures. If you are a somewhat good handyman the costs can be kept at a minimum. But all your free time evaporates managing this investment. If you hire someone to do all these household projects, than you will regain your free time but lose your money.

Maybe it’s just me but I’d rather spend some money on rent and not worry about managing a house. I find it very freeing not to worry about heat pumps or water leaks or anything else. Just a phone call away is the landlord and then it becomes his problem.

I will say the guy did follow a bit of my advice and saved some money. He put it in a long term CD, which doesn’t have the greatest return, but at least he is trying. Yet just a couple of years later and he is moaning about how tight money has become.

Through it all I have never heard a word about paying his sisters the money that is rightfully theirs. Through it all I’ve never heard a word how hard his folks worked to make his life more comfortable. At 60 years old, he is living for the first time without the safety net of his parents money. He has got it all now and when that disappears, which I’m sad to say will happen, I wonder which one of his sisters will support him.

He worries about his legacy, yet he has no humility to try a clean up the wreckage of his past. Humility would have given him the gratitude to see how much he owed his parents. Not just for his inheritance, but also the unconditional love they showed him since his birth. In theory, the humility that started it all would have taught him that he needed to change and rely on his Higher Power for guidance. That the largest enemy to becoming the best version of himself… was in fact… himself.

Forget the illusion of power, forget the competition, forget the material. Instead focus on the growth that comes with humility and gratitude.

Growing In Alone Time

I’ve seen on social media sites a cartoon saying that you know you’re and introvert if the pandemic hasn’t affected your lifestyle. Not only has it not affected me, I have seemed to grow and thrive in it. Yet, sadly I look at others that struggle with the idea of being on their own. For some the idea of being alone is frightening.

When I got divorce in 2010, I ended up living in a small apartment by myself for six years. It was during this time that I experienced a major growth in my spiritual and emotional life. I learned to love my own company and cherished the idea of pampering myself.

When my day of work was finished, I’d walk to my tiny apartment, relax for awhile and then make my dinner. Chop up onions, garlic, peppers, or maybe peel some potatoes. Do the prep work on the hind quarters of a chicken, or a ribeye, or whatever my appetite was craving. Within the hour my meal was done and I sat at the dinette, turned on the TV to watch some old comedy show and enjoy my meal.

After that, a nice relaxing shower, then wash the dishes, catch up on the days events and make my way to bed. It may sound boring or maybe even a bit lonely, but it wasn’t. In fact, I look back fondly at that time because it represented peace.

It was during those six years that I learned how to manage money and get out of debt. I learned good habits, like washing the dishes, making the bed, and doing my laundry. More importantly, I learned I was worth the effort to take care of myself and not rely on others to do that for me.

Don’t get me wrong, we all need some human contact. Yet, I believe it is wrong to rely on human contact to make our lives whole. It’s codependency and is bound to fail. You can not put another human being on a pedestal, like a Greek God, and expect them to fill the holes within oneself.

I’ve know people that during the pandemic that abused the lockdown rules. They found so many reasons to pop in their car and get things they deemed necessary for their mental health. They’d go to the store to buy a litre of milk, then the next day go back to the store to buy shoe insoles. Then day three go to the post office for some stamps, yet they’d then turn around and order their groceries on-line and have that delivered.

Their support bubble of local friends included a person that was ten miles away. As a resident of the United Kingdom we were told not to travel unless it was for work or medical reasons. Travelling to see a friend and give him a musical CD or borrow his laptop didn’t meet the needs of what the support bubble meant.

When lockdowns first started in March 2020, I was placed on furlough from my place of employment. I didn’t become a total hermit, yet with my medical history, I was vigilant with my surroundings and those near me. I did venture out and got my exercise by walking a mile and a half roundtrip to the grocery store twice a week and playing in my garden. Did some studying on a major investment I hope to make sometime this year. Through my time in that little apartment to this lockdown, I became an expert I entertaining myself, without being lonely or an emotional drain on others.

12 Step Recovery Programs, teach us to share our stories and to find a Higher Power. No matter how hard a person can try, there will be a time when they are left alone. That’s where a Higher Power comes in. It gives us the emotional and spiritual strength to survive on our own.

When AA started, there wasn’t a meeting at the local church every Tuesday, or at the neighbouring town on Fridays. The population was more spread out and not everyone owned a car to get to a meeting (when they could find one). Cell phones were not yet created and no one knew what the word computer meant. The recovering alcoholic was literally on his own. His best chance of survival was finding a Higher Power. This Higher Power would help him learn to enjoy his own company. It would also help him understand that other people can not fill the emptiness within oneself.

The best gift we can give to others is our independence. To let them see that we can entertain ourselves, that they don’t feel obligated to meet our needs. In the end, by learning how to enjoy our own company, we will develop stronger relationships built on healthy wants and needs, instead of needing others to make us whole.

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…

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