My Year in the Sky

“ We are focusing on a discussion of work and how it relates to happiness and of course we can continue talking about how to be happier at work … The world is filled with examples of individuals [who] may have other sources of satisfaction and fulfillment. They do not rely on work as a primary source of happiness and satisfaction.”

                                                                                                                                                            The Art of Happiness at Work, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M. D.

In a couple weeks, I celebrate 3 years sober. Now don’t get excited. 3 years really is not a long time. In some ways. Then again, in other ways, like the poor soul who harbors the “I mean, I can’t even fathom not having a drink for three years, let alone the rest of my life.” But I don’t think a sobriety birthday is much different than a belly button birthday in that it really does celebrate the rebirth of your soul of you are open to it.  It kind of goes with what I said last night at my home group meeting. Once you or your loved ones or both have admitted you have a drinking problem, every mishap, misfortune and misguided decision that involves booze and drugs is really very much like tap dancing on a fire escape. You may think it’s a great idea and you may have a great time while you are doing it but you make one mistake or you dance with a little too much passion or whatever and, well, even Gregory Hines is taking a plunge to the pavement. At first, it’s like doing it on the fire escape on the first floor. There’s not much room to fall so no real damage is done. And hey you had a great time because you were tap dancing. But with each screw-up, whether it’s with your family, your friends, your lover or the law, it’s like you’ve taken it up a floor or two or twelve. If you’re lucky, you have recovering alcoholics on the other side of the window, telling you that maybe it’s a better idea if you stop tap dancing on the fire escape, come inside, take a seat and we’ll talk to you about what a doofus you were for thinking it was a good idea to tap dance on the fire escape. If you have problems with the Program or preconceived notions about how it’s okay to be an alcoholic or even just have a selective memory and only go back to the good memories of tap dancing on the fire escape, you will probably go back outside, this time on an even higher floor, and commence tap dancing on the fire escape again. I’m very thankful I got finally got the truth about tap dancing on the fire escape and I think I’ll stay inside with you folks if you don’t mind (and that is my analogy. Came up with it myself. Feel free to use it.)

With only a handful of moments of bona fide despair, I’ve made it through those three years pretty well and I’ve learned a lot of things about myself. New things, things I didn’t want to know and things I had to accept that the person that used to live in my body was truly petrified of learning, dating all the way back to ten years ago when bacterial meningitis and brain surgery literally racked my mind, body, and spirit. And by the way, I use the word “literally” in the way that particular word is supposed to be used, not in the “I’m okay and you’re okay and if you use faulty and incorrect grammar that’s okay because bastardizing and abusing the English language is okay because hey, we’re all okay” way. Okay?

I’ve learned things that studying Buddhism has taught me. That it is of the utmost importance to try and have compassion for all people because you have no idea what anybody else is going through on any given day, so it’s best to try and give everybody, including yourself, the best of what you have 9my friend Andi posted a meme on Facebook expressing this sentiment, so I’ll go ahead and give her the credit if you don’t mind.)  It may be the person that you encounter at Walgreens is picking up a prescription for some disease that doesn’t manifest itself in the way they look (by the way, this goes ditto for people who get out of the car they’ve just parked in a handicapped spot with no wheelchair or crutches. If you feel the urge to chastise them for doing so, don’t. You got no idea buddy, so take your ball and your self-involved, self-righteous nonsense and toddle on home. The rest of us don’t want to play with you anymore.) My job as a wheelchair attendant has taught me this lesson in so many ways because, for whatever reason and for whatever length of time, the person in my chair couldn’t take care of themselves and had to ask for help. My 9 to 5 was, in essence, to personify the compassionate decision.

There have been things that I already kind of knew but were made painfully and abundantly clear in this journey of sobriety, like the fact that I can pretty well deal with any problem that only involves me. But I kind of already knew that one because of a life of mostly being an outsider and, often, loner. And knowing that I come from a place of firm inner strength, I bring a pretty stalwart character to my relationships. Yet I have also realized that despite half-heartedly looking for love at various dating web sites, I was never really in a place of enough emotional, spiritual and, let’s face it, financial security to be at all appealing to the opposite sex. I mean let’s face it, I was a newly sober, broke, socially awkward (at first anyway) brain damaged wheelchair attendant. Not exactly the kind of guy women want to introduce to their friends. Hell, I had a hard time looking myself in the mirror some days.

Then a few weeks ago, I drove by a truck from the landscaping company I used to work for. Before that, I had a couple interviews with companies who really seemed to be a good fit for me, like the rehab facility I was at after the meningitis and the hospital I was in for the brain surgery. And I seemed to be a natch for those jobs what with working with other people recovering from brain and spinal cord injuries as a Certified Nursing Assistant, or at least helping people in wheelchairs. Not so much working for the web hosting company one of my Employment Board Members insisted I apply at as a Happiness Engineer, which is a 21st century, small business way of saying customer service rep. A novel idea and worth a shot I guess, but I’m thinking of firing the man who recommended me apply for that job from my Employment Board of Directors. Sorry Tim.) I won’t bore you with the other details, but suffice it to say a number of other things happened in the course of securing a new job at a heating and air conditioning company while I’m getting certified as an HVAC apprentice that cannot be entirely coincidences. I won’t say it was a “perfect storm” of fortuitous events because that is a phrase that desperately needs to be removed from the social lexicon because it is used all the time to describe 2 good or bad events happening at the same time. That’s not a “perfect storm,” folks. That’s 2 good or bad events happening at the same time. Otherwise known as a coincidence. Anyway, while all this was going on, I made a trip to the library and the book The Art of Happiness at Work by the Dalai Lama and Dr. Howard Cutler found its way under my arm. I won’t say it lept off the shelf into my hand because that would be really spooky if it did. But it was, I think, the second book I took off the Buddhism shelf. And in the course of reading this book, and thinking about all the things I’ve learned from my time at the Humane Society and my time at the other job taking care of dogs and cats, I’ve come to a very important conclusion.

This thing I’m doing with the HVAC job and schooling (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning if I haven’t explained that yet) is and has to be the first thing on my agenda for the forseeable future. Writing the book and the blog takes a back seat. Piano takes a back seat. Everything takes a back seat. I will still do all these things, as I will still be a regular at my gym and go to meetings as these things are of paramount importance to my sobriety and my sanity, especially the blog and the gym. I cut those out and I start to get twitchy. But as I start on this new path, I have an obligation to myself to be realistic about what will make me happy and to live up to the potential I know survived my sickness. I’ve only been in the HVAC class for a week and I’m realizing that my biggest enemy is myself and that I have developed quite a knack for talking myself down and out of something. In truth, I’m no better or worse off in the old noggin than any other guy pushing 40 and starting a new career path. Granted it’s going to take me a helluva lot longer to absorb all the new information that comes at me both in class and starting next week at the job, but I’m more than willing and I’m ready as I can be. The stark reality, the seemingly grim truth as to why I am going to have to give up so much, and why I think I found The Art of Happiness at Work when I did, is because I will have to drop everything and devote a lot of my time and energy to this job and becoming good at it. I mean, probably a little to a lot more than the average bear.  When people tell me I’m making too much out of my disability (because that’s what it is, took me this long to really own up to that fact too) or I can do anything I want, well, they are right to an extent. I could learn how to be an effective Certified Nursing Assistant or even web hosting guy, but it needs to be on my schedule. And in this culture of accelerated training, intense learning time parameters and overall demand on our collective time, committing to biting off a lot and chewing all of it on time and then coming up short only magnifies the inevitable feelings of my inadequacies 10 fold. I always hear in my head, in a voice that is idealistic and not very reasonable, “he had meningitis and brain damage and he still managed to do …” It’s high time for me to be realistic with myself and acknowledge that my working life must be malleable and can’t be my one and only source of fulfillment. It should be a source of fulfillment, but putting all my eggs in that one basket is simply not prudent for me anymore.

I’ve finally admitted to myself that I can’t do everything I may have once been able to do. This is my new normal and I’m accepting it a little more each day when I meditate or exercise and again admit to myself that the new normal has a quite beautiful sun on each horizon, albeit a new sun in a much different reality. I learned a lot from my year in the sky. I learned that airport food is always expensive no matter where you go. I’ve learned that I’m probably never flying on a few of the airlines (I won’t so say which because they might sue). I’ve learned that I’m probably going to have to work twice as hard for as most other people for anything worth having and I’m slowly becoming okay with that. And I’ve learned to take a broader, more inclusive view of the sphere of working. Here’s to it paying off.

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