Sunday, August 23, 2009

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

(A Recollection from My Childhood, Circa 1966)

Wow, it was a hot one, wasn’t it? A blistering summer. I don’t know what I would have done without the creek running behind grandpa’s house to play in during the heat of the day. Even those giant old trees with their huge limbs and canopy of leaves swaying in the hot breeze couldn’t stir up a breath of relief. I could lie on the high, mud-packed bank of the creek, right where it bent sharply round before it disappeared under the road a little ways down the way and it wasn’t too uncomfortable. The dirt itself seemed to hold some moisture, and that made it a bit cooler. Of course, I got dirty. Aren’t boys supposed to get dirty? I laid there by myself looking up into the trees, the dappled sunlight dancing on my face in the July afternoon. I may have dozed off a time or two.

Clad in only shorts and a white t-shirt, I’d hop down from the bank and start splashing through the creek. It was more than just a trickle of water through a mud hole, that’s for sure. This was a full-sized creek! I could easily wade across it in about 15 steps, and at its deepest it came up to mid-calf on me. The water was crystal clear, and on the creek bed I could see a collection of bland sandy pebbles worn smooth by the continuous stream of water. It looked and smelled so pure and clean.

Three or four summers back when I was eight or nine years old, grandpa helped put up a tire swing on a thick rope. It was a lazy old swing that hung from a high, high branch above a flat crossing where the creek was very shallow and you could sit in the tire and just dip your toes in the water. My sister and cousins loved it. When no one was around, I’d climb up on top of the tire rather than sit inside it, and get it swinging madly from side to side as far as I could! I loved the groaning, creaking sound of the rope as it twisted itself around the tree limb high above. I imagined from the noise it made that it was bound to break at any moment! The rope was long and it took forever to get it to swing very far, but it was thrilling once it got going.

Occasionally I’d hear a car approaching at high speed on the country road nearby but it just whooshed on by, adding its own unique sound to the countryside symphony of summer sounds; trickling water, rustling leaves, distant cows or horses. I paid it no mind. The road was elevated 30 or so feet above the creek and no one could see me unless they made a point to stop and look down through the trees and shrubbery. I loved the isolation of the creek here. It was so quiet and peaceful.

If I got bored like today, which was seldom, I’d trek upstream a ways. The creek had welcoming, wide banks when it wasn’t raining, which made it very easy to travel at an easy pace. I’d grab a broken limb of an appropriate size to use as my wizard’s staff and take off at a steady pace, stopping occasionally to toss a pebble at a critter or turn over a rock to look at the roly-poly’s. After about a half a mile I found what I was after; a stand of mulberry trees! I picked a double handful and rinsed the berries off in the creek before eating them. Oh, my! So sweet and delicious! They’re so messy, though, and they will stain your teeth and hands if you mash them, but I didn’t care.

After I’d eaten my fill I gathered up as many as I could carry by cradling them in my t-shirt. I knew grandma would do something with them for dessert that evening. I made my way back downstream a little quicker with my bounty carefully tucked away, walking barefoot in the shallow water the entire way. I could see the sun was setting in the west as the trees’ shadows grew longer and stretched away from where they stood close to the outer banks of the creek.

A short time later I stepped out of the shade and into the evening sun and began the slow climb up the gentle hillside to my grandparents’ home. I don’t know how many hours I’d spent exploring the creek that day, or any of the days that summer, for that matter. I never tired of it. Whether I was alone or with friends, or with my sister or cousins, it was always fun to hang out there.

I clopped up the worn wooden steps of the back porch. As I pulled open the squeaky screen door the smell of supper cooking wafted out from the kitchen, mixed with a swirl of grandpa’s pipe tobacco. I smiled, knowing grandma would be happy with the berries I was bringing with me. I looked once over my shoulder at the deepening shadows beneath the trees, wondering what teeming nightlife was waiting for full nightfall to come out of hiding to begin its own exploration along the creek. I was already excited to think what I might find there tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Parting of the Ways

(Originally written Monday, August 10, 2009 at 10:44 p.m.)

The most difficult decision I’ve had lately hasn’t had anything to do with my alcoholism or my retirement! I’ve been thinking about this almost since day one, but I’ve actually decided to give up Candy.

I bet that came as a shock to most of you, especially the ones who didn’t already know.

Ever since I got her on December 19, 2007 I’ve debated whether I made the right decision. She’s extremely high strung, very whiny, skittish, and fearful. We went through a difficult adjustment period. She was a puppy that wasn’t housebroken, and I was an adult who hadn’t had a pet for over 30 years. I think she was abused by her original owners, and I think she has abandonment issues. I had a difficult time adjusting to her issues, and made a really strong effort to make things as normal as possible for both of us. You have to admit, working on it for almost two years makes for a serious effort.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love her and I am attached to her, but things just aren’t working out. As I said, it’s been almost two years now and she still has all the nagging things about her that annoy me. She whines almost constantly and is still hyper. She’s extremely needy and I get tired of her constantly circling and begging and crying.

I think the real clincher is the fact that I have lost my temper with her too many times. When she has messed in the floor a few times, long after she was housebroken, it has usually been because I gave her something too rich for her diet, so I was understanding and compassionate. But there have been several times she has messed in the floor because she didn’t get taken out soon enough. My fault to be sure, but if I was drunk at the time and didn’t notice, I would blame her and spank her for messing in the floor. I would swat her on the butt, but sometimes too hard and for too long. She would never yelp or run away, but just lay there and take it, looking up at me with soulful, hurt eyes, until the anger would drain out of me.

Of course I would feel horrible afterward, thinking I had hurt her terribly (which I hadn’t, but you can’t help how you feel). Granted, it hasn’t been a problem since I stopped drinking, until a couple of weeks ago.

I came home from work one day and Candy had messed in her cage, I mean really messed it up good. Diarrhea big time. I scolded her, but didn’t punish her since she couldn’t help it, and I put her on the patio while I cleaned up the cage. Then I took her to PetSmart to get her bathed. After I brought her home, she messed again, this time on the carpet in front of Jason’s door and bathroom door. I was furious. Jason and I cleaned up the mess.

The carpet wasn’t even dry and we had barely turned our backs when she messed again, in the exact same spot! This time I lost my temper and spanked her butt, once again too hard and too long, feeling angry and guilty at the same time.

Later that evening I was walking her across the street and my friend the veterinarian, Dr. Mike drove by and I told him about her problem. He came by to see her later and said she probably had colitis. He gave her a shot and gave me two types of antibiotics to give her twice a day for a week. He also told me to give her Imodium to stop the diarrhea, which I did. I made sure to take her out every couple of hours for the next 18 hours or so until the diarrhea stopped, and she gradually got better.

Of course, once I realized she was actually sick and not just “acting out” because Jason and his dog Cody had moved in (which had been my original thought since she kept messing in front of their bedroom door), the guilt was overwhelming. It made me feel even more like I wasn’t the right owner for a dog with her type of personality and needs. I just don’t have the patience. She is extremely high maintenance, especially with what I call her “nervous condition,” which I’ve even tried to treat with medication recommended by the vet, to no avail.

I’ve never thought of myself as a violent person. And I think if someone else saw how I spanked her you wouldn’t say I was being cruel necessarily, but in my mind I was being too harsh and I don’t like the way it feels. I also don’t like that she can bring it out in me.

While my friend Brian was living here for several months, Candy and he bonded and became extremely attached to each other. So much so that he asked me at one point, that should anything ever happen to me would I make sure that he got to keep Candy. I’ve seen they way they dote on each other, so of course I said yes. They really do cherish each other.

Brian moved out in early May, but still comes over to see us frequently, and Candy always loves to spend time with him. He hadn’t been over in probably three weeks when he came by last Thursday to pick up some computer parts he’d left behind. Candy and I were outside for her potty break when he came up, and she about wet herself because she was so excited to see him! And I thought Brian was going to cry, he was so happy to see her.

I had told him a week or so earlier I was thinking about giving her up. After his visit last Thursday, he sent me a text message on Friday asking if he could have her. He said he didn’t know if he missed her more, or if she missed him, but after seeing her the day before he really felt like she would be better off living with him than for me to give her to a stranger.

It’s sad to say, but I have to agree.

So, on Saturday this past weekend (August 8, 2009) while I was at the movies, Brian came by, picked her up, and took her home with him for a “trial period.” He’s been keeping me updated on her progress. She’s got her own bed and toys he took with her. She has a back yard to play in, and she can go out through a doggie door whenever she wants. There is another, older, dog in the house and they get along very well. Candy doesn’t exhibit any of the jealous behavior toward Brian with the other dog that she did with me when she was here and Cody tried to play. I imagine that’s because this was her territory and she was protecting it (and me), whereas over there, she’s the newcomer.

Brian says she’s settling in very well. He sends me photos of her now and then to let me know how she’s doing. In a few days we’ll talk again and see how they are doing, and how I am doing without her.

So how am I doing without her? Well, okay I guess. I miss her, of course. When it’s just the two of us here, she’s relaxed and very affectionate, although still timid and skittish whenever I’m on my feet. But whenever Brian is visiting, she’s always at his feet or sitting by him with her head in his lap, and he never gets tired of her company. He has far more patience with her than I do, and I think they are good for each other.

When I think ahead to my retirement and the plans I want to make in the few months extending into it, having a pet doesn’t fit well. I want to make several driving trips over the next year, and I can tell you already Candy does not travel well! There’s no way she would do well on long car trips, and I know I would not have the patience it would take to have her with me.

She’s an outdoor dog, and knowing she has a back yard now where she can play anytime she wants really makes me feel glad for her. I think I’m adjusting to the idea of her being gone already, but only because she’s with Brian. I know he loves her and will take good care of her. I think he’d take better care of her than he would of his own kids if he had any.


Life Decisions, Stress, and Alcohol

(Originally written Wednesday, August 5, 2009 at 11:05 p.m.)

Wow, how silly do I feel? I only noticed tonight how I titled my first two notes here. I didn’t know how Facebook would date them, so I thought I would just title them with the current date. However, in my strange mind I must have been thinking ahead to my retirement years because I wrote February instead of July! Now that I see Facebook dated my notes correctly, I’ve re-titled the notes to something a little more descriptive.

So here’s my third effort: Life decisions, stress, and alcohol. I’m in the middle of what has become my last “budget cycle” at work, traditionally the most stressful time of the year for me. It is a time when my staff and I hunker down and hammer out the budget for every post office in the Oklahoma District for the next fiscal year commencing October 1, consisting of work hours, volume, productivity, overtime, sick leave, salaries & benefits, non-personnel, other personnel, revenue, etc. Most people don’t know the intricacies or the level of detail involved, and the amount of effort put forth in the number crunching can be exhausting.

The stress in years past has been oppressive to a near breaking point at times. My job as the manager involves being the liaison not only between our Area office in Dallas and the District, but between the District staff and my staff. I am responsible for coordinating between the functional managers, all of whom are higher level managers than me, and most of whom have egos that need tending. Coordinating this activity while facing technical deadlines would cause unbelievable pressure for me.

This year is strangely different. A few short months after entering Alcoholics Anonymous I began to let go of everything that was causing me stress. I’ve already written about the fear of economic insecurity leaving me. I listened to what the others were saying in the meetings and read the big book, and gradually realized I was not in control of most things in my life that caused stress. Once I realized I couldn’t control the stressors, I learned I could let go of them. Letting go was the key. Leave it behind.

I thought as the budget cycle approached I would have difficulty maintaining my serenity, and even worried I would begin to crave alcohol again as a way of coping with the stress of the job. So far it hasn’t happened! We’re more than half way through the budget process now, with a little more than two weeks to go.

Add to the job stress a major life decision – retirement! Having made the decision to retire at roughly the same time as the budget cycle started, you’d think I might have bitten off more than I could chew. Oddly enough, that was the least stressful decision I’ve ever made. A thorough review of my financial standing and an inventory of my ambitions and desires for career movement lead me to a clear decision. It is time to leave the Postal Service after 36 and a half years.

It’s not that I hate my job or that I’m unhappy with the Postal Service. Quite the contrary! The Postal Service has been very good to me over my career and I certainly have been well compensated. I expect nothing more from my career and will leave the Postal Service as a very happy retiree.

It’s a good place to be. I haven’t felt this peaceful with myself in a very long time. Alcohol free for more than seven months, and the future looks bright. I’m feeling zero stress in spite of being in the midst of what should be a very stressful time at work and having just made a very stressful decision to retire! I’m counting down the days until my final work day, December 31, 2009. The whole world will be celebrating my retirement on New Year’s Eve!

The Promises Are Coming True

(Originally written Monday, July 27, 2009 at 8:28 p.m.)

(From the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book, pages 83-84)

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and selfpity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.


I added the bold and underlined part in the above quote from the Big Book. All of the above promises are gradually coming true for me, but the part I highlighted is especially important as I contemplate retirement. Just a few months ago I sat in fear of even paying my bills between paychecks! That hasn't happened to me in 25 years. But thanks to the AA program and my recovery, I've been very lucky to regain my financial security. Well, at least I'm on the way to it.

It's amazing how much money I used to spend on alcohol. I didn't drink it all myself! I was one of those guys at the bar who had to always buy for his friends. And if I was drunk enough, which I frequently was, I'd buy rounds for the entire bar. Not to mention hosting the party condo for a couple of summers. It didn't matter; isn't that why credit cards were invented?

Two and a half years and $30,000 later I was suddenly drinking because financial problems were in my life, right? Not so, not so. It was my alcoholism. That was the root of all my problems. My disease, over which I had no control, was running rampant. I could see in the distance that it might eventually impact my retirement but I thought I had plenty of time to put the brakes on, whenever I thought I was ready to stop.

The fear of financial insecurity paralyzed me last November/December. I knew I would be eligible to retire in May this year and I felt I was fizzling out mentally and emotionally and on the verge of burnout; I needed to retire. But I wouldn't be able to with my financial situation the way it was. Worse still, my health was deteriorating.

In a way, that was the more fortunate, if you can call it that, wake-up call. If my health had not been threatened I doubt I would have hauled myself to detox when I did. There were a host of events, thought processes, emotional issues, etc., that lead to the decision to admit myself to detox. The bottom line was this. I didn't want to die. All I knew was that I had to get sober. I didn't know how that would happen after I got through detox, but I knew I had to make the first step.

It was during detox and rehab that I was introduced to AA. I haven't regretted the decision to join "the cult," as many people like to call it, jokingly or not. Whatever you want to say about it, one thing is true. Go to enough meetings and they will certainly interfere with your drinking! LOL

Thanks to AA I not only have my physical sobriety back, buy my emotional and spiritual sobriety as well. Working the steps and continuing the meetings keeps me grounded and centered. I made the decision just in time, back in December, because my health has completely recovered. I've gradually regained my sanity and serenity. Instead of spending thousands of dollars on drinking and buying drinks, I am paying off credit card debt and planning for retirement.

Am I where I could have been without alcoholism in my life? Of course not. Am I even where I wish I could be now? No way. But I have achieved something in seven months of sobriety I never expected. The fear of economic insecurity has left me. That's a significant improvement.

I will be able to retire soon! In fact, the official date is January 2, 2010, 159 days from today. My civil service retirement will be intact, although my thrift savings fund, which was already significantly impacted by the economic crisis of the past year and a half or so, will be seriously depleted in order to pay off my remaining debt when I retire. What's left (mortgage, car payment, etc.) I will be able to manage comfortably without having to work, unless I want to. I'll have some left over to continue saving and a cushion for trips, or maybe that extravagance I've got my eye on - a big-screen TV.

Considering how it could have turned out, I feel extremely fortunate! Don't think that money is the most importing thing in my life by any means, everyone. This is a topic currently in the forefront of my mind because I've been actively researching retirement the past few weeks, but trust me, my recovery through AA has more to do with my health, family relationships, friendships, emotional and spiritual wellbeing than my financial stability!

The Beginning!

(Originally written Sunday, July 26, 2009 at 2:12 p.m.)

They say you shouldn't make any major decisions in life during your first year of sobriety. It's been almost seven months since I got sober. Over the past few months I've been thinking about retirement. Actually over the past couple of years. The alcoholism spiral nearly ruined those dreams, but I think I may be able to pull it off after all. I won't be quite as comfortable financially, but I still need and want to retire in January 2010. Emotionally I am more than ready to retire.

While this definitely qualifies as a major decision in life, it is certainly not one I'm taking lightly or quickly. It is a carefully researched decision, and one I choose not to let my alcoholic past and current recovery jeopardize. In fact I view this decision as part of my recovery. Work over the past several years has become a drain on my emotional wellbeing for a number of reasons. My interest and ambition has long disappeared. Staying at the post office has turned into a daily chore rather than the pleasure it used to be.

Now that the decision is made, I'm excited about it! I'm looking forward to the challenge of the next few months, working out the financial kinks, staging the next part of my life in retirment, etc. It isn't that I hate my life at the post office, I'm just ready for change. Thirty-six and a half years at the same place is a long time!

I plan to continue working in retirement, but in a drastically different way. Not immediately after I retire for one thing. I want to travel first, for a while. "Impose on friends" for a bit. Visit some distant friends for a few weeks at a time and take a few car trips. When I do work I want to do something more in line with my hobbies; travel, photography, reading, writing, etc., rather than finance and spreadsheets. I am also only interested in working part time at the moment, just to make a little vacation money and to keep my self busy.

So, that's the current update. I'll see about keeping this journal going and posting a few videos along the way. Feel free to comment and provide your advice and encouragement!