A much needed reminder

How are you don’t lieInstead of heading straight downstairs to find a seat for dinner I asked my Brother John to save me a seat. I knew many people at the event but I always prefer to sit with close friends at these events and for some reason, one which will reveal itself at the end of this post, I wanted to sit with John. I can’t put my finger on it but for some reason, we really click. He agreed and I went outside to clear my head and put on my “everything is fine” face. I knew that I would be asked how I was doing by many. My health history is well known and it is a blessing and a curse that many inquiries regarding my progress are made. I needed to be ready. You see, it is my opinion that for some the greeting “How are you?” is generic at best. But among my brethren they really mean it. And they know me, I have famously said “fine” to the greeting hundreds of times when I was anything but. A true friend would push and ask for the truth. That night, it was going to be difficult to satisfy those people because despite my robust physical appearance, I was bearing the weight of the world. Someone was going to call me on it.

The walls really were closing in on me. I was beating myself up over leaving my first Insurance Job. Three weeks in I was being pushed too hard and trained too little and despite my Herculean efforts to learn and apply TONS of information from Licenses to Certifications they weren’t happy with my progress and we parted ways. It really isn’t a huge deal career-wise. It wasn’t a good fit and I wasn’t contracted yet. Still, I felt like a failure, as I am prone to do. I was miserable. On top of that, I was disgusted and upset that my recently-broken-up-with ex-girlfriend didn’t have the decency to even text me after I drove over an hour out of my way to give back some belongings. Why would she be so childish and angry with me after she dumped my ass? She broke my heart and n top of reeling from that, now I have to wonder about this? I was consumed and my mind was racing. I shook it off and went inside.

I joined John and a few other good friends for dinner. It really was a tremendous set up. The room was full of well-dressed happy people. The decorations were lovely, the food was amazing and the bar was open. As expected, many inquiries were made about my health. I think I fooled all of them. Then John says to the whole table, hand resting on my shoulder, “Bill has the most amazing attitude. He is the most determined, optimistic and cheerful guy I’ve ever met. He’s been through so much and he keeps dusting himself off. He’s an inspiration to me.” Everyone at the table offered up similar sentiments. I gratefully acknowledged them and thanked them profusely.
Then it hit me.
There was the reason I had felt compelled to sit with John that evening. Because I was destined to hear that. Not for the praise, despite how flattering and humbling it was. No, it was a REMINDER to stop spiraling down the drain of negative thinking and remember that I have survived so much big and important shit in my life that I can’t let a couple of setbacks get me down. Somehow I had lost my mojo but John’s words snapped me right out of it. To Hell with the heartbreak, it’s her loss. To Hell with the job, it wasn’t the right company but I’ve still got the license and I will use it. To Hell with negativity in general, I needed to get back on track.

I know this is hard for some people to believe, but sometimes things really do happen for a reason. I was at an absolute low and by the end of dinner, I was actually in a decent place. I can’t begin to understand how it happened that quickly, but I can’t deny that it happened.

Today, I’m not 100%. I still miss her terribly and I still wish the job had turned out better. But neither of them are getting me down. And for now that is good enough.

Right place, wrong mood

As a Mason, my favorite time of year is Installation season. Every year, and every 2 for some lodges, there is a turnover in Lodge Officers. The officers of a Masonic Lodge are modeled after the ancient Stone Masons guild and have roles ranging from Master to the man that watches the door. The officer line changes as some move in, others move up and in my case, as departing Master of the Lodge I moved out. I’m done and my role is now diminished.

The Installation is a special event for all involved. Families and friends are invited as well as any Masons that want to attend as they witness a ceremony that is not only historic but memorable as well. Especially for the Master. Becoming Master of the Lodge is a special thing. I can only speak for myself when I say that, when I first joined, I didn’t know if I wanted to move to the big chair. But a few years in I committed to it. It can take many years to move through the line and there is a great deal of work involved to prepare. But if you “get it”, as those in the know say, it’s worth it. It is a position of respect to be celebrated. I will always fondly remember mine. As Masons, we are very supportive of each other and an Installation is well attended by well-meaning brothers. I am a well-meaning Brother and I attended many this season. The most recent was Tuesday night.

I visited another lodge in my district to witness my friend Tony be installed as Master. I sat with a great group of Brothers who I consider dear friends. I couldn’t be in better company nor could I be doing anything more enjoyable at that moment in time.
Yet I was in a terrible mood.
Everything was bothering me at that moment and the environment I was in failed to improve my mood or even distract me for a while. I was in a terrible place. The ceremony was wonderful, perfect in every way in the way of fellowship, camaraderie and the love and respect being given to my friend, yet it couldn’t be over fast enough for me. When it ended, I only wanted to have a drink and eat. In that order. I asked my Brother John to save me a seat in the dining hall. I went outside to get a breath of the cool September air. Before I would re-enter the building I would have to put on my “everything is fine face”.

More tomorrow…

A new venture

I’ve been away a while. When I get really involved in something I totally dive into it and I don’t allow time for other things. This includes Blogging. I really got into something and I just now feel that I have time to get back to putting my thoughts to paper (as it were).

The biggest change in my life of late is the confirmation that I am in good health and should be, depending on how diligent and committed I am to maintaining it, for a very long time. While this is to be rejoiced, it presents a new set of challenges. For one, my Disability Benefits are expiring and I have to return to work. I’ve known this for some time but it’s getting closer and closer to the day they cut me off. I look forward to going back to work, I’m not really a big “collecting” kinda guy. I’m excited actually because this time around I may be able to find something I want to do as opposed to a life of tolerating jobs because my family and finances required it. Fuck money, I’m never going to be rich and my overhead is a lot lower now. Satisfaction and the possibility of helping someone is the goal.

So I started interviewing.

Despite hiring a professional Resume service, with the specific request that my skillset acquired through years in the car business was presented in a more universal manner because I believe that the skills are transferable. Many hundreds of dollars and several weeks on job sites later…you guessed it. Car sales were what I was being offered. Double sigh.

Then I got a call from a recruiter who offered me an interview in a business that had always interested me, Insurance. So I interviewed. A good group of people with a lot of good products in a fairly friendly atmosphere. They offered to take me on, as a contractor. Agents are generally not salaried and benefitted employees. Again, at this point in my life, I can do something like that so I asked for the next step. I was told I couldn’t do anything until I got my State Insurance license.

Oh boy, testing. My favorite thing, with the possible exception of shaving my scrotum with a cheese grater. But I decided that an Insurance License would give me a tool for life to earn a living. There are so many possibilities. I was excited. So I signed up for the prep course.

For 3 weeks I lived, ate and breathed Life, Accident and Health Insurance and Annuities. I worked my ass off. All the while the agency checked in with me on my progress. I registered for the test on the following Monday and 2 excruciating hours later I passed with an 84. A 71 was the minimum score allowed. With one click of the mouse I received my license and producer number and I became a licensed Insurance Agent. My life was about to change.

Anxiety

In my last post, I referenced view here that I am vulnerable to going down the Rabbithole of anxiety. It being a positive post, I touched on it only briefly, limiting it to the issues I had with negative thinking while using Marijuana. In short, I stopped using it when I noticed it started to enhance, rather than subdue my anxiety. Now I feel the need to delve into the bigger picture, which is the recent revelation that not only do I have an abnormal level of general anxiety, but that I have had it forever, and that it is undoubtedly the greatest obstacle I face in my life in the way of finally moving forward and reaching my full potential.

I don’t know how many people my age are focusing as intently on self-improvement as I. I suppose that many men my age are on the “back nine” of their lives and their careers and find themselves in a decent, at least acceptable place in which a take me as I am or leave me alone attitude is the rule. Perhaps they are too settled in their ways to seek and elicit change. Most likely, a lot of men my age are settled into good habits because they made good decisions that have resulted in a satisfactory life. That is not me. I am ALWAYS trying to make change for the better in all aspects of my life, personal and vocational, because I did not make good choices in my life and I am not at all in a place in which I am willing to accept it as “it is what it is”.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that I am completely unhappy with myself. I am comfortable with many aspects of my life. Certainly, the obstacles I have faced have taught me strength, and positivity and have given me an outlook that I could never have attained otherwise. But I know I am capable of more. Unfortunately, I will not be able to grow outside my metaphorical terrarium because my anxiety has boxed me in.

How did I not recognize until now the blatantly obvious fact that I was not just “in my own head”, but instead suffering from crushing anxiety for most of my life?

My Social Worker at the Transplant center is a wonderful resource and I consider her a friend. I generally don’t believe in therapy but her services are part of my monthly visit. At first, I merely accommodated her, but 11 months later we have in-depth conversations and she really knows me. She has observed that I am one of the most self-aware people she has ever met. That is to say that I know everything about myself and I know what to do, my only problem is actually doing it. I agree. I trust her judgment. That is why I place enormous value in her evaluation that if I don’t make serious and sincere efforts to control my general anxiety, I will never get to where I want to be.

The first step was to recognize that I have it. That wasn’t difficult. What I didn’t recognize how bad it really was. Now that I do, let the healing begin.

the rabbithole

I am proud to report that I am in an extended period of excellent health. It’s no accident, I have been focusing on it. It all started 2 months ago when my transplant doctor told me that he believes that my new kidney was potentially viable for the rest of my life. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me before that moment; I can only surmise that after the crushing and prolonged anger and disappointment I experienced after my previous transplant failed after only 5 years, maybe I was subconsciously waiting for this one to as well. I reacted to this revelation by vowing mentally to double down on my already successful efforts to attain and keep good health. Recently, I had become less anxious and more confident when my monthly appointment arrived that my lab results would be excellent, as they have been consistently since the surgery. I am now 11 months and my numbers are phenomenal.

I left the office that day with a renewed purpose. I knew that I had to do change my remaining bad habits so that I could continue on this path. I changed my diet. No more fast food takeout, watch my salt, cut down on my snacking, cut out the alcohol (not completely but I was falling back into an everyday pattern), and most important I stopped using marijuana. Weed helped me a lot when I was sick on dialysis. It eased my anxiety and helped me sleep. I was an anxious insomniac for quite some time and the health effects of weed didn’t matter to me because I really didn’t care if I died or not at that point. I quit the weed for another reason beyond health. It was affecting my thinking, which was never a problem until recently. Previously, I got stoned at night and watched TV. I was numb and my brain slowed down to a fast walk. I loved it. Until recently. At some undefined point, the high produced more anxiety.

I have been looking for my next gainful employment. Drug testing had already crossed my mind and I was planning on stopping. But when the negative voices began, and I spiraled down “the Rabbithole” of negative thinking my motivation to quit increased. My brain spoke to me. It said things like “you can’t do it.”, “you’re not good enough”, you’re too old and lack the skills”, dangerous shit to a guy who already suffers from anxiety. It scared me. It happened enough when I was sober, it was threefold when high. Weed was now a liability. So last month I just quit it Cold Turkey. In addition to my lungs feeling better, I now have clarity of mind that I have missed for years. I am enjoying it. My job search is going well, I have performed well in interviews, I’m blogging again, so many good things. The job I will likely be taking doesn’t require a drug test. At one recent point, that factoid may have allowed me to light up again. Still, I don’t want to. I may again at some point but not now. I got through the withdrawal period (YES weed is addictive), it wasn’t easy but willpower got me through and now I can even fall asleep. That was my biggest reason for doing it in the first place.

Now I feel absolutely great. Mind and body. I feel strong, fit, and confident. Good things are going to happen for me. For the first time in years, I feel like I have a future. Soon I will be a functioning, contributing member of society again. Look out world, that is all I can say. I and my potential lifetime kidney are going to be a force.

As long as I can avoid going down the rabbit hole of anxiety. But that is a topic for another blog.

Not right away of course, but eventually. That revelations was notable, it was a perfect example of

the tattoo

I recently got my first tattoo. I’m not sure why I waited so long.

When the heavily tatted and pierced young lady at the tattoo parlor learned that it was my first she was genuinely surprised. I suppose in her world; her job, her generation, etc., it may be a bit late but if she knew anything about my generation she would be less surprised. I am the last of the boomers, by that I mean I’m the cutoff age, and my generation was plagued, or blessed I suppose, with “‘cations” as I call them. Ramifications, Identifications, advocation, dedication, indication, and if your parents or peers really got fed up with your shit then you were cursed with abdication, which of course means disowned by your parents or social circles. By this somewhat pedantic rant what I am really saying is that my generation was judgmental as all hell. Tattoos were one of those things that drew criticism and scorn and had social implications (oops I did it again baby). So, in the interest of presentation and reputation, I refrained from inking my body.

But as I have aged and my concern about what people think of me has sharply declined I decided that at age 56 it was time. The question became a matter of what and not when. I decided that my passion, my driving force, the thing that has influenced my life the most in recent years has been my involvement with Freemasonry. It has been the driving force behind most of the improvements I have made in my life that have resulted in me finally liking myself. If you know me at all, that was no small feat. So I decided that the Masonic credo of “Faith, Hope, and Charity” would be my first, prominently displayed on my right forearm. It means “Faith in God, Hope for eternal life, and Charity to all mankind”. I live by it and I now wear it.

My children have been having a blast with me over the word Faith tattooed on me. You see, it was not long ago that I was a pretty strong agnostic, if not a borderline atheist. What can I say, I’ve had a change in position.

Hey, people change.

It was Freemasonry that brought about the change. One of the only requirements for membership, besides a documented history of good character, is a belief in a higher power. No particular denomination or definition of deity is required. You just have to believe in something as the driving force of the Universe. I struggled at first when I researched joining. I disliked the notion of joining a fraternity based upon good character on a falsehood. So I took a hard look at myself. I was one year out of life-saving transplant surgery. Over my lifetime I was a cancer survivor, had flatlined for 2 minutes after contracting a staph infection, walked out of the hospital after I was told I might not walk again after a motorcycle crash, and had suffered a severe head injury as a child. Yet there I was, still standing and still kicking. I had to ask myself, did I survive all of that just on my own? Or did I have help?

I had been seriously grappling with faith for many years before that, my whole life perhaps. The conclusion I was approaching is that what I really had was an aversion to organized religion. You will thank me for leaving it at that. But a deity, an unknown power, a driving force if you will is very believable and doesn’t need to be defined. Atheists believe that there is nothing, zip, zero, squat out there. I believe that nobody can say that for sure and the sheer vanity of that alarms me. So by the laws of deductive reasoning, if you don’t believe there is nothing then there has to be something. Mother Nature, the ocean, Karma, whatever strikes awe in you and demands further explanation. It opened the door for me to accept faith. Many call Spirituality a “Cop-out”. It’s not, it’s faith that lacks a precise definition. I still reject most of the tenets of traditional belief but, quite simply, what I do practice makes me feel good.

So I wear it proud. Without fear of reproach from the judgmental ones of my generation, and free from those who know my past belief system. It is just what a tattoo should be. It means something to me. That’s what matters to me. I now have faith, I would love for there to be some form of eternal life, and the goodness that I try to exemplify in my heart causes me to be charitable.

No matter how long I live I will have it. Unlike most tattoos on people today, I will never look at it one day and ask myself “what was I thinking?” At that moment, my heart, my head and my thinking had never been clearer.

the results are in

*this post is a continuation of a story. It will stand alone in many ways but for missing context please go back a few…*

I returned home with mixed emotions. I was excited that my numbers were normal. But I had no way of knowing if this was a temporary thing. There was still a very real possibility that I had done permanent damage to my kidney. Only persistent bloodwork would tell the story. In the interim, I needed to go talk to Vinny about my status at the restaurant.

He, and the rest of the staff seemed happy to see me. I assured them that I was fine and I pulled Vinny aside to speak with him. I told him that, pending lab results it could go either way. I told him that, while my doctor was not excited about it, should I stay hydrated he would sign off on it. Vinny promised that he would take me off of the Pizza station and make sure that I had water breaks whenever I wanted. I hated half of that. Pizza making was the only thing I enjoyed about the job. I explained that I didn’t want my position to change but I would welcome the water breaks as offered. The biggest caveat was that if my numbers spiked again, there is no discussion. I would have to leave. I agreed to work the next day provided that I could do labwork in the morning and come in after. I would wait for the results (they usually came in same day) and we would go from there. The next day I went to work after I left the hospital. I would not get my results that day.

The next day, while at work, I got the call. The results were excellent. I was thrilled to say the very least. The indication was that there was no permanent damage. If I could have jumped in the air like a Toyota commercial I would have. The downside, my out should I want to leave was gone. I have to say that at that point, after only a week I really didn’t like it. It was too much for me physically (which I knew would change over time as I got conditioned) and I didn’t like a lot of things about the job. There were too many personalities, too much bitching and complaining and the customers…well, they sucked. The same cranky old people that I had to deal with in town were now cranky old customers and they got on my nerves. Also, I didn’t mention this before, but Vinny was proving to be an asshole to work for. He spoke to me in a way that I didn’t appreciate and I was too old and too experienced to deal with it. He liked to yell at me and that was simply unacceptable.

But, and this is a very BIG but ( I like big buts and I cannot lie), I knew that everything mentioned above was magnified tenfold by the fact that I had a girlfriend 100 miles away that I wanted to be with. At the time, I thought she felt the same. Who knew that she didn’t? (that is called foreshadowing) I sure didn’t. That aside, unless I wanted to lie about the results and walk away (an option I never really considered, making people worry about me falsely is some seriously bad karma) I did the right thing and told Vinny that all was good and that I was staying.

missed chance

*this post is a continuation of a story. It will stand alone in many ways but for missing context please go back a few…*

At the end of February I was informed that we had an opening date of mid-May. Not much had changed on the frequency of work or my involvement. I had done my part to be harmonious, it’s unfortunate that I felt the need to show my ability to get along, by getting to know Susanne. Susanne was the woman Vinny had hired to run the kitchen, a decision that he refused to believe I was okay with. She was still running her soon-to-be shut-down business. She was waiting until a firm start date and then she would shutter her restaurant. I visited her frequently at her shop. We would compare our backgrounds and discuss ideas for the new place. I had absolutely no problem with her and she seemed to like me as well, even going as far as to say that she looked forward to working with me. I wasn’t worried about working with her, I figured we would get along fine. My only concern was where I would fit in. Vinny of course failed to see the good in that, he still thought I had an issue with her. That was the first time that I realized that I really didn’t want to do this new venture. I had a bad feeling but I ignored it because of loyalty and the fact that it was too close to opening. I was too late.

Things with Cat were still good. But I was starting to see some potential problems. She had a terrible drinking problem and a worse memory. I was shocked and saddened to learn that some of the best moments and conversations that we shared were lost. She had absolutely no memory of them. It was if they never happened. Plus we were arguing a bit. Not a lot, but she had a nasty side when we did. Still, I believed that I loved her. She claimed to love me as well. It was moving fast, too fast, but I was feeling things that I had not felt in a long time, perhaps never. I was dreading being away from her on the weekends, which was the only time we had to be together. Once the store opened, I would be working all weekend. I HATED that thought. But I told myself that I had to wait to see what happened.

In a rare moment of confidence, I found an opening in a conversation with Vinny to mention that I was not looking forward to working all weekend every week. He said, “Well, you can either wait to see what happens. I promise that once we are established I will find time off for you. Or you can quit.” He was testing me. I was tempted. But I didn’t take the offer. I knew, with all the hype around town, that we would be busier than a one-armed hooker with two customers for the first month or so. I decided that I would try to have the patience to ride it out and see what happens. I missed my chance to do what I wanted to do most.
Walk away.

I was in love, I was thinking too much about spending time with her. I was aware of the foolishness of that. In addition, my personal code of conduct told me to follow through on my commitment. I concluded that if it was meant to be then our relationship would survive a few missed weekends.

more cracks

*this post is a continuation of a story. It will stand alone in many ways but for missing context please go back a few…*

It was now February. Not much had changed. Vinny was still involving me less and less and I was growing increasingly frustrated. I wasn’t being utilized yet I made myself available. The few conversations consisted of him going on at length about the grandiose plans he had for the restaurant. I was getting anxious ( I suffer from bad anxiety) listening to these conversations; in essence my anxiety was whispering in my ear, “you can’t do this, it’s too much.” The little voice in my head was in agreement. In essence, I felt he would be really hard to work for, even in my controversial “self-inflicted minimized role”. I should have spoken up and told him my concerns. But I didn’t. Not knowing how to react, I remained quiet. This, of course, made him think that I was not into it. It was a constant and annoying process.
And I now had a girlfriend who I wanted to see and the neurotic bastard in me was already concerned that I wouldn’t be able to see her very much. While we still months away from opening.

Things with the girl were going well. I really felt that I had met “the one”. I wanted to spend as much time with her as possible. At the time I thought she did also. So there I was worrying about something that hadn’t even happened yet.

I made the mistake of telling her my concerns. Of not being able to handle it. Of hating the hours. Of not being able to handle Vinny, who was increasingly showing me signs that I was making a mistake. And of course, of not being able to see her.

I now regret that

The added variable part 2

*this post is a continuation of a story. It will stand alone in many ways but for missing context please go back a few…*

Cat and I began to talk regularly. We eventually hung out a couple of times. Despite the outward overtures of romantic gestures, I knew that she, not I, were stuck in the friend zone. Nothing had really had changed. Or so I thought. That would soon change. In one of our conversations, she mentioned that I “checked a lot of boxes” on what she wants in a boyfriend. That was a sign. I decided, despite a myriad 0f common-sense objections, that I wanted to give it a shot. I was fairly certain that should I ask her out she would say yes. I didn’t even care that she lived 100 miles away. She was worth the drive. Wouldn’t you know it?She said yes.

What happened after that can only be described as a romantic whirlwind. We became close immediately. While we were new to dating, we had known each other for a while so the lines were blurred. It was chaotic yet felt natural. We were together every weekend, which consisted of outside-of-my-comfort-zone activities such as musicals and trying new restaurants. The evenings consisted of amazing intimacy. Sure, it was sex but that’s too superficial for what I was feeling. I felt an actual connection that I had never felt with anyone before. We both marveled at how comfortable we were around each other. It wasn’t in the same ballpark or even universe of anything I had ever experienced. We were having fun and we were both enjoying it. Everything really was great. That would be my weekends. Monday morning I would head back up to be available for Vinny. It was a shame that he rarely needed me on those Mondays, or any other day for quite a while. Construction was delayed, it was the dead of February and he had nothing for me. Even the money stopped. I knew something was up. So I asked him about it.

He had hired someone else, which was fine because we needed more people before we opened and this woman had much more experience than I did. I was one hundred percent fine with it. I stood back and let them plan. I am a worker bee, I had no interest in more. But the first wrinkle in my relationship with Vinny had emerged. Despite the fact that it was he who had minimized my role, he gave me shit about pulling back. I called him on this logic, and emphasized that I was fine with all of it, he treated it as if I had done something wrong. I was baffled and it was the first time that I realized that he and I might not be simpatico.
My takeaway was that my little voice, which rarely misleads me, had been chirping in my ear and I now knew why. My guard was officially up.