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Friday, November 29, 2019

Rome wasn't built in a day, but it didn't crumble in a day either

I've discussed with my daughter on a few occasions about the importance of taking school seriously and minding adults.  Without going into detail, she has had some members of her extended family have gotten in trouble in their teens and early adulthood.   I say to her, do you think so and so expected when they were your age that one day they'd be where they are or make the choices they did?

I had a friend a few years back whose life became an out of control mess.  She struggled with heroine addiction for years.  Though no one could be sure that heroine was in her system when she died, I believe it ultimately led to her passing.  It had so consumed her life that even when she wasn't high on it, that she struggled to function.  She died late one night in a car accident after recently struggling with it.  Due to the circumstances of the accident there was no way to tell for sure.

She wasn't always a heroine addict.  From what she told me, she was at one point a teen who had body image issues and got hooked on weight loss drugs.  As you might guess there were underlying issues that fed this addictive personality.  In any case, it's likely had one told her in her teens when she started to take weigh loss medicine (drugs), that it could eventually lead to heroine and and early passing, she probably would have looked at them like they were nuts.  However, near the end, she had said that she'd probably die young.

--

The news is replete with stories of people in prison whose delinquency started out small--disrespecting the adults in their life, petty shoplifting,  truancy,  breaking curfew. etc--who eventually were doing serious time for hardcore criminal behavior.   "Scared straight" touches on this. 

I understand "Rome wasn't built in a day" to mean that great things take time build or create.   When I say it [Rome] didn't crumble in day, I refer to our historical understanding that that it decayed over time.  It didn't like a man who died of a single gunshot or a well-placed stab wound, but instead like a man who was weakened, compromised and eventually passed away due to how he treated his body and bad things he partook in and the bad influences he surrounded himself with.

Like the collapse of the Berlin Wall and later the Soviet Union, to some people, the whirlwind of events was shocking, but I think to others, if they were honest, would have seen the signs of collapse forming evidencing over time.   Lives like empires, can complete their collapse abruptly, but the process of crumbling from my experience, knowledge and observations can be a gradual process with most of the steps being fairly small.

Anyway, here are some observations on

Harmful and destructive tendencies or addictions and how they can operate to destroy our lives
  • They can lie or deceive you about their impact.
    • They appear to be small, but end up being a gateway to worse.   You smoke a cigarette after being peer pressured and it makes you feel relaxed.  Eventually it can take more and more cigarettes to keep you relaxed or even worse, it just doesn't do it anymore and you look for something stronger to help calm your nerves or make you feel better such as marijuana or worse.
    • They appear to be small, but continuously 'getting away with' them can give a false sense of being consequence free or invincibility.  This can give 'courage' or illusion that it is okay to take the next step and then next step and then next step.   You steal a candy bar and get away with it, this can give you the confidence to steal progressively more and more expensive items until you get caught stealing an automobile or worse. 
    • Consequences of them can build up over time.  Whether it is spending more and more money you don't have gambling and having to borrow more on your way to losing everything, whether it is a build up of liver damage or heart trauma or the like from drugs and alcohol, or some other consequences that seemed manageable or not visible immediately, consequences will build up and eventually become impossible to miss in time.
  • Can put you in a progressively more hopeless place. 
    • If you blow off school and don't do well, you limit your future earning power and in turn can limit your ability ability to start and/or provide for a family and in turn end up poor, miserable and with a shortened life..
    • If you get caught stealing or cheating, you can ruin your reputation and make it harder to succeed honestly as people may limit your ability to earn an honest living.  The extreme version of this is people who end up in prison for felonies, especially involving illegitimately gained income.  When they come out, it is more difficult for them to get a good honest job.  So, there is an incentive to 'earning' money the only way they know how and going back to their life of crime.
    • If you alcohol or drugs take hold you may lose employment and/or friends and dive deeper into it/them instead of facing the the pain of that which you already lost.  

Rome, on the surface, was a thriving empire for scores of years after its high point and to an outsider probably looked invincible.  But, as history has taught us, it was decaying on the inside.   There wasn't one step which led to its crumble, but many.  The world of that time couldn't envision the Roman empire collapsing into the dustbin of history.  But just like those whose lives crumble around us, the changes in them can be gradual and hard to envision as fatal.  Yes, when my friend when she first struggled with body image issues, I doubt she envisioned the path that she was on as fatal, but unfortunately it was.

IMHO, that's why it is important to find a way to stress the point to young people that poor choices you make now, may not seem like a big deal, but like the Roman empire, can be a stepping stone towards eventually crumbing of their lives.


 

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Freedom: Part 2: Just Another Word For Nothing Left to Lose

I've always appreciated Janis Joplin's music.  She was a troubled, but talented 'child' of the 1960s.  She grew up in Texas, but really never fit there.  In a word, she was a misfit.  Anyway, I have always appreciated the bluesy, "Me and Bobby McGee".   I've written about a bit about the time period between 2011-2012 in my life.  To quote Charles Dickens, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."  Anyway, I never fully appreciated what she meant when she sang the verse, "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose" in the song until that period in my life.

Growing up, I was the fifth of six children being raised on a postal employee's salary with the family often competing with the bottle for my dad's income.  Anyway, I never had a whole lot growing up and sometimes didn't even have enough clothes.  But I did have a good mind, which helped escape the poverty of childhood.   In any case, I was used to not having much, but what I did have I appreciated.

With my mind and education, I eventually was able to start a solid career in IT.  I was able to buy a new cars, buy a house, get married, have a child, etc.   In other words, the American dream.  I was able to buy luxuries and do things that we didn't have or do during my childhood.  I think part of me for a moment forgot what it was like to go without.  As the title of this blog suggests, this newfound lifestyle did not go on forever uninterrupted. 

My first marriage had some foundation flaws which I really did not fully appreciate until after it was over.  Anyway, starting in 2009, when my mom nearly died, my life as I knew it was, was on a path to forever change.  But, it didn't really start to show cracks until August 2010, when we separated for the first time.  Around this time, the company I'd worked for 10 years was moving its operations halfway across the country.  Given the turmoil at home, staying in town was the better option for me at that point.   By the end of the year 2010, my company officially closed operations in St. Louis, MO leaving me unemployed going into the new year.  That was blow number 1.

My and my ex got back together at the end of 2010 and I got some short-term consulting work, but that was a short reprieve from the storm.  This was true, especially since, my older brother Bill was going through his own turmoil at the time, which I didn't exactly know how to help him with.  He was struggling with demons from his childhood, with employment woes, with no luck in relationships, automobile woes and with depression woes.  Essentially he felt the walls collapsing in around him.  I wrote about him in Don't you forget about me: The blog I needed to write one day about my late brother.  I was fortunate, though mostly unemployed, I had means and I still had the love of my young daughter and faith to hang onto.  He wasn't so much.  Well, as the year went on, it became increasingly clear that the marriage was not built to last and that my brother Bill was in a very bad place.

It was clear around the beginning of July 2011, my marriage would not last.  I was still mostly unemployed and burning through my saving.  Though I was distracted by those troubles, I was still able to notice that my brother wasn't doing well emotionally.  I had started to worry that he wouldn't make it long term.  Unfortunately, my fears were realized much sooner than I realized.  My brother was found deceased in his apartment at the end of July that year.  Due to the timing of it, they were not able to definitively rule on the cause of death.  However, based on what I knew about him, the last thing he texted me* and details that few were privy too about his circumstance, it was pretty clear that he took his life.  I can't say for sure if he actively tried to commit suicide or if he engaged in death wish type actions/behaviors.  Either way, he was gone.  That was blow number 2.

In August of that year (2011), my now ex and I separated permanently and I lost custody of my daughter for a few months.  That was blow number 3.   In the process, I lost my house and would over the next few years be forced to move around a few times.  Anyway, the foreclosure would only become official in March of 2012.  That was blow number 4.  Anyone who has been through a divorce, especially a contentious one, knows that they are usually bad for finances.   Though I had gotten part time work and some unemployment at the time, I had to file for bankruptcy.  Blow number 5.   I also was forced to deal with my dad's failing health while I was nursing all of those wounds.   Blow number 6.

I hadn't quite lost everything at the time.   My parents were still both alive and I was able to get partial custody of my daughter as well as had a car of my own.  But, I'd say
  • Losing a good long term job and being unemployed for an extended period of time.
  • Loss of my closest sibling.
  • Bad break-up and loss of custody of my daughter for a time.
  • Foreclosure on my house and loss of most of what was in it.
  • Filing for bankruptcy.
  • Dealing with my dad's failing health.
all within about a two year period was staggering.  Though I hadn't quite lost everything.  Losing so much in that period of time and being literally left with the clothes on my back, my laptop and my car felt pretty much like I had little left to lose.  But as I wrote about in Finding Jewels in the Darkness, there was some good that came out of the bad.

Anyway, back to the original point of the post.  Leading up to the 2011/2012 period, I had had to deal with the following (not in any specific order):
  • An unhealthy marriage and all the stress that goes along with it, including the fear of change and fear of loss of custody of a child.
  • Round after round of reorganization and layoffs at my long term employer
  • A brother who was increasingly struggling to cope and the constant stress over it.
  • Increasingly untenable financial situation which associated with coping with a rough marriage. I learned that you can't buy enough things, go enough places and do enough things to get away from this fact.  Though you can sure build up debt in the process.
  • The house payment was being increasingly difficult to make.

When it all started to tumble down in 2011 and 2012 and I survived each blow, a funny thing happened.  I realized that though I'd lost a lot, I gained something in the process.  I gained freedom. I no longer had each of those things to worry about.  My world became smaller, my stresses became fewer, my responsibilities became less, the remaining stresses I was fearful of, I found to be survivable.   Though I didn't have much, I had what mattered at the time: A car, a place to stay (a friend's house), enough money to get by on, my daughter, a few friends that survived the shake-up and my faith.  I also for a couple years more had my mom, whom I spoke about in Knew You Were Waiting For an Advocate.   It wasn't quite, nothing left to lose, but nonetheless, the responsibilities, burdens and stresses that had been weighing me down prior to 2011 were greatly reduced if not outright gone.  Though there was a lot of sadness, there was a great weight lifted off my shoulders.  I had little left after that time period, but what I had was what I needed and what I didn't have was the level of stress.  In short, though I'd lost a lot, I gained freedom to start fresh in the process.

* He texted me that "I think I'm dying".  It's one of those situations which haunts you.  When you are a kid and another kids says that he'll 'kill you'.  You take it to mean, I'm going to beat the crap out of you.  It was a similar dynamic to that.  
Given the conversations we'd been having at the time, I took it to mean I'm very depressed and dying inside.  In other words, at that moment, in that context, it came across as figurative.  Maybe at that moment, it was.  Regardless, the timing will probably always haunt me. 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Freedom: Part 1: Freedom At Last

Ever hear a song that you haven't heard in a while and for whatever reason it sticks in your mind for a while?   I don't know if it is an earworm at play, suddenly getting the meaning of it aka "really hearing it for the first time" or just the song having a meaning now that it didn't have when you previously had heard it.  I have Sirius XM and they change up some of the channels from time to time.  Recently, they made one of their channels to be the "George Michael" channel.  Whatever demons he had, he was a very talented singer and songwriter and I've always appreciated that.
Anyway, I heard his version of "Freedom" he wrote as part of Wham.  So, it got me to thinking what exactly is freedom?  Can something seem like freedom but is really a prison of sorts?  So, I pondered those two questions/thoughts as well as others and here is what I came up with.

THOUGHTS/DEFINITIONS OF FREEDOM
  • The ability to make your own choices/decisions (as opposed to being controlled or pressured to do something different).
    • That can mean not having to make a choice.
    • That can mean making a choice which you otherwise might not be able to.
      • Control can come from an outside source (others).
      • Control can come from an internal source (our hangups).
    • The can mean not being held back by ourselves/others.
  • The ability to be yourself or express yourself without recrimination or at least fear of the consequences of doing so.
    • Worrying less about what others think as we get older.
      • Often due to confidence gained from experience.
      • Often from contempt about being told 'what to okay to do or think', especially when it comes from those with much less life experience.
      • Often due to fatigue of expending the energy trying to worry about what others think.
    •  The ability to set better set aside or let go of worry about what others think.
      • Realization that you can't control what others think.
      • Realization that letting what others think gets in the way of being yourself can be harmful or toxic.
      • Realization that you'll never be able to please everyone, so you might as well be true to yourself.
      • Realization that life is too short and some things are just too important to let others dictate or overly influence you.
        • How we raise our children is a great example of this.  While we can heed what others say or take it into account.  We can't let others dictate how we parent.  Being paralyzed by what others think can get in the way of effective parenting.
  • Not having to rely on another.
    • For our material needs.
    • For our contentment or happiness
    • For our sense of purpose or being. 
  • Not having 'report' to another.
    • Could be an employer
    • Could be a parent or adult or someone who is in charge of you.
    • Could be a mate.
  • Nothing left to hold onto/nothing left to lose.  This one I will explore in another blog post.
  • Really just an illusion.
    • We always have someone we need to report to
      • Even a business owner will have to 'report' to his or has to answer to clients or potential clients.
      • Every year on our around April 15th-and for some more often-people have to report to the IRS.  
    • In our modern society, we will always have to rely on others. Examples include
      • Not everyone can raise their own livestock or farm for feed needs.
      • We don't have the ability to maintain or fix the roads we travel on in most cases.
    •  Freedom is rarely free
      • Each Memorial, Veteran's and Independence Day, we are reminded of the cost of fighting to achieve and retain our freedoms (life and death struggle).
      • Often we have to give up something to gain freedom.
        • Dying gives us freedom from pain and suffering
        • Lonliness and alienation from some of those around us can be the cost of freedom from a 'bad relationship'.
        • Financial hardship can result from being separated from a soul-sucking job.


Let's break some points down a little further.

Freedom From Control
  •  I think when mot people think of freedom, they think of not having to answer to someone or not having someone try to control you in some way.  That's easy to spot.  What is harder to spot is when is when you are in your own prison.  That is where you are beholden to your own demons or hang-ups.  
Freedom Is Being Yourself

  •  I believe history is littered with people who felt imprisoned to expectations of those close to them and society in general.  Whether we feel we cannot choose whom we couple with, what we should do with our lives, what we are allowed to think or express, or something else along those lines, being imprisoned to the expectations of others is hard on the soul.  Back in the day,  I've always been a very sensitive person and in some regards in the era I grew up in that was frowned upon as a guy.   I felt like there was a pressure to be 'macho' and not show 'weakness' or especially sensitivity.  The later for a guy was interpreted by some as a sign of homosexuality or at least being a 'sissy'.  I never saw and still don't see those things in myself, but as a teen wanting acceptance, I certainly didn't want to be pegged anything like that.   I liked what I liked.  I liked 'Wham!' and I think to a large extent people 'knew' George Michaels was gay.   I knew it wasn't the most macho music for a guy to listen to, but I liked it, but didn't brag about that.  I have realized over time that the fact that I like it was all that was important.  It didn't matter if it didn't fit the stereotype of 'dude' music.  It didn't matter if people mocked them (and by proxy) guys who might like it.  None of that mattered.  I like what I like and if others have a problem with it, well I might not be accepted, but if that's the price of acceptance, it's not worth it.   But as a guy with a very sensitive side, I knew I had to 'keep it hidden'.   Anyway, the freedom to be yourself is either the actually when you aren't criticized for being who you are OR it is the ability to move past caring or at least getting paralyzed by what others think. 

Freedom Is A Prison
  • You want to give up drinking, smoking, gambling, etc.   However, your spirit is trapped in rut where you feel compelled to feed your hang-ups.  As I alluded to earlier, this can be a prison of sorts rather than 'freedom'.  You may be old enough to engage in self-destructive and addictive behavior and you may even celebrate your 'freedom' to engage in certain behaviors.  But, in time what seemed like freedom really is imprisonment to your own demons.

Freedom Can Have A Cost
  • Like most things that matter in life, there is cost. To live a comfortable life, we typically have to work hard and sometimes long hours.  To do the best for our kids, we often have to sacrifice or set aside our own needs or wants.  Freedom is no different.  We may not have to go to the front line and put our life on the line, to ensure our (and others') freedom, but there is usually a cost.   If we are okay with being single, we may not have to 'answer to' a mate, but we may feel lonliness at times and we may give up the chance for a love connection.  We may be away from a toxic job that was hurting us mentally and/or spiritually, but it may come at a cost of a lifestyle we are used to.  We want the freedom to afford to travel where we want, but we have to sacrifice a lot of time on hard work to afford us the opportunity.  We have a 1st Amendment to speak our mind, we may not go to prison, but it can cost us things like our job and our friends.  There are countless examples, but the point is clear.  Freedom is not free.

There are many other possible takes on freedom I'm sure, but these are the ones that stand out to me.  As I think freedom means nothing left to lose needs a more of a treatment, I will leave that for later, but I think this covers a lot of ground.

Just my thought and I hope some of my takes get my readers to think about it.  Maybe come up with their own definitions and perhaps come up with a different take.  In any case, as I am ending this blog, feel free to spend your time on other things.  Maybe feel free to look at other blog posts.

Cheers,
Rich


Sunday, November 10, 2019

Rolling Stops: Skirting Along the Edge of Disaster

A counselor years ago told me that healthy people view bad choices or decisions as stop signs and take heed of them.   From what I understand, have heard and seen, a full-blown addict will either not see the stop sign, deny the stop sign exists or just resign themselves to the fact the 'brakes are shot' and not make a serious attempt to stop. 

That is to say, they
  • Will not see the choice or decision they are making as bad (delusional)
    • I'm stopping in for one drink to celebrate with friends.
    • They cannot see them that one drink leads to another and before you know it, you are being carried out drunk.
  • Will minimize the impact of the choices or decision they make (denial) 
    • No one will know if I lie/steal/cheat.
    • The problem is even if no one else knows--which often is no accurate anyway--such behavior changes who you are.
  • Will know the stop sign is there and say well there's nothing I can do anyway (resignation). 
    • What does it matter if I gamble my last bit of money, I'm screwed anyway.
    • They cannot see that even in a bad situation that looks hopeless, that you can make it worse.
    • This is fatalistic.

Like many people, I've done what law enforcement would consider a rolling stop.  After one particular time, it occurred to me, some people do actually see the rhetorical stop sign and heed it (mostly).   They know there is a stop sign and they know proceeding without hesitating or making an attempt to checking if it is safe to go into the intersection is bad.   They know it is a disaster waiting to happen.  So, they stop short of just running the stop sign and look out for oncoming traffic before finishing their pause.  In reality they are tempting fate.  That is to say, they catch the danger most of the time and are able to stop their momentum and do a complete stop if necessary.  However, it just takes one time of rolling at stop and misjudging traffic to get hit by another car they've missed after a quick glance.  To me this describes a person with some addictive or at-risk tendencies.  Like a recovering alcoholic who drives by a bar he used to frequent when he has an a good alternative route or a recovering gambler who carries too much cash on him as he passes by the casino, they are just asking for trouble.   They may be able to resist feeding their addiction, for a day, a week, a month or a year or more, but eventually they are a putting themselves in a dangerous position of relapsing.   Yes, they may be able to get away with their 'rolling stop' for a long while, but eventually they risk getting 'hit' by their addiction. 

As always my posts are a reflection of my experiences, the experiences of those surrounding me or my observations about the world that surrounds me and it they aren't meant to be considered scientific research or indisputable fact.  However, I am always hopeful that through my words, others will find comfort, relate-ability or just a different or new perspective.

Thanks for reading and remember: it is better to follow the 'rules' and always practice doing a full stop, so when it is time that it is absolutely necessary to do a full stop you will be so practiced at it, that you will be likely to make the wisest choice under pressure.

Cheers,
Rich